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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Health"

How Alexandria’s Sculp’d is adapting through the pandemic

Westlake Legal Group how-alexandrias-sculpd-is-adapting-through-the-pandemic How Alexandria’s Sculp’d is adapting through the pandemic wellness sculp'd Profiles health and wellness Health gyms fitness studios Fitness Features fitness COVID-19 coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted all types of businesses and the way we visit them, including gyms. From closing up shop and offering virtual-only classes, to getting back into the studio with clients, we wanted to know what the journey has been like for Northern Virginia fitness brands. 

Here, we spoke with Old Town Alexandria’s Sculp’d owner Betsy Weissman about the gym’s transition, how she’s stayed positive during the pandemic, what clients can expect when they walk through the doors now and more. Highlights from our conversation are below.

When the pandemic first began, how did Sculp’d evolve and what have been the most successful methods so far?

Without a doubt, this has been the most difficult moment many small businesses have faced, but definitely for all fitness studios and Sculp’d. Sales are down more than 60% pre-virus. The severity of this crisis has put our business and our community in completely uncharted territory. And there is no podcast or handbook on what to do during a global pandemic, right? 

I, like many people, had no idea how long this was going to last so decided right away to simply plan for the next two weeks and then go from there. We immediately launched a YouTube channel with free content that has gotten over 10,000 streams so far, so that is a new channel we are definitely exploring. In those two weeks, we also got our online streaming service up and running and now have more than 23 live virtual classes per week. Everyone, clients and instructors, love the virtual options, so we will be keeping those for the long term. The pandemic pivot worked well for us and I welcome these new paths to bringing value to our clients.

As you reopen for in-person classes and keep classes virtual too, what are the challenges of doing both? Why do you think it’s important to have both of these offerings available to your clients? 

What I have found is that as soon as we clear one obstacle, another comes in our path. The last 100-plus days have taught me to just “decide and do.” Gone are the days of deliberating and taking a long time to decide the best path forward. Now, I make a decision and just move it forward. It is absolutely necessary right now.

We were told with only  a three-day heads up that we were allowed to open with limited capacity on June 12. Great news, but guess what? My instructors were not ready for that. The pandemic altered everyone’s lives in different ways. Kids are home from school, spouses have lost their jobs, loved ones are sick. While I was allowed to open, I didn’t immediately have the staff to do so. We had to carefully determine how to open the studio in a thoughtful way but also keep our online members happy with minimal change. We landed on our current schedule (for now!) with two virtual and two in-studio classes most days. 

It’s vital to keep both virtual and in-studio for a couple of reasons. First, not everyone is ready to come back to in-person gatherings and we need to respect the different needs right now. Secondly, virtual classes are a powerful way to serve our clients and provide value where and when they need it with hard-core Pilates classes that are simply not available anywhere else online. One silver lining here is that we now have more than 100 on-demand videos and offer more than 20 live online classes per week. In the pre-pandemic world, that would have taken six months, at least. 

Westlake Legal Group Headshot How Alexandria’s Sculp’d is adapting through the pandemic wellness sculp'd Profiles health and wellness Health gyms fitness studios Fitness Features fitness COVID-19 coronavirus
Betsy Weissman (Photo courtesy of Sculp’d)

How are you keeping the studio safe for in-person workouts?

Small and controlled is how we roll. It’s like our boutique studio was created for just this situation: small groups, stay in your own lane, open spaces with lots of light and air. Our model was never to pack as many bodies into a room as possible and provide little attention to form or personalization. We never had more than 12 people in a room even before COVID, so with some little good ol’ fashion creativity and ingenuity, we spaced our machines out to the required 10 feet distance, opened the doors to make the room more expansive and have 10 machines up and running.

Clients wait outside until we open the doors. One at a time, they head to our hand-washing station, and then straight to their machines that are already set up with their props. We have cleaned and sanitized before the class, but then the clients wipe the machines down before and after class as well. We also highly recommend that clients buy and bring a Pilates reformer mat for extra protection.

What has been your most popular class offered online so far?

I found that the other online Pilates classes were not super challenging like our clients are used to and don’t provide that leg-shaking muscle fatigue we strive for. So we created a “reformer-less” Pilates class to mimic our reformer machines as much as we could. We offer this in the traditional 50-minute format, express for 40 minutes and also super-condensed in 30 minutes. And, guess what? The 30-minute, total-body, online classes are a huge hit! I get it: You are home, want to workout but always risk getting interrupted, so 30 minutes is a great option to get in and get out, all while sweating and getting your butt kicked.

What did you miss most about in-person classes? How does it feel to have the studio opened again?

It feels surreal to open after 100 days being quarantined at home. It is still hard to believe this is our new reality: masks, gloves, limited capacity. But my team is outstanding and we all adapted right away to teaching in masks and face shields (not an easy task!) and keeping our distance.

I miss the human connection with people in-person. We all used to hang out before and after class to catch up, and know so much about each other’s lives. That is somewhat replicated with our Zoom classes but it’s not the same. To some, this was their one way to see and connect with other people while working from home and/or being away from family and friends. I don’t take this responsibility lightly, and I have been making a conscious and consistent effort to reach out to those clients who are isolated alone at home through the pandemic.

Looking back now, what would you have told yourself in January of this year to prepare you for everything that’s happened through the pandemic?

