Montgomery Co. Adds More Outdoor Dining
COVID-19 Cases Reach 124,883 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of yesterday morning, 9,709 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 511 deaths; there have been 61,305 cases in Maryland with 2,799 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 53,869 cases with 1,541 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
Outdoor seating at restaurants across Montgomery County has expanded as officials try to enforce social distancing, while allowing for businesses to reopen. Streetdine began Friday in Silver Spring, along with Takoma Streetery in Takoma Park. Some restaurants will be serving meals to outdoor tables, while others will have diners order takeout meals and then offer them table space to enjoy those meals, according to the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. In Silver Spring, the north bound right lanes of Georgia Avenue are closed to traffic from Silver Spring Avenue to Thayer Avenue, as the adjacent sidewalk are lined with tables and chairs for customers. In Takoma Park, the northbound side of Laurel Avenue, between Carroll Avenue and Eastern Avenue NW, is closed as the adjacent sidewalk is used for outdoor seating and the closed roadway is designated for pedestrians and curbside pickup. The U.S. Post Office on Laurel Avenue continues normal operations and the Sunday farmer’s market will continue on Laurel Avenue, according to the city. The Bethesda Streetery opened on Wednesday, allowing restaurants there to have more space for outdoor seating as coronavirus restrictions continue to put limits on dining indoors. Rockville began its outdoor dining program last week and has expanded outdoor seating along Gibbs Street, between East Middle Lane and Beall Avenue, and East Montgomery Avenue between Maryland Avenue and Helen Heneghan Way. Each individual seating area is permitted for use by one specific restaurant. Ten restaurants have been approved so far. Social distancing will be enforced and dinners are encouraged to make reservations.
D.C. reported a new peak in community spread of COVID-19 cases setting the count back from 11 days of sustained declined to Day 9. Fourteen days of sustained decline in community spread is one of the six metrics needed to move into Phase Two of reopening. Community spread is based on the date symptoms begin, not the daily count of new cases after removing cases in congregate settings like nursing homes, jails and homeless shelters. D.C. Health reported 63 cases on June 4, removing two days from the sustained decrease metric of moving into Phase Two of reopening. It is unknown that the loss of two days means for the city moving into the next phase, since there were no media briefings by the health department or the mayor over the weekend, but using past logic, it should mean the earliest the city could move ahead is June 21.
The Virginia Department of Health will begin releasing more comprehensive demographic data on the commonwealth’s coronavirus cases and deaths beginning Monday. It is a move that advocates have requested for months, arguing that without detailed race and ethnicity data, it is impossible to determine the full impact on the state’s most vulnerable populations. “We anticipate that starting Monday, June 15, the COVID-19 in Virginia daily dashboard Demographics tab will include an expanded list of race information,” Julie Grimes, a department spokeswoman said in an email. “The following new race categories will be added: Latino, Asian or Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans.” Virginia began publishing racial information on coronavirus cases in April, but broke down race only as Black or African American, white and other. It did not include Hispanic and non-Hispanic ethnicities. Additionally, a number of cases are listed on the commonwealth’s website as having racial and ethnic data “not reported.” Advocates have been concerned about the lack of information about Asian, Latino and indigenous cases and deaths because it obscures the impact the pandemic could be having on those communities. Hispanic and Latino people make up 9.6% of the state’s population, and Asians account for 6.9%, according to U.S. Census data. In Northern Virginia, COVID-19 cases have flourished in Latino communities, Hispanics or Latinos make up more than 50% of all reported cases across the commonwealth, according to VDH data. Still, more than 33,900 results haven’t included race information. County health departments say the expanded racial data is crucial in their pandemic response, as well to identify where they may need to intervene.
A D.C. United player has tested positive for COVID-19. The team made the announcement on Saturday. The unidentified player was tested during a round of club testing held earlier in the week in preparation for a return to full-team training. The player is being treated by the team’s medical staff who are working with local infectious disease specialists, according to the announcement. That player has been isolated and D.C. United said no other players, front office staff or guests to Audi Field have tested positive for the coronavirus. The team said the player was not present for the club’s field painting at Audi Field in support of the black community last weekend, so no one who attended that event was exposed. The team is preparing for its return to the field in the MLS is Back Tournament, which starts on July 8 in Orlando.
Sean Penn’s nonprofit Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE) will offer pop-up COVID-19 testing this weekend along D.C.’s protest routes. From 10 a.m.-5 p.m., CORE will offer walk-up testing at Howard Theatre on T Street on Saturday. Protesters taking to D.C.’s streets for a third weekend of demonstrations can get a swab test without an appointment, any form of identification or symptoms, according to CORE. They also offered testing on Friday at 3000 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. Free PPE will be provided, but people are encouraged to wear their own masks. The pop-up testing sites follow weeks of expanding coronavirus testing measures in response to D.C.’s protests against police brutality and racial injustice that began on May 29. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has encouraged anyone protesting to get tested, and expressed concern over possible spikes in the city’s coronavirus trends as demonstrations grow larger. The city currently has 13 free walk-up testing sites, including locations in Anacostia, Judiciary Square, University of the District of Columbia’s Bertie Backus campus, and 10 fire stations. Lines and wait times predictably grew as more and more people sought a test after demonstrating in recent weeks. According to reports on Monday, wait times at city-run sites took anywhere from 25 minutes to two hours, and lines swelled at fire stations later in the week, some taking over three hours to get through.
