Woodner Tenants Rally at Manager’s Home
COVID-19 Cases Reach 240,028 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of yesterday morning, 13,925 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 605 deaths; there have been 107,294 cases in Maryland with 3,603 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 118,809 cases with 2,568 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to a number of rent strikes in the DMV, including one at the Woodner on 16th Street NW. On Saturday, about 20 of the building’s roughly 2,000 tenants marched from the lobby down 16th Street to the home of the building’s manager, Joe Milby, where they tried to present a list of their demands. The residents want management to cancel and forgive rent until three months after D.C. lifts its state of emergency; to make building announcements available in multiple languages since many residents are immigrants; to negotiate with the Woodner Tenants Union; and to address residents’ health and safety concerns about COVID-19 and what many say is a significant mold problem. The rent strike began in March at the onset of the pandemic and has grown as the D.C. Tenants Union has helped organize renters. The union estimates 100-150 tenants are now withholding rent. Some have been unable to pay their rent due to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Others say they can pay, but are withholding payments in solidarity, to push management to meet their demands. D.C. landlords are required to offer rent repayment plans to tenants who have seen their income drop during the pandemic. Property managers have said they don’t want to evict tenants, a costly, time-consuming process, but they need the money to maintain mortgages and buildings. But many tenants are hesitant to agree to take on more debt during a time of high unemployment. As they marched, tenants, escorted by police, blocked traffic for several blocks and chanted in English and Spanish, calling for rent cancelations and a continued ban on evictions. Even though evictions are temporarily frozen, they will likely explode when the health emergency ends, unles action is taken. Outside Milby’s home, strikers held up a red-and-white banner that read “cancel rent” and called for Milby to come out to talk. It wasn’t clear anyone was home, so tenants taped a list of their demands to the door and gave speeches through a megaphone. They promised to return until Milby negotiated with them. The Woodner opened in 1951 with apartments, hotel rooms, a grocery store, a restaurant and other luxury amenities. The “city within the city” evolved over time, retaining some long-time tenants but gradually reflecting the diversity of the neighborhoods surrounding it. Now, many tenants fear the building may be swept up in the gentrification that is engulfing those neighborhoods. Rent strikes in Brightwood and Columbia Heights saw tenants withholding their payments due to decrepit conditions. Now, as the nation remains mired in both an economic and a public health crisis, tenants are increasingly speaking out, not only by withholding their rent, but also by protesting in front of landlords’ and lawmakers’ homes. Tenants of Southern Towers in Alexandria who have been striking since March have visited state senators’ homes pushing for legislative solutions to the crisis. Activists banded together to block an eviction in Prince George’s County. And a Black Homes Matter rally in D.C. highlighted the urgent need for attention to housing in the city. As the rally in front of Milby’s house concluded, tenants walked back to the Woodner. They dropped lists of their demands into the slot where tenants typically deposit their monthly rent.
Montgomery County officials on Saturday reaffirmed their support for Montgomery County Public Schools’ decision to reopen virtually on Monday, despite Gov. Larry Hogan’s call Thursday to bring students back into classrooms in person. County Executive Marc Elrich and the county council issued a joint statement, reaffirming their support for the county school board’s decision, “which was based on data and science, and was made to keep our children, teachers and education professionals safe.” They also said they are “dismayed and perplexed that Gov. Hogan made his announcement just [four] days before students return to school.” MCPS originally considered a hybrid plan, but ultimately decided to offer only online classes for the first semester, which ends on Jan. 29. “We understand the importance of getting our kids back in the classroom, but how we do that has far reaching implications for the entire community,” the statement said. Hogan said on Thursday that, based on improved COVID-19 health metrics, every county school system in Maryland is authorized to begin safely reopening. Each of the state’s 24 jurisdictions now have positivity rates below 5%. “Switching plans for a school system with 165,000 students and 24,000 staff cannot happen overnight. MCPS has outlined a blended virtual model that, when the time is right, will be implemented. Until that time, we request that the governor support our local school system and its deliberative approach to educating children in the face of this pandemic.” The governor cannot order the schools to resume in-person learning. but he urged local school boards to quickly develop plans that take advantage of the reduced coronavirus caseload and resume some level of in-person instruction. Elrich said Hogan could have provided reopening guidelines a month ago. MCPS has previously said it will reassess the plan in November for how classes should be held in the second semester beginning in February.
Barely a week after Metro restored nearly normal service for both buses and trains, officials say they could face severe cuts unless they get more federal money. Metro officials have started putting together a plan in case Congress fails to provide more coronavirus recovery aid. Board members will begin reviewing the transit agency’s budget next month at their first meeting following the summer recess. Fare revenue lost from running minimal service since mid-March due to the pandemic, combined with more people teleworking and others staying home out of fear of catching the virus have tanked the transit industry. Metro estimates it loses $2 million each weekday and has been kept afloat with $767 million it received as part of $25 billion in aid transit agencies received as part of the $2 trillion Cares Act approved by Congress in April. That money is running out. “The Cares Act money, which has been supporting our revenue decline over the last few months, it does dry up, and unfortunately that’s probably toward the end of this year, early next year,” Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said Friday during a Facebook Live town hall with employees. “So it’s so important the federal funds come back to us in some fashion just given this unprecedented condition we’re under,” he said. Among those likely to be hit hardest by potential cuts are bus riders. Metrobus riders bore a significant burden during the past five months when the transit agency cut overall service by two-thirds to limit its employees’ exposure to the virus. The nation’s transit agencies are asking Congress for at least $32 billion more in federal aid. Metro has not offered any specifics on what its budget for the worst-case scenario might look like, but cutting hours, routes and staff are all options officials say they will consider. When the transit agency reduced service when the coronavirus hit in mid-March, Metrorail remained largely empty, with ridership consistently 80%-90% below normal. Metrobus, however, retained at least 30% of its ridership. Transit advocates contend that is because bus riders tend to have fewer options than those who use other forms of transportation. Conditions on buses were too crowded to maintain proper social distancing so drivers were allowed to bypass stops when warranted, leaving passengers stranded. After weeks of criticism from transit advocates and concerns raised by Metro board members, the agency deployed additional buses to busier routes to alleviate some of the crowding. Since Metro resumed nearly normal service on Aug. 16 for trains and Aug. 23 for buses, ridership has risen steadily. On Monday, Metrobus recorded 167,000 passenger trips, 23% more than the previous Monday, and held at that number all week, with significantly higher ridership each day than the previous week. Metrorail, which was in its second week of increased service, also continued to see slight gains. If service is cut again, Metrobus riders, according to Metro surveys, are likely to continue to ride while rail customers will find alternatives. Nearly half of Metrobus customers continued to ride during the severely limited service, according to an agency survey released in July. Most rode three times a week or more. According to Metro’s survey, 82% of bus customers who continued to ride during the pandemic were Black with annual household incomes of less than $30,000 a year.
Almost half of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Montgomery County are in the Silver Spring area. Maryland Department of Health data released Friday morning shows Silver Spring ZIP codes have 8,494 confirmed cases, out of the county’s total of 19,806, about roughly 43%. Six of the top 10 ZIP codes with the highest number of coronavirus cases are in Silver Spring. At the top of the list is 20906 in Silver Spring, with 2,214 cases, followed by 20902 with 1,691 cases, 20904 with 1,540 cases and 20903 with 1,203 cases. The only other ZIP code with more than 1,000 cases is 20877 in Gaithersburg, with 1,239 cases. No new confirmed deaths from the virus were reported in the county Friday morning. The county has 779 confirmed coronavirus-related deaths and 39 probable deaths. Montgomery County has the highest number of deaths and the second highest number of cases in Maryland behind Prince George’s County, with 25,963 known cases and 762 deaths.
