Prince George’s Inspectors to Visit Fields
COVID-19 Cases Reach 178.380 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of yesterday morning, 11,717 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 581 deaths; there have been 83,054 cases in Maryland with 3,304 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 83,609 cases with 2,075 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
Prince George’s County inspectors are visiting fields in county schools and parks over this weekend to make sure that people using them are following coronavirus guidelines. County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced Friday that the Ambassador COVID-19 Compliance Team, along with Prince George’s County police, will be checking sports fields owned by the county’s public schools and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission to make sure users are not participating in high-contact sports, which are currently prohibited under a county executive order. “I want to remind everyone that high-contact sports are strictly prohibited due to the increased risk of spreading COVID-19, and anyone engaging in that activity is not only endangering their own lives, but the lives of their family members and fellow Prince Georgians,” Alsobrooks said in the statement. High-contact sports include football, basketball and soccer, among others. What is allowed are limited low-contact sports and practices conducted in small groups of no more than one coach and nine children in a group, and with no more than 100 people in any given area. Individuals must have a permit, wear face coverings and practice social distancing and other safety measures. This weekend’s inspections will focus on educating and informing those who are observed to be not following the executive order. Violating the order can result in a misdemeanor charge and a fine of $1,000 or up to one year in jail. Those without a permit to use the fields could also face penalties related to trespassing.
The Kennedy Center laid off another 64 employees and eliminated an additional 47 vacant positions on Friday, representing nearly 30% of its administrative staff. The cuts came a day after officials unveiled a performance schedule that will be half the size of a typical season. The cuts were needed to address the financial challenges of the pandemic-related shutdown, Kennedy Center President and CEO Deborah Rutter said. The arts center projects a $23 million budget shortfall for the 2020-2021 season. The 64 laid-off employees are from all departments. Most are among the 188 workers who have been on furlough since early April. On Aug. 3, the Kennedy Center will bring 45 employees back from furlough, leaving 79 who are not expected to return to their jobs until the fall, Rutter said. “It is devastating to be in the circumstance where we’re making this decision,” she said. The cuts are connected to the ongoing closure and the reduced performance schedule released Thursday. In a typical year, earned revenue from ticket sales, concessions, parking and other sources makes up about 70% of the arts center’s operating budget. This fiscal year, the best-case scenario predicts a 2020-21 schedule that is half the size of recent years, with earned revenue expected to be about 48%. Friday’s staff cuts, Rutter said, are a way to close the projected $23 million shortfall. “We have to find ways to conserve revenue,” she said. “These actions will help move toward that.” Rutter decided to forgo her $1.2 million salary in March, earning just enough to cover her health-care costs. She is now taking 25% of her salary. When the Kennedy Center closed March 14 as part of the effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, it laid off about 750 hourly and part-time workers, including ushers, stagehands and box-office and retail personnel. Although it received $25 million in Congress’s first relief package to help pay the salaries of staff during the closure, the center furloughed about 250 employees across departments, including marketing, development and education. About 70 employees have returned to the payroll, but about 188 have been off for 16 weeks. When the full staff is back in December, it will total 301, compared with 411 before the closure in March. Rutter said that Kennedy Center leaders systematically evaluated every position, absent names, to determine which were indispensable and which could be eliminated. Laid-off employees will be given a severance package, including health care coverage through 2020, she said. Medical coverage also is being extended to furloughed staff. In the spring, the unions representing the National Symphony Orchestra and Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra negotiated pay cuts averaging 25% for their members. Rutter said Friday that the arts center will ask for more reductions.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh on Friday asked the state’s chief judges to extend a moratorium on evictions until Jan. 31, citing the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. A statewide moratorium on evictions issued by the Maryland Court of Appeals expired Saturday, the same day a national ban evictions ban that applies to federally financed properties ended. Frosh also called on the courts to extend a stay on debt collection cases. “Extension of the moratoria is critical because the ongoing public health emergency has rendered Marylanders’ inability to pay rent and consumer debt largely unchanged since the onset of the pandemic,” Frosh said in a statement. “Many Marylanders were struggling to pay housing and other expenses before the COVID-19 crisis, and the pandemic has exacerbated these difficulties exponentially.” Maryland’s eviction ban consists of two components: a pause on hearings that was initiated by the courts, plus an executive order from Gov. Larry Hogan that provides tenants with a defense against eviction if they can prove the pandemic caused them to lose their income. The executive order, which does not stop landlords from threatening eviction or filing new cases once courts reopen, remains in effect as long as Maryland is under a state of emergency. But the Court of Appeals decides when hearings can resume. That day was July 25, unless the court acts again to suspend proceedings. But for administrative reasons, the state’s District court isn’t expected to actually start hearing these cases until Aug. 31, and cases heard that early would pertain to proceedings that began before March 27. A statewide evictions moratorium expired about a month ago in Virginia, and hearings for nonpayment of rent cases have begun to ramp back up in the commonwealth amid the health crisis, except in courts that have opted to delay them. In D.C., courts suspended proceedings for nonpayment-related evictions for the duration of the city’s health emergency, and the D.C. Council separately passed a temporary ban on evictions filings that has blocked new cases from entering the system. In Maryland, Frosh and members of the Attorney General’s COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force sent a letter Friday to Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera and Chief Judge John P. Morrissey asking them to extend the measures around evictions and debt hearings “until the General Assembly has the opportunity to enact, and the governor to sign, emergency legislation to assist Marylanders with the housing and debt crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Hogan created a $30 million rental assistance fund for at-risk renters, but advocates have said the money doesn’t match the scale of the problem. They have urged the governor to allocate more than $150 million to eviction protections. The Aspen Institute has said that more than 356,000 Maryland residents are at risk of being evicted by the end of September.
