I am writing today to let you know that I am temporarily suspending campaigning for my re-election due to the rapidly changing situation with COVID-19. I may re-evaluate this decision as we get closer to June, depending on how much progress the County has made dealing with this issue. I have filed for re-election and will be on the ballot June 9, and of course, I would appreciate your vote. For now, though, this is not a time for personal campaigning. In the foreseeable future, my focus must be on ensuring our resiliency as a community so we can get through this health and economic crisis and prepare to recover as quickly as possible.
We are entering a new reality. I know all of us are worried about the health and safety of ourselves, our families and neighbors, while also worried about the impact this will have on Arlington as a community. In my role as Chair of the Arlington County Board, I am working to help coordinate the local government response within the County while ensuring Virginia and the Federal government understand what is needed on the ground.
While I am working hard on the Arlington government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the truth is that we need to immediately engage every part of our community to ensure our health, resiliency and recovery. I have always been proud of the way Arlingtonians pull together and if ever there is a time to do so, it is now. We are at a turning point, our new behaviors and what we do for each other are critical to containing this virus.
Each of us has neighbors who need food or medicine and should not leave their homes. Each of us knows people, small businesses and nonprofits that will need urgent financial support. Many of us are eager to help our neighbors and want to know how to do so in ways that protect our public health. I am heartened to see efforts springing up hourly to organize community assistance. I want to support these efforts in every way I can.
I believe there are three ways in which each of us can help our community in this time of need.
Protecting Public Health
First, I cannot stress enough the importance of basic and simple hygiene: use soap and water to wash your hands for 20 seconds frequently throughout the day and whenever you enter a building or return home. When someone enters your home or office, ask them to wash their hands. CDC has issued guidelines for “community mitigation strategies” to limit the spread of COVID-19, which includes a recommendation for “social distancing,” or in other words a conscious effort to reduce close contact between people and hopefully stymie community transmission of the virus (6-foot distancing). Personally, I found this recent article in The Atlantic to be a measured and practical guide to social distancing. Spending time outside is ideal, just stay about 6 feet apart. If you are in a car with someone, open the windows. Fresh air is good. For more details about safety during this crisis, please see the Arlington County and CDC websites.
I am concerned particularly about bar and restaurant situations. As of this writing, we do not have the authority to close or limit patronage at bars and restaurants. That may change. Meanwhile, I strongly encourage proper distancing. While many people may not fall ill from COVID-19, they can carry the disease to others who are vulnerable. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. If our hospitals are flooded with ill people, there will be less care available for everyone else. We are all in this together.
As credible information continues to become available, I will ensure we share that information through both official Arlington channels and my personal social networks.
Second, many of us want to help our neighbors who might require special support. As I become aware of efforts by our nonprofits and ad hoc grassroots groups, I will post them on my website and push out email updates as a clearinghouse for ways you can help. This clearinghouse should be ready on my website by this Wednesday the 18th. If you would like to send me information now about a nonprofit effort, you can send it for inclusion to email@example.com. You will also be able to sign up for our own resiliency effort soon. We will be canvassing neighborhoods in a safe manner, not for my campaign, but as a neighbor-to-neighbor effort to say hello and see if anyone needs assistance or would like to offer support. Again, we will function as a clearinghouse to connect people and organizations: www.libbygarvey.com and click on the “COVID-19 Resources” navigational button.
Local Businesses and the Economically Vulnerable
Finally, we all have favorite small businesses and people we know who clean our homes, care for our children, and wait on us at restaurants. Small businesses and wage workers are being hit hard by this crisis already. The County is looking at different kinds of relief we can offer while aggressively amplifying the urgency to state and federal officials. Housing grants to help people pay their rent and prevent eviction have long been in use in Arlington. We will increase those as the need increases. New kinds of support for small businesses, perhaps to pay their lease or meet other obligations, are under expedited review.
Unfortunately, the nature of government, even a very good local government, means that it will take time to work out what is both legal and appropriate. In the meantime, many of us want to help. Small businesses dependent on cash flow and those people who live paycheck to paycheck need our support now. We are working on a long-term plan, however, now you can order carryout from your favorite restaurants, buy gift cards from them for future services, and consider prepaying other service providers. We want to do everything we can now to support our community’s most vulnerable and to ensure that Arlington can recover quickly after this health and economic crisis has passed.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and suggestions. If you have any other ideas for what the government or our broader community can do, please do not hesitate to reach out.