Northern Virginia reported the most new coronavirus cases this week since the week ending June 12. The Virginia Department of Health reported 311 new cases in Northern Virginia on Friday, bringing the total new cases over the past week to 1,721. That was the highest number since 2,147 new cases were reported in the second week of June. VDH reported 23 new coronavirus-related deaths Friday, with four of those in the region. Northern Virginia caseloads as of Friday morning stood at 3,352 in Alexandria, 3,492 in Arlington County, 18,084 in Fairfax County, 110 in Fairfax City, 66 in Falls Church, 5,878 in Loudoun County, 1,782 in Manassas, 558 in Manassas Park and 10,648 in Prince William County for a total of 43,970 cases.
As nonpublic schools prepare to reopen, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles met with school leaders on Friday to discuss legal requirements to do so, a day after Gov. Larry Hogan announced that all schools could reopen for at least partial in-person instruction. During the virtual meeting, attended by about 175 private school leaders, Gayles explained the new guidance Hogan released Thursday that outlined when counties can let schools reopen. According to state metrics, schools may reopen in-person when the local positivity rate is less than 5% and the local caseload is less than five per 100,000 people, both for at least seven consecutive days. On Friday, Gayles clarified that the data Hogan cited is to measure when schools can fully reopen. He said there are different metrics that guide when schools can reopen for part-time in-person instruction. The positivity rate should be less than 5%, but there can be between five and 15 cases per 100,000 people, according to Gayles and a copy of the state guidance. The county’s positivity rate was 2.4% as of Friday and there were about 6.5 cases per 100,000 people, Gayles said. So, under state guidance, Montgomery County public and private schools could have a mix of in-person and online classes. “By definition, based upon the guidelines … we have not met the criteria to safely go back to 100% of reopening,” Gayles said. “The state of Maryland does not believe it is appropriate for schools in Montgomery County to go back fully. They would suggest schools could do a hybrid, based on the criteria they established,” added Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Gayles has repeatedly said he does not believe it is safe for schools to reopen in any capacity this fall. Under Montgomery County Public Schools’ most recent plan, classes will be virtual through the fall semester, which ends in late January. Gayles said schools should either have parents check their child’s temperature before coming to school or school officials should check children’s temperatures before allowing them inside. But, he cautioned, many people have asymptomatic cases in which they have the virus but show no symptoms. “So you can’t get comfortable and think that screening will keep COVID-19 out of your schools,” Gayles said. “You’re not eliminating risk — you’re hopefully reducing it.” During Friday’s meeting, Gayles said schools must report positive cases to the county. That information allows professionals to conduct thorough contact tracing, which could stop the spread of the virus. Schools can have their own contact tracing teams, but those teams should not provide guidance about who should quarantine or what remedial actions the school should take, he said.
Some Maryland residents who already applied for their November ballots online also received a ballot application in the mail this week, causing confusion. Due to a backlog in processing online applications, Maryland State Board of Election officials said some voters who applied prior to Aug. 6 may receive a ballot application in the mail. At least 4 million Marylanders should receive their mail-in ballot applications this week, but about 378,000 voters already applied online as of Thursday. During a meeting of the BOE on Friday afternoon, Democratic members Malcolm Funn and P.J. Hogan expressed concern about how online ballot applications were being processed. Funn told election administrators that he had applied online for his ballot in mid-July, got an email confirming it was received and still received a paper ballot application in the mail on Wednesday. “I’m on the board and I’m confused,” Funn said. “I’m looking at the cost and trends, and the confusion that this is creating. So what happens if a person also sends in a mail application?” Nikki Charlson, the state’s deputy elections administrator, said that local election boards will have to process them and flag the duplicate. “We knew that there would be voters who applied and their applications weren’t processed by Aug. 6,” she said. Charlson added that if a voter applied online and received an application in the mail, they should verify that their application has been processed online. “We don’t want a second application to come in,” she said. Montgomery County Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D) said she and her team all applied online a week before the Aug. 6 deadline, and all received an application in the mail Thursday. “I think most of us are going to be pretty confused,” Kagan said, adding it could mean “an extra burden on our state and local boards of elections making sure we’re not providing” duplicate applications. Michael Cogan, the Republican chair of the board, said the backlog of applications that needs to be processed is concerning. Democratic lawmakers complained about mail-in ballot applications in July. Anne Arundel County Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D) said navigating the website to request a ballot was “convoluted.” To resolve that issue, Charlson said the board streamlined the application process with a new online system last week. Since then, the office has processed more than 73,000 online applications. “This kind of usage is what we typically see in October leading up to the voter registration deadline and [now] we’re seeing from late July to late August,” Charlson said. The mail-in ballot applications cost about $5.6 million of the approximately $20 million budget needed to conduct the November election.
About three dozen people picketed the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority office in Crystal City Friday demanding paid sick days for airport employees. The picketers, which included airport workers and SEIU 32BJ union members, held up signs reading “MWAA SICK DAYS NOW.” The protesters said their colleagues must make the decision to get paid or stay home if they are feeling ill. “They also have to make money. They can’t do both,” one said. “How can you cover your rent? How can you cover your daily expenses? Sick days with payment is all we’re asking.” The union said contract workers are currently given no sick days. The airport does not require contractors to provide employees with paid sick leave, and the union wants to change that. The workers handle baggage, assist people in wheelchairs, clean the planes and terminal, and provide security. The union said the “overwhelming majority” of contract workers are immigrants and people of color who are disproportionately at risk and affected by COVID-19. They live in hotspots and must use public transportation and work in the airport, exposed to many people. The union said nearly 70 Reagan National Airport workers were recently exposed to the coronavirus because of an outbreak at an Alexandria church earlier this month. “For weeks, workers with no sick days have had to make the choice between going without pay and showing up to work at the airport sick,” the union said in a press release. Airport spokesperson Christina Saull said officials are not aware of any airport worker who is self-quarantining due to that incident. She said airport employees are not permitted to work if they are experiencing COVID-related symptoms or if they are notified by the Department of Health of a potential exposure. But national and state labor rules about paid leave seem to be murky at best. The union said the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act only covered emergency sick days to employers with less than 500 employees. It is unclear how many airport contractors fall under that category. Virginia directives say all businesses in the commonwealth must “provide flexible sick leave policies consistent with public health guidance to the extent feasible and permitted by law, including but not limited to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.” Saull said the airports board is “determining the best course of action within the bounds of Virginia and federal law regarding the request for mandatory sick leave and held a listening session with employee representatives earlier in August.” The board’s next meeting is Sept. 17. Jaime Contreras, union vice president, said that is months too late. “(MWAA) is trying to figure out what’s the most responsible way to do it,” Contreras said. “They have concerns, obviously, as do we, about cost. But to me, having an employer having to close shop because somebody was infected with COVID is a lot more costly than having to provide people who may get exposed sick days so that they can stay home and not come and expose other people.” In June, 23 Virginia lawmakers sent a letter urging MWAA to provide paid sick leave. “This is a public health issue,” the letter said. “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration lists airport workers among the most vulnerable workers to a pandemic like COVID-19. We believe that it is crucial that workers not expose themselves, passengers and other staff to the virus.” Bills to mandate paid sick leave during the pandemic are working their way through the legislature’s special session now.
