I think this is the week when everyone really started to feel like the end might be in sight. The cherry blossoms in full bloom, Opening Day(-ish) for the Nats, and some 70 degree days... and I'm here to be the wet blanket and remind you we aren't out of the woods yet with this pandemic. With the combination of warm weather and having spent an entire year living with pandemic restrictions, I know we all so badly want to get back to life as we know it.
Everything from in-person learning to meeting friends for dinner at a favorite restaurant to simply getting back to work depends on getting people vaccinated and suffocating new variants of the virus. We are going to need to wear masks still and be smart about gathering near others. And I know more and more people want to know why other areas are expanding access to vaccines while DC has remained the same. I'm going to provide an update on the city's response and try to answer some questions, and then I'll share more updates from around the ward.
But first I want to pause and mourn the tragic incident at the US Capitol just yesterday where a man rammed a car into two US Capitol Police officers at a checkpoint. I’m heartbroken that U.S. Capitol Police Officer William “Billy” Evans died protecting the Capitol. We don’t yet know much about the incident, but we do know an officer who reported for duty won’t be coming home. That is a terrible tragedy, and I offer my deepest condolences to his family and loved ones. Another officer remains in critical condition as of writing this, and I am sending my best wishes for a full recovery. Today is painful and traumatic for every member of the U.S. Capitol Police and the staff and members of Congress they protect. Your Ward 6 neighbors surround you with support.
Quick Links: COVID-19 Update | Hill East Seniors Vaccinated | Internet for All | Construction Protection | New Police Chief | Police Reform | Hateful Symbol Investigation | New Laws | New SW Library | Recycling | Farmers Markets |Heritage Trees Loss
COVID-19 Vaccine Update
Let's start with some updates on DC's vaccination efforts. First, who is eligible? Quite a few people:
- Any DC resident 65 and older;
- Any DC residents 16 and older with a qualifying medical condition;
- Anyone part of an eligible workforce (recently expanded, click the image to the right to view).
All DC residents, whether you are currently eligible or not, are encouraged to pre-register on the District's portal: https://coronavirus.dc.gov/vaccinatedc
**Important: If you've pre-registered with DC for a COVID-19 vaccine, but you've already been able to get vaccinated, please contact the Call Center at 1-855-363-0333 or email [email protected] and let them know you can be removed from the waitlist. This is very important to help make the system reach the folks still waiting faster. Otherwise, when it is your turn, the system will still offer you an appointment.
Understanding DC's Vaccination Data
This is probably the biggest source of confusion or concern I'm hearing from constituents right now. There's a lot of confusion about how to interpret DC's numbers in comparison to other states -- both to evaluate how well DC is doing and help people predict when they might become eligible. It's only more urgent as other states are starting to expand eligibility. It is something the Council has asked about for several weeks during our weekly oversight calls with DC Health and the Mayor's leadership team. Let me walk through a few different questions and try to give you some answers.
Q: How well is DC administering its vaccine?
The first question is usually a variation about how effectively DC is moving its supply of vaccines from the CDC to putting shots into the arms of residents. As of Monday, after weeks of fielding questions, DC is finally reporting publicly more precise data (select 'Supply' within that link to see what I'm referring to here). DC Health has administered 85.3 percent of the supply of nearly 329,000 doses it has directly in it's control - a pretty effective rate compared nationally. A separate allotment of nearly 56,000 doses has been allocated much more poorly, with only around 21 percent of their supply administered -- through pharmacies and community health clinics that have a partnership with the federal government and work somewhat independently of DC Health. This Washington Post article raises serious concerns about DC Health's communications with these pharmacies and how we're coordinating to get patients to the vaccines. I'll be pressing to find out more what's going on with these pharmacies.
Finally, in data reported by the CDC (and used in most national news outlets trackers), the CDC does not break out vaccines sent to federal agencies within DC from the supply it sends to DC Health. The District of Columbia doesn't have any control over this federal supply of vaccines or their administration (which includes, for some reason, the Pentagon). Keep this in mind when browsing a national news site tracking vaccine administration. If they are pulling their data from the CDC to compare states, it isn't separating those doses that DC does not have any control over and it makes it look like DC has been given way more vaccine than it actually has.
Q: How many DC residents are getting vaccinated?
This one is a little more straightforward. To this point, roughly 40 percent of DC's total vaccinations (again, not including federal allotments) have gone to people who live outside of the District, largely because early on the priority was on health care workers, first responders, teachers, and other employees essential to the critical infrastructure of the District's operations regardless of where they lived. For example, about 75% of police officers and fire fighters live outside of DC, but we need them vaccinated. That has led to DC having a lower rate of vaccination for our residents compared to most states - in other big cities, if someone lives in the suburbs of the city, they're still in that state. Now, roughly 90 percent of weekly vaccinations are supposed to be reserved for DC residents in different eligible categories, so I expect we will see that vaccination rate improve. DC Health officials have twice asked for additional vaccines, given the large amount that needed to go to out-of-state employees, but have had both requests turned down by the federal government.
