MoCo to Close Roads, Sidewalks & Lots
COVID-19 Cases Reach 104,343 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of yesterday morning, 8,717 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 462 deaths; there have been 52,015 cases in Maryland with 2,390 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 43,611 cases with 1,370 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
As Montgomery County prepares to begin reopening Monday, there is a plan to temporarily turn some streets into open spaces. The Shared Streets initiative is turning some county sidewalks, roads and parking lots into space for retail pick-up, outdoor dining or exercise while maintaining social distancing. The goal is to take a balanced approach by providing opportunities across the county with maintaining safety and access, Montgomery County Department of Transportation Direct Chris Conklin said in an online message. Shared Streets will be implemented in areas where pedestrian traffic is high and space is limited. Lane closures will also take place to test the best methods in certain areas. Some streets may also be designated for only local access, with traffic being redirected to better accommodate some of the changes. The Maryland State Highway Administration is making similar changes to state roads. So far, 42 temporary “no parking” curbside food pick up zones have been set up in Bethesda, Pike and Rose Silver Spring and Wheaton.
Maryland’s COVID-19 positivity rate dropped to 11.6% — the lowest level in more than two months — and current hospitalizations fell to their lowest level in more than six weeks. Gov. Larry Hogan said in a press release Saturday that the state has conducted 339,361 COVID-19 tests, including 10,845 on Friday. The state’s positivity rate peaked on April 17, when it reached 26.91%. Since then, it has dropped to 11.6% statewide — its lowest level since March 29, when the statewide positivity rate was 11.3%. Positivity rates in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, while still above the rest of the state, continue to see steady decreases. The positivity rate in Prince George’s dropped from a high of 41.96% to a current rate of 17.5%. Montgomery’s rate dropped from a high of 32.64% to 13.9% currently. Maryland’s current COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped to 1,239, their lowest level since April 17. Hogan also said the state conducted 1,686 COVID-19 tests at Six Flags America on Friday, a record high for the state’s community-based sites. “We started our first major testing site at FedEx Field in March with 100 tests, and since then, have increased our capacity exponentially in order to test hundreds of Marylanders in a matter of hours with no medical referral required,” the governor said. “We are encouraged to see so many residents take advantage of our new Six Flags testing site, and even more encouraged that as our long-term testing strategy progresses, our statewide positivity rate has fallen to its lowest level in more than two months and COVID-19 hospitalizations are at a six-week low.” More than 3,000 people were tested at state-operated sites in Price George’s County last week.
Giant Food announced Wednesday that it will return to normal store hours beginning June 1, but that means employees will lose a 10% weekly increase they got starting in mid-March for working during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite calls from UFCW Local 400, which represents 10,000 grocery workers at Giant, Safeway, Kroger’s (which owns Harris Teeter) and Shoppers in the DMV, the hazard or hero pay ended Saturday. “At one time, we were one of the only businesses open,” a Giant Food spokesperson said in an email. “As this is changing and we anticipate our shoppers will return to their new normal, we are now transitioning to our new normal.” As stay-at-home orders were enacted in the region and non-essential businesses closed, the job of grocery store workers became particularly grueling as shoppers stocked up on food and supplies. Grocery store employees continued to work, sometimes at great risk to themselves. Giant confirmed that one of its employees in the area — Leilani Jordan from the Largo store — died from COVID-19. But the UFCW said four Giant employees died from the virus. Jonathan Williams, the union’s spokesperson, said Giant counts a COVID-19 death “if someone tested positive and a short time later they died,” rather than official cause of death. To recognize their straff’s work during the pandemic, several grocery store chains offered enhanced pay and benefits. Giant already extended its hazard pay, initially set to end on May 2, to May 30. The company will pay one-time bonuses of $400 dollars for full-time employees and $200 dollars for part-time employees on June 1. Temporary pay increases already ended at Harris Teeter. Safeway will keep its $2-per-hour increase until June 13. “Safeway has not announced plans to cancel the temporary appreciation pay increase,” spokesperson Beth Goldberg said in an email. Target extended its $2 an hour increase until July 4. Trader Joe’s has not announced when its $2 hourly increase will end. Osborn said Giant should wait until restaurants are operating at full capacity and fewer customers are buying groceries in bulk to end the bonus. Until then, he feels there needs to be “something for the employees to make them feel that this is worth it.” Osborn explained that as the weather gets warmer, wearing a mask all day at work is more difficult. “We wouldn’t be wearing these masks if there weren’t a hazard,” he said. “We don’t know if there’s going to be a second wave or another surge where they go, ‘Oh boy, the cases are rising again.’”
Loudoun County will host another free drive-thru coronavirus testing at Philip A. Bolen Memorial Park, 42405 Claudia Drive, Leesburg, beginning at 10 a.m. on June 1. It will end when it reaches capacity or 6 p.m., whichever comes first. It is the same site as the county’s May 20 free drive-thru coronavirus testing that tested more than 1,800 and reached capacity about 2:30 p.m. Monday’s testing is open to all and will occur rain or shine, but walk-ups are not allowed. Cars should enter on Crosstrail Boulevard from Sycolin road and follow on-site directions. No appointment, doctor’s order or symptoms are necessary, and there are no age or residency requirements. Results will be available in about three days. The county expects long wait times, which could be 2 hours or more. To speed things up, the county is asking people who want tested to complete a registration form for each person before arriving. A Spanish version of the registration form is also available.
