Trump Extends Benefits as Congress Argues
COVID-19 Cases Reach 206,423 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of yesterday morning, 12,653 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 590 deaths; there have been 94,581 cases in Maryland with 3,440 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 99,189 cases with 2,332 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
With stimulus talks stalled in Congress, President Donald Trump signed four executive orders on Saturday to provide temporary relief, including an additional $400 per week in unemployment benefits, suspend payments on some student loans through the end of the year, protect renters from being evicted and instruct employers to defer certain payroll taxes through the end of the year. Trump said he decided to act on his own and order the benefits after two weeks of failed negotiations in Congress. But questions remain whether Trump has the authority to take the actions or money to pay for them. Congress previously approved a $600 weekly unemployment benefit, but it expired July 31. Trump’s order would allow states to provide up to $400-per-week in expanded benefits, 75% of which would come from the federal government’s disaster relief fund. States would have to pay the reaming 25% of the cost. A federal moratorium on evictions expired July 24, putting the tenants of more than 12 million rental units nationwide at risk of eviction if they miss payments. Trump’s order instructs the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to enable renters and homeowners to stay in their homes. Congress also suspended payments on some student loans due to the virus. The provision expires at the end of September. Trump’s order will extend the deferments through the end of the year. The president’s final order instructs the Treasury Department to allow employers to defer payment of certain payroll taxes from Sept. 1 to the end of the year for Americans earning less than $100,000 per year. However, it has prompted alarm from some critics who noted that the tax funds Social Security and Medicare and that deferring it could worsen those programs’ budgetary woes. Laurence H. Tribe, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, called Trump’s actions “cynical” as well as unconstitutional. “Trump might as well have directed the distribution of $100,000 to every family earning under $1 million a year,” he said. “He obviously has no legal power to do that. But daring anyone to take him to court might be good politics.”
Maryland’s Board of Elections by a 5-0 vote granted preliminary approval to keep all 79 early voting locations open on Election Day and use the state’s 282 public high schools as voting centers. It is a significant decrease from the more than 1,800 polling places the state normally operates. It would also give voters the option to go to any polling site in their county to cast their ballot. The board voted to send their proposal to Gov. Larry Hogan Friday evening during a virtual video meeting. “This would be a floor, not a ceiling,” Michael Cogan, chair of the board, told members. “Obviously we encourage counties to open as many voting centers as they are able.” The proposal runs contrary to what Hogan called for in early July, which was an election with all 1,848 neighborhood voting precincts open. Under state law, the new plan needs Hogan’s approval. The decision to change in-person voting procedures is due to the state’s shortage of poll workers because of the coronavirus pandemic. Over the past week, the board, like others around the country, has been grappling with how to proceed with the November election under those conditions. “Failure to give us some of the tools we need to be successful is going to put the outcome of the entire election in doubt,” David Garreis, president of the Maryland Association of Election Officials, told board members earlier in the week. Garreis and his colleagues presented a plan to the board that would have allowed 162 voting centers to open, but board members thought that was not enough. Another proposal would have allowed counties to consolidate voting precincts, but Garreis pushed back saying it would cause long lines at voting sites and confuse voters. In a letter to the board prior to the meeting, Hogan wrote that existing laws gave the board the authority to make decisions about consolidating voting places, but added that “proposals to close roughly 90% of the polling places — particularly in minority communities — would result in voter suppression and risk violating the Voting Rights Act.” Hogan concluded by saying that the board’s “continued delays and deflections are absolutely unacceptable. These are your decisions to make, and this is your responsibility to uphold. We cannot risk the repeat of failures of the June primary.” A plan must be approved by the end of August to give time for the board to order the ballots for each precinct. The plan also includes opening early voting sites from Oct. 29-Nov. 2, allowing voters to deliver their mail-in ballots to one of 120 ballot drop boxes, having voters cast their ballots via mail and begin counting votes days before Election Day to be able to release results that night. Those details will need to be fine-tuned in the next three months. Democratic lawmakers on Thursday continued to press Hogan and the board for further changes to the election. A letter from Prince George’s County Del. Julian Ivey and Ron Watson, Prince George’s Senator Joanne Benson, Montgomery County Del. Kirill Reznik and four other lawmakers from the Baltimore area demanded that Hogan and the board send mail-in ballots to every voter rather than ballot applications.
There won’t be many students on the University of Maryland campus in College Park this fall, but that doesn’t mean students who signed leases for off-campus housing won’t be returning. With the arrival of students, there is a concern about house parties and gatherings that violate Prince George’s County’s emergency orders about the COVID-19 pandemic. College Park city officials discussed concerns and how to handle potential problems at this last’s city council meeting. “It is preferable that those with the direct authority to enforce these orders, which are the police and the health officers, take the front line,” said Suellen Ferguson, city attorney. “The city can use its own laws, such as its nuisance law, but because these orders are emergency orders based on a pandemic response it’s better that the county level be the frontline for that because they are the ones specifically authorized to act.” University of Maryland police are also be expected to play a role. City leaders have been placing decals marking 6-foot distancing along some sidewalks in downtown to remind students to social distance. Officials also met with bars and restaurants this last, as they do every year, to remind them about rules and expectations ahead of the start of the new academic year. Some city council members lamented what they saw as lax or uneven enforcement when it comes to masks and social distancing rules inside establishments. Gatherings are limited to one person for every 200 square feet at homes. But it is tough to enforce rules on private property, although it isn’t not for a lack of trying over the years. Ferguson and public services director Bob Ryan said anyone who worries a neighboring home is not abiding by the rules should call 911. Anyone who knowingly violates the county’s orders could face thousands of dollars in fines.
Alexandria City Public Schools students will start the new school year with online classes under a plan adopted by the school board Friday night. The board voted unanimously to adopt the Virtual PLUS+ model, which the school system said is a “comprehensive plan for social, emotional and academic learning and family support.” The plan will now be submitted to the Virginia Department of Education for approval. The Virtual PLUS+ model, announced by Supt. Gregory C. Hutchings Jr. on July 31, calls for 100% online learning and provides all students with either tablets or Chromebook laptops. ACPS said the model includes enhanced support in social, emotional and academic supports; technology enhancements; child care for “our most vulnerable” families; continuation of meal distribution; and a live, multilingual phone helpline aimed at “further extending the educational program that is already intended to mirror the traditional school day.” In a message to families, Hutchings said, “Our goal is to ensure all ACPS students are provided with an engaging and equitable academic experience in these difficult times and that no barrier exists to meaningful participation. Our team has worked methodically and strategically to determine the feasibility of our reopening plan using the Virtual PLUS+ model which I believe is the only feasible solution and alternative to in-person learning at this time.” Students will be graded on completed work and will receive “synchronous lessons in each subject area” four days a week when the school year begins on Sept. 8, according to ACPS. The school district said technology will be expanded in order for “all students across all grades have devices and internet access” before Sept. 4. ACPS said it will monitor the effectiveness of the Virtual PLUS+ model and “reassess at the end of the first quarter and every nine weeks subsequently.”
