Mt. Vernon Triangle Market Opens to Lines
COVID-19 Cases Reach 74,693 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of yesterday morning, 7,042 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 375 deaths; there have been 37,968 cases in Maryland with 1,842 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 29,683 cases with 1,002 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
The farmer’s market season kicked off Saturday in Mount Vernon Triangle with a long line. “Folks lined up all the way down through the park and kind of back onto Massachusetts Avenue so maybe like half a block at the beginning of the market,” Nony Dutton, deputy director of Freshfarm Markets told WTOP. Face masks were required at the market as it opened for the first time this season amid the coronavirus pandemic. If you didn’t have one, they gave you one free. There were long lines and more than 200 customers. Dutton said that Freshfarm lowered the number of vendors from about 12 to six and partnered with OpenTable to help control how many customers are there at one time. Customers sign up for a designated time slot and get right in. The new OpenTable reservation program is also being used at the Dupont Circle location. Dutton said that they had 100 people between those two markets sign up for a slot this week. The market is open from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. every Saturday until at least November. The Dupont market is open Sundays from 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. year round.
Saturday should have been the 145th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Instead, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the second leg of the American Triple Crown was rescheduled for Saturday, Oct. 3. “Under normal circumstances, I’d be standing in Pimlico with you, presenting the Woodlawn Trophy to the winner of the 145th Preakness Stakes,” Hogan said. “But as we all know, these are not ordinary circumstances.” Instead, Pimlico has been used as a drive-through COVID-19 testing site since April. Yesterday marked the first time the Preakness wasn’t held in May since 1945, at the start of World War II, when it was delayed until June.
Free COVID-19 testing is available to any Prince William County resident on Monday and Tuesday. Free drive-thru and walk-up testing will be offered at Hylton Memorial Chapel, 14640 Potomac Mills Road, Woodbridge, on Monday, May 18, and at Stonewall Jackson High School, 8820 Rixlew Lane, Manassas, on Tuesday. Both sites will be open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. The testing has been arranged by the Prince William County Health District, Virginia Department of Health and Mako Medical Laboratories. Those who are tested will receive their results by the end of the week. “Increasing testing in our community is a priority,” said county board of supervisors chairwoman Ann Wheeler in a statement Saturday. “We know it is very important to have a full understanding of the impact of the virus in the county, so that we can keep others healthy and work towards meeting the necessary health metrics for reopening.” People who get tested will be asked for their name, address, date of birth, phone number and current symptoms.
As Ocean City reopens this weekend, crowds are flocking to the beaches and boardwalks, some without taking coronavirus precautions. Images on social media Friday showed some people with masks, some without and a relatively crowded beach. The town’s guidelines do not require masks on the beach or boardwalk, but social distancing is encouraged. “Each and every one of us has an obligation to exercise personal responsibility to protect our families, our friends, our co-workers,” said Mayor Rick Meehan in a statement Thursday when he lifted a lodging restriction, opening up the city’s hotels, motels and rental properties to nonessential guests, prompting a flurry of reservations with some properties filling to 100% capacity. The beaches and boardwalk reopened last weekend, but with low temperatures, crowds remained small. The city is expecting a much different scene this weekend with high temperatures about 75 degrees today and in the low 60s on Sunday. With the warmer weather will come people seeking an escape from quarantine.
D.C. Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), Mary Cheh (Ward 3) and Charles Allen (Ward 6) asked Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration to close parts of more streets to vehicles and open them to pedestrians and cyclists. “Closing or narrowing roads to through traffic is one way that the District can help facilitate proper social distancing when residents leave their homes,” the councilmembers wrote in a letter to Bowser. “This could be accomplished through the closure of entire blocks to vehicular traffic, or simply the closure of certain lanes.” In the letter, the councilmembers said they would support legislation to require the District’s Department of Transportation (DDOT) to set up an application process for residents to request road or lane closures, if DDOT does not act independently. The legislation will be considered next Tuesday, as part of an amendment to the Coronavirus Support Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act. Last month, DDOT expanded sidewalks around some essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies. Critics said the expansions didn’t go far enough, especially considering significant drops in car traffic. Bowser has expressed concerns that opening streets to pedestrians could backfire, resulting crowding, not safe social distancing, like was seen outside Mexican restaurant on Cinco de Mayo.
