D.C. Will Mail All Voters a November Ballot
COVID-19 Cases Reach 164,773 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of yesterday morning, 11,194 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 578 deaths; there have been 77,206 cases in Maryland with 3,238 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 76,373 cases with 2,020 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
The D.C. Board of Elections will mail every registered voter in the city a ballot for the November election. The three-person board unanimously approved the plan Friday afternoon, responding to criticism over flaws in the June primary, when voters were asked to request absentee ballots. The plan for November also includes doubling the number of vote centers for early and day-of voting, from 20 during the primary to 40 for the general election, and the placement of ballot drop-boxes across the city. Election officials say they have already started laying the groundwork for a more robust vote-by-mail election in November. Instead of mailing and receiving ballots as it did for the June primary, the elections board expects to contract the operation to a mail house, as most states that run vote-by-mail do. That would improve the ability of voters to track ballots as they are mailed out and returned, an area where the board had significant problems during the primary. The board will expand the number of voting centers and place more of them east of the Anacostia River where mail service has been spotty. But members refused to go along with demands from some elected officials, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, that they open all 144 polling places that are normally used. “The idea of having only 20 precincts open was just ill-advised,” Bowser said in late June. “I heard them say that they wanted to double that to 40, which is also ridiculous. The number needs to get back up to 144 precincts, because we know the energy around this election is going to be incredible.” Election officials said Friday that opening the number of polling places would be challenging if the pandemic continues, because many poll workers are elderly and many of the locations, which include churches and senior centers, may still be closed in November. Alice Miller, the director of the elections board, said she is considering creating a handful of “super vote centers” located in ballrooms or the Convention Center where a large number of voters can cast ballots while maintaining social distance. The only note of caution came from board member Mike Gill, who said he worried that by trying to please everyone by running a hybrid election with mail and in-person options, the elections board would do neither of them well. “My advice is we have to internally double down on one or the other. I worry that we’re stretched too thin to do both,” he said. Chair Michael Bennett said at Friday’s meeting that another challenge election officials would have to overcome is properly communicating the changes to voters. Before the June primary, problems with ballot deliveries and communication challenges led to hours-long waits at voting centers on election day. Bennett said the board will have to urge voters to want to cast ballots in-person to not wait until the last day to do so. “We need to message election week versus election day to encourage people to vote early versus on one day,” he said. By opting to mail ballots directly to voters, D.C. will join a small number of states that either have experience running vote-by-mail or have more recently switched to it.
Prince George’s County has created a compliance team of more than 70 inspectors from multiple county agencies to begin conducting inspections at restaurants, retail establishments and other businesses across the county. The COVID-19 Ambassador Compliance Team was created to ensure that establishments follow the county’s coronavirus protocols, such as facial covering and social distancing requirements, according to County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. “Prince Georgians have done a tremendous job of wearing masks, practicing appropriate social distancing and staying home unless they need to go out for essential trips,” Alsobrooks said in a press release. “However, we have seen a slight increase in certain data points, so we are taking this opportunity to remind everyone of the importance of continuing to be vigilant with these safety protocols and to help ensure our businesses are adhering to them as well, so we don’t have to endure another shutdown.” The county cited an increase in infection rate as well as a growing number of confirmed cases. Despite those recent trends, the county’s positivity rate, number of available hospital beds and people currently hospitalized have trended “in the right direction,” the statement said. Inspectors began visiting local establishments this weekend, distributing information packets on the coronavirus protocols while also monitoring safety guidelines for capacity and social distancing. Businesses and retail establishments that violate the protocols will have a short time to fix the issue during initial visits by inspectors. However, if found out of compliance during a follow-up visit, they face a $1,000 fine. If the establishment continues violating the rules during a third visit, it will be shut down, the press release said.
A coalition of clergy in Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley is calling on Gov. Ralph Northam to enact an eviction moratorium. The Virginia Supreme Court ordered a ban on evictions, which was extended several times at Northam’s request. Chief Justice Donald Lemons did not extend the moratorium on June 28, meaning that evictions may move forward in the commonwealth. In early June, Northam requested an extension to have more time to start the Virginia Rent And Mortgage Relief Program to help people keep their housing in the midst of the pandemic. Northam put an initial $50 million into the fund, but the program didn’t launch until the end of June, when the moratorium expired. Advocates, including the Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) clergy, say Northam has the power to halt evictions, so that the relief program can get up to speed. In an opinion about options to obtain eviction relief requested by members of the House of Delegates, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring suggested that executive authority could be an acceptable route in the eyes of the law. “The governor has both statutory and executive authority to issue emergency orders,” the opinion said, although it also noted that “Whether any particular executive order is an appropriate exercise of emergency power depends on the scope of the executive order and the facts and circumstances.” But the Northam administration has legal concerns about taking executive action on evictions. “Gov. Northam is committed to protecting Virginians facing eviction, but an executive order in this specific case would likely raise legal complexities that would hinder the expediency needed to help Virginians,” Northam spokesperson Alena Yarmosky wrote in an email. She did not respond to a follow-up question about specific legal impediments to executive action to stay evictions. The governor “continues to urge General District judges to postpone docketing eviction proceedings,” Yarmosky noted. In the absence of a new moratorium, VOICE and other advocates worry the Virginia Rent And Mortgage Relief Program, which is being administered by local social service organizations in partnership with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, is not ready to deal with what Keith Savage, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Manassas and VOICE co-chair, calls “the eviction tsunami” that could result from a failure to aid tenants who have fallen behind on rent due to financial hardship during the pandemic. “Don’t stand idly by as tens and thousands of Blacks and Latinx families are evicted. Our children will be most harshly victimized by this eviction,” Savage said during a press conference. The relief program prioritizes households making 50% or less of area median income until July 20. After that, it will serve households with 80% of area median income. Renters, who are disproportionately people of color, are at particular risk for housing instability due to the pandemic. Some low-income households are protected under other programs. Landlords with federally-backed mortgages are provided assistance under the CARES Act. Renters in federal housing programs like the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit are also protected. According to the state, the Virginia Rental and Mortgage Relief Program provided financial assistance to 309 households in the first nine business days after its launch. Nearly 600 households have had assistance approved but are waiting for required documentation. More than 12,000 eviction proceedings are pending in Virginia courts. In Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William Counties, the program is being administered by Northern Virginia Family Services. Michael Best, a NVFS program manager, said the organization has provided just 13 households with the state financial assistance. More households are in the pipeline: 650 have been referred from county agencies, a requirement to qualify for the program; 309 have applications in progress; and 63 have submitted applications. “The applicants that we’re seeing — many of them are either past due [on rent] or on the verge of eviction and homelessness,” Best said. Many families are limited in getting information on the program by a lack of access to the internet. There is evidence that some Virginians are already falling through the cracks. At the press conference, clergy said they had personal knowledge of parishioners struggling to find and get referred for relief, or fears on the part of undocumented renters worried about giving personal information to authorities. Others worry that renters are leaving on their own because they aren’t able to pay rent and aren’t aware of the protections in place to help them. The situation could get worse in August, when the extra $600 per month supplement for people receiving COVID-related unemployment benefits end.
Beginning Monday, Virginia’s state-owned liquor stores won’t let anyone not wearing a mask inside. The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority will have greeters at the front of stores to prevent people without masks from entering and to offer curbside pickup options. The ABC already requires masks be worn in the stores, but has not previously denied entry to people not wearing them. “The vast majority of our customers have followed our direction these last few weeks and consistently wear face masks in our stores; however our no mask, no entry policy is to ensure as safe a shopping experience as feasible,” said CEO Travis Hill in a press release. “We know that it may not be possible for everyone to wear a face covering. In those cases, we suggest curbside pickup as an alternative to in-store shopping.”
