Md. Dining Up to 75%; Not in D.C. Suburbs
COVID-19 Cases Reach 274,301 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of yesterday morning, 14,902 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 619 deaths; there have been 119,744 cases in Maryland with 3,732 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 139,655 cases with 2,990 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
Beginning at 5 p.m. Monday, indoor dining at Maryland restaurants may increase from 50% to 75% capacity. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced the change Friday, coinciding with Maryland’s inaugural statewide Restaurant Week, which began Friday and runs through Sept. 27. “As we continue with the third and final stage of our recovery, I want to commend our state’s restaurant industry for their incredible resilience this year and for their continued commitment to the health and safety of Marylanders,” Hogan said a press release. “To celebrate the first-ever Maryland Restaurant Week, I encourage Marylanders to support their favorite local businesses, whether you do so through delivery, curbside pickup or by dining indoors or outside.” As with other reopening actions, Hogan gave local jurisdictions discretion on whether to follow state guidance. Spokespeople for Prince George’s, Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties said they will keep indoor dining at 50% capacity. Maryland’s restaurant owners have been pushing for the change. Marshall Weston, president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, recently said that if indoor capacity could not increase as the weather gets colder and limits outdoor dining, “employees may be laid off” and some restaurants would have to consider closing altogether. But analysis from the Center for American Progress last month found that when states reopened indoor dining, their COVID-19 case counts went up, and on the flip side, case counts declined when states closed indoor dining and bars. The analysis said “because reopening indoor dining, even at limited capacities, is linked to increasing incidence, states should also reevaluate their decisions to allow restaurant patrons to dine indoors, especially in hotspots.” Maryland is averaging 635 new COVID-19 cases per day. Its average case count declined steadily over August but remains above where it was in June, when the state saw its lowest COVID-19 case counts.
The University of Maryland has asked all students living Denton Hall on campus to quarantine for 14 days after the dorm had 23 COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks. The dorm houses 247 students. According to a statement from university officials, students with positive cases have been moved into isolation and an additional nine people who had close contact with positive cases have been placed in quarantine housing. The remaining students have been asked to remain in their rooms as much as possible and will have three meals delivered to them each day. They also have the option to leave the dorm and quarantine at home. “Out of an abundance of caution, and in consultation with Prince George’s County Health Department, we have implemented enhanced health precautions for Denton Hall,” university officials said in a statement. The restrictions come less than a week after the university began limited in-person classes on Sept. 14. Students were initially slated to return classrooms on Aug. 31, but officials delayed in-person instruction in early August due to the ongoing pandemic in surrounding Prince George’s County. The recent outbreak in Denton Hall is not the university’s first since welcoming students back to campus in late August. Earlier this month, two Greek life houses quarantined after at least four residents tested positive, and 19 students were suspended for failing to follow coronavirus restrictions. Those suspensions are pending further review. The university also suspended all athletic training after cases spiked among student-athletes. Forty-six cases were identified in 10 different teams. Schools across the region have faced similar outbreaks since students returned to campuses. James Madison University sent its students home on Sept. 1 — only one week into classes — after the university reported more than 500 COVID-19 cases. On Sept. 17, the University of Virginia instituted its first dorm-wide quarantine after reporting 15 cases in one residence hall. In D.C., a George Washington University off-campus fraternity house closed to visitors after several members tested positive earlier this week. According to UMD’s COVID-19 dashboard, 143 positive cases have been identified in students and staff over the past 14 days, and 181 students or faculty with “close contact” to campus self-reported positive cases. Despite the rising COVID-19 numbers, the school’s football team is slated to start its 2020 season the weekend of Oct. 23, following a decision form the Big Ten athletic conference earlier this week.
Virginia’s community colleges will continue to hold most classes online in the spring, as four-year universities across the state manage current COVID-19 clusters on their campuses. Virginia Community College System Chancellor Glenn DuBois announced the news in a letter to the community on Friday. Three-quarters of the system’s classes are taking place online this fall and will stay that way this spring. “With the threat posed by the pandemic still very much upon us, this approach represents the safest and most prudent choice we can make to serve you this spring,” DuBois’ said. Certain courses, like technical education and science labs, will be administered in person in the spring. VCCS oversees 23 community colleges and 40 different campuses in the commonwealth, including Northern Virginia Community College.
D.C.’s Office of the Inspector General will audit D.C. Public Schools’ distance learning program starting this month. On Wednesday, Inspector General Daniel W. Lucas wrote in a letter to D.C. schools chancellor Lewis Ferebee that his office will be evaluating the system based on the availability and equity of online education for DCPS students — two areas of concern that plagued the transition to online learning last spring and continued into this fall. At a press conference on Thursday, Mayor Muriel Bowser said about 4,500 fewer students enrolled in D.C. schools this academic year compared to the same time last year. Attendance has also dropped — 85% of DCPS students attended class this past Monday compared to 92% on the same day last year. According to officials, schools have sent personalized letters, hosted virtual open houses and sent weekly emails and texts to parents in an attempt to enroll more students this fall. Advocates have also worked to bridge the “digital divide” that leaves students without adequate access to remote learning tools behind. Over the summer, teachers and parents pressured DCPS to give all 51,000 students the necessary technology for the first day of online school on Aug. 31. As of Sept. 17, the city has distributed 26,091 devices. In an effort to further narrow the gap, the city announced a multi-million dollar initiative earlier this month to provide 25,000 low-income D.C. public and charter school households with free broadband internet. According to a report from the Alliance of Excellent Education this summer, more than 20,200 children in D.C. lack high-speed internet at home. DCPS is slated to continue virtual learning through the remainder of the first quarter. On Thursday, Bowser said she hopes that classes may start in a hybrid of in-person and online for the second quarter on Nov. 9. The OIG’s audit of DCPS is one of a handful outlined in the office’s fiscal year 2021 plan, released August 31.
