Md. County Closes Schools After Reopening
COVID-19 Cases Reach 328,565 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 16,706 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 642 deaths; there have been 139,487 cases in Maryland with 3,945 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 172,372 cases with 3,578 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
Dorchester County Public Schools has closed its schools amid a spike in coronavirus cases after reopening. Dorchester County is located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore along Route 50 south of Easton and includes Cambridge. It is the first county in Maryland to scale back learning in classrooms after state officials pushed schools to reopen. “Over the last six days, the Dorchester County community has seen an increase in its COVID-19 positivity rate,” Supt. Dave Bromwell wrote in a Facebook post late Wednesday night. “The positivity rate has increased exponentially to make Dorchester County the third highest in the state of Maryland over this short period of time. Today alone our case rate was 30.9 giving Dorchester County a positivity rate of 6.1%. This is up from 2.5% on October 10, 2020. These both meet the health and safety metrics that require a reassessment.” Bromwell said he made the decision in collaboration with the Dorchester County Health Department. As of Friday, the county’s positivity rate had fallen slightly to 5.6%. County Health Officer Roger Harrell said the spike hasn’t been connected to a specific event or outbreak in any part of the county and has affected people across all ages. “We both have agreed that in the interest of health and safety and out of an abundance of caution, to close our school buildings,” Bromwell said. Thursday, Friday and Monday, students were scheduled for asynchronous learning and to return to phase one virtual learning beginning Tuesday. When and if students return, Bromwell said it could possibly be in phases as they did before. But it is too early to say for sure. “The last thing we want to do is constantly say announce this and then we change it a week or two later.”
Amid a rise in COVID-19 cases, Montgomery County updated the indicators its health department uses in case it needs to roll back on some of the activities permitted under Phase Two. “We have been monitoring the uptick in cases to determine whether it was an anomaly, but the increase in cases has been consistent over the last few weeks,” Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said. The seven-day rolling average case rate per 100,000 in the county has been on the rise starting Oct. 13, according to the Maryland Department of Health. The test positivity rate in the county is 3.1%, below a key global benchmark of 5%. However, Gayles said his team is seeing concerning increases, particularly in people age 40 and older. The primary indicators that the county is looking at include daily case rate (seven-day average per 100,000 people), test positivity rate during the last 14 days and rate of transmission. Secondary indicators include percentage of change in new cases per 100,000 people (during the last seven days compared with the previous seven days), percentage of hospital inpatient beds that are occupied, percentage of intensive care unit beds occupied, percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, positive cases with contact tracing attempts, positive cases that have been interviewed and close contacts to positive cases where contact has been attempted. “Our goal is to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and these indicators will help us monitor the risk of transmission in the county,” Gayles said in a press release. Montgomery County opted not to move into Phase Three when Maryland did in September because the community transmission rate was still higher than the county’s health department was comfortable with. Businesses that are currently open with capacity and space restrictions in Phase Two include restaurants, retail, child care, gyms and hotels, as well as houses of worship. Senior centers, libraries and recreation facilities remain closed in Montgomery County. Gayles said earlier last week that rather than issuing “blanket closures,” the county would likely start with tweaking capacity limits at businesses and gatherings. “I don’t want to see us have to rollback any of the activities that we have reopened over the last three or four months,” County Executive Marc Elrich said in a statement. The new indicators are available on the county’s website and will be updated daily.
Just weeks after a coronavirus outbreak among the first family and many in their circle, the White House will welcome visitors for its annual Halloween event today. The White House grounds will open from 3:30-7:30 p.m. to “ghosts, fairies, superheroes, tiny goblins and other costumed trick-or-treaters,” according to a press release from first lady Melania Trump’s office. The gates will open to military families and schoolchildren accompanied by parents, as well as frontline workers. President Donald Trump and the first lady will greet trick-or-treaters during the event. The grounds will feature festive decor, and several agencies and departments will be offering activities for kids, like model rockets on display and paper airplanes from the Department of Transportation. The event will be held with health and safety precautions in place, according to the press release. Capacity is limited, and guests over the age of 2 must wear masks, as do personnel. Social distancing measures will be in place, and staff passing out candy must wear gloves. The departments will also be using “no-touch approach” in their areas while distributing items. The event comes about a month after more than two dozen guests who attended a Sept. 26 Rose Garden event held in honor of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett tested positive for COVID-19, including Trump and the first lady. The outbreak included a number of high profile people, including White House adviser Stephen Miller and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, as well as non-public-facing staff like housekeepers and White House reporters. D.C. Health issued Halloween guidance earlier this month and categorized traditional trick-or-treating as a high-risk activity. Grab-and-go trick-or-treating is safer, but still risky, according to the city.
On Saturday, Maryland reported its highest number of daily COVID-19 deaths since late August. The state reported 13 new deaths, the highest daily number since it reported 13 deaths on Aug. 28. Beyond the deaths, the number of new COVID-19 cases on Saturday was the highest in a week, with 798 reported. The state’s seven-day average positivity rate has increased to just above 3% since mid-October, after remaining below 2% for most of the first half of the month. Saturday’s numbers in Maryland came a day after the country’s total new daily cases rose more than 80,000 for the first time. In hard-hit Prince George’s County, the state’s second-most populous jurisdiction, the seven-day average positivity rate has dropped to about 3.9% in recent days, after increasing to more than 5.0% last week. The seven-day average number of daily new cases per 100,000 residents has hovered between 11-12 for the past weeks, following a slight jump in September. In Montgomery County, the state’s most populous jurisdiction, the seven-day average positivity rate has remained between 2.2% and 2.7% since the beginning of the month. But county officials have raised concerns about a steady rise in cases. Last week, the seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 residents surpassed 10 for the first time since early August. Montgomery County and Prince George’s County remain in Phase Two of their reopening plans. Statewide, hospitalizations have increased in recent weeks. On Oct. 1, Maryland reported 331 total patients hospitalized. That number jumped to 455 as of Saturday. A similar trend occurred for patients in the ICU, which started at 257 on Oct. 2 and reached 356 Saturday. Even so, the New York Times reports that Maryland is among 10 states where cases are relatively low and staying that way. It is joined by neighbors D.C. and Virginia. In D.C., the seven-day average of new cases has declined after slightly increasing in the first week of October. The city has seen one new coronavirus death over the past week, and the total number of patients hospitalized with the virus on any given day has stayed between 80-96 since early September. In Virginia, the number of new daily cases has plateaued after jumping in early October. The state recorded a daily increase of 1,088 new cases on Saturday. Deaths have also ticked down in recent months. But like Maryland, hospitalizations in Virginia have increased since the beginning of October. On Thursday, the commonwealth reported its highest number of hospitalizations since Sept. 11, with 1,109 patients. At the end of September, Virginia’s seven-day average of COVID-19 hospitalization was trending downward.
