Truckers Protest Low Shipping Rates
COVID-19 Cases Reach 47,001 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of yesterday morning, 4,797 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 240 deaths; there have been 24,473 cases in Maryland with 1,156 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 17,731 cases with 616 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
Dozens of tractor trailers are parked along Constitution Avenue this weekend in protest of low shipping rates that could put many of the drivers out of business. It is part of the economic fallout stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, where an initial boom in freight shipments has now subsided. The decline has left many truckers with no shipments to deliver or offers to drive at unsustainable rates. According to the shipping industry website Freight Waves, many of the drivers are blaming what are known as brokerage firms, which sort of act as middlemen, matching up drivers with freight loads. Similar protests are being held in other cities around the country as well. The D.C. protest is scheduled to continue until Monday.
A federal judge ordered an inspection of the Prince George’s County Correctional Center after inmates sued the county Department of Corrections for not protecting them against the coronavirus. U.S. District Court Judge Paula Xinis announced the order Friday during a conference call to sort through the different versions of how the jail is dealing with the coronavirus. After reviewing the initial filings from the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Xinis said it gave her enough cause to order Carlos Franco-Paredes, an infectious disease expert with the University of Colorado School of Medicine, to do an inspection. Franco-Paredes told the judge Friday that he would review documents from attorneys over the weekend and could visit the jail as early as Tuesday. Mary Lou McDonough, the director of Prince George’s County’s Department of Corrections, and other county officials have refuted the inmates’ claims. The county says it has taken action to reduce the inmate population as well as follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A spokesperson for the Prince George’s County jail told the Post that 18 inmates and 31 staff had tested positive as of Friday.
Flight paths were released Friday for today’s Navy Blue Angels’ and Air Force Thunderbirds’ flyovers through the D.C. and Baltimore regions. The flyovers are meant to honor first responders and healthcare workers on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak. The flyover in the D.C. area will start around 11:45 a.m. in Prince George’s County. The six F-16C/D Fighting Falcon and six F/A-18C/D Hornet aircraft will then fly over D.C. near the National Mall, follow the Potomac River north to Bethesda, circle part of Silver Spring and Northwest Washington and then fly over Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William counties before returning through D.C. a second time near the Mall. The flyover will last about 20 minutes and follow a 15-minute flyover in the Baltimore area. Cmdr. Brian Kesselring, the Blue Angels’ commanding officer, called health-care workers “America’s ambassadors in blue,” in a statement. “America Strong is a way for both teams to show appreciation to the thousands of doctors, nurses, first responders and essential workers out there serving on the frontline day-in and day-out.” A flyover is also planned in Atlanta on Saturday. Others were done this week in New York and Philadelphia.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration formally approved the use of 500,000 coronavirus tests purchased by Maryland from a South Korean company last month. The FDA gave LabGenomics Co. emergency approval for its LabGun COVID-19 RT-PCR kit Wednesday. Gov. Larry Hogan announced April 20 that the state made the $9 million purchase in an attempt to boost its coronavirus testing capacity. The governor’s office has said other materials needed for the test are still being ordered, though some tests have already been deployed to “high-priority hot spots” including nursing homes and poultry processing plants on the Eastern Shore.
Howard University Hospital plans to open a testing site Tuesday to serve D.C. neighborhoods east of the Anacostia hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. Residents can make an appointment and obtain a test even if they have no risk factors or symptoms, said Dr. Hugh Mighty, dean of Howard University College of Medicine and vice president of clinical affairs. “We want to eliminate the obstacles so more people can be tested because we believe everyone should be tested,” he said. “We want to screen our community neighbors in the areas where there are higher incidents of hypertension, heart disease and diabetes because those pre-existing conditions are linked to the higher incidents of coronavirus that we’ve seen in African American communities.” The testing site will allow healthcare providers to share information with patients about preventive care, how to manage underlying conditions and the availability of telemedicine when in-person appointments are not feasible. Howard plans to test 100 people the first week and grow to 200 people per week; LabCorp will process the samples, Mighty said. A $1 million grant from Bank of America funded start-up costs. Howard has repurposed an existing clinic at 4414 Benning Rd. NE, Suite 2400, to test residents from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays. To make an appointment, call 202-865-2119 and press 3. A prescription is not necessary.