After some uncertainty, the Washington Nationals will begin their 2020 season at Nationals Park. The team had reportedly been considering alternative sites for Opening Day against the New York Yankees this coming Thursday, including its Class A stadium in Fredericksburg and spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla., due to D.C.’s coronavirus restrictions. But Nationals spokesperson Christopher Browne confirmed Friday that the team will play this year’s home games at the stadium in Navy Yard. Browne did not respond to questions about the team’s consideration of other venues or the reason it will now play at Nats Park. The Washington Post reported Thursday that the team had been exploring other sites due to the city’s guidance that players, coaches and staff quarantine for 14 days after exposure to the coronavirus. D.C. reportedly declined to bend the rules for the team, which raised concerns about players’ ability to compete with restrictions. In a July 16 letter, Christopher Rodriguez, D.C.’s director of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, describes a proposal from the team that allows players and staff who have potentially been exposed to COVID-19 to travel to and from the ballpark following the possible exposure. The players would otherwise be required to quarantine at home and be subject to a daily coronavirus test for two weeks. In the letter, addressed to Gregory McCarthy, the Nationals’ senior vice president of community engagement, Rodriguez wrote, “DC Health opines that this proposal poses a potential risk to others in the workplace, both employees and non-employees, who may come into contact with the individual who has been exposed to COVID-19 and continues to work. If the individual is permitted to travel during the self-quarantine and interacts with members outside the primary organization, the risk extends. As such, the Washington Nationals adopts this modified policy with the understanding and acceptance of this risk to its workforce and other members of the public.” Browne did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.
The D.C. chapter of the ACLU is asking city officials to require Metropolitan Police Department officers to wear face coverings to help stop the spread of COVID-19. In a letter dated Thursday to Mayor Muriel Bowser and MPD Police Chief Peter Newsham, Nassim Moshiree, policy director for the ACLU of D.C., wrote it was “alarming” that police officers have been seen at protests and engaging with residents in neighborhoods while not wearing face coverings, even as they have been strongly recommended for anyone traveling outside their home. “There have been numerous reports, including photo and video documentation by community members, of MPD officers failing to wear masks while engaging with the public and conducting enforcement activities,” Moshiree wrote. “We understand that MPD officers have been given masks and are encouraged to wear them at their discretion, especially when in contact with someone within six feet. However, officers are not required to wear PPE while out on patrol and many are choosing to forego masks.” A mayoral order issued in mid-May requires that anyone who is outside their home and cannot maintain social distance wear a face covering. Guidelines for Phase Two of reopening, which D.C. is currently in, stress that everyone should “wear a cloth face covering when around other people who are not from your household.” During coverage of the many protests that have taken place in the city since early June, police officers have been seen with and without face coverings. Much the same is true for officers patrolling city neighborhoods, although Newsham often appears in public wearing a face covering. It appears MPD isn’t alone in this inconsistency: analysis by ABC News in late June of nine police departments across the country — D.C. was not included — found “scattershot and randomly enforced policies around mask wearing” by officers. No one from Bowser or Newsham’s offices responded to a request for comment on Friday and an email to the D.C. Police Union went unanswered. In comparison, a spokesman for D.C. Fire and EMS says the department requires firefighters and emergency medical personnel to wear face coverings and other protective equipment while on duty, even if they are not directly responding to a call. “As a matter of routine, even in the firehouse the firefighters are required to wear face coverings while on duty and on non-emergency contact with the public,” said Vito Maggiolo, spokesman for D.C. Fire and EMS. According to D.C. data, 176 MPD officers have tested positive for COVID-19 through Thursday. But in its letter, the ACLU said that the officers in the Sixth District, which encompasses a swath of Ward 7, were hardest hit. The group also says that the failure of officers to wear face coverings put Black residents, who have already been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, most at risk. “MPD officers’ failure to wear PPE poses the greatest risk of harm to D.C.’s Black residents, who are more likely to have encounters with law enforcement than other residents,” wrote Moshiree. “D.C.’s predominantly Black neighborhoods have the greatest police presence, and Black community members are disproportionately targeted by police for stops, searches and arrests.”
As several school districts in the DMV announce their fall plans, Alexandria City Public Schools is still working on how it intends to restart learning during the coronavirus pandemic. “Whether it’s a hybrid approach or not, we’re looking at are we able to meet the CDC requirements to keep our staff and students safe,” said schools Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings Jr. He said the school district is still evaluating input from students, parents and staff along with other data it has collected. ACPS recently conducted a survey, and the results indicated that 60% of parents support a hybrid plan, which mixes in-person learning with online instruction. The other 40% are not ready for their kids to return to class, calling for full-time distance learning. Hutchings said one of the most difficult elements of developing a plan is that it needs to take into account the differing instructional needs of the city’s diverse population of students. “When we have that perspective of everybody gets the same, we’re literally leaving a lot of people behind,” Hutchings said. Keeping students in groups that remain together during in-person learning days is being considered for the fall. Also, discussions on having students eat lunch in their group, in classrooms instead of cafeterias is also on the table. Consideration is also being given to taking classes outdoors. Staggered arrival times for students are also being looked into. School transportation is also being determined, since 37% of parents said they need the school system to get their children to school. The survey also found that 63% of staff are willing to return to schools, as long as the school can meet COVID-19 safety guidelines. For teachers, Hutchings said, additional training for online learning also needs to be discussed, since teaching online is something most teachers didn’t cover while in school. Also, he said guidelines for what is expected of teachers during online learning days are also being determined. Hutchings pointed out that while other schools in Northern Virginia have announced their preliminary plan, waiting to do the same in Alexandria until all information can be reviewed will lessen the chance for plans needing to be changed. The superintendent is expected to reveal his plan to the school board on Aug. 7. The district will host a series of “Reopening Community Chats” this coming week.
Montgomery County will not offer late-summer camps this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Montgomery County Recreation had hoped to be able to offer modified summer camps, but due to the “critical need of health care providers in the community for other vital services,” it was not able to get the required dedicated nurses. “We regret that we were unable to meet the requirements to open our programs. However, as MoCo Rec staff does so well, we are quickly transitioning, and we are looking into providing alternative programs and activities to the Montgomery County community in the near future,” director Robin Riley said. Montgomery’s modified camps would have been one of the few camp programs to open in the DMV this summer. Virtual summer programs and activities are available through the department’s Rec Room virtual recreation hub.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday called a special session of the General Assembly to adopt a two-year budget based on the revised revenue forecast and legislation related to the COVID-19 emergency, as well as criminal and social justice reforms. Democrats proposed a $135 billion budget that would have raised the minimum wage and increased funding for education, health care and criminal justice reform. But in April as the coronavirus continued to spread, lawmakers froze all new spending. In a special session beginning Aug. 18, the legislature will seek to adopt a new budget based on the revised revenue forecast. Legislators will consider a variety of budget items that were frozen in the April session, including early childhood education, tuition-free community college, affordable housing and Internet broadband. “I look forward to bringing legislators back in session as we continue to navigate these unprecedented times,” Northam said in a press release. “We have a unique opportunity to provide critical support to Virginians, invest strategically in our economic recovery and make progress on policing and criminal justice reform.” Criminal justice reforms are expected to include measures aimed at police accountability and oversight, use of force, training and education, and officer recruitment, hiring and decertification, according to the press release. “The House of Delegates looks forward to taking action to address the impact of COVID-19 on our biennial budget and passing laws that will help the Commonwealth recover from this pandemic,” Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, said in a statement. “I also want to thank the governor for highlighting the need for criminal justice and police reform. We have heard the pain and frustration of so many that have been plagued by inequities in our system.” House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert said in a tweet, “The @GovernorVA issued a statement on the special session today with no mention of addressing the looming crisis in public education and the thousands of children who will be negatively impacted. Hoping things will improve is not a plan of action, and kids need to be in school.”
