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City Readies for Imminent Coronavirus Outbreak

The coronavirus is coming to Alexandria, if it’s not here already, and the Alexandria Health Department is asking residents to wash their hands and to be mindful as the city prepares to keep its services running with fewer staff.

“We know we’re going to get it here. It’s just a matter of time when we get it here,” Alexandria Health Department Director Dr. Stephen Haering told city council on Tuesday night.

“I think everybody needs to… practice new hand hygiene instead of shaking hands,” Haering added. “Some other gesture is one way to keep our hands clean.”

The city announced last night that a person who tested positive for the coronavirus recently spent time in a chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary.

“The majority of the people that would have been in the chapel are just being advised to self-monitor for fever, cough, shortness of breath,” Haering said.

City Manager Mark Jinks said Alexandria has banned city-related overnight travel and is asking residents to do their business with city hall over the phone or computer.

“We don’t need our folks exposed and have them expose our employees when they come back,” he said. “We’re working through how to basically manage the city government, keep it open and keep its services going. But we figure we’re probably going to have to do so with with with less staff, and less staff actually front and center here on a day-to-day basis.”

“It’s in everybody’s interest that we have basically less face-to-face interaction,” Jinks added.

Haering conducted a web conference with the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday morning, and said that the city is working to slow the spread of the virus until there is a vaccine.

“We know that won’t happen… before December, in terms of a vaccine, and more likely next spring,” Haering said. “Our goal is really to mitigate the impact that this will have on our community throughout the United States. So that way, we can protect those most at risk.”

Bill Blackburn of the Homegrown Restaurant Group employs more than 150 people and participated in the web conference. He said that his businesses, which include Pork Barrel BBQ and Holy Cow Del Ray, have not yet been impacted.

“We share the concerns with the community, and this is something we are not taking lightly,” Blackburn said. “We are ramping up our sanitation practices, which includes increased handwashing and glove use for employees, and a contact surface cleaning program with commonly shared surfaces — door knobs, handles, touch screens, counters and other commonly touched surfaces and areas.”

“We also are explicitly reminding our employees if they are showing symptoms that they are not to come to work,” Blackburn added. “If they do have an employee that contracts the virus, we will financially compensate that individual until they are cleared to come to work.”

Fire Chief Corey Smedley conducted a department-wide situational awareness conference call with staff on coronavirus on Tuesday evening.

“We have policies and procedures on how many consecutive hours personnel can work,” Smedley said. “We have policies and procedures for call-backs in the event that staffing levels go below where they should be. We can alter our normal response patterns based on what the parameters that we’re dealing with. So, there are many options for us to ensure that we have the adequate staffing, we’re meeting the community’s expectation, and where we’re concerned and preparing for the quality of life of our first responders.”

The city will conduct an online virtual information session on Thursday from 8-9 p.m.

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