Updates from Letty – March 20, 2020

Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council

Dear Friends,

If you’re like my household, last Friday felt like last year and we’re not sure what day of the week it is anymore. Going forward, I’ll try to continue to write with some regularity but it may not always happen. With my kids home from school, we haven’t yet settled into a predictable rhythm where we can balance work and three kids’ needs (every working parents’ current concern). I continue to appreciate hearing from you – so I’ll keep it up the best I can.

For all the new readers, it’s a good time to re-state that these posts are my personal views and do not represent all of City Council. And with this rapidly changing crisis and new guidance coming out daily, my posts could be out of date by the time you read them. Click through links I provide to websites and original sources that will be updated regularly. The City has also started a daily newsletter on COVID-19 news for Falls Church. Read on to subscribe.  

By now, you’ve probably heard that the City of Falls Church announced its first positive diagnosis of COVID-19 yesterday and there is evidence of community spread in parts of the region. This underscores the importance of the past week’s requests for all of us to vigilantly practice social distancing, good personal hygiene, and ultimately to stay home unless you have essential business – especially if you are older than 65 or in one of the high risk groups. If you must go out, avoid busy times of day and large groups and maintain your 6 ft+ distance. While we don’t have legal authority to mandate closures of local businesses, law enforcement can enforce the state order of no more than 10 patrons per establishment. I appreciate the businesses who have made bold sacrifices to go even a step further and move to dining/takeout only (and hope you support them with your business!) and I urge others to consider the same. If you prefer to hear this in video form, Mayor Tarter will tell you himself.

This is not just about your individual risk – it’s about all of us actively working for the greater good. Let’s not be carriers to loved ones. Together we can help slow the spread, so critical medical resources are available to those who need it most. 

Finally, at the end are some quick, non-coronavirus civic updates because #balance.

Take good care,

PS – A personal note: we live in a time when technology can be so helpful in staying virtually connected through emergencies like this. However, I have found that for my own mental health, I need to be unplugged from social media, news consumption, homeschooling tips, and emails/texts a few hours each day. Too much information can contribute to the overwhelm. Please give it a try if you’re feeling equally anxious. (And yes, I realize the irony in making this suggestion over online communication.) More helpful info and local resources.

What Happened This Week:

(1) City Meetings

This week’s City Council meeting was deemed essential, especially during budget season and during the coronavirus pandemic. So all 7 of us + staff met Monday night in City Hall – albeit we modeled social distancing, with tables moved apart and hand sanitizer aplenty. We ratified a local emergency to provide more resources and flexibility to respond to this pandemic and covered some budget items.

Monday night’s City Council Meeting

Many localities are asking Virginia for more flexibility in open meeting laws so we can maintain our legislative duties, public transparency, but also follow appropriate public health guidance. It’s nearly impossible to prepare and set up and run a City Council meeting with a group smaller than 10. Also, open meeting laws require that we meet in person, with 3 days advance notice, and with public access to the meeting. Electronic meetings are the exception, not the norm.

More to come on the status of future City meetings.

(2) FY21 Budget

We had early discussions to consider pausing the FY21 budget cycle we just kicked off for 30 days, so that we can continue monitoring and then re-forecasting revenue scenarios before passing a budget. Undoubtedly, the global economy is taking a big hit and we’re cognizant of impacts in the service and travel industries especially, which will have significant impacts to our tax revenues. We don’t want to pass a budget with a revenue forecast that we know will be out of date.

And on the expense side – we also have unknowns. We started discussions on ways we can provide relief to impacted citizens and businesses and will also push for state and federal aid.

Of course, there are implications of budget adoption moving from end of April to end of May, so more consideration is needed. Somewhat wistfully, this was supposed to be an “easy budget year.”

(3) Closures & Support

We’ve closed the Library and Community Center and cancelled non-essential meetings. Your local government is operational, with majority of City Hall staff teleworking, effective this past Wednesday. Building Permits, Treasurer, Commissioner of Revenue, and Health and Human Services are the only offices open to the public at City Hall. Police/fire/EMS and curbside trash/recycling/compost pick ups have continued as normal.

Unless you have a very urgent concern, consider delaying your visit to City Hall and seek help online. The City is also staffing an information line 703-248-5200 for any City service questions or for referral to Fairfax Health Department for health related questions. Please reserve 911 for medical, police, or fire emergencies. 

New service desk in the lobby of City Hall

While life seems to have ground to a halt, there is a lot of behind the scenes action at every level of government, with civil servants working around the clock. For example evictions have been put on hold and utilities can’t be shutoff for missed payments state-wide. City HHS staff has been checking in with seniors and the vulnerable, working with non-profits to mobilize, and calling local grocery stores to encourage them to limit early morning hours for seniors shopping.

To address concerns I’ve received in two areas:

  • Farmers Market: I’ve heard from many and I support the decision to suspend the Farmers Market tomorrow Saturday, March 21. The City is awaiting further guidance from Virginia regarding mass gatherings and food sources. Safety is the City’s number one priority, and we will notify the public as soon as a decision is made about the March 28 and future markets.
  • Playgrounds: I’ve also heard from many citizens about city and school parks and playgrounds. With the community center and library closed and warm temperatures, I know kids need recreation space and outlets. For now, city playgrounds are still open, but you should be aware of the risks so you can make an informed decision for your family. The City playgrounds are not cleaned by City crews. None of the surfaces are disinfected — including the hard surfaces. 

Check the city website for the most up to date info on closures.

(3) COVID-19 Testing

I continue to hear concerns from citizens about testing capability. Because we’re served by the Fairfax County Health Department, here is the latest information from them on capacity and other limitations they’re trying to address.

“We recognize there has been much confusion and frustration on the topic of COVID-19 testing. Up until recently, COVID-19 testing was only available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state laboratories, with local health departments like ours helping to coordinate and facilitate those tests based on very specific testing criteria. Now that we have commercial laboratories testing capability, physicians have wider latitude to order testing.

Still, several challenges have limited testing for Fairfax County residents:

  1. With shortages of personal protective equipment across the nation, health care providers who lack recommended protective equipment may not test because of the risk to their health and ability to continue providing care in the community.
  2. The materials needed for specimen collection before being sent to the lab are in limited supply nationwide.”

Check out information on the testing process if you are experiencing symptoms.

(4) Staying in touch – but not literally

We know regular, trusted communication is helpful during times of emergency, so the City has started a daily COVID-19 online update. If you’re currently subscribed to the regular e-newsletter (Focus on Falls Church), you should be receiving it. If not, sign up here.

Here are the past two days of daily updates:

Have a question about COVID-19 in the City? Submit questions here and a staff member will respond to you as soon as possible. 

I also know that online communication channels, especially with social media algorithms that prioritize paid posts, don’t reach everyone. Please share information and check in on neighbors and friends who may live alone, be in a high risk group, or otherwise may need assistance.

(5) Civic business is continuing

The pilot public art project on the traffic signal box at Little Falls/Park Ave was completed last week! (Part of it was left incomplete due to work on the box.) If you zoom in, you’ll see the artist credit on the plaque. Brought to you by the Arts and Humanities Council.
Also finished last week was the traffic calming project at Annandale and Gundry
VDOT continues work on the W&OD Bridge over Rt 29, set to open Fall 2020
Silver lining: the parking elimination at East Falls Church Metro (and partially at West Falls Church Metro) to prepare for the Orange Line platform work doesn’t appear to be causing any problems with overflow parking issues in neighborhoods. Metro has reduced service due to low ridership and to minimize coronavirus spread.