Students applying to the University of Maryland for spring and fall 2021 do not need to take the SAT or ACT tests. “While the two tests have proven to be valuable components of its holistic application review, UMD is committed to ensuring that students who have already been negatively impacted by COVID-19 are not further disadvantaged,” the university’s Office of Enrollment Management said in a release. Prospective students can indicate whether plan to submit SAT or ACT test scores to be considered as part of their application. The university ensured that students who choose not to submit scores will not be “disadvantaged” when their applications are reviewed. The process will also include the review for living-learning and merit scholarships. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended many prospective students’ college plans. The College Board last month suspended an at-home SAT testing plan, and their at-home Advanced Placement exams sparked backlash after reported technical issues. “The university remains committed to recruiting, admitting and enrolling a class of academically talented, diverse and engaged students and are confident that this decision will allow us to continue to do so for the class of 2025.” English proficiency requirements remain in place.
D.C. families will have to wait until July 31 to learn the status of what D.C. Public Schools will be come fall. On Thursday, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that she would wait two more weeks before deciding how DCPS would reopen, saying city officials want to continue monitoring COVID-19 data over the next few weeks to better understand the virus’ community spread. Despite a promise Wednesday that there would be more news on schools’ plans for fall on Thursday, the last-minute decision put a hold on a hybrid model Bowser was expected to announce that would have elementary students attend school in-person two days a week and secondary students in classrooms once a week, while attending online the other days. Continuing uncertainty over COVID-19 trends in the city pushed Bowser to change course suddenly Thursday morning, shifting the location of her press conference from an elementary school to the old council chamber in Judiciary Square and delaying it 45 minutes. “We need more time to observe what’s happening with the virus,” Bowser said. If health officials decide it is unsafe to reopen buildings in the next two weeks, Bowser said the district could shift to an all-virtual opening, as other school systems in the DMV have done. If the school system does offer some in-person instruction, parents could still opt for 100% online classes. “Depending on health indicators, we could decide that we’re only going to be able to start the school year virtually,” she said. “It may mean we determine the trends we see don’t persist and are able to offer an all-virtual option or a hybrid option.” Even under a hybrid plan, Bowser said DCPS would not be able to accommodate every student in the system because of staffing and space challenges. If a hybrid model is offered, parents would have to commit for at least a full grading period, which ends in late October. Chancellor Lewis Ferebee initially told teachers in late June that fall classes would include virtual and in-person instruction. On Thursday, Bowser said students learn best around their peers and teachers. “We start with this value that children are better served in their classrooms with their teachers and their peers, and none of us know the impact of having our kids out of school for up to a year. It’s not ideal for learning, both academically and social and emotionally,” she said. D.C. teachers have sharply criticized plans to return to the classroom and said the school system is not ready to safely reopen. The District is in Phase 2 of reopening, which allows schools to partially open. Under Phase 2, students must remain in the same cohort of 12, including at lunch and in the restroom, according to guidelines from the Office of the State Superintendent for Education. The guidelines also require 6 feet of distance between each person in a school. No more than 12 people will be allowed in a room at a time. Some teachers and parents may have been relieved to hear that Bowser will wait two more weeks to make a final decision on reopening schools. But one school administrator pointed to a challenge that will arise from the delay: preparing schools and informing parents. “A delayed announcement essentially means we will have to put together a plan for whatever the decision is last minute,” tweeted Raquel Carson, an assistant principal at Powell Elementary in Petworth. “Our teachers do not deserve this. Our families do not deserve this.” Bowser offered assurances that there would be enough time to prepare campuses by Aug. 31, when classes are scheduled to start. “We want to see if that information holds or improves,” she said of COVID-19 trends. “We have two weeks to look at the information and give DCPS time for on-time opening.”
High school sports in D.C. for the upcoming school year have been postponed until January due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “Given the current environment, it just is not feasible to begin practice Aug. 1 and competition later that month,” D.C. State Athletic Association Executive Director Clark Ray said in a news release Thursday afternoon. “The safety of student-athletes and coaches remains our top priority.” The DCSAA, which includes public, public charter and private schools, said it will follow a “Condensed Interscholastic Plan” for the school year that is subject to final approval by the mayor and D.C. Health. The association said its plan will allow all sports to have a playing season during the school year. The plan includes three seasons, starting with winter. According to the DCSAA, each season will have a three-week preseason and a six-week regular season, then league playoffs and state championships. Winter season, which includes basketball, indoor track and field and cheerleading, would begin Dec. 14 with games Jan. 4-Feb. 28. The fall season, which includes cross-country, football, soccer and volleyball, would begin Feb. 1 with games Feb. 22-April 16. And spring season, including baseball, softball, tennis, track and field, ultimate disc and chess, would begin March 29 with games April 19-June 13.
High school football in Virginia has been canceled this fall. The Virginia High School League executive committee voted unanimously Wednesday to delay the beginning of fall sports until a final determination is made July 27. VHSL is considering three options to possibly bring back high school athletics, but none of the options include football this fall. The first model involves leaving all sports in current season, which would allow low- and moderate-contact sports such as golf and cross-country to compete. High-risk sports such as field hockey, football, volleyball and cheer would be canceled. The second model would switch the fall and spring seasons, which would move low- and moderate-contact sports such as track and field, tennis, soccer, baseball and softball to the fall, and cancel lacrosse. The third model would delay all VHSL sports in a condensed plan with winter sports played between Dec. 14 and Feb. 20, fall sports scheduled between Feb. 15 and May 1 and spring sports between April 12 and June 26. “It’s important to remember that in all these models, playing sports in the high-risk category depends on being out of the current Phase III guidelines,” said VHSL executive director John W. “Billy” Haun in a statement. “All our efforts will continue towards advocating for the opening of sports and activities in a safe and reasonable way that will protect athletes, activity participants, coaches, officials and the public.”
The Washington Nationals may not begin the season at Nationals Park after all because of D.C.’s coronavirus regulations. With Opening Day set for July 23 against the New York Yankees, the Nationals are exploring alternative sites including the team’s Class A stadium in Fredericksburg and its spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla. The reason is that players, coaches and staff must quarantine for 14 days if they are exposed to the coronavirus, per the city’s requirements. D.C. is unwilling to bend for the Nationals, according to sources, and the team is unsure of its ability to compete under those restrictions. As of Thursday afternoon, the location of the matchup was still being determined. An MLB spokesman confirmed the Nationals are one of two teams, along with the Los Angeles Dodgers, dealing with municipal quarantine rules that could present challenges during the season. Since training began July 3, the Nationals have had 10 players and one coach enter D.C.’s 14-day quarantine, either because they contracted or were potentially exposed to coronavirus. Six of those players traveled to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic and were potentially exposed to the virus on one of two MLB-chartered flights. MLB’s plan includes coronavirus testing for all players, coaches and staff every other day. The league’s operations manual has six stipulations for someone to return after potential exposure. They include that an individual must test negative in an expedited test and self-quarantine while waiting for the result; they must be asymptomatic; they must undergo temperature checks and symptom monitoring for at least 10 days after the possible exposure; they must wear a mask at all times, except when on the field; they must undergo a daily saliva test for seven days following possible exposure; and they must immediately self-isolate if they show symptoms or are otherwise instructed to by the team’s medical staff. A 14-day quarantine period is not included. MLB’s operations manual says government protocols supersede its own, particularly “regarding the return to work of individuals who have come into close contact (as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) with individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.” For example, the players who flew from the Dominican Republic on July 1 and did not contract the coronavirus were cleared to train by July 9, according to an MLB spokesman. But the Nationals waited another week for D.C. health officials to approve the players’ return. The Nationals worked out at Nationals Park on Thursday evening, as they have for almost two weeks. Juan Soto, Howie Kendrick and Luis Garcia, three players who completed 14-day quarantines, were present and practicing. Pitchers Joan Adon and Steven Fuentes were cleared to train at the Nationals’ alternative site in Fredericksburg. That left five players — Victor Robles, Wander Suero, Roenis Elías, Wil Crowe and Fernando Abad — still not permitted at the facility. The Nationals had two players test positive for coronavirus during intake screening July 1-3. One was on one of the MLB-chartered flights from the Dominican Republic to Miami. The Nationals placed Suero and Elías on the injured list for undisclosed reasons Monday, and Manager Davey Martinez wouldn’t elaborate further. Teams are not permitted to publicize names without the consent of those affected.
