Montgomery Discourages Trick-or-Treating
COVID-19 Cases Reach 293,095 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of yesterday morning, 15,473 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 629 deaths; there have been 126,819 cases in Maryland with 3,813 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 150,803 cases with 3,270 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services released guidelines for Halloween on Friday, recommending that people skip trick-or-treating and opt for virtual or socially distanced events instead. The guidelines ask tricker-or-treaters to not go door to door soliciting treats or gather for parties this Halloween. “Trunk-or-treating,” in which children go from vehicle to vehicle, is also not recommended. It is difficult to maintain “proper physical distancing” during those activities, according to a news release from the county. Gatherings of more than 50 people are not allowed under existing public health guidelines. Instead, county officials encouraged virtual parties, costume contests and pumpkin carving. They also encouraged people to decorate their yards and hold car parades or drive-through events in which people remain in their vehicles and observe Halloween displays. In the drive-through events, people could receive treat bags, according to the press release. Restaurants can hold Halloween-themed meals outdoors. During a call with private school leaders on Friday, Ear; Stoddard, the county’s director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said the guidelines are to help keep people safe. But, he said, “We won’t have people out monitoring the streets to make sure trick-or-treating won’t occur.” County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said allowable activities are intended to let people “enjoy the spirit of the moment” while adhering to public health guidelines.
The Virginia State Corporation Commission on Thursday denied a request by Gov. Ralph Northam to extend the utility disconnection moratorium to Dec. 1, citing a prior order that explicitly said the board “will not extend the moratorium beyond Oct. 5, 2020.” The decision came hours after Northam sent a letter to the commission asking it for another extension “to give the legislature the time they need to finish their work and address this issue.” Budget proposals in both the House and the Senate include a provision that would extend the ban to 60 days after the end of Virginia’s state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic or until “the prohibition does not need to be in place.” The House has passed its budget and the Senate was actively debating its version of the proposal as the SCC’s reply came. Lawmakers still have to reconcile the two plans. Northam’s letter said his request was intended “to ensure there are no disconnections between the expiration of the current order and when the budget becomes law.” The SCC has repeatedly told the General Assembly that the current ban is not sustainable without a legislative solution. In denying Northam’s request, however, the commission emphasized that consumer protections established in prior orders remain in force, including an order that all jurisdictional utilities offer extended payment plans of up to 12 months for customers unable to pay their bills due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A Northam spokesperson called the payment plans “good news” but said “protections need to go further. The governor proposed stronger, more permanent protections in the state budget he sent the General Assembly,” she said in a statement. “Today’s SCC action heightens the urgency to act, and he renews his call for legislators to move quickly.”
Under an updated executive order issued Thursday, restaurants and bars in Montgomery County can apply for a late-night alcohol sales permit that allows them to serve booze until midnight. The county warned that establishments that receive permits should expect frequent, unscheduled inspections. Bars and restaurants also need dedicated staff or contractors whose sole job is enforcing social distancing and mask rules. Those who violate permit requirements face steep penalties. Establishments found to be in violation are subject to immediate revocation of the permit; suspension or revocation of their license to sell alcohol; and/or fines up to $20,000. There are also criteria that would immediately suspend the permits, such as if the county’s three-day test positivity average exceeds 3.25%; the three-day average of confirmed COVID-19 cases exceeds 100; there is an increased association of indoor and outdoor dining with COVID-19 positive contacts of greater than 3% combined; or more than 10% of inspected participants result in findings that warrant a citation, closure or revocation of a permit. Under Phase Two of Montgomery County’s reopening plan, restaurants and bars were originally allowed to reopen with dine-in hours and alcohol hours until midnight. But in early August, the county tightened restrictions, prohibiting establishments from serving alcohol to dine-in customers after 10 p.m. County Executive Marc Elrich said at the time the tightened restrictions came after data from the state’s contact-tracing teams found diners were more likely to flout social distancing rules late at night.
Metro station managers and police are set to begin distributing free face coverings to train riders who don’t have one. More than 10 weeks after the transit agency received its first shipment of face coverings and announced plans to distribute them, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said it has 1 million masks to give to riders. In late July, Metro said it had 500,000 masks from the U.S. Department of Transportation. But while some Metro police and station managers have given riders masks, the face coverings have generally been hard to find. Wiedefeld said distribution is beginning now. It took a while because the masks arrived in bulk. “We had an issue of people handling them [safely],” he said. “So we physically had to in effect, wrap each one of those … you can imagine the time it takes to do that.” In the meantime, the feds sent an additional 500,000 masks to WMATA, which will be distributed along with the original shipment. Metro also had plans to dispense hand sanitizer in stations, but that hasn’t happened either. Many riders have argued that masks should be provided if passengers are required to wear them. Several other transit agencies around the country, including Montgomery County’s Ride On locally, have provided masks to riders. Metro has required masks since May. “This a community issue. We all need to do our part,” Wiedefeld said. “It’s very frustrating, but we have to get the community basically to do the right thing … We don’t want to be the mask enforcement police.” A Metro survey said universal mask use was one factor that would make riders feel more comfortable coming back to the system. Metro has posted signs and other messages throughout the rail and bus system encouraging mask use. Metro ridership has been historically low during the pandemic, although it has crept back up recently. Last week, Metrorail ridership was down about 85-90% compared to the same week in 2019. Metrobus ridership was down about 60%.