At least 40 establishments have been cited by the D.C. Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration for violating the agency’s Phase Two reopening orders that went into effect on June 22. ABRA has inspected more than 150 establishments that serve alcohol, according to agency spokesperson Jared Powell. Most of the restaurants were cited for insufficient table spacing (six feet apart), playing music louder than a conversational level and offering after-hours service. While most infractions, such as allowing noise or not keeping tables six feet apart, carry a verbal or written warning on first offense and fines for additional violations, others come with an immediate $1,000 fine. Several of the restaurants are based around the U Street corridor, including Ben’s Next Door, Empire Lounge and Mama San/Harlot, and Adams Morgan, such as Grand Central, Heaven and Hell, Pitchers and Johnny Pistolas, with some exceptions. District Soul Food, 500 Eighth St. SE, and Red Lounge, 2013 14th St. NW, were both fined $1,000 for after-hours service and not enforcing mask-wearing for employees and diners, Lounge of Three, 1013 U St. NW was fined $1,000 for not offering food service with alcohol sales, allowing patrons to order drinks at the bar and offering service after midnight and Marleny’s, 3201 Mt. Pleasant St., was fined $1,000 for not offering prepared food with alcohol. Powell said in a statement that the administration has tried to educate restaurant owners about what activities are permitted and prohibited. “ABRA investigators primarily issued verbal warnings to start and allowed the licensee to correct. Investigators then monitor the establishment to ensure continued compliance.” A violation at Kiss Tavern, 637 T Street NW, was referred to the city’s Office of the Attorney General. According to an ABRA report, investigator Mark Ruiz observed the establishment “apparently serving liquor to patrons after operation hours” on July 6. Ruiz wrote in the report that he was denied entry when he visited around 2 a.m. and called for the Metropolitan Police Department to gain entry into Kiss Tavern. After MPD officers and Ruiz searched the establishment, the report states that eight individuals were hiding in a back room behind the bar service area. The owner of the tavern, Eyob Asbeha, told ABRA the individuals were family members celebrating a birthday party. When ABRA asked for Kiss Tavern’s security footage of the evening, according to the report, inspectors found the camera had not been recording. That put Kiss Tavern in violation of its settlement agreement, the written agreement that ABC licensees make with their Advisory Neighborhood Commission. That prompted ABRA to refer the case to the attorney general’s office.
Beginning Monday, people traveling to D.C. from what “high-risk areas” – locations where the seven-day moving average of new COVID-19 cases 10 or more per 100,000 people — will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the new requirement Friday morning. The new regulation, which which excludes those entering the city from Virginia and Maryland, applies to nonessential travelers. The list of high-risk areas will be published on the city’s coronavirus website on Monday, the day the order goes into effect, and updated every two weeks. The order is in effect through Oct. 9, the expected end of the city’s public health emergency, and will require college students returning for the fall semester from high-risk areas to self-quarantine in on-campus dorms or in off-campus apartments. Individuals self-quarantining are required to stay in their residence or hotel room, leaving only for food or medical appointments, and guests are not permitted. Those coming for essential activities, like an essential job or seeking medical care, or those returning home after participating in essential travel should be “more vigilant,” Bowser said at a Friday news conference, and should only leave their homes for essential activities. Other states have instated mandatory travel quarantines; earlier this week, Maryland and Virginia were added to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut’s lists of states whose residents must quarantine after arriving there. According to the order, employers, universities and apartment buildings could require compliance with the order before allowing entrance into buildings or properties. At Friday’s press conference, Bowser said universities will provide a list of students who require self-quarantines, but stressed using social pressures to enforce the new order. “There’s nobody standing at the hotel door telling people if they can come or go, but certainly they will be required to make all of their travelers aware of the guidelines of the local jurisdictions,” Bowser says. “We should be asking our social group circles, our family, our work colleagues, ‘You’re making a nonessential trip, you’re going to a hot spot, why are you doing that? And you do know that when you get back, you have to stay in your house?’” Bowser also froze waivers for arts and entertainment events in the city. No restrictions have been reinstated, but Bowser said the city is considering potential dial-backs on activities like personal grooming, indoor dining, recreational sports and elective medical procedures. The mass-gathering limit could also become stricter. Bowser did not identify which metrics would prompt those dial-backs. The new order comes as coronavirus cases rise across the DMV and two days after Bowser signed a order mandating mask-wearing outside of the home.
Montgomery County will provide residents of its hardest-hit ZIP codes with free at-home coronavirus tests. The initiative, created in partnership with Louisiana-based Ready Responders, will send officials to provide consenting household members with temperature and vital signs checks, and a saliva coronavirus test. The targeted ZIP codes include Takoma Park, Silver Spring and Gaithersburg, and testing will be available to residents who may have difficulty accessing a community testing site. The program includes visits seven days a week from the Ready Responder teams, as well as a Maryland health worker and human services worker. Individuals who need urgent medical care or food, or who need a safe place to isolate, will be assisted during the meetings. Residents or households will either be referred for testing by a community-based agency, or they can refer themselves by calling the testing helpline, where they will be asked a series of questions to screen for eligibility. A similar at-home testing program launched in late April, when Maryland’s health department created the Vulnerable Population Task Force or “go teams” to provide coronavirus testing in the state’s hardest-hit jurisdictions, including Montgomery County. Through June 3, the “go teams” provided at-home tests for individuals in significant need, but some of the Montgomery County residents’ tests were lost, according to county health officials. Earlier this month, county officials raised concerns about its testing capacity, fearing that a second wave of COVID-19 cases would outpace the availability of testing. Montgomery County has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the state, behind Prince George’s County, with 16,768 reported as of Friday. The county has also tested the most residents in the state, with 140,129 total tests, which accounts for roughly 13% of the county’s population. Prince George’s County has tested a similar percentage of residents. Residents can call the helpline at 240-777-1755 from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Callers will be asked a series of questions to determine eligibility.
Anne Arundel County officials imposed new restrictions on dining and social gatherings as coronavirus infections rise across Maryland. The rules, announced Thursday by County Executive Steuart Pittman, require restaurants and bars that serve alcohol to close at 10 p.m. and shuts down seating areas in mall food courts. It also restricts indoor social gatherings to 25 people or fewer and outdoor social gatherings to 50 people. “Rates of infection are a direct function of our behavior,” Pittman said in a statement. “We must respond immediately to our data.” The restrictions went into effect at 5 p.m. Friday. Infection rates in Anne Arundel have risen since June 19, when Maryland reopened gyms, casinos and malls as part of Phase Two of its reopening plan. Hospitalizations have also increased in the last two weeks, county health data show.