D.C. and Maryland voters will start receiving their ballots for the June 2 primaries in the mail, part of plans in both jurisdictions to encourage people to vote while keeping them physically away from polling places. The Maryland State Board of Elections began mailing out more than 4 million ballots to registered voters across the state, and said the ballots should arrive in the coming days. “We are asking all Maryland voters to be on the lookout for their mail-in ballot for the June 2 primary election and to vote-by-mail if possible,” said Linda Lamone, Maryland Administrator of Elections, in a statement. “Voting by mail is safe, secure and free. There is no postage required. Voters simply need to fill out their ballot, sign the oath on the envelope, and place it back in the mail.” Voters can also drop off their ballots designated sites starting May 21. Those sites will also serve as polling places for people who want to cast ballots in person on Election Day. Both Montgomery and Prince George’s counties will have five designated ballot drop-off sites and four voting centers. In D.C., voters are being asked to request mail-in ballots. As of last week, more than 17,000 voters had. The D.C. Board of Elections said those ballots are being sent out, as well as voter guides that include absentee ballot request forms. D.C. will open 20 polling places on May 22 for early and day-of voting. Officials said they will mandate social distancing and are hoping to stagger in-person voting by asking voters to come at designated times according to the first letter of their last name.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced new efforts Friday to expand testing and the supply of personal protective equipment following criticism from top Republicans that the state had some of the lowest per-capita testing numbers in the nation. The state has contracted with two additional labs, officials said, which will allow 3,000 more tests per day. Northam said he is urging hospital systems to launch community testing immediately, and his administration is working to get more PPE to free clinics and federally qualified health centers so they can administer tests. “Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for a sick person to get a test in a setting that they trust,” Northam said. The commonwealth will also open three new locations to decontaminate PPE. Northam said he expected the sites to be operational next week. The units, which will use a decontamination method created by the nonprofit research and development firm Battelle, will allow up to 240,000 N95 respirator masks per day to be reused. The Food and Drug Administration gave the firm’s decontamination method emergency authorization last month, but a national union of registered nurses recently expressed concerns that the method has not been adequately vetted. Northam said the state-administered more than 5,8000 tests on Thursday, its highest number of tests in a single day. However, the number may be misleading because Virginia also changed the way it calculates the number of tests given. Dr. Norman Oliver, the health commissioner, said that previously only the number of people tested were counted, but now the count represents the total number of tests administered. State health officials said 8%-9% of people tested have received more than one COVID-19 test.
The Alexandria City Council on Wednesday unanimously adopted its $799.9 million FY2021 General Fund Operating Budget, which was 5.8% lower than the county’s original version from earlier this year. The updated budget reflects revised operating and capital budgets due to a $100 million gap caused by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and is a 1.6% decrease from FY2020. “In the face of an unprecedented economic crisis, City Council’s adopted FY 2021 budget represents a responsible balance between meeting urgent community needs and deferring other expenses,” said Mayor Justin Wilson in a statement. “We are in a stable position to help our community through the current pandemic.” The budget delays a proposed 2-cent increase in the 2020 real estate tax rate to fund capital projects including the beginning phased of the Waterfront Park and flood mitigation plan and the high school facility project at the Minnie Howard Campus to be rescheduled to FY2023. However, the new MacArthur Elementary School project remains budgeted and will proceed on schedule. It also delays wage increases for city employees and implements a hiring freeze.
The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority reopened 12 Northern Virginia stores on Friday after they were closed in April due to staffing issues and the coronavirus pandemic. “We are gratified to have adequate staffing to reopen these stores following their closure as part of consolidating operations in response to COVID-19,” ABC CEO Travis Hill said in a statement Friday. “Our employees have been tremendous throughout this response in how they’ve maintained stores and brought on new team members. Our top priority continues to be instituting operational measures to keep our customers and employees safe.” The reopened locations are 10685 Braddock Road and 3903 Fair Ridge Drive, Suite N, Fairfax; 507 William St., Fredericksburg; 686 N. Saint Asaph St., Alexandria; 6920-E Bradlick Shopping Center, Annandale; 2507 N. Harrison St., Arlington; 44722 Brimfield Drive, Ashburn; 5331 Merchants View Square, Haymarket; 378 Elden St., Herndon; 6230-I Rolling Road, Springfield; 50 N. Stafford Complex Center, Suite 103, Stafford; and 8150 Leesburg Pike, Suite 110, Vienna. New safety measures are in place, including mandatory use of face masks by employees, Plexiglas shields at registers, daily cleaning and sanitizing and hand sanitizer at registers. Only 10 customers will be allowed in a store at a time. ABC stores are open from noon to 7 p.m., seven days a week.
The coronavirus outbreak tied to poultry processing plants on the Eastern Shore continues to expand, with workers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention going plant to plant Friday and the caseload rising. So far, 279 poultry workers have tested positive for COVID-19. That is 17 additional cases since Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan publicly raised alarm about potential food chain disruptions three days ago. The outbreak has made rural Wicomico County, home to poultry giant Perdue Farms, one of Maryland’s most concerning hotspots. As of Friday, the county had the fourth-highest per capita caseload in the state – more than Baltimore City and Baltimore County. The county’s coronavirus caseload doubled from roughly 220 cases last Friday to 425 a week later. More than 100 cases have been detected in just the past four days. Hogan announced public testing site will open in Caroline County, home to poultry workers who commute to two affected plants in Delaware. It joins a testing site that opened Friday at Perdue Stadium, a minor league baseball park in Salisbury, Md. “This remains a rapidly evolving situation,” Hogan said in a statement.
For the first time in 30 years, the annual National Memorial Day Concert won’t be held on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Capital Concerts will present a special 90-minute broadcast on PBS at 8 p.m. on Sunday, May 24 instead. “In this unprecedented time, when the nation needs it most, we will bring Americans together as one family to honor our heroes,” said executive producer Michael Colbert. “This has been the mission of the National Memorial Day Concert for 30 years, and we look forward to sharing stories and music of support, hope, resilience and patriotism.” Tony winner Joe Montegna will host with Emmy winner Gary Sinise. Hamilton star Christopher Jackson will open the show singing the national anthem. Other performers include Cynthia Erivo, Renee Fleming, Trace Adkins, CeCe Winans, Kelli O’Hara, Mary McCormack and the National Symphony Orchestra. The show will also feature “greatest hits” from past years, including Sam Elliott, Laurence Fishburn and Esai Morales.
