Ward 6 Coronavirus Update-4-17-20

Who are you staying home for? It's an important question to have an answer to as the weeks drag on. I have friends who are working on the front lines of the emergency rooms at our hospitals. I'm staying home for them, because I know they are leaving their families and putting their own safety on the line to treat our neighbors who get ill.

Every time I want to take Everett and Cora out to the park or go visit friends in the neighborhood, I remind myself that staying home is what helps my friends and their colleagues. I know the message to #StayAtHome can get tiring - trust me, our household feels a little ragged sometimes, too - but we need to remember who we’re doing this for.

So to help with that, I'm putting together a video of Ward 6 residents talking about who they stay home for to share and create some unity during these times. If you, or your family, are interested in participating (without leaving home), would you shoot a quick email to Erik on my team? We’ll get you all the details - it’ll be easy! His email is ESalmi@dccouncil.us

Quick Links: Testing Update | DC Schools Update | Head Start Funding Loss | Stay At Home Extended | How to Vote By Mail | Please do the Census | DC Jail Conditions Are UnacceptableVolunteer With Neighborhood Groups | What Was in Council's Recent Emergency Bill |CDC Mask Guidelines | Ward 6 Happy Hour!

Here's Where We Are With Testing: I get a lot of questions about testing. It's a topic on every call between the Council and the Mayor's team. Right now, the District has expanded testing to the point where if you have symptoms, your doctor or medical care provider should be able to refer you and you should get tested. There are nine sites setup in the District offering testing. But we aren't yet at a place where testing is available to folks who are not showing symptoms. First, the District expanded testing to our first responders and health care workers. Next, we are looking to expand testing to our most vulnerable populations -- residents living in congregate settings including nursing homes, juvenile homes, and our emergency shelters for the homeless. We need to get to a place where we can test more widely and start to have a clearer, bigger picture of where the virus is, but there simply isn't enough testing material being made available nationwide right now. We're also getting closer to being able to do anti-body testing. I'll share more as I have it.

I want to emphasize -- really emphasize -- that if you have symptoms for COVID-19 (dry cough, shortness of breath, fever) you can get tested and you should do so immediately. Do not wait until you feel worse. This virus can take a turn from mild to severe in just a few days and it's better for health professionals to have a head start in your treatment. If you want to get tested, United Medical Center has testing available after getting registered by calling this hotline: 1-855-363-0333. You don’t have to see your doctor first - they’ll screen you on the phone. And this is free.

Data Nerds: For folks who want to dig into the data provided about the novel coronavirus in DC, there's a lot to explore here: https://coronavirus.dc.gov/page/coronavirus-data

DC Schools To Continue Distance Learning Until School Year Ends May 29: Today, the Mayor announced that DCPS and most DC Public Charter Schools will not re-open this school year for in-person learning. We will finish the year with distance-learning and schools will close early. The last day of school for DCPS will be May 29 and on or about May 29 for charter schools. I know this is hard for parents - Jordi and I have had to find a way to juggle two working professionals and two young students. And it is hard. So I know this might not be a surprise, but it's certainly tough to hear all the same. No decisions about summer or the start of the school year were announced yet. But we are looking into summer learning options and possibly making up early closures at the start of next year. When it comes to daycare, camps, libraries, and possible learning hubs, updates for the summer will be coming by May 15th, so stay tuned. Free student meals will continue to be available at the current sites through at least May 29, then the city will run its annual summer meals program afterwards.

DCPS Sending Home More Laptops and Hot Spots: I'm very concerned about the 'digital divide' in our homes now that every student is part of distance learning. Chancellor Ferebee announced more laptops and other technology are being distributed to middle school students starting last week and elementary school students beginning this week. I wish this had been done sooner, but distribution is now underway for high school students. And DCPS purchased 10,000 mobile hotspots for homes that don't have reliable internet access. Look for more details from your school and please share this information within your school community. Let me know if you or someone you know is having issues accessing needed technology equipment.

DC Opts Out Of Millions of Dollars In Head Start Funding: In some non-COVID news, I was deeply dismayed to learn this week that DC Public Schools has declined to reapply for federal Head Start funding, a loss of more than $14 million and 83 full-time support positions for early childhood education in DCPS. This is a tremendous disappointment and I’m going to be looking into why DCPS made this decision. Head Start is more than just an evidence-based academic model; it’s a comprehensive approach to child wellness and school readiness with high standards for effective teaching and learning, student safety, family support, classroom materials, health and developmental screenings, no-barrier entry, and more. This is a loss for all DCPS early childhood students, but especially so for our most vulnerable students and families at a time when we should be doubling down on closing the opportunity gap. It’s my expectation that DCPS retain these high standards in all early childhood classrooms while preparing to reapply for this important funding. You can read more on this from the Washington Post and WAMU.

