Maryland Sets New Record for Daily Cases
COVID-19 Cases Reach 383,703 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 18,814 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 658 deaths; there have been 164,090 cases in Maryland with 4,144 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 200,799 cases with 3,799 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
On Saturday, Maryland set a new high in single-day COVID-19 cases since the state documented its first cases of the disease in early March. The addition of 2,321 newly-reported cases topped the previous daily record set Friday of 1,869 cases. Before last week, Maryland’s previous peak stood at 1,784 new cases reported on May 19. On Nov. 4, Maryland’s number of new cases exceeded 1,000 for the first time since early August. Its daily cases have remained in the quadruple digits every day since. Hospitalizations linked to the disease have returned to levels previously seen in June and continue to rise rapidly. Maryland’s seven-day positivity rate — an indicator of the disease’s prevalence in a community — rose to 6.16% as of Saturday, also returning to June levels. The state’s positivity rate peaked around 26% in April, and dropped when the state imposed stay-at-home orders and as testing ramped up. According to data from the Maryland Department of Health, the ongoing November outbreak is the most significant increase in the statewide positivity rate since the initial spring wave subsided around July. Gov. Larry Hogan responded to the worsening metrics by ordering stronger restrictions for bars and restaurants as well as indoor gatherings that went into effect on Nov. 11. Maryland also recently unveiled MD COVID Alert, a contact tracing app that automatically sends notifications to users who have recently had contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. More than 900,000 Marylanders have signed up for the service, according to the governor.
Masks and face coverings protect the person who wears one as well as preventing the coronavirus spread to others, according to officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Previously, the CDC advised people to wear masks because it stops people who are infected with coronavirus — whether they know it or not — from spreading it to others. But last week the CDC posted a new scientific brief discussing recent studies finding that a wearer gets some protection. The agency’s guidance didn’t change. It continues to advise Americans to wear masks to stop the virus from spreading. “But now we’re saying here’s another reason” to do it, said Dr. John Brooks, chief medical officer for the CDC’s COVID-19 emergency response. Agency officials were influenced by a recent study led by Japanese researchers who used mannequin heads and artificial respirators to simulate the spread of coronavirus particles through the air and assess how well masks blocked transmission. It confirmed earlier research that masks work best when worn by an infected person who might spread it by coughing, sneezing or talking. Masks block about 60% of the virus that comes out of an infected person, the study found. But the researchers also found there was benefit when an uninfected person wearing a mask was unlucky enough to be near an infected person who wasn’t wearing one. In that scenario, the amount of virus the uninfected person inhaled fell by 37% to 50% if they wore a mask. When both people were wearing masks, the decline in virus particles reaching the second person was close to 70%. The study didn’t perfectly mimic most real-world situations. For example, the heads were closer together than six feet, and the exhaling mannequin head was doing more of a constant cough than regular breathing. But Brooks said the value of everyone wearing masks is suggested by several other studies of real-world situations, including one of customers in a Missouri hair salon, another on a U.S. aircraft carrier and several others that tracked infections and deaths in places that adopted mask mandates.
On Friday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued new rules and restrictions on gatherings, face coverings and alcohol sales effective at midnight Sunday as the commonwealth’s coronavirus metrics surge. Under Northam’s amended orders, all public and private indoor and outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 people, down from the previous limit of 250. The mask mandate that requires individuals ages 10 and up to wear face coverings in indoor public settings has been expanded to all children over age five, and on-site alcohol sales are now prohibited at any restaurant or bar after 10 p.m. Restaurants must close for dine-in service by midnight. In addition to the new restrictions, Northam strengthened the enforcement of coronavirus precautions at retail stores; violations will now be a class one misdemeanor, enforceable by the state health department. “Everyone is tired of this pandemic and restrictions on our lives. I’m tired, and I know you are tired too,” Northam said in a press release. “But as we saw earlier this year, these mitigation measures work. I am confident that we can come together as one commonwealth to get this virus under control and save lives.” Like its neighbors in D.C. and Maryland, Virginia has seen new cases surge over recent weeks, and in a dramatic fashion over the past several days. On Nov. 7, the commonwealth reported a record 2,103 new cases and is reporting a seven-day average of new cases of about 1,500 as of Friday. During Virginia’s COVID-19 peak in May, the commonwealth hit a seven-day moving average of roughly 1,200 new cases per day. The positivity rate, which measures the number of positive cases out of total tests is 6.5% as of Friday — well above the World Health Organization’s recommended 5% for reopening. Hospitalizations have also steadily increased over the past week. Northam’s restrictions follow a similar move by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday. He reduced indoor dining capacity from 75% to 50%, and the state’s health department activated plans for hospital surge capacity as cases continue to rise. Regionally, Virginia is reporting fewer average cases per capita than D.C. and Maryland. The commonwealth’s seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 people is 2,368, while Maryland’s is 2,695 and D.C.’s stands at 2,727. In the Northern Virginia suburbs, Fairfax County has seen its number of daily new cases steadily creeping up since late October, recording its highest daily case since June on Thursday. Arlington County is also reporting new daily case numbers that it had not seen since late May and early June.
