Va. Sees Most Cases Since Pandemic Began
COVID-19 Cases Reach 361,679 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 17,891 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 654 deaths; there have been 152,915 cases in Maryland with 4,052 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 190,873 cases with 3,704 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
Virginia reported 2,103 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, the highest number of cases reported in a single day in the commonwealth since the pandemic began in March. That tops the previous high of 2,015 new cases on Aug. 7, but that number was artificially inflated due to a delay in reporting cases from prior days. The commonwealth’s seven-day average positivity rate rose to 6% for the first time since Sept. 17. Northern Virginia health districts reported 460 new cases Saturday. The Virginia Department of Health said the Southwest region of the state has an ongoing surge “with substantial transmission.” It is urging residents to practice physical distancing, wear masks and remain home if they are sick or have recently been tested for COVID-19. Maryland has also seen a recent uptick in the number of cases reported, with over 1,000 new cases reported each day for the last four consecutive days.
As Montgomery County halted late-night alcohol sales at restaurants and bars, and will consider more restrictions on Tuesday, neighboring Prince George’s County isn’t considering new COVID-19 restrictions yet. County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said last week that there is a lot of concern about an increasing positive case count, which is higher in the county than the rest of Maryland. “Family gatherings are the big problem right now,” Alsobrooks said, conceding the upcoming holidays will be just as strange as the rest of the year. She urged residents to not host big dinners and parties this winter. “This is not the time to get relaxed and host those large family gatherings,” she said. Alsobrooks added there is noticeable “COVID-fatigue,” and that new cases are climbing, especially among people in their 40s. “This is not done yet, that’s the bottom line,” Alsobrooks said. “This is still spreading.” Since county health officials believe that the virus is being spread primarily among family and friends, Alsobrooks said most businesses that were rocked by mandatory closures earlier this year are safe, for now. “We definitely feel that Phase Two is the smartest place for us to be right now,” she said. “If we’re finding that the infections are growing in families, then that doesn’t mean that I close down a business. That may mean that what we have to do is adjust some of the gathering sizes, the restrictions on the number of people who can gather in various spaces.”
Montgomery County permitting employees improperly claimed COVID-19 hazard pay for work that was ineligible, according to a new report by the county’s inspector general. The county’s Office of the Inspector General said it received complaints in May that the county’s Department of Permitting Services management allowed inspectors to receive the extra $10-per-hour differential pay for time they worked in the office and at home not exposed to the public. Hazard pay was implemented in early April, when County Executive Marc Elrich negotiated with three labor unions to provide differential pay for employees who had to be in contact with the public as part of their duties. Any employee who had direct contact with the public was to be given an extra $10 per hour. Those working in an office, not near the public, could receive an additional $3 per hour. The county spent more than $49 million on hazard pay in all departments as of Sept. 26, adding to an estimated total of $72 million if the pay continued through the end of the year, according to the report, which was dated Oct. 29 and released Friday. Employees were found to have been overpaid in the permitting department between March 29-Aug. 29. But the department might not be alone. Investigators found that other county departments might also be “misapplying” the hazard pay policy and could be “paying undeserving employees COVID differential pay.” In a statement sent Friday evening, the County Council said it was “outraged” by the hazard pay misuse. It called for an independent investigation for differential pay in all of the county’s departments and for Elrich to stop any improper payments. “Every dollar that was improperly paid, needs to be recovered immediately, and those who committed these egregious acts must be held accountable,” the statement said. During the investigation, OIG also discovered that some of the department’s inspection data was “incomplete and not accurate” to what was posted on its public website, Data Montgomery. About half of the department’s inspectors “consistently claimed” 80 hours of hazard pay between late March and early May, a result of the department’s former acting director allowing staff members to claim differential pay for all inspection work, not just “front facing” work with the public. “As a result of the DPS’s faulty decision to allow inspectors to broadly claim front facing differential pay, DPS inspectors were paid COVID differential pay that they were not entitled to receive,” the report said. “We were not able to calculate the extent of over payments, because we were not able to obtain accurate information on the number of inspections conducted by DPS inspectors, how inspections were conducted and their duration.” The council is scheduled to discuss the investigation with Rich Madaleno, the county’s chief administrative officer, and Megan Davey Limarzi, the county’s inspector general, at its meeting Tuesday. In a response on Wednesday, Madaleno wrote to Limarzi that DPS will review all hazard pay claims and other departments will review hazard pay expenses as well. OIG recommended in its report that Madaleno not seek reimbursement for the hazard pay from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Coronavirus Relief Fund under the CARES Act until all county departments were in compliance. In his response, Madaleno wrote that the federal funding reimbursements are based on money actually spent responding to the pandemic. “In the event that reimbursements are sought from individual employees for differential pay overpayments, the county will make all appropriate adjustments to any federal reimbursement requests or application of CRF monies,” he wrote.
The temperatures might be in the 70s this weekend, but the ice rink at Pentagon Row in Arlington is open for the season. The 6,840-square-foot ice rink is the largest outdoor rink in Northern Virginia and the second largest in the commonwealth. It features an outdoor dual-sided stone fireplace for lounging during breaks. Safety procedures and protocols include skaters entering the rink in a one-way direction and interacting with staff socially distanced. Tickets must be purchased in advance online to ensure contactless ticketing and to minimize overcrowding (skaters younger than 12 may have one parent or guardian, who will stay in a public viewing area, accompany them. Staff and skaters will be required to wear a mask at all times within the venue. If a guest does not have a mask, one will be provided. Ice rink capacity is restricted to 50% to allow for social distancing. Expanded seating areas will provide social distancing while changing shoes and skates. Hand sanitizer will be available for guests. Equipment and touchpoints will be sanitized at regularly scheduled intervals. The rink is open from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays, noon-10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, noon-11 p.m. Fridays and 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturdays and public school holidays until mid-March. Tickets are $10 for people 13 and older, $9 for people 12 and younger and senior citizens. Skate rental is $5.
