D.C. Sees Most New Cases Since Early June
COVID-19 Cases Reach 343,737 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 17,266 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 646 deaths; there have been 145,281 cases in Maryland with 4,000 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 181,190 cases with 3,654 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
As the DMV sees an uptick in coronavirus cases, D.C. on Saturday reported its highest number of new daily cases since the beginning of June. The city reported 122 cases — the highest count since 130 on June 3. The city has seen a 43% increase in new cases over the past week. Its seven-day average rose from 32 at the beginning of the month to 76 by Saturday. However, D.C.’s seven-day average positivity rate remains low at 2% for the past week. The jump in cases comes as the country sees a spike in coronavirus cases. The U.S. reported 99,115 new cases on Saturday, the highest since the pandemic began. Cases are higher and staying that way in 38 out of 50 states. Maryland and Virginia are among the 12 states not experiencing large and sustained spikes, along with D.C. New cases in Maryland and D.C. are lower but going up, while cases in Virginia are low and staying that way. While D.C.’s seven-day average has steadily increased during October, deaths have remained low. Since Oct. 1, the city has recorded 17 deaths, and the death rate remained steady over the past week. The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has increased in the city over the past week, however. Since Oct. 26, the city has recorded more than 100 patients hospitalized with the virus every day. For the prior three weeks, daily hospitalization numbers fluctuated between 84-98. Regionally, Maryland marked a grim milestone on Saturday, with a total of 4,000 deaths in the state from COVID-19. It recorded 967 new cases on Saturday, and over the past week has seen a slight uptick in its seven-day average. Over the past month, its seven-day average rose from 2.93% on Oct. 1 to 3.44% on Saturday. Like in D.C., deaths have remained relatively low over the past week. But hospitalizations continue to trend upward, as they have been for the past month. In hardest-hit Prince George’s County, the state’s second-most populous jurisdiction, the positivity rate increased slightly over the past week, but remained below 5%. It has the most coronavirus infections in the state, totaling 33,111, and local officials on Thursday cautioned against having gatherings for the upcoming holidays. In Montgomery County, which has the second-highest total cases in the state, the positivity rate increased from 2.54% on Oct. 24 to 3.34% on Saturday. The county, which is Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction, has reported more than 100 new daily cases for the past 11 days. Both Prince George’s and Montgomery counties remain in Phase Two of reopening, despite Gov. Larry Hogan authorizing a statewide move to Phase Three in September. Virginia reported 1,551 new cases on Saturday, the highest since the commonwealth saw 1,844 on Oct. 8. The seven-day average also trended upward last week after hitting a plateau earlier this month. Like Maryland, hospitalizations also steadily increased in October. In Northern Virginia, specifically, daily new cases have topped more than 300 for five consecutive days. On Saturday, the region reported a seven-day average of daily new cases of 298.4, the highest since June.
A Maryland circuit court judge has already dismissed a lawsuit filed Friday by two Harford County men after refusing to put on a face mask to vote. Daniel Swain, 52, and his son Luke, 22, both of Fallston sued a long list of entities, including the Harford County Board of Elections, Sheriff Jeffery Gahler and the Jarettsville Volunteer Fire Company, asking for a temporary restraining order and injunctive relief on religious liberty grounds for the right to vote without a mask. The lawsuit claimed the Swains have a right to breath oxygen and worship without a mask on, even while they are voting. The lawsuit sought “A statewide injunction forbidding any election official or law enforcement from interfering with any voter’s right to vote by forcing them to cover their faces with a covering or mask of some sore must be immediately issued.” But County Administrative Judge Angela M. Eaves quickly dismissed the lawsuit. Daniel Swain was arrested on the first day of early voting after the two men refused to put on a mask at the Jarrettsville Fire Hall, which is one of Harford County’s early voting centers. Given the option of voting outside without a mask on, they also refused that. The elder Swain was cited for trespassing and failure to comply with the governor’s emergency order when a compromise could not be reached and he wouldn’t leave. Frederick County Del. Daniel Cox, who has been an outspoken opponent to Gov. Larry Hogan’s mask mandate, represented the Swains in their lawsuit. Daniel Swain will be back in court on Dec. 4 to answer the charges stemming from his arrest.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan once again reaffirmed the state of emergency and catastrophic health emergency Friday. The latest proclamation is the 10th time Hogan has renewed the declaration of the state’s health emergency that was first ordered March 5. “While Maryland’s positivity and case rates remain lower than most states in America, we are closely monitoring increases in some of our key health metrics, as well as rising numbers in states across the country,” Hogan said in a press release. On Thursday 962 cases of the virus were reported – the highest since the beginning of August. The seven-day moving average of cases was 773, which has been climbing since Oct. 15. Across the state, county leaders reported an uptick in cases, which could lead to rollbacks in reopening provisions at a time when many are planning holiday celebrations. “This crisis is far from over, and this virus does not recognize state borders. I want to remind Marylanders that the only way to keep our state open for business is to avoid traveling to hot spots and continue following the public health guidelines,” Hogan said. Heading into the Halloween weekend, Hogan stressed the importance of following public health guidance while celebrating safely, which includes avoiding direct contact with trick-or-treaters, giving out treats outdoors, setting up a station with individually bagged treats for children, washing hands before handing out treats and making the cloth mask a part costumes. Hogan said he joined other governors on a teleconference with members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Gen. Gustave F. Perna, of “Operation Warp Speed,” the government’s coronavirus vaccine program. Finally, Hogan announced the Six Flags America drive-through COVID-19 testing site will expand its hours starting Monday. It will be open Mondays from 2-6 p.m., and Wednesdays and Fridays from 8 a.m.-noon. No appointment is needed, but people can preregister for convenience or to request accommodations. No doctor’s note is needed, and it is free. According to the state’s health department, there are more than 225 active testing sites across Maryland.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam allocated $30 million in federal CARES Act funding for Re-Employing Virginians (REV), a new workforce training program designed to help residents who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic. The program will provide scholarships to enroll in workforce or community college programs in healthcare, information technology, skilled trades, public safety or early childhood education. Participants who filed for unemployment benefits on or after Aug. 1; lost a full-time job or had their hours cut and currently earn less than $15 per hour can receive one-time scholarships of $3,000 to register in a qualifying full-time workforce program and $1,500 to register part-time or in a short-term, noncredit training program. “Investing in programs that help people develop skills in high-demand fields is a win for workers, employers and our economy,” Northam said in a press release. “As we focus on recovering from the impacts of the global pandemic, the new REV initiative will give Virginians the resources they need to get back on their feet and help ensure that our commonwealth emerges from this public health crisis even stronger than we were before.” Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads Local Workforce Development Areas, which have submitted nearly 50% of initial and continuing unemployment claims, will receive $3 million, while the Virginia Community College System will get $27 million for statewide programs. Since the pandemic began, Virginia has seen unemployment rates skyrocket. According to the Virginia Employment Commission’s latest numbers, businesses in the commonwealth lost an estimated 207,100 jobs from September 2019 to September 2020. Of 11 major industries, 10 saw a decline in their workforce, with leisure and hospitality marking the most severe downtown. The industry reported a drop of 76,400 jobs over the past year — a 18.7% decline. The commonwealth’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.2 percent in September, compared to 2.7 the same time last year. “More than 70 percent of Virginians who have filed for unemployment have some college or less,” Secretary of Education Atif Qarni said in the press release. “Increasing educational opportunity for those who have recently lost jobs will build resiliency in the commonwealth’s workforce, equip Virginians with the credentials they need to get back to work and move Virginia closer to our goal of being the best-educated state by 2030.” The scholarship could cover five three-credit courses at a VCCS college, where one credit hour costs in-state students $154. Interested individuals should contact a community college to apply before the Dec. 14 enrollment deadline. More information is available online.
Northern Virginia posted more than 300 new COVID-19 cases for the fourth consecutive day on Friday morning. The Virginia Department of Health reported 312 new coronavirus cases across Northern Virginia on Friday, raising the region’s seven-day average to 278.9, its highest level since June 13. On Thursday, Loudoun County reported its first case of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children. The syndrome, known generally as MIS-C, has been tied to COVID-19, and the Loudoun case is just the 11th in the state since the pandemic began. The Prince William and Fairfax health districts each reported three cases earlier this year, and Alexandria had one. The other three cases are elsewhere in Virginia. The Loudoun Health Department did not provide any additional details on its MIS-C case. None of Virginia’s cases has resulted in a death. The state reported 20 new deaths related to COVID-19 on Friday. None was in Northern Virginia for the seventh consecutive day.
President Donald Trump has reportedly called off election night plans to hold a party at the Trump International Hotel downtown, and instead will likely spend the night at the White House. The decision was first reported by the New York Times, who cited a person “familiar with the plans.” Earlier in the week, the Trump campaign emailed supporters about the party at the hotel, which is not on federal property and subject to the city’s health regulations. Under D.C. Health guidance, any establishment with a liquor license can hold large gatherings at half capacity, with all guests seated. Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a press conference on Monday that she had heard of an event planned at the hotel for election night and that her office would “be in touch” with the hotel, which holds the license. Trump told reporters Friday he hadn’t decided whether he would be at the White House or another location, but openly criticized Bowser’s coronavirus restrictions. “The mayor has shut [D.C.] down,” Trump said. “I think it’s crazy Washington, D.C. is shut down.” The party isn’t the first time the president’s hotel has been thwarted by the city’s coronavirus restrictions. In July, Trump appeared at the hotel not wearing a mask, prompting city officials to inspect the establishment for COVID-19 compliance. The Washington Post reported at the time the inspector found no violations, but committed to monitoring the hotel. It marks the president’s latest violation of pandemic cautions by local leaders. Over the summer he hosted a Fourth of July celebration on the National Mall despite pushback from DMV officials. He has since faced similar criticism for the now-infamous Rose Garden super spreader event that is linked to the COVID-19 infections of more than two dozen people.
Prince George’s County officials urged residents to avoid large gatherings for the upcoming holidays, citing an uptick in the county’s COVID-19 caseload and a rising percentage of positive test results. The county will remain in Phase Two because of its current metrics, and officials said they are continuing to prepare for a further spike in cases as the weather gets colder. “This is a holiday season like no other,” said Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks during a press conference Thursday. “We will prayerfully have an opportunity to gather in the way that we are accustomed to, but this holiday season is not it.” Prince George’s County remains Maryland’s hardest-hit jurisdiction. It has had 33,301 confirmed coronavirus cases, more than any other county in the state. Neighboring Montgomery County has seen the second-highest caseload, with 25,831 confirmed cases, and 851 Prince Georgians have died from COVID-19. The county saw its peak of new cases during the last week in April, when more than 2,400 county residents tested positive for the virus. Over the summer, the weekly case counts fell dramatically. But County Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter warned that certain key metrics, including the weekly case count and test positivity rate, are rising. “October has been bumpy,” Carter said. During the week of Oct. 18, 880 residents tested positive for the coronavirus, a 23.1% jump from the previous week and the highest since August. That week also saw a positivity rate of 4.4%, which represents a 12.8% increase from the previous week. Carter cited the data when he emphasized that the county was not ready to move into its Phase Three of reopening. Prince George’s County did not join Maryland in moving to Phase Three last month. “I’m concerned about what we’re seeing in our numbers as we enter into the colder months,” Carter said. “As we brace for another potential spike from the COVID cases, we have to be vigilant about the numbers and what we do.” Carter and Alsobrooks urged residents to avoid large holiday gatherings, which present a particular risk for virus transmission. Officials pointed to data from the county’s contact tracing, which show that small gatherings among family and friends are a cause of infections. That trend is mirrored in statewide and regional contact tracing data. For Halloween, the county prohibits indoor haunted houses and encourages families to avoid traditional trick-or-treating. Given the rise in cases, Alsobrooks also said that it was not likely the county’s schools would resume in-person any time soon. Although she acknowledged the particular challenges that remote learning presents for students with disabilities, Alsobrooks said “we are not headed in a direction where we would probably feel comfortable right now with in-person learning.” The county also relaunched its emergency rental assistance program Tuesday. Under this round of rental assistance, owners, landlords or property managers must submit applications on behalf of their tenants. Alsobrooks said the county shifted the procedure for submitting applications because many applications were coming incomplete. Alsobrooks said she hoped the requirement that landlords complete the form would boost the number of complete applications. She also announced that the county would allocate $6 million in state funding for financial relief for restaurants, acknowledging the challenges that public health measures have presented for their owners and employees. “We want to make sure that these businesses survive,” Alsobrooks said.
