Montgomery Co. to Have 38 Voting Centers
COVID-19 Cases Reach 218,602 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of yesterday morning, 13,159 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 597 deaths; there have been 99,693 cases in Maryland with 3,499 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 105,750 cases with 2,381 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
For this year’s general election, Montgomery County expects to have 38 voting centers, a fraction of its usual number of polling places. The voting centers are part of the Maryland State Board of Elections’ recently approved plan for the Nov. 3 election. Although Gov. Larry Hogan has called for every precinct in the state to be open for in-person voting, he said the board can carry out its plan for more limited polling places in large centrally located buildings. The board’s plan addresses understaffing for poll workers and election judges. The centers will also create a safer environment for residents who vote in person, according to state officials. Registered voters will be able to use any of the voting centers in their county. Early voting runs from Oct. 26-Nov. 2, followed by the general election on Nov. 3. Center hours will be 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Residents can also vote with mail-in ballots. Earl Stoddard, executive director of Montgomery County’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said during a press conference Thursday that county employees are working on a safety plan for the election. It includes installing plexiglass, gathering enough personal protective equipment and other precautions. In the county, 38 locations are being considered as voting centers, including 25 high schools. There would be 11 early voting locations. The county is also looking to install drop boxes to allow direct delivery of ballots, so residents do not have to rely on the U.S. Postal Service. “We [have] roughly about 1,300 election judges lined up,” Stoddard said. “If we had done a normal election, we would need something like 4,000. But I haven’t heard the revised plan [for] exactly what the new strategy will mean in terms of those numbers. We have already had conversations within the county government about how we will substitute in additional support for those sites.” The state’s plan for consolidated voting centers in each county is a compromise between having all precincts open plus mail-in voting, as Hogan preferred, and an election mostly or entirely by mail, which Democrats wanted. The board’s plan calls for 360 voting centers across the state. They would include 282 public high schools. Major concerns about in-person voting include whether it’s safe to have people gather to vote and whether there will be enough poll workers to staff the precincts.
As part of the federal government’s efforts to make testing faster and cheaper, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization Saturday to a coronavirus test developed by Yale University researchers. The test is designed to reduce turnaround times in commercial laboratories. The diagnostic test, called SalivaDirect, does not require a swab or a special collection device; a sample can be collected in any sterile container, the FDA said. Nor does it require a separate step to extract nucleic acids, a process that is time-consuming and relies on components that have often been in shortage. Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health said the test is cheaper and less expensive than traditional testing and offers comparable results. The school does not intend to commercialize the test, which does not rely on proprietary equipment. It can be assembled by labs across the country. The test is the fifth that the FDA has authorized that uses saliva as a sample.
People who have recovered from the coronavirus do not need to quarantine or seek testing for three months after they have recuperated, according to recently updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new recommendation, updated Aug. 3, cautions that those who were previously infected should still socially distance and wear masks but says they don’t need to quarantine or be tested if they “have been in close contact” with someone who tests positive, unless they develop symptoms. A CDC spokesperson told the Washington Post the update was made based on research that suggested people were continuing to test positive after they had recovered, as they continue to shed dead virus. Shedding of virus that is not live would not infect others. “Contrary to media reporting today, this science does not imply a person is immune to reinfection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the 3 months following infection,” spokesperson Jason McDonald said in an email. The CDC is still evaluating recent studies, but current research indicates the duration of infectiousness in most people is no longer than 10 days after symptoms begin and no longer than 20 days for those with severe illnesses or immune deficiencies. “CDC will continue to closely monitor the evolving science for information that would warrant reconsideration of these recommendations,” McDonald said. Little is known about immunity from the coronavirus. Research has indicated patients can build antibodies to the virus — proteins in the blood that indicate a previous infection. But those who recover from the coronavirus may rapidly lose antibodies within months, according to a June study of Chinese patients published in the journal Nature Medicine.
The Maryland Department of Health on Friday ordered Rockville-based AdvaGenix, a genetic testing lab that has been providing Montgomery County with saliva-based COVID-19 tests since late May, to shut down its testing program. The state questioned more than 17,000 tests carried out using supplies from AdvaGenix “after an inspection by federal and state officials revealed pre-analytic deficiencies that may have affected sample integrity,” according to a news release from the health department. The lab has previously been permitted to process COVID-19 PCR tests. Health department spokesman Charles Gischlar said in an email that “pre-analytic” refers to how the specimen is handled before being processed. “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are preparing an official survey report and the facility will be required to develop a plan of correction subject to the approval of CMS,” Gischlar said. Maryland Health Secretary Robert Neall issued a nine point order Friday afternoon, banning AdvaGenix from carrying out COVID-19 testing until the suspension is lifted. The lab must alert everyone it has tested that their results are “questionable,” and that they should consider getting retested. The AdvaGenix tests account for about 8% of Montgomery County’s 251,000 COVID-19 tests so far. County Executive Marc Elrich and Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles announced Friday night that the county will pursue new testing options. The state agreed to provide the county with 5,000 new test kits per week from a different vendor to make up for the lost testing capacity. The county has not yet said how it plans to use those tests. On Thursday, Gayles said those who had been tested at county facilities in the last two weeks, approximately 2,000 people, should be retested. The closure resulted in Montgomery County temporarily closing seven sites that had been scheduled to provide tests next week. Clinics using AdvaGenix tests were held at the following locations in Montgomery County: PlumGar Recreation Center, 19561 Scenery Drive, Germantown; Mid-County Community Recreation Center, 2004 Queensguard Road, Silver Spring’ Silver Spring Community Center, 1 Veterans Place, Silver Spring; Takoma Park Community Center, 7500 Maple Ave., Takoma Park; Wheaton Library and Community Recreation Center, 11701 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; and White Oak Community Recreation Center, 1700 April Lane, Silver Spring.
The Arlington County Police Department will be enforcing the county’s outdoor social distancing order and issue $100 fines if necessary, especially in the Clarendon neighborhood where reduced capacity inside bars and restaurants has meant customers have spilled out onto sidewalks. An emergency ordinance prohibits people from gathering in groups of more than three on some streets and sidewalks, and pedestrians should stay 6 feet apart, but it hasn’t been enforced yet as the county waits for signage. “Once we get the signs up, we’ll really start the enforcement, but the enforcement actually hasn’t begun,” said Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey. She said the ordinance will only be enforced near the signs, which should be up soon. County police will do the enforcing, although Garvey hopes for voluntary compliance. She would also like to see businesses change their protocols to send customers a text when space opens up, rather than have them wait in lines. Some recent social media posts have shown people crowding outside of popular bars and restaurants as they wait for a table. The move comes amid warnings about people being put at risk for COVID-19 as they wait outside. “The danger is that whenever you have groups of people coming in close contact — that is within 6 feet or less, with or without masks — that there could be a chance of transmitting the virus,” said Amira Roess, professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University. She said that some people may wear masks incorrectly or take them off. Also, she said, someone very infectious could transmit the infection through the mask or around the mask.
Maryland and Virginia are tapping local hospitals to conduct antibody studies to determine the reach of COVID-19 in both states in hopes of getting a better understanding of how it is spread and how to fight it. On Thursday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced the state’s health department is moving forward with a pediatric serology study in Northern Virginia. The state is teaming with Inova Children’s Hospital to measure the proportion of residents age 19 and under that have COVID-19 antibodies, which indicate someone previously had the virus. The state said Northern Virginia was chosen because of the number of confirmed pediatric COVID-19 cases in the region, as well as its diverse population. Inova will recruit as many as 1,000 participants who live in Northern Virginia and seek care at Inova clinical sites. Blood samples will be taken and tested for COVID-19 antibodies. The Virginia Department of Health will use the data to estimate the total number of children and teens in the region and state who have been infected. The health department will also analyze risk factors for infection, including age, preexisting health conditions, demographic characteristics and childcare exposures. The results are expected in about a month. “I know children are often impacted by disease in a different way than adults,” Northam, a pediatric neurosurgeon by training, said in a statement. “These studies provide key insight into how COVID-19 spreads among different ages and demographics groups. With this information, we are one step closer to beating this virus.” Virginia also announced the interim results of an adult antibody study Thursday that found 2.4% of adults statewide have COVID-19 antibodies. Northern Virginia is estimated to have the highest prevalence at 4.2%, followed by Central Virginia at 3%. They were followed by the eastern region at 1.5%, southwestern region at 1% and northwestern region at 0.9%. The adult study was conducted by Inova, Norfolk’s Sentara Healthcare, Roanoke’s Carilion Clinic, the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University. The interim analysis is based on more than 3,100 participants. The study also discovered 14.4% of Hispanic adults had antibodies, making them 13.1 times more likely to have been infected than non-Hispanic adults. Adults age 60 and over showed the least prevalence of antibodies. The full results of the adult study are expected in September. The state hopes to have results of 5,000 participants at that point. The study also suggests than more than 95% of Virginians have not been exposed to the cornavirus and remain at risk for infection. State leaders urged residents to continue to take preventative measures and safety precautions. Also on Thursday, the Maryland Department of Health said it is launching a similar antibody study with the help of 13 hospitals in the state. It hopes to enroll 6,000 participants. “Understanding the level and pattern of unrecognized community transmissions of COVID-19 is crucial to curb transmission and prevent a future wave of the pandemic,” Health Secretary Robert Neall said in a statement. “Establishing a baseline of those who have tested positive will help us better understand how it spreads so we can fight it more effectively.” Participating hospitals in the DMV include Anne Arundel Medical Center, Johns Hopkins Health System, Howard General Hospital, Holy Cross Hospital, Shady Grove Adventist and UM Prince George’s Hospital Center.
D.C. officials announced plans to conduct a citywide coronavirus antibody survey last month, but with just one week left, only about 10% of invited households have participated. D.C. Health, in a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, randomly selected 839 households and invited them to complete a questionnaire and a blood test that would indicate whether someone has had and recovered from COVID-19, in order to learn more about the virus’s spread in the city. “We had thought it would be easier,” said Dr. John Davies-Cole, D.C. state epidemiologist at the Center for Policy, Planning and Evaluation, who is overseeing the survey. He noted that turnout has been good at D.C.’s mass testing sites. “[We thought] once people hear this, they will come and get tested, so it’s a little bit of a surprise.” The city sent invitations out dated July 21, and the survey’s end date was originally today. As of Aug. 7, only 56 households had done so, and the city needs a minimum of 560 households, or 10 people per census block to respond, in order to get “a full picture of what is going on in the District” based on its population, Davies-Cole said. The city extended the end date to Aug. 21 in hopes that more people will participate, but only 86 households had responded as of Friday. Davies-Cole says that, because coronavirus can be transmitted through people who are asymptomatic and those who contract it may never even know, antibody testing can give the city a better sense of how the virus has spread among locals. Maryland and Virginia announced plans for similar studies this week with the help of local hospitals. Davies-Cole did not say which neighborhoods had the highest or lowest participation rates, noting instead that the overall number of participants is still so low that the city is focused on getting “responses from throughout the District.” Some doctors have said antibodies might help protect people from catching the virus a second time, but health experts caution that immunity is not guaranteed just because someone tests positive. D.C. began offering free antibody testing in June. The program was also supposed to end today, but has been extended through next Friday at the city’s Hillcrest Recreation Center and Canal Park sites. Both sites will operate with extended hours: Hillcrest, 3100 Denver St. SE, will be open from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. and Canal Park, 200 L St. SE, will be open from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. As part of the survey, the city will provide free transportation to and from the sites, and participants will receive a $25 Visa gift card. Residents can still get antibody testing through their doctors after Friday, but it won’t necessarily be free. The federal CARES Act requires insurance companies to pay for the tests, but many labs do not accept insurance. D.C. Health sent selected households a postcard reminding them about the survey in early August, and has been working to get the word out through community partners. It is all part of an effort, Davies-Cole said, to encourage “folks who’ve been identified to participate to take advantage of it and help their communities.”
Montgomery County officials on Thursday suspended its COVID-19 testing at the Silver Spring Civic Building and White Oak Community Recreation Center after the state health department raised concerns about protocols at Rockville-based AdvaGenix, which processes most of the county’s tests. County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles recommended that residents who have been tested in the past two weeks at county-sponsored clinics using the AdvaGenix test kits get retested. Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Gayles said he did not know the specific concerns the state head about the company. “The county’s contract with AdvaGenix provided self-administered tests for primarily asymptomatic individuals,” officials said in a press release. Officials said more than 19,000 AdvaGenix tests were used over the past two months, which represents about 8% of the more than 251,000 COVID-19 tests that have been administered to country residents. County officials are looking into an alternative source that can analyze tests. The county is continuing testing for symptomatic residents with different, nurse administered tests. The clinic scheduled today at the Wheaton Library and Community Recreation Center is still on, but will be using tests provided through the state of Maryland. Testing at the Plum ar Community Recreation Center today and in Poolesville on Saturday have been canceled.
Metro is preparing to ramp up rail service starting this weekend, after nearly five months of reductions because of the coronavirus pandemic. The transit system said it will reopen closed stations, including Silver Line service that has been suspended since Memorial Day, run trains more frequently and expand hours of operation beginning Aug. 16. Trains will run every 8 minutes during rush hours and every 12 minutes on the Red Line and 15 minutes the Orange, Blue, Silver, Green and Yellow Lines during off-peak times. Metrorail will open at 5 a.m. Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. Sunday until 11 p.m. each night. Metro also plans to expand service on several bus routes on Aug. 23. Metro said in a news release Thursday that the changes will restore service on most rail lines and bus routes to levels before the pandemic restrictions. Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said in the statement restoring service was possible because of funding from the federal CARES Act.
