Representing Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax

Newsletter - May 23, 2020

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Alexandria Office:
301 King St
Alexandria, VA 22314
571.234.8481

DelMLevine@house.virginia.gov

I know it's rough out there. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and we're in quarantine. If you can take a walk outside, bring your mask and please do. Enjoy all the beauty of nature. And keep six feet apart from your neighbor. Social distancing is hard. We all crave the human connection. There will come a time again for hugs. Don't forget your humanity. 

Many of you are suffering right now. I know it. My Chief of Staff Jacob Weinberg and I are working hard every day to get you the health care, the unemployment compensation, and the other services our constituents desperately need right now.

We are always looking to help out vulnerable people, whether they live in a struggling community like Chirilagua/Arlandria or whether they reside in a nursing home or assisted living facility.

If you need help or know someone who does, please don't hesitate to reach out.

If you can afford it, you can donate to some very good organizations helping people in need:

If you can't afford money but can give of yourself, here are some ideas:

Join the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps

The Virginia Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) is seeking individuals to volunteer with the corps. More information on the MRC can be found here.

Donate Blood

Consider donating blood if you are healthy and able. Currently, there is a severe blood shortage nationally. Appointments to give blood with INOVA can be made at INOVAblood.org. Appointments to give blood with the American Red Cross can be made by visiting RedCrossBlood.org.


And if you can throw in a few bucks to help keep Virginia blue, please donate here:

I don't know about you, but I find national news infuriating. The President is openly defying the law, firing inspector generals (his legal watchdogs), freeing his criminal cronies from prison and dropping all charges (Roger Stone and Mike Flynn), refusing any kind of legislative or judicial oversight, insisting the President can never be held accountable, pushing drugs that will literally kill you, greedily profiting from all of this despair, and urging people to congregate in houses of worship (aka dangerous enclosed places where long exposure to chorale singing can be deadly) to satisfy a small portion of his evangelical base that seems to care more about the appearance of religiosity than actually protecting human life.

Yet the grim truth is stark:  if the federal government had acted sooner and focused more on saving American lives than Trump's political and personal well-being, 83,000 more Americans would be alive today. Even if they had acted just one week earlier, they could have saved 54,000 American lives. For months, Trump had the warnings we didn't have. And still he downplayed the crisis and did virtually nothing. In a worldwide pandemic, we have 4% of the world's population but 30% of its covid cases.

That's extraordinary. And what's more extraordinary is we barely mention it. Only today, as we cross the 100,000-death threshold, have we finally even taken the small step of flying flags at half mast.

100,000 innocent lives. Old and young. Women and men. In cities, in suburbs, and in the country. All races. All ethnicities. Should be alive today. One and a half times the American death toll in Vietnam are people no longer with us because of our President's selfishness and incompetence. 

And they died alone. Without their families around them to say goodbye. Without the parades or medals we give to our brave, courageous veterans and servicemen and women whom we also venerate this Memorial Day weekend. Compare our response to the 100,000 killed in only two months in this pandemic to the 2400 killed at Pearl Harbor. Or the 3000 killed on 9/11/2001. Or the 58,000 Americans killed over two decades in Vietnam. 

Should we not take a moment to mourn this unfathomable loss?

We are all understandably focused on how to protect our own lives and health and the lives and health of our families and friends. We also work to preserve the economic well-being of those of us who have lost our jobs and can't pay the rent. And to teach our school-age kids virtually. These are immediate, pressing names, as our nation heads off the cliff to an economic disaster likely to rival the Great Depression.

But we should never forget that it didn't have to be this way. Elections matter. And in countries with competent and responsible governments, this devastation did not happen. 

Let's make sure that it does not happen again. I know times are tough, and if you cannot afford to contribute, I completely understand. But if you do have some extra resources, you can make a significant difference in helping us escape to a brighter future by supporting:

  • a party dedicated to saving lives, instead of promoting selfishness and greed;
  • a party who believes in governmental oversight and checks and balance, instead of doing whatever it takes to grasp raw, unbridled power;
  • a party dedicated to protecting the right to safely vote, instead of fighting to suppress the voter;
  • a party dedicated to health care and economic concerns and the environment, instead of one devoted to multinational corporate profits and pollution at the expense of human needs;
  • a party that respects science and experts, instead of toadies and cronies; and
  • a party that celebrates all the diversity that is humanity, instead of fostering prejudice against the "other" while catering to a very narrow group of individuals.