Similar to Glamp Yards held in October, The Yard Park’s large sundeck area will be set up with an Alpine ski lodge theme and dining tables for groups of two to four on Nov. 20, 21 and 22. Tickets, which range from $50 for two to $100 or $150 for groups of four, go on sale Monday. October’s Glamp Yards sold out. The Lodge seating is available by reservation only and can be reserved for 90-minute windows in the evening Friday, Nov. 20, and during the day on Saturday, Nov. 21 and Sunday, Nov. 22. There will be child- and parent-friendly activities on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Reservations include snack boxes and drinks in three tiers, which can be picked up from the diner’s choice of restaurant, including La Famosa, Hatoba, Shilling Canning Co., District Winery, Ice Cream Jubilee, Agua 301, Maxwell Park, Anchovy Social and Osteria Morini. Those with reservations will have their temperatures taken before entering the outdoor dining area designated as The Lodge for the weekend. Seating will be limited for 48 people at any given time.
Montgomery County officials halted late-night alcohol sales at bars and restaurants effective at 10 p.m. Friday, citing a recent spike in coronavirus cases. The county’s late-night alcohol sales program allowed restaurants and bars to serve alcohol until midnight if they received a waiver from the county. The rules for late-night alcohol sales included a provision allowing the county to automatically suspend the program if the county’s three-day test positivity averaged exceeded 3.25%, if the three-day of confirmed COVID-19 cases exceeded 100, if there was an increased association of indoor and outdoor dining with COVID-19 positive contacts of more than 3% or if more than 10% of inspections resulted in a citation, closure or revocation of a permit. According to state data, the county’s three-day average of new cases is 167 and the three-day positivity rate is 3.9%. Nearly 200 businesses that had been approved to serve late-night alcohol were notified by county officials on Thursday that they were suspending the program, according to a press release. The halt of late-night alcohol sales is separate from other restrictions the county is seeking to place on restaurants and retailers. Earlier this week, County Executive Marc Elrich proposed reducing capacity at restaurants and other venues to 25% from 50%. The county council, however, must approve those restrictions and postponed a vote until Tuesday. The late-night alcohol sales program, which just began last month, allowed restaurants to serve booze until midnight as long as they enforced social distancing requirements and took other safety measures. Under Phase Two of the county’s coronavirus recovery plan, alcohol sales were extended to midnight, but the county initially clamped down on the hours in August, pointing to data from contact tracing that found indoor diners were more likely to flout social distancing measures later at night.
D.C. is now offering residents the option to do COVID-19 testing at home. It is meant for communities who can’t access other testing options as D.C. surpasses 650 coronavirus deaths. Residents can order an at-home COVID-19 test from LabCorp and administer it themselves. The option is new for D.C. residents who previously had to go to their doctor or a free testing site in the city. The turnaround time for the testing is three to five days using the at-home test, said D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt. “You can pay for the test and use your insurance. There are some federal programs to cover cost of the test,” she said. Neither Maryland or Virginia offer at-home COVID-19 testing.
Montgomery County Public Schools students could begin returning to classroom in phases on Jan.12. School officials shared their plans with the Montgomery County Board of Education during a work session Friday, including bringing small groups of English language learners and those in special education classes first. The next phase would include students in kindergarten, first grade, some special education program, sixth grade, ninth grade and students in career and technical education programs; followed by pre-kindergarten, second, third, seventh and 10 grade students, and finally fourth, fifth, eighth, 11th and 12 graders. The phases would span from mid-January until the start of the second semester. When asked, Essie McGuire, associate superintendent for operations, said parents will be responsible for providing information regarding temperature, symptoms and other Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. She said schools will be supplied with personal protective equipment, including gloves, masks and hand sanitizer. The school district “will absolutely not be in a rationing situation” when it comes to equipment and that it has a robust supply. McGuire said transportation is also critical, as capacity on school buses will need to be limited to provide for safe social distancing. Initially, MCPS’ plan was to have children in every other bus seat. McGuire said that it would allow just 11 students to a bus, less than 25% of normal capacity. Other school districts in the region have planned to have one student in every bus seat, allowing 22 students per bus, she said. “Certainly, that’s still a reduced capacity,” said McGuire, noting that the district would have to see how many parents would opt for school bus transportation. If the course of the coronavirus spread can be contained as students return to school during January, the system could have all students back in class by February. However, it would depend on a set of health metrics, including the average daily increase of cases over a two-week period and the 14-day average of cases per 100,000. School district employees will get training and access to safety resources in a “COVID-19 employee portal.” School officials confirmed that 115 employees have tested positive for the coronavirus since March. There are 25 employees currently under quarantine. According to Seth Adams, director of facilities management, an evaluation of filter and ventilation systems in every school has been completed. Equipment systems to improve ventilation in schools are being tested, with some rejected because they were too noisy.
