Is D.C. the Next Coronavirus Hot Spot?
COVID-19 Cases Reach 6,434 in D.C., Md. and Va.
The novel coronavirus has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. So far, 902 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in D.C. with 21 deaths, there have been 3,125 cases in Maryland with 53 deaths and 2,407 cases with 52 deaths in Virginia. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. Many cultural institutions, entertainment venues, schools and sporting events in the DMV are closing to protect their employees and the public. DC on Heels will update our list of closings and postponements daily as necessary, with the most current updates on top. You can see last week’s updates here.
April 5 update
White House officials are warning that a new hot spot for the coronavirus outbreak could be emerging in D.C. “The next two weeks are extraordinarily important,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House. “This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe and that means everybody doing the six-feet distancing, washing their hands.” Birx, speaking during a White House briefing on Saturday, also predicted hot spots could appear in Pennsylvania and Colorado.
D.C. released a guide to safe sex during the coronavirus pandemic. “You are your safest partner,” according to the guidance from the mayor’s office, noting that “masturbation is always safe sex,” so long as people maintain proper hygeine by washing their hands and any sex toys for at least 20 seconds before and after. Kissing can spread COVID-19, warns the mayor’s office, because the coronavirus can travel through saliva. Recommendations include checking in with a live-in partner before engaging in anything from kissing to sex and ensuring that no one feels ill or is exhibiting symptoms. Additionally, the guidance asks citizens to “consider not kissing anyone you do not know.” The guidance lists rimming as a potentially risky behavior, because coronavirus has been found in feces. “Sex and close contact will be waiting for you when you are feeling better.”
Prince George’s County surpassed Montgomery County for the most confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Maryland. Of the 3,125 confirmed cases in Maryland as of Saturday morning, Prince George’s leads the state with 653 cases, according to the state health department. Montgomery County has 640.
Prince George’s County Public Schools is tweaking its “grab and go” meals program so that students can pick up more meals in fewer visits. Beginning Starting Monday, April 6, students will get a week’s worth of meals on just two days a week going forward. Students will get meals for two days on Mondays and three days on Wednesdays. There will be no meal service on Monday, April 13 due to spring break, according to the schools website. Service will resume Tuesday, April 14 with one meal; three meals will be available on Wednesday, April 15. Meals may be picked up from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Breakfast, lunch and a snack are available at 43 sites.
April 4 update
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that people cover their faces when leaving home, especially around other people. The latest guidance suggests that people use makeshift coverings, such as T-shirts, scarves or bandanas to cover their noses and moths. Medical-grade masks, especially N95 masks, are to be reserved for those on the front lines of trying to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
D.C. Health officials project that 93,676 people in the city will become infected with the coronavirus by the end of the year and 220 to 1,000 of them will die. That is about 1 in 7 D.C. residents and is of overall COVID-19 cases, not just those confirmed through testing. “We pray it’s wrong,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser during a press conference Friday. “What is important to remember is that the models just help us plan for the future, but we are constantly assessing what is actually happening.” Based on the University of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 Hospital Impact Model for Epidemics (CHIME), D.C. will reach its peak hospitalization about the beginning of July.
The D.C. Board of Elections has completely closed to the public after several employees exhibited coronavirus symptoms after coming in contact with a member of the public who later tested positive for the virus. Staff will work remotely. The board was working on a limited public schedule recently while the public can challenge nominating petitions submitted by candidates to get on the ballot for the primary election. The elections board is encouraging as many D.C. voters as possible to request absentee ballots to minimize in-person voting during the June 2 primary and June 15 special election in Ward 2. Online and email requests will be processed as usual. Requests may also be made by phone. Mailed and faxed requests will be processed when it is safe to do so.
The District government has temporarily suspended enforcement of the 5 cent tax on single-use plastic bags in response to the coronavirus. The tax took effect in 2009 to encourage residents to use reusable back to reduce plastic pollution. It funds river cleanup issues.