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday backed a lawsuit filed by Capitol Hill Baptist Church against D.C. last month, saying the city must permit outdoor worship “at least to the same extent” it allows other outdoor activity protected by the First Amendment. In the lawsuit filed in late September, the church argued that D.C. violated its First and Fifth Amendment rights by refusing to allow the church’s entire congregation, which numbers roughly 850 people, to gather for worship. Under current Phase Two guidelines, houses of worship in the city may hold services of up to 100 people or 50% of their permitted capacity, whichever is less. On Friday, the DOJ filed a statement of interest in the case — essentially laying out the U.S. government’s interests in ongoing litigation — saying that both the Constitution and federal law mandate that the city permits the church’s request to worship outdoors. “One of the most foundational rights protected by the Bill of Rights is the free exercise of religion,” acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin said in a press release. “The Department of Justice is committed to upholding all the civil rights protecte d under the First Amendment, be it peaceable assembly in protest or practicing faith.” In the lawsuit, the church alleged that D.C. officials have been “discriminatory” in their use of limits toward outdoor gatherings in that they appear to show a preference for “certain expressive gatherings over others,” referring to citywide protests. While the church says in the suit that it supports the right to protest, it says D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has not acted fairly in allowing large gatherings for protests but not for religious worship. The mayor’s office has not commented. Bowser was expected to respond to the church motion in writing by the end of Friday. The church said in the suit it has regularly offered services since its founding in 1878. In March, it halted services for the first time since the 1918 flu pandemic, according to senior pastor Mark Dever. The church has declined to offer virtual services, saying in the lawsuit that “there is no substitute” for weekly in-person gatherings of the full congregation. The lawsuit also alleges that Bowser and the city violated First and Fifth Amendment rights which, respectively, safeguard the freedoms of speech and religion, and say persons cannot be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” It said in the suit that it applied for a waiver regarding large-group gatherings outdoors but was denied. The suit was the first by a religious entity to challenge D.C.’s COVID-19 restrictions. The statement of interest said the church’s claim that its Constitutional rights were violated and that the city cannot favor one form of expression over another. “The United States’ brief explains there is no Constitutional or statutory basis for allowing protests and rallies attended by thousands of people, but silencing religious worship,” said a DOJ press release. “The brief also explains the city bears a high burden of proof to justify its actions under the First Amendment and [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] because its actions impose a ‘substantial burden’ on religious exercise, as the church has shown here.” The RFRA is a 1993 law that originally barred state and federal government entities from “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion,” and now applies only to federal laws, as well as those in D.C. and U.S. territories. More than 20 states, including Virginia, have passed their own acts. The statement of interest filed Friday is part of a widescale effort by the DOJ to examine government practices nationwide that may infringe on civil liberties during the pandemic. In May, the DOJ filed a statement of interest regarding a Virginia church that sued Gov. Ralph Northam after the church was cited for violating an executive order that then limited gatherings to no more than 10 people. In its statement, the department also argued that religious gatherings should not be held to a different standard than ones that aren’t religious.
Montgomery County health officials are urging local childcare centers to not increase capacity after Maryland allowed the move. County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said current COVID-19 metrics in the county has him worried about making the move. “We do have significant concerns about increasing the capacity for child care centers, particularly given the sustained moderate to medium high transmission levels for the county,” Gayles said. On Thursday, State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced that childcare centers could increase from 10-15 individuals per classroom to full capacity. But according to Gayles, the county’s current COVID-19 numbers do not support that decision. Overall, Gayles said that while the county’s positivity rate remains firm, a decrease in cases the county is looking for has not been seen. His concern is also that the seven-day average of cases per 100,000 residents has been rising since last Saturday. “We have not seen a sustained drop in cases to get us to lower levels of community transmission that would allow us to feel more comfortable and confident that we can open up more aspects of our society safely,” Gayles said. He said the concern for childcare centers comes as the county and state continue to see a higher percentage of new coronavirus cases in people between the ages of 0-19 years old. “I think we are learning that children can be effective carriers and transmitters of COVID, just as effectively as adults can be,” Gayles said. While capacity restrictions for daycare centers fall to the state, Gayles said the county will be reaching out to childcare centers to make sure operators are aware of the recommendations the county is making.
Maryland reported no new COVID-19 deaths on Thursday for the first time since the state saw its first coronavirus case in late March. From April through September, officials reported at least one coronavirus-related death daily, peaking in May at 74. Gov. Larry Hogan tweeted the news Thursday morning, attributing the milestone to “heroic efforts of doctors, nurses and healthcare workers at the front lines.” Maryland’s has reported 125,510 confirmed cases, with 785 new cases reported yesterday morning, the largest single-day increase since mid-September with the majority of cases in highly populated counties including Prince George’s, Montgomery and Baltimore. There have been 3,805 confirmed coronavirus deaths in the state. The Maryland Department of Health reported 331 patients are currently hospitalized with 74 people in intensive care. Maryland saw testing volume jump due in part to Hogan’s effort to deploy 250,000 rapid tests across the state. The COVID-19 positivity rate continues to remain below the World Health Organization’s recommended 5% benchmark at 2.88%.
Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia’s largest school system, extended the deadline for some faculty and staff members to decide whether they will return to the classroom. Previously, FCPS gave a group of teachers and classroom instructional support staff until today to decide and let the school district know their intention whether to return in support of in-person instruction. They now have until 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to respond. The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers asked for an extension after it said teachers were initially given two days to decide. “This isn’t a decision that can be made lightly since the district has not been transparent in its safety mechanisms, and the plans they have shown fall short of what we need,” said union president Tina Williams. The district said it regrets the anxiety that staff members felt. It also pointed to detailed plans presented to the school board last month regarding phased-in reopening of schools for the most vulnerable students. “Following that meeting last week, teachers and other instructional staff were notified about the specific cohorts of students that would start in-person instruction this month. The cohorts include career and technical education classes, preschool autism classes, English language learners and other special education students,” FCPS spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said in a statement. She said the students represent 3.5% of the total student population, and 653 teachers and staff are needed to provide them instruction. In a survey of 1,335 federation members that will be published next week, 85.7% said they lack confidence in the school system’s plan as written, with 69.5% specifically citing that they do not feel safe, Williams said. The union said teachers and staff were given the choice to return to in-person work, take a leave of absence or resign. Caldwell said the district received more than 2,000 staff requests for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the school system assesses other options within the schools for which employees qualify and can telework if their requests cannot be accommodated. FCPS also offered unpaid leave for the remainder of the school year in order to preserve jobs. “For employees who request non-ADA telework — the need to telework due to a family member’s health risk, child care concerns or personal preference, FCPS’ ability to honor these requests is limited based on the number of students returning for in-person instruction,” Caldwell said. And for those who are designated to return to work but choose not to, “FCPS strives to offer an unpaid leave of absence option, subject to school board approval,” Caldwell said.