D.C.’s acute care bed capacity passed more than 90% full for the first time Friday, an amount considered insufficient according to the city’s reopening metrics. The news follows several days of rising COVID-19 cases across the DMV. The city’s available bed capacity metric indicates how local hospitals are able to care for all patients, including those with COVID-19, without needing to use surge resources. However, the metric frequently fluctuates, and the city has emergency surge capacity. Of the 2,487 total beds — not including the roughly 1,000 surge beds available — 2,244 were occupied as of Nov. 9. Notably, only 109 of those were COVID-19 patients, according to D.C. Health. It isn’t immediately clear how that number of total beds might have changed since the start of the pandemic, when several area hospitals stopped elective surgeries to free up resources for COVID-19 patients. Some jurisdictions including Virginia have since resumed elective surgeries. “Facilities are assessing their capacity on a daily basis and implementing strategies as appropriate to manage the current and anticipated surge,” D.C. Health spokesperson Allison Reeves said in an email, adding that the Washington Convention Center’s field hospital setup is prepared for a surge in patients. On Thursday, D.C. Health data showed the virus had reached “substantial community spread” levels for the first time since May. That rolling seven-day average of new cases climbed again yesterday to 16.78 cases per 100,000 people. On Friday, the city reported 159 new cases. The daily new case count has topped 100 several times this month. On Wednesday, the city recorded 206 new cases, its highest daily case count since late May. Case counts have been trending upwards since September. On Thursday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the city may need to impose new restrictions if cases continue to rise heading into the winter, but has not done so this far. There are 18,666 total known cases in D.C., and 657 people have died. Meanwhile, Maryland saw its highest daily case count ever on Friday, with 1,869 new cases. The state’s hospital bed usage is now at levels not seen since June. On Tuesday the state health department activated plans for hospital surge capacity and Gov. Larry Hogan tightened restrictions on indoor dining capacity in response to seven consecutive days where the state saw 1,000 or more new daily coronavirus cases. That number now stands at 10 days in a row. Maryland’s seven-day rolling positivity rate is also at levels not seen since mid-June. It currently stands at 5.87%, above the 5% threshold recommended by WHO. Montgomery, Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties all added coronavirus restrictions this week. Last week Prince George’s County reported 69 hospitalizations due to the virus. County Health Director Dr. Ernest Carter said that was the county’s highest average since June. “Just in the last two days, we’ve seen a 27-bed increase in hospitalizations,” Carter said earlier this week. “Thankfully our hospital capacity remains very strong … however, we absolutely have to get it under control because if we don’t, there will be a rapid rise in our intensive care units and we’ll have to do further things to make sure we have that capacity.” Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Health on Friday reported 1,235 new cases, which was a high figure, but not the highest number of cases it saw in the past week. On Thursday, Virginia reported the seven-day average of new daily cases was 1,546, the highest it has reached since the pandemic began. The commonwealth’s rolling seven-day average positivity rate stands at 6.5%; it last saw that number in mid-September. The commonwealth’s hospital bed capacity has seen small fluctuations, but remained largely steady overall. Public health experts have warned for months of an uptick in infections as the weather gets colder and people spend more time inside. They are particularly concerned about the cold weather coinciding with “pandemic fatigue,” as people grow weary of social distancing and mask-wearing. In recent weeks, Bowser, Hogan, and Northam have warned against risky in-person holiday gatherings and urged residents to respect local guidelines.
D.C. Public Schools and the Washington Teachers Union reached a tentative agreement on conditions for how schools will reopen, a deal that may end a monthslong fight over how to safely bring students and educators back to classrooms. The six-page agreement includes almost 50 conditions DCPS would meet before reopening schools, including workplace protections for teachers who are exposed to the coronavirus and safety conditions inside buildings. Union President Elizabeth Davis said she would seek feedback from the group’s members before formally signing off on the agreement with DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee. Davis said she would inform Ferebee of her decision by Tuesday. “We want to return to in-person as soon as possible but we cannot overlook the safety issues,” she said. “We’ve got to ensure that these schools are safe for students and teachers. And, if they’re not, we do not want them to reopen.” The union and school district have been in negotiations over reopening schools for several months. One major sticking point was that the union wanted the teachers to have the choice of turning down an in-person teaching assignment, which the district did not. The two sides struck a compromise in the proposed agreement. For the second quarter, which is underway, only teachers who volunteer to work in person will staff physical classrooms. For the third and fourth quarters, which run from early February through June, DCPS may require teachers to work in person if not enough teachers volunteer, a term Davis said the union could renegotiate in the future. Ferebee has said he does not need approval from the WTU to reopen schools and has signaled he would move forward with plans without union support. But lack of union support stymied reopening plans this month. The school system had planned to bring back up to 7,000 elementary school students for in-person classes at the beginning of this week. The union filed a complaint with the D.C. Public Employee Relations Board, arguing the school system refused to negotiate with the teachers, as required by law. The board, which mediates disputes between the city and workers, sided with the union, leaving DCPS unable to staff classrooms. Instead, the school system will reopen on a much smaller scale on Nov. 18. About 600 elementary students are expected to return to CARE classrooms, where they will continue with virtual learning under the supervision of adults who are not teachers. The school system initially planned to have 14,000 students in CARE classrooms. Ferebee has not released further plans for a broader reopening of schools, but has said the school district will likely try to bring more students back to physical classrooms this academic year. Still, the agreement is unlikely to allay concerns from some community members who worry it is not safe to return to school buildings. The District of Columbia Nurses Association, which represents more than 100 school nurses, is expected to hold a rally today protesting plans for opening CARE classrooms next week, according to a news release. The union says school nurses have not received adequate protective equipment and lack information about protocols for isolating people and temperature checks.