On Thursday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan allocated $50 million in state relief for restaurants as part of a $250 million package announced in October and called on local jurisdictions to match the money using CARES Act money. Hogan said the $50 million will be administered through local governments. Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties will receive $8.23 million and $6.11 million, respectively. “I have directed our team to ensure that this much-needed funding gets out the door as quickly as possible,” Hogan said in a press release. “We are urging counties and local jurisdictions to match these new state investments by utilizing their remaining CARES Act funding so that we can direct even more resources to where they’re needed most.” So far, Anne Arundel County, which received $5.02 million from the state, has agreed to match the funding for the restaurant relief program. Montgomery County also established a $14 million relief program — not using CARES Act money — to reimburse local businesses up to $5,000 to coronavirus-proofing their establishments. Last week, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said the county planned to use the $6 million in state funds for restaurant relief, but the county has yet to establish its own restaurant recovery program with CARES Act funding. The pressure from Hogan for local jurisdictions to spend their federal CARES Act money on the restaurant initiative comes as officials weigh how to best spend the money. About two-thirds of the CARES Act money distributed to 19 of Maryland’s 24 counties was unspent as of Oct. 28. The deadline to spend the funds is Dec. 30, and many local leaders say they need more time to make decisions, based on the rapidly changing state of the pandemic and a grim winter ahead. Hogan’s urgency for the matching funds also comes as Montgomery County, one of the state’s hardest hit jurisdictions, weighs cutting restaurant capacity from 50% to 25% as COVID-19coronavirus cases rise in the DMV. The state’s $50 million for restaurant relief comes from its economic relief fund, which Hogan expanded by $250 million in October. With renewed stimulus plans stalled in Congress, the state pulled additional money out of its $1.3 billion rainy day fund. The allocations for restaurant relief were determined by the number of restaurants in jurisdiction. In addition to the restaurant relief money, Hogan also set aside funding for arts and tourism industries, and other small businesses across the state. The Maryland State Arts Council received $3 million for an emergency program that allows venues, entertainment centers and artists to apply for grants to blunt the impact of lost programming and canceled events. Tourism agencies in each county will receive additional funding to increase marketing, and $50 million will be set aside for the backlog of small businesses still waiting on grants from March and April.
D.C. visitors from high-risk states must now get a coronavirus test 72 hours before traveling to the city. The new advisory that begins Monday, Nov. 9, also asks that people who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus not to travel to D.C. The testing requirements apply to people coming from jurisdictions with more than 10 cases per 100,000 residents — a list that currently includes 42 states. People who visit the city for more than three days are also required to get tested for the virus within three to five days of their arrival. The new travel advisory replaces the city’s current policy of requiring people to self-quarantine for 14 days when traveling to D.C. from high risk states. “We want it to be very clear … that especially right now, with increased cases of COVID-19 around the country, travel should be restricted as much as possible,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser during a press conference Thursday. “That said, we want people to be safe and smart if they do travel.” Bowser said private institutions like hotels, employers, universities and places of worship can require negative coronavirus tests from people, but there will not be any other “checkpoints” to ask people for proof of their test results. “Nobody’s going to be asking you at the airport or on bridges or on roads or at the train station to share your papers,” said Bowser. She said the new advisory is intended to be a “tool” for private institutions to “manage travelers.” The announcement comes as the weather cools and the rate of coronavirus infections is rising in the DMV and across the U.S. People traveling to the city for less than 24 hours are exempt from the requirement. People who are coming to the city for a family emergency or funeral are not required to get a test if it is not logistically feasible, but must limit their activities in the city to those related to the emergency or funeral. Visitors from Maryland and Virginia are also exempt. And people coming to D.C. for “essential work” are allowed to perform that work prior to receiving the results of a second coronavirus test in the city. Bowser said the policy will also not apply to travelers from certain locations considered to be “low risk” because they have a small coronavirus caseload. The city will publicly list “low risk” locations to which the policy does not apply — although Bowser said she expects the list to be short given the large numbers of coronavirus infections across the country. D.C. residents returning from a place considered high risk can either limit their activity and self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days, or limit their activities until they get tested after 72 hours of being home. Health experts recommend that people wait three to five days after potential exposure to the virus to get tested because it can take time for the virus to appear on a test. The city is also now able to provide at-home testing kits through Labcorp. Information about how to obtain an at-home test can be found online.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise nationally, Maryland renewed its travel advisory, asking residents to avoid travel to and from states with a 10% or higher positivity rate. Gov. Larry Hogan made the announcement at a press conference Thursday evening. If residents do travel to or from states above that threshold, Hogan said they must be tested and self-quarantine before returning. The growing amount of cases in Maryland puts it in the “red zone” set by the federal government despite the state’s 4.21% positivity rate, better than 42 other states. Hogan said he understands that some will want to travel to visit family as the holiday season begins. But with coronavirus cases going up throughout the country, the governor said it is not time for residents to become complacent. “We shouldn’t lose sight on the obligation that we have to protect the health of the most vulnerable among us,” Hogan said. “We want all Marylanders to enjoy the holiday season with their love ones, but we want you to do so as safely as possible.” He also urged residents to continue wearing face masks as the statewide masking order remains in place. Face masks are required in all public spaces and in all businesses. Wearing masks is the best strategy to fight the virus, Hogan said, as it saves lives and keeps the state open for business. “Just wear the damn masks,” he said. Cases are trending upwards, with seven jurisdictions, including Allegany, Dorchester, Garrett, Harford, Prince George’s, Queen Anne’s and Somerset, over 5% positivity rates. Family gatherings and house parties are believed to be the top two reasons for spread, according to the state’s contact tracers. With the U.S. reaching more than 100,000 new cases a day, Hogan said it is important for residents to stay vigilant and continue following basic protocols. Employees were advised to telework when possible, to continue practice social distancing and to wash their hands frequently. “We are in the midst of a major surge,” Hogan said. There are concerns, he said, of the lack of compliance by certain people following the mask order. Local agencies, such as liquor boards and law enforcement, will be empowered by the state to ensure that all public health regulations are being followed. Counties with high positivity and case rates will have the governor’s “full support” to implement more restrictive policies to contain the spread of the virus. Elected school board officials will also receive support to make the best decision for their jurisdiction, including limiting in-person learning, Hogan said. When asked about his push to have students return to the classroom, the governor pushed back, saying the school districts make the last decision. “Nobody was really pushing to open the schools with people,” Hogan said. “But there are special populations that just can’t do the distance learning, and we were only trying to get the kids that needed it the most back into the schools.” Eight months after coronavirus restrictions were first implemented, Maryland is in a good place to combat the surge of coronavirus cases, Hogan said. State officials amassed a stockpile of personal protective equipment and tests, while increasing the number of hospital beds. Hogan credited residents taking measures issued in the spring seriously. Now, Marylanders are being asked to be vigilant again in order to combat a second wave from taking place. “We are going to continue to attack this virus with every tool in our disposal,” Hogan said. “The most effective tool we have is every single one of you.”