D.C. will allow battered restaurants to spread out tables in public streets, in parking spaces and on sidewalks after a quick application, creating what Mayor Muriel Blowser called “streateries.” She announced the plans Friday to increase pedestrian safety and expand space for social distancing measures as the city enters Phase One of reopening. Restaurants – including those that didn’t have outdoor permits before the pandemic — may apply to the District Department of Transportation for expanded outdoor space on sidewalks and roads. DDOT Director Jeff Marootian said the city will create “slow streets” by putting up signs and barricades in neighborhoods across the city. Through traffic will be prohibited, and the speed limit on these roads will be lowered to 15 MPH. Marootian said officials are still deciding which streets will be included, but the first batch will be announced next week. Open streets were included in the ReOpen D.C. Advisory Group’s recommendations. On Memorial Day, activists across the city closed about 20 residential streets to through traffic in protest of the city’s perceived slow response to closing streets. Also, beginning Monday, the speed limit on local roads will permanently drop from 25 to 20 MPH as part of the mayor’s Vision Zero initiative to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan on Friday issued two coronavirus-related emergency orders. The first extends a moratorium on utility shutoffs and late fees for residents, and the second allows breweries, wineries and distilleries to provide outdoor service and third-party shipment to consumers. Electric, gas, water, sewage, phone, cable TV and internet service provider companies are prohibited from shutting off residential customers’ service or charging late fees through July 1. The other order, effective until the state of emergency is lifted, allows state-licensed alcohol manufacturers to provide service in outdoor seating areas following CDC and Maryland Department of Health guidelines, including limiting the number of people gathered in one place. Alcohol manufacturers are also permitted to ship alcohol by third party carriers like FedEx and UPS.
All visitors at Regan National and Dulles International airports are now required to wear face coverings inside the airports as of Friday. According to a press release, all passengers and visitors to the airports need to wear masks or face coverings, with exceptions for children under 10 years old and people with certain medical conditions that prevent them from wearing one. The change is in response to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s mandate requiring face coverings in all indoor settings in the commonwealth. Employees, contractors and tenants at the airports have had to wear masks since May 18. Masks do not have to be surgical masks or N-95 respirators, and both cloth and disposable masks are sold at newsstands in the airports. Airport security may ask travelers to temporarily adjust their masks as they verify passports and ID. At BWI Airport, masks are required in airport restaurants and shops, and “recommended” elsewhere in the airport. Several airlines require masks during check-in and boarding, and on flights.
Beginning June 1, Giant Food stores will return to normal hours. Most of its stores will return to 6 a.m.-midnight hours and stores that are open 24 hours a day will continue operating 24/7. Stores in Hyattsville and Wheaton will continue operating from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. along with stores in Baltimore and Owings Mills. Early morning hours from 6 a.m.-7 a.m. will still be reserved for senior citizens and shoppers with compromised immune systems. Giant pharmacies will open at 6 a.m. on Mondays and Thursdays. In March, Giant cut most stores operating hours, and in April moved to limit the number of customers in its stores at any given time. Other measures include one-way directions in store aisles to encourage social distancing. Giant will continue to limit the number of customers to 40% of store capacity.
The Anacostia and Cleveland Park D.C. Public Libraries have opened for curbside pickup and dropoff during Phase One of the city’s reopening, and branches in each ward will join them over the next two weeks. All library buildings will remain closed to the public, and due dates are extended to August. The libraries will be open from 1-5 p.m. on May 29, June 1 and 2. On June 3, the two branches will also be open from 1-5 p.m. with Mount Pleasant, West End, Shepherd, Woodridge and Northeast libraries open the same time for returns only. On June 8, weekday hours of 11 a.m.-7 p.m. will begin for pickup, returns and printing (if available) at Anacostia, Benning, Cleveland Park, Mount Pleasant, Northeast, Shepherd Park, West End and Woodridge. Materials can be ordered online or by calling 202-747-1017 for adult material and 202-747-5054 for youth material. Library staff will coordinate a pick up time and location. Customers who wish to print must send their documents electronically.
Maryland’s public universities are moving toward at least some in-person teaching in the fall after the coronavirus pandemic forced spring semester classes online. The University System of Maryland, which oversees 12 universities and three regional centers, said Friday that campus-restart plans will vary from school to school. The flagship University of Maryland, College Park, which has about 41,000 students, has not yet disclosed how it will operate in the fall. But the system’s guidance, outlined in a four-page statement, indicated that officials anticipate a mix of teaching and learning methods. Schools “will welcome students back to campus this fall in a hybrid fashion, combining at least some on-campus, in-person instruction with remote learning,” the system said. Schools expect to announce plans over the next two weeks. Most students at residential universities will begin in mid- to late August, the system said. Some schools will finish in-person instruction by Thanksgiving, but others may continue to hold face-to-face classes for the entire semester. Still to be determined are the mix of “residential students” and “remote students” at each school, as well as plans for athletics. The system serves about 172,000 students statewide, from Frostburg State University in the west to the University Maryland-Eastern Shore.