The Prince George’s County Council on Tuesday unanimously passed emergency legislation granting further protections for renters affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The bill prohibits rent increases and suspends penalties and late fees for renters who miss a payment due to a loss of income or money as a result of the virus. Renters must produce documentation proving a substantial loss of income in order to qualify, according to the bill. The protections of the bill extend for 90 days after the end of the state of emergency in Maryland. The state passed legislation that offered tenants protections from being evicted during the pandemic.
Last weekend Metro added 136 more daily bus trips over a dozen heavily-traveled routes to help keep up with ridership. WMATA officials said they haven’t been able to assign enough operators until recently, when the transit agency implemented a mandatory “pick” process, which allows more senior operators their choice of work assignments before others. It can also take months to draft new schedules, which contributed to the delay. Metro also reopened the first and last cars on trains to passengers, which were closed to protect operators who have to walk through those cars at the end of routes. The transit agency drastically cut back service when the coronavirus pandemic began, but overall ridership numbers have been consistently above the level of service recommended for safe social distancing. “The plan provides sufficient capacity to accommodate approximately 40,000 daily Metrorail trips and 85,000 daily Metrobus trips while social distancing,” Metro documents say. While Metrorail ridership has hovered between 30,000-48,000 trips, Metrobus is consistently above 130,000 trips on weekdays. It is unclear how often crowding happens, but it has been noted throughout the day on popular routes like the 70 and 92. Bus operators are to bypass stops when buses are too full, but that could leave riders waiting up to half an hour. And with the DMV entering new phases of reopening, the numbers are likely to increase. Metro saw a spike in Metrorail ridership last Saturday during the George Floyd rallies and protests against police brutality compared to prior weekends. Metro surveys say the number of people visiting friends and family via public transit has doubled from April to May. Ridership increases also correlate with nice weather. But many are still doing essential activities only. A survey of Metrobus customers found 89% of riders were using the bus to go to food stores, 56% to pharmacies, 54% to work and 49% to medical appointments. Metro’s survey had a relatively small sample size. Metrobus customers still riding are statistically much more likely to be low-income and Black, the survey says. About 70% of riders who make under $30,000 are still riding the bus, and 82% of Black riders are still using the system during the pandemic. The transit agency has also been reaching out to businesses to learn about their “return to office” plans and found that less than 20% were sending employees back before August. Metro plans to add more service around August when school restarts. That addition would get service levels to about 70%-85% of where they were before the pandemic. Full service is set to return in spring 2021.
Rocky Gap Casino Resort in Flintstone, Maryland, will reopen its casino, restaurants and hotel on June 19. It is the first of Maryland’s six casinos to set a reopening date, following Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement Wednesday that the state is allowing casinos, restaurants and indoor shopping malls to enter Phase Two of reopening. MGM National Harbor, the state’s largest casino, Live! Casnio & Hotel at Arundel Mills and Baltimore’s Horseshoe casino have not set reopening dates. Rocky Gap, in western Maryland in the Rocky Gap National Park on Lake Habeeb, reopened its golf course and lake activities on May 14. Under state guidelines, Rocky Gap will limit its casino and property to 50% capacity, and some areas of the resort will remain closed, including its spa and entertainment venue. Maryland’s six casinos have generated no gaming revenue since they closed March 16 as part of the state’s effort to halt the spread of COVID-19, and are unlikely to generate pre-pandemic levels of gaming revenue with limits of 25%-50% of capacity. With Maryland’s fiscal year coming to a close at the end of June, total gaming revenue at the six casinos for the fiscal year is down nearly $373 million. Casino contributions to the state are down $149 million from fiscal 2019. The largest share of casino contributions in Maryland goes to the state’s Education Trust Fund, which has seen contributions fall 22.5% because of the coronavirus casino shutdowns.
A Loudon County judge denied a request from a Silver Eagle shooting range seeking to loosen the restrictions imposed under Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive orders to mitigate spread of the coronavirus. The injunction request is one of many that have been filed across the state challenging business closures. Nearly all have been turned down, although one notable exception occurred in Lynchburg when a judge there ruled that closure of a gun range violated the constitutional right to bear arms. Loudoun County Judge Jeanette Irby, though, reached a different conclusion than the judge in Lynchburg. Irby ruled Wednesday that Second Amendment protections extend to individuals, not gun ranges like Silver Eagle. And she said that an individual who also sued because he lost access to the range still had the ability to bear arms and to train on his firearm in other ways.