Indoor visitation at Maryland nursing homes and 100% capacity at daycare centers are back as a result of the state’s stabilizing COVID-19 health metrics. Effective immediately, nursing homes and elder care facilities are allowed to have in-person visitations, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday. “As a result of new federal and state guidelines, and our advances in rapid testing, indoor visitation is now able to begin in all nursing homes that are not experiencing an outbreak or have not experienced any new positive cases in the last 14 days,” he said. Federal guidelines say that those indoor visits must stop if a jurisdiction’s positivity rate rises above 10%. Hogan said the state is committing an additional $6 million in funding to pay for the testing of nursing home staff members. Additionally, Hogan said that all of Maryland’s 227 nursing homes are set to receive rapid coronavirus testing supplies by next week. The statewide positivity rate has dipped to below 3% and has remained there for several weeks. According to State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon, child care centers will be able to raise their children-to-teacher ratio to whatever a given establishment is permitted for. She said it is the state’s hope that it will cut back on the amount of unlicensed childcare operations that have been going on in the absence of space in typical programs. “Hopefully, this action will assist in limiting the many unregulated and illegal childcare providers and operators that have sprung up in recent months as ‘pandemic pods,’” Salmon said. “Where there are no criminal background checks, no oversight and parents cannot be sure that their children are in a safe environment.” Licensed childcare centers must contact the licensing specialist at the Maryland State Department of Education to begin the reopening process.
As of Wednesday, the Montgomery County Board of Elections had received almost 326,000 mail-in ballot requests for the November election. Marylanders who want a mail-in ballot have to request one, and Montgomery County residents have been doing so in droves. “As of (Wednesday), we’ve had 325,998 requests for ballots, and we have processed and sent to the state all but about 50,000 that are being worked on now,” Board of Elections President Jim Shalleck told the county council during its virtual meeting Thursday. “Once we send them to the state, the state will then send out the ballots. Many people have gotten ballots. As a matter of fact, as we talk, we have received 4,293 votes. So it’s starting to come in and it’s going to pick up very, very heavy,” he added. The county plans to eventually have 50 ballot drop boxes. At least half are already in place. Early, in-person voting in the state begins Oct. 26 and continues through Nov. 2 at 11 sites. On Election Day, the number of county voting centers increase to nearly 40. When the state’s early voting plan was first announced, Shalleck was worried about finding enough election judges. “That has turned out not to be the case. People in this county have stepped up big time. We’re going to have 3,419 judges for early voting, and on Election Day — because it’s only one day — we’re going to have 2,200 election judges.” Shalleck said. Although the county is still looking for Republican and bilingual judges, he said voting centers will be fully staffed. During Thursday’s meeting, Shalleck was asked if the board has prepared for the possibility of voter intimidation, following President Donald Trump’s remark during Tuesday’s debate that people should “go into the polls and watch very carefully.” “I’m telling you, our board has zero…zero tolerance for any intimidation or wrongdoing at the polls,” Shalleck said. “Once we get any indication of improprieties or intimidation, we will send staff there to see if it can be resolved. If not, it will become a police matter.”
The free Rosslyn Cinema returns to Gateway Park, 1300 Lee Highway, Fridays from Oct. 2-23. “We want people to be able to come out to enjoy, to not have to worry about anything,” Rosslyn BID president Mary-Claire Burick told WTOP. “Making this a safe environment for people to just relax, kick back and forget about all the craziness around us.” The lineup kicks off with The Princess and the Frog tonight followed by You’ve Got Mail on Oct. 9, Remember the Titans on Oct. 16 and Hocus Pocus on Oct. 23. Alcohol is not permitted and there will not be any food vendors at the park, but moviegoers are encouraged to order takeout from a number of nearby Rosslyn restaurants or pack a picnic. All moviegoers are required to wear masks, and hand sanitizer will be available on-site. Space is limited and reservations will be available beginning the Wednesday before each show. “We can have groups of one to six that can reserve tickets,” Burick said. “The reservation system is what’s allowing us to have that proper distancing. As a bonus, each person or group is going to get a brand new blanket to mark their spot. Of course, you can take the blanket home. It’s a really cool, rolled-up blanket with a handle.” Gates open at 6:15 p.m. with with movies at sundown.
Strathmore, the performing arts center in North Bethesda, is accused of violating a previously agreed-upon contract and of acting “illegally” by the the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). The local labor union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the music center of unfair labor practices in response to the layoffs of 19 full and part-time box office ticket sellers in July. The union alleges that the layoffs violated a tentative agreement reached in April in which a minimum staffing requirement was set. “[Strathmore] is making up the rules as they go along. They are deciding what they will and will not follow. And that’s… illegal,” said Anne Vantine, the business agent for IATSE Local 868 which represents Strathmore’s box office employees. “They can’t rewrite a contract because they don’t like it.” Strathmore president and CEO Monica Jeffries Hazangeles said in a statement that “drastic” declines in revenue and an unclear timeline for the industry’s recovery forced the venue to “take new measures to ensure our ongoing financial sustainability. Whether through layoff, furlough or reduced compensation, every single member of our team has been impacted in some way. We care about all of our colleagues, and we know that these are challenging times for everyone. Throughout the pandemic, we have continued to meet with our ticket office colleagues to negotiate and we remain committed to working with our team members from IATSE Local 868 to come to an agreement soon,” the statement said. Like many arts and music venues during the pandemic, Strathmore, which is the National Philharmonic’s base and D.C.-area home to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, has reported a steep decline in revenue — more than 35% as of late July. According to IATSE, the music venue posted a “record-breaking” $5 million in ticket revenue in 2019 and ended the year with a surplus. There are events currently on Strathmore’s calendar, including an outdoor arts installation called Monuments: Creative Forces that runs through this month with timed tickets. Vantine said the employees she represents, if brought back to their jobs, could help bring in more revenue. “If we’re able to service patrons and sell tickets and get people in to the planned performances, that would increase revenue,” she said. “Our job is to increase revenue.” With the layoffs, Strathmore has one person doing the job of our four full-time people, said Vantine, who added that she believes the layoffs are partly in retaliation against the employees for unionizing.