Howard University will expand the hours of its Benning Road COVID-19 testing center from two to four days per week, beginning next week. “The Howard University Faculty Practice Plans testing site has been met with overwhelming response from the D.C. communities of Ward 7 and Ward 8,” said university President Wayne A. I. Frederick during a press conference. “This let’s us know we are in the right place and the expansion to four days a week will allow us to see patients sooner so they can know their status faster.” The testing site at 4414 Benning Road NE opened May 5 it has seen high demand. A day after it opened, all original May testing slots were booked. D.C. residents seeking tests at the Benning Road Clinic are not required to have a doctor’s note, but they must have a city issued photo ID and make an appointment by calling 202-865-2119. Testing will be available Tuesdays through Fridays from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 2-4 p.m.
From March 11 to May 11, the D.C. Office of Attorney General has seen a significant increase in consumer complaints due to the coronavirus. The office has received 634 complaints since the pandemic began, 438 of them COVID-19 related, compared to 245 in the first two months of the year. Complaints from D.C. residents regarding health clubs and spas represent a third of the office’s consumer complaints since the start of the coronavirus emergency – most were related to Washington Sports Clubs that continued to charge membership fees and charged cancellation fees while its gyms were closed. The club has agreed to freeze memberships and stop charging membership fees after AG Karl Racine sent a letter. Retailers accounted for more than 130 complaints, with price gouging making up 36% of the complaints. Despite the Natural Disaster Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits businesses from increasing prices by more than 10% of their normal rates in the 90 days prior to an emergency declaration, several residents reported mark-ups of items like toilet paper and paper towels. The report noted one local business allegedly sold an 8-pack of paper towels for $35. The office has issued 23 cease and desist letters during the emergency to businesses involved in price gouging, and Racine filed a lawsuit against a Ward 7 convenience store earlier this month after it allegedly charged $12.99 for a 121-ounce bottle of Clorox bleach. Price gouging complaints were highest in Ward 6 with 23, followed by 22 in wards 2 and 5, 18 in Ward 7, 17 in Ward 4, 11 in Ward 3 and 9 in Wards 1 and 8.
Montgomery and Prince George’s counties will extend their stay-at-home orders in an expected break with most of Maryland. Gov. Larry Hogan announced plans Wednesday to reopen most of the rest of the state. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said during a press conference Thursday that he would issue an executive order today clarifying that the stay-at-home order will remain in place for the county. He did not announce a date to begin opening. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks extended the county’s stay-at-home order through June 1, saying conditions hadn’t yet been met to lift restrictions and allow businesses to start reopening. “Our numbers have not begun to plateau in Prince George’s County, so we must make our own decisions and do what is best for our residents,” said Alsobrooks. “As difficult as I know this will be for our residents to continue to have to stay home, I am doing this to protect the safety and wellbeing of every Prince Georgian.” Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said retailers in the county, which includes Annapolis, will be allowed to operate with curbside pickup. Beauty salons will continue to operate by appointment only, with just one customer at a time allowed inside. Places of worship will continue to be limited to gatherings of 10 or fewer people. The county will follow Hogan’s recommendation allowing manufacturing companies to reopen. Of Maryland’s 35,903 recorded positive cases as of Thursday morning, Montgomery County had 397 deaths and another 40 probable with 7,548 cases overall. Prince George’s County had 379 deaths with another 19 probable and 10,449 total cases. And Anne Arundel county had 126 deaths with another nine probable and 2,661 cases total. Calvert county delayed it reopening 30 days and Charles County postponed until May 29. Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young said the city will opt out, but no order had been issued as of last night. Howard County said it would begin reopening, but with tighter restrictions than the rest of the state.
Another 2.98 million new unemployment claims were filed nationally for the week ending May 9, down 195,000 from the previous week, bringing the total number of claims to 25.3 million. According to weekly numbers released by the U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday, 103,633 people in the DMV filed new jobless claims last week alone. D.C. saw 5,745 new claims, down 2,367 from the previous week. Maryland reported 44,491 new claims, down 18,762 from a week earlier. And Virginia had 55,396 initial claims, a drop of 5,236 from the prior week. In Maryland, problems with the state’s unemployment insurance system have left thousands of people awaiting checks. According to state officials, claims have been paid out to 66% of people who have applied, while some 27% remain in limbo. Earlier this week hundreds of people testified at a virtual hearing in the Maryland legislature about their problems applying for and getting unemployment benefits. In Virginia, on the other hand, state officials said this week that they overpaid some 35,000 self-employed workers receiving new benefits under the federal recovery bill. The excess payments of between $600-$1,200 per worker, will be deducted from future checks.