I would prepare myself to get ready to embrace discomfort! Given my full plate (I’m a full-time attorney, have three teenagers and run Sculp’d) I tend to be super organized, know what is coming and plan ahead as much as possible. Well, that went out the window as of March! If I am being honest, I was a wreck for the first few weeks with all of the unknowns, the madness and panic around the Paycheck Protection Program, trying to pivot on a daily basis and being productive with five people in the house at all times. Now, my team and I can do the pandemic pivot on a dime. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a dedicated and passionate team. My studio manager, lead instructor and the other instructors who stepped up amaze me on a daily basis. We would not be standing today if not for them and their resilience.

Westlake Legal Group virtual-classes How Alexandria’s Sculp’d is adapting through the pandemic wellness sculp'd Profiles health and wellness Health gyms fitness studios Fitness Features fitness COVID-19 coronavirus
Sculp’d is continuing to provide virtual classes through the foreseeable future. (Photo courtesy of Sculp’d)

What is the power of wellness during a pandemic?

It’s everything, isn’t it? It would be so easy right now to sit around, read the depressing news and state of the world every day, eat what you want, allow yourself to fall into poor habits and just be depressed. Things are really hard right now. But it takes a healthy mind and body to rise above this to take care of yourself and your loved ones. I need to set an example to my family and to my Sculp’d family. I do this by sticking to my daily wellness regime by moving every single day; eating mindfully and sticking to healthy, whole foods; drinking 75 to 100 ounces of water every day and taking daily supplements. If I do that, at a minimum, I feel good about myself and good vibes only create more good vibes. If I skip a day and fall off the wagon, I don’t beat myself up. I just jump right back into it the next day.

Is there anything else about Sculp’d that you’d like to add?

There have been some wonderful surprises through all of this. I have been heartened and lifted by the amazing support of our clients, our community and the small business community through the Old Town Business District. Fellow fitness studio owners and I talk and support each other on a weekly basis, even daily during the hard times. Clients have gone out of their way to keep their memberships, gift memberships and buy big packages just to help us out right now. I will never forget that it was our clients and community who showed up to help us survive this crisis. I am deeply grateful to each and every one of them for supporting us. Can you imagine the power of that? At some of my lowest moments, Sculp’d clients and the Old Town business community have been the ones to pick me up and encourage me to keep fighting. It’s just remarkable! // 1103 Queen St., Second Floor, Alexandria

For more on Northern Virginia’s fitness scene, subscribe to our weekly Health newsletter.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Bring the good vibes in with these 7 products for the home

Westlake Legal Group bring-the-good-vibes-in-with-these-7-products-for-the-home Bring the good vibes in with these 7 products for the home therapy stress shopping shop rooms room products mental health items interior design interior decorating House home decor Home & Design Home Health green decor color therapy Color blue

There’s a reason people who spend time outdoors—either by the ocean water or under the canopy of trees—tend to feel a sense of peace, and it may stem from the colors in front of them.

Certain colors have a positive impact on mood and behavior, according to the theory of color psychology first discovered by Isaac Newton. Shades found on the blue side of the color wheel spectrum, such as green, purple and blue, are said to bring overwhelming feelings of calm and relaxation to a room.  

And, while uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause anxiety and fear in our lives, we all could use a boost of good energy right now. Here, we share several items consistent with the blue side of the spectrum that will bring good vibes into your home. 

Westlake Legal Group evil-eye-mat Bring the good vibes in with these 7 products for the home therapy stress shopping shop rooms room products mental health items interior design interior decorating House home decor Home & Design Home Health green decor color therapy Color blue
Photo courtesy of West Elm

The famed symbol of the evil eye is said to protect you from any malice or envy, and also bring good luck to those who behold it. Plus, its blue shade is pleasing to the eye as well. // Evil Eye Doormat, $43; West Elm

Westlake Legal Group diffuser Bring the good vibes in with these 7 products for the home therapy stress shopping shop rooms room products mental health items interior design interior decorating House home decor Home & Design Home Health green decor color therapy Color blue
Photo courtesy of Anthropologie

Bring purple shades and an amber woods scent into your home with this diffuser set from Anthropologie, said to evoke feelings of peace through scents of white cedar, amber and sandalwood. // Floral Bouquet Diffuser Set, $38; Anthropologie 

Westlake Legal Group mint-dream-catcher Bring the good vibes in with these 7 products for the home therapy stress shopping shop rooms room products mental health items interior design interior decorating House home decor Home & Design Home Health green decor color therapy Color blue
Photo courtesy of Walmart

This keychain-sized dream catcher is a great addition to your set of house or car keys, as it will bring you luck no matter where your travels take you. // Tassel Dream Catcher, $9.25-$14.74; Walmart 

Westlake Legal Group snake-plant Bring the good vibes in with these 7 products for the home therapy stress shopping shop rooms room products mental health items interior design interior decorating House home decor Home & Design Home Health green decor color therapy Color blue
Photo courtesy of The Sill

The Sill, a company selling indoor plants that are delivered right to your door, has garnered a ton of attention from the media in recent years, as decorating your home with plants remains a popular trend. The company’s Archive Snake Laurentii is one of its most popular products, as the succulent plant actually purifies indoor air by removing toxins from the space. // Archive Snake Laurentii, $39; The Sill 

Westlake Legal Group human-plantholder Bring the good vibes in with these 7 products for the home therapy stress shopping shop rooms room products mental health items interior design interior decorating House home decor Home & Design Home Health green decor color therapy Color blue
Photo courtesy of Urban Outfitters