Maryland school superintendents say more standardized guidance is needed from the state Department of Education to help as they move from virtual to in-person learning when conditions regarding the spread of COVID-19 allow. Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises and Talbot County Public Schools Superintendent Kelly Griffith shared their concerns during a roundtable discussion with Democratic Senators Thursday. The three accused the department of not having a sufficient plan in place for gauging when to return to in-person instruction, administering rapid universal testing for school employees or purchasing personal protective equipment for students and staff. In June, State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon released a recovery plan for schools that provided some guidelines for districts on establishing their own protocols. The guidelines included requiring all school districts to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines like hand washing and wearing face coverings; adhering to state health officials’ outbreak protocols for contact tracing and quarantining; and following benchmarks like safe transportation for students and a system to track attendance. However, Smith and the other superintendents say those guidelines aren’t specific enough. “It’s critical that the Maryland State Department of Education, and especially the Maryland Health Department, come together to establish metrics that are rational, thoughtful and that school systems can gauge what’s going to happen next,” he said. According to Smith, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles is looking at community spread and the percentage of people tested for the virus to assist public schools in decision making. But Smith said those measures should also apply to the rest of the state’s public schools. Griffith, who also serves as president of the Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland, agreed. “We’re educators, we’re not health experts,” Griffith said. “We really need our health experts to guide us in making these decisions.” Superintendents are relying on consistent health data to determine if some or all of the students can return to in-person learning. Smith said. “At this time we don’t have that consistency.” In response to superintendents Thursday, a Department of Edutcation spokesperson said that “statewide guidance does exist,” and its guidelines give specific instructions on how each local school system should reopen. But superintendents worry reopening may not be a possibility without certain statewide actions. Santelises said she would like the state to establish rapid testing when in-person instruction does begin for school employees. During summer in-person instruction with 300 to 400 students in small groups, the Baltimore CEO said she thought one of her employees contracted the virus. Santelises estimated it took 10-12 days to learn the employee did not have COVID-19. “If we could shrink that window, the ability to keep learning intact and in-person is much easier than to just shut everything down for two weeks,” Santelises said. When students eventually return to school in small groups, school leaders also want to know how much PPE they need to keep schools safe. “Don’t tell me to follow CDC guidelines, don’t tell me to make it up or work with my county health department, but let’s look at what is a standard for the school environment,” Smith said. The school leaders also said budget cuts prompted by the pandemic could prevent school districts from affording a sustainable supply of PPE. Griffith’s district received $880,000 more from the state this year for PPE, technology and other resources, but said it is only a temporary solution. “We don’t know how long this is going to last,” she said. “I’m concerned about sustainability.” To acquire PPE, each district had to sign contracts with companies on its own. Senate President Bill Ferguson told the superintendents he thought that was problematic. “Montgomery County is theoretically bidding against Prince George’s County … for the same masks if there’s not a statewide [contract],” Ferguson said.
Maryland lawmakers pressed the state’s health department leadership aboutr data inconsistencies in a meeting on Wednesday. Many of their questions had to do with the test positivity rate, a key metric recommended by the World Health Organization for making reopening decisions. As of Wednesday, Maryland’s coronavirus website said the percentage of tests coming back positive was 3.6%. Last Friday, Gov. Larry Hogan celebrated the state’s declining COVID-19 test positivity rate in a press release, saying that it had dropped below 4% for the first time since the state began measuring it. But, as several lawmakers pointed out at Wednesday’s meeting, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center says Maryland’s percent positive rate for tests is currently 5.2%. Public health experts have repeatedly emphasized the 5% threshold. The WHO has told governments they should have a test positivity rate lower than 5% for two weeks before reopening. Additionally, the federal government instituted a requirement last month for all nursing homes “in states with a 5% positivity rate or greater” to test staff on a weekly basis. During the Wednesday briefing, Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson said it was “crucial” for decision makers to get more clarity on the discrepancy. At one point, Del. Shane Pendergrass of Howard County expressed her confusion with both the difference in the test positivity rate, as well as the fact that the number of confirmed cases and negative test results on Maryland’s dashboards do not add up to the total number of tests administered. As of Wednesday, there was a difference of more than 400,000 tests. “Can you explain why this is so not straightforward? It seems cryptic, or there’s something missing,” Pendergrass asked. “What we have tried to do, and we’ve been consistent at the health department since the very beginning, is we tried to pick numbers that we thought could be as consistent as we can make them,” said Dr. Jinlene Chan, the state’s deputy health secretary. Chan said the positive and negative results might not add up to the total number of tests because of “data reconciliation issues,” or because a certain number of test results might be indeterminate. As for the positivity rate, Chan said the difference could be explained by the fact that the Maryland health department calculates test positivity differently than Johns Hopkins. “Our team has had multiple conversations with the Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Team … and they’ve actually stated to us that our methodology is not wrong, it is different, and they acknowledge the differences in our methodologies,” said Chan. According to the state’s website, the positivity rate it publishes “is a seven-day rolling average of positive results as a percentage of all tests.” Chan said at Wednesday’s meeting that the state is dividing the total number of positive tests by the total number of tests reported in a day to calculate the metric. Hopkins also publishes a seven-day rolling average. But it calculates positivity rate by dividing the number of people who test positive by the number of people who get tested, a method they say rules out “duplicative tests.” Health departments in Maryland and across the country prominently display data on their coronavirus websites. Many jurisdictions in the DMV post dashboards with key metrics they say they are using to make reopening decisions. In some cases, jurisdictions like D.C. have moved forward with reopening despite failing to meet the benchmarks they set for themselves. The briefing with Maryland lawmakers underscored that despite the central role of data in the pandemic response, there is confusion around methodology and data practices.
After Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles was blocked from ordering a blanket closure of private schools, several of those schools are planning to reopen for in-person instruction. But county leaders said Thursday they are still waiting on guidelines from the state that they need to evaluate the schools’ reopening plans. “We still have no metrics, no performance measures, nothing that would be relevant for us in terms of evaluating applications from private schools. And we continue to be concerned about opening without guidance,” said County Executive Marc Elrich during a press briefing Thursday. “I’ll point out that there are no other businesses that are allowed to set their own rules for how they open in this climate.” Elrich’s comments are the latest in a back-and-forth between county leaders and Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration over how nonpublic schools can safely reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this month, Gayles issued an order prohibiting nonpublic schools in the county from reopening for in-person classes until Oct. 1 to limit the virus’ spread. The move, which drew a federal lawsuit by six families and two religious schools, was overruled by an executive order from Hogan and then a memo from the state health secretary, who said county health officers couldn’t order a blanket closure of private schools but had to consider the reopening plans of each on a case-by-case basis. So far, the county has received plans from about a dozen nonpublic schools planning to reopen, said Earl Stoddard, director of the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Management. He said the lack of state guidelines is making it difficult to gauge those reopening plans. “We’re willing to review plans but … if we’re comparing your plan to something, we need something to compare it to, and that’s what we’ve been waiting on,” he said. There may be even more private schools planning to return to in-person classes, since there is no official process for nonpublic schools to submit plans, Stoddard said. “The schools do not come to us, generally, to tell us that they’re going to be open or tell us that they’re not going to be open,” he said. “We’re drawing this from reports that come in from various sources. There’s not an official process … We don’t know if there are schools operating today in Montgomery County — we don’t know.” Pointing to Hogan’s executive order and the memo from the state health secretary, Elrich said county officials are “feeling rather constrained about what we can do on the school front.” There are about 140 nonpublic schools in the county. Elrich said school guidelines put together by the Maryland State Department of Education in the spring apply to public schools and aren’t specific enough. Instead, he argued the state should have a single set of guidelines for reopening both public and private schools. “It makes no sense to have one standard for public schools and say, ‘This is what you have to do to make sure that children, teachers and staff are safe,’ and then not set a standard for everybody else.” Before his order was overruled, Gayles argued community spread of the coronavirus was too prevalent in the county, and new daily COVID-19 cases were still too high to allow students to safely return to classrooms. On Thursday, Gayles said new data is showing a troubling increase in the percentage of young people testing positive for the virus. Previously, people ages 0-19 had been making up between 8-9% of new infections. Over the last month, they accounted for 17-18% of new cases, Gayles said, citing county and state data. “So, basically, it’s almost doubled in the last month, and that’s concerning because we’re seeing more cases pop up in kids,” he said.
AMC Theatres will reopen for the first time in five months on Aug. 20 with special pricing to celebrate its 100th anniversary. More than 100 theaters will reopen across the nation with movies at the 1920 price of 15 cents, plus tax. In the DMV, AMC Theatres in D.C. and Maryland will remain closed due to local restrictions. However, in Virginia, AMC Hoffman 22, AMC Potomac Mills 18 and AMC Tysons Corner 16 will reopen Aug. 20, while AMC Courthouse Plaza 6, AMC Loudoun Station 11, AMC Shirlington 7 and AMC Worldgate 9 in Herndon will reopen Aug. 27. AMC said it expects to have two-thirds of its 600 theaters open “in time for the Sept. 3 release of Warner Bros. Tenet, following Disney’s Aug. 28 release of The New Mutants. Theater capacity will be significantly reduced because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. AMC said it will reduce the number of tickets sold for each showtime, block seats in the auditoriums to allow for appropriate social distancing, perform enhanced cleaning between shows, use a disinfecting electrostatic sprayer each night, upgrade air filtration filters and use high-tech HEPA vacuums. All patrons and employees are required to wear face masks. Theaters also will have disinfectant wipes available. After Aug. 20, AMC will offer “bring back” shows for $5 including a special Inception 10th anniversary event, Black Panther, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Grease and Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. Snacks including regular popcorn, regular Coca-Cola Freestyle and KidsPacks will sell for $5 through the end of October. “We are thrilled to once again open our doors to American moviegoers who are looking for an opportunity to get out of their houses and apartments and escape into the magic of the movies. As our guests return on our first day of resumed operations on Aug. 20, we invite them to join us in celebrating a return to the movies, and in celebrating 100 years of AMC making smiles happen with movies at 1920 prices of only 15 cents each,” said CEO and president Adam Aron in a press release. New releases, available are regular admission prices, are Unhinged, Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula, Cut Throat City, Words on Bathroom Walls and the Inception 10th anniversary event on Aug. 21; The New Mutants and Personal History of David Copperfield on Aug. 28; Tenet on Sept. 3; Infidel on Sept. 11; and The King’s Man and War With Grandpa on Sept. 18.
Researchers at the University of Virginia are developing a semi-autonomous robot to decontaminate rooms and surfaces for the coronavirus. The robot, nicknamed VICTOR, uses ultraviolet light to decontaminate floors and walls while it is moving. It also has a robotic arm with UV lamps that can zero in on specific spots, exposed surfaces and sweep over horizontal surfaces such as counter-tops and ram rests. “It is available and usable already, it just depends on how much capability we are going to introduce [into the system],” University of Virginia professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering Tomonari Furukawa said. “The ultimate goal really is to remove the human completely from the operation.” It isn’t something that people can do themselves, as UV light that can kill the coronavirus is also harmful to human eyes and skin. “We are increasing the safety of the robot,” Furukawa said. “We tried to make the UV lamp to be highly directional so that it will not affect the humans.” The robot creates a 3D map of the environment it has to clean. Furukawa said unlike humans, the robot knows very specifically which portion of a surface has been decontaminated. “As a result we can do the decontamination more efficiently and also more reliably,” he said. Furukawa has been developing robots for nearly a quarter century for emergency response when conditions are dangerous for humans, such as inside nuclear plants, when the environment is too hot, contains poisons or pathogens, or the air is unfit to breathe. Before bringing his robotics program to the University of Virginia, he was a professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech. The sanitizing robot is being developed in collaboration with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, so it can be used aboard naval vessels, Furukawa said. The goal also is to adapt the robot for use in places such as hospitals, train stations, airports and grocery stores.
Fans won’t be able to watch the Washington Football Team in action this year at FedEx Field. The team announced Wednesday that there will be no fans at this year’s games. Officials said the health and safety of its fans and employees were “top of mind” when making the decision. The team originally developed a health and safety plan, but decided not to go through with it out of “an abundance of caution” after talking with federal, state and local officials. Team owner Dan Snyder said the “current knowledge of COVID-19 is too unpredictable” to welcome fans into the stadium to start the 2020 season. Team officials say if the situation with the pandemic improves, they will re-evaluate the decision. According to a press release, the franchise has reached out to season ticket holders with financial alternatives for their ticket plans. Information for single game ticket holders is available by calling customer service or on the team’s website. Snyder said the team is working to “find ways to make our fans’ presence felt in new and innovative ways.” The release says there will be more information available before the team’s first game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 13.
Members of the D.C. Council on Wednesday grilled D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt about the city’s slow progress in identifying sources of new coronavirus infections, which could lead to shutting down activities such as indoor dining. For weeks, Nesbitt has said the city would ban activities if data from contact tracing showed the need for it, but the city has not added restrictions. The reason, Nesbitt said, is that the health department hasn’t determined which activities are leading to infections. “We still have a very difficult time creating for our population what their source of exposure is,” she said on a call with council members. “When I have something I can raise that recommends anything be scaled back, I will do that.” She took offense to some of the questions that council members asked. “Sometimes the tone and the tenor of these questions are completely insulting, as if we are not doing our level best to stem the tide,” Nesbitt said. “We’re trying to do our best to communicate how hard we are working to get ahead of this thing.” Nesbitt said the health department is doing what it can, including making visits to workplaces if more than one employee at a business contracts the virus. She cited research that the department is conducting to determine what activities infected people have participated in — potentially spreading it to others — as opposed to what activities led someone to catch the virus. In a sample of 100 people, she said 24 had eaten inside a restaurant while they were infectious; at least five were government employees who went to work; and 10 had traveled by plane, train or other mode of transportation. The city’s emergency management director, Christopher Rodriguez, told council members the city is in frequent communication with organizers of an Aug. 28 civil rights rally planned by Rev. Al Sharpton in D.C., to try to ensure the mass gathering won’t spread the disease. “We do recognize there are risks to mass gatherings. We also recognize the First Amendment, constitutionally protected rights of people to gather,” he said, adding that the city is working “to make sure that the rally is carried out in a way that’s as safe as possible.”