Beginning Monday, masks will be mandatory on all Metro trains and buses and in stations. Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said that starting Monday, all Metrorail and Metrobus riders will have to wear a mask or other face covering. The announcement was made at a meeting of Metro’s Board of Directors. Maryland already requires the use of masks on public transit, and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser similarly ordered it on Wednesday. Wiedefeld told the board he hoped to avoid having police write tickets and instead rely on repeated encouragement of riders. He also said he would consider giving masks or face coverings to riders who don’t bring their own. The announcement comes the same week as Wiedefeld unveiled a phased reopening plan, but warned that full service might not return until at least spring of 2021.
Ocean City officials lifted the city’s ban on lodging restrictions prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. Mayor Rick Meehan made the announcement during a special city council meeting Thursday. Ocean City banned hotels, motels and rental properties from renting out their rooms to nonessential guests in late March. The restriction was meant to protect visitors and residents as the pandemic worsened. “Following Gov. (Larry) Hogan’s lifting of the stay-at-home order, the Town of Ocean City will be lifting lodging restrictions on short-term rentals effective Thursday, May 14 at 5 p.m.,” Meehan said in a statement. “We encourage residents and visitors to follow health and safety guidelines, including physical distancing and gathering limits. Personal responsibility and individual comfort levels are incredibly important to exercise during each phase of recovery.” Restaurants in the state under Hogan’s order, however, may only open for carry-out or delivery. A front desk clerk at Paradise Plaza Inn told WTOP the hotel reached 90% booking capacity for May 15 just an hour after Meehan made the announcement allowing short-term rentals to resume It also expects to be at full capacity for this weekend by Saturday.
D.C. residents can now use their SNAP benefits to pay for groceries on Amazon, Amazon Pantry and Amazon Fresh. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the change Wednesday. One of the goals of the change is to allow D.C residents to isolate. “Taking care of necessities and essentials like food will help people do that,” Bowser said. “Several weeks ago, we applied for a waiver from the federal government that would allow SNAP beneficiaries to use their benefits to buy groceries online.” Amazon is currently the only retailer approved by the federal government to accept SNAP.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Wednesday extended her stay-at-home order and closure of non-essential businesses through at least June 8. It was set to end May 15. “Together, by staying home a little longer, soon we will be able to reopen D.C. safely and sustainable,” Bowser said in a statement. Also in the order, the mayor instructed the Department of Parks and Recreation to determine if any of its outdoor facilities, like athletic fields and dog parks, but not playgrounds, can reopen safely. Masks continue to be required in stores and restaurants, and while on public transportation and while in ride sharing vehicles. It also continues to prohibit gatherings of 10 or more people. Bowser also announced a pilot program that would grant waivers to educational and academic retail shops, including bookstores, to offer curbside and front door pickups. Customers would still not be allowed inside and will start with locally-owned businesses.