Mayor Adds New Guidance on Grocery Stores: If you've been to the grocery store this week, you hopefully noticed some new regulations in place. First, customers and staff are required to wear face coverings. Here's guidance from the CDC on what is acceptable for most residents in a public setting. Additionally, stores need to put in place spacing for waiting in line and making aisles one-way to minimize crowding and passing. Please be mindful of these regulations when you do your shopping and call 311 to report if stores are not enforcing these important, new measures for physical distancing.

Ten Sites Offering Free Groceries: On Monday, the District announced 10 school locations that will distribute free groceries to residents in need each week. For Ward 6 residents, that's Eastern High School every Monday from 12:30-2 pm. Here's a graphic with all ten sites and their distribution offerings.

Stay At Home Extended Until May 15: The Mayor has extended her Stay at Home order until May 15, which includes the closure and modifications for most businesses not deemed essential. I think we all knew this was inevitable, but it is still hard for all of us. I'd encourage you, as you are able, to keep supporting our local businesses with whatever purchases you need. We want them with us on the other side of this, but it's going to take both government and community support. And let this be a reminder, we aren't out of the woods by any means. Physical distancing is CRUCIAL right now as we head into higher demand on our health care system. Stay home. Save lives.

Update on Unemployment Insurance Claims: With so many DC residents and neighbors that have suddenly lost their job, there are a lot of anxious kitchen table conversations taking place. I’m hearing from many of you and I know you’re hurting. I've regularly been checking in with the Department of Unemployment Services on their efforts to get District residents approved and receiving unemployment dollars from both DC and the federal government. Whenever your application is approved, it will include backdated benefits. DOES has created a lengthy document responding to common questions here. DOES also created an email address dedicated to specific application questions: COVID19.UI@dc.gov. You should also feel welcome to reach out to my team if you're having a hard time getting your benefits. Keep in mind, right now DC estimates it takes 21 days to process a claim right now, but the District has added call taker capacity to speed up processing. As of today, more than 78,000 applications have been submitted.

For Independent Contractors and 1099 Filers: Anyone interested can email pua@dc.gov to sign up to get an email from DOES notifying them when its online system is ready to accept applications from independent contractors/1099s. Additionally, if someone is self-employed, or a 1099/freelancer/independent contractor who was denied pre-CARES Act expansion of eligibility you DO need to re-apply. So they should send an email to pua@dc.gov to get an alert about when to re-apply.

Update on Small Business Grants: DMPED staff are still processing through all of the applications and preparing to get word out later this month. The latest I've heard is that most approved businesses can expect around $10,000. I wish I had more news to share, but I did want to at least provide that update as I know nearly all of our small and local businesses are waiting for any support to come through.

Getting Information to Ward 6 Neighbors Who Aren't Online: In these days of physical distancing, it's a big challenge to make sure residents and neighbors who aren't online or on social media regularly are still informed. My office has developed a one-pager with some of the most critical resources and answers to commonly asked questions. Normally these are issues I can resolve with regular in-person meetings at senior buildings and other community events, but obviously that's all on hold for the moment. We'll be sending it out with meal deliveries and finding other ways to connect. I'm including it here in case you know someone who could use this information. If you do, I'd really appreciate you printing it out and dropping it off in a safe way. We're exploring every avenue we can to get information out to all Ward 6 residents - especially those who might not be on email lists or social media.

Conditions at DC Jail Have to Improve: For weeks I have been sounding the alarm about the potential for an outbreak of coronavirus at the DC Jail. In the last emergency bill, I included language to expand good time credits and create a compassionate release appeal to help get vulnerable people out of jail. Unfortunately, the Council doesn't have much more control over the fate of our own residents. Instead, we depend on a federal prosecutor and federal parole board to decide who else could be safely released from jail. The reason this is important is because jails are porous and we've seen in other cities (and countries) that the spread of the virus moves quickly in this kind of environment. Many of the people in DC Jail are presumed innocent while awaiting trial. Last week, a court mandated that two inspectors be granted access to DC Jail to evaluate the conditions alleged in a lawsuit. Earlier this week, they offered a grim report back in a conference call. In response, I've requested daily, written briefings on the state of the jail. Read my full letter here.

