SAN JOSE, Calif. - Thanks to COVID-19, the city of San Jose is now on a federal watch list that local leaders didn't know existed.
While city and county officials aren't sure what factors got them on the list, they still see it as a call to action. On it, 12 cities they say are lagging behind in slowing the spread.
Local leaders say they weren't on the call when the list was announced, nor have they heard from any federal officials about it, but they say they are worried about cases on the rise.
Other cities on the federal watch list include Miami, New Orleans, Las Vegas, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Nashville, Pittsburg, Columbus, and Baltimore.
White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Deborah Birx made the pronouncement on a private call obtained by the non-profit group Center for Public Integrity.
The news came as a shock to local leaders.
"I'm not so much offended as a little surprised. The cities that were included on the watch list are all doing significantly worse than San Jose. And San Jose and Santa Clara are doing significantly better than some of the cities that were left off the watch list," said Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo points out that there are hundreds of cities with higher infection, hospitalization, and death rates compared to San Jose.
Still, the South Bay city has seen 5,523 cases -- out of a population of just over 1 million.
Liccardo believes we still need to do better.
"I don't pretend to know what criteria were used by the White House. I'm not sure it really matters. I mean, the reality is we've got rising infection rates throughout the country, and we, all of us, need to do more. Because right now too many people are getting sick and too many people are dying," said Liccardo.
There is a question about what the White House watch list means for the cities that are on it.
"We have no idea," says Smith. "I guess in my best world, I hope that means they're trying to develop a national strategic approach to dealing with the pandemic because it's been pretty incoherent and inconsistent so far."
For now though, local leaders say they're focusing on local policies and the very real possibility of having to scale back activities unless transmission rates decline.
"We need to focus on the purpose and not on the circus. The White House may say different things on different days. We know what our responsibility is, and that is we need to keep each other safe," said Liccardo.
Officials say the best way to keep each other safe is by wearing masks, washing hands, and practicing social distancing. They also say to prepare for the possibility of more restrictions coming in the weeks ahead.