The number of DMV residents filing new unemployment claims fell last week to 25,869 while nationwide the number of new claims fell to 751,000, the lowest since March. It is still historically high and indicates the coronavirus pandemic is forcing many employers to cut jobs. Nationally, unemployment applications fell 40,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday. They fell in 30 states, including big drops in California, Florida and Texas. Claims rose significantly in Arizona, Illinois and Michigan. D.C. reported 1,363 new applications, down from 1,559 the week before. In Maryland, new applications fell to 9,944, down from 11,609 a week ago. But in Virginia, new applications rose to 14,572, up from 11,365 a week earlier. Rising confirmed COVID-19 cases in nearly every state, along with a cutoff in federal aid, are threatening to weaken the economy in the coming months. As temperatures fall, restaurants and bars will likely serve fewer customers outdoors. And many consumers may increasingly stay home to avoid infection. Those trends could force employers to slash more jobs during the winter. The seven-day rolling average for confirmed new cases in the U.S. soared over the past two weeks from 51,161 to 71,832, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The federal government said Thursday that the economy expanded at a record 33% annual rate in the July-September quarter. That is a sharp rebound after an epic collapse in the spring, when the economy shrank at a 31.4% annual rate. Yet the increase recovers only about two-thirds of what was lost to the pandemic. And growth is believed to be slowing sharply in the final three months of the year to a roughly 3% annual rate. With Congress having failed to agree on another stimulus package this year, millions of unemployed Americans who will lose all their jobless benefits in the coming weeks and months will likely pull back further on spending. Without another round of loans from the government, many small companies will also go out of business. Thursday’s report from the Labor Department said the number of people continuing to receive unemployment benefits fell more than 700,000 to 7.76 million. The decline shows that some of the unemployed are being recalled to their old jobs or finding new ones. But it also indicates that many jobless Americans have used up their state unemployment aid — which typically expires after six months — and have transitioned to a federal extended benefits program that lasts an additional 13 weeks. The still-elevated number of jobless claims underscores that a full recovery from the pandemic recession remains far off. Job growth has slowed for three consecutive months, leaving the economy still 10.7 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic level. The unemployment rate remains high at 7.9%.
Students in Prince George’s County Public Schools won’t return to classrooms until February at the earliest. “We have no plans to reopen before February,” CEO Monica Goldson said during a tele town hall Wednesday night. She said coronavirus infection rates and rising case numbers have accelerated at levels even higher than she had been expecting when she said there would be no return before the second semester. “We’re just not in a place where we can at this time,” Goldson said about reopening. Feb. 1 remains the target date, which is in line with what she said in July. “We still have to monitor numbers. I can’t say that that’s a firm, set date, but that is our plan right now,” said Goldson, who expressed hope that cases of COVID-19 will start to decline after the holidays to the point that February is attainable. Ahead of Wednesday’s conference call, PGCPS released the results of a survey of students and parents that assesses virtual learning through almost the first two months of the year. According to Maryland’s second largest school district, nearly 70% of parents said they believed the distance learning experience rates at least “good” so far. More than 25% of them rank it “excellent.” But that’s not to say there aren’t hiccups and difficulties for the district, which has more than 132,000 students. Parents said that keeping students engaged and balancing their own work hasn’t been easy. Students said they miss the social interaction and can have trouble staying focused. But the survey found parents and students both appreciated the ability to avoid bringing home the virus. According to the survey, 68% of parents said they aren’t comfortable sending their children back to the classroom right now. Keeping a medically vulnerable student or family member safe ranked among the top concern parents had. Others included cleaning and sanitizing surfaces, poor air ventilation and the ability of students to adhere to mask-wearing and other safety protocols. PGCPS said “many” parents want to retain the distance learning option even when kids go back, though it isn’t clear how many that is. The district surveyed 100,483 students in grades 3-12 and 89,043 parents between Oct. 5-16. The number of respondents included 10,972 parents (12%) and 4,672 students (6%).