D.C. officials face a daunting fiscal picture for the next few years as the financial repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic continue to hurt city pockets. Starting today, the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser will try to figure out how to fill a $211 million gap for the next fiscal year, a hole that will grow to almost $600 million over the next four years. Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt presented the revised financial estimates on Wednesday, updating numbers that were last presented in April. “Back on April 24, we had just started to shut down and thought we’d be back by Fourth of July,” DeWitt said. “A lot of things we made assumptions about back in April. Now we know a lot more about the virus… how businesses are responding to the COVID recession.” There was one bit of good news, though. According to the new revenue estimate, D.C. is finishing the current fiscal year, which ended yesterday, $222 million better than previously expected, when revenue losses were expected to approach $600 million. That is mainly thanks to federal funds that gave people an additional $600 in unemployment benefits, the Paycheck Protection Program and the one-time $1,200 payment to most Americans, DeWitt said. The stock market has also recovered after a 30% loss. DeWitt said about three-quarters of the city’s economy is performing well, and that telecommuting has aided the region’s large white-collar job sector. He described the current situation as a “hospitality recession,” meaning that hotels, restaurants, bars and tourism are the hardest hit sectors. He also mentioned colleges and sectors like office support and janitorial services taking a hit. “Scars are less than they would be otherwise,” he said. “But what does it look like going forward?” DeWitt said the recovery is occurring much more slowly than anticipated in April. While Bowser’s Reopen D.C. plan gave the city a framework towards a return to normalcy, D.C. hasn’t yet progressed past Phase Two. DeWitt predicted that indoor dining and bar restrictions would continue through at least the end of the year, large events would not return until a vaccine is widely available next fall and most conventions would be canceled through 2021. All of that, he said, would continue to hurt the hospitality industry and the city. Sales tax revenue will remain lower than expected, property tax collection will decline because of increased vacancies and deed taxes will stay down because of fewer office and apartment building sales. “There is considerable uncertainty in the forecast and we cannot assume, given the extensive disruptions to the economy, that things will quickly return to pre-pandemic levels,” DeWitt wrote in a letter to Bowser and city lawmakers. “There could be lingering effects on shopping, work and travel patterns, along with changes in the interest in moving to and working in the District of Columbia and other cities.” He said additional federal assistance will be key to preventing the recession from spreading, but he isn’t expecting as widespread relief as the CARES Act initially provided. The expectations could improve if a vaccine arrives more quickly, federal relief is larger, health metrics improve or tourists return. It could get worse with a delayed vaccine, no federal support, a second wave of COVID-19 and the recession spreading to other industries. “We’re very financially strong, used reserves responsibility, made adjustments responsibly, but do have reduced revenue that requires actions by government to bring (the budget) back into balance,” DeWitt said. Speaking Wednesday, neither Bowser nor Council Chairman Phil Mendelson would discuss how to address the financial hole the city faces in the coming years. “We have work to do and look forward to working with the council about how to approach it,” Bowser said. Mendelson said he suspects D.C. is better off than other jurisdictions, but said it is still not a pretty picture. Bowser said they likely won’t be able to go back to the same well they did to bridge this year’s gap, including hiring freezes and spending freezes, belt-tightening from almost every department and drawing on the city’s rainy-day fund. That could mean layoffs and conversations around tax increases, although Bowser would not comment on the specific possibility of an increase on high-income earners. “We will find the money,” Bowser said. “I’m confident we will reach a balanced budget that continues to invest in the District’s priorities.”
Montgomery County is making sure it has an adequate stockpile of medical supplies in the event of another spike of the coronavirus in the fall or winter. Noting that the community transmission rate of the virus are at relatively low levels — currently 2.6% in the county — County Executive Marc Elrich on Wednesday urged residents to still make an appointment to get a coronavirus test. “This continues to be really important for our public health program, and we only succeed in the extent that we can get as many people tested as possible,” Elrich said during a press conference. “Without that, we’ll continue to not fully understand the extent of COVID inside of our community. That is particularly important because in the likelihood of a resurgence, we wanted to make sure that if that does come back, that the stepping off point for a resurgence is as low as we can possibly make it — so we’re starting with as little community transmission as we can possibly have,” he added. Montgomery County residents can find more information about COVID-19 testing options near them on the county’s website. Over the summer, the county procured 50 ventilators as part of a request that was placed in April, Elrich said. Officials have also made efforts to increase their stockpile of personal protective equipment and other medical gear in the event that a second wave of the virus strikes the county. “We made a decision in the beginning that we would accumulate supplies for a second surge — that we were not gonna go into the fall and wait for a surge to happen and have to scramble around like everybody had to scramble around last time,” Elrich said. “So, we’ve been buying and making sure that we’ve got supplies on hand so that we can handle this, and I think we’re in a lot better position than we were when this began.” Elrich also said the county would be making some allowances for restaurants to serve alcohol after 10 p.m. This would not be a shift out of Phase Two of the county’s reopening plan, but a modification to the existing executive order. Restaurants would have to apply for a permit that would allow them to serve alcohol later in the evening, but only restaurants that have not had any citations against them for their operations during the pandemic would be considered during the first round of permitting, Elrich said. The county is also offering grants to area restaurants that would like to winterize their outdoor seating with tents, heaters and furniture. Those items are eligible for reimbursement under the Reopen Montgomery Grant Program. Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said efforts are underway to create safety guidelines for Halloween activities. He said those will be released in the next several days.
Safeway pharmacies throughout the DMV are selling an at-home COVID-19 test kit for $139.99. The saliva-based tests Safeway is offering are in partnership with Phosphorus Diagnostics. Test results are available in 72 hours or less, according to Safeway. Getting a test kit and results is fairly straight forward. The first step is completing a short online medical questionnaire, then requesting the kit from the location of choice. Safeway will contact buyers for payment information and send notification when the test is ready for either pickup or delivery. It did not say how long it takes from requesting a test kit to getting it. Once received, customers complete the sample collection and send it to the lab in the kit’s prepaid next-day shipping envelope. Safeway will provide test results either by email or text. A Safeway pharmacist will also be available for follow-up questions. Safeway will not bill insurance companies directly for the test. The cost is out of pocket, but may be reimbursable by individual insurance companies. Phosphorus Diagnostics received Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in June. Albertsons Companies, Safeway’s parent company, said it expects to roll out the test kits to all markets where it has stores across the U.S. in October.