For those new and experienced yogis out there, this meditative iron planter holder would be a great addition to your at-home studio. Plus, it’s as sturdy as it is aesthetically pleasing, ensuring your plants have a safe home to grow. // Lotus Plant Holder, $49; Urban Outfitters

Westlake Legal Group tom-dixon-diffuser Bring the good vibes in with these 7 products for the home therapy stress shopping shop rooms room products mental health items interior design interior decorating House home decor Home & Design Home Health green decor color therapy Color blue
Photo courtesy of Lumens

This essential oil diffuser evokes a scent inspired by medieval alchemy and the sea, blending amber musk and woody musk together. Once set up, the fresh aroma will float through a space like the ocean breeze, lasting up to 10 weeks.  // Scents Elements Diffuser, $140; Tom Dixon

Westlake Legal Group three-green-prints Bring the good vibes in with these 7 products for the home therapy stress shopping shop rooms room products mental health items interior design interior decorating House home decor Home & Design Home Health green decor color therapy Color blue
Photo courtesy of Etsy

Adding hints of emerald green to your space will create a relaxed vibe, and also add a pop of color to any white wall. If these specific prints don’t appeal to you, Etsy has plenty of other options to choose from, ranging from nature photography to watercolor paintings. // Abstract Prints, Set of 3, Emerald Green Wall Art Abstract Watercolor Painting, $18.80; Etsy

Looking for more home-design inspiration? Subscribe to our Home newsletters, sent directly to your inbox every Sunday.  

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Even with closed doors, here’s how the YMCA kept the community going through the pandemic

The YMCA, no matter the location, is often aflutter with mild chaos. Organized chaos, that is. There are people doing a workout in the cardio room, swimming laps in the pool and stretching out in a nearby group exercise class. And there are kids being picked up from day care, bouncing before swimming lessons and dribbling on the basketball court. 

But all of that came to a screeching halt when local and national YMCA locations were forced to shut their doors in mid-March as a response to the rising cases of COVID-19. 

“Up until March of 2020, the YMCA was having a very good year,” says Pamela Curran, executive vice president and the chief operating officer of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington. “We had recently completed a much-needed $18 million renovation of our branches, membership was up, donations were up, our youth development programs were thriving and we were identifying possible locations for a new YMCA.” 

When news came that all locations would have to shut their doors for an unforeseeable amount of time, as hard as it was to turn away members, says Curran, the toughest part was furloughing 80% of the organization’s staff. 

“Though our buildings never completely define us, much of what the Y offers takes place within our buildings, so for a moment we collectively froze,” says Curran. “But the Y staff and volunteers immediately pivoted to fill the space in our communities that allowed the Y to impact in a different way. We actually made a pledge that we would re-emerge even stronger than before the pandemic.” 

The organization hit the ground running, launching virtual YMCA programs and partnering with other organizations in the community. The YMCA pursued grants of more than $387,000, allowing them to deliver food to local families who needed assistance most. 

Since then, the Y has been able to donate over 87,000 pounds of meals and produce to local families in need. And further, the locations offered emergency child care at four locations in the DMV, hosted blood drives at branches (where over 400 donations were made) and the team made hundreds of “wellness calls” to seniors each day to “see how they were doing and sometimes just to be the friendly voice on the other end of the phone,” says Curran. 

The list goes on, as it often does for the YMCA’s offerings. The social service branch offered more than 1,000 tele-therapy sessions for children and teens as schools remained closed, and provided thousands of masks and “fun kits” for children in the community. 

But aside from all of the adaptation and good news, Curran says it’s a “somber summer,” at local YMCA locations this year. 

“We live for our thousands of children that attend our traditional and overnight summer camps and our Stem Thingamajig Convention,” says Curran. “Per CDC and state guidelines, our summer camps will be much smaller, but with the same focus on enrichment and safety.”

Speaking of safety, Curran says the YMCA has taken the “cautious” approach to reopening, and has slowed the process down to ensure safety for members (ranging in ages from infant to elderly). 

We have moved much of the equipment to account for social distancing and have created one-way patterns throughout the Y,” says Curran. “We are limited as to the number of members that we can serve within the Y, so we have created many outdoor air venues for popular classes and programs. We are very fortunate to have pools at many of our locations that the members are enjoying, though reservations are required, and the experience in the pool is very different. And we have invested in enhanced cleaning equipment, including infrared lighting and enhanced-cleaning protocols.” 

Looking ahead, as restrictions continue to be lifted across Virginia and the United States, the organization will continue to seek ways to bolster the community during these uncertain times, whether in-person or from afar. 

The YMCA continues to innovate, evaluate and respond to members, says Curran. But until things get a little safer, the organization remains hopeful and determined in its impact. 

“The truly amazing, positive and unintended consequence of this pivot to a more virtual world and exclusive community-based delivery service (since our fitness centers and pools were not allowed to open) is that our members noticed and continued to support the Y through their generosity and contributions,” says Curran. “YMCA members are amazing and sent many emails and donations saying that even though they could not come to the Y yet, they were so proud of our support in the community and they wanted to continue to give.” 

For more on how the community has been impacted by COVID-19, subscribe to our weekly newsletters.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

6 Virginia-based biking adventures to take part in this summer

This summer is one for the books, as time spent outdoors will most likely increase as a result of the continuing global pandemic. If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the NoVA region right now—and get a little workout in while you’re at it too—consider these six biking trails, three of which are great for families, whereas the other three are ideal for the adventurous type. Plus, they’re all less than three hours away from Fairfax County, making it easy for you to throw the bikes in the back of the car and hit the road.