Virginia on Friday reported its first coronavirus-related death of a child. State health officials said an adolescent in south central Virginia became the youngest person in the commonwealth to die from the coronavirus. The Virginia Department of Health said only that the individual was an adolescent in the Southside Health District between the ages of 10-19. That district serves Halifax, Brunswick and Mecklenburg counties. Until now, nobody younger than 30 had been among the nearly 3,000 COVID-19 deaths reported in the commonwealth since the pandemic begain six months ago. Nearly 90% of coronavirus deaths in Virginia have been those age 60 or older.
Beginning next week, D.C. will start reporting new, easier-to-understand metrics for the public to better track the spread of the coronavirus. Daily reported cases per 100,000 will be published on the city’s coronavirus dashboard and the date of symptom onset will be “retired” as the main way of tracking community spread. The metric has often left residents confused and officials frustrated while they attempted to provide more clarity. “We believe [reported cases per 100,000] metric is far easier and useful for the public to be able to follow along with,” said D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt. She said D.C. officials already use the metric to provide guidance and set policy, like the city’s travel advisories. Now, it will also be available for the public to see. Basically, Nesbitt admitted the symptom onset metric was hard to understand. “It will be visually a lot easier for people to see if a line is decreasing for 14 days based on the daily reported case rate, as opposed to being able to comprehend those statistical computations,” she said. The city will also publish a few other new metrics. One is the mean test turnaround time over a 7-day period, as in how fast test results are provided to patients. According to city data, it is currently at 2.2 days, which is much faster than it was earlier in the summer. In recent days, D.C. and LabCorp, the city’s main test supplier, disagreed about the actual number of tests available. This comes at the same time as a shift in messaging from the city about who should be getting a free, public test. D.C. will also report tests conducted per million, which is something other states report, as well as three metrics related to “community engagement,” which have to do with contact tracing — positive cases with a completed interview within 3 days, percent of cases providing close contact information and mean number of close contacts provided per case. According to D.C. Health, about 59% of people who test positive have their contact tracing interviews done within three days, but only 37% provide all of their information about close contacts. When they do, they are only providing, on average, one person as a close contact. Nesbitt said this mostly has to do with stigma and people not trusting that their conversation with contact tracers will be kept private. She said people may be socializing with people outside of their households, but don’t want them to know they tested positive for the virus. “They don’t want people to know that they are the potential reason there could be an outbreak in their small, social circle,” Nesbitt said. She assured residents that contact tracers won’t name the person or give particularly detailed information that could identify them. “What is important is that we can notify people that they have been exposed, that they need to quarantine so we can reduce transmission in the community,” Nesbitt said.
About 4,500 fewer students are enrolled in D.C. schools this academic year than at the same time last year, as schools across the city try to reach families during the pandemic. Three weeks into the school year, about 86,000 students are enrolled in both D.C.’s traditional and charter public schools, Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a press conference Thursday. About 99,000 students were expected to register for school this academic year. “Just like regular school, virtual school is mandatory school,” Bowser said. “We need our children to be registered, and we need them to be logging in.” It is not uncommon for students to register for classes after the school year starts, but enrollment is still lagging. The city has made some headway in reaching students, registering more than 7,250 students in a six-day period beginning Sept. 10. In D.C. Public Schools, nearly all grade levels have seen drops in enrollment compared to last school year, with the largest decline occurring in preschool classes for three-year-olds, according to data from the city. Education officials said schools have called, sent personalized letters and hosted virtual open houses to remind families to register. The school system sends weekly texts and emails to families with children who must still enroll. Postcards with enrollment information were also mailed to every student who attended a D.C. public school last academic year. Attendance has also dropped. On Monday, 85% in DCPS students attended class, compared to 92% of students on the same day last year. Bowser said she hopes DCPS will be prepared to offer a mix of in-person and online learning when the second quarter begins on Nov. 9. The school system is reviewing about a dozen proposals from principals who want to start teaching students in-person, she said. All DCPS students are learning virtually through the end of the first grading quarter. But the city is in Phase 2 of reopening, which allows schools to offer classes in-person with safety measures, including daily temperature checks and physical distancing that would limit classrooms to 12 people at a time. Some charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, have already started offering limited in-person instruction.
Indoor pools, meeting rooms, tanning salons and vape shops can reopen in Prince George’s County with capacity limits, and “medium risk” youth sports can begin in small groups. County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said in a press release Thursday that several additional businesses and activities could resume with strict safety guidelines and capacity limits. “I want to remind our residents that this virus is still present in our community,” Alsobrooks said in the news release. “Please remember to continue following COVID-19 safety guidelines to keep yourself and your fellow Prince Georgians safe, including wearing a face mask, practicing physical distancing and washing your hands frequently.” Indoor pools, both public and private, may open up to 50% maximum capacity, but physical distancing must be maintained and face coverings must be worn when not in the pool. Medium-risk youth sports such as soccer, baseball and lacrosse, may begin again in small groups with no more than nine team members and one coach, with a maximum of 100 people in any given area. Banquet halls, receptions and meeting rooms in hotels and conference centers that offer dining or meeting facilities may open at 50% capacity or a maximum of 150 persons, whichever is lower. But there will be no buffets and there can be no more than six people per table. Tanning salons may reopen under the same guidelines as other personal services by appointment only , with only one customer per 200 square feet of service area, up to a maximum of 50% capacity. Cigar, hookah and vaping establishments may open for retail sales only with a maximum of 1 person per 100 square feet, not to exceed 50% maximum capacity. Changes to existing regulations include parents no longer being allowed to enter childcare facilities for drop-off or pickup and face coverings being required for anyone in any public indoor location over the age of five. The age was previously over the age of nine. Adults accompanying children ages two through four should make reasonable efforts to encourage those children to wear face coverings. Guidelines for parades, festivals, parties and family gatherings remain limited to one person or family unit per 200 square feet or a maximum of 50 persons, whichever is lower.