Renters in Maryland can apply for four-month rebate vouchers through a Department of Housing and Community Development open-enrollment process if they can verify their inability to pay rent is related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Larry Hogan announced the measure Friday, as hundreds of thousands of renters in the state are at risk of being evicted after a federal moratorium on evictions expired. The Hogan Administration is also providing federal community development block grants to the state’s 24 local jurisdictions to prevent evictions. The program is limited to rental units in buildings financed by DHCD. Applications for the program will be accepted until July 31, but the portal may close before then if grant requests exceed available funding, according to the department. “Our administration will continue to do everything we can to help Marylanders weather this storm, get back on their feet and recover,” Hogan said in a statement. At least 290,000 households are unable to pay rent and at risk of eviction in the state, according to data from Stout, a Chicago-based consulting firm. State lawmakers remained skeptical last month that the $30 million in federal funds Hogan allocated to help renters would be enough to match a potential statewide eviction crisis. Montgomery County Del. Jheanelle Wilkins says the funding Hogan is allocating to these programs is insufficient. “The governor has the ability to take additional robust actions such as extending his prohibition on evictions until next year and banning rent increases statewide,” Wilkins said. Hogan maintains that his March 16 order banning evictions due to a tenant’s inability to pay because of COVID-19 remains in place for the duration of the state of emergency. The District Court of Maryland has delayed hearings on failure to pay rent until Aug. 31.
The number of travelers at Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International airports continued to rise in May, but remains just a fraction of the number of flyers a year ago, and the most recent data may not capture a recent reversal in passengers reported by airlines nationwide. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority reported a 92.8% drop in total passengers at both airports in May, compared to a year ago. In May 2019, Reagan National and Dulles saw a combined 4.47 million passengers, or an average of 149,000 a day. This May, the monthly total was 320,000, or an average of less than 11,000 a day. Airlines report their data to the Airports Authority on a delay of two months; May totals are the most recent available. TSA screenings at U.S. airports steadily rose throughout June and reached the highest level since mid-April on the July 4 weekend. On July 2, TSA screened almost 765,000 passengers nationwide, up from just 87,000 on April 14. Before the COVID-19 pandemic brought air travel to a near standstill, TSA typically screened about 2.5 million passengers a day. Businesses at the airports are slowly reopening. The Airports Authority reports there are 28 retail and food service concessions open at Reagan National Airport, out of a total of 86. At Dulles, 27 out of 99 concessions are now open. Earlier this month, the Airports Authority agreed to lower concessions operators’ rents by between 5% and 15% for the remainder of the year, and to waive fees it usually collects as a share of concessions operators’ gross sales for the rest of the year as well. The slowdown has benefited the Airports Authority’s ongoing construction work at Reagan National, increasing the work schedules for construction of a new terminal and security checkpoints.
Washington Nationals’ superstar Juan Soto tested positive for COVID-19 and missed last night’s opening game against the New York Yankees. Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo told reporters Thursday afternoon that the 21-year-old outfielder is asymptomatic and has tested negative several times over the last few weeks. Soto got a positive result early Thursday morning on a test he took two days ago, Rizzo said. “I think you have to take a business-as-usual type of approach to it, just like any other injury during the season,” Rizzo said. Soto was practicing with the team until he received his results yesterday morning. The team also was tested Thursday, but won’t receive the results until after last night’s game. Major League Baseball requires consistent, ongoing COVID-19 testing for both staff and players throughout the season. Soto will need to test negative twice over more than 24 hours in order to be cleared to play. It is unclear how much time he will miss of the upcoming, shortened 60-game season. Currently, he is not on the Nationals initial 30-player roster. MLB charted flights for players in the Dominican Republic at the beginning of the month so they could return to the U.S. and begin training for the season. Several Nationals players, including Soto, took those flights. Players and staff were not tested prior to boarding the plane. Since then, multiple players and now Soto have tested positive for COVID-19. The team reported that no other players tested positive in the latest round of tests. Last season, Soto was one of the main drivers behind the Nats winning their first World Series. A game-winning hit in the Wild Card playoff game sent Nationals Park into a frenzy. In the World Series, Soto went on to hit three home runs and had seven runs batted in.
The Kennedy Center will host in-person, indoor concerts when D.C. enters Phase Three of its reopening plan. Concerts have been canceled since the coronavirus pandemic hit the DMV in March. The performing arts center’s Opera House will be transformed into a COVID-era performance space, with patrons seated on stage. Artists will perform from a new stage extension “built into the front of the Orchestra-seating level of the hall,” according to the Kennedy Center’s announcement. Patrons will be seated in “physically distant pairs,” looking out at the performers. Audiences will be capped at 200. When the city enter’s Phase Three, the Kennedy Center will start rolling out the hour-long, no-intermission concerts about once a week. The lineup includes musicians from the National Symphony Orchestra, the Takács Quartet, the Dover Quartet and the Escher Quartet. The Kennedy Center said it will announce jazz, hip hop, comedy and Broadway performances later. Like many other indoor music venues, the Kennedy Center has struggled during the pandemic. It has canceled most of its programming through the end of the year, including a highly anticipated summer run of the Broadway musical Hamilton. As a result of the postponements and cancellations, the organization said it expects to lose more than $45 million in ticket sales and other income. Unlike the city’s smaller venues, the Kennedy Center received $25 million in coronavirus relief funding from the federal government. Its subsequent decision to furlough 60 percent of its administrative staff, in addition to the 725 hourly and part-time employees who were already laid off, drew criticism from musicians and local arts activists. In April, the organization reversed its decision to furlough members of the National Symphony Orchestra, although the musicians did accept 35% pay cuts.
The U.S. got another dose of bad economic news Thursday as the number of unemployed workers seeking jobless benefits rose for the first time since late March, intensifying concerns the resurgent coronavirus is stalling or even reversing the economic recovery. More than 59,500 new unemployment insurance claims were filed in the DMV for the week ending July 18, an increase of more than 4,500 from the week before. An additional 1.42 million Americans filed new unemployment insurance claims last week, bringing the total number of new claims since mid-March to 53.2 million. And an extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits, provided by the federal government on top of whatever assistance states provide, is set to expire July 31, though this is the last week recipients will get the extra funds. It is the last major source of economic help from the $2 trillion relief package that Congress approved in March. A small business lending program and one-time $1,200 payment have largely run their course. Last week’s claims totaled 109,000 more than the week before and 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 D.C. and Maryland last week compared to the week before, more people filed for unemployment in Virginia. D.C. reported 3,013 new claims, up 287 from a week earlier. Maryland had 16,389 new claims, down 3,074 from the prior week. And Virginians filed 40,188 new jobless claims, up 7,896 from the prior week.