All undergraduate classes at the University of Maryland are moving online starting Monday after state and local officials announced more COVID-19 restrictions this week. The switch to all-virtual classes will continue for the rest of the semester. Graduate courses will stay the same, and the library will be in a “modified Phase Two.” “We encourage all students who are able to begin making plans to return home for the remainder of the semester”, President Darryll J. Pines said in a statement Friday. Before leaving, students are required to take a COVID-19 test so they can prevent spreading the virus to their loved ones, he added. For students who stay on campus are expected to restrict activities as much as possible. They must make an appointment to take a COVID-19 test after Thanksgiving, between Dec. 1-4. On-campus facilities, such as the Stamp Student Union and RecWell facilities, will be limited and dining halls will be grab-and-go only.
PassionFish seafood restaurant, 7187 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, will closed after dinner service Sunday. The restaurant made the announcement Friday after five years in Bethesda, the restaurant announced on Friday. The restaurant’s Reston location will remain open. The restaurant is owned by Passion Food Hospitality, which at one time owned nine restaurants in the DMV including DC Coast, Cieba, Ten Penh, District Commons, Penn Commons and two Burger, Tap & Shakes, will only have the Reston restaurant left. District Commons and Burger, Tap & Shake in Foggy Bottom closed permanently in October. The Bethesda closure is due to “many issues beyond our control,” a press release said. David Wizenberg, one of the restaurant’s owners, blamed the closure on the COVID-19 pandemic. PassionFish hasn’t been able to pay its full rent recently. Landlord BlackRock Real Assets “tried to be accommodating at first, of course,” Wizenberg said. “They’re business people, too. But they were not able to help us any more….” That coincided with Montgomery County’s new executive order, approved by the County Council on Tuesday, which caps indoor seating capacity at restaurants at 25%. Since mid-June, restaurants in the county had been able to serve at 50% indoor capacity. At 25%, “we wound up with a 40-seat restaurant, and we just can’t make it work,” Wizenberg said. Surviving at 50% capacity was still difficult, he said, but they were able to stay in business in the short-term with the help of the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program. “That probably was not sustainable for the long term, but we were trying to hold on with that based on the potential for some new PPP money, and I applied for some grants and so on. But nothing had moved. It was just sort of bad news after another,” he said. The Reston PassionFish opened during the 2008 financial crisis. Wizenberg said the economic crisis was difficult to navigate, but there were more options for survival than there are during the pandemic. “That was certainly difficult [in 2008], and you have to make decisions and do promotions and all sorts of things. It’s certainly not a cakewalk. But you can’t run a 160-seat restaurant and bar at 25%. It’s impossible.” PassionFish opened in September 2015 in downtown Bethesda. The restaurant’s last seating will be at 9 p.m. Sunday. The restaurant’s 55 employees will be laid off.
Saying “it is time to hunker down,” Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks on Thursday tightened COVID-19 restrictions, including reduced capacity limits at bars and restaurants, limiting the size of gatherings and redoubling efforts to reduce crowding at grocery stores and other retailers. “We are in the midst of another surge,” Alsobrooks said during a news conference, pointing to rising coronavirus cases in the county, as well as an “alarming” increase in people hospitalized with the illness. Among the new rules, the county is capping indoor social and family gatherings at one person per 200 square feet or 10 people maximum. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 people. Capacity at bars and restaurants is being reduced to 25% indoors and 50% outdoors. The number of people allowed in gyms and fitness centers is also being cut from 50% to 25%, limited to one person per 200 square feet. Alsobrooks also expanded the county’s mask mandate, saying all residents need to wear facial coverings whenever they leave their residences unless they are vigorously exercising. Previously, the order required facial coverings only indoors. The new restrictions go into effect at 5 p.m. Sunday. The limits on social gatherings apply to private residences, officials said. Regarding the capacity limits for indoor gatherings, officials stressed that the 10-person limit was a maximum based on the square footage necessary to maintain social distancing. For example, a gathering inside a 600-square-foot apartment would actually be limited to three people given the square footage requirements. In addition, Alsobrooks said county teams are stepping up efforts to enforce existing capacity limits at stores and big box retailers — capped at 50% — and to make sure social distancing and mask requirements are being enforced both there and at grocery stores. “I go into those stores and, in some instances, I’m concerned — they are full of people,” she said, adding that it is of particular concern with the holidays approaching. She said that the county’s compliance teams would be dispatched to retailers to make sure they aren’t too crowded and that health rules are being followed. Earlier Thursday, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, citing a “sudden increase” in COVID-19 cases, also announced new restrictions. The new restrictions there also limit social gatherings to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, starting today. Starting Monday, youth athletics are suspended for all county fields and facilities, and by the end of next week, the maximum indoor capacity at restaurants and bars will be reduced from 50% to 25%. Pittman said he wrestled with the decision to further restrict eating out and drinking at bars, but said those activities carry some of the highest risks. “You can’t wear the damn mask when you’re eating; you can’t wear the damn mask when your drinking,” he said. Pittman said he knows the tightened capacity limits will be tough for businesses, and he is urging people “to step up and do takeout” and tip generously.