Food delivery apps like DoorDash, Grubhub, Postmates and UberEats could see the commissions they charge restaurants in D.C. capped during the coronavirus pandemic. D.C. Council is considering a bill that would temporarily cap the commissions that the delivery apps charge restaurants that use their services. Those fees can reach as high as 30% in addition to tips and service fees paid by customers. The proposal allows restaurants facing economic uncertainty during the public health crisis to keep more money. The proposed bill caps commissions at 15% and prohibits app owners from slashing driver compensation to recoup lost revenue, according to a draft of the legislation circulated Thursday. Violators would be subject to fines from $250 up to $1,000 per infraction. The rules would only apply during the city’s state of emergency. Similar measures have been enacted or are under consideration in other cities, including Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. Restaurants can only offer delivery and takeout while residents remain under a stay-at-home order. Council is expected to vote on the proposed legislation on May 5 along with a number of other amendments to the recently passed coronavirus emergency legislation.
New unemployment claims totaled 3.84 million last week, including .more than 118,000 in the DMV. According to figures released Thursday by the Department of Labor, new jobless claims for the week ending April 25 fell 603,000 from the week before and were the lowest since March 21, but bring the six week total to 30.3 million. In D.C., there were 8,158 new claims, down 481 from the previous week. Maryland reported 36,471 new claims, a drop of 12,024 from a week earlier. And Virginia had 74,043 new claims, down 8,686 from last week. The decrease comes after initial claims hit a record high the week of March 28 at 6.87 million. The numbers have fallen each week since, but existing claims rose nearly 18 million, up 2.2 million from the previous week. While the number of new claims has gone down, they indicate layoffs that could result in an unemployment rate of 16.4 percent in May, according to Morgan Stanley projections. That would be the highest since the Great Depression.
The Arlington County Board adopted a $1.3 billion fiscal 2021 budget on Thursday that maintains current levels of services, but includes an estimated $56 million loss in revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic. The lost revenue from sales, meal, business license and transient occupancy taxes, parks and recreation fees, development fees, parking meter and parking ticket revenue and more is split at $34 million for country government and $21.6 million for Arlington County Public Schools. The budget freezes salaries in fiscal 2021 for county employees and continues a hiring freeze put in place in March. It also puts many projects, such as the Lubber Run Community Center and Long Bridge Park Fitness & Aquatics Center, on hold until fiscal year 2022. Arlington Public Schools will get $524.6 million, a slight increase from fiscal 2020. The budget does not include an increase in the county’s property taxes. However, the county’s property assessments increased, meaning a hike in the actual tax bill property owners will get. “In just three short months, our budget priorities have been upended,” board chair Libby Garvey said. “Our focus in the coming year will be on supporting residents and small business hit hard by the economic fallout of the pandemic, preserving essential services and maintaining a strong financial foundation.” The fiscal year begins July 1.
A judge has ruled against a Virginia gym owner who sued Gov. Ralph Northam over his statewide shutdown order. The case, filed by Republican state senators William M. Murphy Jr. and Ryan T. McDougle Culpeper County Circuit Court last week on behalf of Merrill C. “Sandy” Hall who owns a group of gyms, including Gold’s Gym franchises and Beyond Fitness in the commonwealth. The suit sought to allow the gyms to reopen, alleging that Northam, a Democrat, lacked the constitutional authority to close the gyms, and that the shutdown would cause them “irreparable and permanent ruin.” Judge Claude Worrell ruled in favor of the state and denied the request for a temporary injunction, according to the Virginia Courts Case Information website. “When you weigh the rights of one small business owner against the rights of the citizenry of the commonwealth, or even in smaller political subdivisions like the county of Culpeper,” the judge wrote, “You can’t say that his rights outweigh everyone else’s rights to remain free of any disease, illness or other.” In a statement, Attorney General Mark R. Herring acknowledged the economic hardship caused by the public health order, but added, “we must remember that we are all working together to keep ourselves, our families and our communities safe and healthy.”
Montgomery County health officer Dr. Travis Gayles told the county board of health Thursday that he didn’t know when the county will have access to the 500,000 coronavirus tests the state of Maryland bought from South Korea last week for $9 million. The board wanted to know when and how more residents — including those without symptoms — will have access to tests. Gayles said the “state team is working diligently behind the scenes to get [them] up and running.” Distribution of the tests secured by Gov. Larry Hogan have reportedly been delayed by regulatory hurdles. Hogan told the Washington Post the tests are being guarded by the Maryland National Guard and state police at an “undisclosed location.” He said that while some testes are being distributed to hotspots like long-term care facilities and testing sites, he is worried the federal government could try to seize the tests. Hogan said the federal government has confiscated shipments of supplies from other states including Massachusetts. The state health department said the tests can’t be used until a shortage of nasal swabs and chemical reagents ends. But Gayles said health officials are working to expand mobile testing sites in the county. COVID-19 screening is currently available in Montgomery County at state vehicle emissions testing sites and two county-run facilities in Wheaton and Germantown. Individuals must meet criteria before they can receive a test.