The first wave of hundreds of large ballot drop boxes are being installed across Maryland this week. Last month, the State Board of Elections approved the first large-scale use of the ballot drop boxes for the election as an alternative to mailing completed ballots. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, many regular polling places are closed, and election officials are urging voters to vote by mail, even with concerns about long delivery times by the U.S. Postal Service. The ballot drop boxes are made of 400 pounds of weatherproof galvanized steel equipped with hardened steel padlocks and special 44-gallon “MegaBins” for holding the ballots. The use of the drop boxes is mostly new ground for local election officials. Four years ago, there were no such boxes, and only a handful in most counties for the spring primary. During the June primary, there were five drop boxes in Prince George’s County, and about 42,000 voters or 16% of all primary voters dropped their ballots in them. “We anticipate that will quadruple — at least,” Alisha Alexander, elections administrator for Prince George’s County, said during a county council hearing last week. By Election Day, there are plans for the county to have 42 drop boxes. She said the drop boxes are very expensive to maintain. “They’re No. 1 expensive, as a whole, to manufacture. They’re expensive to transport … And in addition to that, we have to provide 24-hour physical security on each drop box.” Overall, the county board of elections said all of the 2020 elections changes — including ballot drop box security — has caused the county to go $3.5 million over its planned budget. In addition, elections workers will retrieve ballots from the boxes multiple times a day. State Board of Elections officials, which bought the boxes from a company that produces recycling and clothing donation bins, said last week the delivery of the first wave of drop-off boxes this week is happening on schedule. Local elections officials are optimistic they can handle the challenges. “Our goal is to secure those locations, empty out those bins,” said Gilberto Zelaya, community engagement and public information officer for the Montgomery County Board of Elections. Crews began installing the drop boxes Monday. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties will each see nearly two dozen boxes installed this week in high schools, community centers and fire departments, many of which will also open as early voting locations next month. You can view the full list of drop boxes in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County online. “When we selected these locations, we used measurements and data,” Zelaya said of the process in Montgomery County. “We looked at density; we looked at socioeconomics; we’ll look at traffic patterns. We just didn’t … select the locations and drop a box — we’re looking at traffic patterns, and also voting patterns.” By Election Day, 50 ballot drop-off boxes are expected to be in Montgomery County, the most of any in the state — in the June primary, there were only seven in the county. Once installed, the ballot boxes will need to be emptied out at least twice a day by a bipartisan pair of election workers, Zelaya said. Some high-traffic boxes could be emptied even more frequently. As a safety precaution, ballots will be stored at the board of elections for 24 hours before they are sorted and scanned, Zelaya said. With the integrity of the election process at the top of everyone’s mind, local election boards are preparing a range of security measures to make sure ballots are protected. The boxes are physically locked and election teams will seal the boxes with “tamper tape,” that would let election workers know if someone has tried to snoop around them. The county has procedures in place if election workers find evidence any of the boxes have been meddled with. In addition, Zelaya said, all of the county’s drop boxes would be under 24-hour video surveillance. Prince George’s County is implementing even stronger security measures. Alexander told county lawmakers the board of elections plans to provide “24-hour physical security” for each of the county’s 42 drop boxes. “We will have someone stationed at that drop box 24 hours to make sure that they’re not tampered with,” Alexander said.
This week, the D.C. Public Library released 88 photos collected from residents documenting the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in the city, including a bottle of hand sanitizer, an abandoned Metro station and a shuttered Ward 6 high school. The photos are part of the library system’s new Archive This Moment collection. “Telling the District’s stories of COVID-19 from the viewpoint of the people who experienced it makes the Archive This Moment D.C. collection an invaluable resource for the District,” said DCPL executive director Richard Reyes-Gavilan in the press release. “Some of the most important accounts of history are first-person,” Reyes-Gavilan added. “This collection will help future researchers understand how Washingtonians reacted to the pandemic, and how quickly it changed the way we all lived.” On March 25, the day after D.C. ordered the closure of all nonessential businesses, DCPL put out a call asking for images that told “the story of this moment,” specifically asking folks to use the social media hashtag #archivethismomentdc. Over the next two months, the library received more than 2,000 images, texts, audio recordings and videos. Some people even wrote poetry and posted it to social media, said Kerrie Cotton Williams, manager of the People’s Archive and an archivist on the project. The majority of the images are from April, when residents were just beginning to grapple with the notion that life might not be getting back to normal for a while. “We were seeing through our own… social media accounts like Twitter and Facebook, that people were already documenting their experiences,” said Williams. “We really focused on how to [get] people to donate to this collection. Using a hashtag was the easiest way that we found to do that.” Librarians continue to organize and catalog all the received material, and plan to release more photos from the collection in the future. All items added to the collection have identifiers so they can be found easily within the digital database. Additionally, librarians saved the original tweets and Instagram posts that accompany the photos as PDF files in order to preserve the context, accompanying text and emojis. All four quadrants of the city are represented in the images, the library said, including images featuring at least 18 neighborhoods across the city. When completed, the Archive This Moment collection will consist of numerous images, videos and pieces of audio that document this unique moment in the DMV’s history. The project joins other notable archives that the library system has put together and made accessible to the public in recent years, including a D.C. punk music archive as well as one devoted to go-go music. The Archive This Moment collection is housed online at Dig DC, which is the library’s digital archives for digitized and born-digital special collections. Williams thinks theproject was not only useful for DCPL to archive this moment in history, but for people who were trying to share this experience together. “I think that people were finding community in social media platform,” said Williams. “[They were] creating a good community and sharing experiences that are particular to D.C.”
The Society Restaurant & Lounge, 8229 Georgia Ave. in downtown Silver Spring, was ordered to close due to multiple violations of the county’s COVID-19 health order. The restaurant was ordered to close immediately on Tuesday, according to a copy of the county’s directive. It states that county officials determined that the restaurant is unsafe and “poses an unreasonable risk of exacerbating the spread of COVID-19” due to violations that were found during inspections on July 3 and 12 and Sept. 26. During all three inspections, Society violated social distancing guidelines, according to a log of county businesses that have been cited for violating the order. During the Sept. 26 inspection, county inspectors found that customers were dancing on a stage on the rooftop without wearing masks and were not social distancing. Some customers were dancing by their tables without masks and were less than six feet from others, the report stated. Society received a $500 citation for the violations reported in the most recent inspection. County health inspectors also issued a $500 fine to Amy’s Tex-Mex Bar & Grill, 621 Sligo Ave., Silver Spring, on Sept. 26. According to the report, the fine was issued because people were smoking hookah on the outdoor patio. Currently, county guidelines allow hookah bars to operate, but only for retail sales. Smoking on site is not allowed. Amy’s owner Jose Mardiaja said Tuesday that he doesn’t sell hookah at his restaurant. He said he didn’t understand why he was fined, since the customer smoking hookah wasn’t in the restaurant. “He’s on the patio. He’s not inside. I don’t sell hookah in my place. I only sell beer, wine and liquor,” he said. The county health department has been issuing citations and warnings or shutting down businesses for COVID-19-related violations, such as not social distancing or having live music or dancing.