For the Family

Newport News Park Bikeway
Distance: 5.3-mile loop of over 30 miles of trails within the park

Recognized as one of the largest municipal parks east of the Mississippi River, Newport News Park offers a plethora of activities for the family to take part in when they hop off their bikes, such as picnicking, paddle boating, canoeing and freshwater fishing. The specific biking look is made of hard gravel and starts at the Campsite Office, offering views of overhead canopies throughout the entire peaceful ride. // 13560 Jefferson Ave., Newport News 

Virginia Capital Trail
Distance: 51.7 miles

The Virginia Capital Trail took over two decades to complete. And, now that it’s done, it offers a historical view of the lower James River Valley, Richmond, Williamsburg and other quaint small communities in between. The entire fully paved trail runs through four jurisdictions—Richmond, Henrico County, Charles City County and James City County—offering several paths along the way that you and your youngsters can take, with printable maps available too. // Williamsburg

Burke Lake Loop Trail
Distance: 4.7 miles 

If you and the little ones are looking for a relaxing bike ride closer to home, the Burke Lake Trail is the one for you. The 4.7-mile gravel loop follows the shoreline of Burke Lake, offering pretty views throughout the ride. And, the entire park spans 888 acres of land full of carousels, picnicking, mini golf and more activities your youngsters will love post workout.  // 7315 Ox Road, Fairfax Station

For the Mountain Biker 

Massanutten Western Slope Property
Distance: over 30 miles of trails

With over 800 acres and 30 miles of trails, the Massanutten Western Slope Property, adjacent to the Massanutten Resort, is great for mountain bikers of all skill levels. Trail season continues through Sunday, Nov. 1, so now is the perfect time to zip through the wilderness-filled pathways. As the landscape is private property, you must purchase a trail pass to gain access to all of the unique trails, depicted here on this map. // 1822 Resort Drive, McGaheysville 

Sugar Hill Loop Trail
Distance: 3.5 miles 

The Sugar Hill Loop Trail is as well-maintained as it is challenging, as it extends around and over Sugar Hill, the large ridge north of Oxbow Lake Park in Saint Paul, Virginia. The site provides a good workout, suitable for beginner to intermediate mountain bikers, as well as historic sites like remnants of an 18th-century settlement midway through the trail. // 16348 Industrial Park Road, Saint Paul 

Buttermilk Trail
Distance: 2.5 miles

Located within Richmond-based James River Park, the Buttermilk Trail is perfect for adrenaline junkies seeking a thrill. The 2.5-mile trail running on the south side of the river is considered the most challenging of all the on-site mountain biking trails due to its tight, twisty and fast descents. // 1200 Brander St., Richmond, entrance to trail near Manchester Bridge

Don’t see a trail that sticks out to you? The state of Virginia has plenty of other options to consider, all found on this bicycling in Virginia map

If you’re looking for other ways to spend your days this summer, subscribe to our newsletters.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

James Roberts: Big state spender Roosevelt shouldn’t be Gove’s new role model

James Roberts is Political Director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

Our de facto prime minister, Michael Gove, has been a busy man. On Tuesday, he was in the Commons explaining Mark Sedwill’s sudden departure. At the weekend, he delivered a much-vaunted address to the prestigious Ditchley Foundation, joining a long line of luminaries: Mark Carney, David Milliband, John Major, Chris Patten, to name but a few.

Sparing the blushes of the distinguished Ditchley crowd, Gove didn’t mention Brexit much. But what he did deliver was a rare tour de force about the challenges facing Western governments, delivered with daring incisiveness by the Government’s ‘Hand of the King’. If the ever-authoritative media talking heads (and rapidly-departing civil service barons) want to know what ‘hard rain’ that nasty Dominic Cummings has in store for them, Gove’s lecture was a good place to start.

He didn’t pull his punches. For the ‘Forgotten Man’, faith in the system has been broken, “compounded by cultural condescension and insulation from accountability”, with the policy-making elites in political parties and the civil servants in the dock.

Reasonable demands, or taxpayers’ money to be well spent on accessible public services that actually work have been ignored. The top tiers of mandarin management are stuffed with like-minded PPE-ists, dripping in self-reinforcing groupthink, preaching every form of diversity going – except diversity of thought.

Gove described with brutal accuracy the tendency to coalesce around a cosy Westminster consensus, perpetuated by media commentary and pressure group plaudits, with almost non-existent evaluation of real world delivery. But the government eco-system is dying – its credibility eroded away by constant deforestation to feed an insatiable 24 hour media cycle, the whims of easy-choices-only politicians and the childish tantrums of the Twitterati. The spirit of intellectual challenge has been driven out of the forest, with generic generalists climbing high and genuine innovators buried in the undergrowth.

He’s bang on. As Matt Ridley identified back in 2013, policy-making has long been broken: sometimes little more than a string of special interest spending demands; elaborated on by so-called experts; written into submissions by pedantic pen-pushers; approved by malleable ministers; and made into law by preoccupied politicians.