After being shut down for months because of the pandemic, music halls, theater companies and other Montgomery County venues have been given approval to stage concerts and other live performances with approval from the county. Under the new requirements, only outdoor performances are permitted with county permission and all performers must get a COVID-19 test before the run of any show and have their temperature checked prior to each performance. Other requirements, issued Thursday, include limiting the audience to 50 people, maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between guests who are not part of the same household, advance ticket sales, face masks on guests and venue staff at all times, and the sanitizing of surfaces and common areas after each show. As part of the approval process, venues must submit seating charts that demonstrate compliance with physical distancing requirements. “This is a delicate balance, which is why we’re beginning cautiously,” said County Executive Marc Elrich in a press release. “We are trying to find ways to allow performances while we are continuing to look at the intractability of our case count numbers — they are not going down in any sort of consistent manner — we have to keep that constantly in mind as we make adjustments. I appreciate people’s continued understanding and hope that we are able to have successful performances in a safe manner.”
George Washington University has developed and launched its own in-house COVID testing, which is available free to students, faculty and staff. Everyone authorized to be on campus, which is about 4,000 people since all classes are virtual, are required to get a PCR test once a week. Results come back within one to two days, with all tests being processed at a new university laboratory created specifically to process COVID-19 tests. GW officials said they are processing about 600 tests a day and have the capacity to ramp up significantly if the university fully reopens in the spring. Testing is currently available on the Foggy Bottom campus in D.C. and at the Virginia Science & Technology campus in Ashburn. GW Medical faculty staff and GW nursing students are collecting shallow nasal swabs which are then sent to GW’s COVID lab for results. “Given spread of COVID-19 by people who have few to no symptoms, and the difficulty in accessing testing from private labs, GW concluded in April that we should develop our own testing capacity,” said Dr. Lynn R. Goldman, dean of the GW Milken Institute School of Public Health. “GW’s faculty and staff worked round the clock to create an automated high-capacity COVID-19 diagnostic test, obtain regulatory approvals, build the new laboratory and set up testing sites on campus. With this investment in on-campus testing, GW can now provide an extra layer of protection to keep students, faculty and staff healthy and safe.” The test uses a technique called polymerase chain reaction to detect genetic material from the virus that causes COVID-19 and is high accurate, according to a press release. The university is also requiring daily symptom checks and a 10-day quarantine and clearance from GW’s health service if testing positive.
The Delta Tau Delta fraternity shut down its off-campus house at George Washington University to visitors Sept. 11 after some members tested positive for COVID-19. According to The GW Hatchet, the student newspaper, members attended an off-campus party the prior weekend. An Interfraternity Council member told the student newspaper “multiple” Delta Tau Delta members tested positive after attending the party. Delta Tau Delta President Jacob Liedke said members tested positive for COVID-19 after attending the party, according to an audio recording of a chapter meeting last Sunday obtained by the newspaper. “I’m guessing all of you guys are aware of some brothers testing positive for COVID-19. At this time, everything is under control,” Liedke said at the meeting. “People have gotten tested, people are isolating and people will be getting tested tomorrow if they haven’t been tested already. And again, I just want to stress this should be a learning experience. We shouldn’t be having this large of events.” He urged members to practice social distancing, wear masks and get tested regularly. The unidentified IFC member said students have gotten tested after being exposed directly to a member of the fraternity or someone who had been exposed by a member. He said he knows of at least one student who received a test last Friday after being exposed to a member of Delta Tau Delta who tested positive and then met with others, potentially spreading the virus. “There was some sort of gathering there on Sunday and it involved someone who ended up becoming sick with COVID-19,” he said. “I also know that obviously, there’s people in the frat who were talking about it and …trying to cover the whole thing up and cover their tracks.” A screenshot of the Delta Tau Delta GroupMe obtained by The Hatchet included a message sent to members last Friday, saying the Delta Tau Delta house would be closed to non-residents for “at least” the next week due to coronavirus concerns. The screenshot advised members not to speak to media about chapter members testing positive. “What’s worse than a Hatchet reporter with a bunch of free time on their hands? A Hatchet reporter with a bunch of free time and a lead on a potential delt COVID outbreak,” a member said in the GroupMe text. Another fraternity brother wrote in the group chat that members shouldn’t talk about testing positive for COVID-19. “Loose lips sink ships,” he said in the GroupMe. University spokesperson Crystal Nosal said the university communicates “frequently” with off-campus students and reminds them to abide by D.C. COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions. She said while the university encouraged students to remain in their hometowns, if a GW student in D.C. feels they have been exposed to COVID-19, they should contact the Colonial Health Center. She declined to say if the university had been made aware of a gathering of the fraternity off campus and if any student had filed a complaint about the party. “GW has received complaints about off-campus activity that is contrary to social distancing restrictions and is investigating those complaints,” Nosal said in an email. “The small community granted access to campus is undergoing a weekly testing regimen, and those testing numbers can be viewed on the new GW COVID-19 Testing Dashboard.” Jack Kreman, the chief executive office of the Delta Tau Delta International Fraternity, said the international headquarters “expects” all members to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state, local and institutional COVID-19 guidance. He declined to say if headquarters staff had been made aware of GW fraternity members testing positive for COVID-19. “Any individuals found in violation should be held accountable,” Kreman said in an email. “It is our expectation that local chapter leaders will hold members accountable. The George Washington Delt chapter leaders have expressed their full agreement with this expectation.”