Maryland’s COVID-19 seven-day positivity rate has dropped to 3.90%, its lowest point since the coronavirus pandemic began in mid-March. After a third consecutive day of record low numbers, the state said in a press release Friday that the current positivity rate – the proportion of people who test positive out of the overall number of people tested — is a sharp drop from the state’s peak, which was 27% in April. Hospitalizations, meanwhile, showed a slight decline at 528, with 135 ICU beds currently in use. The positivity rate in Montgomery County dropped to 2.50%, down 92% since April, while it fell to 5.80% in Prince George’s County, 3.38% in Anne Arundel County and 5.15% in Baltimore City. State health officials are monitoring a rising in Worcester County, which is up 93% since July 31 to 6.59%. The county is home to Ocean City, which saw large crowds soon after it reopened in May. Town officials announced a new mandate late last month requiring masks on the boardwalk. Fewer than 20% of Marylanders have received a COVID-19 test, which could soon increase after Hogan joined an eight-state agreement to expand testing and coordinate the purchase of rapid antigen tests. Maryland currently has 215 COVID-19 testing sites. Marylanders over 35 are seeing record low positivity rates around 3%, with those under 35 years old hovering 5% but still in decline.
Montgomery County Public Schools will start the new school year with only online classes for the first semester. The county school board unanimously approved the virtual education plan Thursday night after 5½ hours of presentations of proposed schedules for elementary, middle and high schools. The vote formalizes Supt. Jack Smith’s July 21 recommendation. The vote also canceled fall and winter sports. Free meals will continue to be provided to all students. The plan includes a full day of instruction, more support for staff, students and families and recording lessons for students to access later. “We built on what we learned during the spring to develop a model that will provide a robust and dynamic virtual learning experience for our students,” Smith said in a letter to families on Tuesday. “Virtual learning schedules for students align closely with what a student would typically experience in schools.” Elementary school students should expect up to 90 minutes of both math and literacy classes, twice-weekly social studies/science classes for 30-45 minutes, along with weekly art, music and physical education classes for 20-45 minutes. The schedule also incorporates time for individual support, interventions and special services, such as ESOL and special education. For middle school and high school students, there are expected to be four one-hour classes per day, except Wednesday, when students are expected to work independently but check in each period in the afternoon. For all students, MCPS said it will add social emotional learning lessons and create space for mindfulness activities designed “to support student stress management and support student focus during their day.”The move to the all-virtual schedule came after parents, students and teachers expressed concerns about Maryland’s largest school system returning to in-person learning amid the coronavirus pandemic, even if schools follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Jeanette Dixon, a board member who spent 30 years as a teacher and later as a middle school principal, said she was concerned with the model that was presented to the board, with schedules that attempt to replicate in-school bell schedules. Dixon said she has gotten a lot of input of how challenging teaching and learning can be when lessons are carried out over Zoom. Noting the school board has been meeting using the same platform, Dixon said after several hours of board discussion, “I have to say today has been very taxing, sitting here and listening to the presentations.” During the public comment segment, David King, a senior at Walter Johnson High School, challenged the plan to use a standard grading system to evaluate student performance in the coming school year. He said that many students live in environments that are just not conducive to learning, and there are students who depend on the structure of the school day to succeed. While King said the pass-fail option that was offered in the spring was not ideal, he suggested that some other way of assessing students should be developed. “I won’t pretend that I know the needs and workings of this county better than you do. Nor will I pretend that I have the expertise or resources to determine what a more equitable system may be. But you do.” Christina Hartman said her 4-year-old daughter Charlotte is enrolled in the Preschool Education Program. Charlotte has “a litany of diagnoses,” including autism and global developmental delay that make virtual learning especially challenging. Hartman explained Charlotte gets a variety of services from physical therapy to occupational therapy and that she needs a specially-designed chair to help support her so she can focus on her lessons. “Virtual therapies are not working, and in fact we are seeing regression,” Hartman said. She noted that New York State has developed a plan to provide in-person learning for special education students. “There is no reason we can’t do the same in Montgomery County,” Hartman said. Twenty-three child care providers who have been authorized by the Maryland State Department of Education will operate in the county’s school buildings. Board member Rebecca Smondrowski wondered if paid programming for children could be offered in the school system’s buildings, why small class instruction could not be offered for students.
The Virginia Supreme Court on Friday granted Gov. Ralph Northam’s July 24 request to halt evictions through Sept. 7 as tenants struggle to pay rent due to a slumping economy and diminished federal assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. “As the ongoing Congressional stalemate leaves hundreds of thousands of Virginians without federal housing protection or unemployment relief, this is a critical step towards keeping families safely in their homes,” Northam said in a press release. “I look forward to working with the General Assembly this month to develop more permanent legislative protections for Virginia homeowners and tenants.” An earlier moratorium on evictions expired in June, and Northam encouraged local courts to decide whether or not to extend the pause. On July 24, he urged Virginia Chief Justice Donald Lemons to suspend eviction proceedings, saying it would give his administration time to develop new laws to prevent evictions when lawmakers meet in an August 18 special session. Lemons dissented on the decision, which passed 4-3. Northam made his request after a federal moratorium on evictions expired on July 24. That moratorium extended to federally-backed properties, while advocates in Virginia demanded state-level protections that would apply to properties not subsidized or backed by the U.S. government.
Maryland officials reopened a coronavirus special enrollment period for people to enlist in the state’s health insurance exchange. Officials said Friday that the special enrollment period will run through Dec. 15. More than 54,000 Maryland residents enrolled for health coverage during an initial special enrollment period that began March 16 and closed on July 15. Officials said the reopening of the special enrollment period means Maryland will offer the longest special enrollment period in the nation related to the coronavirus emergency.
Private schools in Montgomery County will be allowed to reopen for in-person classes this fall after county Health Office Dr. Travis Gayles rescinded his directive that pitted him against state officials. On Friday, Gayles bowed to state pressure and rescinded his Wednesday order that prohibited private schools from offering in-person classes through at least Oct. 1. Gayles blinked in the standoff a day after Maryland’s Secretary of Health Robert R. Neall issued a memorandum to health officers prohibiting jurisdictions from issuing blanket closures of schools. A press release said Gayles still “continues to strongly advise schools against in-person learning due to the risks posed by COVID-19.” A county spokesperson said officials will work with schools that choose to reopen “to ensure that all students and people who are in the building are safe.” Gayles initially barred private schools from reopening in an order issued last week. Gov. Larry Hogan sharply criticized the decision, issuing an emergency order reversing it. Hogan said county health officers do not have the authority to bar all private schools from opening and called Montgomery County’s mandate overly broad. On Wednesday, Gayles doubled down to keep schools closed, issuing a second order that required them to stay closed citing a different law. But in his Thursday message to county health officers, Neall said schools and school systems have the authority to decide if they should reopen and that county officials should individually evaluate schools’ reopening plans. “The State of Maryland’s position is that all schools, including public school systems and non-public schools, be provided with the individualized opportunity to determine how they are able to comply with the federal and state COVID-19 guidance,” Neall said. Six families and two religious schools filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn Gayles’ order. The county is home to several private schools, including Georgetown Preparatory School and St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, which President Trump’s youngest son, Barron, attends.