Q: I have younger, healthy friends/ family in other states getting the vaccine. When will DC open it up to everyone?
As production of three different vaccines has ramped up, it's likely everyone will be eligible by May - just a little more than one month away. I can't speak to other states' approaches, there's simply too many variables. I will say between the three categories of eligibility above, a lot of DC residents are currently eligible. We've seen here locally that demand for the vaccine is very high, while in other states there might be less demand at this point (and they may have gotten more vaccine than we did proportionally). This is all, of course, frustrating to see. Opening up more eligibility doesn't mean there's enough vaccine to match. As a reminder, Council oversight is where significant improvements to DC Health's approach have come from -- particularly creating priorities to try to address racial inequities in vaccine access, and transitioning from an awful mass release appointment system to the much improved waitlist system. We are on weekly calls asking questions and asking for better answers.
I realize we're all ready to get vaccinated and get back to some semblance of a normal life. Stay patient, we're getting there as fast as we can. As you'll see below, the I've been working in partnership with DC Health to get vaccines to Ward 6 neighbors who aren't nearly as plugged in and able to understand how they can get a vaccine -- that has included vaccine clinics onsite at several public housing complexes in Ward 6, and just last week, a clinic in Hill East.
Getting Hill East Seniors Vaccinated
Last Friday, my office helped organize a vaccine clinic targeting hard-to-reach seniors and other vulnerable neighbors living in Hill East. We did this in partnership with Howard University College of Medicine, Mt. Moriah Baptist Church and several community groups working on the ground including Capitol Hill Village, Ward 6 Mutual Aid, Hill Havurah, and ANC representatives Allison Horn (6B09), Sandra Phillips-Gilbert (6A07), and Brian Alcorn (6A08). This clinic came out of conversations that began with DC Health two weeks ago around a big disparity in vaccinations within zip code 20003, which stretches from Hill East near RFK all the way to Eastern Market. That's a big area and within that space we were seeing a major disparity in vaccinations between white and black seniors. After talking through it with DC Health, the zip code was added as a priority zip code (because there isn't a more precise tool yet) and we started working with Howard University on a planned, targeted clinic for seniors and eligible residents in the neighborhood. Mt. Moriah Baptist Church was quick to agree to host.
Because this is a group who are generally not as online or plugged in, we did not advertise the registration on social media or listservs. Instead, my staff and volunteers with several groups went door-to-door in the neighborhood and in senior apartment buildings to sign people up for appointments. In just two days, we registered 170 seniors or otherwise eligible neighbors, mostly in the eastern end of Ward 6 where vaccination rates are some of the lowest in the city and made travel arrangements for many of them with Capitol Hill Village's assistance. On Friday, we were able to give those folks a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to help protect them from COVID-19!
It was so gratifying to meet so many seniors who wanted to get vaccinated, but had no idea how to do it and were nervous to even leave their home to find out. While I am working to ensure every Ward 6 resident to be vaccinated as soon as possible, I also don't want it to happen at the expense of our seniors and vulnerable neighbors who aren't able to keep up with a confusing and fast-moving vaccine rollout. And with what I saw on Friday, while some folks were a little nervous about getting a shot, there was A LOT of clapping, cheering, and excitement at being able to safely see grandchildren and family after so long. The demand is there. Let's meet people where they are if they can't easily keep an eye on social media and watch for an email from DC Health. I hope to do another clinic soon and reach more neighbors who need a little help finding an appointment.
It's Time to Ensure Every DC Resident Has Access to Reliable Internet Service
This week I introduced legislation that will increase the urgency for the District to ensure every household has access to affordable and reliable high-speed internet. The Internet Equity Amendment Act would require the District to identify households or areas where there is slow internet service (some neighborhoods in DC only have the option of DSL) or households that are paying too much for reliable internet, and take steps to get those homes connected. It would require OCTO to take interim measures to make this to happen within one year six months of the bill passing. Then OCTO will have to create a longer-term plan to ensure reliable, affordable high-speed internet for all District residents. I am not convinced about what our long-term effort should look like to guarantee every DC resident access to high-speed internet -- - but I am convinced we can no longer view access to high-speed internet as a luxury. That was true even before the pandemic. And as we mark more than one year of living with much of life moved online, it is incredibly obvious that any disparity in access to the internet is a serious hinderance to success in school, job searching, or even accessing government benefits. I will share more as the bill hopefully moves toward a hearing and I am grateful to have nine of my colleagues signed on as co-introducers.
Protecting Neighboring Homes During Construction
This week, I filed the Construction Management Agreement Amendment Act of 2021. This bill is a response to years of complaints from neighbors who have had their homes damaged by large construction projects next door. Generally, the bill requires developers of medium to large residential and commercial projects to take precautions to protect neighboring homes—including things like vibration monitoring, providing notice for after-hours work, and setting up a dispute resolution mechanism on the front end. This would happen through a “construction management agreement” that would be enforceable by DCRA, the homeowner, or potentially the Attorney General, depending on the circumstances.