D.C. Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and Anita Bonds (D-At Large) have proposed that foreclosures be placed on hold until 60 days after the city’s ongoing state of emergency. The measure is expected to be debated and voted on by the D.C. Council next Tuesday. While D.C. Superior Court is not hearing any foreclosure cases currently and the federal recovery bill included a moratorium for federally backed mortgage holders, that could still leave some homeowners who fall behind on their payments subject to quick foreclosure once the state of emergency ends. A number of states have already enacted foreclosure moratoria, including Maryland, where Gov. Larry Hogan halted evictions and foreclosures in early April. In Virginia, courts are not processing evictions or foreclosures. In D.C., evictions have been put off and mortgage servicers have also been ordered to offer qualified borrowers up to 90 days of deferred payments. The bill would also address non-judicial foreclosures that happen outside of the court system, “including foreclosures by condominium associations for unpaid fees and by mortgage lenders who elect to participate in the District’s extra-judicial foreclosure process,” according to a description of the bill. Another bill expected to be considered Tuesday would require landlords to offer rent payment plans to tenants facing financial hardship, and require them to return any fees charged for amenities that are not available due to the pandemic.
With fewer flights going in and out of Reagan National Airport, American Airlines will move its operations to the middle concourse at Terminal B/C and depart from Gates 23-34. The north concourse of Terminal C, which contains Gates 35-45 and the dreaded Gate 35X, which requires a bus ride to get to the plane, will temporarily close. Shops and security checkpoints for those gates will also close. Airport officials saiy the changes will be in effect until further notice. All other airlines at DCA will continue to operate in their normal locations. Gate 35X will formally close once the airport’s new 14-gate concourse is complete, tentatively set for July 2021.
Senior executives at the Smithsonian Institution will have their pay cut for the next year in response to losses from the coronavirus. The institution expects it will lose $22 million in revenue by the end of May, a spokesperson confirmed Wednesday. Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III told the Washington Post that salary reductions are an attempt to stem those losses without resorting to furloughs. Bunch, along with Deputy Secretary Meroë Park, will take 15% pay cuts. An additional 89 senior executives will see their pay reduced by 10%. The Smithsonian will also impose a hiring freeze for non-federal positions, although most employees are federal workers. Most of the Smithsonian’s budget comes from the federal government, but a third comes from grants and contracts, charitable donations, memberships, and retail revenue from shops, IMAX theaters, restaurants and parking. In an interview with the Post, Bunch would not predict when museums would re-open, but said he knows “we will never return to the way it once was.” According to Bunch, surveys of audience behavior indicate that half of the visitors may not return until there is an available vaccine for the coronavirus.
COVID-19 restrictions and closures in D.C. might need to be extended another three months under the “most stringent” scenario. During a town hall about reopening the city, D.C. leaders presented grim reminders that the road to recovery may be longer than expected and may not end with life in the nation’s capital returning to pre-coronavirus days. Mayor Muriel Bowser has declared a public health emergency through May 15, which she could extend. Health officials cautioned that opening nonessential businesses before May 25 would most likely result in a second peak of infections. “Don’t anticipate in either case a light switch going on and everything going back to normal,” Bowser said about life returning to normal after May 15. “At that point, we would likely be only recommending, if we are able, some small portion of activity coming back.” D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt added, “We do know that right now allowing social gatherings would be harmful to our community because we still have too many people who are susceptible to the virus in our community. As we do reopen, there should be some social-distancing measures that remain in place.” In a presentation, city officials said a less-stringent approach to reopening would phase in reopening in two to three months. The most stringent option would extend current closures for three months. D.C. officials said they would push employers to keep telework policies in place as long as possible, while bars and nightclubs are likely to be the businesses shuttered the longest. But other institutions could reopen with strict internal social-distancing measures. The city has not met metrics to start reopening, including a two-week sustained decrease in new daily cases and a declining positivity rate in coronavirus tests. Officials also said they are seeing a “high force of infection” along the 14th and 16th street corridors, as well as in Southeast Washington.
Prince George’s County Health Department is moving its COVID-19 testing from FedEx Field to the Cheverly Health Center, 3003 Hospital Drive. The health department announced Wednesday was the last day of testing at FedEx Field ahead of rain expected for Friday. On Thursday and Friday, testing will be available at the Cheverly Health Center, although an appointment must be made in advance. Starting Monday, the Cheverly Health Center is open for testing, by appointment only, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Appointments can be made by calling 301-883-6627. The site will be set up to accommodate drive-through and foot traffic.