‘Doing something’ is the name of the game. If social media demands it, laws can be changed. If the media suggests it, money can be found. The Forgotten Man – that is, the taxpayers who pay for all this – be damned. Their preferences are secondary or even, as Gove suggests, absent entirely. A quick reference to ‘taxpayers’ money’ seems often enough to settle the consciences of Tory ministers, as they implement evermore expensive government intervention, because a hashtag told them to.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance knows calling this out doesn’t win you many friends: you can count on one hand the number of policy-makers willing to go against the grain. At DEFRA, lest we forget, Michael Gove was quick to join the chorus of environmentalist big spenders, navigating Theresa May towards a non-negotiable £1 trillion net zero commitment (which by our reckoning no government department has any idea of how to achieve). But then, there’s no zealot like a convert.

But a form of zealotry is exactly what government reform needs. The so-called ‘Rolls Royce’ civil service has broken down by the roadside. On that front, Gove wasn’t short on bold solutions. As our landmark polling last year with ConservativeHome’s columnist, James Frayne, showed, more than six in 10 working class taxpayers agree with the suggestion that we should move more central government offices and jobs outside of London.

Almost three quarters of them believe that all civil service jobs should be open to applicants without a degree, perhaps hoping to break the hold of the hapless humanities graduates. A hard-nosed look at value for money is vital, too.

Gove namechecked numerous programmes, including his old chum David Cameron’s £1 billion National Citizenship Service, which could benefit from a proper quantitative analysis of success and failure. There should be nothing noteworthy about a politician taking aim at programmes, like the £920 million Troubled Families scheme or (Gove’s own) Pupil Premium, and asking if these really delivered for taxpayers. But in the punch-and-judy pantomime of the current political debate, this feels revolutionary.

The same can be said of some of his other policy proposals. In a speech so wide ranging it would usually have a Prime Minister worried, Gove called for  planning reform to fast track beautiful development, better use of data in the NHS, transparency on court and school results, reviews for failed anti-radicalisation programmes, interrogating defence procurement contracts and accountability on the impact of aid spending. Many of these things should be music to taxpayers’ ears.

But the implications of all this are far from clear. As the punters know, policy outcomes matter more than policy processes. Reviews often come to nothing. Promises aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. The devil’s in the detail. What does Gove actually want to achieve?

Does turning to more data in the NHS mean only allowing for government-made track and trace apps, which inevitably fail? Does it follow that reviewing a failed social programme results in it actually being abolished, and taxpayers getting their money back? Does accountability for aid spending mean cutting back the £15.2 billion cashpoint in the sky, or simply swapping money between dodgy dictators and wasteful NGOs?

he voters we polled wanted foreign aid reduced and reallocated to other priority areas such as the police, the NHS and schools. Very few people care how the sausage is made – they just want aid cut. But that’s an uncomfortable view in SW1, and incidentally not one that Michael Gove shares. It’s the same with the majority (68 per cent of C2DE voters) who backed abolishing the BBC licence fee. When he becomes inconvenient, or wants things that really upset the Westminster village applecart, the Forgotten Man is once again forgotten. Politicians just come up with better ways of ignoring him – the endless reviews and the broken promises.

In that sense, Gove’s speech could easily have been given by a much more fitting figure for the Ditchley Foundation: Tony Blair. Like Gove, he reached for the model of America’s big spending New Deal, under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. New Labour offered innovation, clever solutions and new public service delivery models, with a pledge and a commission for every occasion. Gove and his Cameronite contemporaries looked on in awe, while most Conservative voters were horrified at the economic paternalism, metropolitan condescension and fiscal vandalism of the Blair years.

Many still believed that reams of government data and endless initiatives can never outgun the free and rational choices of millions of individuals. Their ears still rung with the mocking rebuke of Ronald Reagan: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Endless cash flow means that civil servants, not taxpayers, still made the rules. The TaxPayers’ Alliance itself was founded to take a stand.

Blair paid the price for ignoring his own voters, and taxpayers got sick of the Westminster consensus he created – ‘expert’ policy tsars, expensive PFI, and constant right-on crusades – arguably leading up to the EU referendim result in 2016. For a man so intimately involved in that campaign, Michael Gove may sadly be in danger of starting off down the same path. Replacing Oxford-educated experts with world-beating data whizz kids, or swapping a programme here with a review over there, won’t change the Blairite policy-making consensus – unless there is fundamental change of political intention at the top.

Britain’s forgotten taxpayers need Michael Gove’s intentions to be as bold as his analysis.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Luke Evans: My Coronavirus report from near the Leicester lockdown front line

Dr Luke Evans is a member of the Health Select Committee, and is MP for Bosworth.

As I sit down to write this week’s column I hope that you will excuse it’s slightly erratic nature and its stream of consciousness tone. Forgive me.

As a Leicestershire MP, the last 48 hours have been taken over by the news of the Government’s local lockdown of Leicester and, at first, considering the approach which should be taken should any of my own Bosworth constituency be included in the lockdown area; and subsequently what steps we may have to take locally now we know that we are not.

Over the weekend, rumours started circulating in the media that ‘Leicester’ might become subject to the first localised lockdown since the imposition of Coronavirus legislation. There is a cluster of outbreaks – which must be taken seriously.

Like many cities, ‘Leicester’ is quite difficult to accurately define. Did rumours relate solely to the local government area that is the ‘City of Leicester’, or could it include the suburbs which stretch out towards the rural areas which are covered by Leicestershire County Council’s jurisdiction, and of course the constituencies of our seven Conservative MPs?

I set out on Monday morning to do my due diligence by speaking with regional public health leads, our chief constable and the chair of our local resilience forum, to get the actual facts on the ground.

