When I first decided I should update you on entering Phase 1, my plan was to focus on Covid-19. This update still does that. But now that we have learned of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis and the anger and grief it has understandably sparked around the country, I’d like to talk a little about how we navigate these dark times.
A Cancer in our Nation
I am committed to equity and I believe Arlington, as a community, is too. However, this pandemic has revealed how very far from equity we are. Our vulnerable populations suffer far more than the rest with higher rates of Covid disease and less access to healthcare. They have always lived on the edge, have suffered from higher unemployment, and needed more for both housing and food support. Those populations are largely people of color. There are many economic, historic and social reasons for this, but racism underlies all of those reasons.
Arlingtonians have long worked hard as a community and as a local government to address systemic racism, but the gaps in our local, state and national social systems have become all too evident during the pandemic. We see them in healthcare, housing, nutrition and education. The County struggles to fill these
gaps every day. We’ve increased funding for food, housing, medical and educational support by millions of dollars and will continue to do so. I’m proud of our Arlington police who are well-trained and focus on helping people, not arresting or punishing them. However, no institution is perfect. You may be interested in the letter our Police Chief sent to the community outlining everything the Arlington Police do to ensure what happened in Minneapolis (and in Ferguson, New York City, Miami and too many others) will not happen here. I am sure the Board will have discussions on best practices in policing and what we might do better.
As I watch demonstrations across the country, I am struck by how they are different from in my youth. First, people of all racial groups are participating more than in the ’60s. This is a positive change. Second, I’m reading about signs of infiltration by people of ill will seeking to incite violence and spread chaos. This happened in the ’60s, too, but now the inciting of violence comes from our President. This is new and frightening.
With this threat facing us, people of good will, no matter their race, class, religion or background, must come together and recommit to non-violence and justice for all. And we must not be pulled from that commitment by gaslighting and emotional baiting. The great religions of the world have always been right: treat others as you want to be treated yourself. It is a simple rule and provides, as it always has, a good guide through these dark times.
Phase 1 Reopening
As we enter Phase One reopening in Northern Virginia this weekend, I want to let you know of some steps the County is taking to support our businesses, our residents and you in a safe reopening.
First, a reminder that Covid-19 is still very present in our community. The safest approach, still, is to assume that everyone is Covid positive. Therefore, per the Governor’s order, everyone should wear a face covering when outside the home with other people; maintain 6 feet of distance between yourself and others as much as possible; and wash hands whenever you enter a building or return home. While many people want the County to strictly enforce face coverings in Arlington, we are limited in our ability to do so by the resources that would be needed to constantly monitor everyone. As with many good social practices, voluntary compliance is crucial for success. However, we will address flagrant violations and remind people of proper behavior. If you see behavior in public spaces that seems dangerous and not in compliance with the Governor’s order, you can call 703-228-7999 or go online to report it.
The Board is working to make compliance easy for people. We will soon have cloth face masks to distribute throughout Arlington. A simple bandana tied around the face can work and we have posted a video on how to make your own in about 40 seconds. The County has launched a “We Are Covered” program. Businesses, multi-family buildings, and houses of
worship can fill out an online form and pledge their commitment to adhering to the face coverings requirement and received a free “We Are Covered” badge that they can display. There are many restrictions and guidelines for businesses in Phase One, which can be found on the County web page.
County employees will continue teleworking, but gradually open some services, often in a different way. Next month we will start a program for people to order and pick up library books, without entering the library. We’re working on how best to handle facilities like dog parks, which present difficult challenges. I appreciate all the ideas and thoughts people are sending. I am particularly heartened by the way PTA’s, churches, non-profits, neighborhoods and individuals have stepped up to work on their own or to partner with Arlington County to help our neighbors in need. As a community we are providing food, shelter, healthcare services, and essentials like diapers and formula to thousands of residents. It is not only the right thing to do, but I think we all realize it keeps our entire community more healthy and resilient. I am very hopeful that we will be a more equitable, innovative and resilient community when we reach the other side of this pandemic.
Moving forward, I know we are all concerned about the number of cases here in Arlington and how we are doing. The data and how it is presented and collected has been continually changing and it comes from a variety of sources with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) being the main one. Even with VDH, about 10% of the positive cases they register have no location identified beyond being in Virginia. I have usually taken the data we get as an indication rather than an absolute measure of where we are. Over time, however, the data continues to improve. One of the best sites is the Northern Virginia Regional Commission’s dashboard.
I continue to work closely with my regional colleagues and was pleased to join them in a joint message on face coverings (#MaskUpNOVA). It is crucial that the whole region follow the same good protocols.
Finally, on Monday June 1 we will be joining churches and communities across the country in a Day of Mourning to recognize the now more than 100,000 Americans who have lost their lives so far to the virus. Our flags will be at half-mast. I invite you to join me and my colleagues for a moment of silence at noon on Monday. I hope this remembrance will help everyone recommit to doing everything we can to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. We are doing pretty well in Arlington, but we have a long way to go before we can relax our vigilance towards this disease.
As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts.