Chickens to Be Killed Due to Staff Shortages
COVID-19 Cases Reach 33,831 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of yesterday morning, 3,699 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 165 deaths; there have been 17,766 cases in Maryland with 797 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 12,366 cases with 436 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates herelast week’s updates here.
Coronavirus-related staffing shortages at chicken processing plants will lead farms in Maryland and Delaware to destroy nearly 2 million chickens. The Baltimore Sun reported Friday that the plants are unable to keep pace with the number of birds that are ready for harvest. “With reduced staffing, many plants are not able to harvest chickens at the pace they planned for when placing those chicks in chicken houses several weeks ago,” before social distancing measures took effect, Delmarva Poultry Industry, a trade group representing 1,800 members in Delaware and on the Eastern Shores of Maryland and Virginia, said in a statement. The chickens won’t be processed for meat. One company, which the group did not name but is believed to be Allen Harim, has been left with no other option than to tell some of its growers they would need to “depopulate.” The trade group said that every poultry plant on the Delmarva Peninsula has struggled with reduced worker attendance because of COVID-19, testing for the virus or workers following guidance to stay home if sick. The Delmarva peninsula is home to more than 5,000 poultry houses, including more than 2,200 in Maryland, which raise broilers, roasters and Cornish hens, according 2019 figures on the meat chicken industry from Delmarva Poultry. Those chicken houses have a capacity for 145 million birds. More than 608 million birds were grown on the peninsula last year, with 4.3 billion pounds processed.
A federal judge ordered the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health to individually isolate patients at St. Elizabeths Hospital, the city’s only public psychiatric hospital, who have been exposed to the coronavirus rather than a group quarantine. The hospital, which houses more than 200 patients, has had one of the most severe outbreaks in city facilities. According to court documents, seven patients and two staff members have died of COVID-19-related complications (official data released Saturday morning only lists six patients and no staff), and more than 100 patients and staff have been infected. The court order was filed in response to a lawsuit against the department, which alleges the hospital hasn’t been doing enough to prevent patients from contracting the virus. U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss’ opinion states that the facility’s policy of quarantining all patients suspected of exposure together is “contrary to accepted professional standards.” The court also ordered more thorough clinical evaluation of patients before they are removed from isolation including two negative tests at least 24 hours apart and twice-weekly reports on patients’ conditions.
West Virginia officials have raised concern about a plan to transfer inmates from the D.C. jail to the Hazelton Federal Correctional Institution in Bruceton Mills, W.V. The Federal Bureau of Prisons is set to transfer hundreds of inmates from D.C.’s jail system to Hazelton amid the coronavirus pandemic. But West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and the union representing corrections officers there have raised concerns and are calling for the federal agency to halt the transfer. One inmate and one correctional officer have died at the D.C. jail, and inmates and the union representing D.C. correctional officers have both filed lawsuits alleging unsafe conditions. More than 100 inmates in the custody of D.C.’s Department of Corrections have tested positive and more than 800 have been quarantined. Officials at Hazelton, which has no confirmed cases of COVID-19, are worried that transferring inmates from D.C. could start infecting their 4,000 inmates. “If you have institutions that are clean — that don’t have cases — we need to do everything we can not to infect them,” Richard Heldreth, the president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 420, told West Virginia Public Broadcasting Justice echoed that argument in a statement, calling the planned transfer of D.C. inmates “unwise and unnecessary.”
A Columbus, Ohio-based biotech company will open Monday in a Northeast D.C. warehouse to begin disinfecting N-95 masks so that the in-demand personal protective equipment can be reused up to 20 times. WJLA reported that D.C. is providing the space and the Defense Logistics Agency on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is paying Battelle to clean the masks as part of a $400 million contract. N-95 masks are single-use masks, but health workers across the country have been reusing them to try to preserve supply. Hospitals and first responders in the DMV can ship the masks to the warehouse to be sterilized and returned free. Battelle received FDA authorization last month to begin rapid manufacturing of its “critical care decontamination systems.” Each converted shipping container can disinfect up to 80,000 masks per day. The masks are placed inside an air-locked chamber, which is injected with concentrated vapor phase hydrogen peroxide for 2.5 hours. As the gas circulates in the chamber, it decontaminates the masks. In addition to D.C., Battelle has set up cleaning systems in Columbus, Seattle, Long Island, Boston and Chicago.
Despite President Donald Trump’s musing that people may be able to ingest or inject disinfectant to kill the coronavirus in their bodies, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency on Friday warned residents not to do so fallowing a barrage of calls to its hotline. “This is a reminder that under no circumstances should any disinfectant product be administered into the body through injection, ingestion or any other route,” the agency tweeted. Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, tweeted Friday afternoon that the administration decided to post to social media after the agency received more than 100 calls to the hotline in response to Trump’s comments on Thursday. During his daily briefing, Trump speculated whether disinfectants could be used to fight the virus, not just on surfaces and the air, but in the human body. “I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute,” Trump said. “And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets inside the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.” His comments have resulted in disinfectant manufacturers and public health experts cautioning people that disinfectants, if ingested, are highly toxic.