Prince George’s County will move into Phase Two of reopening in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday. “We are moving into Phase Two of reopening,” County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said at a briefing Thursday morning, adding “we have continued to see a decline” in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. She laid out some of the parameters of the next phase: Retail stores can open for in-store sales with safeguards and capacity limits of five people per 1,000 square feet; barbershops and hair salons can operate by appointment only at 50% capacity with employees wearing personal protective equipment and customers wearing masks; and nail salons and other personal services can open by appointment with a limit of one customer per 200 square feet. Restaurants can have indoor and outdoor seating at 50% capacity with no more than 50 people in outdoor seating. Inside, no more than six people can be at a table, tables must be at least 6 feet apart, workers must be screened and wear face coverings, and hand sanitizer must be available. Houses of worship can open at 25% capacity. Childcare will expand for essential workers and those returning to work. Youth sports can resume with a maximum of nine athletes and one coach at a time. Outdoor community pools can open at 25% capacity with social distancing required. Indoor pools and gyms will remain closed. Automated car washes can open; but customers must stay inside their cars. “Prince George’s County is ready to move into Phase Two of our reopening journey,” Dr. Ernest Carter said, but the health officer added that people still needed to wear masks in public, including in stores. “We are still safer at home. We have to stay disciplined,” Carter said. Hospitalizations in the county fell by almost 15% between the last week of May and the first week of June, Carter said. The county currently averages seven deaths per day compared to 10 deaths per day the first week of May. “COVID-19 is still very much a part of our community,” Alsobrooks said. “We will not be able to return to the way that things were. … We are not out of the woods.”
Ben’s Chili Bowl in Arlington has closed permanently because of the coronavirus pandemic. “The impact was just too great,” said co-owner Sage Ali. “We kind of saw things coming in time to mitigate it the best we could. We originally closed everything except U Street, and then we ended up opening back H Street for Memorial Day weekend, but Arlington just looked a little bit … the area’s slow, things are quiet and it just looked a little unsustainable to we decided to let that one go so we can focus on what we know can work.” Ben’s learned in early May that it would be getting a grant in the second round of Payroll Protection Packages from the federal government. At the time, Ali said the restaurants had lost 80% of their business and questioned whether all three sit-down restaurants would be reopening. There are no plans to close Ben’s other locations.
There were 1.54 million new unemployment claims filed in the U.S. for the week ending June 6, 2020, down 355,000 from the week before. In a reversal of recent weeks, 74,558 new jobless claims were filed in the DMV last week, an increase of 7,665 from the previous week lead by a jump of 9,184 in Maryland. D.C. had 3,291 new claims, down 268 from the previous week. Maryland saw an increase from the week before to 41,104, and Virginia saw a 1,215 drop in new claims to 30,164.
Metro appears ready to ramp up service later this summer. Metro is currently running at about 35% of normal peak service, with plans to jump to 70%-80% levels in its next phase of reopening. General Manager Paul Wiedefeld told the Metro Board of Directors Thursday that the next phase could start between mid-August and mid-September. It was previous set sometime between August and October. Wiedefeld said he expects to be able to give more specifics in July “as we gather more information, particularly on school openings and employer openings, and not only that they’re opening but how many people they anticipate coming to work.” Earlier this month, Metro reopened the first and last rail cars, when possible, to allow for better social distancing among riders. Those cars had been closed to protect employees. Metro has been dealing with a sharp downturn in ridership during the pandemic. In April, rail ridership dropped 94% compared to the previous year, while bus ridership dropped 84%, Metro said. But Metro officials said that in May, more Metrorail customers ventured out to see friends or family using the system, although work trips remained mostly unchanged.
Theater J cancelled three productions originally scheduled for this fall. The canceled productions are The Kinsey Sicks in Electile Dysfunction, Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy and Tuesdays with Morrie by Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom. “Theater is essential and full of stories that bring us joy, stories that teach us empathy, stories that challenge our minds and stories that bring us together,” said Artistic Director Adam Immerwahr in a statement. “Theater J’s audience may not be able to gather in person, but we are continuing to create this community and deep connection through engaging, provocative and meaningful classes, online play readings, town hall-style gatherings, 30th anniversary tributes and more still to be announced.” The theater has not canceled the second half plays of the 2020-21 season yet. On Tuesday, Round House Theatre also announced it has suspended live performance through the end of 2020. Canceled performances include Big Love, Hatef*ck, School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The theater plans to reopen in early-January.
With hospitalizations for COVID-19 under 1,000 for the first time since April 10 — the lowest number in 61 days — in Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday that the second phase of reopening would continue in some parts of the state. At 5 p.m. on Friday, restaurants may offer indoor dining at 50% capacity with tables spaced six feet apart. The governor advised those who are at high risk of contracting the virus to opt for outdoor dining. Outdoor amusement parks and rides, miniature golf and go-karts may also reopen with health restrictions. And, outdoor pools can open at 50% capacity. At 5 p.m. on June 19, gyms, martial arts and dance studios may reopen at 50% capacity, and casinos, malls and arcades will also be allowed to reopen with strict safety protocols. State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon also announced that summer school can begin with small classes of 10-15 students. Schools are to focus in-person summer school instruction on students who have been most affected by the pandemic and who have struggled with distance learning. “As we move forward, state and local education leaders must recognize that long-standing gaps in educational opportunity and access have been further exposed and widened by the COVID-19 crisis,” Salmon said. “We want to ensure that students most impacted receive intense focus and priority in our recovery efforts.” P Non-public, special education schools are also encouraged to begin summer school classes under similar capacity parameters. Salmon is asking these schools to develop guidelines and a model of how they will continue teaching while following safety protocols of the state. In the extended phase, high school athletic teams may resume outdoor practices with the same guidelines as youth sports. The department is encouraging schools to have outdoor graduation ceremonies using social distancing guidelines. To help parents who have to return to work, the state is permitting childcare providers to reopen with no more than 15 children per room. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended meal waivers for students who receive meals from schools through the end of the summer. Montgomery and Prince George’s County officials say they plan to begin Phase Two of reopening within the next few weeks. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks will make an announcement at 11 a.m. this morning about her Phase Two reopening plans. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich tweeted Wednesday that the county will likely start Phase Two next week (see below). Hogan emphasized that while the state continues to reopen, the virus hasn’t gone away, and credited the restrictions that have been in place for controlling the severity of the coronavirus. “Without taking aggressive action, we could have had more than 300,000 infections and 12,500 deaths in Maryland at this point in time,” the governor said. “But because of the early and aggressive actions taken we have not only flattened the curve, we have crushed that curve.”
