Loudoun County Chair Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) was a featured guest on U.S. Rep. Jennifer T. Wexton’s (D-VA-10) latest Town Hall on COVID-19.
Randall was joined by Dr. Alison Ansher, of the Prince William County Health District, during the Friday afternoon Town Hall, which was broadcast via Facebook Live.
During the session Randall shared the latest COVID-19 statistics for Loudoun County. As of Friday, the county has reported 6,615 COVID cases, 425 hospitalizations, and 122 deaths. The percent-positivity rate has recently crept up to 8.4 percent, a troubling statistic, Randall said. However, she attributed some of that rise to increased testing in communities that had not come out to widespread testing events.
Randall also touched on the impact of CARES Act federal stimulus legislation funding that brought $72 million to the county, $12 million of which the county government divvied up among its seven towns. Of the $60 million the county government had left to spend, $9 million of that has been spent on personal protective equipment; $8 million on grants to small businesses through its Business Interruption Fund; $4 million on emergency housing assistance; $1.1 million on emergency food assistance; and $1 million to support community nonprofits.
Randall said she was particularly pleased that so much financial support has gone to small businesses, but the board is well aware that no amount is sufficient.
“I don’t think there’s anybody that isn’t heartsick about what’s happening to small businesses,” she said.
Wexton said that Congress did what it could by funding the Payroll Protection Program, but knows that falls short of what many businesses will need to endure the economic implications of the pandemic.
Randall said that an additional round of stimulus funding is “definitely” needed, and pointed in particular to small businesses that could be impacted during the upcoming cold weather months, when many speculate another COVID-19 outbreak could be coming.
“We’re so worried about a second round of COVID. The one thing that we did early in the spring was we changed all our zoning requirements and loosened requirements so restaurants could do more seating outdoors. We tried to figure out ways to help businesses get past this hump. Now we’re worried because as the colder months come they can’t do outdoor seating anymore. What will happen with our restaurants, breweries and wineries? We are anxiously waiting, hoping, encouraging that some more federal stimulus money comes. The truth is when you have a national emergency you need a national response,” Randall said.
Wexton expressed her frustration that, six months into the global pandemic arriving stateside, the U.S. still lacks a national testing strategy.
A return to in-person learning was a major topic of discussion during session, following a constituent question about what it would take to get students back into school.
Randall said she was extremely worried about the mental health impacts that school closures were having on children and cited her background as a mental health therapist. She noted that reports of child abuse in the county had dropped by 50 percent, but that statistic is troubling as many child abuse reports originate from school teachers and counselors who have not had in-person access to students since the spring.
She also said supervisors had had some discussions with School Board members and pointed to Superintendent Eric Williams’ plan to have English Language Learners and special needs students return to Loudoun County Public Schools for full-time instruction in early October. She said Williams has stated a goal of having as many as 37,000 of the school system’s 85,000 students back into school for hybrid learning by the second semester.
Anser, whose health district includes Prince William County, the City of Manassas and Manassas Park, said that some school systems within her district have already brought back special needs students for in-person learning.
“What we’ve seen in our community [since schools reopened], we have seen some cases but they haven’t been school cases. They’ve been people who may have gotten infected in the community who came to work, or a parent that came with their kid to pick up some technology and may have known they were [COVID-19] positive but said no to all the questions but then [schools staff later] found out they were positive. I think that we just have to recognize that we will have some exposure in the schools, and that does not mean that it happened because the schools were not doing everything they were supposed to do,” she said.
Anser urged everyone to get a flu vaccination.
“The symptoms of flu are very similar to COVID. Normally in a flu season we see our health care system utilized extensively, particularly emergency rooms. We don’t know what it will be like to have both [flu and COVID] together but we don’t want to find out. It will probably really impact the health care system,” she said.
Anser also said health officials are anxious to have a COVID-19 vaccine available to the public, but emphasized that was not a silver bullet solution.
“We look forward to having a vaccine but remember that’s not going to completely take care of everybody, everything. We still need to initially social distance, wear face masks until we know better how efficacious the vaccine is,” she said.
Randall urged everyone to be kind to each other and move forward based on science, rather than fiction.
“The truth is our country has gone through so much worse than even this and we figured out how to do it town by town, county by county, school by school, state by state,” she said. “If we intend to rise, and I think we do intend to rise, it’s only going to be because we take care of each other and understand that science is on our side. This disease does not care who you are. It’s a virus, it does not care. We have to stop talking about these things in ways that don’t make any sense. We have to focus on the virus and on the truth.”
Wexton said everyone in the 10th District and nationwide needs to do their part to move forward. She expressed hope that recent talks in Congress and a proposed spending bill will avoid a government shutdown that could occur as early as Sept. 30.
“That is the last thing we need,” she said.