Regional leaders fight both coronavirus and public’s pandemic fatigue

It’s been months since regional leaders went to work without the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic hanging over daily decisions. Budget meetings, hearings and phone calls from constituents have all been colored by the pandemic.

Yet D.C.-area county and city leaders continue to deal with cratering revenue projections, controversy over school closures and community health concerns, even when the residents in their jurisdictions have made clear they have had it with COVID-19 and all its impacts.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said he gets it. “The biggest challenge we all face as a region is people’s fatigue,” he said.

Speaking at the Greater Washington Board of Trade’s Regional Policy Leadership Series, McKay said leaders want to encourage residents to hang in there.

“We have a long way to go here,” he said in reference to containing the novel coronavirus. “We’ve made many sacrifices over many months, and now is not the time to blow all that recklessly because people are tired.”

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McKay appeared in the virtual forum with Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.

Of the issues most debated in all three jurisdictions? When to reopen closed classrooms.

In Prince George’s County, where the school system decided to stick with virtual learning until Feb. 1, Alsobrooks said she knows that many children are struggling.

“Our kids are suffering greatly. Many of them can’t learn at a distance, and we’re mindful of that.” But, she said, “distance learning is where we are, and we will stay there at least until the end of January, and then we will reassess where we are.”

Mendelson said there was both concern and controversy over the choice to partially reopen classrooms for a hybrid model of instruction on Nov. 9 for D.C. Public Schools.

“There was a lot of concern by teachers over whether there’s going to be adequate safety in the schools,” Mendelson said, referring to measures to control the spread of the coronavirus. “I would say there’s a lot of instability around the reopening plans at this point, but the D.C. school system is still on schedule to open … partially reopen … on Nov. 9.”

In Fairfax County, McKay said, “We’re hopeful all kids will be back in school by the end of January.”

But McKay said that’s all contingent on being able to do so safely. “I don’t think any one of us can really sit here today and say what day that’s going to be,” he added.

McKay said he is confident Fairfax County Public Schools has set up a clear set of metrics that will help manage reopening.

Other topics discussed included the 2020 election. Alsobrooks, Mendelson and McKay — all Democrats — were asked if former Vice President Joe Biden were to win the White House, what would change?

Alsobrooks didn’t hesitate to say that she believed Prince George’s County would be in the running to land a new FBI headquarters at what she called a “premium site” in Greenbelt.

“We are hoping a new Biden administration would allow us to continue moving forward with that particular site to welcome the FBI headquarters to Prince George’s,” she said.

McKay responded to Alsobrook’s pitch. “I have to tease Angela a little bit because I’ve got a site in Springfield, too,” he said, referring to the regional competition for the FBI headquarters.

McKay noted that a large number of Fairfax County residents are federal employees. He said a Biden administration “will lift up our federal workforce and, I think, will be inspiring for the morale of so many people in our region.”

Mendelson said he believed D.C., and the region, would benefit from more federal assistance on COVID-19 under a Biden administration.

“The CARES Act funding, as expensive as it was for the national government, really helped the national economy, which in turn helped us locally,” Mendelson said.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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