D.C. is looking at $721 million in cuts to its current $9 billion budget, more than previous projections of about $600 million in cuts. The city will have to trim next year’s budget by an $773 million, according to city Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt. The city has lost 56% of sales tax revenue mostly from the hospitality industry closures including restaurants, hotels, parking and retail, which account for 18% of all D.C. revenue, and 93,000 jobs – mostly in the hospitality industry – could be lost by July. During a press conference with Mayor Muriel Bowser on Friday, DeWitt presented the city’s budget and revenue forecast that was heavily affected by the coronavirus pandemic. His model predicts a slow economic recovery — D.C. will not see January 2020 levels of revenue until the end of 2021, he said. The city’s gross domestic product will be down 3.8% from 2019, a number DeWitt called unprecedented and more than the city saw during the economic recession following the 2008 housing crisis. Prior to the pandemic, wages were projected to rise 4%. That number is now revised to fall 1% in 2020 and isn’t expected to recover until the end of 2021. “We are looking at a two-year recovery to get back to January 2020 levels,” DeWitt said. Assuming some businesses will be able to reopen this summer with social distancing and other restrictions, and recovery really begins in the fall, D.C. won’t be back to a new “normal” until spring/summer of 2021. The financial hits are largely driven by a 56% drop in sales tax from hotels, restaurants and parking. Grocery and online purchasing is up, but not up enough to offset the cost of hospitality-related retail.
Maryland could begin reopening some businesses and gradually lifting coronavirus restrictions in May under a three-stage recovery plan unveiled by Gov. Larry Hogan on Friday. But, the reopening will only begin when the number of hospitalizations and deaths related to the coronavirus continue a downward trend for 14 days. Hogan’s “Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery” is a three-stage plan that lays out guidelines for gradually lifting restrictions. “If we try to rush this, and if we don’t do it in a thoughtful and responsible way, it could cause a rebound of the virus, which could deepen the economic crisis, prolong the fiscal problems and slow our economic recovery,” he said. Stage One includes lifting the stay-at-home order, reopening many small businesses, resuming lower risk community activities and quality-of-life improvements, reopening of golf courses, resuming recreational boating and fishing, and resuming elective outpatient surgeries. Also, local governments could reopen local parks, playgrounds, recreation centers and libraries if safety protocols are followed. If there were no spikes in deaths, ICU cases or “significant outbreaks of community transmission,” the plan would move to the Stage Two. It includes reopening more businesses, nonessential workers who cannot telework returning to work, resuming indoor religious gatherings with limited capacity, raising limits on social gatherings, returning transit to normal schedules and reopening restaurants and bars with “significant restrictions.” Stage Three includes re-instituting some “higher-risk activities,” such as larger social gatherings, reopening high-capacity bars and restaurants, lifting some restrictions on visits to nursing homes and hospitals, and lifting some restrictions on entertainment venues and larger gatherings. Reopening schools is not mentioned in any of the three stages. Regarding schools, the plan states: “The governor will continue consulting with the state superintendent of schools, as well as area school superintendents, to evaluate the safe use of educational and childcare facilities throughout Maryland.” The governor said he is hopeful the gradual easing of restrictions could begin as soon as early May. More detailed reopening recommendations will come from a “Coronavirus Recovery Task Force,” which is made up of doctors, public health experts and business leaders. Advisory groups covering specific industries, including retail, restaurants, construction, manufacturing and others, will also make recommendations for how those businesses can reopen safely. “It is important to recognize that until a vaccine is developed, the way we go about our daily lives, and the way we work is going to be significantly different for a while longer.”
Virginia Governor Northam on Friday outlined his plans for easing health restrictions. Phase one of his “Forward Virginia” blueprint will begin only when the number of positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rates have decreased for 14 days and when the commonwealth can test 10,000 people per day. Northam said Virginia has tested 4,000 people per day in the past two days, but could not predict how quickly the state will be able to reach all the necessary benchmarks. Phase One will continued social distancing, teleworking, limits on travel and public gatherings, and recommended use of face coverings as businesses reopen.
D.C.’s online unemployment form is now accepting claims from self-employed or 1099 employees, D.C. Council tweeted Friday. The federal CARES Act set up the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which expands eligibility for weekly unemployment benefits to gig workers, self-employed workers, part-time employees, clergy, claimants who have exhausted traditional unemployment benefits and people without the work history typically needed to get benefits. Workers will be able to collect $600 per week in addition to regular benefits. According to the D.C. Department of Employment Services, 75,184 new unemployment claims were filed between March 13 and April 23. The spike in filings has overwhelmed local government agencies, causing long wait times and confusion for people trying to get benefits.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on Friday issued an executive order postponing local elections from May 5 to May 19. “Virginians should never have to choose between casting a ballot and risking their health,” Northam said in a statement. Two weeks is the maximum delay the governor can impose without approval of the General Assembly, which is now in recess. Earlier this week the State House of Delegates approved Northam’s proposal to delay the elections until November, but the State Senate did not approve the change. Northam urged Virginians to vote by absentee ballot, and added that there will need to be adequate personal protective equipment at all polling sites across the state for those who vote in person.
Montgomery County’s Ride On buses will cut hours of operation beginning Sunday with no routes beginning after midnight. The Montgomery County Department of Transportation announced the new hours on Friday. The county has only been operating 36 critical routes during the coronavirus health emergency. The operating routes and new schedules are available online. Riders must wear masks or face covering and enter from the rear door except for people with disabilities, mobility aids or strollers. Service is free. MCDOT also announced that beginning Friday, May 1, bus stops will return to their regular bays inside the Silver Spring Transit Center.
Participants in Montgomery County’s Call-n-Ride program can now have taxis deliver food and supplies from grocery stores, food banks and restaurants. According to the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, the essential delivery service is available to low-income seniors and people with disabilities until the end of the COVID-19 health emergency. The program already contracts with area taxi companies to provide subsidized rides in the county. Now, county residents can request grocery delivery or the pick-up of items from food banks and restaurants. Delivery will be contactless, with drivers wearing face coverings. “Allowing funds to be used for delivery helps our most vulnerable residents stay home and stay safe, while providing much-needed work for our local taxicab drivers,” said MCDOT director Chris Conklin. Trips must be pre-approved by the Call-n-Ride program office. Users can call participating taxi companies directly or the Call-n-Ride office for approval and to schedule deliveries and must have a valid Call-n-Ride card. They must pay for groceries or meals online or by phone.
