Ward 6 Coronavirus Update: 4-8-20

I hope you’re doing well and staying safe. If you’re like me, it’s a tough adjustment to hear the sounds of Spring all around us, and then see neighbors in face masks from a distance. These are difficult realities we’re all settling in to.

And to be blunt, as the crisis continues, we’re going to see the number of cases increase significantly over the next couple of weeks. This is something we've always known was coming, and I just want to once again emphasize how critical it is to stay at home as much as you can right now. Today. This week. We can flatten the curve and protect our neighbors who are working in hospitals as doctors, nurses, technicians, janitorial staff, and more. Go outside when you need a breather. Keep your space. If you're going for a jog, please be mindful you may need to adjust your path to allow other neighbors to safely pass. It might mean coming to a stop for a few seconds. Think of it as interval training! 

Alright, I've got a lot of updates to get to, so let's jump in. 

Quick Links: What's In the New Emergency Bill? | How to Vote By Mail | Census | Schools | What Orgs Are Helping in Ward 6? | Good News | Cheetah Cam!

A Note on Ward-Level And Racial Data in Coronavirus Reporting: Recently the Mayor and her team began including both racial and ward-level data in the daily Coronavirus Data reports, which is good. But it needs to be kept in context, as the Mayor urged. I wrote a longer response on Facebook around what the data does and doesn't tell us when it comes to ward by ward comparisons (in short, Ward 6 has anywhere from 10-15,000 more residents than any other Ward at the moment and likely benefits from greater access to testing). So to be clear, there is no localized outbreak - the reality is that the virus is in every neighborhood and we’re at the point of wide community-spread. Remember, the virus does not care about Ward boundaries, so take every precaution you can.

We are seeing, much like the rest of the country, the historic health inequities and underinvestment in the African American community play out in a very serious way during this pandemic. A pandemic like this doesn't just create inequities, but it also puts in a stark light just how dangerous preexisting inequities are and how they manifest in a crisis. Longstanding lack of access to healthy and affordable food, housing, access to sound medical care, health insurance, workplace safety, and interventions to improve health are just some of the many causes behind the inequities we are seeing now. We can't wait until this crisis is over to begin better understanding and being ready to take on those challenges. It's everything from the lack of a full-service maternity ward in the eastern half of the city to the longer commutes and lower paychecks of black residents and lack of affordable housing. All of that is playing out right now, in front of our eyes. We have to do more and be better.

Council Passes Second Emergency Bill Responding to COVID-19: Today the Council passed a second wide-ranging emergency bill to expand the District's response to the novel coronavirus and the many ways it has disrupted life in our community. This was also the first time ever the Council met and voted remotely. 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 yesterday, 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. This is a huge issue and one I had hoped was going to be addressed in yesterday's legislation, but it wasn't. I am committed to working to find a way to help out our neighbors, and I think all of my colleagues are as well. These are folks who are every bit members of our community as any of the rest of us, and from whom's work we all benefit. I know this was an issue many Ward 6 neighbors cared about, and I'm sorry we couldn't reach a solution that was workable between the Council and the Mayor in time. 

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.

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. Yesterday, Chancellor Ferebee announced more laptops and other technology will be distributed to middle school students this week and elementary school students beginning next 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 who don't have reliable internet access. Look for more information from your school and please share this information within your school community! 

Vote Safe (By Mail) in DC's June 2 Election: The District is in the process of rolling out a big effort to get as many residents to vote via absentee ballot in the 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. Request an absentee ballot today from DC's Board of Elections - there are five ways to get one, including the Vote 4 DC app, download 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.  

Ward 6 - Participate in 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.

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.

Facebook Town Hall and Future Virtual Events: Last night I held a Facebook Town Hall with a few hundred Ward 6 residents tuning in. If you missed it, you can watch it right here. I provided an update on the legislation and tried to answer as many questions as possible. 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, its 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

World Central Kitchen Teams Up With The Nationals: In the last newsletter, I shared some good news that we were able to get hundreds of seniors in Ward 6 who live in affordable housing buildings free meals prepared by our restaurants and delivered each day. Now Chef Jose Andres has taken over the kitchen at Nationals Park (on what was supposed to be Opening Day, no less!) and is prepared to cook thousands of meals for residents in need, including Ward 6 residents. Thank you Chef!

Related: I know many of our BIDs are rolling up their sleeves and jumping in on how to help feed our neighbors. Southwest BID, Mt. Vernon Triangle CID, and Capitol Riverfront BID staff and clean team members are delivering meals to homebound seniors, students, and more. I'm incredibly grateful for these partners, who are helping make connections that are keeping folks afloat. Who else have you seen stepping up? Let me know and I'll update this list!

Three (So Far) New Baby Cheetahs at the Zoo! Here's some good news and something fun. You can watch the National Zoo's Cheetah camera to check in on the three new baby cheetah cubs born today! 

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: 
    • 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/
    • 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: The last three 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 away. That's not physical distancing and it can make it harder for neighbors to pass you. Second, just because its 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 know each other safely and maintaining (if not growing) our social connections 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! Last week was a particularly tough one for my household, so getting to Friday and stepping outside was just a nice opportunity to step back for a few minutes and let the kids play.

Stay safe!


Charles Allen

 


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