The Arlington County Board voted 4-1 Tuesday to scrap a unpopular ordinance authorizing police to fine groups of more than three people standing close together in Clarendon and Crystal City. The ordinance was adopted on an emergency basis in late July to enforce social distancing regulations on designated sidewalks and went in effect in August. The board decided to let the ordinance lapse Sept. 29. Several residents told board members during the meeting that the ordinance was too broad, could be enforced disproportionately against people of color and would hurt businesses over the long term. County Manager Mark Schwartz said police haven’t issued any fines under the ordinance, saying officials want to inform people about the importance of maintaining at least six feet of distance from others to restrict the spread of COVID-19. In a statement Wednesday, board member Christian Dorsey cited the lack of enforcement as a reason he opposed extending the ordinance. “Arlington police have determined that it is impractical to cite hundreds of violators a night,” he said. “They have prioritized encouraging compliance and have not issued a single citation. I don’t see any reason to continue having something on the books that clearly doesn’t work.” Board Chair Libby Garvey was the only member to support an extension and said in a statement Wednesday she believes the ordinance has encouraged people to remain socially distant in the vicinity of bars and restaurants. The ordinance was implemented along popular sidewalks in Clarendon and Crystal City, where crowds lined up outside bars and restaurants. The sites were selected based on data from the Arlington Restaurant Initiative and online complaints about social distancing violations. “Clarendon has seen an influx of patrons 10 p.m.-2 a.m.,” county staff said in a presentation to the board on Tuesday. “Efforts to spread out long lines of patrons by officers and restaurant security have been met with defiance, confrontation and hostility.” The decision marked a reversal for the board, which unanimously approved the ordinance in a closed session. Under the ordinance, violators could be fined up to $100.
A recent study by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments found many employers in the DMV expect expanded telework after the COVID-19 pandemic ends. The survey asked more than 4,500 private businesses, nonprofits and federal, state and local governments in the region about telework during and after the pandemic. More than half of employers who responded to the survey said they anticipated continuing telework at current levels or increasing telework options beyond pre-pandemic levels, while 12% thought they would continue telework at their pre-pandemic levels and 23% anticipated cutting back telework options to even less than they were before the pandemic. The interest in continuing telework isn’t surprising, given that employers are seeing benefits from it. Eighty percent said managers reported benefits of managing remotely. Of those, almost 33% said managers had better communication with employees and greater worker productivity. Most employees seemed happy with telework arrangements, at least according to their employers. Ninety-two percent of employers said their employees had reported benefits of working from home, including not commuting, a more casual work environment, personal cost savings and higher productivity. The downside: About half of the employers surveyed said they had documented some challenges with teleworking during the pandemic. Childcare, isolation and conflicts with spouses or partners at home were the top problems. Increasing telework was by far the largest step employers were considering to curb the impact of the virus on their workforces in the future, according to the survey. But some said they were considering other shifts in work scheduling and structure, too. Some said they were considering other ways to change how many people cross each others’ paths at work after reopening, including instituting staggered or flexible hours (62%) and compressed work schedules (28%). Strategies for keeping people safe while in the office were less on employers’ minds — 18% said they were considering social distancing measures in the workplace, 9% said they might require masks or other protective gear and 9% said they might make hand sanitizer or other cleanliness options more widely available. The survey results don’t draw distinctions between attitudes toward telework across different industries. But telework policies have not been universal during the pandemic. The federal government, for instance, has left much of the decision making on working remotely up to individual agencies. Local leaders have expressed concerns about federal pressure to bring government employees back into the office, although some might not come back to the office at all.