If data trends continue, Montgomery County’s Phase 2 reopening is likely to begin sometime next week. County Executive Marc Elrich made the announcement on the county’s Facebook page Wednesday just after noon, before his weekly press briefing with the county’s health officer Dr. Travis Gayles. “We expect to allow modified indoor retail shopping and indoor religious services, lap swimming and more,” Elrich tweeted. According to a chart released by the county Department of Health and Human Services, The limit on gatherings would rise from 10 to 50; restaurants would be able to offer indoor dining at 50% of capacity and churches could reopen with 1 congregant or family per 200 square feet of service space. Also, outdoor pools could reopen for lap swimming, playgrounds would reopen and retail could open with one person per 200 square feet of sales space. Those and many other of the most important changes are subject to the lifting of restrictions by Gov. Larry Hogan. “We’re anticipating that this is the direction the governor is going in,” Elrich said at the briefing. “The date is still flexible. If we see high spikes, we won’t be able to go there.” Asked whether any of the recent racial protests that have sprung up over the past two weeks are causing more cases, Gayles said that the county’s measurements of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are the key to lifting restrictions, no matter the cause. An uptick for any reason, he said, meant that “we would have to reevaluate where we are.”
D.C. is making progress on at least one metric needed to start Phase Two of reopening. There has been a nine-day decrease in community spread, a measure of the onset of symptoms. A sustained 14-day decrease is necessary to move into Phase Two. But Mayor Muriel Bowser maintained during her press conference Wednesday that the earliest D.C. could move into Phase Two is still more than a week away. “As Dr. Nesbitt explained on Friday, the earliest we expect to move into Phase Two will be June the 19th,” she said. “We will be monitoring data very closely, and we believe in the coming days we will also have a sense of the impacts about moving into Phase One, and what impact that has had on our experience with the virus.” The city also unveiled a new coronavirus data dashboard online. It tracks the metrics needed to reach a potential Phase Two reopening. Data on the city’s ability to contact trace new cases is set to go live today, D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said, as the department switches to a new data system the contact tracers use. Data on the ability to trace close contacts also goes online today. The health department’s team of contact tracers has grown from 65 to about 200. “We are going to add an additional 100 D.C. government employees who will be detailed to the trace force by June 15,” Bowser said. Contact tracing identifies individuals who are positive for COVID-19, investigating their cases and then contact tracing individuals. “What we describe as case investigation is really a detailed interview that is usually done over the phone with residents who are confirmed positive with COVID-19. And that allows us the opportunity to identify all of their close contacts,” Nesbitt said. “The contact tracing process is what happens after that, where we notify, interview and conduct what’s called ‘public health monitoring’ in individuals who are the contacts of the original case and were exposed to the virus.” She said D.C. Health will never ask about: immigration status, a person’s Social Security number, their financial information or credit card numbers. Officials urged people to talk to their healthcare providers and get tested, especially if they have participated in any of the recent demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody.
The Library of Congress on Wednesday canceled all of its public events until Sept. 1 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Whenever possible, the Library will reschedule the public programs that have been canceled,” the library said in a statement. It was previously announced that the 20th National Book Festival will be held online Sept. 25-27. More details will be announced over the summer. The library’s buildings and facilities remain closed to the public until further notice. Many of the library’s services are available through https://www.loc.gov/ loc.gov and https://www.loc.gov/rr/askalib/ Ask a Librarian. The U.S. Copyright Office is also online and can be reached at 202-707-3000.