With the DMV experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed a new order requiring people to wear masks whenever they are outside their homes. The mayoral order mandates mask-wearing while waiting for a bus, ordering food at a restaurant, sitting in cubicles in an open office, walking dogs, and even in common areas of apartment building and condos, among other activities. The order includes up to a $1,000 fine per violation. It will remain in effect until Oct. 9 or until the public health emergency expires. “Basically …is if you leave home, you should wear a mask,” Bowser said during a press conference. There will be a few exceptions to the mask requirement, including for children under 3 as well as people vigorously exercising, actively eating or drinking, or in an enclosed office alone. Although Bowser and other D.C. officials have encouraged people to wear masks, the new order formalizes the recommendation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reviewed two case studies out of Massachusetts and Missouri, and found that cloth-based masks “are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19 that could reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when used universally within communities. There is increasing evidence that cloth face coverings help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others.” D.C. has seen more than 11,500 COVID-19 infections and 580 deaths to date, according to city data. On Wednesday morning, the city recorded its highest one-day total of new infections since June 3, at 102. Bowser said wearing masks in public is especially important without a vaccine or cure for the coronavirus yet available. She pointed to “other parts of the world” that have reduced COVID-19 rates even without those solutions and noted that the longer the virus persists in D.C., the worse things will be for students, workers, businesses, and arts and cultural institutions. “We’re all pretty sick of dealing with the pandemic,” she said. “We’re four months in, people are tired and in some cases are letting down their guards. But we all want to get on the other side of this virus, so it is important that we remain vigilant.”
Much like its approach to reopening, Maryland gave local school districts the option of holding in-person classes this fall. Schools have until Aug. 14 to submit education recovery plans, describing how they will reopen, to the state board of education, state Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon said at a press conference Wednesday. Schools will be allowed to hold in-person classes as long as they follow state guidance, which includes following CDC guidelines, such as wearing face-coverings, social distancing and handwashing; adhering to state protocols for an outbreak, which includes addressing and reporting known cases of COVID-19; and meeting a set of benchmarks including maintaining a curriculum, identifying learning gaps, ensuring safe transportation, tracking attendance and more. “As we reimagine all our schools this fall, we remain committed to building a system that will deliver education safety and effectively to each and every student, with educational equity and educational justice as the cornerstone,” Salmon said. The state has dedicated more than $255 million in CARES Act funding to education, with $25 million set aside to expand broadband access, $5 million of which is for urban areas, Salmon said. Of that, $100 million has been allocated to equip students with up-to-date devices and connectivity, another $100 million for tutoring programs to address learning loss and $10 million will go toward expanding broadband internet access by constructing a wireless education network in Western and Southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore. “We know that longstanding gaps in education, opportunity and access have been further exposed and widened by COVID-19. Our goal with these resources is to give local school systems the support and flexibility to focus on and prioritize students most impacted by this crisis,” Salmon said. So far, Anne Arundel, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Howard counties are among those that announced they will offer 100% online learning, at least for the start of the school year.
A surge of coronavirus infections in the central part of Maryland does not justify rolling back the state’s reopening plan, despite mounting pressure from local officials to do so. Gov. Larry Hogan said he wants to allow businesses to operate and normal life to resume as much as possible during the pandemic, but that he will not hesitate to “do something” if the rates of new infections, hospitalizations and COVID-19 deaths climb more broadly in Maryland. Although cases are surging in Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties, Hogan said statewide numbers “are all trending in the right direction” after declining sharply in June. “But as soon as we start to see numbers that don’t look good, it’s going to cause us to take whatever actions that are necessary,” the governor said on C-SPAN. “My goal is to try to keep the economy safely open, because the economic crisis is nearly as bad as or just as bad as the health crisis.” Health officials in the state’s largest municipalities, including Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, on Monday asked Hogan to reconsider the activities the state permits. Health officials in the DMV are worried about mask-wearing and social distancing fatigue, especially among younger residents. They are also concerned about people traveling into the region from elsewhere and bringing the virus with them. Montgomery County Health Officer Travis Gayles said the county is considering rolling back restrictions but would do so in a “targeted way.” Montgomery’s positivity rate has hovered around 3% in recent weeks, lower than the state’s average of about 4.8%. The county is in Phase Two of its reopening, which is more restrictive than the state plan and still includes caps on the size of social gatherings. “We’ve had a fairly restrictive plan that has allowed us to plateau,” Gayles said in a briefing to lawmakers on Tuesday. “So we’re not blindly saying, ‘We’re closing this and closing that.’” Although the DMV so far has avoided the sharp spike seen elsewhere, “we’d be naive to think those spikes won’t come and affect us here,” said Montgomery County Council member Gabe Albornoz (D-At Large). Gayles said that “even a small increase in cases among young adults, who are more likely to be asymptomatic, can cause significant problems for others.” Prince George’s County plans to begin step up enforcement of face coverings inside local businesses this weekend. County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks said some establishments have been lax about complying.
Virtual learning the first semester of the 2020-21 school year in Montgomery County Public School will not be the same as the spring semester, when schools closed due to the pandemic. During a Wednesday morning briefing, Superintendent Jack Smith said the spring closing was a response to an emergency, and the fall semester will be more rigorous and have more structure for students. MCPS will return to a more “standardized grading system,” Smith said. “We will have to revise our grading system in area and places, but we want a framework that really reflects the students’ work — their learning and their progress.” He said data submitted to the Board of Education showed that most high school students chose to receive letter grades rather than a pass/fail option. Smith also said that MCPS is looking to the Maryland State Department of Education for more guidance, such as information on how cases of COVID-19 would be handled when classes are do resume in person. “If there is a case identified in school, we need a consistent, statewide response,” he said. The superintendent added that some state policies will have to be adjusted to accommodate the circumstances of continued distance learning. “One that needs to be changed this coming year, right away, is around service learning. The state of Maryland requires it. It’s a very different world; they need to change that right now for all the students,” Smith said. The decision to continue distance learning for the semester came after consultation with county Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles, who said that given the current conditions and the spread of the coronavirus, he could not recommend in-class instruction for the fall. The announcement came late Tuesday afternoon, and Smith said he had been in touch with the members of the board of education. The board will vote on the recommendation at its Aug. 6 meeting.
Prince George’s County health officials are keeping a close eye on coronavirus spikes in the state before making any changes to current reopening plan. The county remains in Phase two. Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter said “while we are monitoring the situation very closely, Prince George’s County is not yet in a position to start rolling back current reopening measures.” As local leaders continue to monitor trends, they are also opening discussions about potential next steps. Carter said Prince George’s will continue to work with local, state and federal partners to slow the spread of COVID-19. “I am confident we will get over any future bumps on the road to recovery together,” Carter said. Officials are encouraging residents to continue wearing masks, washing hands and following social distancing guidelines. The county published updated guidelines approved by Carter on Tuesday.