On Wednesday, D.C. residents presented their problems in trying to obtain unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic to a D.C. Council committee Wednesday. Their stories were part of a public oversight hearing held by At-Large Council Member Elissa Silverman, who chairs the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. Many residents signed up to tell their experiences of trying to get assistance from D.C.’s Department of Employment Services, or DOES. Robert Duker, 72, said he was laid off as a bellman at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill when the pandemic hit. It was the first time he had been out of work in 44 years. “A week later, I applied and received a letter from the unemployment office, stating I had been approved for $425 a week and would get my initial check April 11, 2020,” he said. Then, as Duker tried to use the city’s online system, he said he got locked out. He spent months sending in paperwork and calling to find out what was going on. Finally, this week, Duker said he was told that his case manager had left the agency, and he would have to wait for a new one to be assigned to him. “If I were someone who did not have any other source of income, I don’t know how I would have made it through,” he said. The long wait put Duker in debt, he said, since there were bills he couldn’t afford to pay on just his pension. Taalib-Din Uqdah also shared his experience. “I can’t tell you the number of times I heard the words ‘escalation,’ ‘subject matter expert,’ ‘seven to 21 days,’ ‘supervisor,’ ‘validation to be attached to the file’ and ‘PUA examiner,’ all in the same sentence,” Uqdah said. It took four for him to receive his first unemployment check, and he still has not been paid the amount he is entitled to, he added. Things seemed to be working for Nataki Edison in the beginning. She received six payments in April and May. Then, without explanation, they stopped. “After I received my last payment in May, a note appeared in my account saying my claim was unpayable,” she said. She tried to find out why, which was a process that felt impossible to her, she said. “For the past four months, I have spent countless hours trying to figure out why my claim was not payable,” Edison said. “One week, I tried calling DOES three days in a row. Each day, I was on hold from 9 a.m. all the way through until 5 p.m. No one answered the phone.” Daniel Katz, with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, said the situation is having a heavier impact on D.C. residents who already are struggling against multiple disparities. “Since the start of the pandemic in March, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in unemployment,” Katz said. “And the effect of this increased unemployment is felt most acutely in the communities of color, exacerbating existing economic inequality.” Katz said before the pandemic, the median white family income in D.C. was approximately four times that of the median Black family income. Since the pandemic, due to occupational segregation, discrimination and other disparities, Katz said workers of color have experienced a much greater job loss. “White non-Hispanic workers’ unemployment has peaked at 12.8%,” said Katz, “Black workers have seen their unemployment peak at 16.7%, and Hispanic workers at 18.5%. The most devastating effects of the unemployment caused by the pandemic has been felt by Black women, whose unemployment rate has risen to 19%.” He also said Wards 7 and 8 are where the unemployment rates remain the highest. In July, Ward 7’s unemployment rate was more than14%, and in Ward 8, it was just less than 19%. According to Katz, the technology gap between communities is making things worse. “Since the start of the pandemic, applicants must apply for benefits online or by telephone,” he said. “As a result, countless numbers of low-wage workers who do not have a home computer have not been able to apply online because the system does not accept applications from hand-held devices, which is the method by which most low-wage workers access the internet.” Others have tried to use the phone system to apply, with little success. Katz said his office has heard a lot of complaints. “Numerous workers we have talked to have reported calling DOES and being hung up on; not being able to get through; waiting for hours on hold without talking to a DOES representative; being instructed to leave a message for a call-back and never receiving a call; receiving inadequate or simply wrong information or instructions from call center employees; and not being able to file weekly claims by phone and losing benefits because they’re not able to complete that requirement.” DOES Director Unique Morris-Hughes was scheduled to testify, but then it was announced she would not be part of Wednesday’s hearing. Her appearance was rescheduled for Sept. 30 at 3 p.m.
The University of Maryland and other Big Ten schools will play football this year after all. The Big Ten athletic conference announced Tuesday that it plans to begin the season in late October, reversing course after deciding in August to cancel all competition for the year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The season is slated to start Oct. 23 and 24, with a conference championship on Dec. 19. The Big Ten says it will adopt “stringent medical protocols” for the season. This includes daily testing for all student athletes, coaches, trainers and anyone else on the field for practices and games. Athletes who test positive for the virus cannot return to competition for at least 21 days after their diagnosis. COVID-positive athletes must also undergo cardiac testing and receive a clearance before returning to play. The conference will monitor virus positivity rates and has set specific benchmarks that could trigger a suspension of practice or competition. Whether or not to resume college athletics has been one of many fraught debates during the coronavirus pandemic. On Aug. 5, the Big Ten announced it would limit its fall season to only conference play. A week later, it made the call to postpone all competition until 2021. The universities faced financial pressure to compete, as well as calls from some players, coaches, parents and even President Trump. Maryland’s head coach, Michael Locksley celebrated Tuesday’s decision to hold a season. “I’m so happy for our players,” he tweeted shortly after the announcement. In a press release, he said, “Our student-athletes have stayed focused and prepared and are eager to return to competition.” The school says that, under guidance from the Prince George’s County Health Department, they will begin the season with no fans present. UMD athletic director Damon Evans said he was “thrilled” for football to return. He said the health of athletes, coaches and staff was a priority and that new medical protocols from the Big Ten “put us all in a stronger position to resume competition.” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also weighed in, tweeting that he “couldn’t be more pleased with this decision.” Playing football in a pandemic, however, has been rocky for some of the teams that have resumed competition. Leagues that are playing their seasons include the SEC, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big 12. UMD has had its own issues with virus outbreaks among student athletes, who have been allowed to train and hold practices. Thirteen teams, including the football team, recently resumed practice after the school temporarily halted all athletic activities when 46 athletes tested positive. University president Darryll Pines said the outbreak was linked to off-campus social gatherings, UMD student newspaper The Diamondback reported. It was the second time the university paused athletic training because of COVID-19 cases. In July, after nine athletes and staff tested positive, the university paused the football team’s summer workouts. Last week, UMD reported 88 new cases of COVID-19 from tests the university administered, plus another 37 cases self-reported to the university by individuals who were “on or close to campus” in the past 14 days. The Patriot League, which includes several D.C.-area universities has canceled fall sports. The Big Ten conference said announcements about other fall sports, plus winter and spring athletics, will be coming soon.
Town Sports International, the parent company of Washington Sports Clubs, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware on Monday. Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection allows the company to restructure. Court filings say there are between 10,001 and 25,000 creditors. Washington Sports Clubs has locations in Columbia Heights, two in and one in Glove Park, as well as clubs in Bethesda and downtown Silver Spring. Town Sports International also operates Boston Sports Clubs, New York Sports Clubs, Philadelphia Sports Clubs and Lucille Roberts gyms for women. The gyms will remain open during bankruptcy. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine sued Town Sports late last month for “continuing to engage in deceptive and lawful trade practices” following an agreement reached earlier this year related to membership fees and cancellation during the pandemic. The lawsuit alleges Town Sports failed to freeze customers’ memberships and credit them for fees paid during pandemic-mandated closures in the city and has not processed all membership cancellations. WSC continued to charge members even as the gyms were closed.