Howard University is joining the ranks of other universities in the DMV that have decided to offer all online instruction for undergraduates this fall. University President Wayne A.I. Frederick made the announcement Friday in a letter. “After consultation with our public health faculty experts, District of Columbia officials, university leadership and monitoring the status of the COVID-19 pandemic locally, regionally and nationally, we have made the very difficult decision to move all undergraduate courses for the fall 2020 semester fully online, and nonresidential,” Frederick said. Residence halls will be closed, except for The Axis, which are apartments. Frederick said the challenges of getting students to campus safely, especially following D.C.’s requirement that those from 27 hot spot states quarantine for 14 days, have proven overwhelming. “More than 40% of our undergraduate students come from a state that is currently listed as a hot spot state, thus requiring 14 days of quarantine upon arrival to campus. This is already a difficult challenge to manage, but is additionally complicated as the list of hot spot states is updated frequently,” he said. The university will help students with hardships that do not allow them to be successful in an online academic setting on a case-by-case basis. Graduate and professional programs and courses will also be provided online primarily, with clinical training components face-to-face if required for accreditation or licensure. Other area universities including American, Georgetown, George Washington and Johns Hopkins will start the fall semester with virtual instruction.
A 72-year-old Canadian man being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at its Farmville, Va., detention center died in a Virginia hospital Wednesday night. In a Friday press release, ICE said it could not confirm James Thomas Hill’s cause of death, but he had previously tested positive for COVID-19 on July 11. Hill had been previously hospitalized for several weeks with symptoms that included shortness of breath, according to ICE. Hill had served 13 years of a 26-year sentence after being convicted of felony healthcare fraud and distributing a controlled substance in March 2007. He was awaiting deportation to Canada. The Farmville Detention Center has the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 among ICE-managed detention facilities. At least 339 people at the center run by Immigration Centers of America have tested positive for COVID-19. Detainees at the facility started reporting symptoms associated with the coronavirus earlier this summer, weeks after ICE transferred 74 detainees from the Florence Detention Center and Eloy Federal Contract Facility in Arizona and the Krome North Service Processing Center in Florida to Farmville. At least 51 of those people ended up testing positive for COVID-19, according to ICE. The three facilities are among the ICE facilities with the largest outbreaks of COVID-19: 60 confirmed cases of the virus have been reported at Florence; 248 at Eloy; and 132 at Krome. By July 2, all Farmville detainees had been tested for the coronavirus. Of the 366 people who were tested, at least 267 tested positive, according to a sworn declaration submitted by Farmville Director Jeffrey Crawford as part of a lawsuit against ICE. At that point, 80 results were still pending, meaning 93% of the detainees whose results were reported had tested positive for the virus. Immigration advocates, attorneys and detainees have all criticized the decision to transfer people to Farmville during a pandemic. ICE said it has taken “extensive precautions” to limit the spread of the virus at the facility, including boosting sanitation practices and separating detainees who test positive from those who have not been infected. There are currently 298 people being held at Farmville. None are currently hospitalized. Two are being monitored by medical staff at the facility. According to ICE, four people from its detention centers nationwide have died from COVID-19 complications.
Major League Baseball is stepping up enforcement of coronavirus safety protocols, mandating that players and staff wear face coverings at all times, including in the dugouts and bullpens, except for players on the field of play. MLB sent a memo to teams Wednesday outlining changes to its 2020 operations manual after outbreaks on the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals led to 21 postponements in the first two weeks of a shortened 60-game season. The memo says that repeated or flagrant violators could be banned from the 2020 season and postseason. That includes those who don’t wear face coverings while watching from the dugout. Although such measures were in MLB’s operations manual already, some players have continued to not wear face masks, offer high fives, spit and violate the protocols in other ways during games. Umpires are also being told to wear face masks at all times, except when it would make it unfeasible for them to do their jobs. Compliance officers have been appointed for each team, and they have been charged with enforcing the protocols in an effort to keep baseball’s season running. Players and staff must wear face coverings at all times at team hotels and in public places while on the road. On team buses and airplanes, personnel must wear surgical masks or N95/KN95 respirators. At hotels, teams have been instructed to provide a large private room, such as a ballroom, where staff and players can get food and other amenities with enough space to maintain social distance. Players are discouraged from talking to each other or facing each other if their mask is pulled down while eating. If players want to leave the hotel, they must get approval from the team’s compliance officer. While in their home cities, players and staff are banned from visiting bars, lounges, malls or other places where groups of people gather. Clubs are being instructed to provided space for visiting players that are covered and outdoors, and that home and visiting teams must have access to areas where personnel can socially distance during weather delays. Players are being told to use those outdoor areas as much as possible, rather than linger in the clubhouse. Among other changes: teams must limit the size of traveling parties to essential personnel, maintain unoccupied rows between passengers on team buses and distance seating on airplanes while ensuring players do not change locations. In the memo, MLB said it made many of the changes after evaluating results of its investigation into the Marlins outbreak. The league also said it is working with the union to review contact tracing protocols, specifically the requirements for identified close contacts. Close contacts do not currently include passing interactions or physical contact unlikely to pass secretions, such as elbow bumps.
Prince George’s County’s health department is restricting COVID-19 tests to one free test per resident unless they demonstrate symptoms of the disease due to a short supply. A county health department spokesperson confirmed the policy Thursday after a fellow at the Brookings Institution tweeted about “rationing” of tests in the county. The county has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Maryland, with 23,225 cases reported as of Thursday morning since health officials began monitoring the outbreak in March, according to Maryland Department of Health data. According to the health department’s COVID-19 webpage, to receive more than one test, residents must meet at least one of the following criteria: have a known/suspected exposure to a positive case; have symptoms; or be part of a county contact tracing case investigation and be directed to be tested. The webpage also says, “The health department also considers other retest requests on a case-by-case basis. The on-site registered nurse will assess and determine if retesting outside of the above criteria meets CDC guidelines.” A nurse practitioner who answered the county’s COVID-19 hotline Thursday said, “We have limited resources. Some people have been going [to get tested] almost every week, and the county is trying to be mindful about it.” But some residents say they have been denied free tests before being asked about symptoms or exposure to infected people. County Council member Deni Taveras tweeted that she was turned away when she tried to get a free COVID-19 test at a county site this week. The one-test-per-person policy in Prince George’s County remains in place despite a rising number of COVID-19 cases, which has been pushed upward by people under 50 contracting the virus, Dr. Earnest Carter, the county’s health officer, said during a press conference last week. “Physical distancing and other protective measures, both in the county and nationwide, have not been as robust as we should have had them.” George Lettis, a spokesperson for the health department, said the county isn’t facing a shortage of testing kits, but testing capacity is “not unlimited.” Availability of COVID-19 tests “fluctuates based on manufacturers and supply lines,” Lettis said, and the county receives them on a weekly basis. Prince George’s County has been providing free COVID-19 testing since March, when it opened its first public test center at FedEx Field. That site is now closed, but the county continues to offer tests at five locations, in addition to sites run by the state. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is one of seven governors forming a compact to purchase low-cost, quick-turnaround COVID-19 tests for their states. Hogan wants to procure 500,000 tests, with funding provided by the Rockefeller Foundation. Prince George’s County could receive some of these tests. “With severe shortages and delays in testing and the federal administration attempting to cut funding for testing, the states are banding together to acquire millions of faster tests to help save lives and slow the spread of COVID-19,” Hogan said in a statement.