The Montgomery County Council on Thursday postponed a vote on new coronavirus restrictions until next week. The council was set to vote on new restrictions that would reduce capacity at restaurants, retail and other venues to 25%, and require restaurants to retain contact tracing information for 30 days. The new restrictions were set to go into effect today at 5 p.m. But the council decided to put off its vote on the county executive’s new order, citing the need to get more public input. A vote is expected on Tuesday. The amended executive order from County Executive Marc Elrich was proposed earlier this week as he cited concerns over the latest COVID-19 data. “Everyone is seeing an increase in cases, and everyone’s seeing an increase in the rates,” County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles told council members Thursday. There were 226 new coronavirus cases in the county on Thursday, which was the “highest that we’ve seen since the beginning of June when we were coming off our surge of cases,” Gayles said. In addition, the seven-day average of new cases stands at 14.8 per 100,000 residents — also the highest since June, and well over the CDC’s benchmark of 10 new cases per 100,000 residents. In deciding whether to proceed with the tighter restrictions, council members debated the impact on businesses and whether they would be put at a disadvantage compared to looser restrictions in neighboring jurisdictions. Earl Stoddard, the director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said there had been an attempt at a regional approach. “County Executive Elrich has been attempting to recruit other partners in this,” he said, meaning the leaders of other jurisdictions in the DMV. “We got to the point where we’ve been holding back on this recommendation for weeks trying to recruit other people to jump off that proverbial ledge or move forward with this together.” So far, neither D.C. nor Prince George’s County, where restrictions have generally been in line with Montgomery County, have announced plans to roll back restaurant or retail capacity limits. Stoddard didn’t provide specifics but suggested that could change.
Downtown D.C.’s economy has been wrecked by the coronavirus pandemic, although it has made a slight recovery recently, according to a new economic update by the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District (BID). The report documents the toll the pandemic has taken on the 138-square-block section of downtown D.C. by the BID, a nonprofit that promotes and supports business and property owners inside the boundary. Some slightly good news from the report is that office workers slowly started to return to work over the last three months. The percentage of office workers working on-site increased from 5% in July to 10% in October. However, there were 7,000 fewer jobs downtown in September than at the end of 2019. The BID attributed the decline to permanent closures and staff cuts made by hotels, restaurants, stores, theaters and event venues. For one, Aramark, a catering and concessions company, laid off 738 employees at Capital One Arena and 123 employees at the convention center in late October until those facilities reopen. Most of the people who work in the downtown office buildings are still employed but working remotely. Businesses have added about 1,900 jobs since June, bringing the total job count to 181,600. Office vacancy rates hit record levels in downtown D.C. (15.2%) and the city as a whole (11.5%), continuing a three-year trend. There were no office sales in the entire city in the past three months, a fact the report’s authors call “highly unusual.” Anyone looking to rent offices have the upper hand as landlords are offering record levels of rent concessions, including space improvements and months of free rent. The BID said landlords are eager to attract new tenants, as many existing ones are waiting to make long-term decisions about revising their work-from-home policies or renovating existing office space. As for retail, vacancy rates have worsened over the past three months. The retail vacancy rate reached an all-time high of 18% in October, up from 12% at the end of 2019 and 17% in July. And restaurants continue to take a beating. Though more restaurants are now offering indoor and outdoor dining than they were in the summer, sales are only 30%-50% of 2019 levels. That is up from 20%-40% of 2019 levels in July. No new restaurants opened in the last three months, and Ashok Bajaj’s Olivia at 800 F St. NW in Penn Quarter closed. More businesses and cultural institutions like the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery reopened after D.C. moved into Phase Two of reopening at the end of June. Planet Word, the city’s new museum of language, held its grand opening in October. However, many culture and entertainment spaces within the Downtown D.C. BID’s boundaries remain closed, including Capital One Arena, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the Shakespeare Theatre and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. More than 1,000 theater shows and other performances were cancelled between March and December 2020. The ensuing loss of patrons — around 400,000, according to the report — hurts restaurants, bars, parking garages, Metro, ride sharing services and other businesses. The numbers spell trouble not just for downtown workers, business owners and landlords, but for the city as a whole. Last year, downtown D.C. contributed nearly 16% of the city’s local gross tax revenue, according to the BID’s State of Downtown 2019 report. Lost tax revenue could mean the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser will need to cut spending even further, extending the pandemic’s negative impact on residents far into the future. “What happens next is dependent upon the pace of decline in the spread of COVID-19,” the authors write.