For all these reasons, I ask you to please consider a donation. Help give us the resources to spread the word. Even $5 or $10 adds up. And we have the battle of our lifetimes ahead to confront. Elections matter. And I think we can all do better.


If you have yet to do so, please consider taking my COVID-19 Constituent Survey today to let me know what issues are most important to you during this trying time. The results of our survey help inform our priorities. We will release the results in my next newsletter.

Click Here to Take my COVID-19 Constituent Survey Today!

The results we have seen so far reflect that many of you share my concerns about the well-being of our frontline and essential workers, and the safety and fairness of our elections. In addition to helping folks navigate the unemployment assistance program, I have been heavily focused on housing, rent relief, testing, promoting the wearing of masks, and caring for folks in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. 


Virginia Launches StayHomeVirginia.com

A New Website for Housing Resources

Governor Northam announced at his Monday COVID-19 briefing (which you can watch by clicking here) that his administration, in collaboration with the Virginia Housing Development Authority, has created StayHomeVirginia.com, a website for housing-centered information about programs, services and resources to help those who have experienced job or income loss and other impacts due to COVID-19. This includes guidance on how to work with landlords, financial institutions and others to sustainably utilize temporary eviction and foreclosure protections during this crisis.

Ultimately, StayHomeVirginia.com is a tool to help you make the best, most-informed choices so they can stay healthy, stay financially secure, and stay home.

In addition to the need for expanded testing (more on that below), I have been in constant communication with Governor Northam's team about what we can do to make sure no Virginian suffers housing insecurity.

This document linked here also provides a good overview of housing relief programs. 

In addition to federal protections from eviction for homeowners with federally-backed mortgages, Virginia has protected homeowners and tenants by:

1. Committing $12 million to help nonprofits continue operations and deliver services during the COVID-19 emergency and recovery. This funding will support more than 200 non-profit housing entities across all regions of the Commonwealth.

2. Providing a three-month mortgage deferral for those experiencing economic hardship. Landlords who have had their Virginia Housing-backed mortgage deferred must pass this deferral on to their tenants.

3. Capping late fees on rent. HB1420 caps late fees at 10 percent of the periodic rent or 10 percent of the remaining balance due, whichever is lesser. This new law will help prevent cascading late fees, allow charges only on the amount due, and set a maximum late fee percentage for the first time in the Commonwealth of Virginia. We amended this bill at our April 22 reconvene session and made it go into effect immediately upon passage. 

​​4. Protecting tenants from eviction during emergencies. HB340 delays rental evictions or mortgage foreclosures for individuals who are not currently covered under the protections offered through the federal CARES Act or state and local protections. Under this new law, a tenant may receive a 60-day continuance of an eviction proceeding from a court if they appear in court and provide written evidence that they are not receiving payments or wages due to the state of emergency. Additionally, homeowners or landlords can pause a foreclosure proceeding for 30 days if the homeowner provides their lender with written evidence showing a loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We amended this bill at our April 22 reconvene session to make sure it applied to those impacted by COVID-19 and took effect immediately.

If you need financial assistance to pay your rent or utilities:
Alexandria City residents,  please call at 703-746-4311 or request assistance here.
Arlington County residents, please call 703-228-1300 for emergency rent and utility assistance.
Fairfax County residents, please call Fairfax County's Coordinated Services Planning at 703-222-0880.

And of course, do not hesitate to reach out to my office if you need help navigating any state or local agencies. My office's contact information is on the left border of this email. 

Starting Tuesday, Governor Northam will give press conferences to update Virginia on his Administration's pandemic response every Tuesday and Thursday at 2pm. (This is a change from the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday press conferences he gave for the last two months). Tune in on the Governor's facebook page or on Virginia Public Media's Youtube channel.

Testing, Testing, Testing

Virginia's testing has been depressingly inadequate. It is getting better, but we rarely hit Governor Northam's stated goal of at least 10,000 tests performed in a day, let alone the 16,664 per day that Harvard’s Global Health Institute estimates we need to reopen safely and contain the virus. On Friday, the Virginia Department of Health reported 6,543 PCR diagnostic tests were done over a 24-hour reporting period, far below the 10,000 per day benchmark [What's a PCR test?]

I have been especially concerned about the data we are seeing from neighborhoods like Chirilagua/Arlandria, one of the hardest hit neighborhoods in the entire Commonwealth. I have had numerous long conversations with the Governor's team, pressing for solutions.