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine filed a lawsuit on Thursday against Capitol Petroleum Group and several affiliates for alleged illegal price gouging during the pandemic. The lawsuit alleges that CPG and affiliates Anacostia Realty LLC and DAG Petroleum Suppliers LLC roughly doubled profits on every gallon of gas sold at 54 stations in D.C, despite wholesale gas prices dropping during March and April. It is Racine’s second price gouging suit during the pandemic. In May, his office sued Helen Mart, a convenience store in Ward 7, for allegedly illegally marking up bleach. “The overwhelming majority of the District’s businesses continue to follow the law. In this case, however, OAG’s investigation revealed that — despite lower gasoline prices during the pandemic — Capitol Petroleum Group took advantage of the District’s consumers by illegally increasing the price of its products, instead of passing the cost savings along to District consumers as required by law,” Racine said in a statement. The complaint alleges that CPG, along with Anacostia Realty and DAG Petroleum, “saw a business opportunity” when coronavirus hit D.C. and wholesale gas prices dropped. CPG is both a distributor and a retailer — meaning it supplies gasoline to 54 stations across the city, and also sells directly to consumers at other gas stations. Under D.C.’s Natural Disaster Consumer Protection Act, which went into effect with the state of emergency on March 11, businesses are prohibited from charging higher prices for goods and services during the pandemic. Moreover, the NDCPA prevents retailers from marking products up over wholesale costs and requires them to charge the same markup percentage that existed 90 days prior to the state of emergency. According to the complaint, CPG violated D.C.’s price gouging law by roughly doubling its retail profits per gallon of gas sold from $0.44 before the March emergency declaration to $0.88 in the weeks following. It also claims CPG and its affiliates unfairly increased profit margins during the pandemic. The average markup at their regular gas stations was 41.6% from Dec. 2019 to March 2019. Three weeks into the state of emergency, their markups jumped to 149.8%, according to the complaint. CPG’s owner, Joe Mamo, has been described as the “king of D.C.’s gas business.” In the early 2000s, big oil companies like Shell and BP sold their stations to smaller distributors, which is how Mamo entered the industry. He acquired 200 Shell and Exxon stations, and owned half of all gas stations in D.C. The fine for violating D.C.’s price gouging laws is $5,000 per violation, and the suit is seeking damages for consumers harmed by the sales as well as legal costs. Racine’s office is also seeking a court order to prevent the companies from violating consumer protection laws in the future.
Maryland is spending $70 million to prepare for a potentially devastating winter as the state and nation brace for another wave of COVID-19. Cases have been spiking statewide, with Maryland’s overall positivity rate at 5.65%, and the seven-day average at more than 1,400 cases and rising. Although Montgomery County officials have called for Gov. Larry Hogan to issue statewide mandates, but the governor did not indicate that he would Thursday, although he stressed that counties have the power to impose their own restrictions that go beyond those in place at the state level. Hogan said the $70 million comes from the federal CARES Act and will go toward preparing the state for the fallout of another wave of the virus. Spending include $20 million for stockpiling personal protective equipment. Hogan said much of Maryland already has a 90-day stockpile of PPE, but more may be needed. Another $15 million for the Maryland Department of Labor to use on staffing and programs within the department. Other expenditures include $10 million in rental housing assistance for low-income tenants; $10 million to purchase supplies necessary for the rollout of a vaccine in the state; $10 million for food banks in the state; $2 million for the Department of Human Services; $2 million will go to foster care providers; and $1 million will be given to a wastewater sampling program that hopes to detect COVID-19 outbreaks in vulnerable populations. Hogan said the lack of action from the federal government on delivering more coronavirus relief has put a serious strain on businesses within the state. “Our leaders in Washington, on both sides of the aisle, need to put the politics aside, do their jobs and get this done for the American people,” he said. Hogan also said that Rockville-based Novavax, which is working on a COVID-19 vaccine, received a fast-track designation from the Food and Drug Administration for its vaccine, although it could be well into 2021 by the time it is rolled out. Hogan gave some insight as to how the state plans to roll out its vaccine, saying the first batch would go to the people most vulnerable to becoming infected: first responders, medical workers, elderly residents and other frontline workers. On a personal note, Hogan said he has changed his plans for Thanksgiving Day in order to prevent the spread of the virus. Initially, he was going to have his three daughters, his sons-in-law and his four grandchildren over to the Governor’s Mansion for the holiday, but those plans have been canceled. “Everybody’s gonna stay home with their immediate families, and the first lady and I will be having hopefully dinner together by ourselves,” Hogan said.
The Maryland Court of Appeals on Thursday suspended all criminal and civil trials, except those in which a jury has already been seated, until at least January as the state deals with a surge in COVID-19 cases. Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera issued the order. “After consultation with the leadership of the Maryland Department of Health and Judiciary leaders, I have determined that the Maryland Judiciary must return to restricted operations as described in Phase III in response to the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Maryland,” Barbera said in a statement. Some court functions will continue to operate on a limited basis. Maryland’s courts shut down on March 16 and operated in a very limited fashion until Oct. 5, when Barbera allowed jury trials to resume.