Metro announced more service cuts on Friday following a steep decline in ridership and efforts to reduce employees’ exposure to the public. Beginning Monday, weekday rail service will run from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. and weekend service will run from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. The last trips on buses will depart at 11 p.m. Metro said ridership has dropped 90% on trains and 75% on buses, particularly after 9 p.m.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued executive orders prohibiting new foreclosures and allowing postponement of mortgage payments during a “huge battle against catastrophic economic collapse.” The order does not relieve borrowers of the loan obligations, but bans mortgage lends from initiating foreclosure during the state of emergency. Borrowers are eligible for a 90-day forebearance and deferral on mortgage payments, during which no late fees will be charged and no negative information will be reported to credit bureaus. Hogan issued an executive order two weeks ago that blocks residential evictions. Friday’s order extends that prohibition to commercial and industrial evictions, and blocks the repossession of cars, trucks and mobile homes. He also announced the suspension of debt collection by executive state agencies.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also signed multiple bills Friday expanding access to telehealth, allowing residents to see medical attention without having to go to a doctor’s office. Under the new law, Marylanders can speak to a doctor via video chat. The new law assists in the government’s efforts to minimize direct contact.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Friday that several sites have been identified and approved for conversion to field hospitals, which will help free up capacities in existing medical facilities. In Northern Virginia, planners selected the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, which can accommodate up to 315 acute or 510 non-acute beds, Northam said. The governor said the state is stepping back from a plan to use the former Exxon Mobile campus in Merrifield beside the Inova Fairfax Hospital because the Dulles Expo can be prepared more quickly. The Hampton Roads and Richmond Convention Centers will also be used as alternative care sites. He said current projections are than the peak of COVID-19 cases will come in May.
George Washington University Hospital will start drive-through coronavirus testing on Monday at 2th and H Streets NW in Foggy Bottom. Testing will be by appointment only and run Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Patients will be given a 60-minute window for their testing. Patients will need a doctor’s order and healthcare providers can schedule a testing time through the website. Patients without a primary care doctor can schedule a video or phone consultation with a GW physician by calling 202-741-2765 between 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday. Drivers will enter at 22nd and H Streets NW. The site will service pedestrian patients at 22nd and I Streets NW. Patients will need a driver’s license or passport for identification. Results will be available in five to seven days.
Union Station is now closing at 11 p.m. nightly and reopening at 5 a.m. The Federal Railroad Administration imposed the overnight closing at the request of Amtrak, and said that it will continue for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. The closing should have “minimal practical effects” due to the already limited activity in the station, the railroad administration said. The closure will not impede people from leaving the station, if a train arrives after 11 p.m.
The WNBA has postponed the start of the 2020 season, originally scheduled for May 15. No games has been canceled at this time. Tickets for postponed games will be honored when the game is rescheduled, according to the Washington Mystics.
April 3 update
D.C. will need 3,600 additional hospital beds to address the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, but Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a letter to city hospitals on Wednesday that she was worried whether that would be attainable. In the letter, Bowser said that D.C. currently has 2,517 operational beds at seven hospitals, but would need more than 5,600 in the event of a medical surge. She asked hospitals and healthcare providers to offer more information on expanding bed capacity within their facilities and also in clinical and non-clinical space they may have available. “We are working aggressively with local and federal partners to meet the deadline of making the first 1,000 of the additional 3,600 estimated medical surge beds in the District available to meet your medical surge needs by April 15, 2020,” she wrote. “I am concerned, however, that our collective ability to meet this deadline is compromised by a lack of information from our health system partners.” Bowser said the city is creating a $25 million fund to “help defray the costs of hospital surge activity.”
A drive-through and walk-up COVID-19 testing site opens Friday at United Medical Center in Southeast D.C. The site is open from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The facility is only open to healthcare workers, first responders and resident who are 65 or older or have underlying health conditions who show symptoms and have a referral from their doctor. People seeking tests must call ahead to schedule an appointment.
