Arlington, VA

It’s not a zombie apocalypse, but surely some have wondered about the lights staying on during the coronavirus crisis.

Good news: those who generate your electricity, treat your water and collect your trash are still working, even as many Arlington residents — with the notable exception of healthcare workers, public safety personnel and grocery store employees, among others — stay at home.

There are plans for keeping these unsung heroes safe and on the job, officials say.

Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services, which is responsible for waste collection, water service, road maintenance and other critical infrastructure, says it is implementing plans drawn up for disaster situations.

“We have implemented a continuity of operational services plan (COOP) to ensure operations and critical services continue, and are practicing social distancing to protect staff, including staggering start times to avoid large groups,” DES spokeswoman Katie O’Brien tells ARLnow. “Crews are also being encouraged to follow CDC guidelines like washing hands for 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based sanitizer when water isn’t available.”

Waste collection workers are keeping their distance from one another, when possible, and wearing more protective gear, O’Brien said.

“Residential trash, recycling and yard waste curbside collection is expected to continue,” she noted. “Currently, our hauler has suspended bulk curbside collection for residential customers until further notice. This includes furniture, mattresses and any appliances larger than a standard microwave.”

To keep water infrastructure — everything from water mains to sewer lines to the county’s water treatment plant — running at a time when everyone is being encouraged to wash their hands frequently, planned maintenance involving water outages are being avoided.

DES has “limited or postponed planned water shutdowns to minimize service impacts on customers and focus our resources on maintaining our systems,” O’Brien said.

Other mitigation steps in place include modified schedules and rear boarding for ART buses, and reduced staff and schedules — but continued operations — for traffic signal maintenance and repairs, sign fabrication and repairs, markings, and meter repairs.

Dominion Energy, meanwhile, says it is prepared for situations like this.

Customers “can expect continued, reliable service,” said spokeswoman Peggy Fox. “Our crews are standing by to respond to any customer-service issues.”

That includes outages, like the one the Ballston area experienced earlier today.

“Our line workers will still be responding to service interruptions,” Fox said. “If you experience a power outage, the best way to report it is online or through our mobile app.”

On the electricity generation side, power plants are still humming and Dominion says procedures are in place to ensure employee safety and continuity.

“We are staffing our power stations to ensure we continue to provide our customers with reliable energy 24/7 [and] have adjusted our staffing plans so employees who perform the same roles are spread across different shifts or days of the week,” she said. “For employees who cannot work remotely, we are sanitizing our facilities at the end of each shift and encouraging safe hygiene practices. To limit exposure, we have restricted access to our facilities.”

As for Dominion workers who become ill with the virus, Fox said that they will be told to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“Other employees will step in to ensure essential work gets done, just as they do when a colleague goes on vacation,” she said.

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