In the ongoing feud over reopening Montgomery County’s private schools, Maryland’s top health official is seeking to override a county health order that would keep the schools for holding in-person classes until Oct. 1. Maryland Secretary of Health Robert R. Neall issued a memo Thursday saying state health policy prohibits non-public schools from being closed “in a blanket manner.” Instead, the memo says, local health officers should “carefully evaluate the facts and circumstances of each individual school and their proposed COVID-19 response plan.” The memo came one day after the latest salvo in a days-long battle between Montgomery County and state officials over the county’s authority to close private schools for health and safety reasons. County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles issued two orders shuttering private schools in the county until Oct. 1, contradicting Gov. Larry Hogan, who has said private schools can choose to reopen for in-person classes. An order Gayles issued Wednesday prohibiting private schools in the county from reopening before Oct. 1 fulfills the same requirements as a previously issued order, only it doesn’t outline fines or jail times for schools that disregard the order and cited a different state law that he said restores his authority and allows him to “act properly to prevent the spread of the disease.” Gayles rescinded his initial order after Hogan issued one of his own on Monday that stripped local governments of their authority to prohibit private schools from reopening. It specifies that the decision to reopen is for schools and school districts to make. “Private and parochial schools deserve the same opportunity and flexibility to make reopening decisions based on public health guidelines,” Hogan said at the time. “The blanket closure mandate imposed by Montgomery County was overly broad and inconsistent with the powers intended to be delegated to the county health officer.” In a statement, Gayles cited an increase in COVID-19 cases among young people saying, “County health officials continue to base their public health decisions on data and the data and science at this point, the data does not suggest in-person instruction is safe for students, teachers, and others who work in a school building.” In July, Hogan gave jurisdictions the option of holding in-person classes this fall along with a three-pronged approach to reopening they must abide by, including following CDC guidelines for wearing face coverings, social distancing, hand washing and more. Several public school districts in Maryland have chosen to start the fall semester with virtual classes, including Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Six families and two religious schools have sued Gayles, the county and County Executive Marc Elrich in federal court to be allowed to reopen.
D.C. will add 17 more miles of “slow streets” by September for residents to use for exercise and to give pedestrians more space to socially distance. The city made five miles of local roads slow streets in June. Slow streets have a 15 mph speed limit and can be used by local traffic only. Officials say drivers should only go on a slow street if their destination is within two blocks. Residents and essential service vehicles, like emergency vehicles, deliveries and trash collection trucks, can all still use them. “The approximately 17 miles that we will add over the next several weeks are critical to Mayor Bowser’s vision to reimagine public space during the COVID-19 public health emergency,” DDOT Director Jeff Marootian said in a press release. Only local streets, which don’t have a marked centerline or host bus routes, are eligible for to be slow street. New additions include: Ward 1: Sixth Street NW between Lamont Street NW and Keefer Place NW; Girard Street NW between 14th Street NW and Georgia Avenue NW; Keefer Place NW between Georgia Avenue and Sixth Street NW; and Lamont Street NW between 13th Street NW and Park Place NW. Ward 2: S Street NW between Massachusetts Avenue and New Jersey Avenue NW (also crosses Wards 1 and 6). Ward 3: 39th Street NW between Massachusetts Avenue and Fulton Street NW; Davenport Street NW between Nebraska Avenue and Linnean Street NW; and Yuma Street NW between Massachusetts Avenue NW and Connecticut Avenue NW. Ward 4: Eighth Street NW between Missouri Avenue and New Hampshire Avenue NW; and Van Buren Street NW between 16th Street NW and North Capitol Street. Ward 5: 10th Street NE between Otis Street NE and Rhode Island Avenue NE; 17th Street NE between Randolph Street and Bryant Street/Montana Avenue NE; K Street NE between Bladensburg Road and 18th Street NE/Maryland Avenue NE; and Oates Street NE between West Virginia Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE. Ward 6: Third Street NE/SE between M Street NE to E Street SE; E Street SE between Fourth Street SE and 11th Street SE/Pennsylvania Avenue SE; G Street NE between Second Street NE and 15h Street NE/Gales Street NE; and Gales Street NE between 15th Street NE and 21st Street NE (crosses Wards 6 and 7). Ward 7: B Street SE between Benning Road and 54th Street SE (Ward 6/7); Fairlawn Avenue SE between K Street SE and Pennsylvania Avenue SE; and K Street SE between Fairlawn Avenue SE and Randle Circle SE. There are none in Ward 8 because of a recent amendment by Councilmember Trayon White, who said his ward doesn’t want these type of enhancements. He said it would be a challenge to alter three miles of roads in the ward. “Many residents in Ward 8 have not supported bike lanes and other measures that appear to force aspects of gentrification and displacement,” White said in his amendment.
Joining a grow list of universities in the DMV, Johns Hopkins University will conduct almost all programs, studies and research online this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Although we were hoping to resume in-person academic, research and student-life activities this fall in Baltimore, based on a recent uptick in COVID-19 infections and related public health trends, and the number of our undergraduate students coming from states designated as COVID hot spots, we have decided to instead conduct the fall semester online-only to protect our campus community and neighbors in Baltimore,” the university announced on Thursday. Anyone enrolled in the undergraduate programs at the university is being asked to stay away from the campus this fall. Students may still request a deferral or a leave of absence for the semester. Johns Hopkins also announced that they would fall tuition by 10%. Online classes will begin Aug. 31, and a virtual orientation will be held extending through the first six weeks of the fall semester.
The Washington Nationals have canceled their annual Winterfest event scheduled for January. “Due to the continued uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel Winterfest 2021, which was scheduled to be held in January,” the team said in a statement Thursday. “We know how important this event is to our fans. That said, we look forward to offering a variety of alternative opportunities for our community to come together to celebrate our team. We will share further information as soon as details are finalized.” Winterfest, which allows fans to meet players, was held at Nationals Park the last two years. Being at the ballpark allowed fans to tour the clubhouse and hit in batting cages.
In the ongoing fight between Montgomery County’s health department and the governor, Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles issued another order Wednesday prohibiting private schools in the county from reopening for in-person classes until Oct. 1. Gayles most recent order contains the same requirements as his earlier order, but it doesn’t outline fines or jail times for schools that disregard the order. Gayles rescinded his initial order after Gov. Larry Hogan issued one of his own Monday that stripped local governments of their authority to issue blanket orders prohibiting private schools from reopening. It specified that the decision to reopen is for schools and school districts to make. “Private and parochial schools deserve the same opportunity and flexibility to make reopening decisions based on public health guidelines,” Hogan said when he issued his order. “The blanket closure mandate imposed by Montgomery County was overly broad and inconsistent with the powers intended to be delegated to the county health officer.” In his new order, Gayles references a different state law that gives him the authority, stating “when a county health officer has reason to believe that a disease endangers public health,” they can “act properly to prevent the spread of the disease.” County health officials continue to base their public health decisions on data and the data and science at this point, the data does not suggest in-person instruction is safe for students, teachers, and others who work in a school building,” In a statement Wednesday, Gayles’s cited an increased in coronavirus cases in the DMV, especially “in younger age groups.” Last month, Hogan gave school districts the option of holding in-person classes this fall, while outlining a three-pronged approach to reopening that jurisdictions must abide by, including following CDC guidelines for wearing face-coverings, social distancing, handwashing, and more. Several school districts in Maryland have decided to begin the fall semester with online learning, including Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Some parents, teachers and community members took issue with the move to block private school reopenings. A group of people protested outside County Executive Marc Elrich’s office on Wednesday night, calling on officials to lift the blanket ban on private school reopening. Elrich said on Wednesday that Hogan’s decision to strip local health officials of their authority showed “no logic,” according to the Baltimore Sun. “It makes no sense to have a policy to, on one hand, say: ‘I’m perfectly fine with the entire public school system of every county that wants to close it to close.’ And then, on the other hand, just saying: ‘I’m OK with private schools opening,” he said, adding that public school children and teachers are just as much at risk of contracting the virus as those at private schools. Six families with children in private schools and two schools have filed a federal lawsuit against Gayels, Elrich and the county over the closure.
