Alexandria, VA

The Alexandria City Public Schools will not be tracking student attendance for online learning during its month-long COVID-19 shutdown.

Alexandria City Public Schools announced on Friday that all schools would close until April 14 — after spring break. Every elementary school student was given instructional packets to take home, and students in grades 3-12 went home with Chromebook laptops.

“I don’t think you can [track attendance], except to see if students have completed assignments,” ACPS spokeswoman Helen Lloyd told ALXnow. “The goal of this is not grading assignments, but continuity of learning.”

There are more than 15,700 students in the school system, which will be putting out staff updates at noon every day and notices to families every day at 1 p.m. in ACPS Express. Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. will also be hosting a webinar at 3 p.m. during the week.

“We are in close communication with the state superintendent and working through what we would need to do to ensure that our students are getting the right number of days and hours in terms of instruction this year,” Lloyd said. “We may be using some snow days, and we may require a waiver [from the Virginia Department of Education to not make up] our days and hours that have been missed.”

Throughout Monday morning and afternoon, Alexandria City Public School staff also started the now-daily process of handing out meals at the Chinquapin Drive side of T.C. Williams High School to students, regardless of their eligibility for free and reduced-price meals.

ACPS instruction includes three daily half-hour documentaries from the Smithsonian’s “Science How” and “Stem in 30” series documentaries that will be screened on a 24-hour loop on ACPS TV. The schedule includes “Mummy Science – Natural and Cultural Preserved Remains” and “Live from the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.” School staff are also in talks with publishing houses to acquire the rights to works that teachers could read to students on ACPS TV, Lloyd said.

City Contends With Local Emergency

City Council declared a state of emergency over COVID-19 on Saturday, and allocated $100,000 in matching funds toward the ACT Now COVD-19 Response Fund and $20,000 to ALIVE!.

“We encourage anyone who can telework in the community to take advantage to practice social distancing,” city spokesman Craig Fifer told ALXnow. “At the present time the risk to the general public in Alexandria is still low, and if that changes we will have to make changes accordingly.”

Social distancing means keeping six feet of personal space around yourself at all times in public, and the city reported that residents can safely move around outdoors by frequently washing their hands and using hand sanitizer.

The city’s first presumptive positive case was announced on Wednesday, March 11, when a city resident became infected after being in close contact with an infected Washington, D.C. resident who spent time at the Immanuel Chapel of the Virginia Theological Seminary. The city said that worshipers and visitors to the chapel between Feb. 26 and March 4 should monitor themselves for symptoms.

The second presumptive positive case in the city was reported on Sunday morning. The resident attended a conference in the District, and made “close contact with an individual later confirmed to have COVID-19,” according to the city.

“The resident is home and being monitored while they recover,” tweeted Mayor Justin Wilson. “Please wash hands and stay home if ill.”

Governor Ralph Northam signed an emergency declaration for Virginia on Thursday, and President Trump signed a national emergency declaration on Friday, and the following day Alexandria declared a local emergency.

One Virginia resident has died from COVID-19 so far, and there are reportedly 45 cases in the state.

The City, on Sunday, also warned suppliers of necessary goods and services against price-gouging, and cited Northam’s recently issued emergency declaration, which enables state law to prohibit businesses from dramatically raising prices for 30 days after such a declaration is made.

Also on Sunday night, Old Town Books announced that it was closing shop indefinitely, but would still fill online orders and subscriptions.

✨ It’s see you later, not goodbye✨We’re closing the physical shop indefinitely, to do our part to help flatten the…

Posted by Old Town Books on Sunday, March 15, 2020

The city’s DASH bus system is now operating on a modified schedule and the city’s public library system has canceled its events and programs. Even the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra had to cancel a concert on Friday and reschedule to June.

The city is currently following the 2017 Northern Virginia Hazard Mitigation Plan, which council adopted in 2017 and assesses risks and hazards for the community. The plan, which is necessary for localities to approve if they want to receive federal reimbursement for an emergency event, includes historical data on the impact that previous emergencies and disasters. In Alexandria, there have been 13 declared emergencies since 1965, including Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and Hurricane Irene in 2011.

However, the plan does not mention pandemics or viruses.

In 2006, the city adopted a pandemic plan, which strategizes isolation and quarantine measures for any contagious disease that poses a public health threat.

According to the pandemic plan, “There is no ‘conclusion’ to the process of planning for a possible pandemic because much is unknowable until a particular strain arrives, and it is an on-going process with always more to be done.”

The plan was formed in the event of a widespread influenza epidemic, and includes procedures for:

  • Pre-hospital community care stations for assessment and triage located throughout the city.
  • Brochures, posters, and pre-designed presentations in multiple languages and formats.
  • Alternative Care Facilities to provide more medically-demanding care outside a hospital setting.
  • Legal and law enforcement procedures for an isolation and quarantine order with extensive involvement of the Circuit Court and legal community.
  • Food, water, and medicine support for people unable to leave home.
  • Addressing public health needs, including grief and post-traumatic stress counseling.
  • Providing information on the re-establishment of essential public health services.
  • Alternate care facilities should Inova Alexandria Hospital need to move patients and make room for new admissions.

Alexandria Restaurant Considers Closing

Terrapong “Max” Tangjaitaweesuk is considering closing Zento Japanese Restaurant.

Max says the COVID-19 pandemic, which has virtually shut down most social gatherings throughout the community since being declared a national and local emergency, is crushing his bottom line.

“It is affecting our business quite a lot. Our sales have dropped a lot the past week,” Max told ALXnow. “We don’t want to close our restaurant. If we have to we’re going to close, but right now we’re trying to help our employees. They need jobs to take care of their families.”

The restaurant is one of many local businesses adjusting to the harsh reality of staying in business through the pandemic. The city’s Small Business Development Center created a tip sheet for Alexandria’s mom and pops, and the center’s Executive Director Bill Reagan has been giving advice to concerned business owners.

“We encourage that they talk with their bankers, talk with their landlords,” Reagan said. “Everybody right now is just trying to figure out what we can do. Businesses need to figure out their core functions. We are waiting for a lot of information to come from Congress, and the U.S. Small Business Administration to talk about approving economic injury disaster loans.”

Zento, at 693 N. Washington St., has 20 full and part-time employees on staff, and while business is painfully slow, Max said he’s made sure staff are busy using sanitizing agents to clean the tables, menus and doorknobs — and any other surfaces people might touch. He’s also closing an hour earlier during the week — at 9 p.m.

Max is now making personnel changes.

“We reduced the staffing hours to help the restaurant minimize the cost, but at the same time we are not closing the restaurant,” he said. “If we close, our employees might lose their jobs and won’t have money to pay their rent, and we are concerned about that a lot. So, during the pandemic, we try to keep the restaurant clean and help our employees have jobs during this crisis.”

Worshipping at Home

The first case of COVID-19 in Alexandria was contracted in a church, so on Sunday Alexandria Living Legend Florence King and others stayed home.

“I’m doing 100% fine,” King said. “I listened to the sermon online.”

A financial consultant, King said that she is not too worried, and plans on going to her office on Monday.

King belongs to McLean Bible Church, which regularly sees upward of 4,000 members at Sunday mass. While most churches in Alexandria were closed on Sunday, many offered online worship services, including Ebenezer Baptist ChurchChrist Church and Alexandria First Baptist Church.

Alfred Street Baptist Church cancelled its Sunday services altogether.

Sushi photo via Zento Japanese Restaurant/Facebook

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