While the numbers are headed in the right direction, businesses in downtown D.C. continue to struggle because of the pandemic. “The economic activity in downtown has improved since July, but it remains substantially below last year,” Gerry Widdicombe, director of economic development for the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District, told industry leaders during a teleconference Thursday. Guidance for visitors not to travel and calls for employers to allow telework during the peak of the pandemic led to the decline. According to a report by the Downtown D.C. BID, the daytime population, which includes workers and tourists, is down from 256,000 in February to 47,000 in October, although that number is up from 35,000 in July. Retail vacancies hit a new high of 18% in October. At the end of 2019, the number stood at 12%. “A lot of this is due to national bankruptcies, whether its Bed Bath and Beyond or Jos. A. Bank, and a couple restaurant closings,” Widdicombe said. Sales in October for the 95% of downtown retail locations that are open was at 40%-60% of levels seen this time last year. Hotels continue to be hard hit by the pandemic, with revenue down by 91% in the third quarter compared to the same period last year. D.C. hotels depend largely on tourism, and without it saw only 12% of rooms booked in September, although the number is up from 3% in April. Still, the numbers are a far cry from a 74% occupancy rate in February of this year. Widdicombe said both the pandemic and the many demonstrations seen in D.C. this year affected the numbers. As for restaurant sales, he said the numbers get better the further you are from downtown. “The further you get away from the office market and the hotel market, which are affected from the pandemic, and the further you get away from what I call the demonstration shadow,” Widdicombe said. In September, downtown restaurants saw 30%-50% of sales they saw during the same time last year. Also several restaurants closed their doors, including Billy Goat Tavern, Bar Louie and Olivia. One thing hurting restaurants is fewer workers going into the office. In October, only 10% of downtown workers went into the office. Office vacancy rates have risen during the pandemic, and the third quarter saw no office sales in downtown. Also, downtown D.C. saw 7,000 jobs cut, due mostly to closures and lower sales at the area’s theaters, restaurants, stores and hotels. The strongest numbers were seen in the housing sector. During the third quarter, 88% of downtown D.C.’s apartments and condominiums were occupied. Widdicombe said some positive news could come from new development — the area has 19 projects, including four hotels, in the works. The timetable for those projects remains uncertain.
The Hampton Inn and Suites National Harbor, 250 Waterfront St., Oxon Hill, is closing today “to protect public health and safety” according to a sign on the front door. A hotel employee confirmed the closing, saying the property was closed for hosting too many occupants over a room’s capacity. Guests were allowed to stay last night, but will have to move elsewhere to stay after checking out today. It is unknown when the hotel will be allowed to reopen. The Prince George’s County Health Department has not commented on the closure.
A staff member at two Loudoun County elementary schools has tested positive for COVID-19. In a statement to the community of Moorefield Station Elementary School, in Ashburn, Supt. Eric Williams said that the staff member had last been in the school on Nov. 9. That staff member has since moved into self-isolation. Cardinal Ridge Elementary School’s community was also notified that the staff member had visited the Centreville school on Oct. 29. Williams said that everyone who had close contact with the infected staff member has since been notified and directed to quarantine for 14 days. On Monday, the school system announced that a student-athlete at John Champe High School had tested positive for the virus. That student had last attended a practice at the school on Oct. 29. The school district has begun the process of resuming high school level sports, which are set to debut in December, although no spectators will be permitted to attend the games. Also, two drive-thru testing sites will be open at Tuscarora High School, 801 N. King St., Leesburg, and J. Lupton Simpson Middle School, 490 Evergreen Mills Road, Leesburg, from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday.
D.C. and Maryland both recorded the largest number of new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday that they have seen since May. The numbers come during a spike in coronavirus cases across the DMV and the U.S. D.C. reported 206 new cases on Wednesday. That is a huge increase from the 86 cases reported on Tuesday, although caseloads have been climbing since the end of September. The last time D.C. saw more than 200 new COVID-19 cases was May 21, according to D.C. Health data. The next-closest high was 179 cases on May 30. The city has occasionally reported more than 100 new daily COVID-19 infections since late October. No new coronavirus-related deaths were reported. D.C.’s total cases is now 18,379. Maryland also recorded a major spike in new cases on Wednesday with 1,714 reported. The last time the state saw that many new cases was May 19. Maryland has now recorded cases of 1,000 or more for eight consecutive days. Maryland has 158,423 total confirmed cases. On Tuesday, the Maryland Department of Health activated plans for hospital surge capacity in light of the spike in cases, and Gov. Larry Hogan also announced tightened restaurant restrictions and urged counties to enforce pandemic rules. Virginia reported 1,594 new cases Wednesday for a total of 196,506 COVID-19 cases. Cases in the commonwealth spiked on Nov. 7, when 2,103 new cases were reported. Infections have been trending up since early October. Area public health officials recently warned that the region is at a turning point in the pandemic, and say if cases continue to spike unchecked, the local healthcare system could be overwhelmed. While it is difficult to determine the exact cause of the surge, general fatigue with COVID-19 precautions like social distancing and wearing a mask is likely leading to riskier behavior.