Children’s National Hospital is requiring employees to take one week off between April 5 and June 13 because of financial losses that have resulted from the response to the coronavirus pandemic. Like hospitals across the country, Children’s has canceled many non-emergency procedures and appointments while “responding to new resource demands generated by the crisis,” spokeswoman Gabrielle Little told the Washington Post on Friday. Requiring workers to take time off will help sustain financial operations and allow the hospital “to respond effectively to the pandemic, should there be a surge in COVID-19 patients in our community,” she said. Employees, including administrators and the leadership team, can use vacation time or take unpaid leave. The requirements could be adjusted based on patient volume and workloads.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday urged the Trump administration to let federal workers continue to work from home during the pandemic. In Thursday’s letter, the three asked Michael Rigas, the acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, to “continue to implement broader telework policies for the federal workforce while we continue to combat the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” saying an extended work-from-home policy will “help save lives by allowing more of our region’s 360,00 federal employees to work from home.” In guidelines released last week, the Trump administration advised employers to “encourage telework whenever possible” even if their states have begun reopening business operations. “We hope the federal telework posture is reflective of our own local operating status,” the local leaders wrote.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday extended his ban on elective surgeries in the commonwealth until May 1 and the closure of public-facing DMV locations until May 11. “The public health emergency order does not apply to any procedure if the delay would cause harm to a patient,” Northam’s office said in a statement. “The order also does not apply to outpatient visits in hospital-based clinics, family planning services or emergency needs.” The governor also announced that the suspension of Virginia State Police enforcement of motor vehicle inspections would continue through the end of July. Local law enforcement can still issue citations, but the governor is asking them not to do so. Driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations will remain valid through July 31.
Metro plans to take advantage of the lower ridership caused by the coronavirus pandemic to accelerate its platform rebuilding project, extending this summer’s planned shutdown to nine stations, including everything west of Ballston. The agency said ridership west of Ballston has been about 1,200 customers per weekday, less than 5% of normal. The schedule change, which begins Memorial Day and lasts through Labor Day, means there will be no Silver Line service. “This is about two things: working smarter and working safer Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said in a statement Wednesday. “Closing the stations to get the work done while ridership is historically low allows us to limit the exposure of our front-line staff and contractors, move aggressively on our capital program and minimize inconvenience to the public.” Metro had originally planned to close three Orange Line stations to rebuild deteriorating platforms at Vienna, Dunn Loring and East Falls Church. Platforms at West Falls Church were also scheduled to be rebuilt. But with D.C., Maryland and Virginia under stay-at-home orders to help stop the spread of the coronavirus and all but essential businesses shuttere, the transit agency decided to take advantage of the time to get more work done. Adding the Silver Line stations will allow the agency to do advance work in preparing for the opening of Phase 2 of the line extension, the agency said.
More than 4.4 million more people filed for unemployment in the U.S. last week, including almost 160,000 people in the DMV. Thursday’s weekly report from the U.S. Department of Labor says that more than 22 million laid-off workers have sought assistance since the coronavirus pandemic started in mid-March. D.C. reported 8,591 new claims for the week ending April 18, down from 9,974 the previous week; Maryland saw 46,676 new claims down from 62,904 the week before; and Virginia had 84,387 new claims down from 104,619 a week earlier. The new data does show that the number of claims seems to be slowing, though. After weeks of complaints about delays in filing claims and receiving unemployment benefits, all jurisdictions in the DMV say they have started paying the $600 in additional benefits included in the federal recovery bill. They are also now starting to accept claims from independent contractors and gig workers who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for unemployment benefits.
Courts in Virginia will remain closed until at least May 17 after the commonwealth’s supreme court renewed a statewide judicial emergency on Wednesday. As a result, tenants facing eviction in the commonwealth will get a three-week additional reprieve, unless their local court deems their evictions proceedings “essential.” D.C. and Maryland have also suspended evictions during the health crisis. The Virginia judicial order signed by Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons allows district and circuit courts to hear non-emergency matters electronically “using a secure communication platform such as Polycom or WebEx, or by telephone.” It also provides flexibility for defendants facing jail time during the health crisis, saying courts shall “consider the potential health risks” of COVID-19 and weigh “any appropriate alternatives” to incarceration.
The Montgomery County Council on Thursday unanimously passed a temporary cap on rent increases during Maryland’s pandemic-induced state of emergency. Under the COVID-19 Renter Relief Act, landlords can raise rent during the pandemic, but increases are capped at 2.6%, the county’s recommended maximum rent increase for 2020. (The county’s rent guidelines are usually optional; but the law makes them mandatory during the emergency). Rent increase limits would remain in effect until 121 days after the state of emergency is lifted. The original version of the bill, introduced by Council member Will Jawando, eliminated all rent increases until 30 days after Maryland’s state of emergency ends. But a majority of the council supported an amendment from Council members Andrew Friedson and Evan Glass that allowed limited increases and increased the rent-cap period. D.C. Council approved a citywide freeze on rent increases during the pandemic earlier this month.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Thursday that she is creating an advisory the Reopen D.C. Advisory Group to lay out “when and how we reopen,” but declined to predict when city officials might start lifting the stay-at-home order or allowing businesses to reopen. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is advising the group, which has 12 committees. Bowser warned any changes in D.C. will happen slowly. “I don’t think that we’re going to have a light switch and everything goes back to normal,” she said during her daily press conference. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want our kids to go to school and people to go to restaurants. Everyone wants to get open, but we don’t want to lose the gains we have made and we want to make it sustainable.” She added that the city can’t start reopening until there is a decline in case counts over a two-week period, an increase in capacity for testing and contact tracing, and enough beds in hospitals and other medical facilities to handle any possible surge. Bowser also want the group to look at how the city can address disparities and inequities that have been laid bare by the pandemic, from access to health to jobs. “We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to not just reopen our city, but to build a more equitable D.C.,” she said. D.C.’s stay-at-home order is currently in place until May 15, but could be extended.