Most food trucks have left D.C. and headed for Virginia. When stay-at-home orders were issued, the lunch rush disappeared. Zack Graybill, chairman of the DMV Food Truck Association and owner of the D.C. Slices food truck, said the food truck industry immediately felt the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Graybill said during peak season there are approximately 900 food trucks in D.C. “Over 90%, I suspect more than 90% of food trucks that used to be in D.C. no longer come to D.C.,” Graybill said. “The majority have gone to Virginia.” He said some food trucks make as much as 75% of their annual sales between May and October. “Most vendors wait all year long for this time of year,” Graybill said. “It’s difficult to imagine any scenario by which a food truck business can recoup those lost revenues.” There just isn’t the foot traffic in D.C. right now with people working from home, he said. That is one reason he believes vendors are leaving the area. In addition to that, many food truck owners are finding that residential neighborhoods in Virginia have been largely keeping food trucks alive right now. “The majority of us have been trying to find residential locations, and that has been the only thing that has been successful for us,” Graybill said. The lunch-time rush is gone, but dinner is picking up. Graybill said people have been reaching out to the association through an HOA or apartment buildings to have a food truck come to the community for dinner so people can grab food and support. He said the economic damage caused by the pandemic will have lasting effects on the food truck industry and he fears what the situation will be like come winter when it is cold outside. The association, which represents about 100 food trucks, polled food truck owners and said 85% reported a decrease in revenues since March. Seventy-four percent of vendors applied for federal assistance, while only 33% received it. Graybill said 44% of vendors are self-funding their small business, while 24% have received financial help from family or friends. Also, 57% of the food truck owners surveyed will not return to a normal level of operation, compared to a year ago and 22% said business likely won’t return to “normal” for at least 6 months.
The Alexandria Drive-In pop-up will screen movies every Saturday from Aug. 29-Oct. 3 in a parking lot of an office building at 5001 Eisenhower Blvd., Alexandria. The cost is $30 per carload and movies will screen rain or shine. The lineup kicks off Aug. 29 with Jurassic Park at 8 p.m., followed by Back to the Future at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 5, Trolls at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 12, Field of Dreams at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 19, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 26 and Mamma Mia! at 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 3.Curbside Kitchen will provide three food trucks, which will deliver concessions ordered via app to cars. Everyone is required to wear masks, including at check-in. Gates open at 7:15 p.m. and tickets must be purchased in advance online. Guests must remain inside their cars except to use portable restrooms, which will be cleaned after each use. Proceeds benefit ACT for Alexandria and Athena Rapid Response.
A federal judge on Wednesday ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities to stop transferring people in and out of a detention center in Farmville, Va., that has become a hotspot for the coronavirus. The National Immigration Project and Legal Aid Justice Center filed a lawsuit late last month on behalf of detainees at the facility against ICE. They alleged that large numbers of detainees were transferred into crowded conditions before they were quarantined, leading to the worst outbreak of COVID-19 at any detention facility in the country. In early July, every detainee was tested for COVID-19, and 93% of the detainees whose results were reported tested positive for the virus. That came days after guards allegedly used pepper spray on detainees who protested for better conditions and medical care. A 72-year-old detainee died in custody there last week after testing positive. In a statement, ICE officials said the agency is “firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody,” and that it “has taken extensive precautions to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.” On Monday, a team of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control arrived to work with officials from the Piedmont Health District, the local health department, to begin addressing the situation. Gov. Ralph Northam and both Virginia senators had repeatedly appealed to President Trump for assistance, as ICE facilities are under federal jurisdiction. U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema, who signed the order, asked for photographs of a “representative dorm area” as well as blueprint or other visuals showing the overall layout of the facility. The judge could also appoint an independent health expert to assess the situation. There is a conference call scheduled for Aug. 17 to discuss the CDC’s inspection of the detention facility, the order says.
The Big Ten Conference on Tuesday postponed its 2020-21 season citing health and safety concerns around the coronavirus pandemic. The move includes regular-season contests and Big Ten championships and tournaments including football, men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball. “Our primary responsibility is to make the best possible decisions in the interest of our students, faculty and staff,” said Morton Schapiro, chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors and Northwestern University president, in a statement posted to the conference’s website. The Big Ten is the first of college football’s Power Five conferences to decide not to play this fall. The conference, which consists of 14 schools in 11 states, including the University of Maryland, left open the possibility of playing in the spring and said it had not made a decision regarding winter sports. “The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said in the statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.” Among those concerns is myocarditis, inflammation of the heart that may be linked to coronavirus and was found in at least five Big Ten athletes, as well as players in other conferences, ESPN reported. It can result in heart damage or sudden cardiac arrest if left untreated. The Big Ten announced in July that it would move to a “conference-only” schedule. “The decision announced today by the Big Ten Conference was made in the best interests of the health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes. I know that for our student-athletes, returning to campus in the fall is synonymous with the opportunity to compete at the highest level in the sport they love. Not being able to compete this fall is disappointing for all of us, but I have every confidence they will remain resilient and strong in these trying times,” UMD athletics director Damon Evans said in a separate statement. “We will continue to support every one of them and will work diligently with university leadership, local and state officials, and the conference to make every effort to provide competitive opportunities for our student-athletes.” The announcement comes as other local sports have made rocky returns to play during the pandemic. The Washington Nationals returned to an empty stadium last month, and amended its schedule after players for the Miami Marlins, who they were set to play, tested positive for COVID-19. UMD’s football program and D.C. United also faced road blocks last month, and the Patriot League, which includes Georgetown University football and other DMV sports programs, announced the cancellation of its fall plans.
The D.C. Housing Finance Agency relaunched the city’s mortgage assistance program, D.C. MAP, on Tuesday. Borrowers who qualify can receive up to $5,000 per month to put toward their mortgage in an effort to help homeowners impacted financially by the COVID-19 crisis, according to a press release. “We know that for many D.C. families, keeping up with their monthly mortgage payments has been a tremendous struggle during these unprecedented times,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said in the release. “By repurposing this existing assistance program, we can provide homeowners with some peace of mind and help relieve some of the financial burden during this public health emergency.” D.C. MAP was originally launched to aid homeowners impacted by the federal government shutdown in 2018. “At DCHFA, we always stress the importance of helping District residents retain their status as homeowners,” Christopher E. Donald, DCHFA’s interim executive director, said in the release. “The agency created D.C. MAP to provide mortgage assistance during another unexpected economic time – the federal government shutdown in 2018. DCHFA is committed to helping D.C. homeowners sustain during the COVD-19 pandemic.” To qualify, applicants must be able to document their income has been affected by the pandemic and prove that they are not eligible for forbearance or other types of relief offered through their mortgage servicer or federal Hardest Hit Fund program. Homeowners must apply for assistance on their primary residence, which has to be in D.C., and have been current on their payments as of March 1, 2020, when the pandemic hit the city. Applicants must also be the borrowers on their home loans and can borrow for up to six months.
The Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County is offering more short-term assistance to residents who have fallen behind on their rent due to the coronavirus. The county’s COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program launched in June and made direct payments to landlords in July. The program is back for a second round. It will pay up to $600 a month for up to three months, directly to landlords. To qualify, applicants must have either lost income during the pandemic or an unexpected increase in medical, childcare or utility payment due to COVID-19. Also, applicants’ annual income must be below a certain amount, such as $55,750 for a single person or $79,600 for a family of four, and must be at least one month behind on your rent. Applications will be accepted Aug. 18-31 at either at one of four dropbox locations across the county or https://hocmc.org/extra/878-covid-rental-assistance-program.html online. The county agency worked to simplify the application process this time around after some people had trouble with it. Recipients will be chosen at random from among qualified applicants. The program is funded through the federal CARES Act.
Free COVID-19 testing is available for anyone who lives or works in Prince William County, Manassas or Manassas Park from Aug. 12-15. Participants must provide their full name, telephone number and a home or work address in the region to obtain testing and receive the results. The sites can accommodate drive-thru or walk-up testing. To ensure you receive a test, arrive at the site as close as possible to the start time. Testing is only available until the test kits at each site are gone. Testing sites and locations include the Dumfries-Triangle Rescue Squad Facility, 3800 Graham Park Road, Triangle, at 1:30 p.m. and Metz Middle School, 9950 Wellington Road, Manassas, at 5:30 p.m. today; Cloverdale Park, 15150 Cloverdale Road, Dale City, at 8:30 a.m. and the Woodbridge Senior Center, 13850 Church Hill Drive, Woodbridge at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday; Splashdown Water Park, 7500 Ben Lomond Park Road, Manassas, at 1:30 p.m. and the Woodbridge Senior Center at 5:30 p.m. on Friday; and the Development Services Building, 5 County Complex Court, Woodbridge, at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.
A preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for Friday in federal court has been canceled, but the lawsuit against Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles for ordering private schools not to reopen for in-person classes until Oct. 1 is still is continuing. Timothy Maloney, the attorney for the two private schools and six families who sued the county, Gayles and County Executive Marc Elrich said in in a statement Monday on his Joseph, Greenwald & Laake’s website that since Gayles rescinded his order to close nonpublic schools, “now is the time for cooperation, not litigation. Schools and parents seek to collaborate with the County Health Officer as they make safe reopening decisions.” However, Maloney said in the statement that the lawsuit “will remain pending as we see how the County Health Officer treats religious and private schools going forward.” Last week, Gayles rescinded his order closing nonpublic schools until at least Oct. 1, but strongly advised against reopening the schools based on data about the spread of COVID-19. His earlier order had sparked a back and forth between the county and the state. Gayles’ decision to back down came after the Maryland secretary of health issued a policy that barred the “blanket” closure of schools, public or private.
Montgomery County fined three restaurants over the weekend for violating orders implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. Caddie’s on Cordell, 4922 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, was fined $500 on Saturday because it allowed a live musical performance, according to a Montgomery County Health and Human Services spokesperson Mary Anderson. Neither Montgomery County or Maryland’s executive orders allow live performances in public. Anderson also said two Wheaton restaurants, El Puente de Oro, 11123 Viers Mill Road, and Intipuqueno Restaurant, 2504 Ennalls Ave., were both fined $500 for not maintaining social distancing and for allowing karaoke, respectively. The three restaurants cited on Saturday were among 10 businesses that the county inspected. The others were reminded of the county’s new rule that alcohol cannot be sold after 10 p.m., Anderson said. Over the past month, county inspectors have fined and shut down several businesses for not complying with COVID-19 restrictions. Lancaster County Meats in Germantown’s Lancaster County Dutch Market had its license reinstated after it was suspended in July because employees were not wearing face masks.
The Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival has been postponed for a year due to safety concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Organizers announced Monday the event, which was slated from Oct. 15-18 this year, will be held Oct. 14-17, 2021. Next year’s festival will have the same artist lineup and schedule as this year’s concert was to have. The festival benefits Beebe Hospital’s Tunnel Cancer Center in Sussex County. A post on the festival’s website said tickets can be transferred to next year, give it to someone else or request a refund.
Following July’s spikes in coronavirus cases around the region, daily cases are decreasing. New daily cases in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia have mostly been less than 2,000 so far this month, a positive sign after the three reported a combined daily case count of 2,700 in July — the region’s highest since May. On Sunday, Virginia passed 100,000 cases since the pandemic began, following a record 2,015 cases last Friday, which the Virginia Department of Health attributed to a backlog of cases from earlier in the week. Prior to Friday’s jump, Virginia was reporting decreasing new daily cases, and on Monday, reported 663 new cases, its lowest daily count since July 9, well below its seven-day average of 1,092. Since early August, the number of new daily cases declined in Maryland as well, with 755 new COVID-19 cases reported on Monday, slightly above the state’s seven-day average of 747, but below its daily average of 940 at the end of July. In D.C., daily cases have plateaued between 50-85 cases since the end of July. There was a spike on Sunday, with 100 cases, but the city’s daily total dropped again Monday to 54 cases, below its last reported seven-day average of 68. The downward trends follow a concerning jump in cases in mid-July, when D.C., Maryland and Virginia all recorded their highest numbers of new daily cases since early June. The seven-day average of new cases also increased last month. On July 19, D.C. had a seven-day average of 62, compared with 43 the prior month, while Maryland saw a seven-day average of 713, up from June’s 413, and Virginia reported a seven-day average of 966, compared to 512 in June. Officials partially attributed July’s increase to younger people heading to beaches, visits to bars and restaurants, and lax attitudes toward social distancing. According to data from the Virginia Department of Health, cases in the state increased by 250% among people aged 20-29, and by 240% among people under 20 from the end of May to the beginning of July. In response to the rising cases, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam reinstated restrictions in Hampton Roads, while Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser expanded mask mandates, paused reopening efforts and instituted travel advisories to curb the spread. While University of Maryland public health professor Laura Franzini said the recent decrease in daily cases is “encouraging,” she added that several metrics, like the average positivity rate and testing capacities, are equally important for understanding the trajectory of the pandemic. “Just a [daily] case count and a seven-day average is a good metric, because it gives us an idea of what’s happening today, and yesterday, but it’s limited because there could be many reasons why there are more new cases,” sajd Franzini, who chairs UMD’s health services department. “If we look at the positivity rate, that gives a [different] indication, because if the positivity rate is high, it means there are a lot of people out there who are infected, but they’re not being tested, or we’re not identifying them. Ideally, we’d want the positivity rate to be less than five percent.” On Monday, Maryland reported a record-low statewide positivity rate of 3.62%, and prior to Virginia’s spike in cases on Friday, the commonwealth was recording a seven-day positivity rate of 7.4%, down from 7.8% in mid-July. D.C. reported a 3.4% positivity rate on Aug. 2, down from 3.8% on July 24. Across the DMV, nearly 3 million people have been tested for the virus. Some of the region’s hardest-hit jurisdictions and hot-spots have also reported hopeful trends this month. Virginia Beach, one of the vacation destinations that raised concerns, has recently seen a small decrease in daily cases, after reporting a jump of 329 on July 25. In Prince George’s County, which accounts for nearly 25% of Maryland’s total cases, the positivity rate dipped to its lowest since the pandemic began, at 5.4% as of Monday. Franzini said that the recent daily case counts and positivity rates show promise, but that other measures like hospitalizations and death rates could show a delayed rise in the coming weeks, as people diagnosed earlier start to experience increasingly serious symptoms. “Each one of these measures gives us information on the spread of the virus at different points in time,” Franzini said. During July’s case spikes, “we weren’t seeing any increases in hospitalization nor in deaths. Recently, we’re starting to see a bit more of an increase in hospitalization, but at the same time, in the past couple of days, the cases have been going down again or at least not increasing anymore. That tells us that we won’t be surprised if we saw more hospitalizations in the next week or two.” Maryland reported that its intensive-care unit bed capacity dipped below 120 for the first time Monday, after hospitalizations ticked upward on July 31. In Virginia, hospitalizations increased during the first days of August and are trending downward again. On Aug. 6, D.C.’s hospital bed capacity reached 80%, the level city officials want to stay below, although it decreased to 76.1% on Aug. 9. Spikes in Virginia’s death count earlier this month have also declined in recent days, and Maryland and D.C. have seen their daily death totals level off since mid-July.