Jacob Gooch, a former state trooper assigned to Virginia’s Fairfax Division, resigned last month after allegedly sending a text to his brothers in mid-April that said he gave a Mennonite man a ticket and coughed on him “so he would spread Corona to the wedding they were going too [sic]. lol.” The message was uncovered in a murder investigation into that trooper’s brother, Mark Gooch, a 21-year-old U.S. Air Force airman stationed near Phoenix. The murder victim, a Mennonite woman, was killed in January outside Flagstaff, Ariz. The brothers were raised in a conservative Mennonite family. Sherriff’s records hint at disdain for the Mennonite community by the Gooch brothers. In accordance with Virginia State Police policy, Jacob P. Gooch was placed on administrative leave with pay on May 8, according to Corinne N. Geller, the department’s public relations director. He has since resigned. Police said they do not know if he tested positive for COVID-19. All Geller would say about the administrative leave was that it was the result of an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by the Virginia State Police and that the investigation is unrelated to his brother’s homicide investigation. Gooch was hired on March 20, 2019, and graduated from the state police academy on Oct. 4, 2019. “The text conversation is part of the internal administrative investigation and the department is not able to discuss such personnel matters, per state law,” Geller said. “However, the Virginia State Police does not take the alleged actions lightly. The department adheres to strict policies regarding employee conduct and requires our employees to perform their duties with exceptional professionalism and integrity, and to treat the public with fairness and respect at all times.”
Northern Virginia and Richmond will enter Phase Two of the commonwealth’s reopening on Friday. The move comes as the commonwealth’s “health metrics are looking positive,” Gov. Ralph Northam said at a briefing Tuesday. Positivity rates are about 10% and “trending downward,” he said. In Phase Two, the maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering is 50 people; business must still adhere to physical distancing guidelines, frequently clean and sanitize high contact surfaces, and continue enhanced workplace safety measures; restaurant and bars may offer indoor dining at 50% occupancy; fitness centers may reopen indoor areas at 30%; and certain recreation and entertainment venues without shared equipment, such as museums, zoos, gardens and outdoor venues for sports and the performing arts, may open with restrictions. Swimming pools may also expand operations to both indoor and outdoor exercise, diving and swim instruction. Overnight summer camps, most indoor entertainment venues, amusement parks, fairs and carnivals remain closed in Phase Two.
Two months after Events D.C., the city’s sports, entertainment and convention authority, pledged $5 million to help undocumented workers who were laid off or furloughed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the D.C. Council on Tuesday approved the contract that enables the money to be distributed. The contract authorizes the Greater Washington Community Foundation to disburse the $5 million through local nonprofit organizations including Bread for the City, the Central American Resource Center, CentroNía, the Latin American Youth Center and Mary’s Center to undocumented families, many of whom work in the hospitality industry. The money will be distributed through 5,000 pre-paid $1,000 debit cards. The council removed a provision offering cash assistance to undocumented workers from an emergency coronavirus relief package in April, which council Chairman Phil Mendelson said would have cost the D.C. government too much amid massive expected decreases in tax revenue. Events D.C.’s 12-member board first identified the funding within its accounts in early April and unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with the foundation June 5. The contract, valued at $5.15 million, includes $150,000 for administrative costs. The council was required to approve the contract because it was more than $1 million. The $5 million is part of $18 million total that Events D.C. earmarked for the local hospitality industry two months ago. Usually, the authority gets about two-thirds of its operating revenue from taxes on restaurant meals, hotel stays and car rentals. But, because of the coronavirus crisis, that revenue has plummeted, forcing Events D.C. to rely on its deep reserves and financial cuts.
Virginia schools will reopen in the fall with a mix of in-person and remote learning. “All Virginia schools will open for students next year, but the school experience will look very different,” Gov. Ralph Northam said during a press conference Tuesday. He set out phases for a gradual opening, in which each school system can “respond to the needs of their own locality.” Districts must submit reopening plans to the Department of Education. In Phase Two, which the entire commonwealth will be in by Friday, in-person instruction can be allowed for students in kindergarten through third grade, English-language learners and students with disabilities. School-run summer camps can also open. In Phase Three, schools can offer in-person instruction to all students, with restrictions to provide physical distancing that may include staggered schedules and masks for staff. James Lane, Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction, said that while new instruction will happen at the beginning of the school year, “some of that will happen in person, and some of that will happen in remote learning.” He said the phases prioritized “the most vulnerable learners, for whom in-person instruction is the most essential and remote instruction was the most difficult.” Lane added that “special education and childcare for working families can be done in person” for all schools. “Remote options must be made available” for students and staff who are at risk, Lane said, and lunches may have to be served in classrooms. Youth sports can resume as well, with provisions being made to keep athletes apart. “We can only do this because we’ve been vigilant and we’ve followed the guidelines,” Northam added.
The Prince George’s County Health Department opened a second free COVID-19 community testing site. The site is located at Rollingcrest-Chillum Recreation Center, 6120 Sargent Road, Chillum. Testing is available from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday by appointment only. Both drive-thru and walk-up testing are available at the site. “It is well-documented that black and brown communities nationwide have been hit the hardest by the pandemic and are most at-risk for serious illness,” said County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. “My top priority is the health, safety and well-being of every Prince George’s County resident. This additional testing site will make COVID-19 testing more convenient for our Latino residents.” Appointments can be made by calling the coronavirus hotline at 301-883-6627. The other county community testing site is still available from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday by appointment at the Cheverly Health Center, 3003 Hospital Drive, Cheverly.