Montgomery County is opening two new COVID-19 testing sites in Wheaton and Germantown. Testing began Wednesday at the Wheaton Community Recreation Center, according to a press release, and will start April 27 at the Upcounty Regional Services Center in Germantown. On Wednesday, more than 20 people who had symptoms and were “at high risk for complications” from the coronavirus were tested in Wheaton, the release said. “We continue to expand testing capability for Montgomery County residents,” said Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, in the release. “This drive-through site will further our goal of providing access to needed testing.” Testing is done by appointment only and with a health-care provider’s order. The statement also said “action teams” are in place to help give support to roughly 200 group homes that help people with developmental disabilities, many of whom have underlying health conditions. The teams are made up of staff from the county’s Aging and Disability Services agency, who “work closely with providers to ensure they have personal protective equipment as needed and provide guidance on best practices for infection control procedures and other COVID-19 related issues.” Officials said there are more than 400 cases of covid-19 among residents at the county’s nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and large group homes.
Maryland’s Department of Human Services will distribute 1 million pounds of food to food banks, pantries and other programs in areas of the state hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The department announced Thursday that the amount of food assistance will go to jurisdictions with 2,000 or more new unemployment claims in March. Currently, 18 of Maryland’s 24 counties are approved for the program including Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George’s, as well as Baltimore City. “Like the rest of the nation, Maryland has seen an unprecedented surge in unemployment insurance claims following the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus,” said Lourdes Padilla, director of MDHS, in a press release. “Now more than ever, people across Maryland need food assistance … and the continued support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has proved critical to our department’s efforts to serve vulnerable Marylanders during this especially difficult time.” The disaster food packages will include staples such as frozen meat, canned goods, dried and canned beans, rice, cereal, juice, shelf stable milk, fresh fruit, boxed pasta and canned tomato sauce. On Wednesday, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced a $1.2 million donation to the Capital Area Food Bank to support the county’s 47,000 unemployed residents. The money came from Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins; Bank of America; the county’s chapter of The Links Inc., a volunteer service organization; and the county council.
D.C. opens a second public testing site for coronavirus today at the University of the District of Columbia’s Bertrie Backus campus across from the Fort Totten Metro station at 5171 South Dakota Ave. NE. The free COVID-19 tests are by appointment. Asymptomatic patients who have a history of exposure and are in high-risk groups to be prioritized for testing, according to the city. Testing will be available Tuesdays and Thursdays for walk-ups and drive-throughs. Residents can make appointments by calling 1-855-363-0333. The first public testing site is at the United Medical Center in Southeast. Testing is available there on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Patients at that site must be symptomatic and present valid District ID. Results are typically available within three to five days of testing.
The UM Laurel Medical Center reopened three floors Wednesday with 135 beds to tread coronavirus patients. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Prince George’s County executive Angela Alsobrooks announced that the third, fourth and fifth floors at the once-shuttered and rapidly renovated hospital are now open and able to take 135 coronavirus patients, including 35 in a new intensive care wing. It is the second coronavirus hospital the state has opened and a key piece of Maryland’s plan to add 6,700 hospitals beds to accommodate a surge in coronavirus patients. A 250-bed field hospital has already opened in the Baltimore Convention Center to house patients who do not need intensive hospital care but are too sick to recover from at home. Prince George’s County has the largest number of coronavirus cases in the state. With 3,868 as of Wednesday morning and 152 deaths. Hogan also said that on Friday he will announce his plan to begin gradually lifting the social distancing restrictions that have slowed the spread of the virus and brought the economy to a standstill. The governor also said that the state signed a contract with the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center to hire 750 contact tracing workers, enabling it to handle 1,000 new patients every day. The workers will identify and potentially isolate newly confirmed patients before they can spread the virus. It was not immediately clear when they will start.
Prince George’s County has launched a pilot program that will allow people who have COVID-19 symptoms to text 911 for help. The county police department said it is a “soft launch” of the program. The texting ability is meant to help those who might be having “shortness of breath, trouble breathing and/or coughing” and might be “unable to speak over the phone.” Those who use the 911 text service will be asked questions similar to those asked when calling for emergency services. The service is only available in English at this time.