As expected, Maryland’s stay-at-home order will expire Friday, May 15 at 5 p.m. with individual counties allowed to make decisions about when to reopen. Gov. Larry Hogan made the announcement Wednesday. Leaders in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore have made it clear that they will not reopen businesses on the same timetable as the rest of the state. The counties have the most cases in Maryland, with 7,283 cases in Montgomery County and 10,072 cases in Prince George’s County. “They have made it clear that they are not yet ready to move into stage one, while many other counties with a lower number of cases feel strongly that they are able to do so,” Hogan said. Montgomery County issued a press release last night saying that it will remain on a “stay-at-home status until COVID-19 data dictates it is safe to move forward before reopening.” Country Executive Marc Elrich and health officer Dr. Travis Gayles will hold a press conference at noon today. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. today to update the community on the county’s COVID-19 response and “path forward.” The state will move to a “safer at home public health advisory,” the governor said, which means some businesses and activities may reopen as long as they follow prescribed guidelines. Hogan said that Maryland had achieved a 14-day trend of “plateauing and declining numbers,” a benchmark he previously said was a requirement for reopening. Hospitalizations, the number of ICU patients with COVID-19 and the rate of new deaths are all trending downward, he said. Retail stores in the areas that do move into the first phase of reopening will be permitted to reopen at 50% capacity with physical distancing measures, masks and other precautions. Restaurants and bars remain closed except for pick-up and delivery. Hogan said manufacturing could resume “in a safe manner.” Barbershops and hair salons are permitted to reopen at 50% capacity by appointment only. Churches and other houses of worship will be allowed to hold services in person and are strongly encouraged to hold those services outside. Indoor religious services are permitted, but at no more than 50% capacity. Fitness centers, theaters, indoor malls – except stores with separate outside entrances – recreations establishments, tattoo parlors and tanning salons must all remain closed. “If everybody goes crazy,” cases will go up, Hogan said. He urged residents in the parts of the state where businesses reopen to stay home as much as possible, particularly if they are older or especially vulnerable to the disease. “The painful truth is that this virus will continue to be with us and to be a part of our daily lives and potential outbreaks will continue to remain a deadly threat until a vaccine is widely available,” Hogan said.
Metro is suspending plans to extend late night hours, institute special weekend fares and discount bus-to-rail transfers to reallocate funding toward keeping the transit system solvent and avoid layoffs or furloughs in response to a drop in revenue caused by decreased ridership during the coronavirus pandemic. The transit agency also will defer its first rail fare increase in three years. In a revised budget proposal to be presented for board approval Thursday, Metro officials said federal CARES funding of more than $767 million will help the agency finish the current fiscal year with a balanced budget. With continued uncertainty about when the DMV will reopen, the agency cannot afford to start many of the new initiatives scheduled to begin July 1 as part of a push to attract new riders and sustain the ridership growth it had been experiencing for more than a year before the pandemic hit in March. “There are so many variables here that any one of these could put our ability to deliver service at risk,” General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said in a press release. “While we are deeply grateful to Congress for their support, we will need additional help to get the nation’s capital moving again.” The revised budget reflects the agency’s shift in focus to recovering from the pandemic. On Monday, Metro released its recovery plan, which doesn’t include a return to pre-pandemic service levels until next spring.
Montgomery College will start fall classes online in a structured remote teaching format and add face-to-face classes if conditions improve. Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard made the announcement Tuesday. Summer classes will be offered as distance learning. Academic support programs and student services will continue remotely. “As we continue to encourage students to register for the fall semester, we understand that much could change in the next three months, expanding the possibilities for face-to-face classes or more remote instruction,” Pollard said in a statement. “The College’s planning operations have been designed to respond to either of these scenarios and many in between.”
As MGM National Harbor prepares to gradually reopen, parent company MGM Resorts International released a seven-point safety plan for its casinos, including casinos, conference centers, hotels and restaurants. The casino closed March 16 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but will reopen according to local and state guidelines. The company said the guidelines were created in consultation with medical experts. “MGM Resorts properties will not look the way they used to for a while, and that’s not only OK, it’s critically important,” acting CEO and president Bill Hornbuckle wrote in the safety plan. Employees’ temperatures will be checked before entering the property and must wear face masks. Guest will also be asked to wear mask in public areas and given one free if they need it. A 6-foot physical distancing policy will be in place and there will be more “plexiglass barriers” in casinos and lobbies. Drinks will still be served in casinos, but guests will be asked to “refrain from eating on the casino floor to minimize the time masks are removed.” Also, every other slot machine will be out-of-service with its chair removed. There will also be contactless mobile phone options for check in. High-use areas like slot machines will be cleaned and disinfected more frequently and “custom-built handwashing stations” with soap, water and sanitizers be visibly located throughout the properties. In restaurants, buffets will be closed and employees required to serve guests. Maryland’s six casinos, including MGM National Harbor, have been extremely affected by the coronavirus shutdown. The state did not collect any casino revenue in April, compared to more than $60 million in April 2019.