While no new COVID-19 safety regulations are coming just yet, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday that the rise in cases in parts of the commonwealth, especially the southwest, are “concerning,” and that he was monitoring the situation “very closely.” The governor started his press conference by presenting a graphic from the New York Times showing that “Virginia is one of just a handful of states that is not seeing a large increase” in coronavirus cases. That is counting cases statewide, although he added that “While our numbers look pretty good overall, we have to consider differences in regions across the state.” In Northern Virginia and the southwestern part of the state, cases have been steadily increasing. In the latter, the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive is just under 8% and has been rising for 15 consecutive days. Northam noted that other states and countries are imposing lockdowns and other restrictions once again. “Nobody wants to do this,” he said. “We’re keeping an eye on this [situation].” He added, “Most people are doing the right thing, and they are tired of seeing other folks disregard the rules, and disregard the health and safety of other people.” Much of the increase is driven by small family gatherings, Northam said. Dr. Daniel Carey, the secretary of health and human resources, defined that term as anything that involves people who don’t live together, no matter the number of people. Masks and social distancing are still needed to keep people safe in such gatherings. Northam also said more money from the federal CARES Act would soon be distributed. Among the changes is that small businesses and non-profits can apply for up to $100,000 instead of the previous $10,000.
Montgomery County is seeing a rise in coronavirus cases, which could put the brakes on some activities. “We are at levels of virus that, if this had been May or June and we are making decisions about opening, we would not open,” County Executive Marc Elrich said during a press conference Wednesday. The case count as of Wednesday was 124, down from 157 on Tuesday and 134 on Monday. However, on Sunday, it was at 163. The county’s positivity rate is 3% and cases per 100,000 is 11.9, an increase from a week ago when it was 10.4. The acceptable threshold is 10. “There’s no doubt that this is not an anomaly anymore,” Elrich said. The upward trend is not isolated in Montgomery County. County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said numbers are up regionally, as well as statewide. “The trends have been established that we are seeing a sustained increase in cases, which gives us pause and gives us an opportunity to reflect on the possibility of needing to implement tighter restrictions on some of our activities,” Gayles said. He reiterated what he said last week, when the county updated its coronavirus indicators, that business closures would not be the first course of action if the county rolls back some of its reopening provisions. The numbers are the highest the county has seen since June, and with holidays approaching and more people planning to celebrate, Earl Stoddard, director of the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said officials are talking about a surge in the hospital system and how to be ready for a surge in cases over the coming months. “Our big concern is what happens after Thanksgiving” with people traveling to and from communities with high case rates, Stoddard said. Elrich said with recent information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the coronavirus can linger in the air for a longer period than previously thought, wearing a face mask and staying 6 feet apart from people while indoors for a couple of hours are not sufficient. “People really need to think about this, and as we go into the holiday season, we’re asking people think about different ways to celebrate the holidays,” Elrich said. “Until there are actual treatments that are readily available and a vaccine, which is widely available, we’re gonna have to deal with this in the best way we can. And the only way we can deal with this is through our own actions. So, I continue to encourage people to do the right thing, even if you’re tired of it,” Elrich said. Social and family gatherings, in addition to working outside the home, indoor spaces, houses of worship and indoor dining facilities have shown up more frequently in contact tracing investigations and interviews of those who have tested positive for the coronavirus, Gayles said. “Even when you’re interacting with family members now, or members of your network who don’t live within your household that you don’t come into regular contact with, it’s important to not let down your guard down. It’s important to continue to adhere to the public health guidance around face coverings, physical distancing, etc.” Gayles said.
AdvaGenix, the Rockville lab ordered by the state of Maryland to halt coronavirus testing after an inspection by federal and state experts over the summer, has been given the all-clear to once again perform COVID-19 tests. “I am pleased that AdvaGenix is approved to resume COVID-19 testing by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Maryland Department of Health,” said William Kearns, CEO and chief scientific officer, in a statement Wednesday. “AdvaGenix has confirmed the integrity of the specimens and accuracy of the tests we’ve conducted.” AdvaGenix was Montgomery County’s main supplier of coronavirus testing before the state health department in August issued a cease-and-desist order that called into question all of the lab’s test results. Montgomery County canceled its contract with the lab following the state’s order. The lab maintained test results were safe and accurate, and the issues uncovered by inspectors were a matter of “red tape” between the Food and Drug Administration, which authorized the lab to perform coronavirus testing, and another federal entity that regulates labs, known as CLIA. At issue was a dispute over whether the lab was required to perform a study of how lab specimens fared in high temperatures. To resolve the inspectors’ concerns, the lab ended up conducting the temperature-stability study requested by inspectors, the results of which confirmed that specimens were not adversely affected by high heat common in the summertime, the lab previously said. In the statement Wednesday, Kearns said, “We are in compliance with CLIA regulations and look forward to continuing our work to support the community and public health officials.” AdvaGenix had performed a total of about 20,000 COVID-19 tests for Montgomery County before it was ordered to stop. Another 3,500 test samples that were collected from county residents were never analyzed as a result of the state’s cease-and-desist order. After canceling its contract with the lab, Montgomery County contracted with CIAN Diagnostic Laboratories in Frederick. The county’s goal is to test 5% of its 1.1 million residents each month. At a news briefing last week, County Executive Marc Elrich said the county was averaging about 11%. Before jumping into the coronavirus testing field, AdvaGenix’s main line of business was genetic testing. “Moving forward, AdvaGenix is focused on COVID-19 testing, molecular genetic testing and expanded offerings, including influenza A and B testing,” Kearns said.
