In a few days, we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving. And I wish the very best in health and happiness to you and your family. Like many, I'll see extended family through FaceTime rather than gathered together around the table. It is difficult, and I'll admit a disappointment. But here's my central message on COVID-19 as we enter the holiday season and see infections rising across the area: don't let up now.
If any of the potential vaccines prove effective and are distributed in the first half of 2021, this holiday season could be a bad memory by this time next year when we're back together with family and friends. Don't look back with regret because you took a risk to have a normal Thanksgiving or evening out with friends.
You are not immune to catching this virus. You are not immune to being asymptomatic and spreading it to a loved one. You are not immune from the worst health outcomes. There is no guarantee your child will only have a mild case if they contract the virus. This isn't to scare anyone unnecessarily, but after months and months of taking action, I know we all feel fatigue and frankly, feel worn out.
This isn't a hypothetical situation. We know people in Ward 6 will be exposed to this deadly virus next week. But it doesn't have to be that way. You don't have to cancel Thanksgiving, but you probably need to make some serious revisions to your usual celebration and understand it cannot be a normal holiday. I know my kids would love nothing more than to have their grandparents around the table together, but we also know that's just not a safe option this year. This update is dedicated to giving you as much information as possible to make the best, fact-based decisions. And I'll let you know what I've been working on around schools and supporting our small businesses that are fighting to hang on.
State of the Virus in DC: Spread is Dangerously High.
This is not where we wanted to be heading into the winter. The coronavirus is more widespread now than it was in March, April, May, or June. Let that sink in. From my calls with the Mayor's response team, we can source the latest increases to most likely dining out, indoor shared spaces like gyms and church services, and small, informal gatherings among friends and family. I would expect many people have let their guard down as the months have worn on, which is understandable. While we see far more mask usage in DC than almost anywhere else in the country, I suspect many of us are relaxing our standards among friends and family. It's not just Thanksgiving that's the risk, it's the everyday contacts that are driving this surge. As we head into the winter and the holidays, let this be a wake-up call on using good health practices to protect your family and your neighbors.
So, let me reiterate the most important points:
- Wearing a mask works. The CDC has even updated its guidance that wearing a mask protects you and those around you. How do you know if your mask is thick enough? Try to blow out a candle while wearing it. If you cannot, that's a good mask.
- Wash your hands thoroughly. Use soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds.
Physical distancing is important indoors AND outdoors. While the spread of the virus is less likely outside, it can still happen if you are standing too close to someone with the coronavirus for too long. Wearing your mask outdoors can make you and those around you much safer, but you should still stand at least six feet apart. Being six feet apart indoors is still very risky. There's plenty of evidence the virus can transmit through HVAC systems.
- A quick note: if you see folks who are outside, and not wearing a mask, cut them some slack if they're pretty far away from anyone else. And if you're going for a jog, please have something you can quickly cover your nose and mouth with when you pass people. Let's all be respectful and recognize this is hard for all of us.
- The only way you can truly guarantee you are coronavirus free is to quarantine for 14 days. That's how long the virus' incubation period lasts. More on this last point below under testing.
Taking these steps are critical to avoiding overwhelming our hospitals and our health care workers, as we're seeing now in many places around the country. I don't know how to write or say this any more plainly. The more people who won't take these simple steps, the more we put our doctors and nurses in harm's way, facing too many sick people with too few resources. Don't do that to our healthcare workers this holiday season.
Turn on COVID-19 Phone Alerts. Right now.
There's a built-in tool to fight the spread of coronavirus on your phone and we need you to join in. You can receive automatic notifications if you have been in close contact with someone who later tests positive. This isn't big brother - it's a proven method to quickly notify and get ahead of potential risk. If you have an iPhone (screenshot below, left), download the latest operating system and you'll find it under "Settings: Exposure Notification." For Android phone users (screenshot below, right), download the DC CAN app for free and follow the simple instructions. The app uses encrypted bluetooth keys to track other phones with notifications turned on for a certain amount of time and proximity. If someone tests positive, it pings those encrypted keys with a notification! It does not track location and it does not identify you to others if you test positive. The more people who participate, the more robust this system is. Please, please, please activate it right now. I'm sure a lot of you are reading this on your phone!
Understanding Testing and Risk
It took a few months, but the District has built out a robust public and private testing network. We've also managed to get a regular testing site coming to Southwest on 4th Street, SW and in addition, Nationals Park will be a daily testing site beginning on Monday, November 23. But let's make sure we all understand what testing can and cannot tell you.
A test is a snapshot of how much of the virus (if any) is inside of you at the moment the test is administered. So when you get the test relative to when you were exposed is very important. From what we've seen, most people start showing symptoms 3-5 days after exposure.