Lord & Taylor, the nation’s oldest department store chain, announced Thursday that it will liquidate all stores and its website. The company filed for bankruptcy on Aug. 2, joining nearly a dozen iconic retailers that have succumbed to Chapter 11 protection during the pandemic. The once-storied institution, founded in New York in 1826, had in recent years fallen out of touch with high-end customers and younger shoppers. Le Tote, a clothing rental start-up that bought Lord & Taylor last year for about $100 million, also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Sunday. The company joins a number of other department store chains, including Neiman Marcus, J.C. Penney, J. Crew, Brooks Brothers and Sur La Table, in seeking Chapter 11 protection. Bankruptcy experts said Lord & Taylor’s decision to liquidate comes as a warning to other retailers in a similar position. “If the pandemic continues through the holiday season, other retail companies — especially traditional department stores — will find that even a major reorganization isn’t possible, and will be force to liquidate as well,” said Robert Rattet, bankruptcy chair at New York-based Davidoff Hutcher & Citron. Going-out-of-business sales have already kicked off at stores in Friendship Heights, White Flint, Fair Oaks Mall and the Mall in Columbia. It already closed a store in Tysons Corner Center.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday authorized all school districts in the state to start the new school year at least partially in-person. Hogan said the health metrics the state uses to monitor coronavirus cases have improved enough to open schools with social distancing and other safety precautions. “Some of the county school boards have not even attempted to develop any safe reopening plans, which would bring any kids back for any form of in-person instruction,” Hogan said during a press conference. “This is simply not acceptable. It essential that we all work together on flexible hybrid plans to get some of our kids back into classrooms, and into healthy and supportive learning environments.” The governor said 16 of the state’s 24 school systems plan on offering some form of in-person learning for students this fall. “It’s easier to say we’re not going to bring any kids back for the rest of the year as opposed to sitting down and doing the hard work of trying to figure out how could we get kids back for safe instruction. It’s just a lot of hard work., and we’re going to ask them to go back and do some more of that hard work.” He called on the eight districts that plan to start the year entirely online, including Montgomery County Public Schools and Prince George’s County Public Schools, to reconsider. “Prince George’s and a number of the larger jurisdictions … made those decisions really early, but the deadline was Aug. 14. That doesn’t mean Prince George’s County made the right decision or that they would go back and reconsider. At the time Prince George County was well over 5% infection rate and rising. Now they’re well under 5% and declining. So, they should go back and reconsider,” Hogan said. “We’re not just saying open all the schools, but we also don’t want to just say keep all the schools closed and don’t let any of the kids get any in-person learning.” Local school boards have the final say on reopening schools. Last week, several school superintendents accused the Maryland State Department of Education of not providing guidelines for gauging when it is safe to return to in-person instruction. Dr. Jinlene Chan, acting deputy secretary for public health, unveiled criteria on Thursday to help school districts determine if they should open. Schools in jurisdictions where positivity rates are below 5% and where there are five or fewer coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, should be able to hold in-person instruction with safety measures including facial coverings and social distancing. Jurisdictions with more cases should be able to offer partial in-person instruction, she said. “By these metrics, all jurisdictions across the state of Maryland could open for some level of in-person instruction,” Chan said. State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon said 90 days is a long time to have virtual instruction in school districts that opted to offer virtual only classes the first semester, like MCPS and PGCPS. “That’s a long time to have virtual instruction when we know virtual instruction is very difficult for parents, very difficult for children, especially young children and especially children with disabilities [and] children who do not have English as their first language,” she said. “It is our responsibility as a society and as a state to make sure school buildings reopen safely for in-person instruction as soon as possible.” Salmon said every child deserves to have a high-quality education every day of the school year. “That means five days a week and six hours a day. At least 3.5 of those hours should be guided synchronously by a teacher.” She added that next week, the State Board of Education will discuss the minimum number of real-time, face-to-face instruction hours that districts must provide to students during virtual learning. She also announced $10 million in grant funding for school districts that are able to move toward in-person instruction at the end of the first marking period. Although not required, “I am strongly encouraging local school systems to reconsider their mode of instruction by the end of the first quarter of the upcoming school year, especially if they have indicated that they are maintaining a virtual delivery system until January of 2021,” Salmon said. Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, accused Hogan and Salmon of “throwing school communities under the bus” after telling districts to devise their own reopening plans. “They chose to ambush and second guess the hard decisions that local boards of education, parents, and educators have made to keep students and schools safe,” she said in a statement. In Montgomery County, the state’s most populous jurisdiction, the school board said in a statement it was disappointed by the state’s “last-minute announcement of this critical information,” and said the 163,000-student district will begin the school year Monday with virtual-only learning as planned. The district previously announced it would offer online classes through the first semester, which ends Jan. 29. The board said it would assess the guidance as it prepares for the school year. Alvin Thorton, chair of the Prince George’s County Board of Education, said the county will not change its plans for the start of the school year. Classes, which start Monday, are also scheduled to continue virtually through January. “We have listened to parents and our community in making decisions that prioritize our students’ needs,” Thorton said. “We don’t have the authority to tell the school systems what they must do,” Hogan said. “They have that authority, but we are giving them metrics, which they asked for. We are providing incentives, financial incentives, for them to get open. And we are all saying you now have the authority to start to open. We’re going to go back and put pressure on them to say we want you to go back and take a look at your plans. It’s not acceptable to just say you’re going to shut for the rest of the year. We going to do what we can within the law, but we’re not going to change the state law to take away the authority of the local school boards.”
D.C. Health officials removed Delaware from the city’s list of high-risk states, so those visiting Rehoboth Beach for the Labor Day weekend won’t have to self-quarantine for 14 days upon return. The state was placed on the list Monday, when data showed that it met the requirements of a high-risk state because historical data on jail cases were entered into the system. The Delaware Department of Health and Social Services provided D.C. Health with updated data showing the state didn’t qualify a “high-risk state.” Anyone who arrived in D.C. between Aug. 24-27, after traveling to Delaware and was quarantining, may discontinue and return to their usual activities with the current COVID-19 precautions in place, a D.C. Health news release said. The move comes after a D.C. Health source acknowledged that Delaware’s seven-day average positivity was an anomaly, but that the city had no plans to take Delaware off the list. With Rehoboth, Dewey, Lewes and Bethany beaches, the state is a popular destination for DMV residents. States are put on the city’s high-risk list if their seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases is 10 or more per 100,000 people. Under executive order, those coming from states on the list are required to self-quarantine for 14 days. The list is scheduled to be updated on Sept. 7.
New unemployment claims nationwide totaled slightly more than 1 million for the week ending Aug. 22, a drop of 98,000 from the previous week. It was the 22nd time in 23 weeks that first-time jobless claims totaled more than 1 million. Before the coronavirus pandemic, new claims had never topped 700,000 in a week. Initial unemployment claims in the DMV fell 4,856 to 21,325. D.C. reported 1,574 new claims, down 405 from the week before. Maryland saw 6,881 initial claims, down 2,172 from the previous week, and Virginia had 12,870 new claims, down 2,281 from a week earlier. The total number of Americans currently receiving unemployment benefits fell by 223,000 to 14.5 million.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine sued grocery delivery company Instacart Thursday, alleging the San Francisco-based company charged Washingtonians millions of dollars in deceptive fees and failed to pay D.C. sales taxes. The lawsuit accuses the company of failing to clearly disclose to customers that optional “service fees” were added to their orders over an 18-month period. Racine’s office said this led customers to incorrectly believe that the fees were tips for delivery people. “Instacart tricked District consumers into believing they were tipping grocery delivery workers when, in fact, the company was charging them extra fees and pocketing the money,” Racine said in a statement “Instacart used these deceptive fees to cover its operating costs while simultaneously failing to pay D.C. sales taxes.” In a old version of its smartphone app, Instacart had a tip option that defaulted to 10% of the customer’s subtotal at checkout, according to Racine’s office. When the company changed that option to a “service fee” in 2016, the fee defaulted to 10%. “To a reasonable consumer, this service fee appeared to be a tip: the amount was set as a percentage of the order total, consumers could increase or decrease the percentage or waive the amount, and there was no tip option visible at check-out. However, unlike a tip, the service fee went to Instacart and not to workers. Instacart used the revenue to cover its operating expenses.” At the time, Instacart said that “100% of the variable service amount is used to pay all shoppers more consistently for each and every delivery, not just the last shopper to touch the order.” But Instacart customers were actually paying another fee on top of a delivery fee to cover the company’s costs, and this did not increase shoppers’ pay, the complaint says. Racine’s office also alleged that Instacart did not clearly inform customers on the app’s checkout screen that the service fee was optional. In April 2018, after media reports about the fee and outreach from the attorney general’s office, Instacart implemented a mandatory service fee but refused to refund customers for the previous, optional service fees. In the lawsuit, which was filed in D.C. Superior Court, Racine also claims that Instacart failed to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in required sales taxes on service and delivery fees “during the entire time it has transacted business” in the city. Racine is requesting restitution for customers who paid the service fees; back taxes and interest; and civil penalties. In a statement, Instacart said the complaint’s claims are without merit. “We’re disappointed with today’s action by D.C. Attorney General Racine’s office and we welcome the opportunity to continue an open dialogue on these matters,” the company said. According to Instacart, its app discloses that tips are separate from service fees, and that service fees go toward its operations. “Additionally, 100% of customer tips always go to Instacart shoppers,” the company said.
