“The U.S. recovery is dependent on the recovery of these places,” Mark Muro, the MPP’s research director, told me flatly. “If we want to have a discussion about when to restart the nation’s economy, we better check in with the nation’s major economic hubs … because they are literally, at this point, the most paralyzed, contending with the greatest number of life-and-death cases and the greatest stress on their core systems, starting with public health.”

In interviews with me this week, the mayors of several of those big cities told me that it will take much longer than a few weeks to restart their economy—and that even when economic activity resumes, the process will be gradual and halting.

In other words, they counsel, Americans shouldn’t expect the equivalent of a V-E or V-J Day when the virus is vanquished and life goes back to normal, as if turning on a light switch. Instead, the mayors envision something more like a dimmer switch that gradually grows brighter.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told me that he believes the city’s shelter-in-place order will need to remain in force at least through mid-May, two months after he issued it. “Easily, the worst thing you can do is kind of crush people’s hopes by setting up early expectations [of lifting restrictions], when we are going to be in this for a long haul,” he said. “The best thing” people can do is understand that the outbreak “won’t come in one fell swoop and one wave—and prepare for that.” That means that any easing of restrictions on economic and social activity later this year will be gradual, Garcetti said.