The University of Maryland will switch to online learning “with very few exceptions” after the Thanksgiving break. UMD President Daryll J. Pines said in a statement Thursday that he made the decision because of a surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide and in the area that would likely only get worse as colder weather led more people to stay indoors, which increases the possibility of transmission. “Research conducted by our faculty and our colleagues at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, on the impact of climate on infection rates, also suggests that we should expect a continued escalation of COVID-19 cases in our region,” Pines said in the statement. “All students who elect to travel away from campus for Thanksgiving should plan to remain away for the duration of the semester. Students who choose to remain in residence halls for Thanksgiving may stay in their residence halls until the conclusion of the semester,” he said. The last day of classes is Dec. 14; exams are set for Dec. 16-22. Campus-wide coronavirus testing will be offered the week before Thanksgiving, Pines added. “Like many of you, I wish for a return to normalcy for our university, including the full resumption of in-person classes and extracurricular activities,” he said. “Yet this virus continues to demand vigilance, patience and perseverance. I believe the actions outlined above are prudent, data-driven, and in the best interests of our university community.” Pines didn’t detail any possible exceptions in Thursday’s statement.
With about 150,000 D.C. residents still unemployed nearly eight months after the coronavirus pandemic began, the D.C. Council is considering legislation that would help many of those workers get their jobs back. The Displaced Workers Right to Reinstatement and Retention Amendment Act, proposed by the labor union Unite Here Local 25, would require D.C. employers to send job offers to employees who were laid off during the pandemic if their positions reopen. Employers wouldn’t be allowed to fill the job with someone new until the former employee rejected the offer. The bill would apply to people who involuntarily lost their jobs after Feb. 1, 2020 for reasons other than misconduct. Unite Here Local 25, which represents more than 7,000 workers at local hotels, casinos and restaurants, said the legislation is intended to help hospitality employees laid off during the pandemic. They worry that some employers may use the pandemic as an opportunity to shed their staff and replace them with cheaper, less experienced workers. The Baltimore City Council recently passed similar legislation over objections from the hotel industry, whose representatives said requiring hotels to rehire laid-off workers after the pandemic deprives them of the “flexibility needed to recover from the economic crisis.” The bill is under review by outgoing Baltimore Mayor Jack Young. No one testified against the D.C. bill during Wednesday’s committee hearing, but the public can submit comments until Nov. 18. During Wednesday’s Committee of the Whole hearing, Unite Here Local 25 executive secretary-treasurer John Boardman said the legislation was based on a “very simple concept”: that workers “thrown out of work, through no fault of their own, [have] a guaranteed right to return to his or her job when that job comes back.” But an ensuing discussion between Boardman and Council Chair Phil Mendelson revealed that concept may not be so simple. As written, the legislation applies to all D.C. employers, not just hospitality employers. It would also require companies to reinstate laid-off employees even if the company has since changed hands or undergone restructuring. (t wouldn’t apply if the employer changes industries completely, or needs to fill jobs that laid-off workers aren’t qualified to do. The intent is to make sure employers can’t evade the law by shifting their corporate structure, Boardman said, and to protect workers’ jobs even if their employer hits financial turbulence or gets bought by another entity that seeks to cut costs. “We have seen, over and over again, waves of [corporate] reconfiguration based simply on finances. And there are enormous incentives for financial operatives to displace and disrupt workforces in order to achieve financial advantage,” Boardman said. But Mendelson asked whether the measure could effectively require businesses to hire workers they never employed in the first place. He cited the hypothetical example of pricey retailer Brooks Brothers being bought by the owner of affordable clothing brand Old Navy. If a Brooks Brothers retail location became an Old Navy, Mendelson asked, would the bill require Old Navy to rehire Brooks Brothers employees laid off during the pandemic? “I think Brooks Brothers would be deeply distressed if they were taken over by Old Navy, but you are correct in your assumption,” Boardman said. Employers in a situation like that, he added, would be allowed to fire rehired workers, but they would have to show cause if they want to terminate them within a 90-day “transition period.” Mendelson, who sponsored the legislation, also raised the possibility of making protections under the bill temporary, instead of permanent, to tailor it to pandemic-related furloughs. But Boardman said as long as the future of the virus remains unclear, workers need some assurance that there is a job waiting for them in the end. “I’m pretty sure that we’re not going to be looking to the federal government anytime soon to provide any protection for workers,” Boardman said, apparently referencing the likelihood that Republicans will retain control over the U.S. Senate, narrowing the chance of a second coronavirus relief package. “The protections that are going to exist are largely going to exist because of bills like this that you, as local legislators, initiate.” But the Council’s labor committee chair, Elissa Silverman, suggested at the end of the hearing that the bill may need tweaking. “My North Star here is we want to make sure that our workers have the opportunity to come back to their employment, and we don’t create disincentives for those workers to return to their jobs,” Silverman said. “I think we can find a way to do it, but I think it will take some further refinement.” If the bill survives, council could vote on it Dec. 1.
The coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted the DMV’s rental housing market, with apartment vacancies rising and landlords lowering rent to fill empty units. Delta Associates, a real estate research firm, reported the stabilized vacancy rate for all classes of apartments is currently 4.5%, up from 3% a year ago. Rental units are divided into classes. Class A rentals are generally the highest quality buildings with the most amenities, in the desirable locations, with the highest rents. Class B includes generally older, less expensive buildings that have fewer amenities. More expensive and newer buildings have been more negatively impacted, with the Class A vacancy rate at 5.5%, up 1.2% from a year ago. Across the DMV, Class A rents are down 7.0% from a year ago, the steepest year-over-year decline recorded by Delta. For Class A and Class B apartment units combined, DMV rents are down 5.5%. “The unprecedented nature of the pandemic and the resulting prolonged economic slowdown in its wake has impacted the apartment market more than initially expected,” the firm said. There are exceptions in the region. Delta reported as tenants flee to less dense areas, the outer suburbs have benefited, with suburban Maryland currently the strongest apartment rental market. Vacancies there remain stable and rents are generally rising. “Suburban Maryland’s success probably stems from its relatively lower cost of living and lack of new supply as heightened unemployment and salary cuts make tenants more cost-conscience,” Delta said. In Charles County, average apartment rents are up 8.6% from a year ago. In Northern Virginia, Delta’s data shows high-rise apartment building rents are down 10.9% from a year ago. Rents at older, low-rise buildings are down 3%. In the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, average apartment rents are down 13% from a year ago. In D.C., average high-rise rent is down 10.7%. In Upper Northwest, rents are down 3.2%, but in downtown, rents are down 12.7%. A separate report by apartment rental site Apartment List said average rents in Frederick are up 4.7% from a year ago and up 3.1% in Germantown. Farther out Northern Virginia locations have higher average rents than a year ago, up 3.9% in Leesburg and up 0.3% in Ashburn. Higher vacancy rates currently may be a problem for developers in the DMV. Delta reports the pipeline of likely deliveries of newly-built apartment units in the region over the next 36 months stands at 41,642 new units, 2,900 more than at this time last year. It is the 10th consecutive year the development pipeline has been above 30,000 units. Switching plans for units under construction from rental to condominiums may reduce the development pipeline. Delta reports only 4.1% of the 28,951 units currently under construction but not yet leasing metro-wide are of a scale suitable for condo conversion before delivery.
Americans who did not file tax returns and have not received an Economic Impact Payment must request before 3 p.m. on Nov. 21. The Internal Revenue Service is mailing letters to about 9 million people eligible for payment on how to apply online. The deadline will allow the IRS to process payments without disrupting the upcoming tax season. Americans are eligible for an economic impact payment if they were not required to file any federal income tax returns from 2018 and 2019 for any reason. Reasons for not filing include: an individual’s income is less than $12,200, a married couple filing jointly have a combined income less than $24,400 or a individual reported no income. Those who are receiving Social Security retirement payments or are recipients of Veterans Affairs Compensation and Pension benefits and who have not received their economic impact payments must also fill out a form. All eligible non-filers must fill out an online form to receive their payments. One must provide certain information, including full name, mailing and email addresses, date of birth and valid Social Security number. More information can be found on the IRS’ website. The majority of Americans who filed a 2019 tax return received their Economic Impact Payment following the passage of the CARES ACT on March 27. U.S. citizens, permanent or qualified residents received either a maximum payment of $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 for married couples who filed a joint return. An additional $500 was given for each qualifying child in a family.
D.C. Public Schools has scrapped a plan to reopen elementary schools next week, delaying plans to bring some students back to classrooms after fierce pushback from teachers, parents and principals. School district officials planned to bring back some 21,000 elementary students beginning Nov. 9, the start of the second term. But in a letter to the community Monday morning, Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said all students will start the quarter virtually. “We commit to supporting our students, families, teachers and staff in our urgent mission to safely reopen schools,” Ferebee said in the letter. “We have heard feedback from many in our community about #ReopenStrong plans, and we will use this moment to adjust our timeline and staffing plans for reopening.” The announcement came as educators and families pressured officials to delay plans for reopening. The Washington Teachers’ Union encouraged teachers to take a mental health day on Monday, creating staffing challenges and forcing some school leaders to cancel virtual classes for the day. With a week before schools were set to reopen, key questions remained. The WTU and district leaders could not agree on terms for reopening — the union wanted teachers to have the ability to opt out of in-person teaching and school leaders did not. It was unclear how DCPS would decide which teachers to send back for in-person teaching or how many were told they were expected to return. The district, which enrolled 51,000 students last academic year, wanted to use teachers’ responses on a form and survey to identify about 700 teachers who would provide in-person instruction to 7,000 students in classes of 11 or fewer. Students were invited by the district to take in-person classes, with priority given to students for whom officials said distance learning is especially challenging, including students with disabilities, English language learners and students who belong to low-income families. But DCPS threw out the form and survey to comply with a ruling from the D.C. Public Employee Relations Board, a city panel that mediates labor disputes, after the WTU filed a complaint. Ferebee said that ruling prevented DCPS from staffing in-person classes next week. But he indicated the school system can and would require teachers to work in-person without an agreement from the union moving forward. “We believe we have the right to do that,” he said. Reopening plans also presented another potential challenge with larger class sizes for the students remaining in virtual learning. Some students from virtual classes of teachers chosen to teach in-person would have been reassigned to other teacher’s online classes. Many teachers said that would cause teaching quality to go down. Plans for reopening classrooms have stoked criticism from unions representing teachers, principals and school nurses, who argue buildings cannot safely reopen. But even some parents who want their children back in school criticized the system’s plans. Teachers aren’t the only employees reopening would have affected. More than 2,000 city employees could be needed to staff CARE classrooms, where up to 14,000 students would continue virtual learning under staff supervision beginning Nov. 16. “We are still taking steps to reopen and will begin by opening CARE classrooms as soon as staffing plans are confirmed,” Ferebee said in his letter Monday. “Families who already accepted an in-person learning seat will have the option to join a Care classroom first. Then, we will outreach to additional families with seat offers. The city’s human resources department has asked non-school system workers, including those in the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Child and Family Services Agency, to volunteer to staff those classrooms. Employees at middle and high schools are also being reassigned to oversee elementary school students, drawing anger from principals who argue removing staff will be detrimental for older schoolchildren. The Council of School Officers, a union representing principals, wrote a letter to city officials that said the plan “pits elementary and secondary schools and students against one another for resources.” At some schools, 10-20 staff members, including assistant principals, instructional coaches and counselors, could be reassigned to oversee CARE classrooms, according to the union. “This will result in the effectiveness of the secondary school virtual program being crippled,” the letter said. Ferebee said Monday some middle and high school workers, including assistant principals, will no longer be asked to staff the CARE classrooms. Middle and high school students are expected to continue with distance learning until at least the start of the third grading term, which starts in February.