The Glenstone Museum in Potomac will partially reopen next week. Beginning June 4, visitors will be allowed to explore the museum’s outdoor grounds Thursdays through Sundays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tickets are free. “This decision was made following Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich’s announcement that the county will enter phase one of its reopening plan on Monday, June 1,” the museum said in a release. “Because there are no indoor amenities, experiencing Glenstone during this period will be like a visit to a park – remember there are no bathrooms, be prepared to spend the entire visit on your feet, bring your own water bottles, check the forecast before you arrive, and carry your garbage out with you.” The museum has imposed safety restrictions that include required reservations, limiting groups to no more than five, face coverings and social distancing from others. They museum’s partnership with the Montgomery County Ride On Bus remains on hold. The museum is surrounded by 230 acres of meadows and forestland. Sculptures by Jeff Koons, Richard Serra, Ellsworth Kelly and other modern artists rise out of the landscape.
Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties will begin reopening on June 1. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and Montgomery County Marc Elrich made the announcements Thursday. Stage One means that houses of worship may hold gatherings of 10 people or less, farmers’ markets will be open for carryout, and restaurants and fraternal organizations will be allowed to open outdoor seating with employees wearing masks and tables at least 6 feet apart. Barbershops and hair salons will be allowed to open by appointment only, while keeping distance between customers and using personal protective equipment. Childcare facilities will also be open for employees who are returning to work, stores can open at 50% capacity and golf courses and tennis courts in the county are open, but basketball courts and playgrounds will remain closed. Alsobrooks and county health officials said declining rates of deaths and hospitalizations, improving hospital capacity, improved testing and improved contact tracing capacity led to the decision to reopen. Alsobrooks said the county will open additional new testing sites in early-June, including a new site in Chillum on June 1. She urged Prince Georgians to continue staying at home when possible and keeping physical distance from people outside their households. Elrich also said that the county’s metrics appear to be trending in the right direction. “The only reason we didn’t have a steep curve [in infections] is because of the actions we took,” he said. The Montgomery Coutny Department of Transportation is working with local restaurants to identify streets that can be closed to provide more space for outdoor seating, Elrich said.
Virginia will remain under Phase One restrictions against the coronavirus for at least another week. Gov. Ralph Northam made the announcement Thursday at his twice-weekly briefing. He said it was too soon to move the state into Phase Two because it was too soon to gauge, given the coronavirus’ long incubation period, whether the initial easements led to more spreading. “We will all remain in Phase One for a minimum of one more week,” Northam said. He reminded Virginians that his order mandating the wearing of masks in public, indoor spaces takes effect Friday.“ If you shouldn’t go into a public space without shoes or a shirt, you shouldn’t go without face mask,” the governor said. “It’s just the right thing to do to protect the people around you as well as workers.” Northam’s chief counsel, Rita Davis, said the health department could enforce the order by seeking a civil injunction or criminal charge against an individual from a magistrate. But she said the department would do so only for “very egregious or gross violations.” Davis added that businesses are free to refuse service to customers without masks unless they have a health condition that that would be exacerbated by wearing a mask. But businesses will not be held responsible for the actions of their customers, she said. “This is a personal mandate on people as they go inside the businesses,” Davis said. “We do have facial covering requirements for employers under other executive orders that need to be done with respect to the employees, but this is simply geared at the people who are going to go inside those businesses and making sure that the employees are protected from the patrons as well.” Northam also said he will allow the state’s public beaches to open Friday, following Virginia Beach’s successful opening last weekend. Bans on large gatherings, tents, group sports and alcohol will continue to apply. The governor also said he was allowing NASCAR to run single-day events, although they will be closed to spectators.
Beginning today, many D.C. restaurants with outdoor seating may open for the first time in more than two and a half months, as part of the city’s Phase One reopening. On Thursday, the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration voted to limit the hours that businesses with alcohol licenses can operate. While Phase One technically began at 12:01 a.m., operating hours for establishments with ABC licenses will be restricted to 8 a.m.-midnight, although carryout and delivery are not limited to those hours. Establishments opening today must follow a number of regulations: Customers can be served only at outdoor patio areas or “summer gardens” at least six feet away from other parties and must buy food, not just drinks.
Beginning today, CVS Health will open 39 new COVID-19 testing sites at drive-thru locations across Virginia and three in D.C. Eleven of the CVS Pharmacy sites in Virginia, which will use self-swab tests, will be in Northern Virginia, with appointments available by signing up online at CVS.com. “Opening access to testing in more locations using our drive-thru window represents an important milestone in our response to the pandemic,” said Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Health, in a news release. CVS set a goal to establish 1,000 testing locations across the country by the end of May, and the company said the 39 Virginia sites will help their mission of processing up to 1.5 million tests per month. According to CVS, more than half of its national testing sites will serve communities with the greatest need for support, including those living in poverty, crowded housing and with a lack of access to transportation. “If you’re worried you may have COVID-19, you should be able to get tested,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in the release. “I appreciate CVS stepping up to help more Virginians get access to testing — at no cost, even if you don’t have insurance. These 39 sites are an important part of Virginia’s testing plan. They are in the community, they’re open seven days a week, and they are staffed by people you can trust.” Patients stay in their cars and be directed to the pharmacy drive-thru window, where they will be given a test kit and instructions. A pharmacy team member will observe the self-swab process to ensure it is done properly. Tests will be sent to an independent, third-party lab for processing and the results will be available in about three days. The new testing sites include 6400 Landsdowne Center , Alexandria; 7205 Little River Turnpike, Annandale; 16712 Jefferson Davis Highway, Dumfries; 10090 Fairfax Blvd. and 3921 Prosperity Ave., Fairfax; 9009 Silverbrook Road, Fairfax Station; 1020 Seneca Road, Great Falls; 616 East Market Street and 19305 Ruby Drive, Leesburg; and 6360 Hoadly Road, Manassas. In D.C., testing is available at 845 Bladensburg Road NE; 6514 Georgia Ave. NW; and 110 Carroll St. NW.