The Washington Football Team will welcome about 3,000 fans to FedEx Field when it plays the New York Giants on Nov. 8. The announcement on Friday came a week after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the state’s sports venues could reopen at 10% capacity. A limited number of season ticket holders will be allowed in the stadium’s lower level and suites. The team released a number of safety protocols, including screening staff for symptoms, providing hand sanitizer stations and placing plexiglass barriers at concessions stands. Groups ticketed together will be limited to four seats, masks are required and tailgating is prohibited. Still, some people on social media raised concerns about the decision to reopen stadiums, even incrementally, as Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium also plans to allow a few thousand fans back for its Nov. 1 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Maryland’s COVID-19 caseload is approaching 140,000, and its seven-day new case average rose by 5% as of Friday compared to the week before. Hogan’s announcement to allow fans back at stadiums conflicts with coronavirus restrictions in Prince George’s County, where FedEx Field is located, as the county remains in Phase Two of its reopening plan, limiting outdoor crowds to 50 people and one person or family per 200 square feet. FedEx Field can hold about 82,000 fans, meaning 10% would be about 8,000 fans. Prince George’s County officials said they were reviewing the order last week and were discussing next steps with Washington Football Team executives. “We take our responsibility to protect our staff, players, fans and the community seriously,” team president Jason Wright said in a statement. “Since the beginning of the season, we worked in close coordination with Prince George’s County health officials to monitor and assess the possibility of welcoming fans.” He said the team hopes to “welcome more fans through the FedEx Field gates in the near future.” The team announced in August that the season would carry on without fans out of “an abundance of caution.” It also refunded season ticket holders and gave them the opportunity to defer their tickets to the 2021 season. However, with the new announcement, season ticket holders will be given separate windows from Oct. 27-Oct.30 to purchase tickets, based on how long they have been members.
The National Park Service approved a permit for Sean Feucht, a Christian minister and musician, to host a 15,000 person worship service on the National Mall this weekend. Sean Feucht’s Ministry is hosting “Let Us Worship,” a religious freedom, prayer and worship service on the National Mall between Ninth and 10th Streets NW. The event features Feucht and other speakers, stage activities, a baptism and a bible giveaway. According to the permit, the ministry is authorized to use National Mall center panel 22 and gravel walkways from 6:30 a.m. today until 1 a.m. Monday. A COVID-19 mitigation plan is listed in the permit requiring all crews at the event to have their temperatures taken and masks and gloves will be provided. Backstage high-touch areas will be cleaned frequently and sanitation stations will be provided by restrooms for attendees. There will also be a medical tent with two certified D.C. EMTs with equipment and an ambulance if needed. Approval of the permit for this weekend’s event comes as D.C. remains in Phase Two of its COVID-19 reopening plan. During Phase Two, mass gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited and nonessential travel outside of the National Capital Region continues to be discouraged. If an individual attends a mass gathering, DC Health recommends that they follow a list of steps to help prevent the spread of the virus in the home and community. In June, Feucht hosted a gathering in California that drew criticism from some and was not approved by city officials. The minister encouraged people who attended the event to wear face masks.
Some Fairfax County Public Schools elementary students and others in special programs will return to classrooms beginning Nov. 16. Officials at Virginia’s largest school district said it will open in-person instruction to students in Early Head Start, PreK and kindergarten, as well as students with intensive support needs and some special education students. Then on Monday, Nov. 30, in-person cohort learning will begin for first and second grades, and more special education students. “We can see that COVID-19 is going to be with us for the foreseeable future, and it is time to move forward with in-person instruction,” Supt. Scott Brabrand said in a video Friday. The school board voted in September to allow some students, which include preschool students, as well as students with disabilities, to resume in-person learning this month. “Our first three weeks of in-person cohort learning have gone very well, and we have had no incidents to cause concern. We are bringing back additional groups of students as we continue to meet the health and operational metrics that have been established for in-person instruction, including low transmission rates, mitigation strategies, planned response for confirmed cases and availability of teachers and staff,” Brabrand said in a letter to the school community Friday. The plan will have students receive two days of teacher-led instruction in the classroom and two days of teacher-led instruction at home. “We have concurrent instruction pilots underway in several of our schools, and I will bring back to the school board at their Nov. 12 meeting an update on this instructional method,” Brabrand said. Under the “concurrent model” students learning from home would get the same instruction as students in the classroom. Both sets of students would be watching the same teacher. Brabrand said this approach “maximizes teacher-led instruction by allowing in-person students to ‘log into’ class on at-home days.” Students who want to continue with full virtual learning may continue to do so. Brabrand has recommended a schedule for when the rest of the students should return to the classrooms with a group returning as early as Jan. 4 and the rest no later than the beginning of the second semester in February. The 12-member school board deadlocked last week on whether to endorse the rest of Brabrand’s plan.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday allocated $3 million in federal CARES Act funding to the commonwealth’s free medical clinics. The money will reimburse the more than 50 clinics within the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (VAFCC) for coronavirus expenses like personal protective equipment, sanitation measures, telehealth services and new hires. According to a press release, VAFCC estimates that each of the clinics spent an average of $400,000 due to unexpected costs throughout the course of the pandemic. “Virginia’s free clinics are a vital resource for Virginians who lack health insurance,” said VAFCC CEO Rufus Phillips, CEO. “Clinics are filling the increasing need for their services created by the pandemic, but that comes with a cost — at a time when donations are down.” The clinics, many of which are staffed partly by volunteers, provide medical care, counseling and referral services for low-income and uninsured residents. With unemployment skyrocketing since the pandemic began, many clinics have had to manage an increase in clientele with a decrease in financial resources. “The pandemic has required us to change how we serve our patients, which increasing our services,” said Anne-Lise Quinn, executive director of Culmore Clinic in Falls Church. “The cost of COVID supplies, like PPE and increased telehealth, has had a large impact on the small budges of free clinics like ours. This support will help us continue to fulfill our mission of ensuring that everyone has access to healthcare.” Last week, Fairfax County reported its highest seven-day average of coronavirus cases since June, and while the numbers dipped in the following days, the seven-day average of cases ticked back up this week. It mirrors the state of the pandemic across the commonwealth, which has seen a steady increase in infections this month.