The Inova Hospital System in Northern Virginia will lay off 427 workers in the coming week because of the economic impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on businesses across the region, including hospitals. “The financial impact of the COVID crisis has hit hospitals and health systems across the country hard and we are not immune to that,” said Jennifer Siciliano, Inova’s chief communications officer, on Wednesday. The laid off employees don’t include any doctors, nurses or other “front-line workers” who are helping to treat COVID-19 patients inside Inova hospitals, Siciliano said. “Every decision will be made toward us being able to provide care to the patients, so no one should be worried about us not having the people there to take care of you,” J. Stephen Jones, president and chief executive at Inova Health System, said in a statement.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and seven federal lawmakers from the DMV asked Congress for $26 million “to ensure the continued operations of Union Station for the next six months.” They made the request in a joint letter to the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. While Union Station remains open during the day to provide essential transportation services, including Amtrak and inter-city bus lines, it has seen severe declines in ridership and revenue over the last month because of local shutdown orders. The building is owned by the federal government and is the second-busiest station in the U.S., serving more than 42 million people a year before the coronavirus pandemic. Since April 3, it has been closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. The $26 million amount is based on the six-month average cost to operate and maintain the station, which is managed by a public-private partnership that generates revenue from restaurants, shops and parking. The restaurants and shops are currently closed and the parking facility is barely being used. Under the proposal, the Federal Railroad Administration would provide the funding to the Union Station Redevelopment Corp., the entity that operates the historic building. “While we all hope that the coronavirus crisis is over long before six months, the reality is that the crisis could continue for a long time,” the lawmakers wrote. “As early as next month, Union Station could experience a revenue shortfall that would impede the operations and maintenance of the station, negatively impacting passenger services well beyond the end of this crisis.” Other signatories include Maryland Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Anthony Brown, John Sarbanes, David Trone and Jamie Raskin, and Virginia Reps. Don Beyer and Jennifer Wexton.
Maribeth Luftglass, the longtime assistant superintendent for information technology for Fairfax County Public Schools, is out of a job days after the district’s disastrous debut of online learning. “Effective immediately, Maribeth Luftglass is stepping down from her role,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand wrote in the message to IT staffers, which was obtained by the Washington Post. “I want to thank Maribeth for her nearly 21 years of service to our school division.” Luftglass served as assistant superintendent of the department of information technology since 1999, according to her profile on the district’s website. Luftglass, who previously was in charge of IT for the American Red Cross, was at the center of the sprawling school system’s botched preparations for online learning over the past month. After two failed attempts, the district this week canceled face-to-face virtual instruction, announced it was moving away from its technology platform, Blackboard, and retained a law firm to conduct an independent review of the rollout. COO Marty Smith, who was Luftglass’ supervisor, will oversee the department until a replacement is named.
Patricia Lyles, a food service employee at United Medical Center in Southeast, died on April 12 from COVID-19. Patricia Lyles was sent home after appearing sick a week before she died. She had worked at the hospital for more than 20 years. “We are saddened by the loss of one of our teammates,” said vice president of public relations Toya Carmichael in an email. “At UMC we are following all protocols, including contact tracing, to keep our patients, staff and community safe. COVID-19 testing is underway onsite both internally and externally, and [we] are gearing up for an expected surge of cases.” The hospital, which is operated by the city, is the site of one of D.C.’s two public testing locations and located in Ward 8, where the number of deaths from COVID-19 has spiked in recent days. As of Wednesday, there had been 127 such deaths citywide, with 29 of those in Ward 8.
Zoao Makumbi Sr., 75, a psychologist at Houston Elementary School in Northeast D.C., died from COVID-19 on April 16 at Doctors Community Hospital in Prince George’s County. He was admitted a few days before his death. A spokesman for D.C. Public Schools said the 25-year veteran is the system’s first confirmed employee to die of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. He is survived by his wife, five daughters, four stepchildren and eight grandchildren.
The Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday narrowly approved Gov. Ralph Northam’s plan to delay increasing the minimum wage because of the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the commonwealth’s economy. The first incremental increase in the minimum wage will now occur in May 2021 instead of January. Virginia’s minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 an hour, will still increase to $12 an hour by 2023. In the Senate, the vote was tied 20-20, but Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax broke the tie in favor of the governor’s plan. In both chambers, the vote was largely along party lines, with Democrats backing the governor. Delaying the wage increase is one of many issues lawmakers tackled yesterday as they undertook a reconvened session in Richmond. To allow for social distancing, the House of Delegates met in a large tent outside the General Assembly and the Senate met at the Science Museum of Virginia. Everyone wore masks and sat six feet apart. The focus of the session was to revisit the state’s budget. About a month ago, the new Democratic majority approved an ambitious $135 billion budget for the next two years. It included items like a freeze on in-state college tuition and a raise for teachers and other public employees. But as the pandemic upends Virginia’s economy, Northam proposed putting a pause on all new spending.
Two Republican Virginia senators sued Gov. Ralph Northam, the Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver and State Police Superintendent Gary Settle in Culpeper County Circuit Court on behalf of Merrill “Sandy” Hall who owns group of gyms including Gold’s Gym franchises and Beyond Fitness in the commonwealth. State Sens. William M. Murphy Jr. and Ryan T. McDougle represent the gym owners in the lawsuit, which asks for temporary injunctive relief to allow the gyms to reopen. The lawsuit alleges that Northam did not have the constitutional authority to close the businesses. It also claims that if the gyms in question cannot reopen before Northam’s order closing nonessential businesses expires on May 8, they will be forced to permanently close. “This petition is the last chance of Petitioners to forestall certain and complete ruin, and its injurious effects upon not just the owners, but thousands of employees and customers,” the lawsuit said. It also claims that although the Northam administration may “theorize there is vague potential for the additional transmission of disease if Petitioners re-open, there is no evidence this will occur, and Petitioners have protocols to prevent it.” Gyms are on the list of businesses that can reopen in the first phase of the Trump administration’s plan for reopening businesses and schools “if they adhere to strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols.” The administration also recommends that states have a downward trajectory of documented COVID-19 cases and positive COVID-19 tests before they start to reopen.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee has been canceled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Officials made the announcement Tuesday and said in a statement that they had canceled the event because there is “no clear path to safely set a new date in 2020.” The only other time the spelling bee was canceled was 1943 through 1945, during World War II. The first Scripps spelling bee was held in 1925. Spelling bee organizers said last month they were postponing this year’s event, but they didn’t give a new date. In Tuesday’s announcement, organizers said they will not change the requirements for those who are eligible for next year’s spelling bee, scheduled for June 1-3, 2021 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor. The bee is open to students up to the eighth grade. “Our hearts go out to the spellers who won’t get their final shot at winning because of the pandemic and the difficult decisions it is prompting us to make,” executive director Paige Kimble said in the statement.