The risk of contracting COVID-19 during an airline flight is very low and below other routine activities during the pandemic such as grocery shopping or going out to dinner, when using face coverings and taking other steps. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health released a report Tuesday that found transmission risks can be “reduced to very low levels through the combination of layered infection control measures.” The report, funded by Airlines for America, a trade group representing airlines, and a consortium of aircraft and equipment manufacturers and airport operators, comes as U.S. airlines are losing billions of dollars each month as passenger demand remains down 65% from last year due to the coronavirus. U.S. airlines are operating just 50% the flights they did in 2019. Some carriers have recently announced plans to end blocking of middle seats. The Aviation Public Health Initiative team at Harvard recommended strategies to mitigate transmission risk on aircraft, during boarding and exiting. The report found after airlines mandated masks, boosted cleaning procedures and revised boarding procedures, “and with millions of passenger hours flown, there has been little evidence to date of onboard disease transmission.” The report noted commercial passenger aircraft are equipped with ventilation systems that refresh cabin air on average every 2-3 minutes and removing more than 99% of particles of the size that cause SARS-CoV-2. Researchers also found face masks significantly reduce risks of disease transmission during the COVID-19 pandemic. Airlines have mandated masks, added new cleaning and implemented protocols to manage boarding and deplaning. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month issued a “strong recommendation” that all passengers and employees on airplanes and in airports should wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Harvard report said risks remain that contagious pre- or asymptomatic people could be unaware and opt to fly. The study echoes a U.S. Defense Department study released earlier this month that found the risk of exposure to the coronavirus on flights is very low. When a seated passenger is wearing a mask, an average 0.003% of air particles within the breathing zone around a person’s head are infectious, even when every seat is occupied, it found.
The Fairfax Education Association teachers’ union urged members to call in sick today for a “mental health day” as they ponder how they will respond to a gradual return to in-person learning. Union President Kimberly Adams said teachers need the mental health day because of the stress they face with a looming Oct. 30 deadline to say whether they will return to the classroom when called upon, seek a leave of absence or resign. “We are drawing a line by protecting our members,” she said. The union has urged that school remain virtual for the entire 2020-21 school year because of safety concerns related to the pandemic. It represents about 4,000 teachers and staff in the Fairfax County Public Schools, the state’s largest school district that employs almost 25,000 people. The vast majority of FCPS’ 187,000 students are currently attending virtual classes. Supt. Scott Brabrand has outlined a plan that would have students return in stages through late January to two days a week of in-person learning. He accelerated the timeline slightly at the school board’s request. FCPS spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said the district is “aware of the possibility of a sick out and making plans to ensure all scheduled classes have teachers.”
Just like many other states, COVID-19 cases in Virginia have been climbing, but Northern Virginia is not seeing the kind of surge other areas in the state are. Statewide, the seven-day average of new daily cases was at 1,134. Although that isn’t quite yet comparable to the seven-day average peaks seen on March 31 (1,195) and Aug. 8 (1,198), it does mark a significant increase from the Oct. 1 average (747). The number of cases in Northern Virginia is climbing as well, but at a slower rate. It is consistent with an overall plateau that began around mid-June. The region’s seven-day average of new cases was 260 on Tuesday, up from about 161 on Oct. 3. The seven-day new case average between Oct. 3 and Tuesday climbed from 12.71 to 16.43 in Alexandria; 13 to 26.71 in Arlington; 69.9 to 109.3 in Fairfax County; 23.1 to 31.1 in Loudoun County; and 39 to 69.7 in Prince William County. Virginia’s major area of concern is the southwest region. Its seven-day average of new cases has been on a steady increase over the last four months: It was about 47 on June 27, but is now more than 342. Last week, state health officials singled out Lee, Scott and Wise counties, and Norton city, and urged residents to take the usual precautions. That area has seen 27 outbreaks and total cases have topped 1,300. Statewide, hospitalizations for COVID-19 have begun to inch upward, too: About a month ago, the seven-day average was just over 900; at the end of last week, that average was at 1,031. There are somewhat-more-encouraging numbers in terms of Virginia’s capacity to care for the ill if their condition worsens: There are still thousands of hospital beds available. And although ICU occupancy is at 82% now, the addition of “surge beds” lowers that to 53%. Virginia is also well-positioned in terms of ventilators. Only 28% of its more than 2,900 ventilators were in use as of Tuesday. And in terms of testing, the state has shown stability: The seven-day average for Virginia’s testing positivity remains about 5% — far below its high of over 20% in late April.
About 190,000 D.C. residents have activated the city’s contact-tracing option on their smartphones since it joined a new program last week. The pace of residents opting into the program, operated by Apple and Google, places D.C. among a group of cities that have most quickly embraced the technology, said D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt. It comes as states nationwide are recording a surge in coronavirus cases, while numbers in the greater Washington region have mostly held steady in recent days. Nesbitt said during a press conference Monday that the city will begin to include a daily count in its metrics to show how many people are using the smartphone option, called D.C. Covid Alert Notice or D.C. CAN. Several of those metrics remain stubbornly bleak, including a daily case rate that has crept higher in October and a percentage of closely related cases that has never come close to a benchmark set for reaching the next phase of reopening.
Weeks after the Montgomery County Council criticized County Executive Marc Elrich for a lack of information on where funds for coronavirus relief were going, members got an update. Amanda Harris, chief of the Special Needs Housing division of the Department of Health and Human Services, said 5,400 applications for eviction prevention have been received. She said 22% of applicants will be getting conditional award letters to give to their landlords. “That will relieve a lot of pressure” for the tenants to prove “that the money is coming,” Harris said. Some 25% of applicants have been denied for a variety of reasons. “It is quite high,” Harris said. “Higher than we had expected.” On the bulk of denials, 13% are because renters aren’t actually behind on their payments to their landlords, so they don’t qualify. Others can’t prove a loss of income due to the coronavirus and another 8% don’t meet the threshold for percentage of income paid for rent. “Our eligibility criteria is that they pay 50% for rent — we are looking at dropping that to 40%” in order to help those hardest-hit by the pandemic. Harris said processing the applications has taken longer than expected due in part to phone-related issues. She said staff members often get so many calls from applicants either trying to sign up or checking on pending applications that they fall behind. And, she said, the fact that the county staff members are working from home and using phone numbers that don’t appear to be county government telephone numbers has been an issue. “Most of our staff are teleworking, so they’re not calling from a county line. They’re just calling from a random number, and people don’t answer random numbers.” Harris said they are working on getting the word out that applicants could be getting the call they have been waiting for. She said the need for help in covering rent and staving off evictions is, “Not like a tsumani; it’s more like a steady rain.” And she said the county needs to consider long-term help for residents once the Coronavirus Relief Fund is depleted.