Arlington Public Schools delayed the return of students to classroom at least through the end of the calendar year. A small cohort of 236 students with disabilities who need direct support are still scheduled to return to Arlington classrooms tomorrow as part of the district’s Level 1 reopening. But Supt. Francisco Durán announced Monday that the district has paused plans to bring back Level 2 students, including the youngest children and students in career and technical education programs. They had been slated to begin returning on Nov. 12 for some in-person learning as part of a hybrid model, Durán said. “We are prepared to provide in-person learning support to the 236 students in Level 1, using every recommended health and safety protocol to make this transition safely,” Durán wrote in a message to families. However, he said case rates would not allow for more students to return this month. “We continue to see the case incidence rate in our area increasing, not decreasing. Level 2 comprises significantly larger numbers of students and staff. Moving too quickly to Level 2, while case levels are still rising represents a safety risk and could cause further disruption to our schools.” Last week, Durán told families the health and safety metrics were “not where they need to be to proceed with Level 2,” and promised to announce a decision shortly. In a recent family survey of the more than 13,000 students eligible to return in Level 2, 52% chose the option for hybrid learning; 42% preferred to continue with full-time distance learning; and 6% did not respond. Cases throughout the DMV have been on the rise.
The Washington National Cathedral will reopen today for the first time since the pandemic began for an Election Day prayer vigil from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. “It’s an election that has a lot of passion around it,” said Dean Randy Hollerith. “We thought it was very appropriate for us to have a vigil, to pray for our democracy, pray for the election and pray for our country.” The day after the 2016 election, the National Cathedral held a service that invited people “to pray together for reconciliation” and to help “find common ground ” after such a divisive election. The vigil will run a total of 14 hours. Throughout the day, clergy will lead continuous prayers, the reading of Psalms and moments of quiet. Prayers include a 7 a.m. morning prayer, a mid-day prayer at noon and evening prayers at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Every hour on the hour, a prayer for the nation and the election will be read. “Between the fears of the pandemic … and the stress of this election, we wanted to be a place that offered peace, solace, and a place of prayer,” Hollerith said. Due to health restrictions, only 100 people will be allowed into the nave at a time on a first-come, first-served rotating basis in accordance with current D.C. regulations for places of worship. Properly worn face masks are required for anyone older than six, social distancing is required and worshipers need to provide contact information for contact tracing purposes. Also, no clothing, signs or items that support or oppose specific candidates are allowed inside of the cathedral. “We’re not doing political advertising and this is not a time or space in which to do campaigning. This is a time for quiet and peacefulness and prayer,” Hollerith said. The rest of the Cathedral, including the gift shop and Open City Cafe will remain closed. Free parking is available in the garage. Chaplains and clergy will be available inside and outside the cathedra. For those who choose not to attend in person, the entire 14 hours will be streamed. On Wednesday, the cathedral will be open from 1-5 p.m. for post-election private pray and reflection. Then the National Cathedral will close to the public once again. The grounds remain open, but with new COVID-19 cases spiking there are no immediate plans to reopen the building, Hollerith said. The cathedral has been streaming services virtually since it closed in March.
The Virginia High School League, which oversees high school sports in Virginia, released guidelines for resuming some activities in December after Gov. Ralph Northam loosened coronavirus-related restrictions on recreational activities last week. The VHSL said it is ready to restart high school athletic programs next month after Northam on Thursday signed an amended Executive Order 67, which includes changes regarding recreational sports. The changes allow the VHSL to move ahead with its “Championship+1” schedule, which received approval in September by that group’s executive committee. Among the guidelines for participation are required screenings of coaches, officials, staff and players for COVID-19; total attendees cannot exceed more than 250 people indoors or outdoors; smaller venues cannot exceed 50% capacity; races and marathons can have up to 1,000 participants, but staggered start times are required; and hugging and high-fiving, handshaking and fist-bumps are not allowed. “This amendment by the governor clears the way for all of our sports to play,” VHSL Executive Director John W. “Billy” Haun said in a press release. “Adherence to these guidelines will offer a safe reopening for our students, coaches, staff, officials and communities once we start playing in December. Additionally, we appreciate the close collaboration and guidance from the governor’s office, the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education.” The Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association will release its safety guidelines on Nov 6.