The data suggests that we still have a long way to go. On Thursday, Virginia reported by far its highest number of new COVID-19 cases over a 24-hour reporting period (1,229), after new daily cases appeared to be plateauing or descending all too slowly (see here). The metropolitan Washington DC region appears to have the highest concentration of coronavirus in the country right now, and Northern Virginia has a greater concentration of COVID cases than most other areas of the Commonwealth, with as much as one quarter of all people tested testing positive, while folks in the rest of Virginia test positive only about 10% of the time.

Curious how your neighborhood is doing? I've been pressing the Administration for a month now to release zip code level data, and I'm pleased to report they finally have. You can review zip code level data for all of Virginia by going to the "Data Download" section on the Virginia Department of Health's COVID-19 Dashboard, linked here. Below are some basic numbers for the zip codes of the 45th District. These numbers come from VDH's May 22nd report. 





Zipcode Number of cases Number of PCR testing encounters Percent tested
22305 463 1111 41.67%
22302 168 576 29.17%
22314 153 915 16.72%
22202 136 630 21.59%
22206 133 609 21.84%
22303 128 530 24.15%
22301 58 380 15.26%
22307 47 298 15.77%

You can see that zip code 22305 (Chirilagua/Arlandria) has a much higher level of cases than the other zip codes, with 22302 (Rosemont and, due to its strange shape, several other neighborhoods) being second.

The Northam Administration has worked with the VDH to expand the efforts of local health departments to increase the capacity of community testing events. The Commonwealth has contracted with private labs to organize drive-thru and walk-up testing all across Virginia to reach our most vulnerable populations. I have specifically asked the Administration to focus on Chirilagua/Arlandria, a community with large numbers of essential workers, undocumented immigrants, families in close living quarters, and language and cultural barriers that may well lead to fewer reaching out to us in their great time of need. VDH will be hosting numerous free, mass testing events around the Commonwealth over the coming weeks.

These tests are FREE.
NO appointment is necessary.
NO insurance or doctor's prescription is required to get a test.
NO proof of residency is required to get a test. 
NO identification is necessary. 

Now, that being said, just because they are free and testing all who ask, does not mean all of us should run out and get tested. The goal of these events is to test people who need free testing, not those for whom a free test is merely convenient. Please, as always, consider your most vulnerable neighbors as you decide what to do here. You should go to get tested at these events if you actually need a free test. 

Again, these tests are designed for people who have no insurance or health care provider. If you believe you need a test (you have COVID symptoms or you have been in close contact with someone with COVID symptoms) and have insurance and a health-care provider, please contact your health-care provider about getting a test. Those tests are likely free as well, but you may have to pay a copay or a deductible, through your insurance, for the doctor visit. If you have no insurance, it could cost $100 to $300.

There are numerous upcoming testing events in the area: two in Fairfax County, and two in the City of Alexandria (including, after my strong urging, a location in the 22305 zip code). 

May 23-24 in Fairfax County: 3,000 Tests

If you have questions about the Fairfax County testing sites, please call 703-267-3511. The call line is staffed Monday-Friday, 9 am - 7 pm, and Saturday-Sunday, 9:30 am - 5 pm. 

May 25 in Alexandria: 3,000 Tests

Half in Chirilagua/Arlandria. Half in the West End. If you have questions about the testing events in Alexandria, you can call the City's COVID-19 Information Line at 703-746-4988; it is open from 9 am - 6 pm, Monday-Friday. Feel free to call my office at 571-234-8481 with questions outside of those hours.

Neighborhood Health is also offering free testing every Saturday in Chirilagua! Call them at 703-525-5568. If you have no insurance, a lower income, or are dealing with financial insecurity, please contact Neighborhood Health!

Click here to find a list of all COVID-19 Testing Sites in Virginia. You can search by radius or by geographic region.

If you don't have a health care provider or are uninsured, please contact your local health department. Local health departments can assist you in identifying a free healthcare clinic or a federally qualified health center for evaluation.

City of Alexandria Health Department 
Arlington County Department of Health
Fairfax County Health Department


Help for People in Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities

One of my greatest concerns during this pandemic has been protecting people living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Almost half of all Virginia cases -- and the majority of COVID-19 deaths in the City of Alexandria -- have occurred to residents of these facilities.

Of the five nursing homes and four assisted living facilities located in Alexandria, eight of them — that is, all but one of them —  have had outbreaks of COVID-19 occur within them. This is completely unacceptable.