Chief of Police Nomination Passes Committee
Yesterday, Acting Chief Robert Contee received unanimous support from the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety during a Committee Mark-Up (that's when we vote on legislation/nominations at the committee level). You can watch the full mark-up on my Facebook page, it's around 17 minutes total. Mr. Contee, if confirmed by the full Council, would be stepping into the role at a critical moment as our national conversation on the role of policing in our society continues and we deal with an increase in violent crime, a trend we see across the country. Mr. Contee, who is serving as Acting Chief, is a native Washingtonian and has had a long career with the Metropolitan Police Department. I recommended approval of the nominee because he has experience in nearly every aspect of policing, including both discipline and training, and has been candid about the department's need to be more transparent and willing to be a participant in the conversation about the future of policing.
Public Safety Related: I know many Ward 6 neighbors were incredibly saddened and alarmed by the tragic death of Mr. Mohammad Anwar during an attempted carjacking near Nationals Park while he was delivering food. I'm including a statement I shared with the press at the time here: "The alleged carjacking last week left one man dead and many other lives forever altered. It was a complete tragedy. From everything I’ve read, Mohammad Anwar was a loving father and grandfather. I extend my deepest condolences to Mr. Mohammad Anwar’s family for their loss – a loss that can never be fully healed. District juvenile confidentiality laws prevent me from sharing information relating to any ongoing investigation. However, I can say that any time children are involved in a serious incident like this, we must understand what more can be done to prevent it from ever happening again. Mr. Anwar should be alive today."
Police Reform Commission Completes Work, Releases Recommendations
Last summer, as part of the emergency police reform bill I led the Council to pass with a number of important provisions, a Police Reform Commission was formed to study the issue and make recommendations to both the Council and the Mayor on what the future of policing should look like and what changes should be made. Those recommendations were released yesterday. You can read the report here. And read my statement on where we go from here.
MPD Investigation into the Noose Found at St. Mark's Ongoing
I know Ward 6 residents were disgusted and horrified when a noose was found at St. Mark's church the morning of Friday, March 26. I've been in contact with First District Commander Morgan Kane about the investigation, which remains in progress. Hate is not welcome here and this is a hateful and cowardly act, meant to intimidate. It is a reminder we are never that far from our country's shameful past and we all must be willing to come to the table to be a community where every person is loved and treated with dignity as a valued member of our neighborhood. If you live in the area and have a security camera which may have captured whoever did this, please get in touch with the First District at (202) 698-0555.
New Laws You Probably Didn't Hear About
This tweet thread I did two weeks ago was well-received and I wanted to share it here. So often we are flying around from one issue to the next, but I wanted to slow down long enough to acknowledge a few bills I helped pass at the end of the year that finally went into effect. You probably haven't read about these bills anywhere, but I think they're pretty great and will make a difference in our community.
I Got a Sneak Peak at the New Southwest Library
I don't want to brag, but I was able to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of our nearly-renovated Southwest Library. And let me tell you...I cannot wait for the community to see it. It is absolutely stunning and a perfect place for our community to gather together in a shared public space. I'll let you know once we have a date for the ribbon cutting.
Got a sneak peek into our new Southwest Branch library this weekend. Opens officially later this spring! Here’s a quick 🧵 & photos! Rendering first, photos within... pic.twitter.com/AKi0fOP769— Charles Allen (@charlesallen) March 28, 2021
Just a quick reminder - when you are recycling, please do not put any plastic bags into your recycling bin. Because we do a commingled system with every type of recyclable material together, the machines cannot process plastic bags. If you have a bag full of plastic bags in your home like I do, you can take them to local grocery stores (I know the Harris Teeter in NoMa for one) who in turn take the bags to a specialized recycling plant.
For more tips, DC maintains a very helpful Zero Waste website with a tool to guide residents on what can be recycled and what cannot.
Farmers Markets Return
With spring is full bloom, Ward 6 farmers markets at Mt. Vernon Triangle, H St, NE and SW DC return this weekend. Eastern Market and the surrounding farmer's market will continue to operate year-round. And since we're still in a pandemic, please continue to follow all guidance and wear your marks -- even if you've been vaccinated. Help maintain a strong culture of smart, safe ways to operate until we've gotten everyone vaccinated.
Finally, as a reminder, there are special deals and opportunities for residents on fixed or modest-incomes to afford fresh vegetables and fruits and other important staples at these markets. Just check in with the Info tent at any of these markets to learn more.
Loss of Heritage Trees in Southwest is Unacceptable
Finally, I know many Southwest neighbors are upset at the damage and loss of six Heritage Trees during construction by a DDOT contractor who broke the rules. I wanted to share a quick update. First, I've gotten DDOT to commit to reclaiming as much of the wood as possible from the trees and putting it to use in Southwest. And second, I'm pushing for the maximum fine that can be levied against Fort Myer Construction. We know from research that tree canopy in cities is a critical way to get cleaner air and lower the temperature. And obviously, while we can't replace big, ancient trees and their work pulling carbon out of the air, we have to send a strong message that companies carrying out work in the District can't view destroying trees as a minor inconvenience.