Students in Fairfax, Loudoun and Montgomery County schools will beging the school year virtually, joining a growing number of districts that have decided to keep students out of classrooms as coronavirus cases continue to rise across the DMV. The Fairfax County School Board approved a new plan Tuesday night to only offer online classes this the fall, backtracking from earlier plans to give parents a choice between limited in-person instruction and remote learning. Fairfax Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the school board he recommended starting the school year online because of rising coronavirus cases and incomplete health data. In a letter to the community, Brabrand said the school system arrived at the decision after reviewing health data and gathering input from teachers, students and parents. “We have determined that full-time online instruction is the only safe option at this time,” he said. Brabrand said infection rates in Fairfax County are stable but one-third of school workers live outside the county. Remote learning will begin Sept. 8 with a four-day week. Braband said he will reassess the situation before Aug. 15 to determine whether schools could offer in-person learning for its “most vulnerable students.” The Loudoun County School Board endorsed a similar plan for online-only instruction, following a recommendation from Superintendent Eric Williams. Montgomery County Public Schools also announced Tuesday it would teach virtually through January, instead of gradually returning students to classrooms in this fall. In a letter to families, Montgomery County Superintendent Jack Smith said county health officials advised against reopening schools. He said schools will stay closed until at least Nov. 9, the end of the first semester. The school district, which educates nearly 163,000 students, previously planned to start classes online and transition to in-person classes, if county officials deemed it was safe. “This decision is incredibly difficult as we know how much students need school for their academic success and social-emotional well-being,” Smith said. “We take the immense responsibility of ensuring staff and student safety, educating our students and creating opportunities for all seriously.” More school districts have decided to start fall classes online in the last week, as educators increasingly said they do not feel safe returning to classrooms. Elsewhere in Northern Virginia, school districts in Arlington Public Schools and Prince William County Schools will offer 100% virtual instruction at the start of the school year. In Maryland, students in Prince George’s County Public Schools will continue with distance learning through January.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser sent a letter to congressional leaders on Monday asking them for more coronavirus funding for the city. The letter, addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, asks Congress to amend its March aid package, which gave D.C. less than half the amount states received, in its next round of legislation. “It is not lost on me that our response to mitigate the coronavirus plays an important role in the federal government’s operations,” Bowser wrote. “Thus, equitable funding for Washington, D.C. not only affects our residents, but also impacts the National Capital Region and the nation.” D.C., which has a larger population than two states and had more COVID-19 cases than 19 states at the time, was treated as a territory for the purposes of the March coronavirus recovery bill, receiving roughly $500 million while each of the 50 states got at least $1.25 billion. At the time, Democratic senators called the discrepancy “shameful” and “shortsighted.” Bowser noted the financial strain the crisis has put on the city in her letter, saying city officials currently estimate a conservative loss of revenue amounting to $1.5 billion over this fiscal year and next. She also wrote that D.C. has already allocated all the funds it received through the CARES Act, as well as $450 million in contingency and emergency reserves. Bowser pointed out that the city has spent $17 million on increasing testing capacity and has put $25 million into local hospitals, investments that have benefited the region. She said that Maryland and Virginia residents regularly make use of D.C. hospitals, amounting to half of the city’s capacity at a given time, and represent 30% of the total number of people tested for COVID-19. As Republicans prepare to release another coronavirus relief bill in the coming days, Bowser called for Congress to include House-approved provisions in new legislation, including amending the CARES Act to “make the District whole in the amount of $755 million.” Bowser also asked Congress to include state, city and county-level funding to D.C. as part of the HEROES Act that the House approved in May, although the Senate has indicated it will not pass the bill, and allow D.C. to borrow in a “meaningful way” through the Municipal Liquidity Facility, a Federal Reserve initiative to provide assistance to state and local governments during the crisis. “Our continued ability to contain the spread of the coronavirus, especially as we begin to reopen public and private spaces, is heavily reliant upon equitable funding in the next tranche of coronavirus funding,” she wrote. D.C. is not a state, but city officials and local residents argue it is taxed and governed more like a state than a territory, and Washingtonians regularly pay more per capita in federal taxes than residents of any state.
D.C. officials are reminding residents that driver licenses, vehicle registrations or vehicle inspections that expired after March 1 are valid until 45 days after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, which is expected to run through at least early October. The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles is also providing an official letter that drivers can print out and carry with them, in case they are stopped or ticketed for expired driving documents outside the city. Although DMV locations have been open since the city entered Phase 2 of its reopening plan last month, they have only been taking people by appointment. The demand has strained the department, leading to some appointments for renewing licenses and registrations to be scheduled for late November. On Monday, the DMV announced it will indefinitely close its Rhode Island Avenue Service Center as of Aug. 10, citing an “increased staffing shortage at that location” in an email. All other service centers will continue to take appointments, according to the department. DMV officials point out that most basic services, like renewing a driver’s license or car registration, can be completed online. Still, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the city has advised residents to avoid non-essential travel, urging that people who travel outside D.C. check state-level restrictions and consider quarantining for 14 days after returning.
Despite attempts to pull off the historic summer tennis tournament this year, the 2020 Citi Open has been canceled. “After months of tireless work by our team and close collaboration with our many stakeholders, we are heartbroken to announce that we must unfortunately postpone the 52nd Citi Open until the summer of 2021,” Chairman and CEO Mark Ein said on the tourney’s website Tuesday. Only a month ago, organizers said they would put on the tournament this year. The plan was for the Citi Open to take place Aug. 13-21 at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center without fans in attendance. “With only 23 days left until the start of the tournament, there are too many unresolved external issues, including various international travel restrictions as well as troubling health and safety trends, that have forced us to make this decision now in fairness to our players, suppliers and partners, so that they can have certainty around their planning,” Ein said. It would have been the 52nd straight year of the tournament. Last spring, Ein, who also owns the Washington City Paper, the esports team Washington Justice and the Washington Kastles, acquired the local tennis tournament. The Citi Open, which has gone by a number of names in the past, is one of the longest-running and most historic tennis tournaments in America. The tournament launched in 1969 in large part due to tennis legend Arthur Ashe, who reportedly told his teammate Donald Dell he would play in it every year as long as it took place in an integrated neighborhood and “black faces come out and watch the tennis.” Ashe played in the tournament 11 times, winning in 1973. Last year, the event attracted more than 78,000 fans to the nine-day tournament, which set an all-time attendance record. “We look forward to hosting another memorable Citi Open, an American summer tennis tradition, in August 2021, in front of the enthusiastic, sold-out crowds that our incredible tennis community has generated for over 50 years,” Ein said.