An additional 2.1 million new claims were filed for unemployment for the week ending May 23 in the U.S., bringing the total since mid-March to more than 40 million. The U.S. Department of Labor released the weekly data Thursday. As states gradually began to reopen, the number of people receiving unemployment benefits dropped slightly, a possible hint of a recovery to come in what has been a season of historic unemployment. In D.C., 5,123 new claims were filed last week, down 73 from the week before. Marylanders filed 33,240 new claims, down 1,871 from a week earlier. But Virginians opened 58,591 new claims, a jump of 13,892 from the week prior.
As Northern Virginia begins to move into Phase One of reopening today, some streets in the region will close to vehicles temporarily to allow people to maintain safe social distancing. City officials in Alexandria will close the 100 block of King Street to cars beginning Friday and Lee Street between Cameron and Prince Streets will be limited to local traffic. Restaurants may use portions of the sidewalk and street for outdoor dining, but the changes are not intended to encourage pedestrians to visit or congregate in the area. In Fairfax County, a half-mile stretch of one northbound lane on Tyson’s Boulevard from Westbranch Drive to the pedestrian entrance at Lillian Court will close to vehicles at 5 p.m. Friday. Officials did not say how long the closures will last. In Phase One, restaurants may resume outdoor dining at 50% of capacity with tables at least 6 feet apart. Groups of more than 10 are now allowed.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival is going virtual. The festival draws about 200,000 book lovers to the D.C. convention center for author talks, book signings and other events. For this year’s 20th anniversary, the festival will move online from Sept. 25-27 officials announced Thursday. The event will feature streamed live and recorded talks with bestselling authors from 2020 Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, to John Grisham, Jenna Bush Hager and bestselling children’s book author and D.C. area native Jason Reynolds. The library is also in discussions with broadcast networks to reach a larger audience.
The University of Virginia it is planning to hold at least some face-to-face classes when the fall term starts in late August. The state’s flagship university, with 24,000 students, switched to online and remote instruction in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, the university sent a letter spelling out tentative fall plans for the campus known as the Grounds. “Assuming state and federal public health guidelines allow, we are planning to have students back on Grounds and to hold in-person classes this fall,” university President James Ryan wrote in the email co-signed by other school officials. “We are still trying to determine how many students we can have safely back on Grounds and living in dorms, and how many in-person classes we can host, given social distancing restrictions.” Classes will start on Aug. 25 as planned. Large classes will remain online throughout the semester, the university said, along with classes taught by professors with health concerns. The university also put a time limit on face-to-face teaching. “While the fall semester will start on time, we are planning to finish in-person instruction by Thanksgiving,” officials wrote. “Students will not return until the new year, which will minimize the inevitable risk associated with travel back and forth to Charlottesville. We are still determining if we can host exams before Thanksgiving or whether they will be offered remotely.”
Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and his wife, Anne Holton, both tested positive for coronavirus antibodies earlier this month. In a statement, Kaine said that in late-March both he and his wife developed symptoms that were at first attributed to a bout of the flu, but later assumed to be a “mild case of coronavirus.” They were not tested due to the national testing shortage at the time, and by mid-April were both symptom-free. This month, they were both tested for antibodies, which can indicate that a person may have contracted the virus and developed an immune response to fight it. “While those antibodies could make us less likely to be reinfected or infect others, there is still too much uncertainty over what protection antibodies may actually provide,” Kaine said. “So we will keep following CDC guidelines—hand-washing, mask wearing, social distancing. We encourage others to do so as well. It shows those around you that you care about them.”
Beginning at 11 a.m. Friday, retail stores can open for curbside or front door pickup, barbershops and hair salons may reopen by appointment only, restaurants may offer outdoor dining and dog parks, golf courses, parks, tennis courts and tracks will reopen in D.C. After two months of being shut down, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Wednesday that she will lift her stay-at-home order and move the city into Phase One of reopening. “In my mind, I call it stay-at-home light,” she said during a press conference. “It means the restriction has been lifted and some activities have been added back, but they are minimal.” Despite lifting her March 30 stay-at-home order, gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited, and social distancing and face coverings are still highly recommended. Restaurants will be allowed to open for outdoor dining with a maximum of six people per table, spaced at least 6 feet apart. They will also be asked to keep contact information in case an infection is reported. Hair salons and barber shops may reopen by appointment only with one person per stylist and customers waiting outside, but nail care, waxing and eyebrow threading remain prohibited. Public parks, dog parks and tennis courts will again be open, but playgrounds will remain closed. Libraries and nonessential retailers will be able to offer curbside service. Also, health care providers will be able to resume elective procedures, but only if they do not “unduly burden hospital capacity or COVID-19 resources.” The mayor also said the city will start a process to “reimagine sidewalks and streets for restaurants, retail and recreation” as many other cities have. More details are expected on Friday. As for Phase Two, city D.C. guidance says moving into the next phase of reopening will happen when there is only “localized transmission” of the virus. But, Bowser said returning to a full shutdown isn’t likely. Rather, targeted closures or openings will be used, depending on data. “We can turn our lifting of restrictions up and down,” she said. “If the health data required it, we could turn down some activities or turn them up.”
