Arlington OKs $100 Fine for Congregating
COVID-19 Cases Reach 192,371 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of yesterday morning, 12,205 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 585 deaths; there have been 89,365 cases in Maryland with 3,374 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 90,801 cases with 2,215 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
A new emergency ordinance in Arlington County prohibits more than three people from congregating on streets and sidewalks posted with the restrictions and requires pedestrians to maintain at least six feet of physical separation from others. Violators could face a traffic fine of up to $100. The law is aimed at cracking down on a lack of social distancing in some parts of the county as the coronavirus pandemic continues. The new law passed was unanimously by the Arlington Board. While it is not clear which streets and sidewalks the new law will impact, the county said some areas have seen “significant crowding inside restaurants and on the public sidewalks, rights of way and adjacent public spaces,” where people are waiting for restaurant tables without wearing masks. That suggests the new ordinance will apply to some of the busier streets and sidewalks in the county’s commercial district, where the board said that too many times, those who are gathered outside are not wearing masks and are not keeping a proper distance from others while waiting for tables. “While most Arlingtonians are adhering to requirements to wear masks and maintain social distancing, unfortunately, some are not,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said in the release. “They are putting themselves and our community at risk of serious illness or death during the COVID-19 pandemic. The board hopes that this step will make it clear to our entire community that this pandemic is far from under control and that we are serious about maintaining social distance to slow its spread and save lives. We hope that through outreach and education, we will get voluntary compliance and will not have to issue a single ticket.” The board will hold a public hearing on the amendment at its September meeting before voting on whether to make it permanent.
Beginning today, Ride On bus service in Montgomery County is expanding to support residents and businesses reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic. According to a news release, all Ride On and Ride On Extra routes will be in service and will see an increase of around 40% on weekdays. Although service is expanding, the number of passengers per bus is still limited to 15 to 20 riders, or around 40% capacity. On-demand Flex service is still suspended. “Expansion to serve all Ride On routes is a critical step in supporting people who live and work in the county,” Montgomery County Department of Transportation Director Chris Conklin said in the release. “Ride On’s entire team worked hard to reach this point where we can provide bus transportation across the entire service area. I want to thank our planning and operations teams for the dedication and cooperation that have been critical to reach this level of reopening and support for Montgomery County’s residents and overall economy.” Buses remain free and most passengers, except those with disabilities, mobility aids and strollers, should board through the rear door. Passengers are required to wear a face covering to board and ride the buses. Buses have face coverings for those who don’t have one. More than 170,000 face coverings have been distributed on buses to Ride On passengers since late April, according to the release. Bus routes and schedules are available online.
Alexandria City Public Schools plans to begin the school year with virtual classes under a proposal released by the school system Friday. The “Virtual PLUS+” plan announced by Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings Jr. in a news release calls for 100% virtual learning and will provide all students with either electronic tablets or Chromebook laptops. The proposal will be presented to the Alexandria City School Board for a vote Aug. 7 and will be submitted to the Virginia Department of Education. Classes being Sept. 8. The district’s plan said virtual classes this fall will come with a “structured bell schedule, daily live instruction with teachers and additional help for some of our most vulnerable students, including one-on-one and small group tutoring.” As far as classroom tech, students in pre-K through first grade will receive electronic tablets, and students in grades 2-12 will receive Chromebooks, the school system said. The district also said it plans to offer childcare options for those families who need it through community partners. “We are working collaboratively with our community partners to provide more specific details about these childcare options and will share additional information over the next couple of weeks,” the release said. ACPS said it is continuing to evaluate how to expand services under its virtual plan and is taking feedback from parents, students and staff through an online survey. In addition, the school system said a committee will “reevaluate our constraints for reopening and assess” every nine weeks. “ACPS is committed to remaining flexible as the situation surrounding the global pandemic changes in the DMV,” the statement said. Alexandria joins several other districts in Northern Virginia and the DMVto announce plans for online classes this fall.
Visitors to popular Eastern Shore towns in Maryland, including St. Michaels and Easton, could end up paying big bucks if they don’t abide by the governor’s order concerning masks. The Talbot County Council approved a fine of up to $1,000 for anyone who doesn’t wear a mask where required by Gov. Larry Hogan. The measure, which passed 4-1 in a council meeting last week, also allows the county to fine restaurants and bars found operating in an unsafe manner. Talbot County, among Maryland’s least populated counties with an estimated 37,000 residents, ranks in the state’s bottom third in coronavirus cases but saw a large spike in July. The county recorded 131 cases on July 1, but as of July 30, had 330 cases, despite a statewide decline in positivity rates. Further restrictions to limit crowd sizes are expected to be discussed at the next Talbot County Council hearing.
Visitors to Ocean City must wear face coverings on the beach town’s boardwalk between 8 a.m.-2 a.m. Mayor Rick Meehan signed the declaration, which is in effect for 30 days, Friday morning and it went into effect at 5 p.m. It does not apply to children 5 or younger or people with medical conditions that make wearing masks unsafe. The mandate coincides with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s expanded statewide order that requires masks at all outdoor events where social distancing is not possible. Masks will be required for the entire length of the boardwalk, but not on the beach unless at least 6 feet of space cannot be maintained with others outside a household. People who refuse to comply with the order face a misdemeanor penalty, but police will ask that they put on a mask before handing down any charges. During a two-hour meeting, city council debated whether to pass a municipal ordinance Meehan proposed to make the penalty a municipal infraction rather than a misdemeanor. The ordinance was defeated 4-2 with one member absent. Council member John Gerhig said he wanted to see the police educate the public, but added that if violators were “belligerent” and “not nice to our police department,” they should be given a misdemeanor. “If someone is going to be a jerk, they are going to get a misdemeanor. Council member Mark Paddack, a retired Ocean City police officer, said he wanted to see the requirement go into effect after 11 a.m., when bicyclists are off the boardwalk. Council members also expressed concerns that a mask requirement would create a negative impression for tourism. “The town is seeing millions of dollars in cancellations. This is one more negative,” Council member Matt James said. The mayor’s mandate follows Hogan’s decision to pause Maryland’s reopening amid recent concerns about case spikes in the state’s younger residents. “Following the governor’s expanded statewide masking order announced earlier this week, we believed it was necessary at this time to be even more specific with regard to our Boardwalk and require face coverings,” Meehan said in a statement. “Ocean City will continue to take all actions necessary to keep our residents, staff and visitors safe, as safety is always our top priority.” Officials in Maryland and Virginia worry that lax mask requirements and social distancing efforts in the states’ beach resorts could be the cause of increased positivity rates among younger people. Ocean City made headlines when it reopened in May and unmasked beachgoers were spotted crowding on the town’s boardwalk and beach. The new requirement does not apply to people on the beach. While Maryland is exempt from D.C.’s new travel order, city officials have warned residents to take precautions when vacationing at nearby beaches. Staff at several Ocean City restaurants tested positive for COVID-19 last week.