Virginia’s COVID-19 numbers released yesterday included many of the 13,000 tests that were backlogged. The Virginia Department of Health made the announcement on Monday. “Over the next couple of days, this new information will be slowly added to the current data, which will result in an influx of results,” the department said in a statement. Department of health staff were manually entering numbers previously for a Richmond-area lab, which the department says contributed to the backlog. Staff say positive results were prioritized previously, which means the backlogged tests were “largely negative.” Lab test results are now submitted electronically, the department added. “This change alleviates by half the reporting backlog of test results. VDH continues to work to eliminate that backlog.”
Some members of the D.C. National Guard have tested positive for COVID-19 after being deployed during racial protests in the city for nearly two weeks. “We can confirm that we have had COVID-19 positive tests with the DCNG,” D.C. National Guard spokeswoman Air Force Lt. Col. Brooke Davis said in an email. “The safety and security of our personnel is always a concern, especially in light of the COVID-19 era.” She wouldn’t say to say how many guardsmen had tested positive for “operational security” reasons. The members were among 1,300 D.C. guardsmen ordered to aid local law enforcement on May 30 after protests grew violent over the weekend. The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman has drawn massive crowds in cities across the country, including tens of thousands in D.C. on Saturday. President Donald Trump increased law enforcement personnel in the District to protect the White House and monuments, including 3,900 additional guardsmen from Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah. Some guardsmen were seen wearing masks while others weren’t. Davis said unit commanders were in charge of following guidance from Defense Secretary Mark Esper ensuring that guardsmen maintained social distancing and were provided with protective equipment. She said the DCNG is exercising caution when it comes to guardsmen who were present at the protests, and that each member will undergo a medical screening. “All Guardsmen who are suspected to be at high risk of infection or have tested positive for COVID-19 during demobilization will not be released from Title 32 orders until risk of infection or illness has passed.” When activated through Title 32, guardsmen leave their day jobs to complete their mission. “Members of the Air and Army National Guard with no, or low risk of exposure who present symptoms of infection 1-14 days after release from orders will contact their unit to initiate service line-of-duty determinations with their respective units.”
A pair of lawsuits filed Tuesday ask Virginia and federal courts to find Gov. Ralph Northam’s ongoing COVID-19 executive orders restricting businesses in the commonwealth unconstitutional. The suits were filed by Virginia state Sen. J. Chapman “Chap” Petersen (Fairfax), who is also a lawyer, on behalf of John Tigges and Linda Park. Tigges owns Zion Springs Farm and Winery, a wedding venue in Hamilton, Va., and Park owns Fujiya House, a Japanese steakhouse and sushi bar in Fredericksburg that reopened on May 29, according to its Facebook page. Petersen said Northam’s executive orders effectively closed his clients’ businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. “He is using powers that are supposed to be for an emergency but, instead, he’s basically passing long-lasting and semi-permanent laws that are preventing them from operating their businesses, and he is doing it without any legislative approval,” Petersen said. “And that is unconstitutional.” Virginia has reported more than 51,700 known cases of COVID-19 and almost 1,500 deaths. “(The business) has zero revenue for the past three months and may have to cancel all their weddings for the balance of the year,” Petersen said of the Zion Spring. “They’ve got mortgages. They’ve got employees, they’ve got caterers, cooks, all sorts of bills and overhead, and they have no way to pay this off.” He said Park has been unable to reopen because of the way her cooking is set up. “She cooks at the table using a grill as opposed to in the kitchen. The Department of Health just closed her down without any hearings, without any legal basis or medical findings or factual findings.” The federal lawsuit refers to Northam’s orders as “suspending civil rights in Virginia, including the right to peaceably assemble and attend religious services” and “depriving certain persons of the right … to own and utilize their private property.” Petersen said the governor’s emergency orders should no longer be in place, and that the legislature should have been called back to decide how to proceed. He said he filed the suits as emergency motions because having the cases heard and decided is an emergency for the businesses that may not be able to ever reopen without speedy relief.
Evictions have been halted in Virginia at least through June 28 in response to the ongoing coronavirus health crisis. The commonwealth’s Supreme Court issued the ban Monday following a June 7 request from Gov. Ralph Northam. It extends previous orders that had put a hold on evictions, but expired last month. Under the new rule, even renters who have been threatened with eviction but have not been served a formal notice cannot be legally removed from their homes until June 28 at the earliest. The court suspended nonemergency hearings, which includes most evictions, multiple times during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courts were allowed to resume those hearings on May 18. Since then, about 700 eviction cases were scheduled across the state. Courts in Alexandria and Arlington, among other jurisdictions, had not resumed hearings. “As the commonwealth transitions from a ‘Stay at Home’ requirement to a ‘Safer at Home’ strategy, the need for Virginians to maintain safe, stable housing is as important as ever,” Northam wrote in his letter to Virginia Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons. Commonwealth officials are working to establish a rent relief program for struggling residents during the pandemic, the letter said. Pausing eviction proceedings will give the administration time to implement the program, which isn’t expected to launch until after July 1. The CARES Act passed by Congress in March temporarily banned evictions from properties with federally backed mortgages or federal subsidies, and Virginia’s General Assembly allowed tenants to seek a 60-day continuance of an unlawful detainer action if they appeared in court and provided proof of financial hardship due to the public health crisis. Landlords can still give tenants five-day “pay or quit” notices for nonpayment of rent during the eviction ban, but renters cannot be legally removed from their homes. Eviction bans remain in place in D.C. and Maryland during the public health crisis.