D.C. contact tracing shows an increasing number of individuals have dined at restaurants while infectious with COVID-19 in recent weeks. In addition, several people were infectious while in the workplace, according to D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt. At a press conference Wednesday, she said that 10% of positive individuals within two weeks of being diagnosed. These findings come just over a week after Mayor Muriel Bowser said anyone traveling to D.C. from 27 states deemed high-risk must self-quarantine for 14 days. Many of the findings are similar with what Maryland found last week. A large number of infected people in Maryland told contact tracers they had attended family gatherings and worked outside the home. “In large part, our trends are not dissimilar to what’s happening in Maryland and other jurisdictions,” Nesbitt said. While performing contact tracing, Nesbitt said they look at two categories; activities in the two weeks prior to diagnosis when the virus could have been incubating and activities while infectious. As with many other locations in the country, statistics in D.C. have shown the number of positive cases for younger people is increasing. While the likelihood of death may be lower, “it doesn’t necessarily mean that severe illness or death doesn’t occur in younger populations,” Nesbitt said. She also cautioned that younger people who are infected, particularly those who live in intergenerational homes or who works in essential services positions, can easily introduce infections and widespread transmission to people who may be more at-risk for severe illness or death. “It is not a benign issue for young people to be the primary spreaders…in communities,” Nesbitt said. When asked if the city will reconsider allowing indoor dining, Bowser skirted the question. “We are watching very closely several activities and making sure people are following the rules,” she said.
Virginia launched a smartphone app Wednesday to notify people if they have been exposed to COVID-19, making it the first state to use the technology. Gov. Ralph Northam touted the app as a way to catch new cases early, while stressing it protects users’ privacy. “This app, COVIDWISE, does not, I will repeat that, does not track or store your personal information,” Northam said. “It does not track you at all. It doesn’t rely on GPS or your personal information, and while we want everyone to download it, it is voluntary.” COVIDWISE, available on Google Play and the iOS App Store, uses Bluetooth signals to determine when smartphone users are in close proximity for longer than 15 minutes. If a user later tests positive for COVID-19, that proximity information will be used to notify people who might have been exposed. The app won’t tell people who tested positive, just that they were near an infected person. “This is really another tool that we all have to protect ourselves and each other,” said Jeff Stover, who worked on the app for the Virginia Department of Health. It was developed through a collaboration between Apple and Google. The two companies announced in April that they were working on a platform that could be used both on Apple and Android devices, and that would shield users’ privacy. Ireland and Germany use similar technology, according to a press release. Stover said other states are beta testing similar apps, but they have yet to launch. Stover added that Virginia’s beta testing was done in a closed environment with about 500 people from across the state. He estimated Virginia spent about $229,000 in CARES Act funding to launch the app. Virginia residents who test positive for COVID-19 will now receive a six-digit PIN with their results, which they can enter into their app to begin the notification process. Contact tracers will not have access to the personal information of app users, Stover said, although tracers will tell people about the app as they conduct their work. Virginia will partner with NASCAR, Virginia Commonwealth University and other companies and nonprofits to encourage people to download the app. Northam will encourage all 100,000 state employees to use the app and urged other Virginians to sign up. COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Virginia, with roughly 1,000 new cases every day. A total of 2,274 people have died from the virus and nearly 100,000 people have been infected. Northam said the state’s positivity rate was at 7.2% “and that’s a good thing,” although World Health Organization health experts say it should be below 5% for 14 days before reopening. “We can’t let up in our efforts to get the numbers down,” Northam said.
D.C.’s public pools will remain closed this summer to limit the spread of COVID-19. Spray parks and indoor aquatics centers will also remain closed. The D.C. Department of Parks and Public Recreation made the announcement on Wednesday. “We understand residents look forward to escaping the summer heat at our pools,” said DPR Director Delano Hunter in a statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, and in consultation with the District’s public health experts, we have decided to prioritize the health and safety of residents.” The city’s spray parks, indoor aquatic centers and 21 outdoor pools have remained closed during Phase Two of the city’s reopening. Under reopening guidelines, pools cannot reopen until the city enters Phase Three. D.C. officials have not indicated that the city could move into that phase this summer. This summer has been a particularly difficult one for residents to go without access to swimming pools: In July, the DMV broke its record for the most 90-degree days in a month. More people than usual have been swimming in Rock Creek. The increase led the National Park Service and Rock Creek Conservancy to install signs warning people to stay out of the water because of high levels of fecal contamination. Some public pools in Maryland and Virginia have reopened. Even if D.C. experiences a precipitous drop in transmission, the pools will not reopen. The pools will be winterized, including draining and covering them.
Fairfax County Public Schools officials are providing parents with specific information on class schedules, technology and special education as the district prepares to begin the school year virtually on Sept. 8. In a letter to parents and caregivers Tuesday, Superintendent Scott Brabrand said Virginia’s largest school district opted to start the year with 100% online learning due to the rising number of new COVID-19 cases and staffing shortages that would have curtailed schools’ ability to provide students with high-quality, in-person instruction. “As educators, there is nothing we want more than to have all students back in school,” Brabrand wrote. “This school year will be a challenge for us all, but we are doing everything possible to ensure a high-quality education through virtual learning to start the year.” With a goal of providing “a sense of normalcy” for students learning remotely, Brabrand said virtual school bells will more closely align Fairfax’s online learning with the start and end times used before the pandemic. The “virtual school day” for high schools and secondary schools will last from 8:10 a.m.-2:55 p.m. For middle schools, classes will be held from 7:30 a.m.-2:15 p.m. Elementary schools will vary, with individual schools expected to release their specific times this week. Middle and high schools will follow A/B block schedules, with classes lasting 80 minutes with 10- to 15-minute breaks between them. Sample schedules are available on the FCPS website. Virtual classes will be held five days per week, with Tuesday through Friday being dedicated to live, face-to-face instruction and Mondays reserved for independent learning activities. Elementary days will include group instruction, and what the district calls “significant investment in new digital resources” for a more personalized approach to math and language arts. During its attempt in the spring to move classes online, the school system experienced massive tech glitches that led to the resignation of the school systems’ information technology chief. For the start of fall classes, the school system said it plans to purchase additional technology to aid students with special needs on adapted curriculum, including auditory and visual impairments. Throughout August, special education managers will work with parents to amend individual education plans. “Our instructional assistants will be supporting students in virtual classrooms and in breakout rooms, creating materials, prompting parents when needed during lessons and developing virtual activities under the guidance of the teacher,” Brabrand said, adding special education staff will teach individually or in small groups “as appropriate for students’ goals and scheduling.” FCPS will provide all students with laptops for online learning. Parents who have not already received one will be sent information on pickup, which the district says can be done with minimal contact and without having to enter an FCPS building. Technical support will be available for families and students through a virtual help desk. FCPS said it is developing methods for students to manage their Blackboard Collaborate and Google Meet class links via Google Calendar. Brabrand also said the school district will continue its grab-and-go meal program through the remainder of the summer and into the new school year. After concerns were raised over access to ACT and SAT availability, testing at several FCPS high schools set for Aug. 29 will continue as scheduled, Brabrand said. FCPS will work with the College Board to allow high school seniors the opportunity for SAT testing at their own schools on Sept. 23. Registration information will be made available later this month.