As the surge of COVID-19 cases rises nationwide, a quarter of the cases in Alexandria between Sept. 21-Oct. 19 can be tied to the workplace. Contact tracers at the Alexandria Health Department interviewed 422 infected residents during that time and found 25% had been in their workplaces within two weeks of feeling sick. During the same time period, 34% lived with someone who had recently had COVID-19 and another 10% had gone to a public event, social gathering or entertainment activity, most of which were indoors. And 7% each had either traveled outside the DMV or had gone to a restaurant or bar with two-thirds of them eating indoors. According to the most recent data, Alexandria has had 4,230 reported cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began with the city’s death toll at 74. Its seven-day moving average of cases per 100,000 residents was 9.5 as of Monday. To prevent that average from climbing during the fall surge, city officials are urging residents to wear a mask and practice social distancing. They also advise that if someone in your home is sick, ensure everyone wears masks in common areas, avoid sharing utensils and keep a minimum of 6 feet of distance. Don’t go to work if you are sick or have been around someone with COVID-19. Limit indoor social gatherings. Avoid travel as much as possible, especially to areas experiencing surges. And support businesses that are abiding with the “ALX Promise” and have committed to higher safety standards.
A staff member at Steuart W. Weller Elementary School in Loudoun County has tested positive for the coronavirus. The employee was last at the on Oct. 7, and the person is currently self-isolating, Loudoun County Public Schools Supt. Eric Williams said in a letter to the school community. He said the announcement was for notification purposes only and that the county’s health department will follow up with anyone who has a close contact with the staff member. Close contact is defined by the Virginia Department of Health as anyone who has been within 6 feet of a person who tests positive for the virus, for 15 minutes or more, starting from 48 hours before symptom onset or 48 hours before the test was taken if they had no symptoms. The Loudoun County Health Department said anyone who is sick should self-isolate or anyone who believes he or she was a close contact of a person that has COVDI-19 should stay home and consult a doctor for guidance. LCPS is bringing students back to classrooms in phases. Students in kindergarten through second grade are scheduled to start hybrid in-person learning two days per week today.
As the holiday season nears, D.C. officials issued guidance for Thanksgiving. Officials warned against traveling outside the DMV to states with higher rates of COVID-19, and attending or hosting big indoor gatherings with people outside your household. Among the lowest risk activities are having a small Thanksgiving dinner with members of your household or holding a virtual dinner with extended family. Mayor Muriel Bowser said during a press conference Monday that small gatherings concern her, because people “let their guards down because they’re in a familiar setting, their home, a family member’s home, they’re with familiar people, their own family. And there’s celebration, so there’s a lot of food and drink, and that also causes people to let their guards down.” Like its Halloween guidance, D.C. Health broke activities into three categories based on risk level. Lower-risk activities include having a small Thanksgiving dinner with only household members; hosting a virtual dinner with extended family and friends; watching sporting events, holiday programs and parades at home with household members; and doing Black Friday or Cyber Monday shopping online. Medium-risk activities include having a small outdoor dinner with family and friends who live in the DMV while wearing masks and socially distancing; and going to a local pumpkin patch or going apple picking at a local orchard with your family while social distancing. High -risk activities include traveling outside the DMV to states with higher COVID-19 rates; hosting or attending large indoor gatherings with people outside your household, including close family and friends; shopping in person with crowds; and attending sporting events and parades. For those doing Black Friday or Cyber Monday shopping, Bowser encouraged supporting local retailers. The mayor also emphasized the need to wear masks around guests, even though it may feel strange. “While it may feel awkward and uncomfortable, we know that that’s the best way that we can take care of each other,” she said. The guidance comes as states grapple with a surge in coronavirus cases, and many people weigh the risks of holiday travel. There are currently 39 states on D.C.’s high-risk list.
Apartment rents in the DMV remain among the highest in the nation, but they are slowly coming down as landlords try to lure tenants. D.C. ranks seventh highest among big cities for rent, averaging just over $2,100 a month across all apartment sizes in September. However, that is down 1.6% from the average rent a year ago. Real estate firm Zillow said that reflects what is happening in large, expensive cities across the nation. Rent erosion has landlords responding to a drop in demand and rising vacancies by lowering rental rates. Apartment vacancies are going up in big cities as remote work makes it possible for renters to relocate to less expensive places. But vacancies also are rising as a direct result of the high unemployment rate brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among younger workers in the service industries. “Their employment, their hours and their earnings have all been hammered, which makes it a lot harder for them to afford their own places,” said Jeff Tucker, economic research analyst at Zillow. “So a lot of those folks are moving home. We’ve seen more than two million young people move back in with their parents.” In addition to adjusting rents, more landlords are now offering concessions to fill vacant apartments. “We saw the share of rental listings on our site that were offering concessions more than double this year,” Tucker said. “What that really means in practical terms in most cases is one or two months of free rent. On a yearlong lease, that’s better than a 10% discount.” Other landlord concessions include no deposits, or lower ones, and free or reduced priced parking. Does that mean renters can negotiate when signing a new lease? “Yes, you can,” Tucker said. “You’re likely to have a lot more success than you would have a couple of years ago when it was a very tight rental market. But right now, they are worried about leaving those units vacant and that gives negotiating power to tenants.” The biggest drop in apartment rents was in New York City and San Francisco, down 6% and 5.9% from a year ago, respectively.