The number of cars on area roads has rebounded since coronavirus lockdowns were enacted in early spring, but it has not yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels, according to a new analysis of traffic levels in the DMV. Roadway volume bottomed out in April at about 50% of what the same period saw in 2019, according to the report from the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, a federally-designated group that provides traffic data for local officials. The report attributed the decline in traffic to stay-at-home orders. Summer saw traffic rebound somewhat, with July and August traffic standing at an average of 20% below normal. Arlington, Alexandria and D.C. — what the study classified as the region’s core — experienced the sharpest drop and have been the slowest to bounce back. Farther out in Loudoun and Prince William counties in Virginia and Frederick, Charles and Calvert counties in Maryland, traffic has seen a more marked recovery with summer traffic levels reported at 15% under their 2019 equivalent. “Typical weekday morning and afternoon traffic peaks were also noted to be less prominent since the pandemic began in the region,” the TPB wrote in a news release. The organization also analyzed air travel in 2020 compared with 2019. It found air traffic at major Washington and Baltimore-area hubs rapidly dwindled starting in February before bottoming out in April, and have only saw a slight rebound ever since. If it were any other year, TPB’s data suggests air travel would have steadily increased from the beginning of the year through July, but in 2020, air boardings peaked in January and have yet to fully recover more than six months since the pandemic began.
D.C. Health added three more states to its list of high-risk states on Monday morning as coronavirus cases rose around the nation. The new states are California, New Jersey and Oregon. No states were removed from the list this week. 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 42 states 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, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The list will be updated Monday, Nov. 16.
As President Donald Trump fights through the final days of the presidential election denying the pandemic by lashing out at doctors, disputing science and criticizing the press for highlighting rising coronavirus case counts, a long-running rift between the White House and Dr. Anthony Fauci burst into the open Saturday night. For months as Trump undercut his own medical experts, sidelined scientists and refused to take basic steps to control the virus while mocking former Vice President Joe Biden for wearing a mask, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist held his tongue and took the President’s attacks in stride as he continued to plead with the American people to socially distance and wear masks. But Fauci’s restraint appeared to have disappeared in a Washington Post interview published Saturday night. In it, he called out the White House for allowing its strategy for fighting the virus to be shaped in part by a neuroradiologist with no training in the field of infectious disease and said he appreciated chief of staff Mark Meadows’ honesty when he admitted to CNN’s Jake Tapper during a recent interview that the administration has given up controlling the spread of the virus. At a time when Trump is downplaying the rising cases in the majority of states, holding huge rallies with few masks and no social distancing, and lodging the false and outlandish claim that doctors are exaggerating the number of COVID-19 deaths for profit, the nation is “in for a whole lot of hurt,” Fauci told the Post. “All the stars are aligned in the wrong place” as the country heads indoors in colder weather, Fauci said in the interview late Friday, a day when the U.S. set a global record for the most daily cases and the nation surpassed 229,000 deaths. “You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.” Fauci, who is widely trusted by the public after a lengthy career serving six presidents from both parties, said Meadows was being candid in the interview last weekend when he told Tapper it was not possible to control the virus. Fauci has adopted the opposite strategy by repeatedly telling Americans that they can change the trajectory of the virus and save lives if they adhere to mask use, social distancing protocols and other safety precautions. “I tip my hat to him for admitting the strategy,” Fauci said of Meadows’ admission. “He is straightforward in telling you what’s on his mind. I commend him for that.” Fauci did not mince words describing what he views as the untoward influence of Dr. Scott Atlas, a controversial figure who has become the president’s de facto COVID-19 adviser. Atlas, a White House coronavirus task force member who took on more prominence as Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx receded from public view at the White House, has misrepresented the effectiveness of masks and discouraged testing of asymptomatic people, even though most medical experts believe it is a critical element of stopping the spread of the virus. “I have real problems with that guy,” Fauci told the newspaper about Atlas. “He’s a smart guy who’s talking about things that I believe he doesn’t have any real insight or knowledge or experience in. He keeps talking about things that when you dissect it out and parse it out, it doesn’t make any sense.” Fauci and Birx, the coordinator for the White House task force, were fixtures at the White House early in the pandemic, often appearing alongside Trump at White House briefings to detail the administration’s efforts to fight the virus. But Trump grew increasingly frustrated with Fauci’s media appearances and what he viewed as the doctor’s negative tone about the trajectory of the virus. Fauci told the Post he was choosing his words carefully so as not to be prohibited from doing future interviews. During a call with campaign staff in October, Trump referred to Fauci and other health officials as “idiots” and said Americans were tired of hearing about the pandemic. Birx, who has also expressed concerns about Atlas to her confidantes, has taken her expertise and influence on the road, meeting with state and local officials to try to help shape their strategies for fighting the virus. Atlas responded to Fauci Saturday night in a tweet comprised of a series of hashtags that accused him of engaging in politics and mocked Fauci for the ceremonial first pitch that he threw at the Washington Nationals opening game. “#Insecurity #EmbarrassingHimself #Exposed #CantThrowABall #NoTimeForPolitics,” Atlas tweeted. In a statement, White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere sharply criticized Fauci, claiming he was inappropriately playing politics a few days before Election Day. “It’s unacceptable and breaking with all norms for Dr. Fauci, a senior member of the President’s Coronavirus Taskforce and someone who has praised President Trump’s actions throughout this pandemic, to choose three days before an election to play politics,” Deere said in the statement. “As a member of the Task Force, Dr. Fauci has a duty to express concerns or push for a change in strategy, but he’s not done that, instead choosing to criticize the President in the media and make his political leanings known by praising the President’s opponent — exactly what the American people have come to expect from The Swamp.” But it was Trump’s campaign that tried to play politics with Fauci when it featured him in a campaign ad without his consent and took his words out of context. Deere appeared to be referring to the contrast that Fauci drew in the interview between the Trump and Biden campaigns’ differing approaches to the pandemic. Biden’s campaign, he was quoted as saying, “is taking it seriously from a public health perspective,” while the Trump campaign is viewing the virus through the lens of “the economy and reopening the country.”