H2 Collective, the hospitality group owned by brothers Ian and Eric Hilton, will close seven of its bars come Halloween. Washington City Paper first reported the closings. American Ice Company, El Rey, The Gibson, The Brixton, Echo Park, Marvin and Players Club will close their doors “for the foreseeable future” on Oct. 31. “After six months of constantly restructuring our operations to comply with the mayor’s orders, we have depleted our resources while fighting a great fight, yet unsustainable battle to save the jobs of our employees and our businesses,” the paid said in a statement. The brothers’ remaining businesses are more food-focused and included Café Colline, Chez Billy Sud, Crimson, Parc de Ville, The Brighton and Victura Park, but the fates of Chez Billy Sud in Georgetown and The Brighton at The Wharf are also uncertain. Echo Park, a late-night pizza joint located across from the 9:30 Club, just opened in February. According to the weekly paper, the brothers struggled to keep the bars open during the past six months because of the pandemic and don’t know if or when they may reopen. “When the crisis began, we knew this year would be tremendous challenge,” said a statement from Ian Hilton. “While we have done our very best to meet those challenges, we no longer have the capability to keep that fight going. Day after day, we and our staff are operating at a loss, under duress and with little relief in sight.” The closures come as the DMV has lost dozens of other restaurants and bars including Victor Albisu’s Poca Madre and Taco Bamba in Chinatown, Buena Vida in Silver Spring and Clarendon, and Legal Sea Food in Chinatown and Crystal City. From February to July, 34,700 employees in D.C.’s hospitality and leisure industries lost their jobs — 60% of the city’s total net job loss in the private sector during those months — according to the latest report from the city’s chief financial officer. As colder weather approaches, the outlook for restaurants this winter could be grim. Paycheck Protection Program loans must be used by October and additional federal funds are stalled in congressional gridlock.
Unemployed Marylanders must file their unemployment claims by 5 p.m. today if they want to get paid on time this week. The Maryland Department of Labor said Tuesday that the period for filing a claim for the week ending Sept. 12 will cut off early this week. The department is taking its computer system down to move it to the new Beacon 2.0 system and will be offline until Sunday. No weekly or new claims can be taken, either online or by phone while the system is down, the department said. If you file your weekly claim by Wednesday at 5 p.m., you will get your payment on time, the department said. If you don’t, it will be delayed but not canceled: Once the system is back up Sunday, the department is giving an extra six days — until Sept. 25 at 5 p.m. — to file a claim for the week ending Sept. 12.
The Virginia State Corporation Commission on Tuesday extended the statewide moratorium on utility shutoffs, scheduled to end today, until Oct. 5 at the request of Gov. Ralph Northam. In granting the extension, the commission said it would not extend it again and urged the governor and General Assembly to appropriate funds for direct financial assistance to customers who are unable to pay their utility bills due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Since we first imposed the moratorium on March 15, 2020, we have warned repeatedly that this moratorium is not sustainable indefinitely,” the commission said. “The mounting costs of unpaid bills must eventually be paid, either by the customers in arrears or by other customers who themselves may be struggling to pay their bills. Unless the General Assembly explicitly directs that a utility’s own shareholders must bear the cost of unpaid bills, those costs will almost certainly be shifted to other paying customers.” The extension “will give the General Assembly time to finalize the budget and address the issue” of people needing help with rent, utilities and other essentials, Northam said during a press conference Tuesday. He added that his proposed budget includes a moratorium on shutoffs and help with expenses.
The Bethesda Urban Partnership’s 11-day Savor Bethesda promotion with more than 30 restaurants offering fixed-price menus will replace the annual Taste of Bethesda. Savor Bethesda will run Oct. 1-11 with restaurants through the downtown area offering menus with meals for $10, $20 and $35. Restaurants may offer choices at different prices or stick with one menu, depending on whether they are open for lunch and dinner or dinner only. Pricing is generally per-person, but some restaurants have options for couples. Customers can order from the Savor Bethesda menu whenever each restaurant is open, and the offer is good for both dine-in and takeout customers. Taste of Bethesda is normally one of the largest events of in Montgomery County. Thousands attended the 30th annual event last year. This year’s restaurant promotion is an alternative way to promote Bethesda’s downtown restaurants and maintain social distancing.