Service on three D.C. Circulator bus routes will be extended to 11 p.m. starting Sunday, Aug. 30. It comes as public transportation in the DMV continues to ramp up after months of reduced service due to the pandemic. The extended routes, which will operated 6 a.m.-11 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m.-11 p.m. weekends, are Union Station-Georgetown, Rosslyn-Dupont Circle and Woodley Park-Adams Morgan-McPherson Square. Rides will continue to be free due to the health emergency and face coverings must be worn at all times. Passengers must also enter and exit the bus through the rear door to facilitate social distancing, except for those who need the boarding ramp at the front of the bus. The National Mall route remains suspended and the Congress Heights-Union Station and Eastern Market-L’Enfant Plaza routes will continue to stop at 9 p.m.
The Arlington County Board approved five early voting centers this week for the November election. That is up from three satellite voting locations in past presidential elections The board approved the five locations, citing “unprecedented demand for early voting during the COVID-19 pandemic” and concerns about the reliability of mail-in ballots. Between 20,000 and 27,500 Arlington residents cast early ballots in presidential elections since 2008, according to a presentation by Director of Elections Gretchen Reinemeyer. That number is expected to increase this year. “The Electoral Board proposes to add five voting satellite offices to account for dramatic increases in early voting during presidential election years to help reduce wait times and increase capacity for social distancing,” Reinemeyer said. Two new early voting centers being added at the Aurora Hills Senior Center, 735 18th St. S. in the Crystal City-Pentagon City area, and the Langston Brown Community Center, 2121 N. Culpeper St. in Hall’s Hill. Reinemeyer said the latter will serve western parts of the county, though she said that “precincts on the west end of the county use early voting at lower rates than other precincts in the county.” The county is temporarily leasing a ground floor space at 2200 Clarendon Blvd. in Courthouse Plaza, a former Wells Fargo Bank, to use for early voting instead of the county government building next door. It will be modified to accommodate socially-distanced early voting; a line will snake around outside in the courtyard. The Madison Community Center, 3829 N. Stafford St., and the Walter Reed Community Center, 2909 16th St. S., will continue to be used. Early voting will begin at 2200 Clarendon Blvd on Sept. 18 and in October at the other locations.
Montgomery College will hold nearly all of its classes virtually until at least March, extending a previous announcement that there wouldn’t be in-person classes until the end of January. This week, President DeRionne Pollard wrote in a message to staff and students that summer enrollment showed “distance learning courses are more attractive to students in the midst of COVID-19 stressors.” Instead of the traditional 15-weeks, the spring semester will be split into two seven-week sections, Pollard wrote. The first seven-week courses will be taught virtually. School officials will decide about the second half of the spring semester at a later date. “In this critical time, the college must ensure that it will offer courses in formats that attract students and offer them maximum flexibility and support for success,” Pollard wrote. “Although these changes may require some adjustments by faculty and staff, research around block- and shorter-session scheduling at the college level links them to stronger student success metrics.” Some programs that require hands-on learning, like automotive technology, could have some on-campus instruction. In a message last week, Pollard wrote that the college piloted a face-to-face automotive technology class. The class met 14 times throughout the summer, for an average of three hours per session. There were seven students and three instructors, and more than two weeks after the completion of the class, none have reported any COVID-19 symptoms or positive tests, Pollard wrote. Before the class began, each participant took a COVID-19 safety training course, there was frequent cleaning of lab stations and students were spaced at least 12 feet apart as they worked on vehicles.
Arlington County will begin enforcing a new ordinance on Friday that prohibits groups of more than three people from congregating on certain streets and sidewalks. The move comes as officials say some restaurant and bar patrons have responded with “open defiance” to police and security personnel amid the pandemic. “We have taken time to roll out the physical distancing ordinance and are going to start enforcement this weekend,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said in a press release. “I remain deeply frustrated with what we are seeing in the community. My frustration is not with restaurants, but with patrons and open defiance of people standing outside these businesses.” The county, which passed an emergency ordinance on July 31 banning more than three people in a group in certain areas, placed signs and decals on sidewalks this week to mark six feet of separation between groups or individuals. Those who don’t comply can be fined up to $100. The initial area of enforcement will in Clarendon along the east side of 10th Street between Wilson Boulevard and North Irving Street, the north side of Wilson Boulevard between North Irving and North Hudson streets, the west side of North Hudson Street; the north side of Wilson between North Garfield and North Fillmore streets, the west side of North Fillmore Street, the south side of Wilson Boulevard between North Fillmore and North Edgewood streets and the east side of North Fillmore Street. The restrictions cover the areas around Ambar Clarendon and Whitlow’s on Wilson; near Don Tito, Spider Kelly’s and The Liberty Tavern; and outside The Lot Beer Garden. Locations in the Crystal City neighborhood could also be added. The areas were chosen based on complaints from the public about crowding on sidewalks, officials said. The ordinance applies only where signs are posted. Schwartz said without improvement in patrons’ behavior, he would recommend that Arlington, where alcohol can be served until 2 a.m., limit hours to midnight, such as in D.C., or 10 p.m., as in Montgomery County. County Board Chair Libby Garvey has said an increase in infections is driven by young adults who have not been using masks or maintaining their distance insides bars and restaurants, particularly in Clarendon and Rosslyn. She has said several options are on the table if caseloads continue to rise, such as curfews or closing down bars and restaurants.
The DMV ranked near top of a list of cities with the fewest stay-at-home parents, adding to challenges area families face as schools reopen virtually and parents juggle work and childcare. A recent study by California-based Smartest Dollar found that D.C., Maryland and Virginia are home to a high number of working parents. Among large metro areas of 1 million people or more that have the most full-time working parents, the D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria came in eighth based on 2018 census data. The three jurisdictions are home to 175,153 married-couple households where both parents work, and 63,972 households with a single parent who works. In all, 47.1% of households in the area don’t have a stay-at-home parent to watch their children, according to the analysis. According to a report by the Pew Research Center, stay-at-home parents make up 18% of all parents in the U.S. That means more than 80% of parents worked either full- or part-time in 2016, the most recent year available. Baltimore-Colombia-Towson came in second in the Smartest Dollar study, with 49.9% of households lacking a stay-at-home parent with 74,534 married-coupled households where both parents work and 32,121 single-parent household with a working parent. Richmond finished third, with 48.5% of households without a stay-at-home parent with 33,841 married-coupled households where both parents work and 15,115 single-parent household with a working parent. St. Louis took the top spot: Its share of households without a stay-at-home parent was 52.0%. To calculate the metro areas with the most full-time working parents, Smartest Dollar researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample. They ranked areas according to the share of households with children under 14 that potentially lack a parent to supervise their children.