D.C. Councilmembers on Friday pressed D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee on the district’s plan to return 21,000 students to classrooms in November, raising questions about parent, student and staff safety. Limited to two hours, each councilmember had only 10 minutes to question Ferebee. Many focused on a lack of transparency in the school reopening plans, the risks reopening poses to the community and the district’s ongoing disagreements with the Washington Teachers’ Union. Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen said he doesn’t “have faith” in DCPS’ plans for return, and he says neither do the Ward 6 parents he has spoken with. On Oct. 5, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced plans to reopen schools on Nov. 9 for the start of the second term. Under the plan, 7,000 elementary students would attend in-person classes with a teacher with one class per grade at each school. The remaining 14,000 elementary students would be in “CARE” classrooms starting Nov. 16, gathering in-person but receiving virtual instruction under the supervision of non-teaching staff. The plan requires 3,000 staff members and 600 teachers. DCPS officials confirmed on Tuesday that non-teaching staff members from middle and high schools would be brought in to assist and supervise the reopening of elementary classrooms. Councilmembers questioned Ferebee on details of DCPS’ safety plan, including the validity of on-site rapid testing that will be provided, mitigation strategies for quarantining students who test positive while at school and the benefit of the “CARE” classrooms. Given the 10-minute time limit, many didn’t have the opportunity to finish or ask follow-ups and noted that they would send detailed letters with further questions. The session followed a Public Employee Relations Board ruling Tuesday that found DCPS violated city law when it failed to collectively bargain with the Washington Teachers’ Union over the district’s reopening plans. According to the boards’ ruling, DCPS must rescind a June form and survey it used to determine staffing for in-person learning, which asked teachers if they wanted to stay with all-virtual instruction or return to classrooms, and enter negotiations with WTU. The union filed a complaint with the PERB in July, accusing DCPS of imposing a plan that ordered union members back to work in-person without negotiation. Under D.C. law, employers must negotiate in “good faith” with labor unions over wages or working conditions. In answer to Councilmember Elissa Silverman’s question about the status of the negotiations, Ferebee said that DCPS was set on reaching an agreement with WTU by next Tuesday regarding the school safety checklist, and even possibly by the end of the day Friday. Earlier in the week, Ferebee said that the system would rescind the survey. During the council meeting, Ferebee said the outstanding issues with WTU are two items that do not pertain to DCPS’ school safety checklist, which had stalled earlier negotiations prior to the labor board ruling. One calls for individuals in the community to decide when and how schools reopen. Ferebee said this determination will only be made by D.C. officials. A second WTU demand asks that teachers determine if they should come to teach in-person or remain virtual — a point Ferebee said DCPS will not agree to. He said only if employees meet certain provisions (such as being high-risk or living with a high-risk individual) will requests to teach remotely be honored. “If you do not qualify for any of those provisions, we cannot simply say ‘you come to work if you want to, or not,’” Ferebee said. “We can’t create a structure that working in person is completely optional regardless of your situation.” Many community members had submitted questions to councilmembers. The Office of the D.C. Auditor also submitted questions to council. Over the past several months, the union and teachers have expressed frustration at a lack of communication between DCPS officials and members of the union regarding reopening efforts. During the meeting, Silverman spoke to the concerns she and her colleagues have heard from teachers. “The message I’m getting, and I think all of my colleagues are getting, from teachers is clear. They do not trust DCPS, and don’t believe DCPS cares about their health and safety,” Silverman said. “I am concerned that we are at risk of losing some of our most dedicated and talented educators if they see no other way to be safe than to resign or retire.”
D.C. Public Schools is spending $31 million on safety measures as it prepares for an in-person return to classrooms on Nov. 9, including updates to schools’ air filtration systems and on-site rapid testing for symptomatic individuals. DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee detailed some precautions and measures that are being taken at D.C. elementary schools in preparation for the return of up to 21,000 students next month. There will be social distancing signage, plexiglass dividers, plenty of personal protective equipment, increased cleaning and an isolation room for individuals who are symptomatic. The city has also spent $24 million to update the schools’ HVAC systems, which includes purchasing more than 3,000 mobile units with medical grade HEPA filters and ultraviolet lights. There will be a mobile unit in every classroom, Ferebee said. All work on HVAC systems will be completed by Nov. 9. On-site rapid testing will also be available for any symptomatic student or employee. Ferebee also said that “prioritized testing” will be available at city testing sites for any staff supporting in-person learning. Notably missing is the mention of full-time, on-site nurses, which the Washington Teachers’ Union has called for. This discussion comes as DCPS is being accused of unfair labor practices. On Tuesday, the independent Public Employee Relations Board ruled DCPS violated local law for failing to collectively bargain with the union about the plans for reopening schools. It potentially calls teacher staffing into question only weeks before the Nov. 9 reopening. When asked if DCPS has negotiated in good faith with the union, Ferebee said it had. “In terms of not bargaining in good faith with the Washington Teachers’ Union, that’s just not true,” he said. “We will be at the table today to discuss what needs to be discussed. There are management rights we do have and we will exercise those when we have too.” Despite the wide gap between the district and teachers, he remained optimistic they will reach an agreement. Ferebee also said the district will provide “additional flexibility” in terms of accommodations and leave for teachers or staff who request to continue virtual assignments due to personal circumstances. There is urgency to getting students back to in-school learning, both Ferebee and D.C. Muriel Mayor Bowser reiterated at the press conference. Ferebee cited statistics showing a 9% drop in kindergarten to second grade students meeting or exceeding literacy benchmarks since last year. For kindergartners alone, there has been a 22% drop meeting those benchmarks. “This is important because we know that those students who are not reading on grade-level are much more likely not to graduate on time, and it’s critical that our students are reading on grade-level by grade three,” Ferebee said. “Everything that we are doing right now… will [allow] us to serve up to 75% of our elementary school students, but it’s going to allow us to move more of our students [back to in-person learning] in February and ensure that kids can be in school this academic year,” Bowser said. Emails and calls will go out to parents starting today if their students are eligible for in-person learning, and they will have two school days to respond if they would like to have that seat.
With most people working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an estimated 50%-80% fewer cars on the road, causing less traffic and air pollution. A report, released by the University of Maryland and the Maryland Department of Environment, found that between roughly mid-February and late May, levels of nitrogen oxide decreased by 15%, and carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide each fell by 30%. It also found a 30% drop in black carbon, a pollutant linked to diesel fuel. The significant decreases in air pollution are not surprising, according to Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles. Traffic on Interstate 95 alone was down 50% at the beginning of March. There is no denying the decrease in greenhouse gas emissions was a direct effect of people staying at home and traveling less, Grumbles said, adding that teleworking is “the wave of the future.” The authors of the study say that as Maryland gradually moves away from a stay-at-home reality, the state continues to push to reach its goal of 300,000 zero-emissions vehicles by 2025 and stress the accessibility and convenience of using public transportation. Currently, there are around 26,000 zero-emissions vehicles in Maryland, according to the Maryland Department of Environment.