Almost 56,000 new unemployment insurance claims were filed in the DMV for the week ending July 11, a drop of about 12,000 from the week before. An additional 1.30 million Americans filed new unemployment insurance claims last week, bringing the total number of new claims since mid-March to 51.6 million. While last week’s claims totaled 10,000 fewer than the week before, they represent the 17th consecutive week in which more than 1 million people filed. In February, by comparison, weekly claims were about 200,000. While new claims dropped in Maryland last week compared to the week before, more people filed for unemployment in D.C. and Virginia. D.C. reported 3,210 new claims, up 352 from a week earlier. Maryland had 18,657 new claims, down 14,534 from the prior week. And Virginians filed 33,850 new jobless claims, up 2,225 from the prior week.
D.C. tenant advocates are worried about “tsunami of evictions” once the city’s state of emergency ends. Many D.C. residents lost their jobs and are looking for a new one during the pandemic. When paychecks do not come in, many must choose between buying food for their families or paying rent. “We know this is going to be a big issue,” said Johanna Shreve, chief tenant advocate of the D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate. She said there were about 2,000 eviction filings making their way through the courts when D.C. declared a public emergency, putting a moratorium on evictions. Those cases will continue once the city’s public emergency order ends. In addition to those cases, Shreve said, an influx of new eviction actions are also expected. “It’s not just people who are very low income. We’re talking about the working poor; we’re talking about young professionals — everyone that’s been impacted by this pandemic.” Given the option by the city council, Mayor Muriel Bowser can extend the public emergency order through early October. On Tuesday, Bowser indicated that she intends to do that, but right now the order is set to expire July 24. “We’re mostly just bracing ourselves to see what will happen. We will do everything that we can to help,” said attorney Neil Satterlund of the D.C. Tenant’s Right Center. The center provides legal assistance to renters. Once the order ends, evictions already filed can take place. Before the U.S. Marshals Service executes evictions in D.C., tenants must be given at least 21 days’ notice that an eviction is imminent. But the volume of cases could also stretch out the days before the eviction is executed. Also, notifications given before evictions were paused for the pandemic will not count. Landlords would also have to repeat the full notice procedure. Satterlund believes that without actions from the city to help renters who are struggling, there could be a “tsunami of evictions” once filings resume. “Tenants who aren’t paying their rent now probably aren’t suddenly going to have months and months of back rent to pay,” Satterlund said. He would like to see city lawmakers put more money into the D.C. Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which provides cash assistance for tenants who cannot pay their full rents. Shreve also supports a subsidy program that helps struggling tenants and landlords, especially small landlords who depend on rents to maintain properties. “That way the tenant is in whole, the tenant doesn’t have to move, and the landlord receives what he needs to service his debt,” Shreve said. New eviction filings will be accepted at courts 60 days after the public emergency order expires. “They need at least four months, before they’ve gotten some of their bills paid, their back bills,” Shreve said. Shreve is pushing the city council to require landlords to wait 120 days after the date evictions can resume to be able to file for an eviction.
Prince George’s County Public Schools students won’t return to the classroom until at least February. Students will have full school days online using Zoom and Google Classroom five days a week during normal school hours. “It will be just like being in school, but will be done virtually … if your school was from 7:45 [a.m.] to 2:15 [p.m.], then that will be the hours of the virtual learning experience,” Schools CEO Monica Goldson said. She announced the reopening plan Wednesday afternoon. “I fully understand that the decision that has been made to continue distance learning from Aug. 31 until Jan. 29 is one that is not the perfect scenario,” Goldson said during a news conference. “Unfortunately, we’re not at a time where I feel comfortable that we could move forward with excellent delivery of instruction and keeping our children safe and physically being in our buildings.” Citing a school community survey, PGCPS said 46% of families expressed preference to continue distance learning that started in the spring. Educators and administrators in favor of the plan were more than 50%. The school district also considered a hybrid model with two days of in-person classes and three days online, and a staggered schedule that would allow for a reduced number of students in schools. But, there were concerns around safety and logistics with the hybrid model, Goldson said. “Prince George’s County has been the epicenter of the COVID-19 public health crisis in Maryland,” the school system said in a release. “In light of the health disparities in communities that house more than 136,500 students and 20,000 employees, there is a significant public health concern if schools were to reopen this fall for in-person instruction.” Goldson said the “amazing, robust distance learning experience” this fall will include more live instruction as well as recorded components. There will also be more support for students, including instructional, emotional and social supports, and Goldson ensured that every student will be given an iPad or laptop and wi-fi access. Special education students will also receive learning tools they need at home. Traditional letter and numerical grades will be given, and teachers will be required to respond within 24 hours to student questions about classwork or homework. “We’ve also learned that we need to support our families more,” Goldson said, which includes parent support centers. Meals will continue to be offered, similar to last spring. The distance learning start does affect school athletics, which will be on hold. “At this time, we will not be able to implement interscholastic activities that will allow our students to remain safe,” Goldson said. But there will be opportunities for school clubs to continue virtually. From Dec. 1-18, families will be offered the choice to possibly choose whether they want to continue distance learning or transition into a hybrid model for the third quarter, starting February, through the rest of the school year. From February to June, the district could possibly shift into hybrid instruction for those who choose so. A special school board meeting will be held in late July to review the plan.
Mayor Muriel Bowser will extend D.C.’s state of emergency order. The current state of emergency is set to expire July 24. “We will extend it, and we will likely extend through what the [D.C.] Council has already authorized. And that’s through October,” Bowser said at a press conference Wednesday. She noted that it hasn’t been determined yet if the extension will include changes to the rules of the order. Bowser urged residents to be “vigilant” as the city reported three new deaths and 80 new cases — the biggest single-day case increase since early June. “The virus is still in our community; it’s still circulating. And we have to be very vigilant in wearing masks and practicing social distancing and washing our hands and being judicious about the activities that we participate in,” Bowser said. She added that there was good news in the coronavirus health metrics, including near-record testing and the positivity rate for the city. “We also have to say … that we had a near-record number of testing last week, so over 8,000 people tested, I think, is the second-highest week that we’ve had,” Bowser said. “So we’ve been testing, our positivity rate continues to be low, below 3%.”
D.C. Public Schools are expected to reopen with a mix of in-person and online learning next month. Mayor Muriel Bowser and schools chancellor Lewis Ferebee will officially announce the plan at a press conference this morning. An email to teachers from the Washington Teachers Union confirmed the existence of a hybrid plan. “Tomorrow, the mayor and chancellor will announce a plan to reopen our schools with a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning,” the email reads. “We do not yet have full plans for what teacher schedules will look like, but most teachers should be expected to return to a full-time, in-person schedule.” Students are expected to attend class in person two days a week and learn remotely the other three, according to news reports. Classes are scheduled to begin August 31. Teachers with health conditions will be required to ask for medical leave. The plan was met with resistance from some educators and local officials even before the official announcement. Zachary Parker, the Ward 5 representative on the D.C. State Board of Education, sent a letter to Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn voicing his concerns. “Even with the complexities of our present moment, we must prioritize safety, health, and life,” the letter read in part. “I know student learning has been greatly impacted during distance learning, and not all students have access to necessary equipment or support to excel academically outside of school, but how many teachers’ and students’ lives are worth the risk of resuming in-person instruction?” D.C., Maryland and Virginia all recorded the highest number of new coronavirus cases since early June on Wednesday. The Washington Teachers Union email also urged members to sign a petition asking DCPS to provide detailed health guidance before schools reopen, which the organization said it did not yet have, or revert to a distance-learning-only model.
