While the look of the fifth Annual Northern Virginia Elected Leaders Summit was decidedly different, the theme of cooperation was perhaps even stronger during Tuesday morning’s meeting.
Elected leaders representing Loudoun, Fairfax, Prince William, and Arlington counties and the City of Alexandria were the featured speakers in the summit, which was hosted via Zoom by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and moderated by NBC4’s Northern Virginia reporter Drew Wilder.
Unsurprisingly, the crux of the 90-minute conversation focused on the COVID-19 global pandemic and its impact locally, and how each jurisdiction was working both separately and cooperatively to overcome its challenges. The Northern Virginia region in particular adopted a collaborative approach to tackling coronavirus early on upon its arrival stateside, and has been treated at times by separate rules from other areas of Virginia as Gov. Ralph Northam weighed recovery and reopening efforts.
“The region really is coming together to support each other because we realize we’re all in this together,” said Libby Garvey, chairwoman of the Arlington County Board of Supervisors. “We can’t say we always agree but at least this region is one where we look at the science.”
“Having us all work together hand in hand and make a collective decision to make sure we’re in one form together, that was pivotal to me,” said Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling).
Saines noted that Loudoun County had a battle of sorts within itself, when some county business owners, and even board members, asked for the eastern and western parts of Loudoun to be treated differently.
Elected officials also touched on the different ways they have tried to help small business owners during this challenging time, and Saines said he anticipates the board will approve more business funding when it reconvenes in September. He said he hopes this next round of funding can support some larger businesses, as previous rounds of funding have supported businesses with no more than 100 employees.
Tough decisions loom, each elected leader acknowledged, and Garvey in particular pointed out potential restrictions for bars and restaurants if case numbers or percent positivity rates in the region start to go up.
“As we see this virus start to creep up, I think we’re going to have to come together again and have some tough discussions,” Garvey said. “We’ve got to focus on where the problems are and we’re going to have to start doing things that are hard. Family groups, bars and restaurants—I think that’s where we’ve got to start focusing. I hope the business community helps us be surgical about it. We don’t want to have to start shutting everyone down.”
Saines said that “everything is on the table” and that elected leaders need to let science and data lead the way in decision-making. He and other leaders underscored the importance of wearing masks and complying with social distancing requirements.
“We all just need to stay alert and stay on course to make sure we don’t continue the spread,” he said.
Justin Wilson, mayor of the City of Alexandria, said economic recovery from COVID-19 could provide some of the same regional benefits that came from economic recovery after 9/11, where government investments in homeland security created many job opportunities for Northern Virginia residents.
“We have to look to that model for some of the same opportunities for us in the future,” he said. “We can be the home of some public health and resiliency efforts. Hopefully as we work together on economic development that is one of those focuses—health and resiliency—that this region can be the home of.”