As Metro’s board of directors plans to vote on a series of cost-saving measures as it faces $250 million budget gap, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson said cuts to two bus lines will hurt low-income and households of color. The proposed cuts include bus routes 8 and 21, which run through West Alexandria and serve a large number of support staff at the Pentagon, Wilson said in a letter to WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld urging the transit system to reconsider the change. “While we understand these routes may not be the most productive, they do serve a high share of low-income and households of color, who may work as janitorial or other support staff at the Pentagon and use the Pentagon to connect to other work centers in the region.” Wilson urged Wiedefeld to make the cuts temporary until ridership returns to pre-pandemic levels, and said many of the people who ride the two lines are not eligible for commuter benefits. The letter also suggests limiting transfer fees to trains as another solution. Metro has said it doesn’t expect ridership will surpass 50% of pre-pandemic levels, which will affect fare revenue by more than $500 million. Federal CARES Act will keep Metro running through the rest of the year, but the transit system will need more help if ridership remains low in 2021.
The Carving Room Kitchen & Bar, 300 Massachusetts Ave. NW in D.C.’s Mt. Vernon Triangle neighborhood, will close temporarily on Oct. 25 due to the coronavirus pandemic. In a letter to customers, the restaurant blamed capacity restrictions, and said its weekly sales are what its daily sales used to be. Before the pandemic, the Carving Room, which owners Rachel Steiman and chef Oded Weizmann opened in 2013, often had lunchtime lines waiting for its house-cured pastrami and corned beef, and homemade soups. It is also a popular neighborhood happy-hour spot. In 2016, it was featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. “Without additional federal or local relief, it is impossible to open our doors with only carryout and 25% of our indoor capacity available to us. It costs more to open our doors than we currently sell,” the letter said. “We are done for now, but not for good. We will continue to look for ways to reopen our doors and hope to see you again.” CR NoMa, from the same owners, will remain open at 140 M St. NE.
Unemployed D.C. workers may soon get a seven-week extension of their unemployment benefits. The D.C. Council unanimously passed emergency legislation on Tuesday that extends unemployment benefits for seven weeks for traditional employees as well as contractors and gig workers. Unemployed workers whose benefits are about to run out because of a time-limit in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) could continue to receive payments. But they will have to apply for the extension since it isn’t automatic, and the U.S. Labor Department must review the legislation to ensure it complies with federal regulations before people can begin receiving the payments. Some contractors and gig workers who lost income from the pandemic are facing an expiration of PUA, a program that was created by the federal CARES Act last spring and was meant to last for 39 weeks. The legislation that the D.C. Council approved makes them eligible for up to 46 weeks of benefits. Both the assistance for gig workers and traditional unemployment claims would be funded by the CARES Act through 2020. Under the bill, people receiving traditional benefits could seek up to 59 weeks of unemployment benefits, rather than the 52 weeks currently allowed. At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, who authored the legislation, said she pushed to fast-track it because of the impending cliff for the earliest PUA recipients and because the council won’t have another legislative meeting until after the Nov. 3 election. Silverman added that studies on unemployment insurance have found that it helps keep households and local economies afloat. “The people who are recipients are spending the money right away, on rent, groceries, [and] basic goods and services that get pumped right back into local businesses,” she said. “It’s important for us to make sure the benefits are continuing to go to families for the welfare of the entire city.” Implementation of the extended benefits faces a few hurdles. First, Mayor Muriel Bowser must sign the bill. Asked whether she intends to do so, a spokesperson for Bowser referred to a letter she sent to the council chairman on Tuesday, in which she urged the council to postpone voting on the legislation over concerns about administrative costs and federal compliance. “If the legislation is not in conformity [with Labor Department guidance], the District will not be able to receive federal funding for these benefits,” Bowser wrote. Silverman’s office said the D.C. government is still negotiating with the Labor Department about when the additional benefits can be disbursed and that her team collaborated with the Department of Employment Services on the extension. That agency will likely front personnel and technology costs to implement the bill. Over the past several months, many workers in the DMV have struggled to receive the full amount of unemployment insurance for which they are eligible, in part due to overwhelmed and outdated intake systems. D.C. still hasn’t been able to make its unemployment insurance system efficient enough to deal with the high number of claims filed during the pandemic, despite spending millions of dollars to overhaul that system. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 152,000 claims have been filed. For Silverman, who chairs the council’s labor committee, the crisis has underscored the need for the District to upgrade its unemployment system. It has also underscored the need for the U.S. government to enact another major stimulus package in response to the pandemic. “We need more federal assistance,” says Silverman. “That’s what it comes down to.”
Montgomery and Prince George’s County public school superintendents say they need more guidance from the state before they are able to reopen schools for hybrid in-person learning come January. Montgomery County Public Schools Supt. Jack Smith and Prince George’s Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson said they have installed new ventilation systems, purchased protective gear and have plans to keep students socially distant. But they told a panel of state senators Wednesday that they need guidance from the Maryland State Department of Education on what constitutes a COVID-19 outbreak. They also asked for more information on how to immunize students when a vaccine is ready, and how to deal with decreased funding and lower student enrollment. Goldson, whose county has been hardest hit by the coronavirus in the said, said Prince George’s is still in Phase Two of reopening, which doesn’t include reopening public schools. “Health and safety is paramount,” Goldson said. “We do have a plan of what we will do in Phase Three… but we keep getting stuck with the number of COVID-19 cases in the county.” She said PGCS would like to see some guidance from the state on what would be considered a COVID-19 outbreak and what protocols should be in place. The district is also waiting for the state education department to release a COVID-19 dashboard that will help identify case numbers and infection rates for each school district. “It would be good to have some uniform system from the state to determine why schools would have to be closed in terms of outbreaks,” Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles told lawmakers. He also said he hadn’t met with the Montgomery County School Board to develop a plan for returning students to school buildings. Sen. Clarence Lam told superintendents that because a COVID-19 vaccine is being worked on and the state has released a vaccination plan, schools should be included in the distribution of a vaccine. “There have not been initial plans shared with us,” MCPS’ Smith said. “We absolutely agree with you, Sen. Lam, that we need to be talking about these things right now. For example, are school district employees essential employees?” One of the other big concerns is a drop in enrollment for all school systems across the state due to the pandemic. “We’re worried it could affect our funds for the next year,” Goldson said. Smith told lawmakers that in order to make up for the funding lost due to the drop in enrollment, the state may have to provide more money. Senators, including Prince George’s County Sen. Paul Pinsky, said they are looking to see how the state Department of Education can provide more guidance for school systems trying to reopen schools amid the pandemic. “There’s been little statewide coordination,” Pinsky told fellow lawmakers. “There have been no statewide steps in how to reopen in our jurisdictions’ [schools].” In August, a few days before the start of the school year, Gov. Larry Hogan and State Superintendent Karen Salmon announced that schools could return to in-person learning, Pinsky said, “without any protocols or procedures in place to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak.” A few weeks ago, the state education department allowed school sports to resume without a plan for outbreaks or contact tracing. The education department pointed to a 16-page report with guidance for schools that was released in August. However, the report only mentions the word “outbreaks” once and says the Maryland Department of Health “recommends schools provide regular updates to students’ parents and guardians on the school’s COVID-19 status and inform students, parents and guardians, and staff in a timely fashion about COVID-19 cases and outbreaks in the school while following federal and state confidentiality laws.” The report goes on to say how long students and teachers should wait to go back to the classroom after testing positive. An additional document from the state health and education departments includes guidance on how a school should respond to confirmed cases of COVID-19 based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