During the day, it became increasing clear that a local lockdown would be imposed imminently, and I was invited to a Zoom call with other Leicestershire MPs, the elected Mayor of Leicester, the Leader of the County Council, Dido Harding, senior leaders in Public Health England and Nadine Dorries, the Health Minister.

During the course of that conversation, it became quickly apparent that the data is worrying enough in Leicester to make a local lockdown was inevitable; with an R rate stubbornly stuck at one, it was clear that, unless something was done now, this outbreak could get considerably out of hand…and quickly. To be safe, lockdown would include parts of the county – potentially including my own constituency.

Although incidents of Coronavirus are showing a marked national trend downwards, it is obvious that this isn’t the case in parts of Leicester. Nationally, for every 100 people tested for Covid-19 – that is those displaying symptoms –  two receive positive tests; in Leicester, that figure increases to ten.

Leicester now accounts for 10 per cent of Covid-19 admissions nationally and, crucially, the trend is not downwards.

Clearly, it is important that we understand why the trends in Leicester are so different from the national ones. The health specialists were in agreement that it is not due to the national release of lockdown (otherwise you would expect hot spots popping up all across the country), so something else must be going on.

At this point, the uptick appears multifactorial, and plenty of work is going on to establish categorically what these factors are, but right now our focus is much more about practicalities and what to do.

How do we guarantee health safety, effective enforcement of lockdown, protecting businesses and support for livelihoods? How do we communicate all of this to the public, preventing spread and make best use of shared working?

Questions like these all immediately sprung to mind, and were evidently shared by all fellow MPs on the call.

Post-meeting, it was straight onto a statement from the Health Secretary, and then my first step was to speak with members of my team with a plan, followed by courtesy calls to councillors whose wards and divisions were likely to be affected and local leaders.

I’m very conscious that an MP never works on their own, and I very much rely on my team and local activists. I said in my maiden speech that healthcare taught me that “empowering those who can and helping those who can’t” is critical; this situation ably demonstrated this again.

In the wake of the Secretary of State’s statement, as you might expect, calls continued well into the night.

Yesterday morning started with a very early meeting with the Health Minister and Leicestershire MPs to digest the news, update and then talk about practicalities.

As Tuesday progressed, further questions come to forefront.

With worried residents, particularly those living in the city commuter belt, it would have been preferable if a map of the lockdown area had been produced far quicker than it actually was. There are many questions about how we can prevent those living in the lockdown area from visiting areas, including my own, where restrictions are being lifted this weekend.

Government was clear it was for local decision makers to decide the extent of the boundary, given that they are best placed to know natural geography, and how communities function in real life not just on a map. (The map is not the territory coming through here from last week!)

Ultimately, I see my role as being that of an honest broker in a fluid situation. I’m determined not to put information out because I want to be first with the news, but rather believe it is best to wait until updates are properly verified.

Instead, what are the worries of my constituents both regarding their safety and their livelihoods? My job is to do my best to secure both.

Over the course of yesterday, I had further meetings and calls with officials from the Department of Health, Home Office, Treasury and local leaders from the police, council and LRF, to name but a few.

Like any emergency situation faced, you want to deliver clear, accurate information, even if that maybe no further news, that is an imperative.

The situation reminds me of my early days as an A&E doctor. The relatives of a very sick patient will always want updates quickly, yet medical uncertainty about how the patient will respond is difficult, added to which the demands of my bosses might be altogether different; but at the end of the day you can lay out what you know, what you are doing and why, and how you expect the poorly person to respond.

The outbreak in Leicester city is no different….now we have two weeks to watch for signs of response, and I will continue to be communicating them to my constituents, working with all the teams involved to get the best outcome; a safe time to return the easing of lockdown.

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The Washington Capitals and Inova are teaming up to host a blood drive this month

On Saturday, July 18, the Washington Capitals and Inova Blood Donor Services will come together to host a community blood drive at Tysons Corner Center, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the former Lord & Taylor department store, across from Parking Garage D.

Each donor will receive a bobblehead featuring Capitals player Garnet Hathaway, as well as a Capitals T-shirt. For safety reasons, appointments are required to be scheduled ahead of time, and can be made at washcaps.com/donateblood. Both donors and staff members are all required to wear a mask at the blood drive, and Inova Blood Donor Services will provide a mask to donors if needed. 

To give blood, donors must be feeling well on the day of their donation with no symptoms indicating sickness, must be at least 16 years old (with parental consent), must weigh at least 110 pounds and must not have donated blood in the past eight weeks.

More than 250 units of blood/blood products are needed every day for patients in Northern Virginia hospitals, including trauma patients, surgery patients, newborn babies, cancer patients and transplant patients. To find out more about Inova Blood Donor Services, visit inovablood.org. // Tysons Corner Center: 1961 Chain Bridge Road, Tysons Corner  

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10 healthy things to do in July

It’s safe to say that throughout 2020, health and wellness has been at the top of everyone’s minds. This month, learn new healthy habits, get in a good workout and destress at these 10 events.