Arlington and Fairfax counties will join other parts of Northern Virginia in reopening Friday. According to a Wednesday press release, non-essential businesses in Arlington County can open at 50% capacity as long as they follow certain requirements. Restaurants will be allowed to offer outdoor seating at 50% capacity, while gyms will be allowed to offer limited outdoor classes. Beauty and nail salons, barbershops and other personal grooming services can provide services by appointment only as long as they follow strict guidelines. Outdoor pools may open for lap swimming only with one person per lane. Indoor worship services will be allowed at 50% and drive-in services are permitted. Other activities will still be off-limits. Movie theaters, basketball courts, racquetball courts, and spray parks will remain closed. Social gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited. “We have a long way to go before we can be confident the virus is under control,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said in a statement. “Continuing our forward progress depends on everyone following health guidelines. We will continue to watch the metrics closely in the coming weeks.” Earlier Wednesday, officials in Fairfax County also announced they would begin loosening restrictions on Friday with similar requirements to Arlington. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam gave Northern Virginia jurisdictions the green light to enter Phase One of loosening pandemic restrictions — two weeks after the rest of the state had begun reopening. (
Maryland will relax more restrictions Friday evening under Stage One of its Roadmap to Recovery, but not necessarily in counties surrounding D.C. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday that restaurants and social organizations, such as American Legions, VFWs or Elks Clubs, will be allowed to open outdoor seating at 5 p.m. Friday. Social distancing and other precautions must be in place along with disposable menus and face coverings for staff. Drive-in movie theaters may reopen, outdoor pools may reopen at 25% capacity, and day camps and youth sports will also be allowed to reopen with restrictions. However, it is up to individual counties if they reopen along with the rest of the state. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has not yet announced a date to reopen. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said last week that the county was on track to begin reopening certain businesses on June 1. The two have the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state. Earlier Wednesday, Elrich said the high use of intensive care beds in the county was still a concern for reopening, which he is on track to announce within about a week. Hogan disagreed with Elrich’s decision not to set a date for reopening. “I believe Montgomery now is the only one that has not set a date, and they probably need to,” Hogan said. “The county leaders aren’t really paying attention to the state plan. They’re kind of making up their own metrics … I think they ought to move forward.” The governor said he thinks moving to Stage Two could happen as soon as next week.
Six Flags America amusement park in Upper Marlboro is opening Friday, but the roller coasters and other rides won’t be operating. The park is opening for free coronavirus testing. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday that the state health department will offer drive-thru testing at Six Flags America to Marylanders who believe they’ve been exposed to COVID-19. No doctor’s order or appointment is required. A free testing site will open today at the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program station in Clinton. Both sites are in Prince George’s County. As of Friday, Maryland will have 11 drive-thru community testing sites across the state. A state-run testing site in Hyattsville has closed, according to Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. In a tweet Wednesday, Alsbrooks said the state government didn’t notify her administration that the site, which had opened just last week, would be shuttering. “As a reminder, any resident seeking testing can call our county health department hotline at 301-883-6627. We regret so many of our residents were inconvenienced by this unexpected closing.”
With the Fourth of July less than six weeks away, local and federal officials are calling for President Donald Trump to cancel his second annual “Salute to America” Independence Day event on the National Mall. Trump hasn’t indicated that he plans to cancel the celebration. However, the National Park Service has not received details about what the event will entail and how attendees will be kept safe from coronavirus. The event would also violate D.C.’s rules for reopening. Members of Congress representing the DMV came out against plans for large public celebrations in a letter sent to the secretaries of defense and the interior on Tuesday. “Given the number of individuals that would try to attend such an event, logistically such an event would be impossible to put on safely,” they wrote, citing the fact that the DMV region is still experiencing high COVID-19 transmission rates. The signers noted the strain the event would put on the city’s budget, its partially closed public transportation system and the health of public safety officers. Typically, the park service works with the city to host fireworks and a concert on the National Mall. Last year, Trump expanded the event into a celebration of the military called “Salute to America,” though city officials were kept in the dark about details until a few weeks before. Trump last mentioned July Fourth at an April 22 coronavirus briefing. “Last year was a tremendous success, and I would imagine we’ll do it, hopefully I can use the term ‘forever,’ ” he said. Even if attendees maintained social distance, the event could still violate the city’s reopening guidelines, which limit gatherings to 10 people in Phase One, 50 in Phase Two and 250 in Phase Three. Phase one only begins Friday. Most other July 4th celebrations have been canceled. The National Independence Day Parade down Constitution Avenue was canceled May 15. In Loudoun County, Fourth of July events will be postponed until Labor Day in September, Rockville has canceled its celebrations and Takoma Park’s Independence Day Parade has also been canceled.
Communities in Northern Virginia will see the governor’s stay-at-home order begin lifting on Friday. Northern Virginia leaders wrote Northam Monday noting that their jurisdictions were ready to begin entering Phase One of Friday. The rest of Virginia entered phase one on May 15. Northern Virginia health officials say the region is meeting four out of six metrics to begin the phased reopening. The two metrics not being met are contract tracing capacity and supply of personal protective equipment. The metrics being met include a downward trend in positive tests and hospitalizations over 14 days, increased testing, and hospital bed and intensive care capacity. The governor confirmed he would move the area into Phase One, but said he would discuss details today. Virginia’s Phase One includes allowing retail stores to open and restaurants to offer outdoor dining at 50% capacity, personal grooming services to operate with one client per workstation at a time and fitness centers to offer outdoor exercise.