Instead of defending their WNBA championship title at home against the Los Angeles Sparks this Saturday, the Washington Mystics will spend the day on social media interacting with fans. Starting at 10 a.m., fans are encouraged to share photos on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook showing their love for the team. The virtual celebration will end at 5 p.m. with the first episode of Run it Back/Mystics: Journey to a Championship on Facebook Live. The Mystics won their first-ever WNBA championship title on Oct. 10 after outlasting a fierce challenge against the Connecticut Sun to secure Game 5’s winner-take-all 89-78 victory.
As parts of Virginia begin to reopen Friday, Northern Virginia will remain shut down until at least May 29. Gov. Ralph Northam, who had said he was willing to allow hard hit areas to keep social and economic restrictions in place, made it official Tuesday with an executive order that allows Northern Virginia to delay entering Phase One of his “Forward Virginia” plan. The order includes Arlington, Fairfax, Loudon and Prince William counties; the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park; and the towns of Dumfries, Herndon, Leesburg and Vienna. “The Phase One policies are a floor, not a ceiling,” Northam said in a statement. “While the data show Virginia as a whole is ready to slowly and deliberately ease some restrictions, it is too soon for Northern Virginia. I support the request from localities in this region to delay implementation of Phase One to protect public health.” Northern Virginia accounts for about 70% of the commonwealth’s positive cases and has a 25% positivity rate compared to 10% in the rest of Virginia. Over the weekend, top elected leaders from Northern Virginia sent Northam a letter urging him to allow for phased regional reopening. They pointed to the higher case volume and noted that COVID-19 patients account for a larger portion of the region’s hospital bed capacity, compared to the rest of Virginia. The leaders said it is important to coordinate their reopening strategy with D.C. and the Maryland suburbs. Elsewhere in Virginia, churches and stores can reopen at 50% capacity and restaurants with outdoor seating can also reopen at half capacity.
Gov. Larry Hogan will allow some parts of Maryland to opt out of his reopening plan, according to the Washington Post. Hogan is expected to announce a gradual reopening today that would begin this week. During a call with leaders from the D.C. suburbs and other parts of the state that have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus, Hogan said he would allow some areas to remain closed longer, according to the Post. The report of local exemptions follows an order from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam yesterday, which allowed parts of Northern Virginia to delay reopening until at least May 29, while the rest of the commonwealth will begin reopening May 15. Northam’s order came after leaders in Northern Virginia sent him a letter requesting a delay, saying they believed it was too soon to begin reopening. County leaders in Maryland around D.C. have also raised concerns about reopening on the same timeline as the rest of the state. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said last week that the county wasn’t ready to reopen, pointing to a continued surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. In Montgomery County, Executive Mark Elrich said he was looking at the D.C. region before moving forward with reopening, telling reporters last week that “it is not prudent for any one of us to open” until the entire metropolitan area is ready.
Area airports saw half as many passengers in March than they did in the same month a year ago. Reagan National and Dulles International airports each had about 900,000 travelers in March, 56.4% and 52.5% drops, respectively, compared to March 2019. Cargo loads at those airports were down 28.4% from a year ago. Baltimore/Washington International Airport had about 1.1 million passengers, down 52.6% from a year ago. However, overall cargo activity at BWI was up 24%. While most cargo carriers were down, Amazon shipments increased by 155.4%. Stay-at-home orders around the country were put in place mid-March. International flights to Europe were banned on March 13. April statistics are expected to be worse. Nationally, air travel was down 51.5% in March compared to the same month last year, the largest year-to-year decrease on record and the lowest level of air travel since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The Transportation Security Administration says it has screened about 90% fewer passengers nationwide. The airline industry is heading into its typically busiest months with no clear sign of when travelers will feel comfortable flying again.
The Montgomery County Board of Education on Tuesday voted 7-1 to let students choose how their final second semester grades are recorded this year. The change allows high school students to pick between receiving a pass/incomplete option, or one letter grade higher than the grade they earned in the third marking period, which ended April 17. If students choose to take a grade, it will be reported on their transcript and factored into their grade point average. Middle school students who pass this period will be credited with one grade higher than the previous marking period, while elementary school students will not receive letter grades for the final period with their overall grade an average of the first three periods. The news comes after Superintendent Jack Smith said last month that grading would be handled differently in the fourth period, with classes being held online. “We have determined that a traditional grading system based on percentages and letter grades will not serve the best interests of all students during this period of online learning,” he wrote in an April 18 letter. “We want to ensure that our grading system has a positive impact and can only help our students’ academic standing.”
