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Arlington Improvising to Address Coronavirus-Driven Needs While Stopping the Spread

On Friday, Arlington Central Library was transformed into a storage space for donated goods, serving as a symbol for the county’s efforts to improvise solutions in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The idea of today’s one-day donation drive was to “to collect unused, unopened containers of essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), cleaning supplies, and certain food to assist essential employees, nonprofits and community organizations with coronavirus (COVID-19) response operations.”

“We’ve been repurposing employees and our organization in many ways to solve the problems that are arising,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said at a press event outside the donation station.

“Many nonprofits need donations and many of our residents want to donate and help. But a lot of the nonprofits don’t have the ability to safely collect [and store] the donations in this pandemic,” she said. “Many of our libraries are empty, we have a drive-through here, so we’re providing a bridge for those who want to donate and a safe bridge to get it to the folks who need a donation.”

Both at the new donation station and a virtual town hall meeting this afternoon, members of the Arlington County Board and other local leaders said that while the county is generally well supplied with needed medical equipment, that may change as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

“As of right now, we are confident our healthcare providers have what they need,” said Aaron Miller, Director of Arlington’s Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management, “but we’re continuing to ensure that we’ve sourced appropriately and ask the federal government when necessary to access the national stockpile.”

In the town hall, at noon on Facebook, County Board members and county staff fielded questions from the public about the county’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and some of the restrictions regarding social distancing. Some of the most pressing questions were about what kind of outdoor activities Arlingtonians can do while parks are closed down.

County Board member Katie Cristol said Arlington’s trails are still open and locals in need of some sunshine and exercise should travel on those — while maintaining six feet of distance from other trail users.

As a two-person activity with players spaces a full-court apart, tennis would seem like a decent option. But as it involves a ball that both players are touching, it has been verboten — and the county-managed tennis courts are now being padlocked to prevent pandemic scofflaws from serving up disease to one another.

Basketball hoops in county parks have similarly been issuing Wilt Chamberlain-worthy blocks, with the hoops now covered by 2x4s.

“If you’re applying the principle of staying six feet apart there is, on its face, nothing particularly horrible about standing on a tennis court 40 feet apart,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said. “The problem is trying to make an exception and open up some of the park facilities. I realize this is a situation where we’re perhaps painting with a broad brush, but we’re left with limited resources. If we had fine-tuned enforcement, we could do it.”

While Arlington officials said they lack the capacity to make exceptions for certain recreational activities, Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay at home order issued earlier this week specifically allowed golfing. There are two golf courses in Arlington, but both are within private clubs.

Schwartz said current restrictions will be revisited on a weekly basis. In the meantime, he said, “stay away from the courts and stay in open spaces six feet apart from each other.”

Other questions to the County Board included concerns about an outbreak of coronavirus in the county jail. Deputy County Manager Jim Schwartz said that while there are currently no cases of coronavirus in the jail, the Sheriff’s Office was given some coronavirus testing kits and protective equipment in case any inmates show symptoms. The jail has also been taking some proactive safety measures.

Regarding upcoming elections in Arlington, including County Board member Libby Garvey’s seat on the County Board, Garvey said they were unsure how the county will proceed.

“Everyone’s trying to figure this out,” Garvey said. “There are places having even more important elections and it’s not clear what’s going to happen. This is one of those issues where we have to stay tuned. People should be prepared to do absentee ballots.”

Image via Arlington County

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