Ford’s Theatre’s annual live production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was canceled Tuesday due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the theater will produce a radio play starring Craig Wallace as Scrooge. “It is with sorrow that we confirm the cancelation of in-person performances of The Trip to Bountiful and the annual tradition of A Christmas Carol,” said Ford’s Theatre director Paul Tetreault in a press release Tuesday. “However, we are excited to announce that we will produce a radio play version of Carol. We hope this version will give families and their loved ones a new way to revisit the play’s timeless message of hope and charity.” The fall production of Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful is also canceled. “As we plan for the future, we are committed to using our power to tell stories that speak to the present moment with courage, hope, inspiration, joy and healing,” Tetreault said. “I hope our revised 2020-2021 season is a reflection of those values.” Ford’s Theatre has postponed its “Guys and Dolls” production to a future season, revising its spring season to instead focus on Civil Rights icons. The in-person shows begin with the D.C.-premiere of My Lord, What a Night. Written by Deborah Brevoort and directed by Sheldon Epps, the play explores physicist Albert Einstein’s friendship with contralto Marian Anderson before her historic concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Felicia Curry will play Anderson and Christopher Bloch will play Einstein. After that will be Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, which reimagines the events from the night before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. KenYatta Rogers will play King and Shannon Dorsey will play the role of Camae. The spring season will end with a new production of Necessary Sacrifices, written by Richard Hellesen and directed by Psalmayene 24. The play premiered at Ford’s in 2012, exploring the two documented encounters between Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln during a period of national crisis. Wallace will play Douglass. Dates for the three spring plays will be announced later.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery will reopen their doors beginning Friday morning. All four of the Smithsonian museums closed in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. They will reopen Friday with new safety measures in place, including reduced days and hours of operation. Visitors will need to reserve free timed-entry passes to visit all the museum, except the Renwick Gallery, according to a press release. The timed-entry system allows people to plan their visit and allows the museums to have control over how many people will be entering throughout the day. Passes can be reserved online. All the museums are following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines including requiring visitors 6-years-old or older wear face coverings, prohibiting groups of more than six visitors, requesting those who are sick stay home and implementing safe social distancing, including one-way paths. Museum shops and cafes will remain closed and all public tours and events are suspended. The National Museum of African American History and Culture will be open from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum will be open from 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. and the Renwick Gallery will be open 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. All will be closed Monday and Tuesday. The Smithsonian National Zoo and the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va., already reopened along with the various gardens.
The Alexandria City Council approved an ordinance 5-2 Saturday that requires face coverings be worn over the mouth and nose in indoor and outdoor public settings beginning Oct. 1. Alexandria’s new mask ordinance applies to anyone in a public space over the age of 10, including people at indoor venues, as well as outdoor areas where social distancing isn’t possible, including public parks, sidewalks and trails, public transportation and even common areas of condominium or apartment buildings. Exceptions include when eating and drinking, or for religious and safety concerns. Masks are not required while swimming, biking, jogging or engaging in other physical activity for which wearing a mask has been determined to pose a health risk, but participants who do not live together should still maintain at least 10 feet of distance from each other. “Local, state and national public health experts agree that wearing a mask is one of the simplest and most effective ways to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Mayor Justin Wilson in a press release. “The more everyone covers their faces and keeps distance from each other, the sooner life can return to normal.” According to the ordinance, “COVID-19 is extremely easy to transmit, can be transmitted by infected people who show no symptoms, and the population has not developed herd immunity. At this time, there is no known cure, no effective treatment, no vaccine; and because people may be infected but asymptomatic, they may unwittingly infect others.” First-time offenders will be reminded to wear a mask. City officials considered, but ultimately opted against, imposing a $100 fine for those who failed to adhere. The mandate remains in effect until Alexandria’s local emergency declaration for the COVID-19 pandemic, originally issued March 14, is rescinded.
A full return to DMV offices may not happen until next summer, according to the “Capital COVID-19 Snapshot: Safe Return to Work” report published by the Greater Washington Partnership. Employers in the DMV are uncertain, and trying to be cautious, about bringing workers physically back to the workplace, according to a new report. The survey found that only about one-third of the region’s workforce will return to their workplaces this fall. About 18% of employers continue to expect that no workers will be on site. The survey found that about one-third of the responding employers weren’t sure of how many workers they would have back in person by summer 2021. Employers who did have long-term plans expect an average of about 72% of their workers will be back in the workplace by then. Only about 50% of the workforce are expected back by the end of the year, the report said. The survey asked 430 employers, representing about 275,000 workers, in the D.C., Baltimore and Richmond areas about their plans to bring workers back to offices and other workplaces. Generally speaking, the more workers an employer has, the fewer workers they believe will be coming back anytime soon. That is for a few reasons, including the difficulties associated with riding mass transit, where distancing restrictions have seriously restricted capacity. Employers also lacked confidence that mask wearing and social distancing could be enforced as workers return to the office. And although organizations are by and large requiring face masks and distancing, only about 10% said they would require testing to come back to the worksite.
LabCorp will increase its supply of coronavirus tests to D.C. after previously decreasing them by 20% per week. A LabCorp spokesperson said the company has been “working with D.C. officials throughout the pandemic in addressing the quantities of COVID-19 tests based on requests and will continue to do so. Before going to one of D.C.’s public testing sites, the Acting Director of Public Works Christopher Geldart, who is running D.C.’s COVID-19 response, said residents should check with their doctors about other places to get tested. The city always had more than 8,000 tests a week, Geldart said. That was the case, he said, even when LabCorp decreased the supply from 10,000 to 8,000 tests per week last month as it was experiencing supply chain issues. LabCorp said that it has significant additional capacity if needed and has the capacity to perform 200,000 molecular tests per day. Severe weather and flooding last week led several testing sites to close, potentially decreasing the number of tests it filled last week. But, NBC Washington reported that dozens were turned away from the testing location at Judiciary Square on Monday after a cutoff of 300 tests. Geldart said that based on statistics, D.C. typically sends some 300-400 tests to large sites, such as the site at Judiciary Square. And in the last few weeks, he said the city sent 300 to large sites and 250-300 to fire stations. “Some days we were good; some days we would have a line that had 400 people in it, and we would have to meter the line at 300, and say, ‘For this site, this is the end of the line today. Tomorrow, we’re here again with another 300 or so … But at the same time, there are all these other sites in the city that you could go to,’” Geldart told WTOP. LabCorp will once again send 10,000 tests or close it, but there could be certain weeks where the supply may be below that number, Geldart said. However, 8,000 is the minimum number D.C. needs per week, he said, and “We can’t get below that.” Geldart said those with insurance and a primary care provider should go there for a test. “We want the tests the city provides to go to those who really need the test,” he said. “We want people to get tested, but at the right place.”