The City of Rehoboth Beach is joining neighboring Ocean City in reopening its beach and boardwalk from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. daily beginning this Friday. City commissioners on Tuesday approved the change. Friday’s reopening comes with some limitations: Swimming, surfing and loitering are not allowed; visitors must wear a face mask or covering; social distancing of 6 feet must be maintained; gatherings should be kept to 10 people or less; bikes are allowed on the boardwalk from 6 a.m.-10 a.m.; and parking will be free until May 29. “I think this is a good foundation for us to start,” said Mayor Paul Kuhns. “Social distancing will be still be a priority. … Restaurants may open with strict guidelines. Bars will remain closed.” Vacation rentals are still banned. Beaches in Dewey, Fenwick Island and Lewes have already reopened.
The Washington Nationals on Tuesday announced a bonus credit program for ticket holders, as the seasons remains on hold due to the coronavirus. The program gives ticket holders a 100% credit for the price of each ticket to any game they can’t attend this year as a result of the health crisis. They will also receive a 50% credit of what they initially paid for tickets and parking passes, which can be used to buy additional tickets, upgrade seats, purchase food, drinks and merchandise, or make a donation to frontline workers, first responders, youth or military service members and their families during the 2020 and 2021 regular season. The news comes after reports on Monday that Major League Baseball owners approved a plan to start the season in early July, pending approval from the players union. Other events slated for this summer at Nationals Park, including a Guns N’ Roses/Smashing Pumpkins concert on July 16, a Green Day/Fallout boy/Weezer concert on Aug. 21 and a Motley Crew/Def Leppard/Poison/Joan Jett & the Blackhearts concert on Aug. 22, are still scheduled, according to the team’s website.
Potomac Mills mall plans to reopen on May 29. Simon Property Group, the largest U.S. mall owner, closed all of its retail locations, including Potomac Mills and the Fashion Center at Pentagon City, on March 18 due to the coronavirus. Mall officials notified stores this week that Potomac Mills intends to open May 29, depending on Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive orders for Northern Virginia at the time. “The health and safety of our shoppers, retailers and employees is of paramount importance and we are taking this step to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” said CEO David Simon. Other area malls the company owns include Arundel Mills, Clarksburg Premium Outlets, St. Charles Towne Center and Leesburg Premium Outlets. There is no word on the reopening of the other shopping centers.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has finished converting the Walter E. Washington Convention Center into a 437-bed field hospital to take COVID-19 patients if area hospitals become overwhelmed. It is ready to accept 100 patients beginning today. “We are going to use it as long as we need it,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser during a press conference on Monday. She said it was too early to know if and when patients would start arriving at the field hospital, or how long it would remain open. “We’re going to use it as long as we need it.” The temporary hospital, which was primarily funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, took 22 days to finish and is located in cavernous Hall A that normally hosts large conferences and conventions. As of Sunday, the city’s nine hospitals were operating at 71% of normal capacity with 1,775 of the 2,487 total beds occupied including 416 COVID-19 patients. Hospitals are adding 1,632 beds for a possible surge. Officials say the convention center hospital was built to prepare the city if worst-case scenarios come true. In early April, Bowser said worst-case scenario projections included 93,000 COVID-19 infections and 200-1,000 deaths in the city before the pandemic subsides. City officials now say that social distancing and other measures may have decreased the number of potential overall infections, but they are still expecting a peak in late May and a possible spike in hospitalizations at some point in June. “Without a cure and without a vaccine … phased openings will mean we see more cases in our city and region,” Bowser said. If local hospitals reach capacity, patients who do not need an ICU bed or ventilator will be taken to the convention center. Many of the rooms are supplied directly with oxygen and will include tablets for patients to remain in contact with family or entertain themselves. The hospital, which will be operated by MedStar Washington Hospital Center, also includes six specialized beds for patients who deteriorate rapidly and need more intensive care and has a specialized negative-pressure shower facility built in a shipping container.