The Public Employee Relations Board, a panel that mediates labor disputes in D.C., ruled Tuesday that D.C. Public Schools violated city law by failing to collectively bargain with the Washington Teachers’ Union over reopening plans. The preliminary ruling could deal a blow to the school district’s plans to reopen some elementary schools just weeks before thousands of students are scheduled to return to classrooms. The ruling, issued Tuesday by the PERB, requires that DCPS rescind a form and survey it sent to teachers asking if they wanted to continue teaching online-only or return to classrooms. The school district used responses on the forms and surveys to help determine staffing as schools reopen. The order can be appealed by DCPS. But the Washington Teachers’ Union believes it means the school system cannot use the survey responses to determine staffing for schools when they are scheduled to reopen Nov. 9 with up to 21,000 students returning to campuses for in-person learning. “Teachers understand and sympathize with those who want to return to our classrooms. Distance instruction cannot replace the experiences that our students get in a classroom. We understand the social and developmental concerns facing our students in this distance environment,” union president Elizabeth Davis said in a press release. “However, we can only return to our classrooms when it’s safe.” DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee confirmed Wednesday in a radio interview that the school system will retract the form and survey it sent teachers. But he said the school system is committed to bringing some students back in November, as scheduled. Ferebee said the district has negotiated with the union since the summer about plans to return to in-person classes during the pandemic. “Ultimately, the ruling does encourage the Washington Teachers’ Union to reach an agreement on reopening,” he said. “It’s important that we get our students and staff back in the schools by ensuring there are robust health and safety protocols.” In an email to staff members, Ferebee said DCPS is evaluating what the “order means for our overall reopening plans and will follow up as soon as possible with next steps.” The district said it needs up to 3,000 staff members, including 600 teachers, to return to school buildings in November. About 7,000 students will receive in-person instruction from a teacher. Another 14,000 students will continue taking virtual classes from inside a school building, where they will receive help from an instructional aide or another staff member. D.C teachers were asked to fill out forms in June indicating their plans for the 2020-21 school year and could choose between returning to in-person teaching or taking a leave of absence because they are at high risk of contracting the coronavirus, or live with someone who is. In its July complaint to the PERB, the union accused the district of imposing “a plan ordering bargaining unit members back to work during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic” without sufficiently notifying or negotiating with the union. D.C. law requires city employers to negotiate in “good faith” with labor unions over wages and working conditions. The board ruled there is “reasonable cause to believe” DCPS engaged in unfair labor practices, ordering the district to rescind that form and a Sept. 29 survey that asked teachers to indicate if they preferred to continue teaching virtually or return to physical classrooms. It also gave DCPS five days to “commence bargaining over health and safety conditions” about the reopening of schools.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will reopen Monday with COVID-19 safety measures in place. Those measures include limited capacity, mandatory face coverings, temperature checks and social distancing. The museum will be open from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, except Wednesdays. Visitors must reserve timed-entry tickets, which will be restricted to groups of six or less. People ages 2 and older must wear face masks, and hand-sanitizing stations will be placed throughout the building. Visitors will also be asked health-screening questions, such as whether they are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 and whether they have recently been around anyone who has the disease. In a press release, director Sara Bloomfield said the museum will continue to offer virtual programming. The building will receive “enhanced cleanings,” while its HVAC system has had “enhanced filtration” upgrades. Parts of the museum, including the “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibit, the resource center and the library and reading rooms, will remain closed. The 15th Street NW entrance (Raoul Wallenberg Place) will be the only one as the 14th Street NW entrance will remain closed. The Holocaust Museum joins a growing number of cultural institutions that have reopened with coronavirus precautions under D.C.’s Phase Two reopening. Other museums that are open include the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the International Spy Museum, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the National Gallery of Art, the National Zoo and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
District Commons and Burger, Tap & Shake, both of which are owned by Passion Food Hospitality, have closed permanently due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The two restaurants were next to each other on Washington Circle in Foggy Bottom. With their closing, Passion Food Hospitality, which once owned D.C. Coast, Ceiba, Ten Penh, Penn Commons, and another Burger, Tap & Shake in Tenlytown, now only operates PassionFish in Bethesda and Reston. District Commons and Burger, Tap & Shake, popular spots for both George Washington University students and Foggy Bottom office workers, have been Washington Circle fixtures for nearly a decade. The university’s fall semester undergrad classes are online-only, and there are few students living in campus housing. Many office workers in the area continue to work remotely. Both restaurants initially closed temporarily in August. “Goodbye for now, burger lovers. We had hoped we could reopen here in Foggy Bottom sometime this year and see all of you again. Sadly, we find we simply can’t at this time. Hopefully, we’ll see you again in a spiffy new location,” Burger, Tap & Shake tweeted. District Commons did not promise a rebirth. “We are sad to say we will not be reopening. Thanks to our wonderful guests, staff, chefs and managers. We had a great run,” the restaurant tweeted.
George Washington University will allow an additional 1,500 students to live on campus for the spring semester, but virtual classes will continue. “In our ongoing efforts to support health and safety, we are now at a stage where we believe we can safely welcome back a limited number of additional residential students to campus for the spring semester,” the school said in an update Wednesday. The university said it will continue to provide housing to those already living on campus due to extenuating circumstances, and they do not need to reapply. Other undergraduate students will get detailed instructions on how to apply to live on campus. “We will provide ample time for students to apply, with no preference for the order in which students apply,” the university said in the update. If the number of applicants exceeds the number of rooms, the university will use a lottery system to allocate the spaces. GWU said that its decision is subject to health and safety assessments, and it expects students living on campus to follow school and local public health requirements, including testing, wearing facial coverings and social distancing. The school announced in October that it will continue with virtual learning in the spring.