With a little over two months until the presidential election, Maryland officials have recruited about two-thirds of the approximately 25,100 poll workers they need to manage early voting and Election Day. Earlier this month, the state faced a shortage of more than 14,000 poll workers due to the pandemic. In the past few weeks, recruiting efforts have made a dent, according to David Garreis, president of the Maryland Association of Election Officials. The association and local boards of elections have recruited roughly 17,100 workers. That includes at least 11,000 that Gov. Larry Hogan said his administration has drafted. In a letter to Garreis Wednesday, Hogan wrote that his administration has offered the state’s 65,000 employees 16 hours of paid administrative leave for each day worked at the polls. Hogan says the state has also contacted 167,000 staff and students at the state’s colleges and universities. “We continue to encourage all of our state agencies to regularly and actively promote the need for election judges on their homepages and social media platforms,” Hogan wrote in the letter. Even with the success, Garreis said local boards of elections are still in need of support. “It’s like pushing a boulder up a hill,” he said. “You just have to keep working at it.” Because poll workers back out of their shifts before Election Day, election officials will need to recruit extra people to work the polls. This week, Garreis said he had one county with 10 provisional election judges who are expected to run the polls, but three dropped out. “We ask people if you’ve expressed interest and don’t hear from us, definitely contact us,” Garreis said. “We’re going to keep recruiting through Election Day.” The Maryland Board of Elections will meet on Friday to finalize the list voting centers. That will give election officials a better idea of how many judges they will need.
Arlington County added another $1.125 million to its eviction protection fund and launched a pilot program to distribute grocery gift cards to county residents who are in need. The county board approved the additional funds from its COVID-19 contingent account for eviction protection through December for those affected by the pandemic. It brings the total allocated for eviction prevention to $3.5 million just since July 1, the beginning of the county’s 2021 fiscal year. “Because of the economic impact of the pandemic, Fiscal Year 2020 has brought a very large increase in the number of households needing help to pay their rent,” said County Board Chair Libby Garvey. “Given the fact of diminished support from the federal government and the continuation of community spread of the virus, we believe the need for rent assistance is likely to continue to increase in coming months.” Residents needing eviction protection assistance can apply for aid through the Arlington County Department of Human Services. During FY 2020, which ended June 30, 1,555 households applied for eviction prevention assistance totaling $2.7 million in aid, with payment averaging $1,001. The board also created a new food security coordinator position in the Department of Human Services and will distribute grocery gift cards through its nonprofit network. The county allocated $400,000 for the gift cards. The Arlington Community Foundation may contribute another $200,000, which the county said would make it possible to serve up to 500 families for six months, at $200 per month. The county saw an 84% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program applications between February and May, a 23% increase in households seeking food from the Arlington Food Assistance Center and a 32% increase in older adults receiving home delivered meal assistance. Information about both the eviction protection program and food assistance pilot are available on Arlington County’s website.
Montgomery County officials will meet with private school administrators and other representatives on Friday to discuss the importance of contact tracing as many nonpublic schools prepare to open for in-person classes amid the coronavirus pandemic. The town hall meeting will be the second between county officials, including Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles, and private school representatives schools and the first since the county was blocked by the state from ordering a blanket closure of the schools. “We’re going to talk about and emphasize the steps around contact tracing, what’s involved in an investigation and … the different rules and regulations that put requirements upon schools and businesses to report information to the health department to assist us in that contact tracing investigation process,” Gayles said during a press conference Wednesday. By law, nonpublic schools are required to report known coronavirus cases to the health department’s contact tracing team immediately, officials said. Last week, Gayles said the county had only learned two staff members at the Bullis School, a private school in Potomac, tested positive for COVID-19 through social media. In a statement, the school claimed it contacted the health department two days after the staff tested positive. The county’s contact tracing has since identified between 10-15 additional staff members who need to quarantine for two weeks because they may have had contact with the two people who tested positive, Gayles said Wednesday. However, there have been no additional positive test results. Earlier in August, Gayles issued an order banning all in-person instruction at nonpublic schools until at least Oct. 1, citing the need to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The move touched off a federal lawsuit by six families and two religious schools. His order also led to a back-and-forth with the governor’s office and the Maryland Department of Health, which blocked Gayles’ authority to issue a blanket ban on private school reopenings. Instead, the state said Gayles had to consider private schools’ reopening plans on a case-by-case basis, using guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state guidance. County Executive Marc Elrich said the county still has not received any guidance on nonpublic schools. “We still have not received any guidance from the state regarding nonpublic schools. No guidance. Zero,” Elrich said. “So, weeks after they told us that we should follow their guidance and the CDC, they still don’t provide guidance. Hopefully, this is coming sooner than later. Hopefully before everyone gets back into schools and hopefully giving us enough time to evaluate plans that people may have so we can make sure that they are meeting state and CDC guidelines.” He said the county would publicly report any citations or closings of prive schools as it does for any other business. Elrich and Gayles said the county could issue citations and even order a school closed if it ignores health guidance, such as mask-wearing requirements and social distancing measures. “A nonpublic school would be considered to be closed if it’s deemed not safe to inhabit,” Gayles said. “And it would be looked at as any other of the same criteria or any other building.” Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said county officials have reached out to 137 schools and expect hundreds of school representatives to attend Friday’s town hall meeting. Montgomery County Public Schools starts the school year next week with entirely online classes.
Two days after the Quantico Middle/High School opened for in-person instruction on the marine corps base, it has temporarily closed due to COVID-19. A notice on the school’s homepage said a “member of our Quantico Middle High School family” has tested positive for the coronavirus and the school will be closed from Aug. 26-31 “to allow for a thorough cleaning and disinfecting.” In addition, school officials said they are working closely with military leaders on a basewide contact tracing program. About 350 students in grades 6 through 12 attend the school. School officials said there have been no confirmed cases involving Crossroads Elementary School, which remains open, is also on the base. Schools on military bases are ooperated by the Department of Defense Education Activity. Operating guidelines released by DoDEA last month said to “the maximum extent possible, DoDEA schools will operate brick and mortar schools on a regular full-time schedule” this fall. The guidelines say virtual options will be offered during the fall semester for “students and families with health vulnerabilities.”