I’ve long been concerned about oversight of these facilities, and, in fact, many of you know I’ve introduced legislation for several years now to require guardians to allow patients with limited mental acuity to have access to frequent visits from their friends and family, without these visitors having to go to court to seek access. It is my belief that normally, the eyes and ears of loved ones are critically necessary to protect residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities from abuse.

But of course, COVID-19 is hardly a “normal” situation. I understand why visitors would be restricted these days, as social distancing saves lives. But during this pandemic, that critical oversight is gone. Families have been unable to visit their loved ones. And while that restriction is absolutely necessary, it seems to me this requires these facilities to respond with more transparency -- not less -- in these troubled times. I've been very disappointed by the response of some of these facilities to attempts at oversight. Many of them refuse to return calls from concerned family members. (One of them did not respond to my calls.) If patients living in these facilities suffer from Alzheimer’s or some other mentally debilitating illness, they literally have no one to care for them when these facilities fail to do so. I have pushed for investigations and strict oversight so that families and friends can protect their loved ones.

Oversight is tricky. Nursing homes are regulated by the Virginia Department of Health. Assisted Living Facilities are regulated by the Virginia Department of Social Services’ Division of Licensing Programs. We have pressed for answers and demanded investigations. And I appreciate the responsiveness I have received from state officials. The Governor set up a special working group in April to focus on helping prevent the debilitating and lethal spread of COVID-19 among the extremely vulnerable populations in these congregate settings. The Administration has committed to testing everyone who lives in or works in these facilities (whether symptomatic or not) to stem the outbreak.

Unfortunately, due to a quirk in the privacy law of Virginia designed to protect individual privacy (and written before I was in the legislature), the law gives these entities a legal right not to disclose these outbreaks as well. The General Assembly would not be able to legally change that law until the late fall, which is obviously too late to help the people in need.

So on May 12, I sent a letter to the Governor and the Attorney General, urging adoption of new federal guidelines which, I hope and believe, supersede this outmoded Virginia privacy law. I pressed the Administration to formally recognize this new federal regulation and interpret it as broadly as possible to require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to disclose their Covid outbreaks in detail (without, of course, violating individual patient privacy). Based on our conversations, I have every reason to expect they got the message and will be responding soon.

But that won't stop me and shouldn't stop you from pressing these facilities to do the right thing. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities obviously can disclose covid outbreaks if they want to do the right thing. Public shaming is a powerful thing, and they shouldn't get away with concealing their own incompetence. Speak out and let them know that if they refuse to disclose the nature of outbreaks in their facilities, you will tell your story to the press and/or remove your family members from these facilities.


Virginia Deploys Artificial Intelligence-Powered Online Tool to Help Virginians Self-Screen for COVID-19

Governor Ralph Northam announced yesterday that Virginians can now use COVIDCheck, a new online risk-assessment tool to check their symptoms and connect with the appropriate health care resource, including COVID-19 testing.

COVIDCheck is a free, web-based, artificial intelligence-powered telehealth tool that can help individuals displaying symptoms associated with COVID-19 self-assess their risk and determine the best next steps, such as self-isolation, seeing a doctor, or seeking emergency care. This resource assists in identifying users who are at higher risk of COVID-19 and can help individuals find a nearby testing site. It is not to be used in place of emergency medical care.

COVIDCheck users who say they are experiencing symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19 are screened for occupational and medical risk factors and are given one of five care levels in accordance with the Virginia Department of Health’s categories.

By answering a series of questions, an individual can receive a personalized, real-time self-assessment with information and recommendations on what to do next. The recommendations, based on the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include advice on when to contact a medical professional or seek emergency care, next steps for care based on zip code, and permission to follow up with the individual in three days to see how the person is doing.

“Because COVID-19 can affect people differently and cause illness ranging from mild to severe, this personalized assessment tool can help people sort through symptoms and decide if they need to seek medical care,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “While COVIDCheck is not a substitute for medical advice, it can help people decide what steps to take next to protect themselves, their loved ones, and the community."


WEAR A MASK!
Metro Now Requiring Riders to Wear Masks
on Buses and Trains

Many of our neighbors are essential workers who do not have the privilege of working from home during a pandemic. Please cover your face to keep them and yourselves safe! Read more about the Metro's new rules here.

And just to be clear, you really should wear a face covering whenever you step out of your house. This is particularly necessary when you step indoors or think you are likely to find yourself within six feet of others. I have been encouraging the Northam Administration to require masks for pubic indoor settings in Northern Virginia.
 

