Alexandria, VA

Another local organization has called for the City of Alexandria to do more to help Arlandrians disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hispanic Alexandrians comprise only 17% of the city population but are leading in positive tests for coronavirus at 553 cases — nearly half of Alexandria’s 1,240 total cases. A breakdown of confirmed cases by zip code also showed Arlandria, Potomac Yard, and Potomac West as the highest concentration of cases in Alexandria.

“The high rate of positive tests suggests that people in the 22305 zip code are waiting to seek out testing until they are seriously ill,” local advocacy group Grassroots Alexandria said in a letter to the City Council. “That time lag (the wait between symptoms and testing) is an opportunity for the disease to spread. Unless we as a community remove barriers to testing, the disease will blow up.”

Some of this is attributable to the extensive effort by non-profit Neighborhood Health to make testing accessible in Arlandria. Over half of those tested by Neighborhood Health, however, came back as positive for COVID-19 — leading organizations like Grassroots Alexandria to say the city needs to do more to keep the virus from spreading in the crowded housing conditions in Arlandria.

Tenants and Workers United has said several times over the last several weeks that Arlandria needs more tests to determine the scope of the pandemic in the area. The organization also said cramped living conditions and poor access to health care options make it easy for the disease to spread.

“We particularly feel that Alexandria needs to do more to help people in crowded housing quarantine when needed,” Grassroots Alexandria said. “When asked about this issue by one of our volunteers, Mayor Wilson stated that ‘There are hotel rooms available for isolation, but utilizing them is a bit tricky for a variety of reasons.’ We urge you to resolve this situation as soon as possible so that these hotel rooms can be used for isolation.”

The full letter from Grassroots Alexandria to the City Council is posted below:

Dear Mayor, Vice Mayor, and City Council,

We at Grassroots Alexandria are writing to express our concern about the
high rate of positive tests in Chirilagua (zip code 22305), 55%, which
is over twice as high as the next highest zip code in Alexandria (22302,
27%). The high rate of positive tests suggests that people in the 22305
zip code are waiting to seek out testing until they are seriously ill.
That time lag (the wait between symptoms and testing) is an opportunity
for the disease to spread. Unless we as a community remove barriers to
testing, the disease will blow up.

We stress that the unusually high number is the rate of those who are
tested who turn out to have COVID-19. When there are few or no barriers
stopping people from getting tested, the number of positive cases goes
up (more sick people are counted) while the rate of positive cases goes
down (tests include more people who only suspect sickness; the number of
people who test healthy goes up). As the community members of Chirilagua
themselves have asserted, there needs to be much more testing in this
area in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 effectively.

One barrier to testing is fear. Fear of not being able to work. Fear of
being noticed by a government that does not protect undocumented folks.
Fear of being told to self-isolate with no place to self-isolate.
Walk-up testing isn’t enough. We need to clearly address these fears and
to provide places for people who need to isolate. In addition, we urge
the Neighborhood Health clinic to further facilitate testing services
and to offer health care to all the residents, whether or not they have
been patients there before. We recognize that Alexandria city staff are
working on all of this, but the numbers show it isn’t enough.

We particularly feel that Alexandria needs to do more to help people in
crowded housing quarantine when needed. When asked about this issue by
one of our volunteers, Mayor Wilson stated that “There are hotel rooms
available for isolation, but utilizing them is a bit tricky for a
variety of reasons.” We urge you to resolve this situation as soon as
possible so that these hotel rooms can be used for isolation.

Please take steps to address the looming crisis that is affecting our
friends and neighbors in Chirilagua. We are looking for a commitment
from City Council to offer meaningful support to this community. We care
deeply about what happens in Chirilagua, and we know that a risk in any
part of Alexandria affects us all. If there is anything we as citizens
can do to help, we are glad to assist. Ultimately, effective leadership
must come form city government.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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