Prince George’s County is dialing back the number of people allowed at gatherings to 50 effective at 5 p.m. today amid an uptick in new coronavirus cases. “What this is really aimed at is the family gatherings, the parties and those other large kinds of activities,” John Erzen II, County Executive Anglea Alsobrooks’ deputy chief of staff. “We are not afraid to take decisive action to protect the health and well-being of our residents; and at this point, the data tells us that this new restriction is unfortunately necessary,” Alsobrooks said in a statement. The June executive order for the full Phase Two reopening allowed for “social, community, spiritual, religious, recreational, leisure and sporting gatherings and events” to have a maximum of 100 people or one person/family unit per 200 square feet, whichever was lower. The new restriction issued by County Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter on Friday rolls back that limit. It comes after police responded to a house party several times last weekend at Broadwater Estate owned by former state Sen. Tommie Broadwater in Upper Marlboro that was packed with hundreds of people, many not wearing masks or social distancing. The county said other capacity limits outlined in the original executive order will stay the same for now. “It does not affect anything that is outlined in other areas of the executive order,” Erzen said of the new restriction. “It doesn’t change the restrictions that we have in place for restaurants, retail businesses, indoor dining, churches and religious facilities — all of that will remain as it has been since we went to Phase Two.” At a press conference Thursday, Alsobrooks and Carter said younger adults, in their 20s and 30s, and people going to family gatherings and parties as key factors in the latest increases. “Family gatherings and parties have been a major source of transmission over the past few weeks,” Alsobrooks said Thursday, adding that 67% of new infections have been traced to such gatherings. “By rolling it back from 100 to 50, what we’re really hoping to do is by reducing the number of people, hopefully reducing spread and transmission, and doing all we can to keep people safe,” Erzen said. He added that it is still important for residents to practice social distancing measures. “Even though we’ve reduced the number to 50, it’s still very important to practice physical distancing and wearing a facial covering,” he said.
Utilities in Maryland are barred from shutting off service or charging late fees until at least Sept. 1 under an extension of an executive order issued Friday by Gov. Larry Hogan. Hogan issued the original order in March amid the first wave of layoffs and business shutdowns from the coronavirus pandemic. The order, which has been previously been extended, applies to companies that provide gas, electric, water, phone and internet service. Sept. 1 is when Hogan’s state of emergency is set to expire, although he could extend it.
All passengers and workers at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport must wear face masks or coverings at all times as of 5 p.m. yesterday. The airport said the move was in keeping with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order that anyone age 5 or older wear a face covering indoors “at any location where members of the public are generally permitted” as a preventative measure against spreading the coronavirus. Face coverings were already required in the airport’s restaurants and shops, and all major airlines have implemented face mask policies, the airport said in a statement. Passengers should bring their own masks, BWI Marshall said in the statement. Cloth face masks will also be available free at one of the airport’s three information desks, and some airlines may provide them as well. There are also shops and vending machines at which passengers can buy masks, the airport said. BWI Marshall said their business is making a slow comeback: While passenger traffic was down 96% in April compared with the same time a year ago, it was down 68% in July.
Private schools in Montgomery County must remain closed for in-person classes through Oct. 1. County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles announced the health directive Friday, citing the need to protect the safety of parents, students and teachers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “At this point the data does not suggest that in-person instruction is safe for students or teachers,” Gayles said in a statement. “We have seen increases in transmission rates for COVID-19 in the State of Maryland, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Virginia, particularly in younger age groups, and this step is necessary to protect the health and safety of Montgomery County residents.” The order includes, but is not limited to, all private pay schools, schools affiliated with religious institutions and schools that are otherwise considered to be independent schools. Gayles will reevaluate the order before Oct. 1 to determine if it should be extended, terminated or amended, according to a news release. Montgomery County Public Schools will start the school year with virtual-only learning for the first semester, Supt Jack Smith announced last week. Cases of COVID-19 in Maryland have been increasing in recent weeks. As of Friday, there are more than 88,000 cases, and 8,377 people 19-years-old and younger have tested positive for the new coronavirus. In Montgomery County, there are 17,568 cases of COVID-19 and 750 people have died from it.
D.C. Public Schools students will start the school year online. Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn made the announcement Thursday, reversing plans to provide some in-person instruction in the fall. Earlier this month, Mayor Muriel Bowser was expected to announce the 51,000-student school system would provide a mix of virtual and in-person classes for the 2020-21 school year. That plan was opposed by the Washington Teachers’ Union, which argued schools were not prepared to safely reopen. Distance learning will start Aug. 31 and continue through at least Nov. 6, the end of the first grading quarter. “We want to work with our workforce. We want to make sure that parents have confidence in an in-person option,” Bowser said. “We think that this two-month period is a good way to start.” Several suburban school systems, including those in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, have made similar decisions in recent weeks. DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said more than 200 teachers and staff worked to refine virtual instruction over the summer. They have developed attendance policies, created schedules that provide more structure for students and updated curriculum, he said. The school system considered providing classes outside, but Ferebee said not all campuses had enough space to accommodate outdoor lessons. Public charter and private schools, which educate about half of the city’s children, can individually decide to keep campuses closed or partially reopen with enhanced safety measures, which is currently permitted by the city. Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn said he expects many charter schools will offer online classes only. KIPP DC, which educates nearly 7,000 students, also said it would start the school year online, backtracking on earlier plans to offer some in-person classes. Friendship Public Charter School, which enrolls 4,500 students, will also remain virtual for at least the first four weeks of school.