You Probably Haven't Requested Your Absentee Ballot. Please do it. Today. Around 15,000 of the more than 460,000 registered DC voters have already requested their absentee ballot. The District is in the process of rolling out a big effort to get as many residents to vote by mail as possible so you don't have to go vote in person. DC has a plan to ensure every registered voter who wants to vote using an absentee ballot can do so. Request an absentee ballot today from DC's Board of Elections - there are five ways to get one, including the Vote 4 DC app, downloading and printing a form, and calling to request a form be mailed to you. If you aren't a registered voter yet in the District of Columbia, no problem! You can register to vote online today. Everyone can vote by mail this election and stay safe while still carrying out one of our most important civic duties as citizens.

While You Are Getting Things Done, Take the Census! So much is at stake in how the Census counts different state's population changes - including funding levels for many federal programs. Take the Census now and ensure you and your family are counted in our community. Right now, ANC 6E (Shaw, Mt. Vernon Triangle) and ANC 6D (Southwest) are a little behind the rest of the Ward in participation - check out the map on participation rates as of April 4 to the right. But we can all do more! Here's how you can fill out the Census, which only takes about 10 minutes, from your home. If you are at home all day, take a moment and call a friend or neighbor, catch up with them, and remind them to do the Census.

Reminder, Here's What's In the Bill Passed Last Week: This is all information I included in the last newsletter, but keeping it here for a reminder of expanded rights for and resources for District residents. For a reminder, here's a link to everything in the first bill. I'll quickly run through some of the major components of the bill: 

Creates Mortgage and Rent Payment Deferral: If you've experienced a financial loss or hardship due to coronavirus, many commercial and residential landlords can now legally request to defer payments for up to 90 days from their mortgage servicer and that provision will last until 60 days after the conclusion of this public health emergency -- without charging any fees or reporting a deferment to credit monitoring agencies. A mortgage servicer under DC's authority must honor that request and work to reach a repayment plan that can last up to five years. The bill requires if you do receive a deferment that those savings be passed on to any tenants in the building as necessary. As in, you can't ask for a delay on mortgage payments, but then deny a tenant's request if they ask for a deferral. Read more from Urban Turf

Freezes All Rent Increases: Landlords cannot increase the rent during a public health emergency, even if it was previously notified prior to the start of the public health crisis.

Freezes All Debt Collection: No debt collection can take place until after the public health emergency. In fact, debt collectors can't even contact anyone during the freeze, though they can answer questions that debtors might have.

Expands Eligibility for Unemployment Insurance: The bill also made changes to the District's unemployment insurance following the passage of the federal CARES Act, which makes independent contractors and gig workers eligible for unemployment dating back to any disruption in income from January 27, 2020. But please wait just a little longer if you are an independent contractor -- the Department of Employment Services is not yet ready to process your application quite yet. But benefits will backdate! Stay tuned, I'll share an update as soon as I have one. Keep an eye here as well: does.dc.gov 

Additionally, the Council waived any requirement to search for work as a precondition to receiving unemployment benefits and acted in accordance with new federal law that employers are required to provide 14 days paid sick leave annually. 

Related: Still waiting on Support for undocumented neighbors and other excluded workers: There was a big hole in what we were able to address, as the bill did not include anything providing direct cash assistance to our neighbors who don't have legal status or are otherwise excluded from many of the benefits provided to residents. Thankfully, $5 million has since been allocated from Events DC's tax-funded budget to assist. I don't have information at this time on how DC residents can apply.

Expanded Ability for Courts to Review Sentencing for Aging, Ill, and Other Long-Serving Inmates: If anything can be considered a hotspot for coronavirus with certainty, it’s jails and prisons. What happens inside our jail will exacerbate our health crisis outside of those walls. As Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, I am proud to say this bill expands eligibility for who can appeal for a release based on either compassion or good time credits. Every inmate automatically earns good time credit annually when they follow the rules and behave well. We expanded the value of those good time credits and also mirrored the federal First Step Act (which largely neglected the District) with compassionate release standards. The goal is to reduce the population of people who are living at DC Jail, but are no longer a threat to public safety in the interest of keeping other inmates, correctional officers, and others safe.

Additional Authority for DC's Attorney General to Prosecute Violations: The Council also temporarily extended prosecutorial authority to DC's Attorney General to bring legal action against anyone violating DC's Human Rights Act, which provides extensive protections for many different residents. Currently, all violations of the Human Rights Act are handled by DC's Office of Human Rights, which is still the best place to start if you believe you've experienced a civil rights violation. 

$25 Million to Support Local Hospitals: As the District prepares for a surge in demand for hospital use, the Council approved spending of $25 million for hospitals to add more beds and other capacity needs to handle an increased demand of people who have COVID-19 and need intensive treatment. 