The Maryland State Board of Education on Monday unanimously approved a plan to move up the start of the winter sports season by nearly two months. Under the school sports plan approved by board members 13-0 at a virtual meeting Monday, the start date for competitive winter sports is Dec. 7 instead of Feb. 1. The change was requested by the Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland. Currently, 15 school districts have started small groups of in-person conditioning and skills development practice, including Anne Arundel, Charles and Frederick counties. Six school districts, including Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, continue to provide virtual-only sessions. For those school systems that haven’t provided any in-person athletics, moving up the winter sports schedule could lead to a time crunch, state education officials said. Maryland regulations require schools provide at least 20 days of practice before games or matches. “For those school systems, being able to get things in place before Dec. 7 is extremely important … so that they can gradually move into a competition season,” said Andy Warner, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, which works out of the state Department of Education. “And if they are unable to do that, there is a lot of risk for school systems that cannot move forward Dec. 7 of having to cancel their basketball or wrestling or indoor track or swimming and diving seasons, because they can’t meet the new time frame established for a competitive season for winter sports.” He said state officials would accommodate school systems that aren’t ready to go right on Dec. 7. “We would allow them to join in at any particular point in time that they can get those 20 calendar days” of practice, Warner said. “It just shrinks their competition season. And at some point in time, they’re going to have to come out and say, ‘We have to cancel winter sports because we never got started to that particular point of time.’” Moving up the start of winter sports is just the latest shift in a series of changes to the school sports calendar. In August, the superintendents group requested that the traditional fall sports season be postponed until after February, and came up with an alternative calendar that put all three traditional sports seasons into the two remaining semesters: winter sports first, followed by fall sports and then spring sports. On Sept. 24, in light of improving health metrics across the state, State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon, who has pushed schools to begin reopening their doors, gave school districts the OK to start their fall sports season Oct. 7. However, only three school districts did. The remaining 21 school systems decided to stick with the superintendents’ plan, which envisioned starting winter sports Feb. 1 The request to change the February start date to early December was laid out in a memo to the board from the superintendents’ group, and supported by athletic directors at 19 local systems, including Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. In a letter to students, parents and staff, officials with Montgomery County Public Schools, said the district’s COVID-19 athletics task force is preparing for the return of in-person conditioning and skill-based activities and will “review the implications of this calendar adjustment.” The letter added: “The return of in-person activities will occur when health metrics allow an in alignment with the plan to return students to schools.” Speaking during the meeting Monday, Salmon said she supports starting the winter sports season in December and said she would have preferred school systems restarted sports even earlier. “I would hope that school systems are going to open [the winter season] on Dec. 7 and that this is not going to be another scenario where we get pushback again,” Salmon said. The school board also voted to support Salmon’s continued call that all schools begin returning to some form of in-person learning. The board’s vote doesn’t mandate a change but amplifies Salmon’s stance.
American University will offer more in-person classes, activities and housing for the spring 2021 semester, along with expanded COVID-19 testing. Most classes will still be online, university officials said in a letter to the community, but the number of in-person classes will be double that of the fall semester, including classes in the sciences, visual and performing arts, media studies and select other areas. Classes will begin Jan. 19, one week later than previously scheduled and spring break is canceled. Any foreign-study programs that involved traveling before Feb. 6 are still canceled; any later ones will be evaluated next month. More buildings and spaces will be open for studying and small group meetings, as well as student-faculty meetings, and more residence halls will be open for “students with specific programmatic requirements to be on-campus and/or acute housing needs.” Officials said all students, faculty and staff living on campus or living off campus but going to campus will be tested for the coronavirus regularly. If not, access to campus buildings will be electronically suspended. Registration begins Nov. 2. Undergraduate and graduate students will continue to receive a 10% discount on tuition, and Washington College of Law students will get a 5% discount. Activities fees will remain the same as for the fall semester, while WCL students will see a 22% reduction. “This announcement comes at a time of record COVID-19 case counts nationwide and difficult projections for the coming months, but we are committed to a robust spring experience across our community that continues to expand in-person opportunities throughout the semester,” the university officials said. “If case counts increase significantly or local public health guidelines require a change, we will use caution and adjust operations accordingly.”
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has seen revenue through August from airlines decline 23.2% from last year, according to new figures, with non-airline revenue dropping 46.1%. From January through August, total revenue from airline operations was $181.6 million, down from $236.4 million during the same period in 2019. Declines were reported in all segments that make up that total, including both Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport: Rents paid by airlines dropped 10.0% to $138.8 million; landing fees dropped 45.1% to $36.7 million; international-arrival fees dropped 68.2% to $3.6 million; and fees paid by airlines for use of mobile-lounge service at Dulles dropped 37.8% to $2.4 million. The declines show how major the drop in travel was after the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March, which crippled air travel for several months. Even now, passenger counts at most of the nation’s airports have not returned to 50% of last year’s totals, in part due to huge declines in travel to many international destinations. When it comes to revenue not coming from airlines, the $157.4 million received by the authority in the first eight months of the year was down 46.1%. Declines include a 64.4% drop in food and beverage-related revenue; a 63.3% drop in fees related to retail/newsstand sales; a 44.4% drop in rental car fees; a 59.6% drop in ground transportation fees; a 65.5% drop in parking revenues; a 41.6% drop in fees associated with in-flight kitchens; and a 73.2% drop in duty-free shopping revenue. Total airline and non-airline revenue was just under $339.0 million for the first eight months of the year, down 35.9% from $528.7 million during the same period in 2019.