Prince George’s County has seen a 56% increase in COVID-19 cases during the past month. The week before July 4, the county reported 581 positive cases. Between July 12-18, the number of positive cases increased to 909, according to county health data. County Health Director Ernest Carter said while the county has increased testing over the past two months, it has also seen an increase in people under the age of 50 contracting the virus. According to county data, residents under the age of 50 make up slightly more than 65% of the total confirmed cases, while people over 50 make up 90% of the total virus-related deaths. “The increase we’re seeing in new cases right now shows a stubborn and persistent increase in community spread,” Carter said at a Thursday press conference. He added that county residents need to keep up social distancing and other protective actions and that it is too early to suggest a rollback on any reopening measures. “This is evident that physical distancing and other protective measures, both in the county and nationwide, have not been as robust as we should have had them,” Carter said. County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said she is ordering residents to avoid gatherings indoors and outdoors of more than 100 people. She said anyone in violation of the order could be charged with a misdemeanor and face one year in prison and a $5,000 fine. “This is no laughing matter,” Alsobrooks said Thursday. “We are unfortunately seeing – and there’s one in every crowd – some who are trying to circumvent the order by holding large house parties with hundreds of people in attendance and these parties are unsafe. … In fact, they’re almost certain to lead to an additional spread of COVID-19.” According to the state health department’s contact tracing data, 44% of the infected people interviewed by the department had attended a large family gathering and 23% were at large house parties. Alsobrooks said she is also ordering the health department to close or fine any restaurants and businesses in violation of social distancing and safety protocols. With the pandemic still a top priority for the county, Alsobrooks is concerned with how it will run the November presidential election. She wrote a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan this week asking him to allow the county board of elections to open only 15 polling places for early and day-of voting and implement drop-off ballot boxes at each one. Alsobrooks said the county would need 3,500 poll workers during a traditional election. “And that’s just something we’re not going to be able to do in the middle of a pandemic. Many of the venues that normally serve as polling places, such as senior centers, churches and private halls, have withdrawn,” she said. Hogan has said the state would have a mostly in-person election with an option for mail-in ballot applications and ballot drop-off boxes. Alsobrooks reiterated her calls with other county executives and Democratic state lawmakers Thursday asking for Hogan to reverse his decision and hold a mostly mail-in ballot election.
As eviction cases rise in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam is again asking the state’s Supreme Court to delay hearings that could leave thousands of Virginians homeless during the pandemic. In a letter dated July 24, Northam asked Chief Justice Donald Lemons to suspend proceedings for unlawful detainers (evictions) until Sept. 7. The governor said the extra time will not only provide relief to at-risk renters, but also provide his administration the opportunity to develop a legislative package focused on eviction prevention once the state’s General Assembly convenes for a special session on Aug. 18. “The rise in COVID-19 cases has dampened the commonwealth’s ability to recover from the economic crisis following in the wake of the pandemic,” the governor wrote. “There remains the distinct threat that the most vulnerable Virginians will be evicted from their homes at a time when our public health crisis is expanding rather than contracting.” Evictions had been banned in Virginia under a series of earlier judicial emergencies spurred by the health crisis, but the most recent stay expired at the end of June. At the time, Northam encouraged local courts to decide for themselves whether to begin hearing eviction cases. His administration also rolled out a $50 million eviction prevention program to aid renters in arrears. That program has assisted 467 households, according to the Northam administration. But the money has already proven unequal to the task: Between July 20-Aug. 7, more than 6,000 eviction hearings are scheduled across Virginia courts, the letter said. An increase in homelessness is likely as thousands of Virginians face losing the $600 weekly unemployment benefits Congress authorized in March. Those benefits officially sunset this week, with no plan in place until Congress reaches a deal on the latest coronavirus relief bill. Senate Republicans have called to cut federal benefits to $200 a week, eventually capping combined state and federal benefits at 70% of workers’ prior wages; Democrats want the $600 supplement to remain. Analysts with the National Multifamily Housing Council, which tracks rent payments at professionally managed apartment buildings across the U.S., says expanded unemployment benefits are a primary reason many Americans have continued to pay their rent on time. Evictions remain banned in the District of Columbia for the duration of the health emergency. In Maryland, renters who have lost their income due to the pandemic are protected by an executive order that provides a blanket defense against evictions, but landlords can still bring charges against renters for nonpayment. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh has asked courts to reinstate an evictions freeze that expired July 25.
The University System of Maryland, which includes the University of Maryland, Towson University and Bowie State University, is sticking with plans to welcome students back this fall, but says all students and employees will have to test negative for the coronavirus before they are allowed on campuses. According to the new coronavirus guidelines announced Thursday, all students returning to campuses in the fall must test negative for COVID-19 within 14 days of their arrival and provide their university with official confirmation of the test result. Some universities will carry out the testing themselves as students return to campuses. The mandatory testing also applies to employees. The university system said the decision to require mandatory testing was made following the recent spike in coronavirus cases nationwide. Those who test positive for the virus will not be allowed on campus until they go through a period of isolation. Anyone who tests positive after arriving on campus must consult with university officials about medical follow-ups and isolation protocols. USM said universities will provide guidance to students who have been tested but have not received their results by the time the semester starts. Students who plan on going on campus must begin monitoring their symptoms every day for 14 days ahead of their arrival. “The uncertainty surrounding COVID spread and impact demands that our plans be flexible enough to respond to disease risk in real-time, changing as COVID conditions and safety guidelines change,” the university system said in a statement. In addition to the mandatory testing, safety measures on Maryland campuses include using masks or face coverings in campus buildings and on campus grounds, in accordance with local orders; physical distancing of at least 6 feet between individuals; compliance with local guidance on events and gatherings; vigilant hand hygiene; and daily symptom monitoring, as stipulated by each institution. “Adherence to these testing, symptom monitoring and disease mitigation protocols is essential to the safety of our USM community, and to our ability to resume and sustain in-person instruction this fall,” the system said.