Virginia could have 208,237 COVID-19 cases by Thanksgiving, according to an updated forecast from the University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute. The most recent forecast, released Friday by the Virginia Department of Health, predicts a peak in new weekly cases statewide of 9,980 during the week ending Sept. 27. The previous highest projected weekly number was 8,388 in the week ending Aug. 8. The U.Va. institute said that with seasonal changes, the beginning of flu season and the reopening of some schools, the transmission rate could increase further. If the rate increases by 10%, new cases would peak at 11,380 the week ending Oct. 4. If the transmission rate increases 20%, new cases would peak at over 13,000 that same week. Those increases would add another 20,000-45,000 more confirmed cases by Thanksgiving. The total number of new cases would be about 75,000 more than currently have been reported and would mean that in total about 2.5% of the state’s population of over 8 million people would have tested positive for the virus since early March. Friday’s report also noted a recent surge of new cases and an increase in the transmission rate in two health districts – Central Shenandoah and New River — that are home to several colleges and universities, including James Madison University and Virginia Tech. In Northern Virginia, the transmission rate for the week ending Aug. 29 was 0.921, up 0.028 from the previous week. A transmission rate of less than 1 is considered good because it means that each person who contracts the virus is spreading the virus to less than one additional person. The Northwest region had the highest transmission rate during that week, 1.649, while the statewide average was 1.027.
Football fans in the DMV had to scrap any plans they may have for tailgating in FedEx Field parking lot in Landover on Sunday. There was no official word on the Washington Football Team’s website regarding a no tailgating policy, but fans who attempted to go to the stadium in Prince George’s County, were turned away due to the coronavirus pandemic. On a normal game day, the parking lots would be filled with fans tailgating, but for Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles, not a single regular vehicle occupied a parking spot. Security guards stood at the gate, only allowing those with authorized access in. Red cones blocked the road leading up to FedEx Field, and security personnel at the front gate said tailgating was not allowed in any of the parking lots at the stadium. So far, there is no official word on when fans may be able return to celebrate outside of the stadium. Normally the parking lots would be filled with the smell of barbecue, but for now, fans will have to fire up that grill from the comfort of their home.
Distance learning has been especially challenging for students with disabilities since the coronavirus pandemic began in mid-March. Despite the students’ hardships, their families have been unsuccessful in getting in-person services for their children, Leslie Margolis, managing attorney of Disability Rights Maryland, told state lawmakers during a briefing Friday on students with disabilities and virtual learning. Instead, Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams, which help create a plan with specialized services for students with disabilities, have told parents they could only provide those services virtually. Students with special needs make up 12% of the Maryland student body. “Our clients face huge barriers and they’re often not successful in obtaining the appropriate services for their children, despite the guidance coming from [the Maryland State Department of Education], despite the PowerPoints, the reality for families looks very different from the ground,” Margolis said. The main challenges facing students with disabilities during distance learning include the need for assistive technology that goes beyond having reliable internet connection and a laptop — such as customized keyboards and audiobooks, Rachel London, executive director of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council, said. It has also been difficult when students with disabilities cannot return to school buildings for small group in-person learning because they are immunocompromised. The state Department of Education has given guidance to local school systems to enforce IEPs as best as possible during distance learning, but there is a huge variance among the 24 districts, Margolis said. Del. April Rose (R-Carroll) asked how the state will push counties that currently have no plans for any in-person services for students with disabilities to do so. Both Montgomery and Prince George’s county public schools are all-virtual through the first semester. Schools that had originally planned to stay online until the second semester are looking for ways to bring small groups of students for in-person instruction in the fall, Carol Williamson, deputy state superintendent of education, said. In late August, State Superintendent Karen B. Salmon and Gov. Larry Hogan strongly urged schools to do this by the first quarter of the school year, which is in November. While there are special education liaisons in five regions of the state who are trained to coach and support IEP teams and local school systems in instruction during distance learning, “the best for this response is that our children re-enter schoolhouses in a safe environment,” Marcella Franczkowski, assistant state superintendent of education, said. Like many teacher unions, local school systems and state officials, Margolis expressed disappointment in the “lack of leadership” from the education department. There is a difference between the state creating a framework for local school systems to choose from and delegating local school systems to develop a framework almost entirely on their own, she said. The result has been a “complete patchwork collection of approaches that vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, not necessarily based on the needs of the jurisdiction or the children within that jurisdiction, but seemingly based on whim,” Margolis said. Local school systems must offer other options for students who are unable to participate in distance learning, whether it means bringing small groups of students into school buildings or contracting with private providers, she said. Schools cannot simply default to all-virtual learning. “We will monitor, there’s no question,” Franczkowski said. “Monitoring is not for an ‘I gotcha’ monitoring, it is for a support of technical assistance and need so that we can see where there are gaps and provide feedback to support.” However, some experts do not think that schools should open solely for students with disabilities, but should be more nuanced in how they select students to return for face-to-face learning. “If schools are going to open, they can’t just open for students with disabilities,” London said. “Not only are there other students in need of critical supports, there is a variety of reasons students with and without disabilities may need to return or may not need to return…it is based on an individual assessment.”
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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.