Bootcamp & Brunch
Every Sunday, 10-11:30 a.m.
Sweat it out and then enjoy good bites afterward with this weekly boot camp in Reston. The program is now limited to nine participants, who each must maintain 6 feet apart, so register ahead of time to secure your spot. // Reston Association: 12001 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston; $25

Natural Weight Loss Day
Every Sunday, noon-1 p.m.
Whole Health Center hosts complimentary screenings every Sunday to help improve clients’ wellness. After the screening, a staff member will design a personalized plan to help clients lose weight and reach other health goals. // Whole Health Center: 10329 Democracy Lane, Fairfax; free

Sound Healing Relaxation
Every Sunday, 1:30-2:30 p.m.
Relax your body and mind with the sounds of crystal singing bowls for a deep meditation. Health benefits include decreased anxiety and depression, pain reduction, better sleep and more energy. // National Integrative Wellness and Resource Center: 3260 Duke St., Alexandria; $25

Prenatal Yoga
Every Tuesday, 9:45-10:45 a.m.
This yoga class is for expecting mothers to help teach them to connect with their baby and trust their intuition. The Kundalini-based prenatal class is based in ancient practices to help moms experience a healthy pregnancy, birth and postpartum experience. // EKOE Health: 254 N. Washington St., Falls Church; $20

Pilates at National Integrative Wellness and Resource Center
Every Thursday, 9:30-10:30 a.m.
This class is a combination of Pilates movements with stretching and strength building exercises for a full-body conditioning workout. Held weekly, the sessions are meant for all fitness levels and ages. // National Integrative Wellness and Resource Center: 3260 Duke St., Alexandria; $25

Energized Fitness for Parkinson’s
Every Friday, 10:30-11:30 a.m.
This program provides a high-energy fitness experience geared toward improving mobility and strength for those with Parkinson’s disease. Led by Sheetal Yadav, these weekly sessions provide physical therapy to geriatric clients to maximize health and optimize independence. // The Kensington Falls Church: 700 W. Broad St., Falls Church; free

Reversing Alzheimer’s Disease and Cognitive Decline
Tuesday, July 7, 7-8:30 p.m.
Dr. Garland Glenn will lead this lecture on how to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, and the best-known methods on how to treat the condition and how to take care of loved ones that are diagnosed. // The Carroll Institute: 11710 Plaza America Drive, Suite 2000, Reston; free

Yoga for Black Lives Matter
Sundays, July 12 and 26, 7:30-8:30 p.m.
This outdoor yoga session will be led by Rachel B., the founder of Evolving Lives Body and Mind with all donations supporting Black Lives Matter DC. Being held on multiple Sundays this summer through Sept. 27, the vinyasa yoga session will be held as the sun sets in the background, encouraging self-care and time to destress. // National Museum of African American History and Culture: 1400 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC; $5.50-$25

Your Questions from A to Z about Pregnancy, Birth & Baby
Tuesday, July 14, 6-7:30 p.m.
If you’re pregnant or are planning on becoming pregnant soon, this women’s health conversation will help answer all of your questions. Dr. Zohreh Nikkah Abyaneh and Dr. Ashraf Afifi will answer pregnancy-related questions in easy-to-understand ways. // Hilton Garden Inn Woodbridge: 2500 Neabsco Common Place, Woodbridge; free

Webinar: Hyperthyorid-Hashimoto
Wednesday, July 29, 7 p.m.
Hosted by Merrifield’s Roselle Center for Healing, this educational webinar will provide need-to-know details on hyperthyroid-hashimoto. Dr. Qinglong Zhang will lead the discussion and attendees will learn about treatments and how to achieve optimal health through functional medicine. // virtual; free

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Andy Street: Our blueprint setting out the economic ambitions of the West Midlands

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

Last week saw the launch of a blueprint setting out the post-Coronavirus economic ambitions of the West Midlands. As a manufacturing heartland, where draftsmen drew up plans for everything from steam engines to Spitfires, blueprints are in our blood. They illuminate our history. This intentionally ambitious £3.2 billion business case draws a clear trajectory to our region’s future.

As Mayor of the West Midlands, it’s my job to attract as much investment as possible. Rishi Sunak’s bold and decisive actions – notably through the furlough scheme – have provided unprecedented economic support for jobs during lockdown. Now, demands on the public purse are high. All investment must be fully justified, diligently used and – crucially – deliver real results. Every penny counts.

Our region was the UK’s fastest growing outside the capital until Covid-19 struck, and as a hotbed of export, manufacturing, construction and professional services, we play a key role in the UK’s economic success. This new blueprint lays out a powerful business case for how continued investment can spark rapid and sustained recovery, not only for us here but for UK PLC.

Our ambition is deliberate because the stakes are high. Research suggests we could be hit harder than most by the lockdown. When coronavirus struck, the West Midlands was in a strong economic position, with record employment figures and productivity growth well ahead of the national rate. However, our economic mix – dependence on manufacturing and business tourism, as well as a significant contribution from universities – leaves us vulnerable.

By following the blueprint we have drawn up, the Government can demonstrate its commitment to ‘levelling-up’ by backing the people of the West Midlands to deliver.

We need to do everything we can to get back on our feet quickly and return to the levels of success we were enjoying before the outbreak hit. That means driving a rapid economic recovery, safeguarding more than 135,000 jobs while building thousands of new homes. It also means learning the lessons of the financial crash of 2008/09, and listening to business.

Investment is crucial. However, while we need significant investment from the Government – £3.2 billion over the next three years – this is broadly in line with the £2.7 billion investment we have secured since 2017, which supported strong economic success here.

Our business plan is to build on our success and on the investment we have already attracted from Government, while leveraging much more private and public sector investment locally, including from our universities.