Montgomery County officials plan to step up enforcement of its safety measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Through the first few months of reopening, the county was lenient with businesses as they adjusted to the new rules, County Executive Marc Elrich said during a press conference Wednesday. But now enforcement – the county recently closed a few businesses that didn’t enforce the requirements, such as wearing masks and failing to physically distance — will continue as the county fights the virus’ spread. “We are going out with our ambassadors. They’re inspecting business sites. They’re giving them guidance. We know this is new for everybody. So we figure everybody gets a one-time, OK, these are things you need to fix. We’ll be back and we want to see them fixed. But we have closed businesses down and other businesses have decided to comply,” he said. The county is urging businesses to step up their own efforts in enforcement. “Owners do have to have the fortitude to tell somebody who is breaking the law that you have to get out. They have the authority to do that. They don’t have to serve people who violate the law,” Elrich said. One area that has not seen as much enforcement is construction sites. Elrich said the county will begin visiting construction sites that are not obeying mask policies. “We are going to go to construction sites where we continue to see workers not working with masks or wearing with masks around their necks,” he said. The county will first issue a warning, then begin closing construction sites that do not comply. “These folks, if they are exposed to [the] coronavirus, they are bringing it back to their community. They often live in the more crowded housing in the county. So, anything that comes back into those communities is more likely to have community transmission,” Elrich said.
Renters and housing advocates rallied outside the Alexandria Circuit Court Wednesday in support of Southern Towers tenants, who are in the third month of a rent strike sparked by the coronavirus crisis. The group called for Virginia officials to cancel rents and suspend eviction proceedings. Many renters are experiencing layoffs and enhanced federal unemployment benefits are slated to expire later this month, without quick action by Congress. More than 50 Southern Towers tenants faced eviction hearings Wednesday, after proceedings resumed in late June following a Virginia Supreme Court order. Roughly 30 other tenants at the complex were scheduled to appear at eviction hearings last week, and more than 100 tenants have been sued by their landlord. Although tenants are allowed to seek 60-day delays, provided they can prove they have lost income because of the pandemic, many are uncertain how they would pay their bills after. Last month, Bell Partners, the company that manages Southern Towers, said it had taken a number of steps to assist struggling tenants, including extending due dates for rent, waiving late fees and offering payment plans. Still, the company sent five-day notices to tenants who were behind on rent to pay what they owed or face eviction. The notices didn’t mention that Virginia evictions were on hold at the time. “We take compliance with all the relevant state and local regulations very seriously,” a spokesperson for Bell Partners said in a statement. A judge must issue a court order for evictions to be physically carried out by authorities. Tenants and housing advocates across the U.S. say they fear a tidal wave of evictions will hit renters once legal bans expire and as the coronavirus keeps renters out of work.
Maryland uncovered an unemployment fraud scheme involving more than 47,500 fraudulent claims totaling $501 million. Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday the claims relied on personal information stolen from previous national data breaches. State employees uncovered the scheme after noticing an usual number of out-of-state applications for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. The state froze all out-of-state accounts so authorities could conduct the investigation and, ultimately, clear out the more than 47,000 fraudulent accounts. Some legitimate claimants have been caught up in the investigation. Hogan stressed that Maryland’s unemployment system itself has not experienced a data breach, and no claimants’ personal information has been compromised. He also said that, in uncovering fraud and notifying federal officials, Maryland was able to help “shed light on related fraudulent criminal activities in at least a dozen states.” Secretary of Labor Tiffany Robinson said PUA claimants, who are self-employed or gig workers, can self-certify that they are unemployed, removing the “employer check and balance” that exists for regular claims. She commended Labor Department employees for staying “vigilant” and responding quickly to the fraud. Maryland officials have been coordinating with the Maryland U.S. Attorney and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General. “This criminal enterprise, seeking to take advantage of a global pandemic to steal hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of dollars from taxpayers is despicable,” Hogan said. Other states have also reported unemployment insurance fraud. Last week, the FBI issued a statement warning of a “spike” in fraudulent claims involving stolen personal information. “U.S. citizens from several states have been victimized by criminal actors impersonating the victims and using the victims’ stolen identifies to submit fraudulent unemployment insurance claims online,” the FBI said in a statement.
The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry on Wednesday approved emergency workplace standards that will give workers across the commonwealth health protections amid the pandemic. The Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board voted 9-2 to adopt the standards during the a four-hour-long session in which business and labor groups faced off over how best to protect health in the workplace during the pandemic. Under the new standards, all employers must establish systems for notifying employees when they have been exposed to COVID-19. If three or more employees test positive for COVID-19 over a two-week period, the employer must also report that to the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry. The rules also require employers in high-risk fields to develop and implement infectious disease response plans. Among other protections, the standards require employers to enforce physical distancing between workers, either through repeated announcements or by decreasing worker density. If the nature of the work does not allow for distancing, employers will have to ensure workers have protective equipment and respiratory protection. The rules also mandate employee training for safety in the pandemic and protect whistleblowers from retaliation. Employers must have training plans in place within 30 days, and the standards will become enforceable 60 days after they take effect. Employers who violate the standards face civil penalties. The binding standards are the first of their kind in the nation. One major sticking point for Virginia’s standards was the role of federal guidelines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have published non-binding suggestions for workplaces. In an earlier iteration, Virginia would have allowed employers to comply with CDC guidelines, but labor groups protested that the guidelines did not offer enough protection. Now, employers may only fall back on CDC guidelines if they are as stringent as or stricter than the Virginia rules. The standards take effect once they are published in a newspaper of general circulation in Richmond. The Department of Labor and Industry estimated that would take place the week of July 27. The standards will be effective for six months or until they are repealed.
Montgomery County is opening temporary picnic spaces in North Bethesda to encourage people to support local restaurants and eat in a safe, outdoor environment during the coronavirus pandemic. The four “pop-up picnic parks” are located in the Pike District and adhere to the county’s Phase Two guidelines. The program is a joint effort by the Montgomery County Parks and Recreation department and the North Bethesda Marriott and Conference Center. The parks have tables and marked seating areas for people to have a bring-your-own-picnic space. People are encouraged to bring tables, chairs and blankets. The free picnic parks are located at The Hill at the corner of Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road; Market Street Park at the corner of Market Street and Executive Boulevard next to the conference center parking garage; The Patio at the corner of Rockville Pike and Marinelli Road near the west entrance to the White Flint Metro station; and Wall Park at the corner of Executive Boulevard and Nicholson Lane. The county plans to keep the spaces open through the fall.