A large number of positive coronavirus tests reported on the same day landed Delaware on D.C.’s list of high-risk travel states. Many states as well as D.C. have seen so-called spikes caused by lab delays, but in this case that data delay caused many end-of-summer visitors to cancel their plans, according to Rehoboth Beach Mayor Paul Kuhns. A source at D.C. Health told WTOP the data collected on the state’s seven-day average positivity was an anomaly, but the city has no plans to take Delaware off the list. “It’s very bad timing,” said Kuhns during a Tuesday press conference. With two weeks left of summer, he said that Delaware landing on D.C.’s high-risk travel list all but kills small businesses’ last shot at summer tourism dollars. “We’ve had a lot of people cancel their reservations for rentals or hotels, or a lot of people who own second homes here in Rehoboth have decided not to come. And that affects all of the retail businesses, whether it’s restaurants or retail shops,” Kuhns said. When D.C. Health staff pulled COVID-19 metrics from Delaware to assess whether it was safe for residents to visit, the state was showing a seven-day positivity rate of 11%, after a large reporting day on Aug. 14, the source said. Currently, it is 4.4% as of Aug. 20, according to state data. “There is a natural fluctuation, even with seven-day averages, but, in this case, there was a very large fluctuation right when we pulled the data,” the source said. However, D.C. is not considering changing the list until its next scheduled update in two weeks. “We would be setting a precedent if we change how we are measuring states or make exceptions for anomalies like this, and open the door for people to complain about states being on or off the list for any given two-week period,” the source said. From time to time, Delaware enters old cases into the system so health officers have an idea of the cumulative total, even though the cases occurred before the seven-day moving average, Delaware Gov. John Carney said during a press conference. “Delaware is not a high-risk state according to D.C.’s own criteria. Last week, our health team input historical cases into Delaware’s database. Those cases are at least several weeks old, and not representative of the current trend in Delaware. Frankly, using that data to impose a quarantine is frustrating and needlessly distracting,” Carney’s office said in a statement. Carney said he has had a number of difficult conversations with the governors of New Jersey, Connecticut and New York — states that have also listed Delaware on their high-risk lists off and on throughout the pandemic. “We’d tell them that the methodology you’re using is flawed; and therefore, you’re coming up with a calculation that completely misrepresents the number of new positive cases on a moving seven-day average,” Carney said.
All D.C.-licensed health insurance providers are now required to cover COVID-19 testing for high-risk, asymptomatic people. The new order signed Monday by the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking Commissioner Karima Woods is in effect until the end of the public health emergency, which is currently set to end Oct. 9. Per the commissioner’s order, the expansion allows individuals who work in a high-risk setting, who may be vulnerable to serious health complications if they contracted the virus or who have recently been exposed to a COVID-19 patient to receive a test at no cost and without a doctor’s referral. According to a press release from Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. were previously required to cover only testing in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines. These required an individual to show symptoms of COVID-19, to have come into close contact with a confirmed-positive person or to receive a referral from a doctor or governmental health department in order to receive full coverage for a test. Now, insurers are required to provide no-cost testing at least once a week and without a referral for anyone who meets the city’s outlined high-risk requirements. “We know that the best place to get tested for COVID-19 is at a doctor or with a medical professional who can talk to you about your symptoms, health and future care,” Bowser said in the press release. “If you need a test, you should get a test and you shouldn’t be worried about the cost.” Free, public coronavirus testing is also available at any of D.C.’s walk-up testing sites, but residents should check before going as the sites often close and change their hours during storms and extreme heat. As of Tuesday, the city had tested 271,622 people, of which 170,662 were D.C. residents.
As flu shots become available, doctors are saying it has never been more important to get vaccinated. Come fall, doctors and hospitals will be dealing with influenza and the coronavirus. “There has never been a more important time in history to get your flu shot than now,” Dr. Sunil Budhrani, CEO and chief medical officer of Innovation Health, a joint venture of Aetna and Inova Health System, told WTOP. “By getting the flu shot, you’re effectively going to help us take one problem off the table.” The need for everyone to get vaccinated against the flu is so great that manufacturers have increased production of flu vaccine this year 25%-40% to help ensure availability. “To put things in perspective, last year we had 150-175 million doses of flu vaccine prepared. This year, we’re looking at anywhere between 200-220 million vaccine opportunities for the flu,” Budhrani said. Based on influenza strains that circulated last year, manufacturers have been producing vaccine since February. To counter concern that some parents may choose not to have children vaccinated against either the flu or COVID-19, if a vaccine becomes available, Budhrani said vaccines are safe and go through rigorous testing. Budhrani emphasized that the flu vaccine does not give you the influenza virus. As your body’s immune system begins to produce protective antibodies, you might feel a little feverish or weak, and your arm might ache where you get the shot, which are normal physiological responses. “And, the overwhelming benefit to yourself and others greatly, greatly outweighs the risk of any soreness at the muscle site from getting the vaccine,” Budhrani said. It takes two to four weeks after getting the vaccine for your body to develop immunity.
A moratorium on utility shutoffs in Virginia was extended for two weeks while the General Assembly works in special session to address the financial burden of the COVID-19 crisis on residents. On Monday, the State Corporation Commission extended its freeze on utility disconnections from Aug. 31 to Sept. 16. “If such bills are never paid, the costs of these unpaid bills are ultimately borne by paying customers as operational costs of the utility,” the SCC said in a news release, explaining its decision to let the moratorium lapse if legislators don’t act. “These costs do not disappear; they are shifted to other customers, who themselves may be struggling to make ends meet in the economic catastrophe caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Customers who entered into extended payment plans will still be protected from shutoffs if they remain current or enter into new repayment plans with their utility provider. The commission had directed utilities to offer such plans of up to a year for customers facing financial pressure due to the pandemic. Residents on an extended payment plan will also continue to be protected against late payment fees after the end of the moratorium. “The expiration of our moratorium does not mean that customers are without options for continuing utility service, and we strongly urge utilities to make every effort to accommodate customers who are making good-faith efforts to pay their bills,” the commission said. In its June order, the SCC raised the possibility of federal or state financial aid for utility customers no longer able to pay their bills. It said new legislation would be needed before such a program could be enacted.
Montgomery County Public Schools will stop offering free meals to all students and being charging some students for meals when the new school year begins next week. Since the start of the pandemic, the district has offered free meals to all students in the county thanks to an emergency waiver that ends with the new school year. The last day for free meals is Wednesday, Aug. 26, which will include meals for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Starting Monday, Aug. 31, the school district will return to the National School Lunch Program, which means students will be charged standard prices for breakfast and lunch, while students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals will continue to receive them. Under the summer meal service program, families could pick up meals at a number of community locations, but starting Monday, those meals will be available for curbside pickup at 74 sites from 11 a.m.- p.m., weekdays except Thursdays. Families can get meals at the nearest school, even if their child does not attend there. Students or families must have a student ID number to pick up a meal.
A Virginia House committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would make public the names of nursing homes and other congregate facilities with outbreaks of infectious disease during a public health emergency. The bill, which Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee Chair Del. Mark Sickles (D-Arlington) sponsored, would require the Virginia Department of Health to publish the names of facilities, the number of confirmed cases and of deaths online. Current Virginia code requires facilities to report outbreaks only to their local health director or to the State Health Commissioner. Early in the pandemic, Virginia lawmakers from both parties called for the department of health to release more detailed information, but it took months before Gov. Ralph Northam ordered VDH to comply. The 22-member bipartisan committee unanimously moved the bill forward. Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) is sponsoring the same bill in the Senate. The committee also moved a bipartisan bill that would provide parameters for nursing homes and other group facilities to facilitate visits via electronic devices when in-person visits aren’t possible. The Democratic-controlled House committee tabled most other bills on its docket Tuesday, effectively striking them down. That includes a bill from Del. Ibraheem Samirah (D-Herndon) that would have expanded access to health care and set rate caps for health care charges. “We don’t have money to pay for anything that’s got a recurring cost to it, for starters,” Sickles said. The House committee also tabled a Republican-sponsored bill that would prioritize rapid diagnostic tests to certain essential workers such as firefighters, childcare employees and those in law enforcement. Opponents say the tests are inaccurate and the bill excludes other classes of front-line workers like grocery store employees. Limiting immunizations was similarly unpopular. The House committee tabled three bills that would have blocked the state from mandating immunizations, including two sponsored by Del. Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun). The committee also tabled a bill that would make it a punishable offense to make a false report of violation of health orders. Another tabled bill would empower businesses to appeal shutdown orders and demand monetary damages. A bill to limit Board of Health emergency orders to 45 days was tabled as well. Also, the committee tabled a bill that would have focused future emergency orders on protecting people who have an infectious disease and are contagious.