People entering businesses in Virginia will have to wear face masks beginning Friday to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Gov. Ralph Northam announced the mandate on Tuesday. “Everyone will need to wear a face covering when you’re inside at a public place starting this Friday,” he said. “That’s at a store, a barbershop, a restaurant, on public transportation, at a government building or anywhere where people can congregate in groups.” “This is about protecting those around us, especially our workers.” There are exemptions for people who are eating, exercising or have a health condition that prevents them from wearing a mask and children younger than 10. But the governor said police will not enforce the requirement and not wearing a mask will not bear criminal penalties. He said he would discuss a civil fine with lawmakers when they reconvene in special session over the summer. Northam also said the commissioner of the state Department of Labor and Industry would draft new standards for workplace safety around the coronavirus. Northam began his remarks by explaining his weekend visit to Virginia Beach, where he was photographed without a mask and speaking at close distance with supporters. The governor said he intended to speak to the mayor, first responders and the press, and was surprised to meet supporters. “Some well-wishers came up to me and asked to take pictures. I was not prepared because my mask was in the car. I take full responsibility for that,” he said. “We’re all forming new habits and routines and adjusting to this new normal.” The mask requirement will be in effect as Northern Virginia joins the rest of the state on Friday in Phase One of reopening. Northam said the percentage positive rate of tests and the number of patients needing hospitalization appeared to be moving downward across the state. “The virus clearly is still here, but overall these numbers are trending in the right direction,” he said.
The Arlington County Board and Alexandria City Council voted unanimously at meetings Tuesday to establish an administrative process for restaurants to create temporary outdoor seating areas. The moves come as Northern Virginia prepares to begin reopening Friday. As part of Phase One, restaurants may open for outdoor dining at 50% capacity. The Arlington board altered an ordinance it adopted in March allowing businesses to apply to create or expand outdoor seating options during the pandemic. Previously, county restaurants wanting outdoor seating areas on private property had to seek approval through an administrative process, but those looking to do so on county sidewalks or public spaces had to get a special exception use permit, which requires approval by the county board and can take at least 60 days. “[This is] basically cutting a couple months out of the process for review and approval, at least,” said Anthony Fusarelli, the assistant director for the county’s Department of Community Planning, Housing, and Development. Although the county can proceed with the process, the board must reaffirm the action by voting again in June. The county expects to have an application form posted online today and is planning to create a public map of restaurants that have been approved, so residents can see their outdoor dining options. The Alexandria council approved a plan to waive enforcement of some city ordinances and fees to allow restaurants to use sidewalks and parking spaces in front of their businesses for dining. Under the expedited process, applications should be processed in three days. Fairfax County will consider similar legislation on Thursday.
The U.S. District Court for D.C. issued an order Tuesday extending the postponement of jury trials from June 11 until Aug. 1. Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell cited Mayor Muriel Bowser’s extended stay-at-home order and ongoing safety risks for potential jurors as reasons for the extension. With the exception of criminal jury trials, the court did open the door for some in-person activities to resume on July 15, including hearings, non-jury trials and settlement conferences. The order also states that the presiding judge in the case can issue an order directing that the proceeding take place virtually before then. The court had postponed jury trials until June 11 and other proceedings through June 1. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia is set to resume in-person hearings on June 11 and criminal jury trials on July 7. In Maryland, no civil or criminal jury trials will be held before June 30, although some in-person proceedings will resume June 5.
Megabus will resume service on some routes, including from Union Station to New York City, beginning June 1. “We are reopening responsibly with several adjustments to our policies and procedures in the wake of COVID-19,” the company wrote in an email to customers Tuesday. Megabus will continue to enforce social distancing measures and stringent cleaning. The company previously announced that all customers are required to wear face coverings wherever social distancing is not possible, including while waiting in line, boarding and moving around the bus. Megabus said that it will start with a limited schedule between D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City after cancelling all trips in and out of New York City in March. Tickets are now available. All other New York City routes, however, will remain suspended through June 17. Amtrak announced earlier this month that it will resume modified Acela service in the Northeast corridor on June 1.
Except for the lack of observers due to social distancing guidelines for the coronavirus pandemic, Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery continued as they have for more than 152 years. The cemetery usually hosts about 5,000 visitors for its Memorial Day observance ceremony and nearly 135,000 visitors over the weekend, but it has been closed to the public since March 13. Families with passes — and face coverings — were able to visit their loved ones’ graves throughout the day. At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the traditional wreath-laying ceremony hosted by Defense Secretary Mark Esper and attended by President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, First Lady Melania Trump and Karen Pence was not open to the public. “We are expecting several thousand family pass holders to visit their loved ones graves this Memorial Day weekend. Protecting the health of our employees, service members, contractors and our visitors is paramount,” said Arlington National Cemetery Superintendent Charles “Ray” Alexander, Jr., in a statement. However, after the ceremony the Pences were photographed meeting visitors graveside without wearing facial coverings. Members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the “Old Guard” performed the annual Flags In ceremony earlier in the week while wearing masks, placing American flags in front of 228,000 headstones and 7,000 niche rows to honor the service members buried at the cemetery.