Virginia will step up enforcement of Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order requiring people to wear face coverings indoors and maintain physical distancing in public spaces. Northam said during a press conference Tuesday that he is directing teams of inspectors from the health department, Virginia ABC, agriculture department and other licensing agencies to conduct surprise visits to businesses. “If you own a restaurant or a business and you’re not following regulations, your license will be on the line,” he said. The action comes as COVID-19 cases climb in Virginia, particularly in the Hampton Roads area, which includes Virginia Beach. Northam said statewide, the positivity rate is up from 5.9% to 6.8%. In Northern Virginia, where two-thirds of the state’s population lives, positivity is down to 6.7%. The largest portion of increase is from the Tidewater region, which has a positivity rate of 10.1% and has been rising for a number of days. The region’s 7-day case average has risen from 60 cases a day in early June to 346 a day currently. “A lot of that increase is driven by people socializing without wearing masks, especially young people,” Northam said. He said the 20- to 29-year-old age group has seen a 250% increase in infections. “If we don’t take this seriously now, we could see bigger increases across our commonwealth,” he said. “That’s why we’re taking action today to head this off. … It is clear step one is stronger enforcement.” The governor urged business owners to step up enforcement. Urged owners to step up enforcement. “You have the ability to say no,” Northam said. “Remember you don’t have to serve a patron who is not wearing a face covering. You can tell them to leave. If they don’t, they’re trespassing, and you can call police.” Northam issued an executive order in late May mandating masks inside businesses, houses of worship, on public transportation and in government offices. Under the order, violations can be punished as a Class 1 misdemeanor. “These enforcement actions are to stop the people who are clearly flouting the rules. You are being selfish, and you are hurting everyone who is doing the right thing to help us all beat this virus. I want to be clear, it’s going to take everyone, everyone working together. This is not political. This is about our health and wellbeing. And it’s also about our economy. It’s going to take all of us to move forward safely.” Northam said he has no plans to further ease pandemic restrictions given the rise in cases. Further, he said he could tighten those already in effect, for example, by shrinking the maximum gathering size from 250 people to 50 people. Virginia is still building some parts of its COVID-19 response. At Tuesday’s news conference, officials addressed a statewide lag ain hiring bilingual contact tracers. State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said that despite a concerted effort to hire bilingual, the state hasn’t hired “nearly as many as we’d like.” Instead, Virginia set up virtual contact centers where speakers fluent in languages other than English could provide backup for contact tracers
Montgomery County officials closed and cited Society Lounge and the Republic Garden restaurants in Silver Spring over the weekend after inspectors found they weren’t complying with COVID-19 restrictions. Both restaurants were closed Sunday and had their liquor licenses suspended for “not maintaining adequate social distancing,” according to a press release. They won’t be allowed to reopen until written plans to meet the restrictions are submitted and approved by the county’s Department of Health and Human Services. Also, Ay! Jalisco in Gaithersburg was cited for employees not wearing masks and received a written warning. The restaurant will receive a $500 citation and have its liquor license suspended for a subsequent violation. At Pike & Rose in Rockville, The Block was given a $500 citation for failing to maintain mandated 6-foot distancing after the county said it received multiple complaints. Management had been warned previously on July 9. Additional violations could lead to a liquor license suspension. The closures and citations come as Gov. Larry Hogan called for Maryland county leaders to step up enforcement in bars and restaurants throughout the state. He said officials are monitoring some concerning trends, including increasing infection rates among young people. The positivity rate for Marylanders under the age of 35 is now 84% higher than residents 35 and older. “An increasing number of COVID-19 cases have been connected to noncompliance with public health requirements, particularly in bars and restaurants. Businesses that fail to comply with the state’s orders put their customers and employees at grave risk, and jeopardize our safe, effective and gradual recovery.” Hogan wrote in his letter. “The vast majority of bars and restaurants in our state are in compliance, but some are flagrantly violating the law and endangering public health. You have the responsibility to enforce these laws. Violators should be warned, fined, have actions taken regarding their licenses or closed if necessary. Local health departments, local liquor boards and inspectors, and local law enforcement agencies must work together to ensure public health is protected.”
The Montgomery County Council introduced a resolution Tuesday to increase COVID-19 testing and create a countywide strategy for free, no-appointment, no-referral, walk-up testing. “Testing levels in Montgomery County continue to be inadequate and many residents have reported difficulty obtaining tests, lack of response when contacting the county to schedule tests, delayed turnaround in tests, lack of clarity about who should be tested and other problems,” according to the resolution. “To prevent infections, avoid new stay-home orders and continue operating key services such as schools and child care, the county must aggressively conduct testing, tracing and isolating/quarantine operations, in addition to sustained use of facial coverings, distancing and shifting activity outdoors as much as possible.” The resolution encourages that the county give priority consideration to using fires stations as testing sites and requires the county to open 35 test sites “at lest eight hours per day, at least five days per week by July 28.” A public hearing on the council’s resolution is planned for July 21. On Monday, county administrators released their own plan to expand testing. It focuses on increased community-based testing, testing in clinical and congregate settings, and testing of government and essential employees. The county recently reached the state’s goal of testing 10% of residents. “We have made significant progress on testing, contract tracing and personal protective measures to drive our numbers down. But we recognize that even in smaller overall numbers, there are still groups who are impacted more by geography and race/ethnicity,” said county Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles. “This future approach aims to focus on those groups hit hardest to drive the impact of the virus down even more.” The county’s long-term goal is to expand testing capacity to 20,000 tests a week by September and 30,000 tests weekly by October, allowing the county to test 10% of residents monthly. The plan puts emphasis on increasing testing in communities of color, which have some of the highest positivity rates in the county. One way is to use “ready responders” to conduct in-home testing for residents living in areas disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and who face barriers to accessing community testing. County officials also said they would ramp up testing to five or more days a week, with pop-up clinics organized in partnership with community organizations across the county, with emphasis on the 10 hardest hit ZIP codes. Beginning later this week, appointments for testing sites can be made using an online appointment system. Walk-up testing will also be available at all sites, but registration is recommended. Upcoming pop-up testing includes 4-7 p.m. Thursday at the Takoma Park Recreation Center, 2-6 p.m. July 21 at the East County Recreation Center in Silver Spring and 2-6 p.m. July 22 at Oakdale Church in Olney.
Officials at Arlington Public Schools plan to begin classes all online beginning Sept. 8 with the goal of transitioning some students to in-person instruction in early October. In a letter to parents, Superintendent Francisco Durán said he will officially ask the school board for approval on Thursday. Teachers and other school staff would return to work as scheduled Aug. 24 so they can prepare for full-time distance learning, students would start classes more than a week later than their originally slated Aug. 31 start date. “Throughout our planning, the health and safety of our staff and students has been our top priority, and beginning the year with a virtual model allows us to continue to monitor the situation until we are confident it is safe to return,” he said in the message. While some parents want schools to reopen, recent polling showed that others believe it is still too risky for children to return to the classroom, and some teachers have expressed concern about their own safety. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have threatened to deny federal funds to schools that don’t completely reopen. Some families are still deciding whether to send their children back to campus when possible, and Durán is asking them to let the school system know by July 20. He added that more details about the plan, including special education, English learners and gifted services, are forthcoming. Earlier this month, Arlington Public Schools announced that all students and staff would be required, and that it would order cloth masks for them in bulk. The hybrid learning model proposed by the school system at the time would have most students attend in-person two days a week and other students do all-distance learning, with a dedicated set of teachers leading the all-distance program. The district also previously said it would regularly check students’ and employees’ temperatures with infrared thermometers and conduct frequent cleanings, among other precautionary measures. Other districts in the DMV are also in the midst of planning for the fall semester. Fairfax County Public Schools, which will start class on Sept. 8, is offering full-time virtual instruction or a hybrid in-person and online learning model. Montgomery County Public Schools is planning a blend of in-person and virtual schooling. Neither Prince George’s County Public Schools nor D.C. Public Schools have announced their reopening plans yet, although announcements are expected soon.