The number of new COVID-19 cases in Virginia could double over the next two months and nearly triple by January, according to the latest model from the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute. The institute’s updated model, released Friday, projects that cases will peak at about 14,900 the week ending Dec. 13. That is double the current trend of about 1,000 new cases a day, or 7,000 a week. Previously the institute predicted cases would peak the week ending Nov. 22 at about 8,400. The new model notes that reproduction rates now exceed 1.0 in most regions of the state, meaning each person who contracts the virus is passing it on to more than one additional person on average. Reproduction rates need to be less than 1.0 in order to slow the spread of the virus. In addition, seven of the state’s 34 health districts are now seeing surges in the spread of the virus, up from five the previous week, and 17 are seeing slow growth, up from 13 the prior week. In Northern Virginia, the Loudoun and Arlington health districts have moved from plateau to slow growth since the institute’s Oct. 16 report, joining the Prince William health district. The institute’s weekly report said the increases are “a concerning trend as we head into the holiday season.” It also noted that if the holiday season and colder weather results in an additional jump in cases, the state could have as many as 20,000 new cases a week in January, or nearly triple current levels. “However, if Virginians respond to the increase in case growth by improving prevention efforts such as hand washing, social distancing and wearing masks, cases could peak earlier and at a lower level,” the institute wrote. Saturday’s update from the Virginia Department of Health brought two more doses of news indicating COVID-19 trends across the state are worsening. The state’s seven-day average positivity rate ticked above 5%, to 5.1%, for the first time in four weeks and remained there Sunday. The 5% mark is generally considered an indicator that the virus is being contained.
The Virginia Department of Health launched a new coronavirus dashboard to track COVID-19 cases in educational settings. The dashboard lists outbreaks in kindergarten through 12th grade public and private schools across the commonwealth, including associated cases and deaths. It will be updated every Friday. According to a press release from VDH, the dashboard will only display cases related to outbreaks if transmission occurred at the school or a school-sponsored event. It will not track the total number of cases for students and staff not related to a specific outbreak. Only two schools in the commonwealth reported outbreaks according to the dashboard as of Friday — Rivermont School in Lynchburg and Meadow View Elementary School in Henry County. The new dashboard comes as school across the DMV release plans to gradually bring students back to classrooms for in-person learning over the next several weeks. Fairfax County Public Schools unveiled its plan Friday to return elementary and special needs students to classrooms by mid-November. Under Supt. Scott Brabrands’ proposal, schools will open for Pre-K, kindergarten and some special education students on Nov. 16. Then two weeks later on Nov. 30, in-person learning will begin for first and second graders and more special education students. The district plans to use a “concurrent” learning style. Students will receive two days of in-person instruction from a teacher, while remaining students who have opted to continue virtual learning follow along in real-time from home. Pilot programs of the concurrent model are underway across several grade levels. The Alexandria City Public Schools board approved a plan on Wednesday to bring hundreds of elementary and middle school students back to classrooms over the next several months. Under Supt. Gregory C. Hutchings Jr.’s proposal, young children with learning disabilities and English-language learners will return for in-person education sometime in November. Remaining elementary and middle school students who have opted for in-person learning will return in January and February. And Loudoun County Public Schools officials updated reopening plans in mid-October, tentatively setting Tuesday as a return-to-classrooms date for groups of kindergarten, first and second grade students. Upper-level elementary students are slated to begin in-person instruction on Dec. 1. School reopening plans have been controversial DMV for months as officials weigh the risks of keeping students at home with the risks of coronavirus spread when bringing students into classrooms.
Virginia voters strongly approve of Gov. Ralph Northam’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, oppose requiring public schools to reopen and remain concerned that they or a close family member may contract the virus. That is according to a new Washington Post-Schar School poll released last week. Overall, Northam garnered 2-to-1 approval from Virginia voters for his handling of the pandemic: 64% approved, 32% disapproved and 4% offered no opinion. The governor’s approval rating for dealing with COVID-19 is higher than his overall job approval rating of 56%. Several months into the pandemic, 65% of Virginia voters said they remained concerned about themselves or a close family member contracting the coronavirus. The poll found 27% of voters were “very” worried and 38% were “somewhat” worried. About 30% said they were less concerned. About 18% of voters were “not too” worried and 12% were “not at all” worried. Democrats said they were more concerned about contracting the virus than Republicans: 82% to 51%. Among independents, 65% said they were worried. In general, the majority of Virginians support Northam’s approach to dealing with the pandemic, including the coronavirus restrictions that limited capacity at businesses and closed others. According to the poll, 53% of those surveyed felt Virginia’s coronavirus restrictions were “about right.” A quarter of respondents said they felt the restrictions were not strict enough and 21% felt they were too strict. Well more than half of Virginia voters opposed requiring all public schools to reopen for in-person classes five days a week. In the DMV, most school districts in Virginia remain in remote-learning. According to the poll, 59% of voters said they oppose a mandate requiring public schools to reopen, while35% supported such a move. There is a partisan split on the matter: 85% of Democrats oppose the move while 65% of Republicans support it. The poll was conducted by the Washington Post and George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government. The poll was conducted by phone Oct. 13-19 and included a random sample of 1,109 adults in Virginia and a subsample of registered voters. The margin of error among registered voters is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, and among likely voters it is 4 points.
D.C.’s annual 17th Street High Heel Race, which should have occurred this coming Tuesday evening, has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The annual event, held the Tuesday before Halloween, brings out hundreds of drag queens in wigs, high heels, smoky eyes and glitter to celebrate and compete. Event organizers announced on Facebook that the race will not grace the streets of Dupont Circle this year. Instead, organizers will host a virtual “Best of High Heel Race Retrospective” at 8 p.m. this coming Tuesday on Facebook Live.
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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.