Virginia will begin reopening this Friday, but Gov. Ralph Northam said he is working on a separate plan with jurisdictions in Northern Virginia that would like to wait. “Different regions face different challenges,” he said during a news conference Monday. “While no region may move faster to ease restrictions, we’re open to some regions moving more slowly.” Northam said he will share more details about a delayed reopening for Northern Virginia during a Wednesday briefing. On Sunday, leaders from five Northern Virginia jurisdictions sent the governor a letter asking him to allow for regional openings. The officials said that local data indicates they aren’t ready to proceed. The coronavirus pandemic has hit Northern Virginia particularly hard. Northam noted that within the last 24 hours, Northern Virginia had more than 700 new cases, while the rest of the state had fewer than 300. He also addressed a fear that residents from Northern Virginia would travel to other parts of the state to use businesses like restaurants and hair salons that are allowed to reopen at limited capacity. “We would certainly encourage them not to,” he said. “One of the things that has gone into the decision making with Northern Virginia … is the relationship with Maryland and Washington, D.C. … That whole area is so dense and they’re all kind of sharing the same challenges.” Northam’s chief of staff said strict limitations on business capacity and crowd size in the areas that are allowed to reopen should help prevent people from traveling there.
Major League Baseball owners on Monday approved a proposal to start the season in early July, the Associated Press reported. The plan, which must be approved by the players union, includes teams playing about 82 regular season games, about half of a normal season. The owners will present the proposal, which includes players getting their 2020 salaries based on a 50-50 split of revenues MLB receives during the regular and post season, to the players union today. But, financial negotiations between the players union and the owners are likely to be contentious as players have refused revenue splits before. Sean Doolittle, the Nationals’ relief pitcher, quickly published 16 tweets raising concerns about health protections for players, families and workers. “Bear with me, but it feels like we’ve zoomed past the most important aspect of any MLB restart plan: health protections for players, families, staff, stadium workers and the workforce it would require to resume a season,” Doolittle tweeted. “What’s the plan to ethically acquire enough tests? … What’s the protocol if a player, staff member or worker contracts the virus?” The AP reports the proposal includes starting the shortened season around July 4th, but with fans banned from attending, at least initially. Further, the games could be played at neutral sites or at spring training facilities if teams can’t get medical and government approval to play in their traditional stadiums. The Nationals play their exhibition games at West Palm Beach, Fla. The plan also includes re-starting spring training next month.
Montgomery County Public Schools will hold a universal graduation for the entire Class of 2020 in early June and in-person celebration ceremonies when restrictions on large gatherings have been lifted. The school system will take a “hybrid” approach to graduation after receiving feedback from more than 8,000 parents and students, according to a letter from Superintendent Jack Smith. The decision follows Gov. Larry Hogan and State Superintendent Karen Salmon announced May 6 that all public schools in the state would remain closed through the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Virtual learning will continue at MCPS schools through June 15.
The University System of Maryland plans to resume some face-to-face classes this fall. “I want to make clear that the university system is planning to resume at least some in-person teaching and learning this fall, through our delivery of instruction will include a variety of approaches, both online and face-to-face,” Chancellor Jay Perman told the Board of Regents at a meeting Monday. The USM Return to Campus Advisory Group that Perman named last month is working out how each of the system’s 12 universities will be able to let students return in the fall. “One thing we know for certain is that each campus — based on its student population, its size, its type, its location — will have very different considerations determining how it might accomplish in-person instruction,” Perman said in a statement. But he said the goal is for USM’s institutions to be consistent when it comes to such things as establishing a return-to-campus date and baseline safety precautions. Each university is required to come have a plan to test for COVID-19, maintain social distancing, enhance cleaning of its buildings and monitor the effectiveness of safety measures. Perman said students and their families will get information on initial plans by the end of this month.