A record number of unemployment claims have been filed in the DMV since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Most business are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and have laid off workers. Numbers released by the U.S. Department of Labor for the week ending March 28 show claims in the DMV shot up. In D.C., there were 14,868 claims, 35 times more than a year ago. In Maryland, 83,536 people filed jobless claims, 35 times a man as a year ago. And in Virginia, there were 114,104 claims, 50 times as many 2019. In total, 6.65 million new claims were filed last week, doubling the previous record set a week earlier.
The U.S. District Court in D.C. on Thursday suspended trials and grand juries until June 11 and closed public access to the clerk of court’s office. The move comes as federal district courts in Maryland and eastern Virginia implemented contingency plans, closing courthouses in Greenbelt and Newport News to serve as emergency courthouses as needed if other federal courthouses in the states become unusable. That is not possible in D.C., where the court operates out of the E. Barrett Pettyman Federal Courthouse, which also houses the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Earlier, access to the building was limited to judges, staff members and people with official business. Limited operations in criminal, civil and bankruptcy matters will continue to ensure the public’s safety, including newly arrested criminal defendants’ initial appearances and detention hearings, which will be conducted by video conference when feasible. Emergency and sealed filings will be allowed by email instead of in-person.
A transportation employee who helped with the Loudoun County Public School System meal service program tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a letter from Superintendent Eric Williams. The person showed symptoms on March 28, two days after last working in the Potomac Falls-Dominion High School region on March 26. The county’s health department will conduct a contact investigation. “We are not aware of any staff members or members of the public who will meet the Virginia Department of Health’s definition of a close contact,” Williams said. Close contact is defined as “people who have had close contact (within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more) with a person who tests positively for the COVID-19 virus starting from 48 hours before symptom onset.”
Metro will continue operating on an abbreviated weekend schedule to provide for essential needs. Twenty-seven bus routes will operate very 30 minutes this weekend and trains will run every 30 minutes. Mtetrorail will be open from 8 a.m.-11 p.m. and buses will depart their starting points at 11 p.m.
April 2 update
An employee at the Giant Food in Columbia Heights tested positive for coronavirus, and three employees have been quarantined as a result, according to UFCW Local 400, the union representing the store’s workers. The store remains open. The employee who tested positive last worked at the store on March 19, according to a Giant statement. “We have taken appropriate actions to keep our associates and our customers safe, moving quickly to notify health authorities and to notify associates who may have been in close contact with the associate who was diagnosed,” the statement said. “We also took the necessary precautions to thoroughly clean and disinfect affected areas of the store.” However, cart sanitizer dispensers at that store have been empty the last three days, requiring shoppers to touch the carts with their bare hands if they didn’t bring gloves.
Coronavirus cases are in all eight wards of the District, with the highest number in Ward 6, which has portions in all four quadrants of the city. Ward 6 covers Capitol Hills, Waterfront, Buzzard Point, Navy Yard, Eastern Market and parts of downtown, Penn Quarter, Gallery Place and Chinatown. According to a breakdown of cases released by the D.C. government on Tuesday, Ward 6 had 101 reported cases followed by Ward 4 with 85 cases, Ward 5 with 76 cases, Ward 3 with 70 cases, Ward 1 with 65 cases and Wards 2 and 7 with 60 cases each. Ward 8 had the least cases at 44. “My message is not to read anything into the ward breakdown,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a press conference. City health officials “draw no conclusion from the data as reported, except we don’t have any hotspots in the city,” she added..
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday that according to models he has seen, he expects coronavirus cases in the commonwealth to surge between late April and late May. “Right now, we are at the beginning of this virus,” Northam said. “We are talking months, not weeks” before life returns to normal. During the press conference, health commissioner Dr. Normal Oliver said official are working on Virginia-specific models for the spread of the virus, and said that more accurate and specific predictions on the peak on infections in Virginia should be available in a few days.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issue two new emergency orders on Wednesday, giving healthcare provides more flexibility. The first gives healthcare provides the ability to administer services to patients over email, expanding a previous directive that allows healthcare workers to communicate with patients over the phone. The second deems workers who provide support services to people with disabilities as healthcare provides. The designation permits support workers to travel to a person’s home or residential facility to provide services including healthcare, interpretation, social services and care for substance abuse and mental illness.