Elective surgeries and dental procedures can resume in Virginia on Friday. Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday that his exectuvie order banning elective surgeries and limiting dental procedures, which expires late Thursday night, will not be renewed. The procedures were prohibited to preserve space and medical equipment for a possible surge in COVID-19 patients. “Our hospitals have not been overwhelmed,” Northam said. “We have been able to get more PPE and developed ways to decontaminate masks and gowns.” Northam said he was prepared to take swift action to contain the disease if cases rise after hospitals resume scheduled care. Virginia Dental Association President Elizabeth Reynolds praised the decision and said dental practices would follow safety guidelines from state and national organizations, including wearing masks, cleaning thoroughly between patients and minimizing use of waiting rooms. She said dentists would also cut back on using air and water to minimize aerosols. Michael McDermott, chairman of the board of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, estimated the ban on elective procedures cost Virginia hospitals about $200 million.
All residents and staff of Maryland nursing homes will be required to be tested for the coronavirus whether they have symptoms. Gov. Larry Hogan announced the “universal testing” on Wednesday. Nearly half of the Maryland residents who have died from COVID-19 were residents or staff of nursing homes. There are more than 4,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at 278 different nursing homes across the state — 19% of the state’s total cases. The nursing home with the highest death toll in the state is Sagepoing Nursing and Rehabilitation in La Plata, where 33 people have died from COVID-19, and 129 confirmed cases of the virus have been reported. Under Hogan’s order, all nursing homes must have a physician, nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant or registered nurse evaluate patients’ symptoms on a daily basis. The state will provide additional staff to assist nursing homes that are in crisis and facing staff shortages. The “bridge teams,” as Hogan called them, consist of a registered nurse and five to seven aides who can care for up to 100 residents per shift. Maryland started reporting data on nursing home outbreaks to the public after Hogan issued an order Monday afternoon. The Maryland Department of Health was initially resistant to making the data public, citing privacy concerns. Hogan also announced measures to address outbreaks of the virus at the state’s poultry processing plants. At least 262 poultry workers have tested positive for COVID-19. The state is opening a new testing site at Perdue Stadium in Salisbury and sending epidemiologists to the plants where workers have gotten sick.
D.C. began telling small businesses Wednesday if they have been selected to receive coronavirus recovery grants from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. The city received more than 7,000 applications for shares of the $25 million originally allocated for the fund. But Mayor Muriel Bowser said Wednesday that officials have identified an additional $8 million to put toward the grants, with $4 million coming from the city’s sports and entertainment authority Events D.C., $3 million from the federal government and $1 million from the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development. Notification will continue through May 8. Bowser also said the city is ramping up contact tracing for COVID-19 through the D.C. health department. The department currently has 65 contact tracers, which will increase to 200 in the short term. “We think we’ll need 900 people doing this kind of work” over the course of the pandemic, Bowser said, adding that the city will list job postings for those positions online and that they will have 13-month terms.
The D.C. attorney general’s office has received some two dozen complaints since last month about landlords trying either to evict tenants or raise rents, despite emergency legal prohibitions against the practices during the city’s public health emergency. Speaking at the mayor’s press conference Wednesday, Attorney General Karl Racine said his office is aware of retailers engaged in price gouging on supplies in demand such as hand sanitizer and disinfectants. A spokesperson for Raince says the office has received more than 320 consumer complaints tied to the coronavirus crisis since early March, of which more than 100 were about price gouging, and the office has sent cease-and-desist letters to some retailers.
Otakon 2020, which was scheduled for July 31-Aug. 2 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center has been canceled. Organizers said in a press release that since the convention center is being converted into a alternat care facility for COVID-19 patients, it would not be available. “Even in the most optimistic scenario that the facility is not needed to be used, [staff] would still be in the move-out/clean up process by the dates of our event.” Organizers said the event will return to the convention center Aug. 6-8, 2021. Registrations for 2020 will be moved to 2021. If you cannot attend next year, refunds will be made if requested before May 31. A refund request form is available online. Dealers and artists can also transfer registration to next year or request a refund. Hotel reservation made through the website will automatically be canceled and deposits refunded.
Ben’s Chili Bowl learned Tuesday that it would receive a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program. The local institution, which opened in 1958, is among area restaurants struggling to survive as hours have been cut and sales have dropped 80% during the pandemic. Only the original restaurant on U Street is open for takeout and delivery. The news comes after the Ali family, which owns the restaurant, previously applied for PPP funding, but their application was not approved before the first round of funding ran out. Although they have not received the money yet, Sage Ali said it should cover at least two months of payroll for the family’s four restaurants.