American University will hold classes completely online during the fall semester with no students living on campus. President Sylvia Burwell made the announcement online Thursday, citing rising cases of the coronavirus nationwide, testing capacity and reporting delays and a new requirement for travelers to D.C. to self-quarantine. Burwell said the university will offer all students a 10% discount off their fall tuition and waive other fees. The announcement marks a reversal in course from a plan AU announced in June to welcome some students back to campus and offer a “blended combination” of in-person and online instruction. In the statement, Burwell said the “tough but best decision” to keep students off-campus and offer online courses only was made based on “evolving health conditions” in the coronavirus pandemic. The statement cited the rising number of coronavirus cases across the country, including outbreaks among young people. Overall, new COVID-19 cases nationwide are up from about 20,000 per day in June to almost 70,000 per day now, the statement said. In addition, the university pointed to nationwide shortages in testing capabilities and delays in delivering results; the decision by D.C.-area public schools to transition to distance learning, which the university said could create challenges for faculty members; and an order issued D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser requiring all travelers coming into the city to quarantine for 14 days. The quarantine “potentially requires hundreds of students to remain in their residence hall rooms or off-campus housing as classes commence,” the statement said. Burwell said the university will provide emergency housing “to a very limited number of students who face extraordinary circumstances” and said an application process will be offered soon. Online classes begin Aug. 24 and finals conclude the week of Dec. 7. AU joins Georgetown University and George Washington University in moving to online classes this fall.
Beginning Friday, Marylanders will be required to wear masks in public and discouraged from traveling to or from states with COVID-19 positivity rates of 10% or higher. Gov. Larry Hogan said the state is at a “fork in the road” in its coronavirus recovery. Maryland’s caseload is far lower than in states where COVID-19 is spiking, but Hogan said at a press conference Wednesday that he is concerned about a rise in hospitalizations, which is up nearly 30% in the last two weeks. As a result, Maryland will not move into Stage Three of its reopening until numbers look better. As of July 31, Marylanders older than 5 will be required to wear masks in outdoor public areas where it isn’t possible to maintain physical distancing, as well as in public spaces of all businesses across the state. Hogan said the decision to expand the mask orders was “fact-based, apolitical and solidly grounded in science. And while it can be an inconvenience, especially in the heat, wearing a mask is the single best mitigation strategy that we have to fight the virus, and the science and the data are very clear.” The travel advisory currently includes Florida, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina, Nebraska and Idaho. It applies to personal, family or business travel of any kind, Hogan said. “If you absolutely must travel to one of those locations, you are strongly advised to immediately get tested for COVID-19 and self-quarantine while awaiting test results.” COVID-19 cases are spiking in many states across the country. Hogan said Maryland’s numbers looked better. He pointed to the fact that the statewide positivity rate has remained under 5%, the target established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for more than 30 days. Three counties – Baltimore County, Baltimore City and Prince George’s County – have reported positivity rates of more than 5%. “However, we do find ourselves at a fork in the road, a critical turning point where we could continue making progress and heading in the right direction or ignore the warnings and spike back up like much of the rest of the country,” Hogan said. The governor pointed to a few concerning indicators, which led him to decide to pause reopening and not move forward into Stage Three. Particularly concerning is a rise in hospitalizations, which Hogan said were up 28% over the past two weeks. The uptick in acute care bed use in the state, Hogan said, is largely coming from younger people. He said younger patients are not suffering the same severe complications as older residents were at the virus’s peak in the late spring, but were “troubling nonetheless” and “further proof that this virus can impact anyone, anywhere, at any age.” Hogan said in recent weeks there has been a “dramatic shift” in the age of those becoming infected. Now, 56% of new cases of COVID-19 in Maryland are from residents under the age of 40 and the positivity rate for people younger than 35 is 76.8% higher than people 35 and older. Maryland’s contact tracing efforts have also begun to yield some data about where and how residents might be contracting the virus. Fifty four percent of people interviewed as part of contact tracing were working outside their home, 25% were health care workers, 23% worked in offices with non-public-facing jobs, 13% had public-facing jobs and 12% worked in the restaurant and food service industry. Hogan said certain activities linked a number of reported coronavirus cases, too. Of people for whom the state has been able to track activity, 44% had attended a family gathering, 23% went to house parties and 21% said they attended outdoor events. Hogan said the data around family gatherings was particularly notable. “For most of us, I think there’s a false sense of security when you’re spending time with family and friends, especially if you’re at home or in a backyard barbecue,” he said. “I think I’m guilty of this myself. It’s very easy to feel comfortable thinking that just because to haven’t gone out to what we thought of a high risk activity, that you’re very safe. The reality is that you can just as easily get this virus by going to work in an office or just by attending a backyard barbeque or hanging out with a group of family. Each of us has to be cautious and vigilant, and we can’t let our guard down.”
D.C. health officials changed a key metric for moving into Phase Three of the city’s reopening plan. D.C. now is looking for a seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate of less than 5%, rather than its previous goal of less than 10% for seven consecutive days. The city is currently meeting the new goal, with a positivity rate of 3.7%. During a press conference Wednesday, D.C. Health director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said officials made the change because new information points to a lower positivity rate being a key to safely reopen. “We now have far more evidence that suggests in order for rebound not to occur, for you to have a second peak or a second wave after you turn on more activity, that percentage should be below five,” she said. “If you can keep it below three, even better.” City officials have not shared a timeline for moving to Phase Three, however. D.C. is not yet meeting its goals for other metrics, like transmission rate and the percentage of new cases from quarantined contacts. The city previously set goals for positivity rates below 20% for Phase One, which was later dropped as a metric for reopening, and below 15% percent for Phase Two, which was met. Publicly available information from the city in April shows that D.C. had previously aimed for a positivity rate of less than 5% to begin Phase One, although Nesbitt has denied ever indicating that. The metric change comes as Mayor Muriel Bowser has taken a number of steps to curb the virus’s spread following a recent uptick in cases, including expanding mask requirements in public and ordering travelers from 27 high-risk states to self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. While there continues to be spikes in new cases across the DMV, some experts say metrics like test positivity and transmissions rates can actually give a better sense of how the area is doing in terms of containing the virus. Testing capacity in the region has increased as well, which has impacted overall case numbers.
