April 27 Newsletter - Let's All Take Our Shot, the New Normal, and Q & A
We’ve all come up with coping mechanisms to deal with the challenges of this very difficult 13 months. One of mine has been a weekly Saturday morning bicycle ride with friends. It’s been a great way to get exercise, visit safely with friends, and explore our great city. Many times over the last year we rode at Hains Point, and that’s why last weekend’s news that two pedestrians walking there were killed after a driver struck them and fled the scene hit very close to home for me. Many mornings I walk at Hains Point as well.
Yesterday I learned that I knew one of the two DC residents who died: Waldon Adams, who has been a very persuasive and inspiring advocate for those experiencing homelessness in our city. For several years, I volunteered at Miriam’s Kitchen, which is located near the GW University campus and provides all kinds of services to those in need of food, housing and supportive services. Waldon was quite memorable because he was a marathoner and credited running with helping him overcome mental health and substance abuse challenges in his life. Sports has also helped me deal with stresses in my life, so I could relate. The person walking with Waldon last weekend also had experienced homelessness and worked to advocate for others, Rhonda Whitaker.
Walking or biking shouldn’t be treacherous in our city. We need to make our streets safer for all modes of transit, including in our National Park Service areas as well. I do not serve on the Council’s Transportation Committee, but I vow to work more with Transportation Chair Mary Cheh to make our streets safer. We have put in place policies to encourage non-car travel but we need to put money and infrastructure behind these policies. I know Councilmember Cheh is going to be holding a hearing on this, and I plan to work with her as constructively as possible. My sincere condolences to friends and family of Waldon and Rhonda.
Our answers to this week’s Top 10 questions are below.
Coronavirus and Vaccines
I heard COVID vaccine appointment scheduling is changing. What’s the latest?
Starting this Saturday, May 1, DC residents no longer need to pre-register or make an appointment to get your first dose of vaccine! Instead, DC will have 11 high-capacity, walk-up, no-appointment-needed vaccination sites throughout the city. This is first-shot-only right now, the second dose for Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will be scheduled when you get your first dose. This also means that Wednesday, April 28, is the last day pre-registrations will be accepted through vaccinate.dc.gov. If you are currently scheduled for a second dose at one of these sites, your appointment remains unchanged except appointments at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Ward 8 will move to RISE Demonstration Center. Another reminder: There are other ways to get your shot in addition to these sites, including health-care providers and retail pharmacies including CVS, Harris Teeter, and independent local pharmacies. (These sites will operate their own scheduling systems.) There is more information including the hours of the walk-up sites and the locations and hours of the additional sites at vaccinefinder.org.
I’m vaccinated! What percentage of DC residents currently are vaccinated like me? How can I help others get their shots?
According to coronavirus.dc.gov, one-out-of-three DC residents are partially vaccinated and one-out-of-five are fully vaccinated as of April 23. We’re making progress, but we have a ways to go to reach herd immunity.
Help your neighbors get vaccinated! On Saturday, May 1 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Mayor Bowser is sponsoring a Day of Action to encourage all DC residents to take their shot! My office will be participating! If you want to help, there will be 15 sites where you can do so, in all 8 wards with 3 shifts throughout the day. For more information, click here.
How can home-bound residents get vaccinated?
DC Health has begun setting up vaccination appointments for residents who need to have vaccinations come to them. You may call 1.855.363.0333 to register for an at-home COVID-19 vaccination appointment. The call center hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Is the District still doing COVID testing? Anything new?
Yes! On April 19, Mayor Bowser announced a new program, Test Yourself DC, which makes at-home COVID-19 testing kits available at 16 locations around the city. You may either take a COVID-19 test onsite at one of the 16 library locations or pick up a test kit, perform the test at home, and then drop off a test sample at a DC Library drop box on the same day you pick it up. There is no cost, whichever way you choose to do it.
You can find locations and more information, including how to use your home testing kit at testyourself.dc.gov.
The COVID New Normal
What’s the latest on retail and recreation restrictions?
More big changes! As of May 1:
- Places of worship may admit up to 40 percent of their capacity but are encouraged to continue to hold virtual and outdoor services.
- Public and private pools may open with health and safety plans in place.
- Outdoor splash pads may open at full capacity.
- The indoor capacity limit for non-essential retail businesses will increase to 50 percent.
- The number of people who can sit together at a table at a restaurant will increase to 10.
- Live music will be allowed outdoors for summer gardens, courtyard dining and sidewalk cafes controlled by the restaurants.
- Multi-purpose facilities, concert venues, theaters, and movie theaters may operate at 25 percent capacity.
- Indoor fitness classes may host up to 25 people.
- Gyms and fitness centers may operate at 50 percent capacity.
And, DCPS high school graduations will be held June 19 to June 24 at Audi Field.
My driver’s license has expired. Is the DMV accepting appointments again?