Virginia has paused plans to build three field hospitals at the Dulles Expo Center in Fairfax County and the Hampton Roads and Richmond Convention Centers, the Associated Press reported. A spokesperson for Gov. Ralph Northam says that existing hospitals are expected to have enough capacity to handle COVID-19 patients in the short term. Still, the spokesperson added, “all options remain on the table” and the http://dconheels.com/2020/03/30/coronavirus-update-2/ field hospitals could still be constructed if Virginia needs them later. Construction on the planned “alternative care sites” had not begun yet, according to the AP. Designs had been approved through a collaboration between the Norfolk District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state officials. The Virginia Hospitals Association reported that as of Tuesday, 1,331 people in the state are hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 or pending test results for the virus. Hospitals in the state have 5,465 beds available and are currently using 22% of the ventilators they have on hand.
Inova Health systems is looking for people who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate blood plasma for a study on whether the protection that has built up in your plasma can help current patients recover. Study participants must be 18 or older, not pregnant, have documentation of a positive test result for COVID-19 and have been recovered and symptom-free for at least 14 days. To sign up, email email@example.com, or call 703-776-4899.
The My School D.C. lottery on Tuesday extended the enrollment deadline until June 15 at 5 p.m. In a bulletin posted online, the My School D.C. team said the enrollment process had been adjusted to minimize the number of people who need to enroll in person due to COVID-19. It is the second time the deadline has been pushed back, previously moving from May 1 to May 27. The date change comes as D.C. schools are working to adapt their operations and schedules in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced late last week that D.C. Public Schools will continue to operate online for the rest of the academic year, and classes will end on May 29, three weeks early. She said charter schools will likely end classes around that same time. The bulletin said schools will contact applicants who have been matched with a school directly about how to enroll, and that enrolling a student at their matched school will not take them off other schools’ waitlists. Applicants with questions can call 202-888-6336 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and New York Attorney General Letitia James led a coalition of 22 attorneys general Tuesday urging the Trump administration to halt rulemaking that would take food assistance away from millions of people during the pandemic. “Millions of Americans – including more than 8,000 District residents – will go hungry if the USDA finalizes this SNAP rule,” Racine said Tuesday in a press release. Twenty two attorneys general and New York City’s chief legal officer sent a letter to the Department of Agriculture, asking the department not to finalize the rule, which would cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for recipients. The rule would make it more difficult for people to qualify for the program. The coalition said the proposed change would get rid of a policy allowing states to make low-income families automatically eligible for SNAP if they already qualify for other types of assistance. “Protecting access to food stamp benefits is crucial at a time when millions of people are suffering from job losses and hundreds of thousands are battling coronavirus.” The coalition argued that the rule change would impede the response to COVID-19 nationwide, and place an additional burden on local governments’ administrative systems, many of which are already scrambling to respond to the pandemic.
Maryland received enough supplies for more than 500,000 coronavirus tests from South Korea’s LabGenomics on Saturday. Gov. Larry Hogan and First Lady Yumi Hogan, a South Korean immigrant who helped arrange the delivery, were on hand at BWI Marshall Airport to greet the plane with the much needed supplies. “This weekend, we took an exponential, game-changing step forward on our large-scale testing initiative,” Gov. Hogan said during a press conference about “Operating Enduring Friendship” on Monday. The state paid about $9 million dollars for 5,000 LabGun COVID-19 PCR test kits, which will be used to perform half a million tests. The announcement came a day after Hogan appeared on CNN’s State of the Union and criticized President Donald Trump for the lack of tests, despite the president’s claims to the contrary. “The administration, I think, is trying to ramp up testing,” Hogan said. “But to try and push this off to say that the governors have plenty of testing and they should just get to work on testing—somehow we aren’t doing our job—is just absolutely false.”
D.C. has implemented a new program to temporarily expand sidewalks around essential businesses. After initially saying the city wouldn’t open up more space for social distancing, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the program on Monday. Residents should contact their local Advisory Neighborhood Commission or Business Improvement District to recommend areas that need extensions. Those groups will forward the request to the District Department of Transportation. “While staying at home is a crucial part of flattening the curve during the COVID-19 pandemic, we do recognize residents need to make trips to essential businesses like grocery stores, and sometimes existing sidewalk space makes social distancing a challenge,” Bowser said. “This tactic will allow for better social distancing as we all work together to flatten the curve.” The mayor said all eight wards will get some version of sidewalk expansion. The first will be the main stretch of Cleveland Park on Connecticut Avenue between Macomb and Ordway. According to DDOT, some areas will have barriers or signs closing off parts of roads to allow more space for pedestrians.
Montgomery County Council is considering a $2 million fund to help prevent renters from being evicted during the coronavirus pandemic. The proposal by County Councilmember Evan Glass would support anti-homelessness programs overseen by the county’s Department of Health and Human Services. At least $1 million would provide short-term rental subsidies to low- and moderate-income households affected by the crisis. Glass is also asking Montgomery County Executive Mark Elrich to expand eligibility for housing assistance during the pandemic. “Accessing housing assistance programs should be simplified and streamlined during this crisis,” the council wrote in a letter to Elrich. Last month Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan placed a temporary stay on evictions during the state of emergency. Almost half of county renters were cost-burdened before the pandemic, according to the Urban Institute, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing. The coronavirus crisis has only made that worse. According to a council staff memo, the county’s DHHS reported “increased requests for housing assistance, particularly from people who have never asked for assistance before.” The special funding would county’s reserves, but the county will seek reimbursement from the state and federal governments. The legislation will be introduced today and scheduled for a vote on April 28.
