I wish I was writing you in better circumstances, but we must face the reality that we are living in difficult times and do the best we can to make them better.
The COVID-19 pandemic is growing rapidly in our country and in our community. As of writing we have over 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Northern Virginia, and an outbreak exploding across the United States. These are facts to which we must respond with decisive action.
I urge all who can to stay home. As I explained over the weekend, the experiences of other countries strongly indicate that swift and aggressive social isolation is the most effective step to stop the spread of coronavirus. Governor Northam recently issued an Executive Order closing schools and many businesses in the state (details here), and WMATA curtailed Metro service to essential trips only. We are in this together, and all of us can do our part to help prevent the spread of this disease by sharply limiting our contact with others.
My staff and I are working hard to help improve and support a robust public response to this outbreak at the local, state, and federal levels. I am also heavily involved in helping draft legislation to minimize the economic damage of the pandemic.
Most recently, the House passed H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, on a bipartisan vote. That bill, which followed earlier legislation to fund the public health response, includes provisions to provide free COVID-19 testing, paid emergency leave with two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave (FAQ here), enhanced unemployment insurance, expanded food assistance, and additional support to our local, state, tribal and territorial governments and health systems so they have the resources necessary to combat this crisis.
I am also working with my colleagues to draft legislation to help the economy; as of writing (2PM on Tuesday the 24th) we are getting close to striking a deal. I laid out some principles in a recent Op-Ed, and have been particularly focused on providing sustained, direct payments to the American people. As we negotiate with the Senate and the Administration, my colleagues and I made it clear that workers, families, and small businesses must come before bailouts to large corporations. We are also pushing for increased funding and resources for hospitals and health workers, expanded unemployment benefits, measures to ensure food security for all Americans, student debt relief, and veterans’ assistance.
Congressional rules require Ethics approval before sending mass communications, and as negotiations are moving quickly, a compromise may be reached and even have passed by the time you read this. Because I know many of you are having to make tough decisions on tight timelines, I will provide more details of legislative responses as soon as I can.
Additionally, I am working with colleagues on more focused efforts to improve the response, including seeking expanded telework options from OPM for federal workers, pushing the CDC to be more transparent about testing capacity, urging IRS to extend the tax filing deadline back (which they did, to July 15), asking the Administration to open a new special enrollment period for Affordable Care Act insurance marketplaces to help combat COVID-19, seeking a suspension of evictions during the public health emergency, and introducing legislation to make future coronavirus vaccinations free when they are developed, among many.
I am particularly concerned about protecting healthcare workers, and making sure they have the supplies and resources they need, including personal protective equipment, hospital bed space, and ventilators. The women and men on the front lines of this struggle are heroes and they deserve our gratitude and support. To that end, I encourage all who are able to donate blood, as supplies are in desperate need.
The medical advice from public health officials remains unchanged:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoid close contact with people who are sick; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; stay home when you are sick; and clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
- The Centers for Disease Control has public resources, including symptoms, precautions, prevention tips, and what to do if you are sick. Additional information is also available from the CDC and the Virginia Department of Health
- Those experiencing symptoms such as fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath should call their doctor. The uninsured may call Neighborhood Health at 703-535-5568.
- Testing is still limited based on case history and symptoms, but thanks to legislation drafted by the House and signed into law made COVID-19 testing free no matter where your health coverage is based, and even for the uninsured.
Here are additional resources for those affected by the COVID-19:
- Local resources for Northern Virginia, Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, and Falls Church, including public health information, support for small businesses, and updates on services and closures
- Overview of updates, information, and actions taken by Commonwealth of Virginia
- Food assistance is available here for those who qualify, and Virginians can also find information on meal services for children by texting “food” or “comida” to 877-877
- Information and updates for students and parents from school systems in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, and Falls Church, including the availability of meals for children
- Unemployment information from the Virginia Employment Commission, and an FAQ from Governor Northam’s office regarding assistance for Virginia workers
- Advice for managing stress, anxiety, and mental health during the outbreak from the CDC
- Small Business Administration loan information for businesses affected by the outbreak. Small businesses in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, and Falls Church are all eligible for disaster loans
- FAQ on the Governor’s Executive Order to close businesses
- Loan and debt relief resources for students from the Department of Education
- State Department travel guidance, including a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” Global Health Advisory
I again urge you to follow the recommendations from our health officials to practice social distancing, good hygiene and urge those around you to do the same. I hope you will continue to stay in touch by visiting my website, following me on Facebook and Twitter, and signing up for my newsletter. And please do not hesitate to contact me via email, by phone at 202-225-4376, or at 703-658-5403 for constituent services.
It will not be easy, but through decisive, collective action we will make it through this crisis together.