Tennis and pickleball courts in Montgomery County parks were closed Wednesday to help curtail the spread of coronavirus. Montgomery Parks officials said in a news release that use of the courts violates social distancing guidelines. The park system, which manages 422 parks in the county, previously closed playgrounds and basketball courts, removing hoops when people have violated the order.
With the cancelation of state testing, Falls Church will end the school year 13 days early: The school board approved the change during its online meeting Tuesday. The last day for students is June 4 and June 5 for teachers.
April 1 update
President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned Americans to brace for a “hell of a bad two weeks” ahead as the White House projected there could be 100,000 to 240,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained. Public health officials stressed that the number could be less if people bear down on keeping their distance from one another. “We really believe we can do a lot better than that,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force. That would require all Americans to take seriously their role in preventing the spread of disease, she said. So far, 3,500 Americans have died from the virus and 170,000 have been infected.
Virginia has identified three possible sites in Northern Virginia for a field hospital to treat COVID-19 patients, according to a briefing given Tuesday by Prince William County Executive Christopher Martino to the county board of supervisors. The potential sites are George Mason University in Fairfax City with 500 beds, the Dulles Expo Center in Fairfax County with 500 bed and the National Conference Center in Loudoun County with 1,000 beds. They would only be needed if hospitals reach capacity, even after added beds in current facilities. Smaller sites have also been identified if they are needed to treat non-coronavirus patients, including the Hilton Garden Inn in Neabsco Commons in Woodbridge.
The Maryland Automobile Dealers Association has asked its members to move the sales of vehicles online or through appointment only as the coronavirus spreads through the state. The request on the association’s roughly 300 members followed Gov. Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home order issued Monday. Car dealerships are designated as essential businesses and not required to close. Association President Peter Katzmiller said social distancing will be in place at car dealerships even for customers with appointments and some people who are interested in test driving vehicles will do so without an employee in the car.
The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation on Tuesday closed just about every facility that was still accessible to the public, including courts, dog parks, athletic fields and outdoor spaces. The move follows the closing of playgrounds, pools and rec centers on March 21. However, a spokesperson for Mayor Muriel Bowser said, the almost three dozen community gardens across the city will remain open for now, allowing users to tend to their crops.
George Washington University Hospital is preparing to offer drive-through coronavirus testing. “This is going to be available to all D.C. residents,” said William Borden, the chief quality and population health officer at George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates, during a virtual town hall with hospital leadership. Patients will need an order from their doctor. Borden did not give a timeline for when the drive-through will open. He also said specifics are still not set, but tents will be set up on the hospital’s Foggy Bottom campus. “This request came to GW from the city of D.C.,” he said. “The city has been setting up a network of drive-through testing at multiple sites around the city, one of them being here at Foggy Bottom at GW.” Patients will be able to use the drive-through by contacting the 311 call center or using a soon-to-launch website to make an appointment. Patients will be told where they should enter to get into line and that they will show identification through a closed window to confirm identities. The tests will be conducted under a tent by health-care workers wearing masks, goggles and gloves.
A week after receiving $25 million in federal stimulus funding, the Kennedy Center will furlough about 60% of its full-time administrative staff for at least five weeks beginning April 6. The layoffs come four days after it furloughed all 96 members of the National Symphony Orchestra. Three weeks earlier, 750 hourly and part-time employees, including ushers, stagehands and parking attendants, were laid off. The performing arts center will continue to pay for employees’ health care until at least the end of May. The Kennedy Center said 80% of its funding comes from donations and ticket revenue, with all performances canceled through at least May 10. Even if it reopens in mid-May and with the federal funds, officials said it would run out of cash as early as July with out the layoffs.