D.C. Health on Monday added five states to its list of high-risk states and removed three, bringing the total number of states with travel restrictions to 29. Alaska, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Minnesota were added to the existing list, and Delaware, Ohio and Washington state were removed. People who come to D.C. from any of those states are required to self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival, under an executive order from Mayor Muriel Bowser. She issued the order after a spike in cases across the DMV. The list is updated every two weeks. Noticeably missing from the new list is Delaware, a popular summer destination for Washingtonians. Business owners in the state’s beach towns say they noticed a decline in visitors after D.C. and other Mid-Atlantic states first put travel restrictions in place last month. Mayor Dale Cooke of Dewey Beach said late July that Bowser had “made a mistake” by including Delaware on its list. “It’s going to hurt Dewey Beach a lot, and I’m sorry that to hear that she decided to do that,” Cooke said. The city’s health department makes its decision based on the number of daily new COVID-19 cases. If that number is 10 or more per 100,000 persons, the state is considered high risk. People must stay in their homes or hotel rooms and can leave only for food or medical appointments and cannot have visitors. The travel restrictions only apply to nonessential travel. People who come to the city for essential travel must only self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for two weeks and seek medical attention if they notice symptoms. There are no restrictions on travel to and from Maryland and Virginia. The current list of high-risk states includes Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.
Capital One Arena will be used as a polling place in November’s presidential election. Any D.C. voter will be able to cast a ballot there. The plan is to use the arena’s concourse for voting. D.C. joins other large cities, like Atlanta and Detroit, in repurposing basketball arenas as massive polling places where larger crowds can be accommodated while respecting social distancing rules. The move follows an offer late last month from Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Washington Wizards, Washington Mystics and Washington Capitals, for the city to use the arena as a polling place. The organization made the offer as part of a broader plan by the teams to promote voting ahead of the November election. The decision to use Capital One Arena as a voting center comes as election officials are finalizing the locations of the 20 early voting sites they plan to open for two-weeks prior to the Nov. 3 election and the 80 polling places they will open on Election Day. While some city officials, including Mayor Muriel Bowser, pushed the D.C. Board of Elections to open all 144 polling places normally used, election officials countered that doing so would be a challenge due to a shortage of poll workers and possible locations where social distancing could be practiced. The city will also mail all 460,000 registered voters a mail-in ballot for the November election. Alice Miller, the director of the D.C. Board of Elections, said last week the city entered into a contract with a specialized mail house to send out ballots so voters start receiving them by Oct. 1. To address possible challenges with the U.S. Postal Service, she also said the elections board will place 50 ballot drop boxes across the city.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan approved a plan to use “vote centers” instead of local polling places for the Nov. 3 election. The decision came as local officials struggle to get enough volunteer election judges to run in-person voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Maryland State Board of Elections officially asked Hogan to consider the plan last Friday. The board’s plan would use the state’s 282 public high schools or other sites as vote centers. In a letter to the board accompanying his proclamation Monday, Hogan was still critical of the plan, which he said came after months of delay and indecision. “I remain concerned that the Board’s decision to close nearly 80% of the polls will have the potential of creating long lines and unsafe conditions, with crowds of people being forced into too few polling places,” Hogan wrote. The plan from the state board of elections also called for Maryland’s 80 early-voting sites to be opened from Oct. 29 through Election Day. During the board meeting last Friday, David Garreis, president of the Maryland Association of Elections Officials, said the voting center method would avoid long lines because voters can cast a regular ballot at any center in the county where they live. Without Hogan’s proclamation, local elections offices would have only been able to consolidate voting precincts, which Garreis said would prevent voters from picking the least crowded location. “They have to stay where they were assigned, otherwise, they can’t vote,” Garreis said. The voting center method was encouraged as a way to run in-person elections with fewer volunteer election judges as the state deals with more than 14,000 vacancies in 23 counties and the City of Baltimore with less than three months to Election Day. Volunteers who work polls often are older residents, who are more at risk for coronavirus complications. Initially, it was uncertain if Hogan would go for the plan after he said last month that he wanted to see Maryland’s more than 1,800 polling places open for in-person voting. Hogan also directed the board to promptly send out absentee-ballot request applications to every eligible Maryland voter for people who choose to vote by mail. Concerns about the November election grew after Maryland’s June 2 primary, which was troubled by late or missing mail-in ballots and limited voting centers with long lines.
