CM Charles Allen Hosts Virtual Town Hall Meeting Last Night – The Virus Peak and Its Aftermath
by Larry Janezich
Charles Allen held a virtual town hall meeting last night to engage Ward 6 residents on the unprecedented healthcare crisis afflicting the city.
Allen emphasized the importance of the stay-at-home order, reviewed the recent work of the city Council in passing two bills to address the crisis, and said there were more to come. The Council’s priorities are increasing access to unemployment insurance, providing funds to help small businesses, freezing rent increases for commercial and residential tenants, and effecting a 90 day deferral of mortgage payments with the intention that building owners will pass on the benefit to tenants in the form of rent deferral. Allen anticipates repayment plans of five years for mortgage deferrals and 18 months for renters. He said there would be a huge economic impact from the crisis and recovery would take several years.
Questions from Ward 6 residents elicited the following information:
- The Peak and aftermath: Allen says we don’t know exactly when we’ll peak. The current model being used by the Mayor projects a peak based on how well or badly residents practice social distancing, the rate of testing, and the rate of increase of positive cases. As of now, the peak is estimated to hit in mid-June – early-July, but with new information coming in everyday, the model will fluctuate. Allen said, “Were in this for the long haul – not a couple of weeks but several months. When a vaccine is not going to be produced until March or April of 2021, were not going to be able to flip a switch and have things come back to normal. Some element of social distancing will have to stay in effect until there is mass production of vaccine.” He added, “When the Mayor announced the number of 93,000 infection over this year – which is about 10% to 15% of the DC population – that is not enough from a public health standpoint to provide herd immunity – that is, having enough people having exposure to either build up antibodies…. So, we’ll be concerned when we come out of the peak about whether we have to watch for another peak coming.” [Herd immunity occurs when so many people have antibodies that those who have not been infected are too few for the spread of the virus to be sustained.]
- Racial disparity in the numbers of infection: Allen cited the high number of African-Americans who have tested positive and said that was rooted in a long time disparity and inequality that exists in housing, education, and healthcare. He noted the high maternal mortality in African-American mothers and said it was “because we have a broken health care system which allowed perpetuation of racial disparity to take place – layered discrimination in housing, employment, and education. These inequities have been allowed to exist for a long time, and that’s how it plays out.“ Allen said, “We have a lot of work to do not just here and now but in the entire city in all different aspects.”
- The higher rate of infection in Ward 6: Allen cited two reasons, 1) there are 15,000 more people in Ward 6 than any other Ward, and 2) residents in Ward 6 on average have better access to health care, testing, and diagnosis than some other wards. Overall, he said, the percentage the population infected is in line with other wards.
- Extension of school closure and social distancing/unessential business orders: Allen said it is reasonable to expect that the Mayor will extend the order on schools, social distancing, and unessential businesses until mid-June.
- Recovery plan: There is no formal recovery plan yet and we are nowhere near the apex. DC is in a far better place that most cities and states. We’ll take a big hit. Sales tax revenue and income tax revenue are down and that will have an impact on the budget.
- Elections: The city will aggressively promote a mail and ballot option – will mail out a request for to every registered voter, reach out online, and open 20 in-person sites for early voting.
- Construction workers: Workers not following social distancing guidelines is a major concern of every councilmember. When we see it we contact DCRA inspectors.
- Crime: The city is not seeing an increase in crime. Burglaries are down but homicides are on pace. Almost all homicides are conflict driven and occur between individuals who know each other.
- Enforcement of social distancing: MPD has enforcement abilities regarding social distancing, but the city doesn’t want that to result in criminal consequences. The emphasis is on increasing awareness of public health and safety. In some social gathering hotspots, responders from the DPR Roving Leaders Program and the Violence Intervention Program are used as messengers to increase public awareness.
- Closing of Streets: We should look at temporary closing of streets in residential blocks for public recreation. Ward 6 has dense and compact neighborhoods. Closing streets to add public space makes sense. The Mayor is concerned about unintended consequences [festivals] but Allen thinks we can do it.