Starting July 1, your driver's license must be up to date. DMV service centers are still operating by appointment only, but you can schedule an appointment by calling 311 or 202.737.4404 or online at dmv.dc.gov. The DMV has added additional appointment slots, and more are coming.
I heard that parking enforcement is starting up again. Any details on that?
You can tell that things are getting back to normal in our city/state when parking enforcement starts back up! As of June 1, the District will restart parking enforcement, towing, and requiring vehicle registrations and inspections. The graphic below has more info as well as information on a new 4-month ticket amnesty program.
I feel like everyone’s talking about getting back to normal, but I'm still struggling. Are there any new programs to help me?
Rent and Utilities Assistance
As I mentioned in my last newsletter, Mayor Bowser launched a new website and phone number for rent and utilities assistance. The program, STAY DC, will provide up to 12 months of past due rent payments from April 2020 and three months of rental assistance moving forward if you meet the income qualifications. There is also financial assistance for water, gas, and electric utilities. The website is stay.dc.gov and phone number is 833.478.2932 (833.4.STAYDC).
If you’ve already tried using the program, I’m interested in your feedback and have initiated a short poll to get your thoughts. Think about this: Is there too much text on the website? Are the questions repetitive? How effective are the language options? You can access the poll here, and I welcome your comments. I’ll report back on the results of the poll in an upcoming newsletter.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is providing financial assistance for COVID-19 related funeral expenses incurred after January 20, 2020. To apply, call 1.844.684.6333, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. You can get help from representatives in completing the application. Multilingual services are available. If you’re eligible for assistance, you’ll get a check by mail or funds directly deposited.
To be eligible for funeral assistance, here are the conditions:
- The death must have occurred in the United States.
- The death certificate must indicate the death was attributed to COVID-19.
- The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses after January 20, 2020; but there is no requirement for the deceased person to have been a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien.
You will need to have the following information handy when you call:
- An official death certificate that attributes the death directly or indirectly to COVID-19 and shows that the death occurred in the United States.
- Funeral expenses documents (receipts, funeral home contract, etc.) that includes the applicant’s name, the deceased person’s name, the amount of funeral expenses, and the dates the funeral expenses happened.
- Proof of funds received from other sources specifically for use toward funeral costs. FEMA will not provide duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, government agencies, or other sources.
Unemployment Insurance -- I Want to Hear From You!
I’m going out of my mind because I haven’t gotten unemployment compensation payments and can’t certify. I want to scream! How can this change?
On Wednesday, May 5, I will be holding a roundtable on unemployment compensation, and I want to hear from you. The roundtable is a joint effort with my colleague, Robert C. White, Jr. (D-At-Large), who chairs the Council’s Committee on Government Operations and Facilities.
It is absolutely unacceptable that thousands of workers eligible for unemployment assistance have experienced prolonged disruptions in benefit payments that have put their households in financial jeopardy. My staff and I hear from dozens of people every day who have applied and have yet to receive any payment. When claimants try to resolve their issues, they have found phone lines unresponsive and emails unanswered.
The roundtable will be held over two days: On May 5 at 9 a.m. public witnesses will testify and May 12 at 9 a.m. government witnesses will testify. The director of the Department of Employment Services (DOES), Unique Morris-Hughes, has been invited to testify on May 12. The Committees also have invited the contract vendors who staff the city’s call center and provide IT maintenance.
Saving the best for last: I heard the Council took a first vote on changing our rules for land-use and development. What is going to change?
Yes, the Council took a first vote last week on the Comprehensive Plan in the Committee of the Whole, but there are two more votes to come!
Let me acknowledge that the Comprehensive Plan sounds like the most boring, jargon-filled, bureaucratic jumble of acronyms, but it is incredibly important to the future of our city and making it more equitable. Why? The Comp Plan, as it is known, spells out DC government’s plans for every neighborhood of the city, and that has an impact on housing, schools, and all kinds of quality of life issues. The current Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2006, amended in 2011, and this is another amendment change though it is quite extensive. Chairman Phil Mendelson has been working on revising the mayor’s proposal, and his version was adopted as the Council’s draft 11-0. I voted “present” along with Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George.
That is an usual vote for me; I think the Chairman made many good changes, but I wasn’t quite ready to vote yes. First, I didn’t have time to digest the full plan. Councilmembers and staff had less than a week to review the Chairman’s earlier draft and just a day with his final proposal. That’s not enough time to analyze a document this important.
The second reason I voted present is a critical assessment of the bill from the new Council Office of Racial Equity’s (CORE). Their analysis says that even though the Council's revised amendments are a big improvement, it still wasn't a game changer on making our city more racially equitable. The Chairman has offered to meet with Councilmembers before the next vote on the Comp Plan on May 4 to talk about CORE's assessment. I will be meeting with him later this week.