Business owners and managers who encounter customers without face masks in D.C. should call police, Mayor Muriel Bowser said during a press conference Wednesday. Bowser extended an order last week requiring people to wear face coverings in most public settings. It also mandates that businesses post signs prohibiting people from entering unless they wear a mask. But national retailers, including Walmart and Lowe’s, have said in recent days that they will not ask workers to put themselves in potential danger by confronting shoppers without masks. “They should call the police and the police will enforce it,” Bowser said when asked what businesses in the city should do if shoppers refuse to wear a mask. People who violate the city’s mask mandate could be fined up to $1,000 and could face prosecution in D.C. Superior Court, according to the order. Bowser also urged community groups and advisory neighborhood commissioners to encourage social distancing as the DMV grapples with rising coronavirus cases. The city is in Phase 2 of reopening, which prohibits mass gatherings of more than 50 people. On Monday, the city imposed a 14-day self-quarantine requirement for people traveling to Washington from 27 states deemed “high-risk” by health department officials. States are considered high-risk if they record a seven-day moving average of new daily COVID-19 cases of 10 or more per 100,000 people.
The Maryland Department of Health is distributing free face masks at state-run COVID-19 testing sites throughout the summer. The department announced Tuesday that beginning Wednesday morning at the Baltimore Convention Center testing site, the state health department will hand out a package of five reusable masks and information on the importance of using face coverings in public amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The free masks are part of the department’s #MasksOnMaryland campaign, which will last throughout the summer and possibly into the fall, while supplies are available. “Marylanders need to wear face coverings and practice social distancing while in public to slow the spread of COVID-19,” state Health Secretary Robert R. Neall said in a statement. “Community cooperation with mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing is still our best defense against the spread of COVID-19 at this time.” The next free mask giveaway is scheduled for next week at the Pimlico Race Course testing site. The department said further details will be available next week. The health department reminded residents that appointments are not required to get tested, but are strongly encouraged.
Major League Baseball says Washington Nationals’ outfielder Juan Soto can return to the field after testing positive for coronavirus last week, however the D.C. government still must give its approval. Soto, 21, has missed five games while self-quarantining due to positive test results that came just hours before the team’s opening game against the Yankees last Thursday. Soto has reportedly taken six coronavirus tests since late last week, but it was only in the last day that he had the required two negative tests in a 24-hour period to meet MLB’s threshold. But, as part of the team’s agreement with the city, any player who tests positive also needs to be cleared by D.C.’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency and D.C. Health before playing. Soto has remained asymptomatic and, so far, it doesn’t appear any other Nationals player has tested positive, even though Soto was practicing with the team while waiting for his test results that later came up positive. It is unclear how Soto caught the virus, although he was on a flight chartered by the MLB at the beginning of July to bring players from the Dominican Republic so they could return for summer camp. Players and staff were not tested before boarding those planes and multiple players have since tested positive for COVID-19.
Georgetown University on Wednesday reversed an earlier announcement that classes would resume in person and instead will start the fall 2020 semester online. Earlier this July, the university said about 2,000 students, including the incoming first-year students of the Class of 2024, would be invited to campus. “Based on current pandemic and public health conditions, we will be amending our plans for the fall,” President John DeGioia said in letter to the community. “Courses for all students will begin in virtual mode. … We plan to introduce in-person course elements as soon as health conditions permit.” The university will only house students whose personal circumstances require university housing; those whose academic requirements call for on-campus instruction and first-year students who hold F1 visas, as well as enough resident assistants to support them. Certain programs will be held on-campus, including biomedical, life and physical sciences research. Those programs have already been in touch with students about plans. “The health and safety of our community remains our highest priority and will continue to guide our steps as we seek to respond to the challenging conditions of this moment,” the letter said. Undergraduate students will receive a 10% tuition discount and graduate students 5% due to changes in some services resulting from the coronavirus.
OC BikeFest and Delmarva Bike Week on Maryland’s Eastern Shore have been canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Organizers for OC BikeFest and Delmarva Bike Week announced the “incredibly difficult” decision to move the events’ 10th and 20th anniversary celebrations, respectively, from Sept. 16-20, 2020 to Sept. 15-19, 2021. The decision came after extensive discussions with Ocean City and the Worcester County Health Department. “This year, the uncertainty is too great to risk that trust and safely produce the quality events each of you have come to expect. As mentioned, this decision has been very difficult, but when it comes to the safety of all those involved, we know it is the right decision,” organizers said in a statement. Ticketholders for the 2020 events were asked to “standby” until Aug. 5 for information. OC BikeFest dubs itself the largest motorcycle rally on the East Coast, drawing more than 100,000 bikers to the Eastern Shore toward the end of summer to enjoy bike shows and rock concerts. This year’s concerts in Ocean City would have included Foghat, George Thorogood and The Destroyers, Joan Jett and The Blackhearts and Billy Idol.