D.C. could still begin Phase One of reopening on Friday, after a spike in the city’s community spread caused a setback over the weekend. In interviews on Fox 5 and NBC 4 Monday, Mayor Muriel Bowser said yesterday’s data showed an additional day of decrease, marking Day 12 of community spread decline. Bowser said on Fox 5 that the city may still reopen in Phase One if 14 days of decline in community spread is met by May 27. City officials calculate community spread, on of the key metrics for reopening, by the date of symptom onset after excluding cases at confined facilities such as at nursing homes and prisons. On Sunday, city health officials reported a “new peak” in community spread, which reset the 14-day decline by three days. On Sunday, 144 new cases were added to D.C.’s total, which was almost double the 73 cases reported Saturday. Prior to Sunday’s jump, the city was headed for the 14th day of decline.
Northern Virginia could enter Phase One of reopening on Friday, joining the rest of the commonwealth in easing coronavirus restrictions. In a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam, regional officials said their jurisdictions have met four of the benchmarks for moving into Phase One. Those include a decrease in the percentage of positive tests over 14 days, a decrease in hospitalizations, increased testing and adequate hospital beds and intensive care capacity. The two criteria that have not been met are increased contact tracing capacity and increased, sustainable supply of personal protective equipment. “Jurisdictions have been making preparations to support a transition into Phase 1 at midnight on May 28,” the letter said. It was signed by the leaders of Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William counties, as well as the cities of Alexandria and Fairfax and the towns of Dumfries, Herndon, Vienna and Middleburg. “We appreciate the increased testing capacity the commonwealth has provided for our region and realize that your assistance with testing and tracing in the future will be important to assist us as we move into subsequent phases,” the letter said. The latest assessment of the Forward Virginia metrics was conducted by health departments in each Northern Virginia jurisdiction on Sunday. Forward Virginia is the commonwealth’s phased plan to reopen slowly and methodically withiout causing a spike in COVID-19 cases. Northern Virginia leaders said they would like to start Phase 2 at the same time as the rest of the commonwealth, when that date is set. Much of the commonwealth entered Phase One on May 15, while Northern Virginia stayed in Phase Zero and continued restrictions in place beforehand. There was a spike in coronavirus cases reported Monday in Northern Virginia, but it has been attributed to maintenance on the state health department’s website.
Arlington County is holding free COVID-19 testing from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. today at the Barcroft Sports and Fitness Center, 4200 S. Four Mile Run Drive. “Hosting testing in this location is a conscious effort to concentrate resources in an area easily reachable to those residents who may not otherwise be able to access testing and information,” said county Health Director Dr. Reuben Varghese in a statement. The testing is sponsored by the commonwealth and includes both drive-thru and a walk-up options. No ID is required to get tested, and you do not need to show symptoms of COVID-19, have an appointment or a doctor’s note. On-site translation will be available. Those who would like to get a test should wear a face covering. Pedestrians should enter through the Tucker Field (ballpark) entrance, while vehicles should enter at eastbound Four Mile Run Drive near George Mason Drive. No one may enter the property for testing before 8:30 a.m., and the surrounding parks are closed to all activities.
Residents across D.C. closed their streets to cars Monday in protest with a safer-streets “tactical urbanist” organization, D.C. Department of Transformation. The group launched a citizen-led movement across the city yesterday, closing residential streets to through traffic to expand space to allow pedestrians and cyclists to social distance safely. Residents taking part in the demonstrations documented families and children playing in the blocked streets on social media with the hashtag #DCStreets4People. According to the Department of Transformation’s Twitter account, 20 streets participated in the shutdowns by Monday afternoon, mostly in Northeast D.C. The Metropolitan Police Department police responded to the street closures. Keya Chatterjee, executive director of the U.S. Climate Action Network, shared a video of a police officer asking: “Who gave you permission to block the street?” Another tweet suggested that police officers had stopped a shutdown on a Northwest street, only for residents to resume the closure later. MPD spokesperson Kristen Metzger said no street closure-related incident reports were filed, but added that “the community cannot close down the street for recreation or other use without a block party permit or public space permit issued by DDOT.” Monday’s demonstrations follow earlier calls for roadway reform as the coronavirus slows traffic and pushes more pedestrians outside for exercise. The ReOpen D.C. Advisory Group recommendations released last week lacked concrete plans for expanded sidewalks, lowered speed limits or closing off some streets entirely, prompting outcry from activists, demanding further action from D.C. officials.
Events D.C. has closed all RFK venues until further notice. In late March, the city’s conventions and sports authority closed RFK Stadium, the D.C. Armory, The Fields at RFK Campus, the RFK Campus Skate Park and RFK Festival Grounds with a plan to reopen on June 9. No, those venues will remain closed indefinitely, along with The Lawn at Oklahoma Avenue, the RFK Campus Batting Cages and all RFK campus parking lots. Gateway D.C. and R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center are also closed until further notice, and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center will remain closed while it serves as an alternate care site for the city’s hospital surge response. D.C. is set to enter Phase One of reopening on Friday, barring any spikes in cases. The ReOpen D.C. Advisory Group has recommended that playgrounds and outdoor activities excluding tennis, golf and track not reopen until Phase 2.
NBA Hall of Famer and Georgetown University men’s basketball coach Patrick Ewing was released from the hospital and is recovering at home from COVID-19. According to a Monday tweet from Patrick Ewing Jr., the coach’s son, his father is now home and getting better. “I want to thank all of the doctors and hospital staff for taking care of my father during his stay, as well as everyone who has reached out to us with thoughts and prayers to us,” Ewing Jr. tweeted. “We’ll continue to watch his symptoms and follow the CDC guidelines.” The coach, 57, tweeted Friday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, and said he was isolated in a hospital. Ewing is the only member of the Georgetown basketball team to test positive for the virus.