 

Governor Northam Announces Education Work Group to Guide Process for Safe, Equitable Reopening of Schools

The governor also announced a diverse set of education stakeholders participating in the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 Education Work Group to help chart a path forward for determining how schools can safely reopen later this year.

​​​​The group is comprised of representatives from Virginia’s public and private early childhood, K-12, and higher education systems, and includes teachers, superintendents, parents, college presidents, state agency personnel, special education advocates, museum directors, and student perspectives. Its members come from every region of the Commonwealth. 

Secretary of Education Atif Qarni formed the work group and chaired its first meeting on April 23. Since then, the work group has been focused on developing recommendations to align policies throughout the Commonwealth’s education system and ensure continuity of learning.


Virginia Hiring for Contact Tracing Program

Virginia has dedicated $58 million in federal CARES Act dollars to ramp up our contact tracing program. VDH is working to hire 200 new communicable disease investigators and 1,000 contact tracers. The Virginia's Department of Health is hiring for different positions in their contract tracing program. See the job postings below:


Virginia Receives USDA Approval to Join
SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot Program

For the first time ever, more than 740,000 Virginians who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will be able to pay for their groceries online and have them delivered, after the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved Virginia to participate in an innovative online purchasing pilot program.

The program will launch statewide in Virginia on Friday, May 29 with online shopping access available through the Amazon and Walmart online platforms. Retailers interested in participating the program can find more information and apply by contacting USDA. Transactions will take place using SNAP customers’ secure Personal Identification Numbers (PINs). SNAP benefits cannot be used to pay for fees of any type, such as delivery, service, or convenience fees.

Additional information about SNAP benefits in Virginia is available on the Virginia Department of Social Services' website


Wishing Our Muslim Friends and Families a Blessed Eid al-Fitr

Ramadan provides meditation and reflection. It allows Muslims worldwide to reflect on the world around us and make inner peace. Eid al-Fitr, the breaking of the fast, is traditionally a joyful day of friends and family. As with Passover and Easter, celebrations are necessarily more muted and virtual this year. Nevertheless, I want to wish every Muslim a blessed Eid al-Fitr. May your reflections and ours lead to a day where we can solve our problems by looking to the best humanity has to offer, compassion for one another, and mutual strength in difficult times.


A Salute to Veterans This Memorial Day

Monday is Memorial Day, and I want to personally thank and honor all the service member veterans who have died serving our country. Let's take some time to reflect with gratitude about their sacrifices, and think about what we all can do to prevent any more lives from being needlessly lost. 

I am honored to represent so many service members, veterans, and service families.

This Memorial Day, while we especially honor those who lost their lives, may we also give thanks to those who returned home as changed people. And to those who remain abroad, away from their home country, separated from their families, wondering when they'll get to return. And to those who wanted to serve openly and as their true selves, but were banned from doing so because of discrimination based on who they are or who they love. 

Thank you to the veterans who were drafted into military action decades ago. Thank you to the veterans who enlisted because it offered them their best shot at earning a college education. And a special thank you to the veterans who signed up to defend our country and the values for which it stands. 

Wishing everyone a thoughtful and reflective Memorial Day. 


Chin up, Folks.
This too will pass.

I know this has been a pretty grim newsletter. For more than a month now, COVID-19 has been the leading cause of death in the USA, and that won't stop anytime soon. Knowing that almost 100,000 people should be alive today and are dead solely due to our incompetent government is infuriating. It is exasperating to know that Great Depression levels of unemployment and trillions wasted in federal debt could also have been avoided if we just had a President more concerned about serving the American People than padding his pockets, rigging elections, and consolidating as much dictatorial power as he could.

But our understandable outrage shouldn't be debilitating. Where the federal government has failed, states across the nation have stepped up to save lives. Social distancing is working. And we live in a democracy where thankfully -- this November -- we can change our federal government to a new one that respects science, values us all, and cares more about protecting the American People than catering to the whims of a half-mad, narcissistic, petulant nearly-74-year-old toddler.

We are still American. We can still rise up. We still have power, even in these traumatic times, to turn around our country through compassion to one another and through organizing and working democratically to press our government to change its policies where we can -- and to change our government, where we can't. And there is light at the end of the tunnel starting November 3, less than six months away. 

So chin up. We are saving lives. Be responsible. Take care of your neighbors and one another. We will get through this together and come out the other side.

As I write this, the birds are chirping, and the sun is shining. It is a beautiful day.

And I thank you again for the honor and privilege of representing you.

Delegate Mark Levine
Proudly serving Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax
      in the Virginia House of Delegates