Ocean City, Md., Mayor Richard Meehan on Tuesday extended his emergency stay-at-home order until May 15. Beaches including access points, the boardwalk and the Inlet parking lot will remain closed. The new declaration also prohibits social gatherings of 10 or more people. Hotels, motels and vacation rentals cannot accept occupants except “essential lodgers” until May 22. The dates are subject to re-evaluation as needed and would be lifted if Maryland loosens its stay-at-home restrictions statewide. At City Council’s meeting on Tuesday, City Manager Doug Miller presented a proposed COVID Recovery Plan for the resumption of summer services based on the state’s Roadmap to Recovery. Miller’s plan projects the possibility that city restaurants will only offer partial service in May and June; bars may not be able to open until mid-to-late summer; some small shops, businesses and outdoor activities may be able to resume in late May or early June; and some social gatherings, such as church services and restricted openings of restaurants and bars could occur by late June or July. Miller hopes that sometime between July and September, restaurants will operate at near-normal levels. Summer services proposed to begin by Memorial Day weekend include lifeguards in stands, the beach patrol and availability of bathrooms, which may have limited capacity and “Enter At your Own Risk” warning signs. The proposal suggests “use at your own risk” tram services begin Memorial Day weekend with no distancing requirements, but that masks be required for everyone riding the city bus all summer. Some council members wanted more specificity or new details, such as plans to protect or better inform high-risk city residents. Some of the most vehement criticism focused on the timeline for resumptions of activities based on dates of new coronavirus cases reflecting a flattening of the curve. Loosening of restrictions based on the latest data project the state may lift stay-at-home orders by mid-to-late May, while some council members argued the city should prepare to begin lifting restrictions by early May.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Tuesday expanded the criteria for priority coronavirus testing to include grocery store workers, critical government employees and other essential workers who are asymptomatic but have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. “Every day, we have workers out in the community ensuring we have access to food and other essential products and services, and those workers are safer and so is everyone else when we know who has the virus and who has been exposed to it,” Bowser said in a press release on Tuesday. Grocery store employees have found themselves on the frontlines of the pandemic, as stores stayed open during the crisis. Some local workers expressed concerns about their safety and many have tested positive for COVID-19. Bowser noted that D.C. is providing free testing at University of the District of Columbia Community College’s Bertie Backus campus, United Medical Center and other sites throughout the city. Workers can make an appointment through the COVID-19 testing hotline by calling 1-855-363-0333 for assistance in English or 1-844-796-2797 for both English and Spanish.
Virginia and Maryland’s Democratic senators pressed the federal government Tuesday to give a consistent telework policy for federal employees during COVID-19. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia, and Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin of Maryland, joined an effort led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren to challenge new White House guidelines that appear to encourage returning federal workers to their offices. The senators pointed to a memo issued last week by the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management that stated, “Agencies are encouraged to allow Federal employees and contractors to return to the office in low-risk areas.” The senators wrote, “Public health experts have expressed serious concerns about these guidelines and warned that there is still not sufficient testing, tracing, or personal protective equipment to know where, and when it is safe to relax social distancing and quarantine guidelines.” They cited reports that some federal workers were denied requests to telework, even when their jobs could be done outside the office. Further, they added, there is no uniform policy for reporting COVID-19 cases.
The U.S. Capitol, which closed to the public on March 12, will remain closed to tourists and nonessential personnel until at least May 16. In a joint statement, the sergeants at arms for the House of Representatives and the Senate said they had extended the closure from the end of April until mid-May in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The shutdown includes the Capitol Visitor Center. The only people who will be allowed access to the Capitol are members of Congress, their staff, credentialed media and those on official business. “We are taking this temporary action out of concern for the health and safety of congressional employees as well as the public,” a statement from the sergeants at arms read.
D.C. health officials unveiled a new mobile testing unit Tuesday that can test up to 100 samples a day for the coronavirus. The mobile unit is operated by D.C.’s Public Health Lab, using equipment from the Centers for Disease Control. It will be deployed throughout the city at locations with at-risk populations, such as long-term care facilities. As of Monday, the lab had tested 2,527 samples, about one-third of which have come back positive. The lab’s capacity is up to 500 tests per day, and there is currently no backlog. In addition to the new mobile testing unit, the lab operates drive-through and walk-through testing sites at United Medical Center in Southeast and the University of the District of Columbia Bertie Backus Campus across from the Fort Totten Metro station in Northeast. Testing at those sites is free, by appointment only and reserved for healthcare workers and others in at-risk groups.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday signed an executive order protecting healthcare providers from liability as they work under “less than optimal conditions” due to the coronavirus. Healthcare providers have been forced to reuse protective equipment; have been unable to source more and have at times been unable to transfer patients from hospitals to other facilities, all leading to health care delivery that “would not be undertaken in conventional practices,” Northam said. “It is in the public interest to afford healthcare providers involved in the delivery of healthcare impacted by COVID-19 with adequate protection against liability for good faith actions or omissions taken in their efforts to combat this health emergency.” Northam pointed to sections of Virginia’s code that protect health care providers responding to a disaster from civil liability for injury or wrongful death. He clarified that COVID-19 qualifies as a disaster. The order does not protect healthcare providers from gross negligence or willful misconduct. The move came even as a union representing healthcare workers said its members needed more gear rather than indemnity. David Broder, president of the Virginia chapter of the Service Employees International Union, said liability was not the top priority for the 3,000 workers he represents including home care workers, nurses, social workers and mental health therapists. Broder said the greater concern is shortages of personal protective equipment that continue to put workers in danger. He urged the governor to intervene to supply masks, gloves and training to healthcare workers working via Medicaid and in local public health offices.
Montgomery County’s Ride On Bus will have limited “individually wrapped face coverings” available on buses in the Silver Spring area starting Tuesday. According to a Monday press release, the pilot program aims to provide masks to those who need them. Earlier this month, Maryland required masks to be worn while in stores and on public transit. “We are grateful to the Department of General Services’ efforts to provide the supplies needed to help protect our riders,” said Chris Conklin, the county’s department of transportation director. “That said, I strongly encourage Ride On passengers to provide their own face coverings whenever possible and so we can reserve these spare coverings for those who have no alternative.” Masks, scarves and bandanas that cover the nose and mouth are all acceptable. People who don’t wear one may be asked to leave the bus. MCDOT officials said they hope to have face coverings available on all Ride On buses by early May.