Mayor Muriel Bowser announced several new measures at the city’s Department of Corrections facilities to prevent the spread of coronavirus following a federal judge’s order on Sunday. Among the changes are daily showers for the nearly 500 inmates in isolation and a deep cleaning of the facilities. The city will also acquire more computer tablets to reduce the number of inmates crowding around televisions for entertainment and provide free, private telephone access to counsel. The judge ordered an overhaul of safety measures at the D.C. jail, but stopped short of ordering the release of more inmates. Ninety inmates and 26 DOC employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Bowser also said that the number of violent crimes has dropped 3% over the last 30 days and is down 14% compared to the same period last year. Property crime fell 39% in the last 30 days and 31% year-over-year. Police Chief Peter Newsham noted that he has increased police presence in certain parts of the city to enforce social distancing, including Meridian Hill Park, Lincoln Park and the Wharf. Police have not arrested anyone for violating social distancing protocol yet, but Newsham said that they “will make arrests if necessary.”
DC2021, a coalition of some of D.C.’s biggest developers and businesses, is pushing city lawmakers for massive tax breaks as part of any post-pandemic recovery plan, saying that without significant government help the city’s restaurants and retailers will struggle to hire back employees and reopen their doors. The $1 billion proposal that includes a year-long break on property taxes for many businesses in the hospitality sector, the elimination of the franchise tax and a three-year moratorium on taxes related to the sale or transfer of property faces obstacles, including a city budget slated for http://dconheels.com/2020/04/06/coronavirus-update-3/ $607 million in cuts because of revenue losses. Progressive groups are also pushing back, skeptical of what they say is a blank check for the city’s wealthiest and most well-connected players. DC2021 is led by prominent developers Monty Hoffman of Hoffman & Associates and Geoffrey Griffis of City Partners, which are developing the The Wharf and other large projects. Members include Akridge Invested, Amazon, Asadoorian Retail Solutions, Baywood Hotels, Ben’s Chili Bowl, The Bernstein Companies, B.F. Saul Company, Brookfield Properties, Busboys and Poets, Carmen Group Inc., Carr Companies, DC United, Donatelli Management, Donohoe, EastBanc, Eastdil Secured, EDENS, Fort Lincoln New Town Corporation, Foulger-Pratt, Georgetown University, I.M.P., International Spy Museum, JBG Smith, JLL, Kastle Systems, Lerner Enterprises, Monumental Sports and Entertainment, Premium Title & Escrow, Roadside Development, the Smithsonian Institution and Tiber Hudson. Last Thursday — the Emancipation Day holiday when the city was closed — the group secretly presented a stark assessment to the D.C. Council: stating the coronavirus pandemic has largely shuttered the city’s restaurants, retail, hotel, entertainment, sports and arts sectors, putting at risk more than 172,000, $8.4 billion worth of wages and $2.9 billion in tax revenue for the city. DC2021 said it could take as long as two years for the city’s hospitality industry to recover, and if it doesn’t get significant government help many businesses won’t be able to reopen. The coalition told lawmakers that businesses would be slow to recover, largely because of expected social distancing requirements that will remain in place until a vaccine is developed. The coalition laid out three recovery scenarios over the next two years. The group says that without government support, only a fraction of D.C.’s bars, restaurants, hotels, stores and arenas will return. With some government support, the recovery will be more robust, but a full recovery can only come if there is government support as well as widespread testing for the coronavirus.
After another failure to launch teacher-led virtual instruction on Monday, Fairfax County Public Schools cancelled face-to-face instruction for now and launched an outside review. After canceling online last Wednesday, parents, teachers and students again reported difficulties Monday logging in to Blackboard, the district’s virtual learning platform. For those who could get online, materials took a long time to load, audio would not play or video froze repeatedly. In a message to the community, Superintendent Scott Brabrand said the 189,000-student school district would “move away from Blackboard Learn 24-7 as a tool for face to face instruction.” He said students and teachers would continue to use the technology to “access instructional resources and supports.” Brabrand also retained Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP, a law firm specializing in information technology and cybersecurity, to conduct a “comprehensive, outside review” of how Fairfax rolled out distance learning. A report is expected within the next few weeks. In addition, formed a three-member advisory council to examine best practices in the private sector, as well as suggest improved technology. In the meantime, teachers will refrain from real-time video instruction and use tools such as Google Classroom, prerecorded videos and learning packets, Brabrand wrote. He said the district is working to replace the live instruction feature previously provided through Blackboard.