Beginning July 27, Marriott Hotels will require guests to wear facial coverings in its 7,300 hotels worldwide. CEO Arne Sorenson announced the change Monday in a video. The world’s biggest hotel chain has required employees to wear masks for months, but effective Monday, the rule will also apply to customers in all indoor public spaces, Sorenson explained after removing his own purple mask. “Health experts have made it clear that wearing face coverings in public spaces is one of the easiest steps that we can all take to protect one another and reduce the spread of covid-19,” he said in the video. Sorenson said the move adheres to safety guidelines for guests during the pandemic, published in the past week by the American Hotel and Lodging Association, an industry trade group. The guidelines call for social distancing and frequent hand-washing and ask travelers to try to forgo daily housekeeping and opt for contactless services whenever possible. “To help enable safe travel amid the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, we need to come together as an industry and promote clear guidelines, which for the foreseeable future include the wearing of face coverings in indoor public spaces and practicing social distancing,” said Mark Hoplamazian, CEO of Hyatt Hotels, which requires guests in the United States and Canada to wear facial coverings. Bethesda-based Marriott has made many other changes to its business during the pandemic, including stepped-up cleaning protocols, changes to the check-in process, partitions, hand-sanitizing stations and signage with reminders about social distancing. The company is also developing cleaning technologies, it said on its website.
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, will reopen Friday, July 24, with crowd limits and new health and safety measures in place. All visitors will need to have free timed-entry passes to enter. The process will work similar to the pre-coronavirus ticketing system at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Each person will be able to reserve up to six free timed passes. The zoo will be open from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. daily and will issue 5,000 times passes per day. The Udvar-Hazy Center will be open from 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily and release about 1,500 passes per day. All other Smithsonian museums remain closed. No other opening dates have been announced. In a press release, the Smithsonian said the first two reopenings will provide an opportunity to improve new processes and learn from the visitor experience, with the goal of opening additional museums in the coming months. Smithsonian officials selected the zoo and Udvar-Hazy Center because their size and design allow for effective social distancing. The zoo is an outdoor park that spans 163 acres, while the Udvar-Hazy Center’s two hangars total more than 300,000 square feet. Both have ample parking available to visitors. “As a public entity, we thrive on serving our visitors and making our collections readily available to them, virtually and in person,” Lonnie Bunch, the Smithsonian’s Secretary, said in the release. “However, the safety and well-being of our staff, visitors and volunteers come first and are paramount, so we are taking a deliberate, phased and cautious approach to reopening.” Visitors are 6-years-old or older are required to wear face coverings, including while outside at the zoo. Hand-sanitizing stations have been installed, cleaning has been increased and some walkways are now one-way. Restrooms at both will be open, as will the zoo’s outdoor concessions stands and gift shops. The concessions stands and gift shops inside the Udvar-Hazy Center will be closed. Visitors must enter the zoo on Connecticut Avenue NW.
After closing Monday due to the extreme heat, D.C.’s coronavirus public testing sites will operate on a modified schedule Tuesday and Wednesday due to the high temperatures. Each day, two sites will be open from 8-11 a.m. when temperatures are slightly cooler. All of the walk-up testing locations at fire stations, which usually operate from 4-8 p.m., will be closed. Today, the testing sites and the University of the District of Columbia Bertie Backus campus and Judiciary Square will be open. On Wednesday the Anacostia and Judiciary Square testing sites will operate. On Monday, the city also closed its grocery distribution sites, but they will reopen Tuesday with normal hours. Free meal distribution site for students are also open. Grocery and meal locations can be found online. In Montgomery County, the drive-thru testing at the White Oak Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program station on Tuesdays and Thursdays will move to the White Oak Community Recreation Center. The county said the clinic will operate from 8 a.m.-noon and will be a walk-up site instead of a drive-thru. The drive-thru testing at the Amherst parking garage in Wheaton on Wednesdays and Fridays will move to the parking garage beneath the Wheaton Library and Community Recreation Center on Georgia Avenue. The county said the clinic will remain drive-thru and do testing between 8 a.m.-noon. The pop-up clinic at the East County Recreation Center from 2-6 p.m. today will be held as scheduled at 3310 Gateshead Manor Way, Silver Spring.
The majority of D.C.’s COVID-19 cases are from community spread. D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt made the announcement on Monday during a press conference and revealed a new metric detailing how residents contract the virus. The finding indicates that few cases are connected to one another, which concerns local officials because it makes containing the virus more difficult. “Many of the people who are being diagnosed with COVID-19 in the District are not people who were already in quarantine or are not someone else’s close contact,” Nesbitt said. “Ideally, what we want to see is more of our cases connected to each other … and more of our cases occurring in clusters, meaning that we have more evidence of containment.” The new metric’s “percentage of positive cases from quarantine contacts,” which will help determine when the city moves into Phase Three of reopening, shows that only 2.6% of new cases in D.C. are from those who are already in quarantine or a close contact of someone who is, indicating that a vast majority of positive cases are from those who have gotten the virus outside of the home and from someone who isn’t a close contact. Nesbitt said 60% is the target benchmark, meaning more than half of new cases in the city would come from quarantined individuals or those in close contact with them. Nesbitt attributed the large number of cases contracted through community spread to more folks not following guidance for social distancing, wearing masks and only venturing out for essential activities. “I think we have a challenge … with the ‘choosing activities wisely’ aspect of containment,” Nesbitt said. “I think people have gotten very relaxed. We still need people to be very judicious about choosing their activities.” Nesbitt said city officials are considering bringing back stricter mandated restrictions and there may be opportunities for “intervention.” A D.C. Health spokesperson said that “there are multiple factors that impact this metric, including how data are reported and linked, as well as community factors related to testing behaviors and elevated levels of risky interactions.” In recent weeks, the region has seen coronavirus case numbers increase. The city has also come under criticism for the number of delayed test results, but Mayor Muriel Bowser blamed the commercial labs that process the tests. “We can collect samples. We’ve pretty gotten that down. But we need the labs to complete the tests,” Bowser said. “And these labs, largely, are national in scope. So, what they do in Delaware affects processing time for us here in D.C.” Even if their test results are delayed, Nesbitt said, residents should be acting as if they have a positive result and quarantine. “Anybody who gets a test should be quarantined. So while your tests results are pending, you should be quarantining. If you have the desire to get a test, if a healthcare professional has advised you to get a test, you should quarantine. You should already be doing all the things that if your test came back positive. You should start doing them immediately after you have been tested. We know there are a lot of people who are going out and getting a test and saying ‘I just want to know’,” she said. “If you are curious enough to know, you should be interested enough to protect everyone else if that test came back positive. You should not be doing any activities that would put more people at risk if you went to get a test.” The city will launch a “home visit team” next week that will visit individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 and their quarantined close contacts to assess social service needs like food, medication and housing. They will also determine the person’s ability to safely isolate from others. The initial focus for the teams will be on the highest-risk populations and individuals who have not yet completed contact tracing interviews.