If you get exposed on a Sunday, and you go get a test on Monday or Tuesday, the test may come back negative, even though you've got the virus inside of you and are at risk of spreading it. And, of course, it's not always clear when someone was exposed to the virus, making it harder to get the timing window right for a test.
All of this is to say that if your plan is to get tested before Thanksgiving and then enjoy a large family or friend gathering, having everyone get tested has a lot of ways it can fail. It's just not worth it. The only sure way we know of is to truly quarantine for two weeks before, or, if that's not possible, to plan on a smaller holiday gathering than normal.
Like I said at the beginning, please don't look back at this year with regret. We can do this.
Where You Can Get Tested: That being said, of course testing has value. Particularly if you're showing symptoms, a test can quickly provide the information you need to decide what to do next. I want my Southwest neighbors to know that my team and I (along with your Commissioners in ANC 6D) have been pushing for the city to figure out how to do a regular, weekly testing site in SW for months now, and I think we've worked through the roadblocks to get it done. The next date at this new site is Wednesday, November 25th, 10am-4pm, in the lot at 1000 4th Street, SW. In the meantime, Nationals Park will begin testing on Monday, November 23, and the regular weekly sites are going to have expanded hours.
Daily Testing Sites In or Near Ward 6:
Monday-Friday, 8:30 am to 1 pm
F St., NW between 4th and 5th Sts.
Nationals Park (beginning Monday, November 23)
Monday-Friday, 2:30-7:30 pm
Geico Parking Garage
Fire Station Engine 8
Tuesday, Thursday, 2:30-7:30 pm
Saturday, 12-4 pm
Sunday, 12-4pm (open 11/29)
1520 C Street, SE
Fire Station Engine 10
Tuesday, Thursday, 2:30-7:30 pm
Saturday, 12-4 pm
Sunday, 12-4pm (open 11/29)
1342 Florida Avenue, NE
New!! Bring Your Insurance Card or Pre-Register: Starting next week, testing sites will ask, but not require, you to bring your insurance card. Insurance isn't required, but insurance companies cover testing and this can begin to offset some of the cost borne by the District. It isn't required, and a test will still be free, but it does help save the District money to put in other areas of need. This is a cost insurance companies should be bearing. If you pre-register for a testing site, you can enter your insurance information then to save time.
New Business Restrictions Likely, $100 Million in Relief Funding On the Way:
Unless the numbers of cases decreases very quickly, I don't see how the District can justify allowing indoor dining, indoor gyms, and other activities we know from contact tracing are causing the largest amount of spread. I was very encouraged to see the Mayor announce $100 million in new funding to help relieve pressure on some of our hardest hit businesses - her proposal incorporates some what I worked with Councilmember McDuffie to pass in the Council this summer. The grant funding will be divided among four industries: hotels, restaurants and bars, retail, and entertainment. From the Washington Business Journal: "Hotel grant applications will open Monday. Then restaurants can start applying on Dec. 7, retailers on Dec. 14, and entertainment businesses on Dec. 21."
Many of our small and local restaurants and bars are barely hanging on, despite expanding outdoor seating or remaking as much of their business as possible to be takeaway or online. From a public health perspective, we need to dramatically stop the spread of the virus, and that will have to mean rolling back business operations. While the $100 million will help (about $80 million is coming from our rainy day fund), we desperately need federal assistance, as does every state, to make it possible to keep people safe at home and able to pay their bills while they can't work. Doing so, even for a few weeks or a month, would go a long way to getting the spread under control as long as people avoid gatherings and wear a mask. That's our ticket back until a vaccine is ready.
Finally, I want to spend a moment on school re-openings after we've had a few very confusing weeks. Like every parent, I can't wait for my kids to safely head back to school. However, I was opposed to the Chancellor's first plan to re-open DCPS schools for a few reasons. First, it was clear the teachers were not comfortable with the plan, which was going to be disruptive to ongoing virtual learning classrooms. Second, because every school was going to bring back two classrooms and take a one size fits all approach, it was clear it would not be a return that benefited the students who are struggling the most with distance learning unless they were lucky enough to get one of the spots. The Council - as well as parents, students, and teachers - pushed back hard on the plan and the Chancellor moved back a potential return to school. Since then, the latest agreement between the Washington Teacher's Union and DCPS has collapsed. It's clear a lot more work needs to be done. For our families enrolled at charter schools, each charter is making its own decisions and so we see a mix of some virtual and in-person experiences. If you have any questions about charter schools operations in regard to reopening, a good resource can be found here.