Almost two weeks into early voting, thousands of Northern Virginians are casting ballots daily, indicating a surge of voter enthusiasm as well as concerns about the U.S. Postal Service and the pandemic. Fairfax County spokesperson Brian Worthy estimated that some 1,000 people are voting every day. In Prince William County, about 2,000 people are voting daily, said Matthew Wilson from the county’s office of elections. In Alexandria, more than 900 people on average vote each day, according to city spokesperson Craig Fifer. Previously, early and absentee voters used to have to give a reason, such as being out of town or ill, for why they could not vote on Election Day. This year the General Assembly did away with that requirement. Further, after the pandemic began, voters in Virginia and across the country began requesting absentee ballots in record numbers. Finally, recent cuts in to the USPS triggered panic among absentee voters who worried their ballots might not arrive in time. The combination led to a line last week of people waiting to vote early at the Fairfax County Government Center that snaked out from the entrance, ran down the sidewalk and doubled back. Wilson from Prince William County said voters there personally delivered between 500 and 1,000 absentee ballots a day. In Alexandria, Fifer said nearly 300 people were dropping off absentee ballots per day. In an election that has been transformed by the pandemic, Virginia voters are also making their choices based on how they believe their leaders are handling the coronavirus. In a poll published Tuesday by Christopher Newport University, 48% of voters said they believed Biden would be better when it comes to responding to COVID-19, compared to 36% who favored Trump. Virginia voters also told pollsters they supported changes to policing including training on de-escalation, requiring body-worn cameras and requiring officers to intervene when a colleague uses unlawful force; measures that are part of a Democratic-led push for police reform underway in the state legislature’s current special session. Virginia’s early voting runs longer than any other jurisdiction in the region. Although D.C. and Maryland have started sending out mail-in ballots, both will only allow early voting beginning the week before Election Day. Across the region, voters can mail in their absentee ballots, they can take them to the election office or they can leave them at secure drop boxes. The deadline to register to vote in Virginia, D.C. and Maryland is Oct. 13, although in D.C. and Maryland voters can also register to vote on Election Day. Virginia does not provide same-day registration.
Jury trials resume next Monday in Maryland courts, marking the final phase of the court system’s COVID-19 reopening plan. Courts in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia have continued to perform most functions since the March outbreak of the coronavirus, but jury trials across all three were put on hold. “Jury trials require the assembly of large groups of citizens in order to allow the selection of an impartial jury,” said Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera. “New courtroom layouts include plexiglass shields and distanced seating.” In a video from by the Maryland Judiciary, courtrooms, jury assembly rooms and jury deliberation rooms have been reconfigured to maximize social distancing. Seating is limited in courtrooms. Since jury selection for a high-profile case can require a pool of more than a hundred potential jurors, “additional rooms and buildings may be utilized to allow social distancing as required.” While Montgomery and Prince George’s County’s Circuit Court buildings contain dozens of courtrooms, most courthouses are much smaller: “Jurors and court visitors should note that jury environments will differ by jurisdictions due to the differences in the various circuit court building layouts.” People entering Maryland courthouses must wear a mask, answer questions about COVID-19-related symptoms and submit to a contactless thermometer temperature check. Those conditions will continue, as jury trials resume. In Virginia, individual court systems must submit plans for restarting jury trials. So far, circuit courts in Alexandria, Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford, among others, have been cleared to hold jury trials again with safety measures in place. In D.C., jury trials in Superior Court remain paused.
Dolcezza will close five of its gelato and coffee shops in October. Owners Violeta Edelman and Robb Duncan announced on the company’s website Tuesday that its shops in Bethesda Row, The Wharf, CityCenterDC, Logan Circle and Dupont Circle will close. Its coffee bar in the Hirshhorn Museum lobby, as well as its two stores in Fairfax’s Mosaic District will “remain open with no plans to close.” The statement did not address the fate of the company’s Union Market factory or its stall at the Dupont Circle FarmFresh Market on Sundays. Dolcezza products will still be available in some grocery stories, including all Whole Foods stores nationwide, as well as by delivery, according to the statement. “Our world and our industry has been rocked to its core this year, and we are adapting with it to make it through to the other side,” the Dolcezza wrote in a Twitter thread . “We are immensely grateful for the privilege of sharing space with you all over the last 16 years.” Dolcezza joins other local businesses facing a harsh reality because of the coronavirus pandemic. Numerous restaurants, some of them longtime mainstays of the food and nightlife scene, have closed in the last few months. Like Dolcezza, a handful of local chains have downsized during the pandemic, including Matchbox, Peregrine Espresso and the Hilton Brothers’ restaurant group. In June, Duncan and Edelman signed a Washington Post op-ed asking landlords to provide rent relief for bars and restaurants. “If we do not receive some rent relief soon, landlords’ alternatives won’t be other tenants paying boom-time rents: It may well be no restaurant and bar tenants at all,” read the op-ed from Simone Jacobson, co-owner of Thamee, and Derek Brown, president of Drink Company. “Nobody wins if D.C. storefronts are left empty and our once passionate and thrilling bar and restaurant scene is no more.” Dolcezza closed its retail locations in March, when the coronavirus pandemic began and gradually reopened as local governments lifted stay-at-home orders. Dolcezza first opened in 2004 in Georgetown. It grew from a single shop into a successful local chain and national brand. This past January, the gelato products launched in more than 500 Whole Foods locations around the country. But the pandemic wasn’t Dolcezza’s first financial challenge. In 2018, it lowered its baristas’ hourly pay several dollars, switching to a tipped wage system. The owners argued it was necessary to stay afloat as the cost doing business in D.C. continued to rise. In their announcement, the owners did not specify what dates the five stores would close, only that it would be during the month of October. “We hope you will come spend some time with us over the next couple weeks,” they wrote.
With air travel slowly rebounding following a coronavirus drop, the Transportation Security Administration is installing acrylic booths and barriers at security checkpoints to protect travelers and workers. Ronald Reagan Washington National and Dulles International airports are the 37 airports getting the getting acrylic barriers, the TSA said in a press release Tuesday. The TSA said the barriers are being installed in areas where officers usually interact with passengers, including document checking podiums at the front of security lines and near the X-ray machines where travelers prepare their carry-on luggage for screening. “The installation of these barriers is one of several initiatives that TSA has put in place at security checkpoints and other points of contact with TSA officers and the public with the goal of reducing the likelihood of cross-contamination among travelers and employees,” said Scott T. Johnson, the agency’s federal security director for both Reagan National and Dulles airports, in the press release. “These shields provide a helpful layer of protection to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.” Overall, the TSA plans to install 1,230 plastic barriers at 37 “priority” airports across the U.S. Air travel dropped in the spring amid the initial wave of coronavirus stay-at-home orders. It has since rebounded slightly, although the number of daily passengers screened by the TSA remains far below this time last year. On Monday, for example, about 797,000 passengers were screened by the TSA, compared to more than 2.3 million on the same day last year.