As Virginia prepares to enter Phase I of its reopening plan this Friday, Northern Virginia leaders say it is too soon for them to move forward. The top elected officials from Northern Virginia’s five largest jurisdictions sent a letter on Sunday to Gov. Ralph Northam asking him to delay the region’s reopening. While the leaders support Northam’s plans in general, they believe their jurisdictions haven’t met the criteria for entering Phase I. “While it is certainly useful to examine statewide metrics as we gauge the success of current public health policies, we feel strongly that any changes to current policies be guided by what is occurring in our region,” the leaders of Arlington County, Alexandria, Fairfax County, Loudoun County and Prince William County wrote. “We eagerly wish to rebuild our economy and help our residents recover. It is only through our regional achievement of these milestones that we will be positioned to avoid a more damaging return to business closures later in the summer.” Areas in Northern Virginia have been some of the hardest hit by the coronavirus. Of the top 20 ZIP codes with the most infections in the commonwealth, the majority are in Northern Virginia. One of the metrics Northam cited in his decision to begin reopening the economy was a declining rate of positive test results as a percentage of the total tests conducted. According to an analysis from local public health officials, that figure is 18% for the state overall but 27% in Northern Virginia.
Maryland could begin reopening parts of the state within two weeks, but Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said Saturday he won’t commit to reopening until the county’s health officer says it is safe. “We’re not the western part of the state or part of the Eastern Shore,” Elrich said during a Zoom call with reporters. “We have a caseload which is still growing. We have the second largest number of cases in the state. The number of COVID-19 case in Montgomery County’s is second only to Prince George’s County, where county executive Angela Alsobrooks previously said she doesn’t plan to reopen on Gov. Larry Hogan’s timeline. Both counties want to see more testing and a sustained decline in cases and hospitalizations before deciding to reopen. Montgomery County has tested 2.3% of its residents, which is above the state’s goal of 2%, but the county is aiming for more, said county health officer Dr. Travis Gayles. Elrich added he would cooperate with nearby counties and D.C. when it comes to lifting restrictions in the densely populated Metro area. “It is important that whatever any one of us does, we all do,” he said. “Until we are all ready to open, it is not prudent for any one of us to open.”
Metro’s coronavirus recovery plan doesn’t include a return to normal service levels until next spring. Instead, the transit agency plans to slowly ramp up service and will ask the area employers to limit commuters by staggering work schedules and encouraging telework. The plan, which will be presented to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s board on Thursday, outlines how Metro will operate once officials begin easing stay-at-home orders. Service will slowly increase over the next year, relying heavily on local leaders, federal officials, military brass and CEOs to keep ridership low so rail cars and buses don’t become crowded and increase the coronavirus spread. Metro plans to keep the same reduced-service levels until the beginning of the school year. Late-night weekend hours, which were to start July 1, won’t begin until the system is back to pre-pandemic levels. “What’s driving our recovery plan first and foremost is the safety of our employees,” General Manager Paul Wiedefeld told the Washington Post. “And then the safety of our customers. And that will drive what we can do, when we can do it.” Metrobus riders will continue to board through the rear doors and ride free since there is no way to safely collect fares without exposing bus operators to passengers. Front-door boarding and fare collection could resume next spring, when all-door fare collection might be available through SmarTrip card readers Metro is planning to install. On rail, 15-20 minute waits would drop to 7.5-10 minutes on all lines until spring, when Metro hopes to restore peak service. The 19 stations that closed in April will be reopened gradually in the fall. “Metro cannot do this alone,” Wiedefeld said. “We need the support of the entire region, particularly from the workforce perspective, as we start to come out of this. Obviously, we cannot just start up immediately. It will take time to do that.” Metro also plans to expand construction to take advantage of low ridership. It previously announced a summer-long shutdown from Memorial Day of all stations west of Ballston to rebuild platforms. The Silver Line will also be shut down to incorporate its second phase into the system. The agency also is proposing a rolling shutdown of stations from Fort Totten to Navy Yard to work on rail segments along the Green and Yellow lines. Stations would be closed for one to two weeks on an alternating basis between June 7 and July 3.
Each year, members of the European Union host open houses at their embassies in D.C. to mark Europe Day, but this year the doors were locked due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, events are taking place virtually during “Home with EU” through the end of the month. Learn to cook Czech beef goulash, a traditional Danish open-faced fish sandwich or Luxembourgish verwuerelter (like a funnel cake), tour Dracula’s castle, attend a Swedish circus, learn a contemporary Finnish dance and listen to a Croatian concert. “This year, for obvious reasons, it’s different. Together with our member states we have gathered a series of experiences for you to enjoy throughout the day from your home,” said Stavros Lambrinidis, European Ambassador to the U.S. The online tours and experiences are available on the event website by clicking on each EU member’s flag.
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.