When Montgomery County Public Schools students begin live classes from home on Aug. 31, the district will require them to have their video streams on, despite objections from some families and education advocates. MCPS announced in July that it would hold only online classes the first semester, meaning more classes in front of a screen. Some advocates have questioned whether adequate privacy measures will be in place to protect students’ identities. They also said some students feel uncomfortable sharing their home situation with their peers and video streams could unnecessarily expose inequities. MCPS Chief Technology Officer Pete Cevenini said the school district explored the option of a universal digital background, but “the technology at this time does not allow us to do that.” At Tuesday’s school board meeting, he said Chromebooks the district distributed to students do not allow for virtual backgrounds at all. So allowing virtual backgrounds could actually create inequalities. It could also complicate teaching, he said, because educators couldn’t display anything on white boards or bulletin boards behind them. “We would like to, but the technology doesn’t allow it. It’s not a conscious effort to not have a background for students, it’s that we can’t,” Cevenini said, adding that he understands why some families might be self conscious about their home environment. “You should find the place that best suits you and is the most neutral you can find. Almost any place, you can find a blank wall or somewhere that’s neutral enough that you wouldn’t know where I am.” Unlike a school district in Illinois, MCPS will not prohibit students from wearing pajamas during virtual classes, Cevenini said. But, he added, teachers will “encourage” students to “come to class ready to learn.” Getting dressed can help students feel prepared and focused, like if they were learning in school buildings, he said. As the coronavirus spread in mid-March, closing schools across Maryland, MCPS worked with Zoom to create a “closed system,” meaning only students enrolled with the district and staff members can access classes, Cevenini said. When students log on, they will automatically be placed in a “waiting room” and teachers must let them in to the class. The system also prohibits students from changing their user names to avoid anonymous use. In many classes, teachers will use “breakout rooms” that place students into smaller groups for projects and discussions. The teacher can assign students to a room, or students can be randomly assigned. During the Zoom class, a message will pop up indicating to click it to go into the breakout room. Teachers can set a timer for how long students are in the breakout room. When time expires, students are automatically returned to the main class, Cevenini said. Teachers can also close the breakout rooms at any time and “move from room to room to observe.” MCPS will record classes for students who want to watch it again or who can’t attend for any reason. The recordings will be available for three days, then deleted automatically. The goal, Cevenini said, is to have the videos as “teacher-driven” as possible, meaning most of the recording would be of the teacher speaking. If there is a class discussion, students’ screens might show temporarily. But he told the school board that families can request their children not be recorded. Those students would be allowed to turn off their cameras and microphones during class, but he said those students might not “receive as rich of an instruction.” Only students can access the recordings, Cevenini said. If a student is acting inappropriately during a class, teachers can remove them from the classroom. In a traditional school setting, the student would miss that day’s lesson. But now, class recordings will be available, hopefully negating some of the academic consequences of missing instruction. MCPS is scheduling parent information nights to share “best practices” for virtual classes.
Delaware is back on D.C.’s list of high-risk states for the final weeks of summer, meaning visitor’s to the beaches there must self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning. D.C. Health put the state back on its list Monday after removing it two weeks ago. Hawaii and South Dakota also joined the list, while Montana and New Mexico were removed. The health department defines a high-risk state as one where “the seven-day moving average of daily new COVID-19 cases is 10 or more per 100,000 persons.” The designation is retroactive and applies to travel within the last 14 days. People under quarantine should monitor their symptoms and get tested if necessary. The 24 states currently on the quarantine list are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. The list will be updated again on Sept. 7.
Bowling alleys and museums in Montgomery County could begin reopening at 5 p.m. Monday after the county council approved additional activities to reopen and addressed requests to expand youth sports during its virtual meeting Monday morning. Bowling alleys are allowed to reopen at 50% capacity or with a maximum of 50 people, whichever is less. All equipment must be cleaned between each person’s or group’s use. Museums can reopen with one person per 200 square feet of space. Interactive exhibits that require people to touch displays must remain closed. The council unanimously approved the executive order that also reclassified soccer as a medium-risk sport, allowing scrimmages and games to take place. It was previously considered high-risk in the county. The order still prohibits sports tournaments without a letter of approval from the county and sets a 50-person limit for all sporting events. Sporting events with teams from outside D.C., Maryland or Virginia are also prohibited. Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said that activities with younger people should be considered carefully. “We have a seen a trend over the last six weeks in the state of Maryland and our local jurisdiction where a higher percentage of new cases are in younger people. We can’t ignore that,” he said. Stoddard said those numbers need to decline if schools are to open for in-person instruction in January. “Even if the overall numbers are improving to some degree — the test positivities are improving — we have to be sure that we’re looking at the complete picture of data,” Stoddard said. The executive order also clarifies a requirement for food service facilities to post signs advising customers about face coverings and social distancing restrictions, changes a waiver requirement for religious outdoor services of more than 150 people to a letter of approval and modifies the definition of “face covering” to include covering the chin as well as the mouth and nose.
It could be a while before D.C. moves into Phase Three of its reopening plan. D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt described the District’s Phase Two reopening a “much longer haul” than Phase One during a news conference Monday. Asked when the city might begin to move into Phase Three, Nesbitt said “we began to manage those expectations very clearly back at the end of June, when we entered into Phase Two, that Phase Two would be a much longer haul than Phase One,” pointing out that there are still Phase Two activities that are not allowed yet. “And particularly because we’re not only looking for declines in the number of cases that we see on a daily basis, but because we’re looking at the nature of those cases, and their relationship to one another,” she said. “We would much rather begin to see clusters of cases as opposed to individual cases not being connected to one another, in order to indicate that it would be OK to move into Phase Three.” Nesbitt noted that a higher proportion of D.C.’s cases have been people 20- to 30-year-old, and younger age groups overall, since July 1 — even though D.C. has seen a decline in the number of COVID-related deaths. “We continue to observe that trend, even if we just examine the data after Aug. 1. So it doesn’t mean that individuals who are over 65 still aren’t being impacted or that they aren’t at higher risk for severe illness. But we don’t drive our decisions based solely on seeing a decrease in the number of deaths in the District,” she said. But it isn’t all bad news. There are more activities that D.C. can bring back during Phase Two. “You all should have in your mind’s eye that there may be activities that could be recommended to happen again, that would signal that we’re in still in Phase Two with more activity, but not necessarily transitioning to Phase Three. There are still a host of activities that we delayed in Phase 2 because our indicators weren’t exactly where we wanted them to be.”
Nationals Park will join the Capital One Arena as a voting center in this November’s election. It is part of the city’s efforts to transform large facilities into voting centers where social distancing is easier. Nats Park will be open for early and day-of voting, election officials said. Earlier this month, officials announced plans to use the Capital One Arena as a polling center and to use the Omni Shoreham and Washington Hilton hotels and Dock 5 at Union Market as “super vote centers.” Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Washington Wizards, Mystics and Capitals, offered to let the city use the arena as a polling place as part of a wider effort by its teams and athletes to encourage voting this November. And the Nationals aren’t the first Major League Baseball team to lend their park to election efforts. Dodger Stadium will be used as a polling center for Los Angeles County voters. Mark Lerner, the managing principal owner of the Nationals, said the team was “thrilled to help alleviate some of the challenges” associated with voting in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. “Nationals Park is a civic asset and the Nationals will always work to ensure that it can be utilized in service to the community in as many ways as possible,” Lerner said in a statement. “Since this past spring, we have hosted World Central Kitchen to help feed members of the DMV community who were in need. This fall, we can help make sure one of most important civic responsibilities can be completed as seamlessly and safely as possible.” D.C. will limit the number of in-person voting sites for the November election due to the coronavirus pandemic. The city plans to operate 80 polling sites on Nov. 3 and 17 early voting locations one-week earlier. Some officials, including Mayor Muriel Bowser, had pushed for the city to operate close to its normal 144 polling stations on Election Day, but others raised concerns about the challenge of recruiting enough poll workers willing to work during a pandemic. Officials ultimately decided to open a smaller number of voting sites but focus on larger facilities where it is easier to social distance. The city is also mailing ballots to every registered voter beginning in early October. Voters can return their ballots via mail or use one of up to 50 ballot drop boxes officials plan to install across the city.