The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a $20 million grant program to assist small employers affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The special appropriation to the 2020 budget creates a fund for county-based enterprises that “demonstrate significant financial loss caused directly or indirectly by a public health emergency.” At least one quarter of the funds will go toward restaurants and retailers. For-profit and nonprofit employers with 100 or fewer full-time equivalent employees are eligible for grants up to $75,000. The program also sets aside “mini-grants” up to $2,500 to assist employers’ transition to teleworking during the public health emergency. Councilmembers also allocated $260,000 to Manna Food Center to feed children while county schools are closed. Another $250,000 was approved to cover hotel rooms for medical workers not able to return home after working long shifts.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office is taking further steps to crack down on price gouging. So far, the Consumer Protection Section has sent warning letters to 42 businesses that have been the subject of complaints by residents. The letters explain that the attorney general’s office has the authority to investigate possible violations and to seek restitution for consumers, as well as recover civil penalties, attorney’s fees and expenses. Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in Virginia on March 12, triggering the state’s Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act, which prohibits a supplier from charging “unconscionable prices” for “necessary goods and services” during the 30-day period following a state of emergency declaration. Items covered include water, ice, food, cleaning products, hand sanitizers, medicines, personal protective gear and more. A price is deemed “unconscionable” if the post-disaster price grossly exceeds what was charged for the same goods or services 10 days immediately before the disaster. “It is unfortunate that businesses will take advantage of a situation like a public health crisis to try and make more money off of necessary goods like hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, face masks, or water,” Herring said in a press release. “Price gouging will not be tolerated here.”
Ocean City, Md., is restricting hotels and short-term rentals to essential lodgers only through April 30. Mayor Rick Meehan’s order applies to hotels, motels, condo-hotels, rental properties, Airbnb and VRBO-style lodging and overnight accommodations. Under the declaration, essential lodgers include healthcare workers, first responders, law enforcement, National Guard members, journalists and others responding to the coronavirus crisis. Full-time Ocean City residents unable to live in their primary home are also exempt. “Visitors should NOT visit Ocean City at this time, but are encouraged to reschedule or plan for future visits when this health crisis passes,” Meehan said in a statement. https://oceancitymd.gov/oc/mayor-issues-new-declaration-extending-beach-boardwalk-closure-until-april-30/ He also extended the beach and boardwalk closure until April 30.
March 31 update
D.C., Maryland and Virginia all issued stay-at-home orders on Monday. “Staying at home is the best way to flatten the curve and protect yourself, your family, and our entire community from COVID-19,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. Under the orders, reasons to leave your house include medical appointments, grocery shopping, work, essential travel or outdoor exercise, such as running, waling your dog, biking, rollerblading, skateboarding, playing tennis, golfing and gardening (while maintaining good distance between yourself and others, of course). Violators can be charged with a misdemeanor and face a fine of up to $5,000 in D.C. and Maryland and $2,500 in Virginia. Violators could also face jail time of up to 90 days in D.C. and a year in Maryland and Virginia. The District’s stay-at-home order goes into effect on April 1, 2020 at 12:01 a.m. and last until April 24. Maryland and Virginia’s orders were effective yesterday. Maryland did not list an end date, while Virginia’s ends June 10.
A new COVID-19 screening site has opened at FedEx Field. The site, which is by appointment only, was set up by the National Guard and staffed by Prince George’s Country and Maryland health department personnel. It is designed to alleviate pressure on primary care doctors and hospitals as more people fall ill and seek testing. Prince George’s County residents experiencing coronavirus symptoms must call the county health department’s COVID-19 hotline at 301-833-6627 to receive an initial telehealth screening. If callers meet CDC criteria, they will be given an appointment time to arrive at FedEx Field. People with referrals from their doctors may visit, but still need to call for an appointment. The site is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Maryland motor vehicle emissions inspection stations in Waldorf, Glen Burnie and Bel Air, which have been repurposed as drive-thru testing sites, opened Monday. “This is for at-risk people with symptoms of the disease who will not be tested in emergency rooms or crowded physicians’ offices,” said Fran Phillips, the state’s deputy secretary for public health service. The sites are only for people with symptoms who are either healthcare workers, first responders, 65 years old or older, living in group homes or deemed “medically unstable” by their doctor. Doctor’s orders are required for testing.