D.C., Maryland and Virginia all reported fewer new cases of coronavirus Sunday than they did Saturday. It comes after a week of steady increases in the DMV. D.C. reported 127 new cases for Saturday, 63 fewer than were reported the day before. The city reported five additional COVID-19 deaths, all of individuals over the age of 60. Maryland reported 522 new confirmed cases in the last 24 hours, down from 736 a day earlier, and an additional 23 deaths. Prince George’s County has the highest number of cases in the state. Virginia’s new cases have trended downward for the last three days, with 484 new positive cases Saturday, down from 602 the day before. Fairfax County has the most cases in the commonweath.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam both pushed back against recent protests to reopen businesses and against the president’s encouragement of those demonstrations. In back-to-back interviews on CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper Sunday morning, Northam and Hogan said that testing for the coronavirus has not ramped up enough to safely reopen. Small protests in Annapolis and Richmond over the past few days mirrored conservative demonstrations nationwide against the restrictions put into place to stop the spread of the virus. President Donald Trump mentioned Northam specifically in his press conference on Saturday, and has tweeted to “LIBERATE VIRGINIA” and two other battleground states with closures in place. “Our president has been unable to deliver on tests,” Northam, a Democrat, said on CNN. “Now he has chosen to focus on protests.” Northam characterized the president’s claims that governors had sufficient access to tests as “just delusional … We have been fighting every day for [personal protective equipment] … We’ve been fighting for testing. We don’t even have enough swabs, believe it or not.” Hogan, a Republican, agreed that states don’t have the equipment they need. He characterized the lack of testing as “the number one problem in America, and has been since the beginning … It’s not accurate to say, ‘There’s plenty of testing out there and governors should just get it done.’” He noted that the president’s policy states that jurisdictions should not consider rescinding their stay-at-home orders until there have been 14 days of declining numbers for positive cases of COVID-19. In the DMV, the numbers are increasing, Hogan said.
The D.C. Department of Corrections must make immediate changes to conditions inside the D.C. jail a federal judge ruled Sunday. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by inmates over the department’s coronavirus response. The class-action lawsuit alleged that the DOC has not adequately screened or tested inmates for the coronavirus, and that it has not done enough to prevent the virus from spreading. As of Sunday, 82 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, according to D.C. Health. Thirty-one inmates are in isolation, 50 have recovered and one person has died as a result of the disease. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said in her opinion that the jail has not addressed social distancing adequately. “The risks of contracting COVID-19 are very real for those both inside and outside DOC facilities,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote. “However, Plaintiffs have produced evidence that inadequate precautionary measures at DOC facilities have increased their risk of contracting COVID-19 and facing serious health consequences, including death.” Among the changes the DOC must make is enforcing social distancing; adding cleaning supplies to each unit; scheduling and enforcing cleaning; educating staff and inmates about COVID-19; and expediting sick call requests. Correctional officers are also suing the department claiming that the agency is actively putting correctional officers at deadly risk from exposure to the coronavirus. Twenty-six officers tested positive for the coronavirus, according to D.C. data.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Saturday signed an executive order expediting the release of hundreds of inmates at state correctional facilities. Hogan’s order accelerates the release of those who were already eligible to be released within the next four months and speeds up the processing of inmates who have been deemed eligible for home detention. The order also instructs the state’s Parole Commission to expedite parole consideration for inmates older than 60 who have been convicted of nonviolent crimes, have maintained a good record and have an approved home plan. Victims and the state attorneys who last prosecuted the inmates must also be given notice before an inmate is released. “It is in the public interest to prevent inmates’ exposure to the novel coronavirus by expeditiously moving them to alternative places of confinement, such as in supervised community placement or their homes,” the order reads. It does not apply to prisoners convicted of sexual crimes or those who have displayed COVID-19 symptoms.
Emergency no parking zones have popped up near D.C. restaurants and hospitals as city transportation officials try to adjust the roadways to fit life during the coronavirus pandemic. Jeff Marootian, director of the District Department of Transportation, said the agency is working with local businesses, ANC representatives, the D.C. Hospital Association and business improvement districts to determine parking requirements due to COVID-19. “The purpose for restaurants, in particular, is to create more space for food deliveries and pickups,” Marootian said. “And around hospitals, we want to do everything we can to support our health care workers in ensuring that they have places to park.” There are now special parking zones outside 150 restaurants and Marootian said more requests are made each day. Five city hospitals have received special on-street parking for hospital employees and more are expected. Also, beginning Tuesday at 12:01 a.m., parking will be restricted around the convention center as the Army Corps of Engineers and D.C. officials work to turn the building into an alternate care facility for up to 1,500 “low acuity” COVID-19 patients who do not require ventilators or critical care. Parking will be prohibited along the convention center sides of Seventh and Ninth Streets NW between Mount Vernon Place and M Street NW. Both sides of L Street NW will be closed between Seventh and Ninth streets NW.
Montgomery County Public Schools will end the academic year on June 15 and modify grading for the final marking period. Superintendent Jack Smith announced the changes Sunday on the district’s website. Students have already made up three of the five days they missed based on the state’s new 175 minimum instruction days and have one unused emergency instructional day that was built into the calendar. The final day will be made up on April 28 since the state’s primary election has been moved to June. During the fourth marking period, middle and high school students will receive a Pass or Incomplete grade instead of a traditional letter grade, Smith wrote. Elementary students will not receive grades for the period.
Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White’s grandmother, Veronica Norman, died Saturday due to COVID-19. “Veronica Norman you are a strong soul,” White wrote in an Instagram post on Sunday announcing her death, adding that she “served this community unwavering with a commitment to helping others until her last day.” Norman worked at St. Elizabeths Hospital, the city’s only public psychiatric facility, for 40 years, White said. “We advised her to retire and go home so many times, but her love and commitment for her patients kept pulling her out of bed,” he wrote. It is unclear whether Norman was currently working at St. Elizabeths, which has had four patients die of COVID-19 and 56 staffers test positive, according to https://coronavirus.dc.gov/page/human-services-agency-covid-19-case-data city data released Sunday. It is also unclear if Norman is counted among the five COVID-19 deaths that the city reported for April 18. Of the total 96 coronavirus-related deaths in D.C., 75 have been African Americans. With 354 positive cases, Ward 8 has about 13 percent of the city’s known cases, according to the most recent D.C. data.
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Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.