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My Life in DC’s Coronavirus Era: Public Citizen’s Lisa Gilbert

A feature about how people around Washington are adjusting to our new reality.

Lisa Gilbert’s home office. Photo courtesy of Lisa Gilbert.
Coronavirus 2020

About Coronavirus 2020

Washingtonian is keeping you up to date on the coronavirus around DC.

Lisa Gilbert is the vice president of legislative affairs at the watchdog group Public Citizen

Can you describe your state of concern about the coronavirus pandemic? 

Lot of concern! I think we’re all living with a constant state of worry right now. Reading the news and hearing of the ever-creeping-closer-to-home cases. Did we wash our hands enough? Were we distanced enough in the grocery store? We’re all struggling to reconcile the ongoing challenges of this moment with maintaining a “normal-ish” life.

Can you walk me through your current daily routine? How has it changed?

Once up and ready to face the day, I take my dog (adorable whoodle puppy) for a walk—being careful to dodge other pedestrians similarly walking dogs and babies about. Once I come back, I settle into work in my home office, spending the day practicing the new art of “virtual lobbying” with a focus on the Covid relief packages. Public Citizen has been pushing for things like funding for medical capacity and coverage, for protecting our elections as many more people will likely have to vote by mail, and for more oversight on any bailed-out corporations. When I break for lunch, I like that I get a chance to see my husband mid-day. We’ve definitely had more quality time during this pandemic! When I finish out the day, I usually FaceTime or Zoom chat with some friends or family, do an online exercise class, and then wrap the day hanging with my husband. It’s amazing the number of things we now do in front a screen.

What do you like best about your new routine? 

I like that the forced isolation has caused me to reach out to friends and family to speak much more regularly. I think we all feel the need for human contact and reassurance in this moment and its manifesting (in a very type A, DC way) in pre-scheduled Zoom happy hours.

What do you miss most about your old routine? 

I miss seeing my team and my colleagues during the day. We have a great collaborative environment, and particularly with the crisis moment, having us all together in person would certainly have been heartening.

What advice would you give to someone else who is accustomed to working in an office but now has to work from home?

It’s been very important to me to have a routine. I’ve set up my at-home office in our library, and I’ve liked that I can go in there and shut the door to “be at work,” and then have some separation when I’m doing other things in the house. I’ve also found it really important to find time to get outside.

What scares you most about the pandemic? 

I’m of course scared that it could impact me or someone I love. But I’m also worried that here in DC we will begin to lose some of the bipartisan emergency response feelings and splinter back to a deadlocked Washington. This problem stymies our country in so many areas, but in this moment we need to put responding to this crisis above anything else.

What’s your perspective of the federal response to the pandemic, specifically the stimulus package? 

There are a lot of critical pieces of aid—from unemployment insurance to sick leave to building up the medical supplies stockpile—that made it into the packages. That said, there are a number of big gaps and we have real concern about the level of accountability corporations will have in the taxpayer bailouts, among other things. At Public Citizen, we are already working really hard to build up support for the pieces we think have to get into the next relief round, stimulus package number four.

What’s the most heartening or optimistic thing that you’ve witnessed or read about since the start of the pandemic? 

My uncle married his fiancé in a Zoom wedding with the whole family watching last weekend. It was a beautiful wedding, and it was incredible to all be together virtually to be a part of it. I’m so glad they decided to press on and keep the celebration. It gave us all such happy hopeful vibes.

What’s a book, movie, or pastime that you’ve rediscovered since the start of the pandemic? 

I think the entire nation is on a Netflix binge. We’ve gotten deep into Outlander

When you get scared or stressed about the pandemic, what do you do to relieve anxiety? 

I usually try and reach out to a friend or family member. I think we all need extra connection in this time.

What are you most looking forward to when the pandemic has passed? 

So many things to choose from! Let’s go with hosting our annual Kentucky Derby party on its rescheduled date in September.

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Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.