Electronic Wills: Residents can now create a will with a witness present electronically, as in over video chat, as long as you can see the witnesses and they can see you; you can also create a will electronically, as in using a Word document with an e-signature. For more info about wills, check out www.lawhelp.org/dc or contact an estate attorney.

Miscellaneous Provisions: Creates a Funeral Bill of Rights to protect residents in the event of a tragic loss of life, which OAG will enforce; strengthens your rights against utility cutoffs with internet and phone services.

CDC Advises Wearing a Cloth Mask in Public: As you've probably noticed, the CDC has revised its guidelines and is now advising all Americans to wear a cloth mask in public when social distancing is tough to maintain (like grocery stores). They are not advising residents to wear surgical or N95 masks, for which there is still a huge national shortage for our health care workers. Here's more info from the CDC. And if you're looking for the Shop Local angle here, Shop Made in DC has you covered (although out of stock at the moment!). Keep an eye on that page for a chance to support local makers and get a few cloth masks. 

Related: It's very important to note that wearing cloth masks in public and in stores will be a difficult decision for many black men and other members of our community who worry about how others will react. I still urge everyone to wear a mask and practice social distancing, but be mindful there's a lot behind that decision for some of your neighbors. Here's a quick op-ed if you wanted to read more.

Weekly Tuesday Night Facebook Town Hall and Future Virtual Events: Last week I held a Facebook Town Hall with a few hundred Ward 6 residents tuning in -- and it seemed to work well to answer questions and troubleshoot issues. Starting this coming week, I'm aiming to do a weekly Town Hall every Tuesday at 8:30 pm to be sure I am hearing from residents. If you missed it, you can watch it right here. To join a future chat, just head to my Facebook page at 8:30 pm on Tuesday nights. If there's a change, I'll look to include it in newsletters and online.

Related: I also heard from folks who either don't have Facebook or don't want Facebook due to privacy concerns. I hear you loud and clear. We're looking into alternatives. For me, a big key is that I need is to be able to reach Ward 6 neighbors, especially folks who aren't as plugged in, where they are. While new platforms might offer some benefits, it's not helpful if Ward 6 residents don't know how to find it. I'll keep working on it with my team, just wanted to make sure you understand what we're trying to balance.

COVID-19 Resources in Ward 6: My staff and I are keeping a running list of resources available for Ward 6 residents on my website. That includes information on free daily meals for students and senior residents, free groceries and diapers, how to volunteer, how to get tested if you are symptomatic, and more. If there's something you'd like to see added or corrected, reach out to Erik Salmi on my team (esalmi@dccouncil.us):  http://www.charlesallenward6.com/covid_19_info

Look for the Helpers, Ward 6 Edition: I know many folks are looking for ways to be helpful during these hard times. There are a lot of organizations pitching in, and I can't list them all, but let me highlight a few that my staff has relied on to help when we get calls. If you want to support them, you can know you are helping your neighbors. And if you want to volunteer, here are the folks doing great work just around the corner from you. 

  • 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, Eastern High School's day to distribute in Ward 6 from
    • 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.
    • H Street Food Drive for Ward 5-6 Neighbors: Contactless food/groceries available for neighbors who need some extra assistance. They also offer contactless food delivery for anyone in the area that needs it, especially elderly, single parents, those with special needs. Drop off or Send Non-Perishable Food Deliveries To: @maketto1351 | Attention: H ST. NE FOOD DRIVE | 1351 H ST. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002. Send all monetary donations To: PayPal: PayPal.me/CHRiSCARDi | Venmo: @ChrisCardi
      • Pick up at Maketto: 1351 H Street, NE
        Monday – Saturday: 7:30am – 9:30pm
        Sunday: 7:30am -5pm
      • If in need of delivery assistance text 202-681-3532.

Ward 6 Happy Hour Friday at 5 pm (that's almost now!): The last four Fridays, Ward 6 neighbors have ended the week by stepping outside onto their porch, stoop, balcony, or front door to take in some springtime air and get to know neighbors. I think it's a wonderful way to make the most of staying at home. I do want to emphasize a few things, based on feedback we've been getting. First, please don't block sidewalks if you want to sit near your neighbors while still being spaced apart. That can make it difficult and dangerous for pedestrians to pass by you. Second, just because it's a happy hour, please don't take that as a push to drink alcohol. While many neighbors might opt to enjoy an adult beverage, a nice cold glass of DC’s finest tap water works as well. This is really about getting to connect safely and maintaining (if not growing) our sense of community during this time of physical isolation. All laws around public consumption still apply, so please exercise your better judgment. See you Friday at 5 and remember to share online using #Ward6HH!

Stay safe!

Charles Allen

 


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