The Washington Monument is set to reopen to the public this Thursday, Oct. 1, at 9 a.m. with limited capacity and health procedures aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus following a six month closure. The monument will be open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., 7 days a week, according to the National Park Service. Tickets will only be available online in advance, with no walk-up option. Tickets, which were previously free, now include a $1.50 non-refundable reservation fee with each ticket good for a group of up to four people. Visitors can purchase tickets starting at 10 a.m. the day before their visit, starting on Sept. 30. Visitors must wear masks and will be limited eight or fewer per elevator ride. Once at the observation platform, each group will be limited to 10 minutes. The monument will be closed from 1-2 p.m. daily for disinfecting.
Small groups of students will return to some D.C. Public Schools buildings over the next several weeks for in-person learning opportunities including tutoring, physical education and career and technical education. General classes will remain online, said Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee during a press conference Monday. Ballou STAY Opportunity Academy reopened Monday for students enrolled in the cosmetology and barbering programs. A dozen other buildings are expected to reopen through October, including Bancroft Elementary School, Cardozo Education Campus, Eastern High School, Kramer Middle School and Roosevelt STAY. Between 20-50 students are expected to be on each campus each day to receive the extra support, which could include art and outdoor learning. Principals at each of the schools submitted reopening plans to the city and Ferebee said all teachers who will provide the extra support have volunteered to return to campuses. Mayor Muriel Bowser did not announce broader plans to provide in-person classes across the school system, which enrolled more than 51,000 students last school year. Bowser has said she wants DCPS to offer a mix of in-person and virtual learning when the second grading period begins Nov. 9 and plans to share more about that possibility next week. City officials said Monday they have started inspecting and upgrading school HVAC systems to prepare for any larger return of students. At the city’s 80 elementary schools, contractors are responding to 24 pending work orders for HVAC systems.
Indoor pools and recreation centers run by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation will reopen on Tuesday, Oct. 13. The city will offer outdoor yoga, Zumba and gardenng, sports like tennis and pickleball, and activities for seniors, director Delano Hunter said during a press conference Monday. DPR will also host learning hubs at six locations, where students can use the internet and take part in supervised independent activities, offer a grab-and-go meal service and more. The city will reopen 29 recreation centers to host fall programming and other limited services, including 19 fitness centers and six indoor pools. The city will begin with the Marie Reed Aquatic Center, Wilson Aquatic Center, Takoma Aquatic Center, Turkey Thicket Aquatic Center, William H. Rumsey Aquatic Center and Barry Farm Aquatic Center. The department will add Deanwood Aquatic Center by December, Hunter said. Residents must reserve time slots to use the facilities and adhere to face mask requirements. Lockerrooms will not be open. High-touch services, like gym equipment, will be cleaned after every use. DPR will also begin issuing limited athletic permits for moderate-contact sports practices and low-contact sports games. “I just want to emphasize that all organized athletic activities require a permit,” Hunter said. Registration for programming, including reservations and permits, will open on Thursday on DPR’s website. The department hosted limited in-person programming for children over the summer, and Mayor Muriel Bowser cited their success in curbing the spread of coronavirus. More than 1,100 children participated in “some sort of in-person experience for summer camp,” supported by 500 DPR staff members, with no known COVID-19 cases traces back to those programs, she said.
The Virginia Department of Health launched a new pandemic dashboard designed in part to help localities determine whether it is safe to reopen schools and when to adopt mitigation measures if necessary to control the spread of COVID-19. Some of the dashboard information has been provided to local governments and health departments since the summer, but it is now being made available publicly and will be updated regularly. The dashboard provides a visualization of COVID-19 community transmission by region and shows data trends for COVID-19 in specific communities. “Communities across the commonwealth are facing different challenges as we all continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic,” Virginia State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver said in a news release Monday. “This pandemic dashboard provides data for communities to individualize and tailor response efforts to local needs. A community where cases are surging and hospital beds are filling up, for example, will require different response efforts from those in a community where cases are declining and hospital occupancy is low.” The dashboard also includes a CDC School Metrics tab, which uses metrics described by the CDC to guide decisions by school officials, taking into consideration the school’s ability to implement and adhere to key mitigation strategies to decrease transmission of COVID-19. Some of the CDC’s metrics and thresholds, released earlier this month, are different than those used by the state health department. Dr. Lilian Peake, the state epidemiologist for the Department of Health, said during a press conference Monday morning that the data will be monitored over the next two weeks. Some adjustments to metrics and thresholds may be made to bring them into closer alignment with the CDC measures. Community transmission data will be updated every Monday based on data through the preceding week. The first report shows that in the week ending Saturday Northern Virginia has a low rate of community transmission and a low burden in terms of the impact on the virus on the healthcare system and other factors. Metrics that will be updated daily by region include the average number of cases per 100,000 residents, diagnostic test positivity rate, number of outbreaks per 100,000 residents, emergency room visits for treatment of COVID-like symptoms and percent of cases among healthcare workers. “We want people to understand what’s going on in Virginia,” Peake said. “It’s really important to not look at just one metric, so that’s why we’re providing a variety of metrics.” The school measures are provided by locality and are compared to the CDC thresholds for the risk of transmission of the virus in schools. No composite measure is provided, as the health department emphasized that decisions about whether to reopen schools are up to individual localities, in consultation with local health officials and others. However, based on one measure, the number of cases over the prior 14 days, only a handful of Virginia localities fall into the CDC’s low risk or lower risk categories. Most of the state is in the two highest risk categories of the five the CDC provides. The state health department has also adjusted its outbreaks data to break out the current “Educational” category of outbreaks for K-12, childcare and higher education setting sub-categories. As of Monday morning, the department was reporting there had been 39 outbreaks at childcare facilities statewide, 27 in K-12 schools and 23 at colleges and universities. The department has not provided additional information about specifically where the outbreaks occurred. It defines an outbreak as two or more confirmed cases in one setting.
