Your Views: Spread knowledge, not COVID-19

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An illustration of the COVID-19 virus. (Image/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
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To the editor:

More than likely, you’re feeling anxious. It’s easy to understand why since there is so much uncertainty and misinformation about coronavirus disease 19.

The Alexandria Health Department, in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Health, has been working on the response to COVID-19 since early January. Our role is to:

1. Monitor and synthesize continuously updated guidance for the public;

2. Provide public health science-based recommendations to healthcare providers, schools, businesses and everyone;

3. Identify, advise and monitor individuals with potential exposure to COVID-19; and,

4. Lead and coordinate the multi-agency COVID-19 planning and response team and liaise with non-governmental partners.

Amid the stress, it’s understandable that people are asking questions. We have received hundreds, if not thousands, of questions through social media and our COVID-19 Information Line. Unfortunately, the answers to questions will be changing hour-to-hour based on developments.

For the latest information and commonly asked questions, visit alexandriava.gov/Coronavirus and sign up for City of Alexandria eNews. We are working closely with the city to send out alerts and update on our website as soon as we have new information. Alternatively, community members can call the Alexandria COVID-19 Information Line at 703-746-4988, weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

I hear and understand everyone’s frustration. My colleagues and I are also frustrated. Frustrated that there are a limited number of tests available. Frustrated that uninsured and underinsured Alexandrians have fewer options for care. Frustrated that there are considerable uncertainties related to this.

We’re not shying away from the truth – life in our community will change. Changes are needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And changes will occur because of the social and economic disruptions for many.

AHD has consistently made policy decisions and recommendations based on public health science and practice, never on fear, even when they have been difficult. Decisions that make sense for Seattle, New York City – or even our Northern Virginia neighbors – may not apply to Alexandria. We consider our current situation on an ongoing basis and use the latest expert guidance to determine how to protect our community.

Moreover, with the continuously evolving situation, we may make recommendations based on the best information we have, and then, hours later, new developments require different actions and policy recommendations. AHD always prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of all Alexandrians, especially our most vulnerable.

From the beginning of the COVID-19 situation, people have also asked: How can I help my elderly, immune-compromised neighbor? How can I pitch in to support low-wage workers who likely don’t have paid sick time? How can we ensure kids get the right nutrition and health services if the schools shut down?

These questions represent the best of us as a community: focusing on protecting our vulnerable populations and taking an active role in that work.

Public health workers often go unnoticed because we don’t wear uniforms and our cars don’t have sirens. We’re a group of dedicated professionals working late hours and weekends because our priority is the health and safety of everyone who lives, works, plays, prays or learns in Alexandria. But we can’t do this work alone.

Along with our city partners and fantastic Medical Reserve Corps volunteers, we need you, community members, to help share accurate information and dispel the fear that can be insidious and paralyzing. Everyone has likely seen those lists of basic preventive measures like good hand hygiene and coughing into their elbow. Rarer advice but equally important – look out for one another, remain calm and follow the facts. Remember, misinformation can be more contagious than a virus.

-Dr. Stephen A. Haering, director, Alexandria Health Department

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