Montgomery County Council members called for an immediate fix and an outside investigation into problems related to hazard pay in the county’s Department of Permitting Services uncovered in a recent Inspector General’s report. The report from Inspector General Megan Davey Limarzi found there were improper claims of hazard pay in department. As a result, the county is seeking repayment for an estimated $100,000. Under an agreement with county labor unions, $10 per hour hazard pay was granted for employees who had to be in contact with the public as part of their jobs and $3 per hour for employees who could not telework. According to the IG report, about half of the inspectors within the department claimed 80 hours of “front-facing time” during each pay period. That included hours spent working from home or working without any contact with the public. During a council meeting Tuesday, councilmember Andrew Friedson called the overpayments an “egregious breach of trust” and said that if the public is expected to trust local government, then action, including an outside investigation and repayment of the funds, must be taken immediately, “no excuses, no delays. Every single taxpayer dollar that was wrongfully paid out must be returned immediately. That is not negotiable” he said. In the report, Limarzi said the former Acting Director of DPS and four division chiefs allowed the hazard payments rather than declare them ineligible. She said one division chief referred to determining which hours could be eligible for hazard pay and which couldn’t as “nitpicking.” Richard Madaleno, the county’s chief administrative officer, said he first learned of the overpayments when the Inspector General’s report was submitted Oct. 29. Friedson asked if Madaleno agreed with the Inspector General’s finding that there had been a “deliberate misapplication of the pay differential.” “We have not been able to find evidence of malicious intent in this,” Madaleno said. During Tuesday’s meeting, Fariba Kassiri, the deputy chief administrative officer, said there had been an “egregious mistake” but not a deliberate act by the former acting director of DPS, who is now retired. Madaleno made a point of saying that the former acting director’s retirement was not related to the investigation, explaining that Hadi Mansouri took his retirement as previously planned. But Council President Sidney Katz said there should be an independent investigation so the county could be sure that all the issues in the IG report “are properly addressed.” Councilmember Will Jawando said it was important to account for all the funds. “I think this is something that can be corrected, and I really appreciate all the work they’re doing on the front line,” he said. County Executive Marc Elrich, who negotiated and authorized the hazard pay, released a statement saying, “We don’t have any reason to suspect fraud, but if any fraud is identified, we will address it immediately.” Elrich also said, “I want to be clear — as soon as the current DPS director learned of this practice she stopped it.” Current DPS Director Mitra Pedoeem pledged that the issue would be corrected. “Every single hour, every single minute” of pay will be accounted for. “I can promise you that,” she said. The IG report also said that other county departments “may also be misapplying the COVID differential pay policy.” Asked whether her office is investigating other departments, Limarzi said she could “neither confirm nor deny” any ongoing investigations.
About 7,000 Loudoun County Public Schools students in grades 3, 4 and 5 along with senior academy students will return to classrooms two days a week beginning Dec. 1. Also, families will be asked whether they want students to do hybrid in-person learning for the second semester, which begins Jan. 21. The moves were approved by the county’s school board Tuesday night. Approximately 200 seniors attending the Academy of Engineering and Technology and 60 at the Academy of Science will join the elementary students. The students who return on Dec. 1 chose in-person instruction over the summer before the school system’s last-minute decision to begin the school year 100% online. Students can continue with 100% virtual learning if parents wish. Students in middle and high school can return to classrooms when the second semester begins, on Jan. 21. Under the plan, students who choose hybrid learning would be in classrooms two days per week. On the other two days, they would participate through a livestream. Monday would remain a preparation and catch-up day. In elementary school, students who choose hybrid learning would do asynchronous work on the days they are not in classrooms. Until Nov. 20, parents of all Loudoun County students will be asked to provide their preference for in-person hybrid or 100% distance learning the second semester. If an overwhelming number of families choose to have students return to school buildings, the school district is drawing up classroom configuration options that include reducing the amount of distance between students desks. Another option would be limiting in-person learning to one day per week. School officials said simulation and pilot classrooms are being held, to develop best practices for so-called “concurrent learning,” which involves simultaneously teaching students in the classroom and at home. Additional cameras and microphones have been purchased, and are being installed, to better facilitate the concurrent model for students and teachers.
Just days after canceling winter sports for all Arlington Public Schools, Superintendent Francisco Durán reversed himself under pressure. “After consulting with neighboring jurisdictions as well as our staff, APS will proceed with Virginia High School League Season 1 Winter athletic competition, with some modifications,” Durán wrote in a Monday update. “We will continue to monitor health metrics and work with school athletic staff and other school divisions to protect our athletes, coaches, employees and families.” Wrestling and Winter Cheer will not take place, but boys and girls basketball, swimming and diving, gymnastics, indoor track and field, rifle and dance may depending on health metrics. His original action, announced Nov. 5, touched off a firestorm of complaints, not only for eliminating winter sports but also for the way in which it was done – without coordination with coaches, parents or neighboring jurisdictions. “How out of touch could they have been?” said one Fairfax County school official. School leaders from across the region have not committed to holding a truncated winter sports season, but hope to do so if public-health conditions permit. In Arlington, wrestling and cheerleading will not take place, but others could. Durán was hired in June after a tenure in Fairfax. The events of the past week might be a reminder, if he needed one, that decision-making in Arlington schools often is from the bottom up rather than the top-down approach practiced in Fairfax, and trying to replicate the Fairfax model in Arlington seldom proves effective. “I’m not saying it’s the wrong decision, but why couldn’t we have been included in the conversation?” said one veteran head coach at a county high school when the cancellation was announced. “I wish they could have at least tried to have a winter season. Then if it didn’t work out, shut it down then. But at least give it a try.” Durán unilaterally cancelled winter sports, in part because students were supposed return to classrooms this month but now face the prospect lengthy “virtual” learning. The winter high-school sports season is tentatively been set to begin in mid-to-late December and end in last January or early February because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Virginia High School League, which has oversight of public-school athletics, has laid out plans for winter sports seasons to proceed. But it cannot force individual school districts to participate. The fall sports season for Virginia public schools was canceled and postponed until the early spring.