Up to 9 million people may have missed out on claiming $1,200 stimulus payments that were made to Americans this year under the federal CARES Act, and more than 431,000 of them live in the DMV. The Internal Revenue Service said on Monday that letters will go out this month to people who haven’t filed 2018 and 2019 federal tax returns, and typically aren’t required to file them because of low incomes, but may qualify for the payments, the IRS said in a statement. The IRS will send letters to 33,964 Washingtonians, 192,153 Marylanders and 205,600 Virginians. The letter will ask recipients to check online to see whether they are eligible. The deadline for registering for the payments of $1,200 per person or $2,400 per married couple is Oct. 15. “The IRS continues to work hard to reach people eligible for these payments,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in the statement. “We are releasing this state-by-state information so that state and local leaders and organizations can better understand the size of this population in their communities and assist them in claiming these important payments.”
On Friday, Montgomery County Public Schools employees received a letter telling them that school district officials and the labor unions representing teachers and staff are exploring ways to reopen classrooms safely. Citing “mutual interest” toward developing a “comprehensive plan for the eventual return to in-person instruction,” the letter said MCPS formally provided unions “the minimum 45-day notice required” under their contracts to “legally honor and preserve timelines.” But the letter added, “this does not mean that in-person instruction will begin in 45 days. Instead, it means that we can reopen impact bargaining and do more in-depth collaborative planning for the eventual return to instruction in buildings.” The letter, signed by Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith, Christine Handy, president of the Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals and the Montgomery County Business and Operations Administrators, Christopher Lloyd, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, and Pia Morrison, president of SEIU Local 500, said they “have been working together over the last several weeks to begin exploring strategies for an in-person return.” The letter does not say when classrooms will reopen, but it provides the unions a timeline for planning that would carry through until at least the second week of November. “We know that this news may cause apprehension for some people,” the letter stated. It said that “the safety of our students and staff is the top priority for us” and the school district, along with county health officials, are “all closely following state and local health metrics to guide our timing for a phased-in return.” On Thursday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan restated his position on bringing students back to in-person learning even though each district will make their own decision. “All 24 of our public school jurisdictions have now made the decision and submitted plans, which were approved yesterday by the Maryland State Department of Education, to at least begin bringing some students back safely into schools,” Hogan said. The plan submitted by MCPS includes a return sometime next year.
As D.C. Public Schools move forward with a plan to bring back some form of in-person learning in November, the union that represents school administrators is expressing concerns about the plan. Richard Jackson, president of the Council of School Officers, said DCPS principals have been getting information about a potential Nov. 9 in-person return, but no concrete plan has been laid out. Among the worries Jackson said are if there is enough time to make necessary repairs and put coronavirus precautions in place at the buildings that have mainly sat vacant since March. “What we’re hearing from principals is little to nothing has happened in preparation for that,” Jackson told WTOP. He said the projects that were expected include the installation of plexiglass dividers and the addition of markings that encourage social distancing. The union said it would like to see confirmation that all the schools have been deep cleaned. Little has been revealed about who will return in person and if it will only be hybrid learning, which has students in classes a couple days a week, according to Jackson. Whether or not DCPS turns to outdoor learning also remains a question. “Our school leaders are being asked to be prepared for in-person learning, not having a lot of details, and therefore not being able to prepare their communities,” Jackson said. DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said in a statement only that the school system continues to plan for a reopening, and on Friday met with school leaders about how they will receive guidance and technical assistance to make sure health and safety measures are in place. “It is our commitment that every school is prepared to meet their individual school community’s needs ahead of a potential reopening for Term 2 in November,” Ferebee said. Virtual learning has been difficult for teachers and this isn’t a case of administrators not wanting to see a return to classrooms, Jackson said. He said he believes to meet the Nov. 9 target date, DCPS will need to be more transparent about the process. “I think it can be done, we want it to be done, but we want it to be done in a healthy, safe way,” said Jackson. During a Sept. 17 press conference, Mayor Muriel Bowser said she would like to see DCPS institute a hybrid learning plan for the semester beginning Nov. 9. “We’re planning for a hybrid return to school,” Bowser said.
A teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School in Bethesda tested positive for COVID-19 and the school moved to virtual instruction only for all students for 14 days. Students in grades 6-8 are also required to quarantine for 14 days. The school, which serves students from pre-school through eighth grade, made the decision after consulting with the Archdiocese of Washington Catholic Schools and the Montgomery County Health Department, according to a letter Principal Amy Moore sent to families on Friday. The school expects to have students back in classrooms on Oct. 8. Moore wrote that the school has followed health guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting facilities, as well as for social distancing, wearing face coverings and washing hands frequently. “It is important to follow all guidelines provided at this time, including staying at home, continuing preventive measures, and practicing social distancing,” she wrote.
Ocean City Police arrested and charged more than 100 people over the weekend after an unpermitted car rally lured crowds of maskless 20-somethings to the resort town. The event known as H20i filled the beach town Friday and Saturday nights, despite efforts by police and Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan to keep it away. Meehan said when the gathering came through town last year, the downtown was overrun with “speeding, reckless driving, spinning of tires” and “demonstration driving,” prompting roughly 1,400 police citations and 100 arrests. This year, officials lowered speed limits and raised fines in an attempt to impose law and order, but videos posted to social media show how unsuccessful they were. Attendees in cars and on foot filled the downtown streets, sometimes setting off fireworks. Police cracked down on the event, hauling away 115 cars on Friday night alone. While the summer has seen a number of clashes between crowds and police, the event was not directly associated with ongoing protest movements. However, videos showing police tackling revelers circulated on social media Sunday, drawing criticism of heavy police tactics. Some attendees defended H20i, describing it as an innocent gathering of auto lovers. “It’s just a bunch of car people that like cars, want to drive and enjoy them,” attendee Alex Marbach told WJLA. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.” Authorities say the event was relatively peaceful Saturday, but erupted Saturday night as hundreds of attendees “became unruly and destructive.” Ocean City Police called in backup from state authorities and sheriff’s offices in Worcester, Wicomico and Queen Anne’s counties. “This is not a car show and the majority of these visitors are not car enthusiasts,” said Police Chief Ross Buzzuro. “They are here to disrupt, destroy and disrespect our community and our law enforcement officers.” It isn’t yet clear what impact H20i could have on the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Maryland. Worcester County, which includes Ocean City, had the highest positivity rate in Maryland in early September. As of Saturday, the county’s positivity rate was 7.07%, more than double that of the state.
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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.