Almost 1,000 students, alumni and faculty signed a petition as of Aug. 4 calling for Georgetown University to reevaluate financial aid packages already released and those that are pending. After the university released financial aid packages on Friday, several students discovered that their assistance would be significantly reduced for fall semester as the university conducts virtual classes. Many students from the DMV are concerned about their financial future as the federal government weighs whether to extend student loan payment deferrals past Sept. 30. D.C. ranks the highest in the nation for average debt, at $55,882 as of December 2019, per credit reporting agency Experian. The Hoya, Georgetown’s student paper, first reported on outrage students expressed as the school’s financial aid award packages were released just three business days before the deadline to accept them, and three weeks before the start of online classes. The student association said that some students are paying more to stay home than they did to live on campus, with their family contributions increasing nearly seven-fold. “There are students whose scholarship awards have decreased by over $15,000 since last year,” the association wrote in a letter to university officials. Some students said they are wrestling with the possibility of not being able to enroll at Georgetown at all if they can’t come up with the necessary funds. “I’m working three jobs currently trying to help make ends meet during this pandemic while my mom was on unemployment leave,” student Kimberly Nguyen wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I pay for my own schooling, taking out loans to be able to attend this institution. This year, my expected family responsibility on [the university’s student portal] states a $9K increase from the year prior. How does Georgetown expect me to pay this difference?” On July 27, Georgetown joined other local universities scrapping plans to hold in-person and online classes, opting to start the semester virtually. While some students will be welcomed back for select activities, such as biomedical research, others have been left without housing in the fall. Georgetown is reviewing student-reported housing statuses and adjusting housing budgets for students who are not able to live rent-free with parents or guardians, said university spokesperson Meghan Dubyak. She said Aug. 5 was not the final deadline to accept the packages and that school officials will be actively reviewing award appeals throughout the semester. The university’s financial aid webpage says the office will begin reviewing reports of changed 2020 income at the end of the fall semester. “Georgetown has invested a record $230 million toward financial aid and scholarships this fiscal year,” $130-$140 million of which goes to undergraduates, Dubyak said. “Our commitment to financial aid remains strong. During this unprecedented pandemic and recession, we will continue to aid all students needing financial assistance.” A student’s financial aid package is determined by subtracting their expected family contribution from the total cost of attendance. Dubyak said July 31 aid packages reflected a lower cost of attendance, since most students won’t be traveling to campus, and the university reduced tuition by 10%, which amounts to about $2,900. Dubyak said the estimated family contribution only changes if a family’s circumstances change, such as changes in income, expenses, assets and especially the number of family members enrolled in college. But some students say the tuition reduction is simply not enough when weighed against the expected family contributions. The petition, which requested more transparency and a systematic overhaul of the financial aid calculations, included anonymous testimonies. “If I can’t win some random outside scholarships in the coming weeks, Georgetown University is now officially beyond what my family’s financial means can pay for,” reads one from a student in the class of 2022. “This is an unacceptable slap in the face to students like me and makes it alarmingly clear who Georgetown values within its student body. The fact that it will, quite literally, cost more for me to stay at home (for the safety of our entire campus community) than any year I’ve physically attended Georgetown’s campus is disheartening.”
Beginning with the former Screen on the Green that used to be held on the National Mall each summer, outdoor movies are a beloved tradition in the DMV, but the pandemic has shut down most of the summer showings due to crowd restrictions. But The Wharf on D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront will host Sunset Cinema beginning Thursday evening. “We reached out to the city to say, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of interest in drive-in movies, but there’s a lot of people in D.C. without cars. We’d love to do something that people can … have dinner and a movie on the water,’ ” director of public programming Jennifer Currie told WTOP. Screenings will be held at Transit Pier. Cabanas can be reserved at Cantina Bambina. “It’s not just a come down with your blanket type scenario,” Currie said. “You’re making a reservation for a cabana on Transit Pier. Each cabana is a 10-by-10 [foot] tent with seating for up to six people. You can enjoy food and drink through Cantina Bambina.” The cost is $10 per person, including a complementary popcorn and Pacifico beer for anyone 21 and older. The prices counts toward a $20 minimum for food and drink, including sandwiches from Grazie Grazie, pizza from Union Pie and Italian bites from Lupo Marino. “The Wharf obviously has a tremendous amount of outdoor space,” Currie said. “Our restaurants here in D.C are allowed to do 50% indoor dining. … We’ve extended all the patios for the restaurants. We’ve covered them with big tents, so it’s a little Oktoberfest looking … but you do need to wear your mask when you’re not eating and drinking.” Seating begins at 7:30 p.m., and movies start at 8 p.m. on a floating screen in the channel. “We have this really cool barge stage that typically we have live music on,” Currie said. “It’s a 17-foot LED screen that gets built right on the stage. … So you can sit there in your cabanas and watch the movie.” The .line up includes Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 on Aug. 6; Jaws on Aug. 13; 42 on Aug. 20; Raiders Of The Lost Ark on Aug. 27; Crazy Rich Asians on Sept. 3; Dirty Dancing on Sept. 10; Hidden Figures on Sept. 17; and Jumanji: The Next Level on Sept. 24.
Maryland and Virginia have joined a six-state COVID-19 testing agreement to coordinate the purchase of and expand access to rapid point-of-care antigen tests. On Tuesday, both state’s governors announced the bipartisan compact, which also includes Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and Ohio, in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced later in the day the state intends to join the agreement. “With severe shortages and delays in testing and the federal administration attempting to cut funding for testing, the states are banding together to acquire millions of faster tests to help save lives and slow the spread of COVID-19,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a press release. The agreement allows states to purchase tests and associated supplies in a “sustainable and cost-effective manner.” It will also help them work together on policies and protocols around rapid COVID-19 testing, which can provide results in as 15-20 minutes, because samples aren’t sent to labs. The states are already in talks with two Becton Dickinson and Quidel – the U.S. manufacturers FDA-approved antigen tests, to buy 500,000 tests per state, according to the release. Other states, cities and local governments may also join. Antigen tests detect the presence of certain proteins that are part of the virus. Using a nasal or throat swab, the tests can produce results in minutes. “We are bringing together this bipartisan, multi-state coalition to combine our purchasing power and get rapid testing supplies to our communities as quickly as possible,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said in the press release. “The people in our six states want to see action, and we’re delivering.” The Rockefeller Foundation, which has long supported public health initiatives, will help provide financial support for the effort. The announcement comes as much of the DMV saw spikes in new cases in July, although the daily average of new cases has steadied over the past week. Some local residents have experienced delays of up to two weeks in receiving results. While testing capacity in the region has increased overall, some local jurisdictions like Montgomery County have raised concerns about meeting testing needs, in anticipation of a second wave of cases. The county began providing residents with free at-home COVID-19 tests in late July, targeting its hardest-hit ZIP codes.