The D.C. Department of Transportation has identified seven sections of road for its “Slow Streets” initiative, which will give residents more space to social distance while moving around outside. The 5.5-miles of roads so far are part of a target of 20 miles total in the next three months. Partial barriers and signs will block the streets to local traffic only, which will be limited to 15 mph. The change is to encourage neighbors to use the street while walking, running or cycling. Drivers should only use a Slow Street if their destination is within two blocks of that street, the city said in a release. Residents, emergency vehicles, deliveries and trash collection vehicles still have access to the streets. “The Slow Streets initiative is one way we can reimagine public space to make it easier to enjoy the outdoors and stop the spread of COVID-19,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a statement. “We want people to be able to move around and be outside, but it is important, as we continue through Phase One and into the summer months, to remember the importance of social distancing, face masks and frequent handwashing.” The following will be Slow Streets beginning later this week: 19th Street NW between Dupont Circle and Biltmore Street NW, plus most of Biltmore and Cliffbourne; 36th Street NW between Connecticut Avenue and Reno Avenue/Warren Street NW; Eighth Street NW between Piney Branch/Whittier Street and Missouri Avenue NW; Newton Street NE between 12th Street and South Dakota Avenue NE; 12th Street NE from East Capitol Street to K Street NE; Grant Street NE between Minnesota Avenue and 46th Street NE; 15th Street SE from Mississippi Avenue to Savanah Street SE; and 15th Place SE from Alabama Avenue to Bruce Place SE. DDOT is consulting with local Advisory Neighborhood Commissions on the placement of Slow Streets.
Metro is closing sections of the rail system to do 24/7 track and other work while ridership is down about 90% because of the coronavirus. The work begins Monday on the Yellow Line between L’Enfant Plaza and Pentagon and runs through June 27, the only three-week closure. Yellow Line trains will run only between Huntington and Reagan National Airport. Riders traveling between D.C. and Virginia should use the Blue Line. Free shuttle buses will operate more frequently than train service to reduce waiting, but riders should still build in another 20 minutes of travel time. Metro said it will monitor ridership “to ensure that the work does not cause unintended impacts as the region begins the initial stages of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.” In addition to that work zone, five more mini shutdowns are planned across the Green, Yellow and Red lines in June and July. From June 14-20, the Waterfront and Navy Yard-Ballpark stations will be shut down as the Green Line from L’Enfant Plaza to Anacostia is taken out of service. Free shuttle buses replace trains between Anacostia and L’Enfant Plaza making stops at Waterfront and Navy Yard-Ballpark stations. From June 21-27, the Mount Vernon Square, the lower level of Gallery Place and Archives-Navy Memorial will be closed as crews work between L’Enfant Plaza and Shaw-Howard University with free shuttle buses replacing trains. There will be no bus service at Archives or Mount Vernon Square, since these stations are already closed because of low ridership during the pandemic. L’Enfant Plaza will remain open for Green Line service toward Branch Avenue. Blue and Orange Line trains on the lower level will operate normally. The Shaw-Howard University Station will remain open for service toward Greenbelt. Other work will include Green and Yellow Lines from U Street to Fort Totten from June 28-July 18 with Columbia Heights and Georgia Avenue stations closed; Red Line between Judiciary Square and Rhode Island Avenue from July 19-25 with Union Station and NoMa-Gallaudet stations closed; Red Line between Fort Totten and Silver Spring closed July 26-Aug. 1 with Takoma station closed. More details will be announced. Metro is also rebuilding outdoor station platforms and adding newer amenities on the Orange Line and connecting the two phases of the Silver Line together this summer. With nearly 550 construction workers on site, Metro says that work is currently on schedule to be done by Labor Day. Metro’s work on rebuilding platforms continues into 2022.
Maryland’s six privately-owned casinos closed on March 16, cutting contributions to state coffers by 22.4% compared to 2019. With Maryland’s fiscal year coming to a close at the end of June, total gaming revenue at the state’s six casinos for the fiscal year is $1.25 billion, down $372.49 million or 23.0% from last year. Casino contributions to the state are down $148.82 million from the 2019 fiscal year. The largest share of casino revenue goes to the state’s Education Trust Fund, which has seen contributions fall 22.5% because of the coronavirus shutdowns. The closures have impacted thousands of furloughed casino employees. When the casinos reopen, they aren’t likely to generate the same amount of revenue they did before the pandemic. They will likely be limited to 25% to 50% of customer capacity, said Maryland Lottery and Gaming Director Gordon Medenica in a statement. The agency is working with each casino to create detailed safety measures and cleaning protocols for reopening. MGM National Harbor and Live! Casino & Hotel at Arundel Mills already released details about their reopening plans, which include everything from fewer slot machines to sanitized poker chips, disposable restaurant menus and disposable plates and utensils.