Washington Sports Club will stop charging membership fees while its gyms are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine made the announced Monday that Town Sports International, LLC, WSC’s parent, will also credit members for the time gyms have been closed, retroactively freeze memberships as of April 8 and offer free electronic membership cancellations online through its “Contact Us” page that are submitted by Thursday, April 30. The agreement follows threats of a lawsuit earlier this month if the company didn’t stop charging membership fees during the shutdown of nonessential businesses. “We are pleased that members of Washington Sports Club (WSC) are no longer subject to totally unreasonable terms because WSC has now committed to freeze memberships, provide credits and allow free cancellations,” Racine said in a statement. “This will help take some financial pressure off District club members during the pandemic and the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) will ensure WSC follows through on its promises. I encourage all District residents who are being treated unfairly by a business to reach out to OAG for help.”
Maryland’s seafood industry has slowed as the coronavirus pandemic continues, leading to uncertainty for crab and oyster markets. Chris Moore, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s senior regional ecosystem scientist, said the market for oysters that have already been harvested is declining. “Once they get too big, they can still be sold, but the value that they tend to get for those goes down,” he said. Oyster farmers are looking ahead, trying to ensure their seed, which typically takes 12-24 months to grow, does well over the next couple months to provide security in coming years. Restoration projects to safeguard the future of the industry have also been held up. “Some of those actual investments in our resources may not actually be able to be made because of the slowdowns related to COVID-19,” Moore said. Crab season remains uncertain. “Even as things start to return to normal, crab prices stay depressed because it’s not necessarily one of the things people buy everyday,” Moore said. For workers traveling to Maryland for crab season, their health and safety presents another set of concerns for crab processing plants on Hoopers Island, where measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus are being taken. Workers’ temperatures are being taken often, shifts are shortened and social distancing measures are being enforced, but the fear of contracting the virus and not being able to work persists for plant workers, many of whom are Mexican immigrants. With restaurants closed and demand on the decline, it will continue to be an uphill battle for the industry in the coming weeks.
D.C. reported 51 new COVID-19 cases Monday morning, a significant drop compared to other 24-hour periods in the last week. However, D.C. Health director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said it is too early to say that the city is flattening the curve. “I’m not prepared to make any inferences from a one-day change. I’m interested in observing trends over time,” Nesbitt said during Mayor Muriel Bowser’s daily coronavirus press briefing Monday. She pointed to the fact that hospitalizations dropped for a few days last week but surged again Monday. Nesbitt also noted that contact-tracing has been reserved for health care works and shelter residents in D.C., making it difficult to draw conclusions about where people are contracting the virus. Of the 435 D.C. residents currently hospitalized, 124 are in intensive care and 84 are on ventilators. Last week, 402 were hospitalized, 120 in intensive care and 59 on ventilators.
Montgomery County is giving low-income families who don’t qualify for a federal stimulus check or state benefits a one-time emergency assistance check of up to $1,450. County Executive Marc Elrich said Monday that residents with incomes less than 50% of the federal poverty level, and who have not received assistance from the federal or state government, will receive a check next week from the county’s Assistance Relief Payment program. Single adults will receive $500, while families with one child will receive $1,000 plus $150 per additional child, up to $1,450. Those not eligible for the federal stimulus check include dependent children above the age of 16, dependent adults and those without Social Security numbers, which includes many undocumented residents. “[This program] was designed to provide a hand up to people who might not otherwise qualify for other kinds of assistance,” Elrich said. “Covid-19 continues to take a toll on our economy and this program is one way to help stabilize families that are fighting to survive.”
Virginia, Maryland and Delaware are seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases among poultry-processing workers, prompting the governors of all three states to seek federal help. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will send teams of epidemiologists and contact tracers to help local and state health departments assess the problem and conduct testing, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Monday afternoon. The CDC teams will include staff who speak Haitian Creole, the language spoken by most poultry employees on the Delmarva Peninsula. The CDC team was expected to arrive in Virginia late Monday. Staff for Northam, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Delaware Gov. John Carney worked over the weekend to coordinate their request to Washington, Northam said. “Because the poultry economy is so interconnected, a coordinated approach is critical,” he said. The CDC released new guidance for meat processing over the weekend after large-scale outbreaks across nation. Virginia has 10 poultry processing plants, primarily in the Shenandoah Valley and on the Eastern Shore.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added six new symptoms to its list of possible signs of the coronavirus. Previously, it only listed fever, cough and shortness of breath as symptoms. The agency has updated its list to include: chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell. Shortness of breath has also been changed to “shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.” A runny nose rarely occurs with COVID-19, and sneezing is still not a symptom of the virus. “People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported — ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness,” reads the CDC’s website. Any of the nine symptoms may appear anywhere from 2-14 days after exposure, according to the CDC. It recommends people seek medical attention immediately if they develop any of these emergency warning signs: trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse and bluish lips or face.