The blueprint sets out a business case for investments, while outlining the economic benefits they would deliver. For example, it directly supports our automotive sector by harnessing clean technology and electrification. A major investment package, including £250 million towards a Gigafactory producing state-of-the-art batteries, will unlock 51,700 green jobs.

The building of HS2, next year’s Coventry City of Culture festivities and the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games present opportunities to create jobs for local people. By accelerating major infrastructure investment and supporting the recovery of the tourism and cultural sector we can unlock 33,000 jobs.

Then there is the West Midlands’ growing reputation as a hotbed for health research. By investing in healthcare innovation we can protect 3,200 jobs, while improving the health of our population.

Improving transport, housing and digital infrastructure will play a key part in a rapid recovery, while laying the foundations for future economic strength. We can build better transport and digital links to drive productivity and create thousands of jobs in construction. Schemes include extending rail, metro and bus routes, with cash for enhanced digital connectivity and to accelerate fibre connectivity in deprived areas. Reopening long-closed railway stations will better connect people to employment opportunities, attract investment into once-isolated areas and improve productivity.

The West Midlands has pioneered the regeneration of brownfield sites to tackle the housing crisis, while protecting the environment. We even have our own regional definition of ‘affordable housing’ applied at planning level by the West Midlands Combined Authority. We want to build 35,000 new homes – 15,000 of which will be affordable – with a focus on housing key workers. Plans include using a £200m investment package to regenerate derelict eyesores and £24 million for a new National Brownfield Institute in Wolverhampton, which will be a centre of excellence for land reclamation.

Investment to equip people with the skills needed for the future aims to help get them back into work. This includes helping 38,400 young people obtain apprenticeships and work experience, retraining 20,000 workers for in-demand sectors such as health and social care, logistics and business services, and upskilling 24,000 for jobs for the future.

Finally, we want to back the region’s businesses with support schemes – including helping them navigate their way through the post-lockdown world – creating or safeguarding 43,900 jobs.

This ambitious business case is based on our region’s experiences not only of recovering from the last downturn, but on the successes of the last three years. The blueprint has been developed as a team effort between the region’s local enterprise partnerships, universities, business groups and local authorities.  Crucially, some of our biggest employers have also shared their insights about how the region can play its part in securing a strong national recovery, putting central investment to good use.

For the UK to fully recover, all of its regions must recover too – creating a stronger country with a more robust, balanced economy.

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Jackie Doyle-Price: It’s time to establish a firm future for pharmacies – the unsung heroes of the coronavirus crisis

Jackie Doyle-Price is a former Health Minister and is MP for Thurrock.

Since the Covid-19 crisis began, pharmacies have been the face of healthcare on our high streets. While GP’s surgeries have closed their doors, 11,500 local pharmacy teams have stayed open, putting their lives at risk and working tirelessly to ensure the public can still access critical services and life-saving medicines.

Responding to extraordinary circumstances, many former pharmacists have returned to the frontline, and we have seen pharmacies open early, stay open on bank holidays and close late to meet increased demand. They have delivered millions of prescriptions to the most vulnerable, and provided face-to-face consultations to keep pressure off our hospitals.

We need to recognise their hard work and sacrifice – and get behind this less glamorous but critically important part of our NHS. Five pharmacists have already died of the Coronavirus, and many still cannot access sufficient PPE.
In the longer term, the virus will drive a reassessment of the role that pharmacies play in our NHS – but only if we can prevent thousands from being forced to close due the costs of staying open and address the need for better a funding system.

Since the outbreak began, pharmacies have spent upwards of £3,000 a month extra on staffing and £1,000 on safety and security costs. In a relatively low-margin sector, where more than half of pharmacies were in deficit before the crisis began, not recouping these costs will drive many to the wall.

The £350 million Government loan is a sticking plaster – repaying it will make many pharmacies non-viable. I am calling on the Government to turn this loan into a payment for our local pharmacy heroes.

This would be the first step in putting pharmacies on a viable financial footing. The second step will be to re-examine the pharmacy funding formula to ensure that they are appropriately financed. It matters because pharmacies are not only the unsung heroes of the coronavirus – they may also hold the keys to the long-term sustainability of the NHS.

As we look at how we organise and provide healthcare in a post-virus environment, we have a real opportunity to unleash the real value of a network that reaches into every part of the UK. 95 per cent of us live within 20 minutes of a local pharmacy and 1.6 million people visit one every day.

Pharmacies have a huge and still largely untapped role to play in supporting increased demand for healthcare driven by an ageing population, the obesity crisis and rapid advances in medical technology.

They already provide a large range of healthcare services, delivering a million flu jabs annually, providing access to emergency contraception, diabetes and obesity management, heart health MOTs, and help for the 24 per cent of adults who take three or more prescribed medications.

But many people are still not aware of how their pharmacies can help them. We need to raise their profile and make them the first port-of-call for non-critical ailments, so we can take more pressure off doctors and A&E. Pharmacies could also play a much greater role in prevention and public health – two keys to the future of the NHS. Post-Coronavirus, we need to look again at what our pharmacies can do.

We also need to start viewing them differently. The NHS establishment has often been somewhat leery of pharmacists, seeing them as a commercial partner rather than a critical part of the NHS family. Hopefully seeing our pharmacists step up during Covid-19 has put pay to that kind of thinking.

I am delighted to have been chosen as the new Chair of the All-Parliamentary Group on Pharmacy. Let’s put our cross-party support behind the unsung heroes of the coronavirus – and recognise that they are at the heart of our healthcare system.

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