Tattoo and massage parlors, tanning and waxing salons and cryotherapy businesses can reopen in Montgomery County as of noon today. On Tuesday, Montgomery County Council voted in favor of revisions to an executive order that allows for businesses that offer personal services to reopen. The council approved changes to the order from County Executive Marc Elrich that was issued June 19. Under the order, cigar bars, vape shops and hookah bars can also reopen, but only to offer items for sale. Smoking on site remains prohibited. Businesses that offer personal services follow a number of protocols, including allowing just one customer for every 200 square feet of space by appointment only and allowing only one customer in the waiting room. Religious facilities can hold services provided they are limited to one participant or household group for every 200 square feet. Outdoor services would be limited to 150 people, unless a waiver from the Department of Health and Human Services is issued. During the council hearing, a number of people, including business owners, testified. Ahmed Kamel, who owns two hookah bars, including the Vibes hookah lounge in Rockville, told council members his business has a state-of-the-art ventilation system. He said hookah lounges in other jurisdictions have been able to reopen. “We believe we can continue to do our best to stop the spread [of the coronavirus] by enforcing our safety guidelines, and allowing our venues to be occupied at a 50% capacity,” and with outdoor seating, Kamel said. Matt Libber, executive director of the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, objected to the provision that classified soccer as a “high-risk” activity. “There is no basis to single out soccer,” said Libber, when other activities, such as lacrosse and field hockey, are classified as medium-risk. Council member Gabe Albornoz expressed sympathy to Libber’s situation, and said, “We want to have a further dialogue at another time,” regarding a number of the provisions in the executive order. Council can vote on the revisions, but cannot amend an executive order.
Kings Dominion amusement park in Doswell, Va., will not reopen this summer. The park made the announcement Tuesday. The continued closure is due to “challenges” linked to the coronavirus pandemic, park general manager and Vice President Tony Johnson said in a statement. “The safety of our guests and associates is always our top priority, and we have done our due diligence in developing a comprehensive safety plan in accordance with industry and public health standards. However, the state’s Phase 3 reopening restriction of limiting the park to only 1,000 guests has brought us to the difficult decision to keep the park closed for the rest of the year.” Under Virginia’s Phase Three reopening, guests must follow social distancing measures and wear masks, in addition to the capacity cap. “We thank our guests and associates for their continued loyalty and support during this challenging time and we look forward to seeing you at the park in 2021,” Johnson said. Day tickets and season passes for the 2020 season will be valid through Sept. 6, 2021, Johnson said, and any affected guests will receive more information in an email. Last week, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, another Virginia amusement park, announced it would reopen for a limited-capacity event. The general park will remain closed, but from Thursday to Aug. 16, customers can get tickets for the Coasters and Craft Brews event.
Gaithersburg-based Novavax Inc. reported positive phase 1 clinical trial data on its possible COVID-19 vaccine, a required step for approval of a product officials hope will protect people from coronavirus. The study found the vaccine, called NVX-CoV2373, to both be generally well-tolerated and elicit “robust antibody responses,” the company said Tuesday, adding that it showed the potential to reduce the disease’s transmission. Specifically, the drug had a “reassuring” safety profile with the most common tenderness and pain at the injection site, and less frequent, systemic symptoms including headache, fatigue and myalgia. And there were no “severe” adverse reactions, the company said. The data demonstrate the candidate has “a robust immunogenicity profile,” Dr. Gregory Glenn, Novavax’s president of research and development, said in a statement. In addition, he said, it “elicited neutralizing antibody titers greater than those observed in a pool of COVID-19 patients with clinically significant disease.” This clinical trial, funded by the Norway-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, precedes a phase 2 study the company will kick off soon. A successful outcome would position Novavax for its phase 3 trial which, if successful, would allow the company to seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration to take the vaccine to market. It is a process that usually takes several years and, more often than not, does not result in a commercialized product. It is not the only viable contender. Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate is one of 26 now in clinical trials alongside biotech companies like Cambridge, Mass.-based Moderna. That study is happening at 89 sites, including George Washington University. Both Novavax and Moderna are part of the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed program, an initiative to accelerate coronavirus countermeasures and vaccine development.
As Hurricane Isaias headed to the DMV yesterday, D.C., Maryland and Virginia closed COVID-19 testing sites. Isaias is expected to bring torrential rain and risk of flooding today. D.C. closed its Anacostia and Judiciary Square outdoor testing at noon Monday and testing inside the Congress Heights Rec Center at 2 p.m. It also canceled testing at fire stations scheduled from 4-8 p.m. Monday afternoon. The city canceled all testing for Tuesday. Mayor Muriel Bowser tweeted on Monday afternoon that all meal and grocery distribution cites operated by the city would also be closed today. In Maryland, Prince George’s County closed all of its testing sites, including Adventist Medical Group on Indian Head Highway, the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center, the Cheverly Health Center, the Rollingcrest-Chillum Recreation Center and Wayne K. Curry Sports and Learning Center all in Prince George’s County, and said they would remain closed Tuesday. Montgomery County closed its testing clinics for Tuesday and Wednesday. The county health department advised anyone with an appointment either day to reschedule online. In Virginia, Arlington will close testing sites on North Quincy Street and at the Arlington Mill Community Center, while Prince William County said all of its sites will be closed Tuesday.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan overruled Montgomery County’s top health official and is giving private schools the authority reopen in the fall, if they choose. On Friday, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles ordered private schools to stay closed for in-person classes until Oct. 1. “The blanket closure mandate imposed by Montgomery County was overly broad and inconsistent with the powers intended to be delegated to the county health officer,” Hogan said in a press release. “Maryland’s recovery continues to be based on a flexible, community-based approach that follows science, not politics.” Gayles did not respond to our request for a comment. Several Maryland public school systems, including those in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, have opted to begin the school year online. But under the state’s Stage Two of reopening, which it is currently in, schools are allowed to reopen with social distancing and other safety precautions. In the emergency order, Hogan said local governments may order businesses to close or impose restrictions that are stricter than state requirements. But he added that schools and school systems should have the flexibility to make reopening decisions that align with public health guidelines. “Private and parochial schools deserve the same opportunity and flexibility to make reopening decisions,” he said. “As long as schools develop safe and detailed plans that follow CDC and state guidelines, they should be empowered to do what’s best for their community.” Last week, Gayles said keeping schools closed would protect residents as coronavirus cases spike across Maryland. On Monday, the state recorded 91,144 total cases of COVID-19, nearly 17,842 of which are in Montgomery County, the state’s largest jurisdiction. “Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have based our decisions on science and data,” Gayles said. “At this point the data does not suggest that in-person instruction is safe for students or teachers.” Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich defended Gayles’ decision on Monday and criticized Hogan for overturning it. “I don’t understand how the governor separates private schools from public schools,” he said. “Maybe he’s under a different set of political pressures.” On Monday, six family with children in private schools in the county filed a federal lawsuit against Gales, the county and Elrich. Two Catholic schools joined the suit. Tim Maloney, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said they felt compelled to file the lawsuit, even after Hogan issued his amended executive order because they believe Gayles’ order remains in effect until it is rescinded. If it is not rescinded, the plaintiffs are asking the federal court for an injunction. “The county made this decision because of political pressure, or because of the embarrassment that public school students were staying home while religious and private schools found a way to say open,” Maloney said. Schools have planned extensive safety measures, including masks, plexiglass in classrooms, staggered times for pickup and dropoff, physically distanced desks, serving lunch at desks instead of the cafeteria, using external entrances to classrooms and sometime having class outside the lawsuit says. However the county health department never visited the schools to see the measures the lawsuit alleges.
