Between the D.C. Council voting to hike taxes on the wealthy to pay for social programs and Metro extending hours to midnight, it has been something of a banner week for municipal government in the District. Here at GW, in a substantively and symbolically good moment, administrators announced plans to rehire some staff who were cut at the beginning of the pandemic.
Here’s the best and worst from this week’s headlines:
On Tuesday, the D.C. Council approved a slate of new social programs, including housing for more than 2,000 residents experiencing homelessness in the District, a monthly basic income program for lower-income families and pay raises for early childhood educators. These policies will be funded by a modest tax increase for D.C. residents making more than $250,000 per year. The ammendment, which was part of the broader legislative effort to pass the District’s yearly budget, passed 8 to 5. One blemish on an otherwise bright moment: Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto, who represents Foggy Bottom, was among those who voted against the measure.
Put plainly, this is good news. Every student is certainly familiar with the homeless encampment across the street from the Elliott School of International Affairs – mere yards away from classrooms where students pay up to $80,000 per year to learn from prominent diplomats and scholars, there are human beings who live in tents. The grandiose side of D.C. that students see often obscures the fact that many people who live here are struggling. This is an excellent set of policies that will help a lot of people, but the D.C. Council should not stop there.
On a different note: two weeks ago, I bemoaned the necessity to keep writing various iterations of “D.C. is back! GW is reopening!” But here are a couple more points of light in campus’s return to normalcy. First, the Metro is now open until midnight – the hourlong extension in service began last week and comes as the city continues to unravel its pandemic-era restrictions on travel and gatherings.
Secondly, the University is making moves to rehire some events staff that were laid off at the start of the pandemic as administrators prepare for campus to officially reopen. Given that these layoffs were one of the first major actions the University took in response to the crisis – and one of the first pandemic-era policies to be met with heavy criticism from the GW community – giving at least some of these employees an opportunity to be rehired is a fitting coda to the University’s COVID-19 story.
Although we have seen consistent good news on the COVID-19 front, this week’s headlines included reports that the new Delta variant of the coronavirus was detected in Capitol Hill office buildings, a concerning development as the region emerges from pandemic restrictions. Among others, a member of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s staff and Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., tested positive for COVID-19. A handful of White House staffers also reportedly tested positive, including at least one who came in contact with the Pelosi staffer, as well as some who had been fully vaccinated.
Experts stress that vaccines remain highly effective against this more transmissible strain of the virus and that some breakthrough infections are inevitable when a vaccine with 95 percent efficacy is administered to millions. Still, the thought of the virus once again circulating through important governmental institutions is not exactly a merry one, considering a superspreader event at the White House last fall caused a legitimate national security crisis.
The broader concern, though, is low vaccine uptake. In D.C., more than 70 percent of adults have received at least one shot of the vaccine, but in other places like Alabama and Mississippi, population coverage has not even cracked 40 percent. While the overwhelming majority of seniors are fully inoculated, barely half of young people have received both doses. As discrepancies in vaccination rates increase, the virus could effectively become a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said.
This problem will be less relevant to GW given the University’s vaccine mandate, thankfully. And there isn’t necessarily a whole lot that individual students can do to push back on this systemic problem. But even still, if you know someone who’s skeptical about getting vaccinated, now would be the time to reengage with them. Meet them where they are, and listen to them with empathy – because pontification and condescension have a persuasion rate of basically zero. Hear them out, don’t automatically assume that they’re an OANN-addicted nutjob or an antivaxxer.
Andrew Sugrue, a senior majoring in political communication and political science, is the opinions editor.