George Washington University is participating in a nationwide third-phase trial to develop and test a coronavirus vaccine. GW is one of about 90 sites in the U.S. participating in the trial, developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and biotechnology company Moderna Inc. The final trial stage, which began Monday, will include 30,000 Americans. Locally, the university wants to enroll 500 participants and is looking for volunteers. The university’s announcement comes as scientists worldwide work to develop an effective vaccine for the coronavirus. “COVID-19 is one of the greatest public health challenges of our time, and it is of utmost importance to find a safe and effective vaccine,” said Dr. David Diemert, the principal investigator of the GW trial, in a statement. “We are proud to play a role in the network of researchers working to reduce the impact of this deadly disease.” Participants must be at least 18 years old, and at least 25% will be at least 65 or younger than 65 but have a comorbidity such as diabetes, heart disease or severe obesity. The strict guidelines enable researchers to test the vaccine’s effectiveness among high-risk populations. Each participant will get two injections given one month apart. Half will receive a saline placebo, and enrollees will have symptoms and side effects monitored. Researchers will check in regularly with participants for up to two years after the second dose is given. The Moderna Inc. drug is what scientists call an mRNA vaccine. “The vaccine uses a chemical messenger called ribonucleic acid or RNA that instructs the body’s cells to create a protein that mimics one found on the outer surface of the virus that causes COVID-19,” according to the release. Every month through the fall, the government-funded COVID-19 Prevention Network will roll out a new study of a leading vaccine candidate, each with 30,000 volunteers. Still, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health’s infectious-diseases chief, said conclusive results on vaccines may not be available until the end of the year.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam imposed stricter rules in the Hampton Roads area, which includes Norfolk and Virginia Beach, beginning at midnight Friday morning in response to rising COVID-19 rates in the southeastern part of the commonwealth. His new order bans the sale or on-site consumption of alcohol after 10 p.m. and requires all restaurants to close at midnight. Also, indoor dining will be limited to 50% capacity, while private social gatherings are limited to 50 people. The restrictions will be in place for two to three weeks, Northam said. He said he does not have similar restrictions planned for other regions; however, he added, “all options are on the table, and if I see the numbers increasing in the surrounding areas we will take action.” In recent days officials in the DMV have moved to slow the spread of the coronavirus, mandating that masks be worn and imposing quarantines for some out-of-state travelers. But Northam did not go that far with his order for Hampton Roads. “This is about stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Hampton Roads,” Northam said. “It happens when too many people gather together, when too many people are noncompliant, and as I’ve said before, when too many people are selfish.” He spoke shortly after meeting with Dr. Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator for the White House. Birx touted steps to counter transmission including restricting bars and wearing masks in the house to protect vulnerable family members from infection. These measures go beyond what the region’s leaders have enacted. Cases continue to rise in the region. Virginia added 922 cases in the last day; Maryland added 648 cases and D.C. added 87 in that same period. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan said on CNN Monday that he was pausing reopening plans in light of increased cases. “We’re in a holding pattern, we have been for the past 30 days,” Hogan said. “Were not ready to reopen anything, open anything further.” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser imposed a mandatory two-week self-quarantine for travelers from 27 states. Asked if he would implement a similar move, Northam said, “we are certainly considering that,” but did not announce a change. “When one leaves your place of residence and goes for example on vacation to a state where they have increased numbers, we are really encouraging when you come back to quarantine,” Northam said. He has also not ordered face coverings in most situations outside the home.
While D.C. residents visiting Ocean City aren’t required to self-quarantine for two weeks upon returning, those visiting Rehoboth Beach or Bethany Beach just a half hour away in Delaware must. On Monday, D.C. began requiring travelers from areas with high levels of COVID-19 to self-quarantine for two weeks and released a list of 27 states deemed high-risk, including Delaware, where many locals vacation. However, Maryland and Virginia are exempt. But Christopher Rodriguez, director of D.C.’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said city residents should treat all nonessential travel the same. “If it’s nonessential, people should always think twice, whether they’re going to Ocean City or to Virginia Beach or to Rehoboth Beach,” he said. Rodriguez said the rule includes exemptions for Maryland and Virginia because of D.C.’s “porous borders” with the states and how “intimately intertwined” they are. He said the entire states were exempted for the sake of simplicity, a point Mayor Muriel Bowser echoed when she announced the rule last week. “We want it to be simple for everybody to follow, and we recognize that if we have to make the restrictions more strict to the National Capital Region, that’s certainly something that we can consider at a later date,” Bowser said during a Friday press conference. D.C. Health defines high-risk states as those where the seven-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases is 10 or more per 100,000 people, and will update its list every other week. The list currently includes North and South Carolina, Texas and California, among others. The self-quarantine mandate, which will remain in effect until Oct. 9, comes as the DMV has seen a jump in coronavirus cases in recent weeks. Other states have imposed similar rules, and last week Maryland and Virginia were added to the lists of high-risk states in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. Some people in Delaware’s tourism industry, where cases have risen over the past two weeks, expressed concerns about the impact of D.C.’s restrictions. Carol Everhart, the president and CEO of the Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, told WTOP on Tuesday that Delaware’s addition to the list is “devastating,” and will result in more cancellations at hotels in an area that is already struggling due to a drop in visits from tourists. But while travelers coming to D.C. from Ocean City do not have to quarantine upon arrival, some local officials advised exercising the same caution they would when visiting a high-risk area. “If [you] go to a bar, wait in line at Thrasher’s or Kohr Bros, go to Seacrets, or anything else besides masking up & social distancing on the beach and isolating in yer condo/hotel room/trailer in Ocean City or VA Beach please consider taking these measures too,” Councilmember Elissa Silverman tweeted on Monday, referring to popular spots in the beach towns. Seacrets, a waterfront restaurant and bar in Ocean City, said Friday that some of its staff had tested positive for COVID-19.
The Montgomery County Department of Health closed two restaurants and fined two others for not following health mandates related to the coronavirus. County inspectors issued a 30-day-closure order on Sunday to Republic Garden, 8402 Georgia Ave., the second time it was closed for a violation, according to the department. Inspectors visited the restaurant and saw that it didn’t maintain the minimum 6 feet of physical distancing, according to a press release. The Block, an Asian food hall at 967 Rose Ave. in North Bethesda’s Pike & Rose development, was another repeat offender. The county fined The Block $500 two weeks ago for not maintaining 6 feet of distancing, then fined the restaurant a second $500 over the weekend for the same offense. The Block must submit a written plan to the health department explaining how it will maintain social distancing. Arturo Mei, the co-owner of The Block, said in a text message that the violation was related to a family having a celebration. He said the family had been split between two tables to maintain the proper distancing. “But when they cut their cake and were gathered it was a violation,” he wrote. Under Phase Two of the county’s reopening plan, restaurants may serve customers at 50% capacity indoors. An executive order from the health department requires customers to maintain at least 6 feet of distancing while waiting to be seated, maintain at least 6 feet from others when seated at a bar and wear face coverings. Any customer who violates the order could be refused service and might face criminal penalties. Republic Garden was shut down the first time on July 12 for not maintaining proper social distancing, and was allowed to open when it explained in writing how it would correct the violation, said Mary Anderson, a department spokesperson. Anderson said Republic Garden reopened July 16. “They sent us a plan. They reopened. When we went back because of additional complaints, we found they weren’t adhering to the plan to comply,” she said. The health department said it also ordered Lone Oak Farm Brewing in Olney to stop serving food without the “proper food service facility license” in response to complaints about live music performances and large gatherings, which the executive order prohibits. The business must submit a plan to the health department for review. It was not fined. Lancaster County Meats, a vendor in Germantown’s Dutch Market, which is open Thursday-Saturday with vendors from Pennsylvania, was fined $500 and had its license suspended on July 24, the press release said. The violation was related to a complaint that employees were not wearing face masks, which also is mandated in the county’s order. To reopen, the market must submit a written plan to the health department on how it will correct the violation.