The U.S. government’s supply of remdesivir, the only drug known to work against COVID-19, will run out at the end of June. Dr. Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told CNN that the government’s last shipment of the drug will go out the week of June 29. Gilead Sciences, the company that makes remdesivir, is ramping up production, but it isn’t clear how much will be available this summer. “Right now, we’re waiting to hear from Gilead what is their expected delivery availability of the drug as we go from June to July,” Kadlec said. “We’re kind of not in negotiations, but in discussions with Gilead as they project what the availability of their product will be.” Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency authorization for remdesivir, an intravenous antiviral medication studied to treat Ebola but now used on hospitalized COVID-19 patients. A study shows it cut four days off a hospital stay, from 15 to 11 days. Kadlec added that “whatever the supply may be, there may not be enough for everyone who may need it.” He said Gilead has given a “general range” of product delivery for July and August, which then “significantly expands beginning in September, October and through the fall as they kind of open the spigot of their production and processing.” Gilead has offered few public details but has said it plans to have more than 500,000 treatment courses available by October and more than a million by December. “Post-donation, the company will work closely with governments and healthcare systems to provide access for healthcare providers to prescribe remdesivir for appropriate patients,” it says on a website for healthcare providers. “We plan to work with the U.S. government to determine distribution of remdesivir post-donation,” Gilead spokesperson Sonia Choi told CNN in a statement Sunday.
Americans are putting their health at risk while trying to protect it. About a third of Americans surveyed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have used some kind of risky cleaning practice to stop the spread of COVID-19, the CDC said on Friday. People have put bleach their food. Others have gargled or inhaled it. And some have washed their bodies with household cleaning and disinfectant products. None of which is recommended by the CDC. But this gap in understanding how to safely clean and handle cleaning products during the COVID-19 pandemic may explain why there has been a sharp increase in calls to poison centers during the pandemic. The new research, published Friday in the CDC’s weekly health report, was based on an online survey of 502 adults in May. People said they were cleaning more frequently because of the pandemic, but only about half said that they really knew how to clean and disinfect their home safely. And of those people who were surveyed that acknowledged that they used high-risk cleaning practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19, more were likely to report health problems related to cleaning. The biggest problem area was people’s limited understanding about how to prepare cleaning solutions. Only 23% knew, for instance, to use only room temperature water to dilute bleach solutions. People were better about using gloves and other protective equipment. About 71% said they knew gloves were recommended for use with some cleaning materials and 68% said they knew they should wash their hands after using cleaning products. Most people also said they knew that they should keep cleaners out of the reach of children, but only 54% knew that hand sanitizers should be kept in a place that children couldn’t get to. The CDC recommends that people always read the instructions on cleaning products. When cleaning, wear gloves or other protective gear. Don’t mix cleaning chemicals. The CDC also said it will be important to continue education campaigns to help people better understand how to safely clean while they are home.
Beginning Wednesday, the “Bethesda Streetery” will make more space for diners while outdoor dining is the only option state due to the coronavirus. The Bethesda Urban Partnership is creating additional downtown restaurant seating outdoors. Diners can take-out from area restaurants then eat at the open-air area. Most streetery dining areas will be open from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily beginning Wednesday. Tables will be placed at least 6 feet apart. Only four people will be allowed at a table, and tables will be cleaned after each use, according to the partnership. The extended outdoor dining space will temporarily close some local streets. Dining areas will be located on Woodmont Avenue between Elm Street and Bethesda Avenue, Veterans Park at the corner of Norfolk and Woodmont avenues, Cordell Avenue between the parking garage near Old Georgetown Road and Triangle Towers, Norfolk Avenue between St. Elmo and Cordell avenues, and Norfolk Avenue between Cordell and Del Ray avenues. The hours for the streetery on Cordell Avenue will be 4 p.m.-10 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.
Fewer people are testing positive for COVID-19, and those who do don’t seem to be getting as sick, according to a doctor at Pittsburgh-based UPMC. “All signs that we have available right now show that this virus is less prevalent than it was weeks ago,” said Dr. Donald Yealy, the chair of emergency medicine at UPMC on Thursday. Among people who test positive, “the total amount of the virus the patient has is much less than in the earlier stages of the pandemic.” The proportion of people with COVID-19 getting so sick they need a breathing ventilator has fallen, according to Yealy. “We see all of this as evidence that COVID-19 cases are less severe than when this first started.” Yealy said those observations apply to western and central Pennsylvania along with communities in New York and Maryland served by UPMC’s more than 40 hospitals. He said UPMC has so far conducted about 30,000 coronavirus tests, with less than 4% showing positive. He added that UPMC has tested about 8,000 patients who had no symptoms, with those patients testing positive at a rate of about 1 in 400. He said that suggests the widely-feared prospect of getting COVID-19 from someone with no symptoms is unlikely. However, that assessment is based on the likelihood of encountering someone who is COVID-19 positive but doesn’t know it. It doesn’t address the likelihood of catching COVID-19 from someone who actually has it but doesn’t feel sick. “This should give you some reassurance that the risk of catching COVID-19 … from someone who doesn’t even know they have the infection, in our communities, is very small.” Yealy said he doesn’t know exactly why the prevalence and severity of COVID-19 seems to have fallen. He said it likely reflects an interplay of things including weather, possible genetic changes in the virus, people watching themselves more closely for symptoms and better medical decisions and treatment.
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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.