Top health officers in Maryland’s most-populated municipalities, including Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, asked the state to reconsider what activities it permits amid the coronavirus pandemic, as experts across the DMV urged caution while watching cases rise recently. The health officers said their respective jurisdictions are weighing “a range of revisions,” including restrictions on gathering sizes, mandating face coverings for indoor and outdoor activities, and stopping indoor service at restaurants and bars. The email was sent Monday to Deputy Secretary of Health Fran Phillips and signed by the health officers in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City. “Our jurisdictions are prepared to act quickly to address these concerns but would prefer for the state to take action to create a unified, standardized approach to address this resurgence of cases,” they wrote. With the entire state now in Phase Two of Gov. Larry Hogan’s reopening plan, the local health officers said they are considering whether to once again close indoor amusement facilities, indoor recreational facilities and indoor mall spaces. Their email also said they are considering “restrictions on travel to and from areas deemed COVID-19 hotspots.” Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, said in a statement that the state looks “closely at the data every day with public health experts” and will continue to emphasize caution. “We have stressed to local health officers the importance of enforcing the public health orders currently in place, particularly at bars and restaurants,” Ricci said. “We cannot allow a small segment of bad actors to squander the sacrifices that Marylanders have made. But as the governor has said, if necessary, he is prepared to take action.” The seven-day average of coronavirus cases in the DMV has nearly doubled in the past month. It stood at 1,760 on Monday after climbing steadily from a low of 907 cases. Virus-related hospitalizations have also started showing slight upticks. The state’s six largest jurisdictions have all seen a rebound in new infections in recent days. Prince George’s and Montgomery, which lead the state in overall cases since March, have also seen their daily case numbers increase over the past two weeks. In Prince George’s, the seven-day average has climbed to 131, up from the low of 70 in early July, but still significantly lower than the average of more than 350 that the county saw in May. In Montgomery, where more than 16,000 people have tested positive, the seven-day average of new cases has reached 93, up from about 65 in late June, but also markedly lower than its peak in May of more than 240 cases.
Metro will increase Metrorail service beginning Aug. 16 and Metrobus service starting Aug. 23. It is part of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s plan to ramp up service and return to full service by spring 2021. So far, the number of buses and trains hasn’t caught up with demand. And it appears next month’s increase won’t either. Starting Aug. 16, trains will run 5 a.m.-11 p.m. weekdays and 7/8 a.m.-11 p.m. weekends. During peak hours, trains will run every 8 minutes and every 5 minutes on the Red Line. During off-peak hours and weekends, trains will run every 15 minutes and every 12 minutes on the Red Line. Service will be about 90% of pre-COVID levels. Metro can safely accommodate 53,000 trips a day now and the added service will allow for about 200,000 trips a day, according to the plan. Metro will also resume charging for parking at lots and garages. Metro will expand its After-Hours Ride-hailing program with Lyft and increase the discount from $3 to $6. Beginning Aug. 23, buses will run 4 a.m.-midnight. Weekday service will be about 73% of what the region had before the pandemic. Metro said it currently can accommodate 85,000 trips a day and will be able to make up to 110,000 trips a day next month. But passengers are already outpacing Metro service. The 52 routes will operate on a normal schedule, 64 routes with reduced frequency and 37 lines won’t run. Saturday service will be about 87% of pre-pandemic service levels. Sunday service will be about 86%. Riders will still continue to board through the rear doors to protect operators and no fares will be collected. Metro expects this level of service to continue through the end of the year. Trains and buses will return to full service when treatments or vaccines are available, possibly sometime next spring. Metrobus has averaged about 130,000 trips almost every weekday for the past three weeks. During the pandemic, about 70% of bus trips are work trips, Metro said. Metro said it is increasing service as jurisdictions enter new phases of reopening and is monitoring school plans and whether the federal government will continue to operate with telework flexibility.
A federal judge on Monday refused to temporarily block enforcement of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive orders aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 and set an Aug. 27 trial date in a suit alleging that Northam’s orders violate the rights of a Loudoun County businessman. Jon Tigges, the owner of Zion Springs, a vineyard and wedding venue, filed suit last month in federal court alleging that the restrictions violate equal treatment of the laws by discriminating in categories and that the governor exceeded his emergency powers. Tigges testified Monday that in 2019 his business grossed $1.4 million. Asked if the business was profitable, he said, “last year it was tight, it was right on the line” and that was without the numerous cancellations he has had this year, which he blamed largely on state COVID-19 restrictions. Potentially losing $1.4 million in income constitutes ongoing “irreparable harm,” argued Tigges’ lawyer, Chap Petersen. Peterson, who is also a Fairfax County state senator, asked the court for a preliminary injunction stopping enforcement of the restrictions until the suit has been tried. At the end of an hourlong hearing Monday, U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. denied the motion for a preliminary injunction, set a hearing for Aug. 3 on the Commonwealth’s motion to dismiss the suit, which was filed last month, and set a trial date for Aug. 27. In ruling on the injunction, Gibney said Tigges would have to show a strong likelihood of ultimate success. Gibney said reasonable minds can disagree on the ultimate outcome of the suit. But, he said, “There is no differing about the fact that COVID-19 is a dangerous disease and it is the obligation of our government to address that.” The judge said it was unfortunate that the restrictions disproportionately affect hospitality businesses. The suit contends that the COVID-19 rules impermissibly curtail civil rights in Virginia, including the right to peaceably assemble and attend religious services and the right to own and use private property. It also alleges that the restrictions are not limited in times and scope; infringe on constitutional rights; and are impermissibly vague and subject to arbitrary enforcement. Tigges conceded that the pandemic itself caused some of the cancellations, but said the biggest reason was concern about violating the law. “They want to be with one another, and they want to take the risk,” said Tigges, who explained his business in Loudon County already goes to extraordinary lengths to protect clients. Dr. Lillian Peake, the state epidemiologist, testified that masks and social distancing are effective ways to curb the spread of the virus and that the difference between a family gathering and a group of strangers is that a family may already have close contact with one another. Limiting the size of groups can limit the spread of the virus and reduce the risk of a “superspreader.” If there were no restrictions, Peake said, experts believe the virus would “get out of control.” Tigges also has filed a suit with the Supreme Court of Virginia complaining that the General Assembly was not part of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Washington Nationals on Opening Day this Thursday when they take on the New York Yankees. “Dr. Fauci has been a true champion for our country during the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout his distinguished career, so it is only fitting that we honor him as we kick off the 2020 season and defend our World Series Championship title,” the Nationals said in a statement. Thursday’s game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. and will be televised nationally. Fauci’s love for the team is well known. He wore a Nationals mask during a Congressional committee hearing in June and described himself as an “avid Washington Nationals fan.” In April, Fauci did a coronavirus Q&A with relief pitcher Ryan Zimmerman. Fauci grew up a Yankees fan but started rooting for the Nats after the team arrived in 2005. Major League Baseball shortened the season to 60 games, with no fans and other safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Two players tested positive for the virus during a round of intake testing, and the team canceled a day of training camp because of delayed test results. Zimmerman, and pitcher Joe Ross also opted out of playing this season, due to concerns about the coronavirus.