Fall and winter high school sports in Maryland have been postponed. The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association said in a statement Monday that the “decision comes in light of the recent announcements of local school systems to begin education virtually and provides each school system with options for the gradual increase of student engagement for the physical and social-emotional health of students.” Waiver regulations on student engagement that were approved by the state Board of Education in June can now be used. “The health and safety of student participants, coaches and officials is a primary concern for the return of interscholastic athletics and activities,” the association said. The MPSSAA said it will come up with “modified competition seasons for all sports during the second semester.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, King Henry VIII will not be vacationing in Revel Grove this summer with his wife Anne Boleyn or their baby daughter Elizabeth. The Maryland Renaissance Festival, staged each fall in the woods near Annapolis, is canceled this summer. “This decision is made after careful consideration following significant preparation to provide a safe experience for all of our guests and participants, acquiring all safety measures and reducing our attendance by half,” organizers said on the website. “Unfortunately, our preparation cannot overcome the many external uncertainties we are all experiencing. While many businesses can operate with restrictions, the festival we have always worked to put on is a variety of up-close and highly interactive experiences for our customers and villagers. We cannot offer you the shoppes, entertainment, feasting and frivolity that has been our hallmark.” President Jules Smith said organizers were prepared to open with people wearing masks along with their costumes and plenty of hand sanitizer around. “We’ve never lost a season,” Smith said. “We’re no different than any other business going through a very tough time. We’re not exceptional in that regard, but nobody likes that for their business, and we certainly don’t.” This would have been the festival’s 44th year. It was scheduled to open Aug. 29 and run weekends through Oct. 30.
Msgr. Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter St. Cyprian Catholic Church on East Capitol Street, has contracted COVID-19 prompting D.C. Health officials to tell about 250 staff and parishioners to self-quarantine for two weeks. Pope, who urged people not to “cower in fear” of the coronavirus, was admitted to the hospital on July 27 after experiencing a high fever. He tested positive for the coronavirus after a rapid diagnostic test that afternoon. On Friday, D.C. Health issued a letter saying that “additional individuals have been identified as having been exposed to the virus.” Parishioners who participated in communion at the church between July 25-27 were told to stay home for 14 days and monitor themselves for symptoms. It is unclear whether health department officials had contacted parishioners and told them to quarantine before Friday, or whether other members of the church have tested positive for the coronavirus. Nine days before testing positive, Pope, 59, wrote an article in the National Catholic Register questioning the sweeping orders that public officials have issued to stem the spread of the virus, including limiting worship services. “There is more to life than just not getting sick and not dying,” he wrote. He said on a religious radio show on the morning of July 27 that he thinks some parishioners who have chosen not to return to in-person services are “lukewarm” Catholics. Even after being hospitalized with COVID-19, Pope continued to urge followers not to be afraid of the disease. “I wonder, when will be the endgame?” he said in a video message posted Saturday from the church rectory. “When will it be safe enough to play in the park again? That still remains my concern, even after having contracted this.” Pope said Sunday that he has never violated city regulations on mask-wearing or physical distancing, nor has he urged his followers to do so. He wore a mask when speaking to congregants one-on-one, he said, and sanitized his hands with alcohol when providing communion. “Whenever I was told to wear a mask, I always did,” he said, adding that he stands by the perspective he shared on his blog and during sermons. “We are Christians. We believe that there’s a role for suffering. It’s not appropriate for a Christian to be afraid.” Pope said he does not know how he caught the virus. He was hospitalized July 27 with a high fever and low levels of oxygen, but he has since returned to the rectory. He apologized for the “inconvenience” he had caused parishioners who were asked to quarantine. Dawn Goldstein, a Capitol Hill resident and member of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church who posted about Pope’s diagnosis on Twitter, said she felt “insulted” by the priest’s articles and speeches urging Catholics not to be afraid. “He has used his platform to mock and ridicule Catholics who are taking precautions,” Goldstein, whose church is about a mile from Pope’s, said in an interview with the Washington Post. “It’s so un-pastoral, so unlike a priest.” Goldstein said she encountered Pope on June 6, a day of racial justice protests in D.C., while he was leading a rosary procession with about 30 priests, nuns and congregants, most of whom were not wearing facial coverings. Goldstein, who was distributing water and masks with other members of St. Joseph’s, said she offered Pope a mask but he declined, a decision she felt was irresponsible. It was not mandatory at the time to wear facial coverings outdoors, although city officials had urged residents who were attending protests to do so. Pope said he had a mask in his pocket during the procession but was not wearing it when Goldstein approached him. He called her criticisms a “grossly unfair accusation” of his behavior. “When I say, ‘Do not be afraid,’ that is not to say, ‘Be reckless,’ ” he said. “There’s a middle ground between afraid and reckless, and that’s prudence.”
All of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions have met the goal of testing 10% of their populations for the coronavirus. According to a press release, the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate has also dropped to 4.47% after nearly 1.25 million tests were administered statewide. It has remained below 5% since June 25. “Our aggressive statewide testing strategy is helping us to understand, identify and stop the spread of this virus, and I want to commend all of our local jurisdictions for stepping up to meet our goal of testing 10% of their populations,” Gov. Larry Hogan said. With Cecil County testing 10.1% last week, all 24 jurisdictions have reached Maryland’s 10% testing goal set by the Hogan administration. Somerset County tested the most by any jurisdiction in the state with 24.4%. Locally, Montgomery County has tested 15.3%, Prince George’s County 15.0%, Anne Arundel County 13.4%, Howard County 15.5% and Charles County 12.3%. The testing milestone comes after Hogan announced stricter face mask rules and a travel advisory for states with coronavirus surges. While more state residents are being tested, four jurisdictions continue to average higher positivity rates, including Baltimore County at 5.53%, Baltimore City at 6.12%, Prince George’s County at 6.35% and Talbot County at 5.49%. As of Saturday, there were 592 total current COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state, with 132 ICU beds in use. There is an increase in cases among those ages 40 and under, according to the release. The positivity rate among Marylanders under 35 (6.25%) is 73.6% higher than those aged 35 and older (3.60%).
Anyone entering a Maryland courthouse or judicial facility must follow new mandatory health safety requirements. Health concerns led Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals Mary Ellen Barbera to issue an administrative order requiring everyone to wear a face covering and adhere to social distancing guidelines, which require a minimum of 6 feet between individuals. Clear facial barriers don’t fulfill the mask requirement. The order went into effect Friday and will be enforced for anyone 2 years or older. Masks must cover both the nose and mouth and are required during all court proceedings. Employees are also required to follow the new safety guidelines. Anyone who enters a facility without a face covering will be provided one, and for anyone who can’t comply, a remote proceeding may be an option.