Spread knowledge, not COVID-19: A letter from the Alexandria Health Department

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By Stephen Haering, director, Alexandria Health Department

This article has been updated from the original version published on March 16. 

More than likely, you’re feeling anxious right now. It’s easy to understand why since there is still so much uncertainty and misinformation about COVID-19.

Public Health prepares for and responds to emergencies like COVID-19. In consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Health, Alexandria Health Department has been working on this 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.

Amidst all the stress, it’s understandable and appropriate 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, we strongly encourage everyone to visit alexandriava.gov/Coronavirus and to sign up for City of Alexandria eNews. We are working closely with the City of Alexandria to send out alerts and update 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 completely 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 other Northern Virginia jurisdictions may not apply to Alexandria. We consider our current situation on an ongoing basis and use the latest expert guidance to determine how best to protect our community.

Moreover, with a continuously evolving situation like COVID-19, we may make recommendations based on the best information we have, and then, hours later, new developments require different actions and policy recommendations. In all situations, AHD always prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of all Alexandrians, especially our most vulnerable.   

From the beginning of the COVID-19 situation, there have also been another type of question coming in. How can I help my elderly, immune-compromised neighbor? How can I pitch in to support the 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.    

For the latest on COVID-19 in Alexandria, and how you can help your neighbors in need, visit alexandriava.gov/Coronavirus or call the Alexandria COVID-19 Information Line at 703.746.4988, weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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