The U.S. Attorney for D.C. is warning residents to be on the lookout for scammers and grifters looking to use the coronavirus pandemic to their advantage. Timothy J. Shea urged people be wary of treatment scams with people offering fake cures, vaccines or advice on unproven treatments; testing scams with people impersonating organization such as the Red Cross and offering door-to-door testing; scammers pretending to be doctors or hospitals that have treated a friend or relative and demanding payment; and charity scams soliciting donations. He also warned about phishing scams and cyber intrusions posing as global health authorities such as the World Health Organization or CDS; or scammers emailing people saying that their $1,000 stimulus check is read but they must provide personal information such as bank account and social security numbers. Anyone encountering a suspected scam should report it to COVID-19 Pandemic Fraud Hotline, 202-252-7022 or USADC.COVID19@usdoj.gov.
The D.C. Lottery’s plan to launch sports betting has been indefinitely delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic – there are no sporting events being played. The Office of Lottery and Gaming was expected to launch the District’s new mobile sports betting app and website by the end of March. Lottery officials said the platforms were ready to go live if there were live sports available to consumer to place wagers. But all major sports leagues including the NBA, MLB, NHL and NCAA have suspended play.
Capital Pride has postponed its annual events, including the parade and festival. Other events such as Capital Trans Pride, API Pride, Youth Pride, Silver Pride, D.C. Leather Pride , D.C. Latinx Pride and D.C. Black Price has also been postponed or canceled. “New dates for these events, if applicable, will be announced in the coming weeks,” according to a press release from Capital Pride Alliance. The events had been scheduled for May and June.
March 30 update
Beginning Monday, Metrorail riders will not be allowed to board the front or rear cars of the train to create an additional buffer between the train operator and the general public. The doors on the first and last cars will not open when a train pulls into a station. Metro said it will continue to operate 8-car trains so that six cars will remain in service.
WMATA will maintain limited service as Metro ridership fell to less than a tenth of normal. Metro saw 49,000 riders on Friday, down 92% from the comparable day last year. Subway ridership has been down every day since March 9 compared to 2019. Metrobus trips have fallen by as much as 76%.
Alexandria’s Dash bus will run on an enhanced Sunday operating plan on weekdays and Saturdays, and suspend the King Street Trolley beginning Monday. Buses will run every 30-60 minutes. The AT-2X and AT-6 routes will not operate. Trolley riders can use the AT-2, AT-7 and AT-8 buses along King Street. Fares are free until further notice and riders should board through the rear doors, except for people in wheelchairs or with strollers.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Sunday issues a Major Disaster Declaration for D.C. It paves the way for federal money to boost the city’s response to the coronavirus. The city will pay 25% of costs while FEMA pays the other 75%. The declaration covers response costs including medical care, transport of supplies, mass mortuary services and more.
Shawn Marshall Myers, 41, was arrested Friday night for hosting a bonfire with about 60 people, violating the state’s ban on gathering of more than 10 people. Charles County Sheriff’s said it was the first arrest in the state for violating the order. It was the second time officers responded to Myers Hughesville home for violating the order. On March 22, officers advised Myers he was violating the order and ordered the crowd to disperse. On Friday, police said, he refused multiple requests to comply with the order.
Arlington County reported its first two coronavirus-related deaths. A 60-year-old who became ill last week and a 72-year-old who has been sick for a few week were the county’s first two deaths. Both had other chronic medical conditions.
Rev. Timothy Cole, the rector of Christ Church in Georgetown and the city’s first confirmed case of COVID-19, was released from the hospital on Thursday after three weeks of treatment. Cole, 59, who was diagnosed with flu, pneumonia and COVID-19, was treated at Georgetown University Hospital. A church organist and four members have also recovered after they tested positive. The church has been meeting online for daily prayer services.