Virginia lawmakers advanced a bill Monday to set aside $2 million for the upcoming general election, with the Democratic the majority voting to allow ballot drop boxes and third-party ballot collection while Republicans expressed skepticism over vote security. “No one should have to risk his or her life in order to exercise their franchise in this state,” said Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston), chair of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee and main sponsor of the legislation. The senate bill would repay local election offices to provide prepaid postage for mail-in ballots. It would also allow ballots to be returned by mail or in person to local registrar offices or to designated drop-off locations, like ballot drop boxes. D.C. and Maryland will both use drop boxes for the November election. The bill would also permit ballots to be sent by commercial delivery service, which concerned Republicans. “What would have been felonious before, which is having a person in between the voter and the ballot, is now expressly permitted,” said state Sen. Stephen Newman (R-Forest). Combined with a consent decree that strikes a requirement for absentee voters to obtain a signature from a witness, Newman said, “I can’t imagine anything that is more inviting of fraud.” The legislation also requires registrars to examine ballot envelopes received prior to Oct. 31 and notify voters of any errors within three days. Voters would then be able to correct their ballots before noon on the third day after the election. The bill would apply on to the upcoming election. Later Monday afternoon, Democrats in the House Appropriations Committee passed a counterpart to Howell’s bill on a strict party-line vote. Virginia’s Department of Elections and local election offices and registrars are accepting applications for mail-in ballots. Under a law that took effect in July, no excuse is needed to vote absentee. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is Oct. 31, although registrars will not be required to contact voters with errors on their ballots if they arrive after that date. Virginia also offers in-person absentee voting, the commonwealth’s version of early voting, for a 45-day period that begins Sept. 18.
The Republican National Convention received a permit from the National Park Service to host fireworks on the National Mall Thursday. The display will mark the end of the convention and also falls the night before tens of thousands of people are expected to converge on D.C. for Rev. Al Sharpton’s “Get Your Knee of Our Necks March. The RNC is responsible for the event’s production and all costs. The Park Service will “recover from the RNC all costs incurred as a result of the activity, including NPS administrative costs for permit preparation and management of the event, and monitoring of the activity to ensure compliance with the conditions of the permit,” according to NPS spokesman Mike Litterst. The total number of participants is limited to “50 staff,” according to the permit. It will take place on federal property, although D.C. prohibits mass gatherings of more than 50 people under current reopening guidelines. Last week’s Democratic National Convention also featured fireworks near former Vice President Joe Biden’s home in Delaware. Biden accepted the party’s nomination Thursday night inside a largely empty arena near his home. After, he and a small group of politicians and family members watched fireworks outside as supporters in their cars honked their horns, flashed their lights and waved flags out of their windows. The news of the National Mall fireworks display follows months of confusion around the GOP’s convention plans. The convention was scheduled to take place in Charlotte, N.C., until Gov. Roy Cooper requested it be scaled back due to concerns over the pandemic. Trump denounced the request, scrapped the North Carolina plans and moved many of the higher-profile events to Jacksonville, Fla. Then, in late July, the party canceled most of the Jacksonville events following a spike in coronavirus cases. Much of the convention is being held online, like the Democratic National Convention was last week. Some major RNC events will take place in D.C: Trump will accept the nomination from the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday, and the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Federal Triangle will serve as a “central hub” for speeches.
The Baltimore Ravens will not have fan at home games when the season begins. “After consulting with government officials and public health experts, we will not host fans at M&T Bank Stadium for at least the initial part of the 2020 season,” the team said Monday in a press release. The team said it submitted proposals to Gov. Larry Hogan’s office and Baltimore City Mayor Bernard Young detailing how the stadium could host 7,500 fans. However, in order to implement the safety measures and enhanced COVID-19 protocols, the team determined, based on recommendations of public health experts, that “it is in the best interest of the general public and our organization that fans not attend games.” The Ravens are scheduled to play the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 13 in Baltimore. The Ravens join the Washington Football Team, which made the decision earlier this month to play without spectators at home games.
Gyms have seen a steep decline in memberships since the pandemic began, and more cancellations could be on the way. A new study conducted by RunRepeat found that so far 70.72% of gym members across the county haven’t returned — the lowest rate worldwide — and 42.85% say they won’t return. The study surveyed 5,055 gym members earlier this month as a follow-up to an April-May study of 10,824 gym members that found 36.57% had already cancelled their memberships. In Maryland, 72.83% of gym members said they haven’t returned to their gyms, and 64.12% have either canceled their memberships or are considering it. In Virginia, those numbers are 65.15% and 72.88%, respectively. Despite the numbers, RunRepeat found in its earlier survey that more people are exercising than before the pandemic, with many taking up running or other outdoor activities.
Beginning Sept. 1, Montgomery County will expand access to its athletic fields to allow the return of youth and adult games in low- and medium-risk sports in groups of 50 people or fewer. Picnic shelters will also reopen. Montgomery Parks, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, said in a press release that fields at regional and recreational parks will reopen and host games. Fields at local parks are already open and will be available for games as well. Montgomery Parks manages 424 parks, covering nearly 37,000 acres. Games and tournaments were canceled in March due to the coronavirus. Low-risk sports that will be allowed to return include baseball, track and swimming. A list of all the sports and their ranking being allowed to return is on the county’s website. Two medium-risk sports, soccer and flag football, will be allowed to restart playing when the county moves into Phase Three of reopening. In the meantime, those players may continue practices that include “skills-building and drills” only. Scrimmages and games are not permitted. High-risk sports, such as tackle football, basketball and rugby are not permitted. “We recognize that people are eager to get back out on the fields for games, and we are pleased to be able to offer that opportunity now, with the understanding that the health and safety of park patrons and staff is our first priority,” said Mike Riley, director of Montgomery Parks. All staff and field users must follow state and county guidelines for social distancing and face coverings, as well as guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stand-alone restrooms will be open at regional and recreational fields, while some local fields may have portable toilets. All fields, including local and regional park athletic fields, and athletic fields at schools, are available for a permit for the fall season through ActiveMontgomery or by emailing email@example.com. Permits will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Central Union Mission homeless shelter took strict preventative measures when the coronavirus pandemic began, and officials there said it has worked. The shelter said strict cleaning and mask requirements, the donation of a $20,000 UV light portal and daily health evaluations have kept them from having any confirmed cases of the coronavirus. “We worked really hard to get ahead of this thing quickly,” said president and CEO Joseph Mettimano. He said the shelter has kept about 75 homeless men safe by implementing a set bed list and requiring strict sheltering in place. He said some of the men started to get cabin fever so staff came up with some ways to keep residents occupied while they are sheltering in place. “We increased the number of classes that we were doing to keep people occupied, we went out and bought ping pong tables, anything we could do just to keep people active,” Mettimano said. “It hasn’t been easy and it’s required a lot of hard work, some changes, some sacrifices.” Residents have fresh air breaks at least twice a day and have been using the mission’s summer camp space in Brookeville, Montgomery County to get away. “We started to take the guys out there every other Friday just to get outside to roam around in the country in the fresh air and that really has made a big difference as well.” Mettimano said that they haven’t have any confirmed cases of the coronavirus at the shelter or at their food pantry.
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Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.