In an ordinary year, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell would give his annual State of the City address in an auditorium, where he’d lay out the city’s progress on everything from schools to municipal health care. 

But the pandemic has changed all that. 

On Thursday, Mitchell addressed his constituents from behind a computer screen, emphasizing what the city has done during the health crisis that has left over 2,300 residents infected and 135 dead. 

“There is no sugar-coating it,” Mitchell said. “The pain is real, it is wide, and it is deep.”

Mitchell said the city reacted quickly when COVID-19 arrived, shutting down public events and ordering the closure of activities before any cases of the virus were reported. The city is particularly vulnerable because about 15% of the population works in manufacturing and nearly 20% are Latino, a group that is disproportionately impacted by the virus. 

“We didn’t wait around for the state or anyone else to tell us what we had to do,” he said. 

Among the positive measures he mentioned: implementing one of the first contact tracing systems in the Northeast; issuing two unique emergency orders to protect industrial workers; setting up a testing program for fishing crews; establishing protocols for senior residents and first responders; and providing free masks for all city residents. 



While the situation in New Bedford is improving, Mitchell said residents need to be cautious, especially as administrators are possibly looking to reopen schools next month. 

The mayor said a full reopening of schools would pose “an unacceptable risk of an outbreak.” The school administration is developing plans for the upcoming school year that will be announced next week. 

“There isn’t enough room or staff to separate out students sufficiently to lower the risk,” Mitchell said. 

The five-term mayor said the city is preparing for another potential uptick in cases. But he said he’s optimistic that more readily available tests, improved COVID-19 treatment options, and increased public awareness will help the city handle a potential future rise in infections. 

“Resilience means more than just surviving,” Mitchell said. “It means not just withstanding the challenge, but also springing back stronger.”