The University of Maryland suspended all football activities on Wednesday, including a home game scheduled for Saturday, after eight players tested positive for COVID-19 over the last week. This Saturday’s game against the Ohio State Buckeyes has been canceled and won’t be rescheduled. The pause on Maryland’s football program comes as the D.C. area sees a spike in coronavirus cases. “There is nothing more important than the health and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches and staff,” Maryland athletic director Damon Evans said in a press release. Evans and university president Darryll Pines decided to suspend football activities in consultation with school health officials and the Big Ten Conference, the college athletic conference that Maryland and Ohio belong to. Ten of the school’s student-athletes tested positive for COVID-19 since Sept. 30, the university said. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, 120 in total have tested positive.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan tightened restrictions on restaurants Tuesday and urged counties to enforce pandemic rules, as the state department of health activated plans for hospital surge capacity in response to spiking COVID-19 infections that have topped 1,000 new cases for seven consecutive days. “We have now crossed over into the danger zone,” Hogan said during a press conference. The new indoor dining capacity limit will be 50% down from 75% as of 5 p.m. today. Hogan said state employees who are approved to telework must do so unless they are essential, and he advised all employers to limit their in-person work or use methods like staggered shifts to reduce risk. He added that the Maryland Department of Health will issue new public health advisories: one that warns against indoor gatherings of 25 people or more, and another suggesting that Marylanders avoid travel to states with high spread. “You should immediately postpone or cancel travel to any of these states with spiking metrics,” Hogan said. “Anyone who has to travel outside the state for an essential reason, upon their return to Maryland, should immediately get tested for COVID-19 and self-quarantine while awaiting the results.” Maryland’s increase in infections is part of a regional and national trend. Hogan said 761 people were currently hospitalized with COVID-19, the highest level since mid-June. He said the 136 people in intensive care was the highest since late June. A key indicator, the percent positivity over a seven-day average, was 5.24% on Monday. Another worrying metric is the seven-day moving average of cases per 100,000 people; on Monday it was nearly 20 and rising. Public health experts like to keep that rate below 10. Hogan blamed COVID fatigue along with out-of-state travel, house parties, large gatherings and refusal to wear masks for the worsening metrics. He said businesses were also failing to comply with regulations, and county authorities were falling short of necessary enforcement. In particular, rules that require restaurant and bar patrons to be seated at tables six feet apart were often ignored. “Sadly as a result the virus has returned to our state in a big way,” Hogan said. “We absolutely must, and we will, continue to use every tool at our disposal.” Hogan said he had to find a way to let businesses remain open during the pandemic while preventing hospitals from overflowing. However, he said businesses that do not comply with new guidelines could face fines or lose their licenses. The Maryland Department of Health’s order expanding hospital surge capacity includes a protocol for transferring COVID-19 patients to three “specialized care sites” in the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital, Laurel Hospital and Adventist Takoma Park Hospital. It also requires hospitals to prepare for a surge of patients, and it makes extra staff available to help handle outbreaks in nursing homes. Hogan added that the health department is issuing updated guidance for nursing homes, including recommending that all visitors be tested for COVID before arriving at a facility, and he announced that all nursing homes will have to create a stockpile of protective equipment.
With new daily COVID-19 cases the highest they have been since this summer, the Montgomery County Council unanimously passed Executive Order 122-20 on Tuesday, reinstating tighter restrictions as of 5 p.m. Tuesday. The changes mainly impact the size of gatherings and capacity limits on businesses, which were eased in June when the county entered Phase Two of its reopening plan. Major changes include limiting gathering sizes to 25 people from 50; limiting capacity for indoor dining, retail establishments, fitness centers, museums and religious facilities to 25% from 50%; reducing capacity at bowling alleys, hair salons, barbershops, massage and nail salons to 25% or 25 people, whichever is lower; and requiring restaurants to keep a daily record of indoor and outdoor dining customers for at least 30 days to assist with contact tracing. “We have been watching the daily number of new cases go up for more than two weeks and it’s unfortunately time to roll back some of our reopening steps in order to decrease the spike we are seeing,” County Executive Marc Elrich said. “Like you, I am experiencing COVID fatigue and want things to go back to normal, but we have to stay at this in order to protect the health of our community.” Several councilmembers were hesitant to tighten the restrictions, given the economic effects the new restrictions would have, but ultimately all voted to pass the order, citing the concerning rise in cases. “I am going to support this, but I am concerned about parts of it,” Council President Sidney Katz said. “I am also concerned for our small businesses. I believe that we need to be doing this on a regional basis.” He said that if county residents are still permitted to engage in the same “risky” activities in other localities, then return to Montgomery County, “we have not really done anything other than create a hardship for that business where they didn’t go to.” The passage of the executive order comes as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Montgomery County. The 7-day average of new cases is 18.1 per 100,000 residents as of Nov. 10, which the health department classifies as “very high risk.” The 14-day positivity rate, however, remains a “low risk” at 3.8%. The health department estimates that 11.1% of hospital beds are being utilized by COVID-19 patients, which is also classified as “high risk.” County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said Thursday that daily COVID-19 transmission rates are the highest they have been since the summer. “The longer we wait to implement these restrictions and guidelines, we run the risk of increasing the cases even more,” he said.