Coronavirus testing in Virginia nearly doubled last week to about 4,000 people a day, Gov. Ralph Northam said Monday. He has set a target of 10,000 tests per day, and the state still lags behind Maryland and D.C. in tests per capita. Virginia has received 300,000 surgical masks and 800,000 gloves from Virginia-based Northfield Medical Manufacturing and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent 14,000 swabs, Northam said. An additional 200,000 swabs are on order, said Secretary of Health Dan Carey. “We’ve made a lot of progress, and we’ve got a supply chain now,” Northam said.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser tapped two national security experts to lead the ReOpen D.C. Advisory Group, which will determine how to reopen the city in the eventual wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Bowser selected Susan Rice, the former National Security Advisor under President Barack Obama and ambassador to the United Nations, and Michael Chertoff, the former Secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, to lead the group. Others on the committee include former D.C. mayors Anthony Williams, who will oversee real estate and construction, and transportation and infrastructure; and Adrian Fenty, who will lead health innovation and workforce, and open spaces and recreation. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson will lead education and childcare, and restaurants and food; CFO Jeffrey DeWitt, faith, arts, culture, hotels, sports and entertainment; and small business and retail; former Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response under Obama Nicole Lurie, human services, social services and health, and social interactions; and Beverly Perry, a senior advisor to the mayor, government operations, public safety and criminal justice, and equality and vulnerable populations. The committee will host a virtual town hall for Washingtonians on Wednesday. Its initial report is due the week of May 11.
As tens of thousands of Maryland residents try to apply for unemployment benefits, the state’s new online portal has been beset by “technical difficulties.” The Maryland Department of Labor disabled the BEACON One-Stop website for maintenance Sunday and reported that even though it was back online as of 7 p.m Sunday, it was still operating slowly and the vendor “cannot guarantee that additional technical difficulties will not arise.” The site will be unavailable from 1-3 a.m. for the next several days. The app launched on April 24. It is meant to be easier for residents to use because several types of claims can be filed online through one application, including regular benefits, CARES Act benefits and individuals who were previously required to file by phone. As of 3:30 p.m. Monday, more than 286,000 people were in virtual line to file with wait times of more than 1 hour. The state already has received more jobless claims this year than it did in all of last year.
The Eastern Market Farmers Market and Merchant Hall closed Sunday to be deep cleaned after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. A notice of its website also said that “those potentially exposed have been notified and will take the appropriate action per D.C. Health guidance.” The farmers market plans to re-open Tuesday. It is normally closed on Mondays. In a letter to vendors, the D.C. Department of General Services wrote that the individual was “last present at your work location sometime between April 24 and April 25.” The individual won’t return to work until medically cleared, the letter adds. The letter told vendors and merchants that “per current D.C. Health guidance, you do not need to be tested or undergo voluntary quarantine based on this possible exposure.” On April 8, Mayor Muriel Bowser removed farmers markets from the list of “essential businesses” able to operate in the city during the coronavirus health emergency. To open, farmers markets must apply for a waiver detailing plans to keep customers and employees safe. According to the order, the plan needs to include a limit on the number of people in the market, prohibit pets, offer grab-and-go purchases only, create a phone or online pre-order system, not sell crafts or non-edible plants, and place all products behind a barrier. Eastern Market was one of the farmers markets that applied for and was granted a waiver by the city.
Maryland’s BEACON unemployment insurance portal was taken offline Sunday due to technical issues, but came back online in the early evening. The site was designed to help residents, including gig workers, apply for expanded unemployment benefits that have been provided in response to the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus. When it launched on at 7 a.m. Friday, the system was overwhelmed and plagued by unexpected technical difficulties. By 5:15 p.m., more than 44,000 accounts were activated with over 19,000 new claims being processed. “I’m sorry people had difficulties with that. It is now fixed,” Gov. Larry Hogan said at a Friday press conference. The Maryland Department of Labor announced shortly after noon on Sunday that it was working to address the problem, but the site needed to be taken down for maintenance. The site came back online about 7 p.m. Sunday.
Children’s National Hospital said it saw 105 young patients (newborn to age 25) with the coronavirus between March 15 and April 22. Of that group, 27% needed hospitalization, including several needing critical care. No children at the hospital have died from the virus. Patients aged 65 and over, especially those with underlying conditions, are generally considered more at risk of severe complications from the virus than are younger people. About one-third of adults with the virus were hospitalized, according to a CDC study released earlier this month of coronavirus patients from across the U.S. That contrasts with about a fifth of children with the virus who were hospitalized. “It’s nothing like the burden on the elderly adults, we’re not saying that,” Roberta DeBiasi, the hospital’s infectious diseases division chief, told the Washington Post. “But it’s clear that it’s not slowing down. We’re having more and more cases, and we’ve steadily had admissions each day, both to the critical care and the noncritical care.” Infants and children over 15 are more likely to get hospitalized than other children, DeBiasi said. Children with underlying conditions are also more likely to be hospitalized than those with no underlying conditions, she said. Seventy percent of those who were hospitalized at Children’s National had an underlying condition.
If your event is canceled or postponed, or you know of one that is, let us know at dcoheditor(at)gmail(dot)com.
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.