Affordable housing programs in Virginia will receive $8,987,420 in grants from the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to aid low-income families, the elderly and disable individuals with rental assistance. About a third of the funding will be directed to Northern Virginia. “As housing insecurity continues to rise for many Virginians, now more than ever, Congress needs to offer critical assistance to those in need,” Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner said in a joint press release. “We’re pleased to announce these federal funds that will go directly towards supporting some of the most vulnerable communities right now.” Congress allocated $1.25 billion for rental assistance through the CARES Act. By helping tenants with rent, the grants could help slow the number of eviction cases piling up in state courts. In late June, more than 12,000 eviction cases were pending. The grants range from just over $12,000 to more than $1.3 million. Five of the 39 recipient organizations are in Northern Virginia: Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, $384,750; Arlington County Dept. of Human Services, $382,489; Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority, $1,343,712; Loudoun County Department of Family Services, $141,428; and Prince William County Office of Housing and Community Development, $467,993. The Department of Housing and Urban Development allocated funds based on the Housing Choice Voucher program in each municipality. On Friday, the Virginia Supreme Court temporarily suspended evictions through Sept. 7. Gov. Ralph Northam requested the halt on evictions in late July, as federal efforts to provide support for renters during the pandemic stalled in Congress. The four justices who signed the majority opinion cited the riskiness of travel during the pandemic and the virus’s disproportionate impact on low-income people as reasons for the reprieve. The moratorium applies only to cases in which tenants fail to pay rent. Northam also invested $50 million in CARES funding into a rent relief program for people who have lost income due to the pandemic.
In-person undergraduate instruction at the University of Maryland has been delayed for two weeks due to the prevalence of COVID-19 in Maryland and Prince George’s County. The semester will begin as scheduled Aug. 31, but in-person undergraduate instruction won’t begin until Sept. 14. “I know this two-week delay is disappointing, but it will permit us to phase in the resumption of on-campus activities and allow us to implement campus-wide virus testing,” President Darryll J. Pines said in a letter to the university community on Monday. Undergraduate classes will be online for the first two weeks. The University System of Maryland has said since May that remote learning and in-person classes will return in the fall, and Chancellor Jay A. Perman said it is sticking with the plan because there are students who need the campus environment. UMD said that it is extending the deadline for confirming housing in on-campus residence halls until noon Wednesday to give students and their families more time to decide. The projected occupancy is less than 45%, according to the letter. On Tuesday, some students will protest being bound to fall semester lease contracts for dorms they won’t live in due to COVID-19 safety concerns. Students citing health and safety have found themselves protesting an inability to terminate expensive lease agreements with Capstone On-Campus Management, which manages College Park’s two on-campus housing complexes, the South Campus Commons and Courtyards, The Diamondback reported. A number of colleges in the region, including American, Georgetown, George Washington, Howard and Johns Hopkins have said they will start the fall semester with 100% online instruction.
A popular Alexandria summer camp had to close early and a parent says it is because every child and staff member potentially was exposed to COVID-19. A sign on the door of the Nannie J. Lee Center says the facility is closed until Aug. 14. The center hosts a camp that is a service for children with special needs and, this summer, also the children of front-line workers. An email from camp leaders told J-Lynn Van Pelt that her daughter, Bonita, had been exposed to a person with the virus for three consecutive days. Bonita is now in quarantine and awaiting test results. “Even though this program is amazing and the leaders are amazing [and] they did all the CDC requirements and they tried to keep the kids safe as possible, there was still an exposure,” she said Friday. Van Pelt said it was a difficult decision to send Bonita to the camp this summer, given the risks of the virus. She decided the camp offered services her daughter needs and that camp leaders were taking health precautions. The city health department would neither confirm nor deny cases of the virus at the camp. Health Director Dr. Stephen Haering said specific details of an outbreak are only reported if they don’t know who could have been exposed. “When there’s a setting where we know the people that were there, we contact the people directly and we don’t have the need to publish that publicly,” he said. The health department said there have been outbreaks in three congregate settings, which includes camps. A city spokesperson said 44 campers and 15 staff members were at the camp this summer.
Virginia hit a milestone Sunday — 100,000 probable and confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began in mid-March. The commonwealth reported 2,015 cases on Friday, 1,307 on Saturday and 897 on Sunday. The Virginia Department of Health said Friday’s high numbers were due to a backlog of cases that should have been reported earlier in the week. The 2,000-plus infections reported is the commonwealth’s highest daily total, although it included case numbers from Wednesday and Thursday as well as Friday. The health department said the issue was technical and attributed it to a “system performance configuration. It has since been corrected. Cases have trended up in Virginia over the past month. On July 9, 619 cases were reported with a seven-day moving average of 608. A month later on Aug. 9, 897 cases were reported with the seven-day average nearly double at 1,186. Virginia has a 7.6% positivity rate over the last seven days. While that is down from the high of 20.7% in late April, it is significantly higher than Maryland’s 3.9% and D.C.’s 3.2%. The World Health Organization says 5% or less positivity rate is needed to move ahead with reopening. Northern Virginia has a slightly better picture. Numbers have plateaued in recent weeks. New cases and moving averages have fallen since the end of July, although they did rise with the rest of the commonwealth on Friday. In terms of positivity rate, Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun Counties and Alexandria are all at 5.6% or below. Prince William County is at 9.2%. Virginia’s current hotspot, according to data, is Hampton Roads, which includes Virginia Beach. On June 21, the first official day of summer, the seven-day rolling average was 73 new cases. Seven weeks later, that average has grown by more than five times to 388 cases. On Sunday, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine appeared on the political talk show Full Court P ess with Greta Van Susteren. “Virginia’s numbers were coming down, but frankly as we started to open the economy back up, we’ve started to see a spike,” Kaine said. “The hot spot in Virginia is down near the beach, Virginia Beach because people have been quarantined for a long time. They may not want to fly for vacation, but they’ll drive for one.” Last week, Virginia launched COVIDWISE, a smartphone app that notifies people if they may have been exposed to COVID-19, becoming the first state in the country to roll out the technology. From Friday to Sunday, Virginia also added 27 probable and confirmed deaths from COVID-19. Overall, 2,326 Virginians have died from the coronavirus.
Maryland reported a new low COVID-19 positivity rate statewide on Sunday, but officials are concerned about the rate in Worcester County, which includes Ocean City, on the Eastern Shore. Gov. Larry Hogan said in a press release Sunday that Maryland’s seven-day average positivity rate dropped to 3.75%. The state said that is the lowest level reported since the pandemic began. The administration also said that the daily positivity rate also is at a record low. Out of a record 40,473 tests, 2.72% came back positive. The positivity rate is 5.53% in Prince George’s County, 5.05% in Queen Anne’s County and 6.23% in Worcester County. While the positivity rate in Worcester has started to plateau, state officials say it remains a concern. The positivity rate is 2.86% in Montgomery County and 2.90% in Anne Arundel County.
Some countries are seeing no new COVID-19 cases without a vaccine. Is it possible for that to happen in the DMV? “In Europe, when it went away, it really went away. In countries you saw numbers go way down, and we’re seeing much lower numbers, say, in New York City now,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He said that countries that have been able to get to 30 cases per million per day have been able to open schools successfully. “If we can get to lower levels, we are going to be able to do more things safely,” he said. On Saturday, New Zealand has marked 100 days since its last case. Sharfstein said that the DMV isn’t close to zero yet, but it is possible for the count of coronavirus cases to go down without a vaccine. “We’re not going to get to zero, but it is realistic to expect that we can get lower,” Sharfstein said.