The 2020 Marine Corps Marathon is moving online due to public health concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic. The race and its related events were scheduled for Oct. 23-25 in Arlington and D.C. The virtual MCM events, including the marathon, 10K, 50K and Semper Fun Mile, must be completed between Oct. 1 and Nov. 10, which is the Marine Corps’ birthday. “We explored various approaches to safely execute a live event and held numerous meetings with Marine Corps leadership, local government and public health officials,” said Rick Nealis, director of the Marine Corps Marathon Organization, in a statement Monday. “We understand this is disappointing news for many, but we could no longer envision a way to gather together in compliance with safety guidelines,” he said. All virtual race participants will receive a participant shirt, commemorative bib, patch and/or finisher medal. Runners will also have access to an online event program, personalized finisher certificate, the MCM Audio Experience and several new digital engagement platforms. In addition to marking its 45th anniversary, this year’s marathon commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima by featuring actual volcanic ash collected at that site within the event medal.
D.C.-run COVID-19 testing sites will be closed Monday due to high temperatures. Grocery distribution sites that are based out of city public schools will also be closed, but free meal sites throughout D.C. will remain open. High temperatures are expected in the upper 90s today, and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser activated the city’s heat emergency plan. The closure applies to all city-run testing locations, including both walk-up and drive-thru sites, said Christopher Rodriguez, director of the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. The city’s move does not apply to other providers that offer testing in the city, such as Bread for the City or CVS. “We have over 100 people that operate the sites wearing full PPE, personal protective equipment,” Rodriguez said. “And we want to make sure, if there are lines, people aren’t waiting outside in the heat because it will be extreme.” D.C. also has had trouble protecting testing samples from the heat in the past. In June, 407 samples from the Judiciary Square and Anacostia testing sites were rendered useless due to heat exposure. Since the heat exposure issues in June, the city had strengthened guidance around storage and transportation of samples “to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” a HSEMA spokesperson said. Residents should contact their private health care providers if they are in need of a test Monday. Temperatures in the high 90s are forecast for the next several days, and Bowser activated the heat emergency from Saturday through Wednesday. Word on testing the other days has not been announced yet.
Delta Air Lines is now requiring medical screenings for passengers who can’t wear face masks due to health reasons and asks that they reconsider flying altogether as the coronavirus pandemic rages. The strengthened policy adds another layer of protection for passengers who were already mostly required to wear masks while on flights, during boarding and in Delta waiting areas. If they don’t comply, they face being banned from future flights. “We encourage customers who are prevented from wearing a mask due to a health condition to reconsider travel,” the statement said. “If they decide to travel, they will be welcome to fly upon completing a virtual consultation prior to departure at the airport to ensure everyone’s safety, because nothing is more important.” The virtual consultation, which could take more than an hour, will be conducted over the phone privately by STAT-MD, which “provides inflight emergency consultation as well as fitness-to-fly ground screening,” according to that company’s website. Delta will use the outcome of the screening to determine whether the passenger can fly without a mask. In June, Delta said passengers who do not comply with the mask or other safety requirements “risk future flight privileges with Delta.” Delta is one of many U.S. airlines that has recently sought to strengthen the use of masks while flying. United Airlines announced in June that those who refuse a mask could be put on a restricted travel list. American Airlines has asked all passengers with the exception of children and those with disabilities or medical reasons that prevent them from wearing masks to use face coverings while on the plane. Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a memo to employees last month that the airline had already “banned some passengers from future travel on Delta for refusing to wear masks on board.”
Housekeepers preparing the University of Maryland’s campus for the return of thousands of students next month are unequipped to safely do their jobs, according to a labor complaint filed by their union. Since May, housekeepers and other facilities workers have asked the university to enforce mandatory coronavirus tests, provide coronavirus-specific training and distribute more equipment, including N95 masks, disposable gowns and extra cleaning agents. The unfair labor practices complaint was filed last week with the State Higher Education Labor Relations Board, which enforces labor contracts at public institutions. The complaint alleges the university refuses to negotiate health and safety protocols as workers return to campus in the midst of the pandemic. Board officials have reviewed the complaint and requested a response from the university, said Denise Galante, special assistant to the executive director who oversees the state’s labor relations boards. The board will review the university’s response then issue a decision. University spokesperson Natifia Mullings said the university does not comment on pending complaints or litigation proceedings. As part of a broader effort to expand testing, the university offered voluntary coronavirus tests to the campus community last week. But those tests came nearly a month after a housekeeper contracted the virus. Housekeepers and other cleaning crews are responsible for sanitizing surfaces, mopping floors and dusting furniture to keep the rest of the community safe. But they said they fear for their own well-being. Housekeepers have also complained about working in dangerous heat, as they prepare residence halls for about 8,900 students being offered on-campus housing this fall. On a recent morning inside Centreville Hall, a housekeeper recorded a temperature of 93 degrees. The air conditioning had been shut off to control moisture, said Katie Lawson, another university spokesperson. In response to workers’ complaints about persistent heat, the university disclosed plans to offer temporary work reassignments to cooler buildings and rework schedules so housekeepers can avoid working through the hottest parts of the day. In buildings where staff members are working, air conditioning will run during the day and be turned off at night, according to Lawson. Union officials added that conditions have improved since Darryll J. Pines, the university’s new president, got involved. On Tuesday, after a meeting with union leaders, Pines tweeted: “We have worked to identify cooling solutions in every residence hall where our employees work this summer. Progress!”