With about half of the Miami Marlin players reportedly testing positive for COVID-19, the team’s season is on hold. Because of that, the Washington Nationals will not travel to Miami for their weekend series, nor will the Marlins come to D.C. The series will be postponed until a later date. ESPN reported that 17 Marlins’ players and staff tested positive for coronavirus. The announcement came a day after the Marlins had their Monday and Tuesday games canceled against the Baltimore Orioles, along with games against the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. Before their game against the Toronto Blue Jays in D.C. on Monday, Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez did not mince words about his concern. “I’m going to be honest with you. I’m scared. … You don’t know, because of my heart condition what happens to me if I do get it. I have to be extra careful,” Martinez said in a Zoom call with reporters. “My level of concern went from about an 8 to a 12. This thing really hits home now seeing half a team get infected and go from one city to another.” Martinez, 55, had a heart procedure last September. Possibilities included Major League Baseball forcing the Nationals to go or having the Marlins come to D.C. to play the games at Nats Park, with the Marlins designated as the “home team.” Canceling means an entire week’s worth of games are canceled and the season would all but be over before it hardly got started. Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, a noted Nats’ fan who threw out the first pitch on Opening Day, wasn’t overly optimistic in an interview ABC’s Good Morning America about baseball being able to continue. “This could put it in danger,” Fauci said of the baseball season. “I don’t believe they need to stop, but we just need to follow this and see what happens with other teams on a day-by-day basis.” Last week, Juan Soto, the Nationals’ 21-year-old star, also tested positive for coronavirus, but remains asymptotic and may be able to return to the field soon. “Obviously, we don’t want any player to get exposed. It’s not a positive thing,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said on the league-owned MLB Network. “But I don’t see it as a nightmare. … We think we can keep people safe and continue to play. I remain optimistic that the protocols are strong enough that it will allow us to continue to play — even through an outbreak like this — and complete our season.”
The Washington Football Team told season ticket holders in a letter Tuesday that they can defer their tickets to the 2021 season or get a full refund. While most of the letter talks about new health and safety protocols being put in place at FedEx Field for the upcoming season, it could also serve as a hint that the team and the NFL are anticipating not having fans at games in this season. The letter promises more information to come: “Season ticket members will receive more details about their options for the 2020 season in the coming weeks.” Like all other professional sports league, the question of whether the NFL can keep its players and staff safe while completing a season is up in the air. Training camp starts this week. Like Major League Baseball, the plan is for teams to self-monitor and test often, but not to go into a so-called bubble like the NBA, WNBA, and NWSL have. On Monday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a letter aimed at assuring fans that football is still happening this year, although it does not say anything about fans being present at the games. There will be pre-season games, Goodell announced. While it has not officially been decided nor announced yet, players and owners are talking about how the game could look without fans in the stands. The last month has been particularly eventful for the Washington Football Team. In late June, a monument to the team’s racist founder was removed from outside RFK Stadium, as were references to him throughout the stadium and practice fields. On July 13, the team announced it was officially “retiring” its racist name and logo which. Then, on July 23, the team announced that it temporarily would go by the “Washington Football Team.” In the letter to ticket holders, the team also said that face coverings will be required on FedEx Field property and that ticketing will be mobile-only.
After announcing a mandatory two-week self-quarantine last Friday for travelers coming from areas with high levels of COVID-19, D.C. has listed 27 states as “high-risk.” In a press release Monday, D.C. Health said nonessential travelers entering the city from Arkansas, Arizona, Alabama, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin must self-quarantine for 14 days. The city defines high-risk states as those where the seven-day moving average of new daily COVID-19 cases is 10 or more per 100,000 people. The new regulation, which went into effect Monday, excludes Maryland and Virginia. The list will be updated every other Monday. The rule will remain in place until Oct. 9 or when the city’s public health emergency ends. College students returning to D.C. from high-risk areas for the fall semester will also be required to self-quarantine in their on-campus or off-campus housing. Those in self-quarantine must stay in their homes or hotel rooms, leaving only to get food or for medical appointments, and cannot have guests. Employers, schools and apartment buildings could require that people comply with the order before entering buildings or properties. Bowser said universities will provide a list of students who must self-quarantine, but emphasized social pressure as a means of enforcing the measure. “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 said Friday. Those coming to D.C. for an essential activity, like a job or to seek medical care, and those coming back to town after essential travel should be “more vigilant” and only go out for essential activities. The order comes as the DMV has seen an uptick in coronavirus cases. Other states have previously implemented similar rules. Last week, Maryland and Virginia were added to the lists of high-risk states in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York.