About half of parents in Montgomery County Public Schools plan to send their children back to the classroom this fall. Janet Wilson, chief of teaching, learning and schools, presented the findings of a parent-staff survey gauging preferences in regard to the upcoming school year to the school board Tuesday afternoon. Nearly 56,000 parents and 17,000 staff responses were received. Forty-two percent of parents indicated that they plan to send their children for in-person instruction. In contrast, 25% of staff want to return to the classroom. Meanwhile, 52% of staff indicated that they want to work virtually, and 22% of parents said they plan to enroll their children in 100% virtual only learning. Other results showed that 35% of parents have not decided between in-person or virtual-only instruction, and 22% of staff have not decided yet. MCPS is considering options for the fall and must be done if students return to campus. For example, students who ride the bus will need alternate every other row. According to the survey, 60% of parents said their child needs transportation to school. And for students who get dropped off and picked up, staggered arrival and pickup times could extend morning and afternoon wait times. To facilitate social distancing and reduce the number of people inside schools, the district is considering a staggered schedule. Students would alternate in-school learning with virtual learning. For example, in the hybrid model for elementary and middle school students, children will be divided into two groups based on grade level, last name and school cluster. The groups will alternate being in the building and doing virtual learning. One group will be in school Monday and Tuesday and the other on Thursday and Friday. On Wednesday, both groups will be home doing asynchronous learning. There is also an option for 100% online learning. Families must choose between the hybrid and online learning model between July 27 and Aug. 7. Associate Superintendent Niki Hazel said the school is prepared to move to full virtual learning, if it becomes necessary. Board member Rebecca Smondrowski introduced a proposal in which secondary school students would be 100% virtual and elementary school students will return to school and be spread out in secondary schools. Superintendent Jack Smith said Smondrowski’s proposal was something that was looked at and considered. He said it would take a fully developed model for it to be considered, and that would take many staff hours to develop.
The National Park Service has extended the closure of Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park at least through Phase Four of D.C.’s reopening. “We share the mayor’s desire to ensure the CDC’s guidelines are followed and are willing to do our part in providing a safe and enjoyable park experience for visitors to seek solace, reflection and recreation,” wrote Rock Creek Park Superintendent Julia Washburn to D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh and two of her colleagues on Monday. “Our goal is to strike a balance that allows recreating visitors space to social distance while also meeting the commuting demands on Beach Drive when the need arises,” she added. NPS closed Beach Drive in the city to vehicular traffic in early April to allow more space for people to exercise outside. The road had been closed to traffic on weekends. “Under normal circumstances, Rock Creek Park is one of our most popular and beloved weekend destinations and now, during the height of the pandemic, it has become a critical daily outdoor resource for those who want to exercise and spend time outside safely,” Cheh said in an email. “I’m hopeful that additional analysis may further extend the closure through the entire recovery period and, in the meantime, I hope everyone enjoys the parkway safely and responsibly.”
The Maryland State Education Association, the Baltimore Teachers Union and the Maryland PTA want schools to start the 2020-21 school year virtually. In a joint letter to Gov. Larry Hogan and State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon on Tuesday, the heads of two teachers unions and the state PTA called for schools to return with a distance-learning model in the fall for at least the first semester. “We believe it is the right approach and will allow time for further evaluation of health matrices, stakeholder input and the educational needs of students on a district-by-district basis to allow for a transition to a hybrid learning model after the year begins and possibly a mostly in-person model later in the school year if and when it is safe,” the letter said. MSEA President Cheryl Bost said during a press conference Tuesday that low coronavirus transmission rates among children and teenagers had been used as a justification for returning to in-person schooling, although there is not enough data to arrive at that conclusion. “But it also presupposes that there are a number of deaths of students or educators that are acceptable,” Bost said. “There are not.” Tonya Sweat, the Maryland PTA’s vice [resident for advocacy and membership, cited rising COVID-19 numbers in Texas child care facilities and a Missouri summer camp shut down after dozens of staff, counselors and campers tested positive this week. “The only reason that schools are not on the list of places where our children have gotten the coronavirus is because we closed them,” Sweat said during the press conference. “Let’s not roll the dice in late August or September.” The groups also noted a lack of widely available personal protective equipment and the disproportionate risks for Black and Brown students who rely on public transportation to get to school among other factors. The letter urged leaders to make this decision now, giving school districts more time to prepare with a cohesive online learning model. It comes as Maryland recorded the largest number of new cases statewide in more than a month on Tuesday, and as Hogan voiced concern about the high infection rate among young people.
Students in Charles County Public Schools will start the school year with virtual classes on Aug. 31 with a goal of transitioning to in-person instruction for special needs students as quickly as possible. Under a plan approved by the board of education 5-2 on Tuesday, students would receive full-day online instruction four days a week, with Wednesdays being independent study days when students could arrange one-on-one meetings with teachers and counselors. The student member of the board voted against the proposal. School officials initially suggested reopening campuses for special cases, such as students who do not have internet, English language learners and special education students. But the school board voted against that option, citing safety concerns. Superintendent Kimberly Hill said that could cause major setbacks for some students. In a press release Tuesday, the school board said it would start the school year with virtual learning with the goal of moving into a second phase, which “would include in-person instruction for special populations of students.” The board instructed Hill to survey special needs students and parents, as well as their teachers, about their comfort returning to the classroom. Based on those findings, the board said it could reverse its decision next month, allowing special needs students back in classrooms early in the school year. The board also considered virtual learning for third to 12th grades and in-person classes from pre-K to second grade and special groups; 50% of students doing virtual learning and the other half attending school two days a week; and in-person learning for all students.
Visitors will return to part of the National Gallery of Art on July 20 after four months. It is one of the first museums on the National Mall to reopen since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and the city’s first major art museum to do so. The museum will reopen only the ground floor of its West Building at first. Visitors will notice new crowd control measures, including reduced hours – 11 a.m.-4 p.m. — required free timed entry passes, a limit of 500 visitors per day and only one entrance at Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Passes will be released each Monday for the following week. Visitors must wear face coverings and practice social distancing. The rest of the building will open with the city move to Phase Three of its reopening plan. “Since our temporary closure in March, we’ve been preparing for the day when we could safely welcome visitors back into the Gallery,” Kaywin Feldman, the museum’s director, said in a press release. “I look forward to once again fulfilling our mission as the nation’s art museum — a space for reflection, beauty and public enjoyment.” Visitors will be able to see 19th and 20th century sculptures, including a set of sculptures by the French master Edgar Degas; medieval, Renaissance and baroque sculpture and decorative arts; impressionist still live paintings; and the Masterpieces of American Furniture from the Kaufman Collection, 1700-1830. The museum also has extended the run of two exhibitions that were open when the gallery closed in March: Degas at the Opéra through Oct. 12 and True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870 through Nov. 29. The Sculpture Garden reopened on July 20 The East Building is undergoing a major roof renovation and is expected to reopen in late fall.
The D.C. government is conducting a citywide survey to study the spread of coronavirus antibodies throughout the District. D.C. Health is partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct the serology survey, which identifies antibodies in blood that indicate if someone previously had COVID-19. Officials say 850 randomly selected households will receive letters inviting all members to get a free antibody test before Aug. 15. Those who agree will get free transportation to the testing site, as well as a $25 Visa gift card. Some doctors say the presence of antibodies might protect people from getting the virus again, but health experts warn that a positive test does not guarantee immunity. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that the city will open a third free antibody testing site Tuesday at the Hillcrest Recreation Center in Southeast. The city began offering free antibody testing in mid-June at sites in Southeast and Northwest. Washingtonians who are interested in getting a free test have about a month: Bowser said during a press conference that the free testing program will end on Aug. 15, the same day the survey concludes. Residents will still be able to get antibody testing through their health care providers, but those tests may not be free. The federal government’s CARES Act requires insurance companies to cover the cost, but many labs do not accept insurance. On Monday the city also reported its fourth-straight day without COVID-19 related deaths. It is the longest stretch without deaths from the virus since the pandemic began in March, but the city has seen more than 50 new cases a day recently. “You tend to see an increase in incidents, or the number of new cases, followed by an increase in hospitalizations, followed by an increase in deaths,” said D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt. Bowser also said that city pools won’t reopen as planned, but instead will probably wait until the end of the month. When D.C. entered Phase Two, city leaders said they would be looking to the week of July 13 to reopen public swimming pools. “We’re going to hold off on that decision until the end of the month,” Bowser said. The mayor also said she expects city officials to discuss reopening plans for D.C. Public Schools on Thursday.
