12-31-21: Ward 6 Update

Happy New Year's Eve, neighbors! I hope you've had a healthy and happy holiday season. As we head into 2022, there is so much work ahead and so many challenges to take on, but I hope that you've found a bit of peace and restoration during the last days of 2021 to carry you into the New Year. I'm writing with just a quick few updates for folks related specifically to COVID testing, a few important announcements around schools, and an update on vaccines. I'll be back in your inbox in 2022 with more Ward updates, but let's jump in. 

COVID-19 Testing Update

Cases have skyrocketed in the District - community spread is very high right now and you should be taking precautions to limit the spread by wearing a high-quality mask (sorry, those neck gators and single-layer medical masks aren't cutting it with the new variant. Get your hands on an N95, KN95, or KF94 mask) and limiting indoor gatherings and other high-risk activities. This variant of the virus is extremely contagious and still poses serious risks, especially for those who aren't vaccinated. There are two points of good news I want to make.

First, the vaccines, including a booster shot, make this variant far more mild for most people. To be clear, I've talked with friends that have battled Omicron and they've shared it still packed a punch. But having full protection is the best way to avoid serious illness and hospitalization. So if you haven't gotten your booster (or first shots) yet, don't wait any longer. Click here to see 50 locations offering a free vaccine within five miles of Ward 6.

Second, DC offers some of the best access to testing options in the country. Depending on what you need, there are options for PCR (takes longer, generally gives you a very accurate result) and rapid tests (gives you a fast idea if you are contagious).

Holiday COVID-19 Free Rapid Test Distribution: If you didn't know, eight different DC libraries in each ward have been distributing free antigen rapid tests to DC residents. DCPL is closed for the holiday weekend, but you can still get both walk-up PCR testing and at home rapid tests at several locations this weekend. Click the graphic to the right to see what's available. 

Engine 8 is at 1520 C St., SE and open for tests and kits Friday - Sunday from 12:00-4:00pm. And on Sunday, on-site testing will take place at Rumsey Pool near Eastern Market.

Remember, if you do a rapid test at-home, please report your results here in order to give our public health team a clear and accurate picture of community spread.

New Rapid Test Pick Up Site in Southwest: Since the rapid test program was announced, I've been pushing DC Health to put locations more accessible to Ward 6. The Watha T Daniel Library location is great for the Shaw community, but not easy to get to for most of Ward 6. I'm happy to report that beginning Monday, January 3, the Southwest Library should be a distribution site for free rapid antigen tests and I'll keep working on adding more.

Schools Update

New School Pivot to Virtual Learning Option: For the next semester, DCPS schools will have the flexibility as a school to go virtual as needed for as long as 10 days. That decision will be made at the school level, driven by both staff availability and the percentage of students and staff who are in quarantine. In short, DCPS announced they are not moving the entire system virtual - but will pivot schools on an individual basis as needed. For our charter schools, while there's no specific plan that extends across all charter schools, I recommend parents reach out to their individual school to ensure they have the latest information.

Schools are closed Monday, January 3 and January 4 for testing: Rapid tests are available for students that can be picked up at any DCPS school or the city's Test Yourself Express Site. There is a mandatory negative test to return policy in place for DCPS. I've talked with several charter schools that are doing the same, but again, if you're a charter school parent, please contact your individual charter school to make sure you know their policy and requirements. We need to protect our students and our teachers. And that means doing everything we can to keep this virus out of the classroom. For DCPS students:

  • Report your student's negative test result here beginning on January 4 -- you'll need a photo or PDF, as a heads up: https://dcps.dc.gov/safereturn

  • If you're having issues uploading your student's results, call 202-442-5885 and press option 1 for assistance.

  • For families that don't have easy access or have challenges uploading online, I've spoken with the Chancellor and he confirmed that students can bring their negative test on Wednesday morning, though it may delay entry a bit.

  • If your student tests positive, please call your school's main office to report the absence. 

  • For students who need a meal, there are 15 school locations providing meals on Monday and Tuesday. Click the graphic to the right. 

There is a lot more to add (and digest) about the Mayor and Chancellor's plans. I've advocated for a "test to return" requirement and I'm glad to see it. But I also don't think it's enough. What more can be done to keep our students and educators safe? Some of what I'm pushing for:

  • More robust and regular testing. A rapid test is a great snapshot in time about an individual's status. But it's limited. A single test in the middle of a surge isn't going to sustain our classrooms. Regular, required testing must be added. The current asymptomatic testing program is not enough.

  • Provide better masks. We're learning that Omicron is highly infectious and we need students and teachers to have the best masks available. As noted above, the flimsy paper masks don't cut it. Let's provide the students and teachers N95 and equivalent masks every day.

  • Support our principals. As a DCPS parent myself, I see first hand that our principals are struggling to keep up with all the demands added on them this year. It's a tough job on a good day, but now with the responsibilities of running COVID testing, COVID communications, filling substitute teacher gaps, and more, they are stretched very thin. They need more staff support and resources immediately.

  • Support our educators. I haven't yet met a teacher that isn't trying their very hardest to make this work. I'm incredibly grateful for their care and work. But they need more than gratitude. In addition to the items above, they need the Mayor to return COVID leave when they are ill and out. Currently, when a teacher is infected in the classroom and has to be out - they are required to use their own leave and annual leave. I don't think that's right. It's a small step that recognizes their work.

  • Create stronger virtual options and supports. In my own household, when our students have had to quarantine because a student tested positive in the classroom, there was basically no virtual schooling taking place. The gulf between what the system says will happen and what actually happens is known to just about every parent. Nearly two years in, students (and working parents) have to be able to count on a virtual option when it's needed. The Council has pushed the Mayor's team on this and will continue to.

And I just want to acknowledge a frustration a lot of parents are feeling, and trust me, I feel it as well. The final school week of the year was chaotic for a lot of families and teachers and staff in schools and it made for a hard holiday for many, I am sure. There was clearly no plan on how to handle a sharp rise in cases. Everything I just shared above? DCPS should have had all of this in place already. They should have known how we would handle an uptick in cases. They should have known how to pivot to virtual if needed. In oversight hearings, I've pushed the Chancellor as hard as I can about regimented testing that wasn't in place at the start of the school year and preparing and equipping our classrooms and teachers. We're far enough along in this pandemic that DCPS central office should have learned to plan and prepare by now and that lack puts students, teachers, and their families at risk. Putting something in place a week after it was needed isn't good enough.

Holiday Tree and Greenery Collection Underway

Just a seasonal reminder, you can have your live trees (no fake trees), wreathes, and more collected between January 3 and February 28. Leave it where you normally leave your trash and recycling for collection.

I hope you have a great New Year. I'm looking forward to everything we can accomplish together in 2022 to make Ward 6 an even better place for all of us to call home. 

Until then, be safe, and I'll see you around the neighborhood.

Charles Allen

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