The D.C. Board of Elections plans to open no fewer than 80 in-person polling places for the Nov. 3 general election, twice the number that it originally planning to open. But it warned that even with an more polling places open, voters could still see long lines because of high turnout and social distancing requirements. In a letter sent to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen on Monday, elections board chairman Michael Bennett committed to opening the 80 polling places and putting more of them in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, where in-person voting was heaviest during the June 2 primary. He said that any D.C. voter would be able cast a ballot at any of the polling places, a change from normal elections where most voters use designated polling places tied to their home address. He also said that the board would open two early voting centers in each of the city’s eight wards and will continue working to open “super vote centers” in large facilities like the Capital One Arena. Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the arena’s owner, has offered it for use as a vote center. Bennett’s pledge comes amid back-and-forth demands over how to run November’s election, especially in light of the experience with the June primary, when some voters had trouble getting absentee ballots and others were forced to wait in hours-long lines at the 20 polling places that were open. Election officials admitted after the primary that the city would need more in-person polling places for November, but said they had to balance that against the difficulties of staffing them during a pandemic and also finding appropriate locations where social distancing could best be accommodated. The original plan approved by the board called for 40 polling places for both early and day-of voting, but Bowser called that insufficient. Late last week she introduced a bill that would require at least 80 polling places and as many as 144 — the number available during normal elections. Allen tweeted Monday that the council will vote on emergency legislation today to set the requirement for 80 polling places for the November election in law. In his letter on Monday, Bennett agreed to open the 80 polling places, but insisted that the board was forced to accept fewer than the usual 144 because of the ongoing pandemic. “I feel compelled to state that, but for the current COVID-19 Health Emergency declared for the District of Columbia, the nation, and the entire world, the DCBOE would be conducting the November 2020 election as it has successfully for many election cycles. We would have approximately one week of early in-person voting and open 144 precinct-based polling places for Election Day voting,” he wrote. “These are far from normal times. Many often fail to note this fact.” He also asked Bowser and Allen to help identify suitable locations for the 80 polling places, requested that the city take the lead on cleaning them during and after voting and said he will need assistance hiring a temporary workforce of up to 4,000 volunteers and staff to help run the election. In the letter, he recommended allowing D.C. school students as young as 16 to qualify and offering them “enhanced community service hours for working the polls.” In his letter, Bennett said the board’s plan to mail every registered voter a ballot ahead of the election remains unchanged. That grew out of the June experience, when voters were asked to request a ballot. While nearly 90,000 did, per the board’s vote tallies, some voters said they never received their ballot or had trouble finding out if it had been received after they mailed it back. The board said it expects to contract with a specialized mail house to handle the logistics of sending out almost a half-million ballots and plans on placing between 40 and 50 ballot drop boxes around the city for voters who don’t want to rely on the mail. But he added that unless an overwhelming majority of voters cast ballots by mail, lines at the polling places would be inevitable. “The truth is that unless 85% of D.C. voters cast their ballots by mail or take full advantage of early voting, there will be long lines at every Election Day polling place on Nov. 3,” he wrote. “This will be due in part to the limited capacity of the typical polling place (and the responsibility to respect social distancing and other recommended health emergency guidelines) and the inventory of election equipment that is available for deployment to process voters at the polling places on Election Day.”
There won’t be any high school sports in Virginia until at least mid-December, and the traditional fall sports season, including football, cheerleading and volleyball, will be delayed until at least February 2021. The Virginia High School League’s executive committee, which makes rules for public high school sports in the commonwealth, approved the plan Monday. The plan calls for a delayed and condensed series of athletic seasons but would keep all sports in the season where they are currently aligned. The decision comes as many Virginia school districts have announced plans to start the upcoming school year with virtual learning to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Under the approved plan, the basketball, gymnastics, indoor track, swim/dive and wrestling season would run Dec. 14-Feb. 20 with the first contest on Dec. 28. The cheer, cross-country, field hockey, football, golf and volleyball season would run Feb. 15-May 1with the first contest on March 1. Finally, the baseball, lacrosse, soccer, softball, tennis, track and field season would run from April 12-June 26 with the first contest on April 26. “We all understand the physical and mental health benefits of getting our students back to a level of participation. The condensed interscholastic plan leaves open the opportunity to play all sports in all three seasons if Virginia moves beyond Phase III and/or Phase III guidelines are revised and high risk activities are allowed,” said VHSL Executive Director John Haun said in a press release. “This plan also allows schools the opportunity to open the year and get school started and deal with issues such as schedules, academic plans, transportation, dealing with possible outbreaks of COVID in the school. “The VHSL will continue to work closely with the best available information and directives provided by the governor, the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education.” The VHSL is responsible for overseeing athletic competition among public high schools in Virginia. The league’s executive committee is made up of 37 members and includes principals, superintendents, school athletic directors, lawmakers and state officials.
George Washington University will hold all undergraduate classes online in the fall semester. University officials said in a statement Monday that they made the decision after looking at a resurgence of the coronavirus nationwide and in the area, and speaking with students and faculty. Students with “extenuating personal or academic circumstances” will be allowed to live in the dormitories, but their classes will still be online, the university said. Graduate-level classes will be mostly online, with a few exceptions for certain classes in certain disciplines that require face-to-face instruction. The university will also give a 10% discount to undergraduate students at the Foggy Bottom campus who do not live on campus. “We know just how much many of you were looking forward to being on campus this fall, and we understand that this news is disappointing,” the university said. “However, we must always make the decisions that best support the health, safety and care of our community while fulfilling our core academic mission. While this has been an extraordinarily hard choice, we believe it is the best path forward for GW.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is evaluating whether he will impose new safety measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus. This comes as Virginia reported 958 new COVID-19 cases Sunday morning, nearly half of which are in the Eastern region, which includes Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore. “We’ll be watching the public health data closely over the weekend. If the numbers don’t come down, we may have to take additional steps to blunt the spread of the virus,” Northam wrote on Twitter Saturday. “Wear a mask and practice physical distancing so we don’t have to move back.” It is unclear what measures are being considered. Tuesday, Northam may announce new policies to curb the spread of the virus in hard-hit areas like Hampton Roads, according to the Virginian Pilot. “The governor continues to evaluate a variety of options to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in areas like Hampton Roads, and the state and localities are stepping up their public communications to emphasize the importance of social distancing and wearing face coverings,” spokeswoman Marissa Astor told the newspaper. Northam has recently directed inspectors to make unannounced visits to ensure businesses are complying with safety protocols. The rate of increase in daily case tallies has slowed somewhat since mid-July. On Saturday, the commonwealth recorded 1,245 new cases, a notable spike, but health officials said this was due to a delay in data entry and “not a one day spike,” the newspaper reports. Virginia’s positive test rate has also ticked up in recent weeks. It now stands at 7.5%, up from a low of 5.8% in late June, about a week before the state entered Phase Three. The World Health Organization recommends governments reach a positivity rate of 5% or lower before easing restrictions. Virginia is in Phase Three of its reopening plan, putting it ahead of D.C. and Maryland which are both in their respective second stages of reopening. Under Phase 3, gatherings of up to 250 people are allowed in Virginia and restaurants can operate without capacity limits, so long as they maintain social distance. Bar seating is still not permitted. On Sunday, 1,174 people were hospitalized in Virginia, with 268 patients in the ICU. Three more people had died. The fatalities, on a seven-day moving average, have decreased over the course of July, although public health experts warn there can be a multi-week lag between a spike in cases and a rise in deaths. D.C. and Maryland are also seeing increases in new cases.