The National Gallery of Art will reopen galleries east of the rotunda on the West Building’s main floor on Monday, but its popular ice-skating rink in the Sculpture Garden will not open this year for the first winter in 20 years. As the museum opens new galleries, it will close others, using rotating openings to keep crowd and staff sizes small. It began reopening ground-floor galleries in late July. Starting Oct. 26, the reopened galleries feature 18th- and 19th-century French paintings and sculpture as well as works by British and American artists. The temporary True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780-1870 exhibit will remain open until its Nov. 15 closure. On Nov. 16, main floor galleries west of the rotunda will reopening, including ones featuring Renaissance, Dutch and Flemish pieces. “We are thrilled for visitors to enjoy even more of the Gallery’s collection in person,” Director Kaywin Feldman said in a press release. “Rotating which galleries are open allows us to diversify the works of art on view to the public while maintaining safety measures for visitors and staff. I know that visitors are eager to reunite with some of their favorite masterpieces. Our phased approach has been successful thus far and tells us that it’s time to expand our offerings.” Free timed passes are required to enter the gallery and are available online. Also on Nov. 16, several paintings from Johannes Vermeer will be relocated to a larger space to allow for social distancing, and all ground-floor galleries will close. All visitors must continue to enter at Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue NW. The museum will add two additional exits – Fourth Street NW and the main floor exit to the National Mall. The museum is open from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Face coverings, social distancing and credit card payments are required, and enhanced cleanings remain in place. The National Gallery also said Monday it will not operate the Sculpture Garden ice rink this winter, citing “logistical complications and health and safety concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic.” The installation of a shed for the ice rink, which was set to be replaced this year, was also delayed because of production interruptions, the gallery said. However, the Sculpture Garden, located at Constitution Avenue and Seventh Street NW, remains open daily from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. along with its Pavilion Café, which offers outdoor and indoor seating.
Arlington Public Schools canceled distance learning for today because of an internet outage. The school district, which serves almost 30,000 students, announced late Tuesday night that a “major fiber cut” in Vienna had interrupted service. That issue has not yet been resolved, APS said. “We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused and again, thank you for your patience. We will continue to provide updates and will notify you when service is restored,” the school district said in a tweet this morning. The district said meal services will not be affect and will continue as planned today. Also, the disrupted service will not affect its aquatic centers. APS did extend the deadline for parents of Pre-K to fifth grade students and others in Level 2 of the district’s phased-in hybrid instruction model to decide between distance or hybrid learning with a mix of in-person and virtual learning. Families now have until Friday to make that decision.
Montgomery County’s latest COVID-19 numbers show the three-day average of confirmed cases is holding at 90, with Tuesday at 94 new cases. The number of COVID-19 deaths in the county is 821, with the latest death reported Tuesday. County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles told members of the Montgomery County Council Tuesday that he remains concerned the numbers may be indicative of the start of a surge that has been predicted as cold weather keeps more people indoors, where the coronavirus is more easily spread. “I don’t want to scare folks,” Gayles told the council, but he said he wanted to “level-set expectations” by explaining that some of the recent efforts to loosen restrictions could be reversed. Earl Stoddard, the county’s director of the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, echoed Gayles. Stoddard said one of the first things that could happen is that the county’s late-night alcohol sales could be reversed. County Executive Marc Elrich issued an order earlier this month allowing alcohol sales after 10 p.m. for restaurants that applied for permits and had not been subject to citations for violating any of the county’s COVID-19 restrictions. Stoddard made clear the county would go further if necessary. “We are discussing broader pullbacks if necessary, and are simply looking at this week’s data to figure out whether we’re in a steady increase” of new COVID-19 cases, or if the recent data show “a blip in a series of blips.” Stoddard also said his office is working with Gayles and the county’s elections board to prepare for the opening of early voting places, as well as how to handle voter traffic on Election Day. Gayles and Stoddard were asked about testing and the public’s understanding of access to the county’s free tests. Council member Gabe Albornoz noted that after he posted about his recent test, he was “hammered” on social media for getting a test even though he didn’t have symptoms. Albornoz, who tested negative, said that it appeared residents felt he had “used up” a limited resource. Stoddard said are no restriction on the number of free tests offered at the county’s testing sites. “Those rumors are certainly out there, and we have to counter them as much as we can,” he said. “If you’re a front-line worker, we certainly recommend you be tested multiple times on a regular basis based on how many people you interact with.” Any county resident can get tested, he said; “There is no limit on the number of free tests you can get in Montgomery County at all.”
A federal judge vacated a rule by the Trump administration that could have cut off Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to more than 20,000 D.C. residents and hundreds of thousands across the country. The rule change was set to take effect April 1 and would have tightened work requirements for SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, for recipients the government refers to as able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs). But a temporary injunction issued last March blocked the rule change from taking effect prior to Sunday’s ruling vacating the rule entirely. Bread for the City is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which was consolidated earlier this year with a lawsuit filed by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and other attorneys general. The nonprofit has seen a 400% jump in households it serves with its pantry program since the pandemic took hold, according to a press release. “Bread for the City is extremely proud to have been a plaintiff in a lawsuit that received such a sweeping SNAP victory,” CEO George Jones said in the press release. “During these difficult times, this decision is great news for the residents we serve in D.C., and the millions of Black, brown, and other food insecure people throughout our country, who would have been hurt by such drastic cuts to an essential program.” The USDA, which oversees the SNAP program, did not immediately respond to the ruling. Since 1996, individuals ages 18-49 who are designated as ABAWDs have been allowed to participate in SNAP for no more than three months in a three-year period, unless working or participating in a training program for at least 20 hours per week. Yet states have had the flexibility to waive time-limit restrictions in areas with a high unemployment rate or an inadequate number of jobs. In December 2019, the USDA. changed a rule regarding the administration of SNAP that would make it more difficult for states to waive work requirements. That rule change was challenged in January when Racine co-led a coalition of states, including Virginia and Maryland, in a lawsuit to bar its implementation. In March, Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a preliminary injunction blocking the rule change. Howell’s decision issued on Sunday vacated the rule. During the COVID-19 pandemic, SNAP participation has increased by 17% with more than six million new participants nationwide, the lawsuit said. Prior to the pandemic, the USDA estimated that some 688,000 individuals nationwide could be impacted by the rule change. How many would have been affected during the massive economic crisis is unclear. “The agency has been icily silent about how many ABAWDs would have been denied SNAP benefits had the changes sought in the Final Rule been in effect while the pandemic rapidly spread across the country and congressional action had not intervened to suspend any time limits on receipt of those benefits,” Howell wrote in his ruling. Racine praised the ruling on Monday, which would ensure “continued access” to an estimated 20,000 D.C. residents, according to a press release. “Congress created the SNAP program to help Americans put food on the table during times of hardship,” Racine said. “While the pandemic continues to drive millions of Americans into unemployment — including thousands of District residents — the Trump administration is focused on cutting vital food assistance rather than helping those in greatest need.” Racine also led a group of nearly two dozen states and New York City last month to push the USDA to strip away some of the bureaucratic requirements regarding the administration of SNAP benefits. The Trump administration has recently signaled a desire to return to pre-pandemic operations when it comes to the administration of SNAP after granting flexibility. More than 1.75 million DMV residents receive SNAP benefits, and participation has increased significantly: The number of SNAP recipients in D.C. in August was 23% higher than the monthly average pre-pandemic; in Virginia, the number of recipients in June was 14% higher than it was in February; and in Maryland, participation shot up 43% in the same time period.