Data released Sunday by D.C. Health show that the two-week benchmark for community spread has not been met. Officials reported a “new peak” in community spread on Sunday, but it is not clear if that will change the city’s tentative reopening on May 29. City officials calculate community spread by the date of symptom onset after excluding cases at confined facilities such as at nursing homes and prisons. The city was headed for the 14th consecutive day of declines, a goal set by Mayor Muriel Bowser as a key metric for entering Phase 1 of reopening. The health department said the new data will move the calendar back by three days. “It is confirmed that a new peak was detected in the data, resetting the count to 11 days of sustained decline,” city officials said in a statement. It seemed something was wrong after D.C.’s coronavirus data wasn’t posted, as usual, around 10 a.m. The city didn’t release the figures until about 4:45 p.m. On a call with reporters, Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt was asked why the peak didn’t reset the count to Day 0 and if it will affect entering Phase 1 on Friday? Nesbitt said that on Day 11, the number of cases surpassed two standard deviations of the previous peak, which is 40, calculated using a five-day rolling average. On Sunday, the number of cases based on symptom onset rose by 50. According to Nesbitt, that is why the city rolled back to Day 11 as opposed to Day 0. Basically, she said that on Day 12 of declining cases, D.C. saw 68 positive cases based on symptom onset. On Day 13, it was 118 cases, which is more than the standard deviation of 40 officials say is acceptable. Repeated questions to clarify were met by some impatience from Nesbitt, even though she admitted it is difficult to understand. On whether the new peak changes plans for beginning to reopen, Nesbitt said that this was just one of the metrics (along with hospital capacity and positive test rate) that the city is tracking. However, she declined to say whether that means the city is lifting restrictions on Friday, deferring to a press conference previously planned for Tuesday by Bowser. It was the second day in a row that the city’s data raised questions. On Saturday, the mayor’s office reported a one-day total of nearly 9,000 tests, more than five times higher than any other single day. That contributed to a significant drop in D.C.’s test positivity rate, which White House coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx said Friday was among the highest in the country. A spokesperson for the mayor said it was a one-time addition to account for multiple tests from commercial labs that had been conducted on the same individuals.
Climate and safe streets activists plan to use cones and other objects to block some streets in D.C. to vehicles today to allow more room for pedestrians. The city has been lagging behind other major cities in either closing residential streets to through traffic or adding new bike lanes and other space for pedestrians as the coronavirus pandemic limits traffic and has spurred more to get outside. The groups hope to convince Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson to make the changes permanent. Bowser’s Reopen D.C. Advisory Committee report called for some of these measures, but did not list specific places or timetables, which frustrated both councilmembers and community members. “I think it’s a failure of imagination and a failure of leadership that closing streets hasn’t already been done in D.C.,” said organizer Keya Chatterjee, leader of Safe Streets for Hill East and Near Northeast. D.C. has expanded some sidewalks near businesses. Activists did not indicate which streets they plan to close. It is unclear how many vehicles will be out on the road in the first place, although travel has slowly risen since stay-at-home orders began.
Warm weather and the long Memorial Day weekend drew crowds of people to Maryland and Virginia beaches this weekend. Videos and pictures from a packed boardwalk in Ocean City drew widespread attention Saturday. Relatively few people were wearing masks. At Virginia Beach, the focus was on Gov. Ralph Northam. Photos posted on social media showed Northam greeting people on the beach not wearing a mask or observing social distancing guidelines. In one photo, he is seen posing for a selfie. Northam was in Virginia Beach to see how people were responding to the new beach restrictions, which include a ban on group sports and large collections of beach umbrellas. His spokesperson said he did not intend to breach any social distancing guidelines. “The governor has repeatedly encouraged wearing face coverings inside or when social distancing is impossible. He was outside yesterday and not expecting to be within six feet of anyone,” press secretary Alena Yarmosky said. “This is an important reminder to always have face coverings in case situations change — we are all learning how to operate in this new normal, and it’s important to be prepared.” Critics on social media chided the governor, a physician, for not practicing what he has preached. “Physician, heal thyself,” tweeted Virginia House of Delegates Republican minority leader Todd Gilbert. It is bad timing for Northam, who has hinted he may announce a new face mask requirement on Tuesday and advised Virginians to make sure they have face coverings. The Virginia Department of Health recommends cloth face coverings in public places, like grocery stores, or when it may be difficult to practice social distancing. Northam allowed the beaches in Virginia Beach to open for recreation on Friday, ahead of the holiday weekend.
For the second day in a row, a Fairfax County testing site reached capacity and had to turn away residents seeking coronavirus tests early. The test site at Bailey’s Elementary School in Bailey’s Crossroads hit capacity just before noon. “We recognize there has been much confusion and frustration on the topic of COVID-19 testing. The availability of testing had been more limited than we and the public would like to see because of limited supply of protective gear as well as limited availability of the testing materials to collect the specimens,” the county said in a statement. A community testing facility at Annandale High School in Annandale reached capacity around 12:45 p.m. Saturday. Residents who were turned away from there were told to go to the Bailey Crossroad’s testing site on Sunday.
Several state lawmakers, religious leaders and other plaintiffs appealed a federal judge’s refusal to strike down a stay-at-home order and other restrictions that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opened a docket for the case on Friday. The appeals court didn’t set deadlines for attorneys to file briefs or schedule a hearing for the case. On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Blake in Baltimore denied the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of Hogan’s lockdown orders.
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Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.