Prince George’s County is requiring all public safety workers to take a COVID-19 test to prevent spread while interacting with county residents through their jobs. Department heads from police, fire and EMS, homeland security and corrections were all notified of the new requirement, which County Executive Angela Alsobrooks’ office confirmed. “We are testing all of our public safety employees because they interact with the public on a daily basis,” County Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter said in a statement. “We are taking this proactive step because we know that individuals can be asymptomatic and spread the virus and we want to have a baseline.” The county’s testing site at the Wayne K. Curry Sports & Learning Center in Landover is closed to the public through July 31 while it tests the public safety employees. “It is important to know the status of our public safety employees so we can do all we can to ensure that they are not exposing the public to the virus and to ensure that we can continue to maintain continuity of operations of our government. At this time, we have sufficient testing capacity to undertake these efforts,” he said.
A Northern Virginia state lawmaker is urging Gov. Ralph Northam to hire more bilingual contact tracers. In a letter to the governor, Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (Prince William), who is running for governor, said she is concerned that language barriers are resulting in cases being under-reported in Hispanic communities. Latinos account for 45% of Virginia’s coronavirus cases, Foy wrote, with that figure higher in Fairfax and Prince William counties. She asked Northam to ensure the same proportion of contract tracers are bilingual. “While I commend the current availability of translated materials, I am very concerned that they are not reaching the communities that need them most,” Foy wrote. “Thus, I write to request increased funding for outreach on Spanish-language radio, television and some internet sites.” The Virginia Department of Health said it has more than 1,200 people working on case investigations and contact tracing. Of recent hires, 113 are bilingual and 66 speak Spanish. Foy praised Northam for involving organizations that work for immigrant communities, like CASA, in the state’s COVID-19 response, while encouraging him to “expand on this success with other organizations that are providing individual case management to Latino and other immigrant families, like Edu-Futuro.” Health officials maintain contact tracing is crucial in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. “This unprecedented time continues to require swift and coordinated responses to ensure the health and well-being of all Virginians, no matter their background or income level,” Foy wrote.
The Patriot League, which includes American University, Navy, Loyola Maryland and Georgetown Football in the DMV, announced Monday that it canceled all fall sports programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Patriot League Council of Presidents said in a statement that the league will not engage in championship or non-championship competition this fall. However, student athletes will still be able to train and work out “provided health and safety conditions support such activities.” The United States Military Academy and United States Naval Academy, which are governed by federal rules, may still hold sports programs this fall. The league joins a other college conferences and universities that have cancelled fall sports. The Ivy League last week canceled all of its sports programs until 2021. The Big Ten, which included the University of Maryland, announced last week that most of its sports programs, including football, will only play league games if they play at all. The PAC-12 Conference reacted similarly after its commissioner tested positive for COVID-19.
A match between D.C. United and Toronto FC was postponed by Major League Soccer until 9 a.m. today after a D.C. United player had an “initial unconfirmed positive COVID-19 case” and a Toronto player had an “inconclusive test.” MLS said Sunday night that both teams were retested on Sunday and all players on both teams tested negative. The two players who tested positive and inconclusive will undergo additional testing and will not play in Monday’s match. The “MLS is Back” tournament is taking place at the Walt Disney World Resort — as is the NBA season — outside Orlando. Two teams have already dropped out due to a number of players and staff testing positive for the coronavirus. Florida broke a single-day record for new positive cases when it announced more than 15,000 cases on Sunday. Cases are spiking in parts of the country and, in the DMV, a number of recent peaks have led some to worry that it is just a matter of time before a coronavirus surge will happen here. While local teams like the Wizards, Mystics, Nationals and Capitals are still attempting to play, all is not going as planned. Players are fear for their safety, stars are sitting out and workouts are being canceled. So far, the only local professional team that has had success coming back is the Washington Spirit of the National Soccer Women’s League, which has have already played several games.
The Smithsonian museums may be closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but many are offering virtual activities this summer. Smithsonian Associates will host 91 online programs from July through September, including lectures, courses, studio art classes and virtual study tours, all from the safety of your own home. Participants can meet best-selling authors Erik Larson and Kathy Reichs, take a virtual observatory tour and peer through George Mason University’s primary telescope or learn the art of “forest bathing” in their own backyard through an interactive audio experience. Experts from Washington D.C.’s Cheesemonster Studio will guide participants through curated pairings of five cheeses; a program in collaboration with the Embassy of South Africa explores the country’s 361-year winemaking history; and a lavishly illustrated four-session course explores the World Heritage Sites of Asia. Studio arts offerings include crepe-paper flower making, beading, quilting, tapestry weaving, mosaics, hand embroidery, drawing, painting, photography classes and more. As part of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, a political history curator at the National Museum of American History will explore how a timely donation to the Smithsonian ensured Susan B. Anthony’s iconic status and examine who was left out of the suffrage movement’s story. A panel of Supreme Court legal experts will preview and debate critical issues raised in some of the cases the court will take up in Musica and what the production gets right—and wrong—about Alexander Hamilton, the American Revolution and the birth of the United States. Prices for streaming lectures are $25–$30 for the general public and $20–$25 for Smithsonian Associates members. Prices for courses and studio arts classes vary.
Two Maryland lawmakers who lead the House committee overseeing housing issues are calling on Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration to extend an eviction moratorium until next year and to provide more housing aid for those dealing with the economic effects of coronavirus. In a July 7 letter, Democratic Delegates Kumar Barve (Montgomery County) and Dana Stein (Baltimore County) called on the administration to extend the moratorium on evictions until Jan. 31, 2021 and to “identify all sources of funds which may be used to support local rental assistance programs” during the coronavirus pandemic. The letter was addressed to state housing secretary Kenneth Holt. Barve and Stein serve as chairman and vice chairman on the committee. “Again, while we recognize the actions taken by the Hogan administration to dedicate $30 million in CARES Act funds for rental assistance and funding for certain housing providers, this amount seemingly pales in comparison to the need stated by both tenant advocates and representatives of property owners and managers,” the letter said, referring to federal coronavirus aid. The current moratorium restricts Maryland’s District Courts from renewing eviction proceedings until July 25, when the current stay is scheduled to end. While the state and some municipalities have created assistance funds to aid residents who are behind on rent and mortgage payments due to losing work to the COVID-19 pandemic, tenants’ rights groups have warned the $30 million may be less than one-quarter of what is needed to aid all of the state’s affected residents. The Aspen Institute predicts that as many as 330,000 Marylanders could be at risk of being evicted by the end of the year. In their letter, the two lawmakers wrote that while they commend “the early action taken by the Hogan administration,” it says that “the uncertainty surrounding the proliferation of this virus and the need to keep individuals housed for their health and safety suggest a longer limitation on evictions is needed.”
Just over 68,100 new unemployment insurance claims were filed in the DMV for the week ending July 4, a jump of about 10,000 from the week before. An additional 1.31 million Americans filed new unemployment insurance claims last week, bringing the total number of new claims since mid-March to 50.3 million. While last week’s claims totaled 99,000 fewer than the week before, they represent the 16th consecutive week in which more than 1 million people filed. In February, by comparison, weekly claims were about 200,000. While new claims dropped slightly in D.C. last week compared to the week before, more almost 10,000 additional people filed for unemployment in Maryland and 1,000 more in Virginia. D.C. reported 2,538 new claims, down 594 from a week earlier. Maryland had 32,497 new claims, up 9,874 from the prior week. And Virginians filed 33,069 new jobless claims, up 1,114 from the prior week.
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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.