Maryland has drawn up a plan for how it will vaccinate residents once a COVID-19 vaccine is approved. Gov. Larry Hogan’s office announced Tuesday that it has submitted a draft plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Maryland stands ready to order, distribute and administer it effectively and rapidly as soon as a vaccine becomes available,” Hogan said in a press release. The plan that been under development since April. State health officials reviewed handling of previous outbreaks and pandemics, with the intention of applying any lessons learned. The draft plan is a two-phase approach, with “critical populations” such as first responders, healthcare workers, other essential workers and nursing-home residents getting vaccinated in Phase One, and the general public being vaccinated in Phase Two. Maryland expects the vaccine supply “to rapidly increase once distribution begins, alleviating the need to limit vaccine administration.” One challenge is that the vaccine will likely be “temperature sensitive,” and will need to be kept refrigerated. The CDC is developing storage and handling guidelines, state officials said. Another challenge is that two doses will likely be necessary, with the second dose needed three to four weeks after the first. So Maryland is giving residents some options for setting up reminders so they get that second dose. One option is called PrepMod and another is Maryland MyIR. Healthcare-provider-based systems will be yet another option. The state is also developing an online dashboard similar to the one used to track COVID-19 cases and deaths to share the state’s progress.
Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection warned consumers Tuesday about the high fees that third-party food delivery apps charge restaurants that use their services and encouraged them to order directly from the restaurants. In a press release, the office said restaurants pay a hefty price to deliver food through the apps like Grubhud, Uber Eats and DoorDash, with an average fee of 38% of the total order cost, according to a recent report from the non-profit Consumers’ Checkbook. The fees are often invisible to customers because the companies don’t disclose them on receipts. But restaurant owners have complained about them for years, calling the apps a “necessary evil” because they are often the only way restaurants can offer delivery. The issue has become a bigger issue as restaurants across the DMV face decreasing sales during the pandemic. A spokesperson for Uber responded to the alert, saying, “We support efforts to help the hospitality industry, which is why we continue to focus the majority of our efforts on driving demand to independent local restaurants, which we know is a key concern of our partners during these times.” In May, the D.C. Council passed a temporary 15% cap on delivery app commissions after restaurant owners said the fees were eating their profits during the pandemic. Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and other cities passed similar legislation. Grubhub, DoorDash, Uber Eats and Postmates unsuccessfully battled against the caps in many cities, warning D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and other city leaders that restricting commission fees would force apps out of the market and limit delivery options for restaurants and consumers. Later, reports revealed that some delivery companies failed to comply with the commission caps. “Regulating the commissions that fund our marketplace forces us to radically alter the way we do business and ultimately hurt those that we’re trying to help the most: customers, small businesses and delivery people,” an Uber spokesperson said. Unlike Chicago, which adopted a rule in May requiring the companies to disclose commission fees to customers before they place an order, D.C. does not require apps to say how much they charge restaurants. There is no similar requirement in Montgomery County, and the jurisdiction doesn’t limit the fees apps can charge. But County Executive Marc Elrich hinted that could change in the press release. “While we explore legislative remedies, I believe Montgomery County is best served by full disclosure and knowledge,” Elrich said. “Food delivery apps come with a side order of confusion and lack of transparency,” said OCP Director Eric Friedman. “Small restaurants may feel forced to pay steep fees and commissions in order to stay in business. Full disclosure is essential to ensure integrity in the marketplace.”
The National Cherry Blossom Festival will return March 20 to April 11 next year, but without its signature parade. Organizers made the announcement Tuesday. “The health and safety of our festival staff and the attendees, sponsors and other stakeholders remain the festival’s top priority,” said Diana Mayhew, the festival’s president and CEO, in a press release. Instead, the festival is working with D.C. officials, the National Park Service and others to bring a variety of programs that will “engage the community and embrace springtime in the District.”
The D.C. COVID Alert Notice, or D.C. CAN, the city’s COVID-19 exposure notification app is set to launch this week. Beginning today, iPhone and Android users will begin receiving push notifications asking them to opt into exposure notifications via D.C. CAN. It allows iPhone and iOS users to opt into the system through their settings without downloading an app and be taken through an on-boarding process. Android users will have to download the app and go through the process. Like Virginia’s COVIDWISE app, the system uses Bluetooth signals to track if smartphone users are in close proximity. Once enabled, devices will regularly send out a beacon through Bluetooth, which includes a “privacy-preserving random Bluetooth key,” D.C. Health director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said during a press conference Monday. Nearby phones that are enabled will send their own beacons, and each phone will securely store the beacons it receives. When someone tests positive for COVID-19 in D.C., and the city’s Contact Trace Force reaches out, a contact tracer will ask whether that person uses D.C. CAN. If so, they will be given a code they can enter into the system. It will download a list of keys once a day belonging to people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and reported their diagnosis through D.C. CAN. Users’ phones will check those keys against previously stored information and, if there is a match, they will be notified that they have been exposed to a person who tested positive for COVID-19. Once they have been notified, users will also receive information from D.C. Health about next steps. Nesbitt emphasized that user privacy was a top concern while developing the app, which was made through a collaboration between Apple and Google. She added that the system is not a GPS tracker and does not share location. People who test positive are not identified through the system to other users or to Apple or Google. “This is all voluntary,” Nesbitt said. “You’ll always be in control of your information, and the D.C. Contract Trace Force will be there to guide you through the process.” However, she said, the app will only be useful if there is widespread participation. “So, we need as many people as possible to opt in beginning tomorrow, and if you have an Android, download the D.C. CAN app.” D.C. will provide a list of states that are already interoperable with its tool, though that list will not yet include Maryland or Virginia, Nesbitt said. Maryland does not yet have an exposure notification app, although the city is “optimistic that [Maryland] will adopt a tool that is interoperable,” she added. Virginia’s app is also not yet interoperable, according to Nesbitt, but she said “there are solutions that can be developed” to make the apps work together. A Virginia health department official said in an email Monday that the commonwealth plans to migrate from its own server to a national one that is used by D.C. and other jurisdictions in mid-November. Jeff Stover, executive advisor to the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Health, said when that migration happens, residents in both D.C. and Virginia will be able to receive exposure notifications across jurisdictions “depending on their specific notification criteria.”