One thing is clear, though -- the uncertainty and uneven communication have hurt the confidence of families and teachers at a time when it's most needed. And importantly, I am deeply concerned about what the lingering effects will be from this year on a whole generation of students. I've talked with so many parents that are stretched to the breaking point - in particular parents of students that need the additional supports their student's simply can't get at home. We need DCPS to prioritize our most at-risk students. And at the same time, until we know we can get back into the classroom in way that's safe, we can't go back. My colleague Councilmember Elissa Silverman has put forth a proposal that would require greater transparency from DCPS to parents, teachers, and lawmakers on re-opening plans. I'm considering where I am on this bill, because I think the Council needs to be more hands-on with DCPS, but we can't be overly prescriptive to the point it creates additional barriers to reopening.
Free Student/Kid Meal Sites As Of Sept 1
Click here to see the updated list of school meals being provided as we begin the 2020-2021 school year. Please note, students can get a meal from any school. Here's a link to meal sites based on bus lines.
Extra Rental Assistance Available
If you are behind in your rent, there might be support available. Additional funding from the federal government will be available to assist District residents. More information here.
DC Re-Launches Mortgage Assistance
If you're a home owner in the District of Columbia whose income has been hurt by the pandemic, you could be eligible for mortgage assistance through DC's Housing Finance Agency. Get the information here!
Here's Who Is Helping Neighbors During COVID
These organizations are still doing great work to help our neighbors and they're worth your support. If you need assistance, this list is a good starting point. If you find yourself with a lot of time and you are healthy and able to volunteer, these are groups that can put you to work. I cannot emphasize enough, however, that if you are not feeling well at all, please do not volunteer.
- Ward 6 Mutual Aid Network: Started by Ward 6 neighbor Maurice Cook and Serve Your City, this is a group collecting and redistributing food and other essential items for neighbors.
- DC Medical Reserve Corps: Organized by the DC Government, here's a way to help out as our medical response scales up.
- DC Public Schools: In need of volunteers to help keep running their many meal sites for kids in DC during school closures! Please fill out the linked survey.
- Capital Area Food Bank: In critical need of volunteers to help sort and pack food in their warehouse and assist at their offsite food distributions.
- Food and Friends DC: In urgent need of extra volunteers throughout the coming weeks. There are two volunteer opportunities, food preparation and packaging and meal and grocery delivery.
- Food Rescue US: Volunteers with vehicles needed to pick up and deliver food from businesses to DC residents in need.
- Grace’s Table: Looking for volunteers to help feed the homeless each Saturday.
- Martha’s Table: Volunteers needed to help prepare and bag food for their emergency food sites across the city.
- We Are Family: Volunteer to deliver groceries to seniors.
- Food for All DC: Volunteer to drive groceries to seniors, immunocompromised, and other DC neighbors who are homebound. Volunteer here.
- Aunt Bertha: Aunt Bertha’s network connects people seeking help and verified social care providers that serve them by zip code. Contact your local shelter to see what help and/or items may be needed.
- Breadcoin: A nonprofit offering flexibility to folks who are hungry in where and how they purchase food or meals at a restaurant.
- Greater DC Diaper Bank: Long a staple of the region (and founded by a Ward 6er), the Greater DC Diaper Bank helps low-income families meet the need for diapers. DC Diaper Bank works with partner sites to distribute diapers. You can donate or support their work here: https://greaterdcdiaperbank.org/give-dollars/
Free groceries for residents
- Ten DC School Sites Distributing Free Groceries Each Week: I mentioned this above, but sharing here as well. Ten DCPS meal locations are now distributing groceries as well as student meals. Every Monday is Eastern High School's day to distribute in Ward 6.
- Martha's Table: Daily grocery distribution at 2nd and H Street, from 5:15-5:45 pm. Donate here to support their work: https://marthastable.networkforgood.com/projects/95536-martha-s-table-martha-s-table-expanded-programs-covid-19
- Capital Area Food Bank: Behind many good nonprofits is the CAFB, supplying many groceries from bulk purchasing to food pantries across the region. Help them today: https://www.capitalareafoodbank.org/donate/
- Father McKenna Center Grocery Pantry Now Open: One of the programs partnering with the Capital Area Food Bank is the Father McKenna Center at 900 North Capitol St., NW. Information on how to support or receive groceries here.
Okay, that's enough from me. I know this wasn't a normal newsletter, but I felt it was important to be sure everyone is working from the same set of information as Thanksgiving approaches. What we do in the next month will have huge effects on what our hospitals and emergency rooms look like over the winter. We need to take this very, very seriously, even as it now runs into some of our favorite annual traditions. I'll reiterate this again: it is more dangerous now than it was when we were all freaked out earlier this year. I recognize many families are facing legitimately difficult choices about how to spend their holidays. It's not easy. But we're all in this together.
Stay safe, stay home, and wear a mask.