With many people choosing to dine at home during the pandemic, Maryland oyster farmers are facing economic challenges. “More than 90% of oysters are consumed in restaurants and other hospitality venues rather than in the home,” said Allison Colden, Maryland fisheries scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Many consumers, she said, generally reserve their oyster eating for when they dine out. “That may be because people are a little trepidatious about handling oysters — making sure that they’re handled safely. Shucking oysters … can be a very daunting task and, frankly, a dangerous one if you’re not quite sure what you’re doing,” Colden said. Many restaurants shuttered as a result of the pandemic, “and when that happened, the oyster market vanished overnight.” Maryland’s oyster season runs from Oct. 1 through the end of March. Colden said the depressed market could plummet more as additional oysters are brought to market. “We expect there to be lower prices than we’ve seen in recent history, perhaps to the point where some processors may not even be purchasing oysters, and some watermen may choose not to actually go out and harvest those waters because the price point isn’t there to make it worth their time, the maintenance, the fuel and paying the crew that would be required to do that,” she said. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation released an economic analysis in April that said “oyster aquaculture operations in Maryland contribute an average of $9 million per year to the state’s economy.” Colden said that the industry has grown by about 24% annually since 2010. But heavy rainfall in 2018 and lingering low salinity in 2019 have set this year’s pandemic as a “third strike in a series of challenging events that had already impacted the oyster industry.” She said oyster consumers can help by getting to know their oyster farmer. “When you buy local oysters, you’re supporting not only local businesses, but those oyster farmers are planting oysters in your local waterways where they help clear the water, where they are helping provide habitat for fish and other critters,” Colden said. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has a calendar of pop-up shop events where consumers can buy directly from oyster farmers. “They’re delicious. They’re great for you. And these oyster farmers are out there every day working hard to provide a source of fresh local seafood for Marylanders,” Cohen said.
Several D.C. streets have closed or partially closed to traffic during the coronavirus pandemic, and a new study found that activity on the roads has increased. Between April and September, activity on restricted streets in the city rose from 32% to 52% of pre-pandemic levels, according to traffic data firm Inrix.. The study found use of D.C.’s unrestricted streets were about the same: 32% to 50%. D.C. had “the lowest utilization of any city, activity citywide was on-par with restricted lane use,” the report said. The study compared “activity levels on restricted streets to activity across the respective city.” The study also looked at New York, Minneapolis, Seattle and Oakland. The report showed Minneapolis saw the largest jump in activity on its restricted streets, “with activity levels in July one-third higher than pre-COVID.” Restricted streets, which are supposed to promote social distancing and activities that don’t require automobiles such as outdoor dining and exercise, were put in place in D.C. and parts of Maryland and Northern Virginia over the summer. But the Inrix report said there may be an unintended consequence as the elimination and restriction of parking and thru-traffic may keep people from outer neighborhoods from “frequenting restaurant districts and other street-based activities.”
Beginning on Nov. 9, the D.C. Public Library’s Chevy Chase, Georgetown and Palisades neighborhood branches will reopen with limited services. The three locations will follow the system’s current operating schedule, and will be open weekdays from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 3-7 p.m. The three join the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, along with the Anacostia, Bellevue, Benning, Capitol View, Cleveland Park, Francis-Gregory, Mount Pleasant, Northeast, Petworth, Shaw, Shepherd Park, Tenley-Friendship, West End and Woodridge branches. The city plans to add Saturday hours at all open locations later in November.
Five Virginia health districts are seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, and, if current trends continue, the state would hit a new peak for cases the week before Thanksgiving. That news is according to a new model from the Biocomplexity Institute at the University of Virginia. For several weeks, the institute’s model, released every Friday, indicated that the state hit its peak caseload the first week in August, when 8,388 new cases were reported. However, as numbers have risen since Oct. 1, the institute now predicts the state will hit a new peak in the week ending Nov. 22 with 8,394 cases. The new model noted that reproduction rates, or the number of people each person who has the virus spreads it to, has increased above 1.0 in every region except Northern Virginia, where it is 0.961. In order for case numbers to decline, the reproduction rate has to be less than 1. “This upward trend coincides with national trends, and trends in Europe,” the Biocomplexity Institute said in its updated model. “While too early to be certain, this may suggest that concerns regarding the onset of cold weather were founded.” The institute did note that even at the higher end of its projected range of case increases, hospital capacity would not be exceeded in any region of Virginia before the end of the year. Hospitalizations statewide for treatment of COVID-19 have remained just at or below 1,000 in recent weeks, well below the peak of 1,625 reached on May 8. The institute also noted that Virginia’s current weekly new caseload of about 12 cases per 100,000 residents is below the current national average of more than 19 cases per 100,000 residents.
The Capitol Hill Baptist Church held its first outdoor service in D.C. on Sunday in the wake of its legal battle with the city over Mayor Muriel Bowser’s COVID-19 restrictions. The 850-member evangelical church sued D.C. in late September, arguing that Bowser’s ban on church gatherings of more than 100 people violated the church’s constitutional rights. The church claims that virtual gatherings don’t replicate or replace in-person services. A federal judge agreed with the church earlier in October, allowing it to hold in-person services in D.C. while the lawsuit proceeds. With permission from the National Park Service, the church’s members gathered at Anacostia Park at 11 a.m. Sunday. According to a three-page logistics guide, congregants were required to wear face coverings and remain at least six feet apart from each other at all times. In past weeks, the church had been holding similar outdoor services at Del Ray Baptist Church in Virginia. It had sought waivers to hold services in the parking lot of RFK Stadium, but had been denied. “Sweet to be with Capitol Hill Baptist Church as it is allowed to gather in the District to worship for the first time since March. Outdoors, masked, socially distanced, careful and so joyful because of the gospel,” tweeted Sam Arora, a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates from Montgomery County. In the bulletin made available to congregants ahead of the service, the church included one specific portion of its Statement of Faith — the provision dealing with civil government. “We believe that Civil Government is of Divine appointment, for the interests and good order of human society; and that magistrates are to be prayed for, conscientiously honored, and obeyed; except only in things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Lord of the conscience, and the Prince of the kings of the earth,” it read.
D.C. Health added eight states to its list of high-risk states on Monday morning as coronavirus cases rose around the nation. The new states are Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. To be included on the list, a state’s seven-day moving average of new coronavirus cases each day must be 10 or more per 100,000 persons. In total, there are 39 states on the list. The health department did not remove any states that previously were on the list. Anyone from high risk states who comes to D.C. for non-essential activities or returning after a non-essential visit to one of the states is required to self-quarantine for 14 days. Maryland and Virginia remain exempt from the order. The current list includes Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The list will be updated Monday, Nov. 2.
After 22 consecutive days, Virginia’s seven-day average COVID-19 positivity rose above 5%, a key threshold indicating the virus is being contained. The state’s average rate dipped as low as 4.5% on several days since late September, but ticked up steadily over the past week and stood at 5% as of Sunday. The increase mirrors an increase in overall cases statewide, with 900 new cases reported by the Virginia Department of Health on Sunday. That raised the state’s seven-day average of new cases to 1060.3. In Northern Virginia, 250 new cases were reported Sunday, raising the region’s seven-day average to 253.3. Like the state, average test positivity rates have been rising in the region as well, although Alexandria’s rate did hit a new low Sunday of 3.2%.
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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.