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is being charged with hypocrisy over the city’s coronavirus restrictions after she traveled to Delaware for President-elect Joe Biden’s victory speech on Saturday. Delaware is on D.C. Health’s list of states considered high-risk for COVID-19 based on new daily cases. In a photo circulation on social media, Bowser is wearing a mask while standing next to her chief of staff John Falcicchio, her senior advisor Beverly Perry and Biden advisor Symone Sanders, who are also all wearing masks. The photo sparked a flurry of critical responses, with people alleging that Bowser was flouting her own coronavirus travel orders by failing to quarantine for 14 days upon her return to D.C. She held a press conference Monday with D.C. Health director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. In a statement Tuesday, a spokesperson for Bowser says the mayor’s trip to Wilmington for Biden’s speech was “essential travel.” “She went on Saturday evening and returned the same evening,” the spokesperson added, noting that Bowser met with “a few people” on Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ team. D.C.’s newest travel advisory went into effect Monday. Under it, residents who return from states designated high-risk no longer have to quarantine for 14 days, but do have to monitor their health and limit their activities for that length of time or until they receive a negative COVID-19 test result. “The requirement for residents to self-quarantine for 14 days or to obtain a negative test does not apply to those performing essential work, insofar as they are going to work, or for essential activities such as obtaining medical care, food or pharmaceuticals,” according to Nov. 5 presentation from Bowser’s administration. At an event for the opening of the Shepard Park Community Center on Tuesday, the mayor defended her trip as “absolutely essential.” “I do a lot of things to advance the interests of the District of Columbia, and some of them are formal and some of them are informal, but all of them are necessary,” she said. When asked if she has been tested for COVID-19 since last weekend, Bowser responded that she is regularly tested based on her levels of exposure and will continue to be regularly tested. Still, some see her trip as contradictory with the rules that D.C. residents have been told to follow for months.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday addressed a rise in COVID-19 cases across the commonwealth and encouraging signs for a vaccine. Northam said there were 1,435 new cases of the novel coronavirus detected Tuesday, continuing a daily trend upward that has been going on for weeks. He added that the test positivity rate, which had been down below 5% a few weeks ago, was up to 6.2%. “This virus is still alive and well, and it’s very, very contagious,” Northam said. Cases are particularly surging in the southwestern portion of the state, where positivity is up to 9%. Northam didn’t give any specifics about possibly reimposing more safety restrictions, saying only that there are “a lot of things we’re considering,” and that communication of the importance of wearing masks and social distancing — “things that we know work” — is key, especially with colder weather and the possibility of holiday gatherings approaching. “No region is an island,” Northam said. “We all need to step up our vigilance and our precaution.” He added, “I’m not saying you can’t celebrate Thanksgiving. But if you’re going to celebrate with people who aren’t in your household, think of ways to do it safely.” The governor said, however, that recent news about the effectiveness of a possible vaccine from the Pfizer corporation was a bright spot that should give Virginians hope that safety measures are worthwhile: “Nobody’s giving up here. And we can’t give up. … This is a time to be vigilant, to dig in, to be hopeful. There is a vaccine on the way.” He cautioned that a vaccine would not be a “magic bullet,” but as a physician, Northam said, the news of a 90% efficacy rate was “very, very promising. We’re gonna get there, we’re gonna get there together, and we’re gonna get there by following the guidelines.” State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver was even more optimistic: “We can expect to have a vaccine, from one of the many in play, by the end of the year. And we are ready to get that vaccine and administer it.” Oliver cautioned, however, that “It’s going to take months to vaccinate millions in the commonwealth,” and it will take longer than that for real immunity to happen, but that his department long ago wrote a “whole of government” plan for administering a vaccine once one is approved. Northam also announced new contracts with three testing laboratories that would add about 7,000 tests a day to Virginia’s capacity and let health authorities be “more nimble” in responding to outbreaks. Addressing Virginians directly, Northam said, “You have done an exceptional job” responding to the virus. “By and large, people have listened” to the safety restrictions, “and we can’t stop now,” he said.
The Montgomery County Board of Education gave tentative approval Tuesday night for plans to bring students back to school in phases beginning in January. Beginning today, a survey will be sent to Montgomery County Public Schools parents asking them to weigh in on if they want their children to stay with virtual learning or return to classrooms. The survey will be open until Dec. 3 and will be used to help determine which schools will reopen and how classes can be scheduled. Transportation options will be announced once the district determines how many students would need bus transportation. Should the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate exceed 5%, the schools would not be able to reopen, according to guidelines set out by MCPS. The move by the school board came the same day the county council voted to reinstate coronavirus restrictions, including dropping capacity in restaurants, retail outlets and salons and other personal service businesses to 25% of capacity. Gov. Larry Hogan also responded to the state’s surge in COVID-19 cases, announcing new restrictions Tuesday evening as the state’s positivity rate hit 5%. Last week, the Maryland Department of Health began posting the number of COVID-19 cases in every school in the state. As of Nov. 5, just one school in the county appeared on the list — St. Andrews Episcopal School in Potomac had two confirmed cases, according to the data.
The Maryland Department of Health on Tuesday launched its MD COVID Alert exposure notification app on smartphones. The app is designed to notify residents who may come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 about potential exposure. The alert system was first announced in early September, but it took more than two months to bring it online. Virginia and D.C. residents have access to similar contact tracing systems that launched in August and October, respectively. “MD COVID Alert complements our traditional contact tracing efforts to notify users of possible exposure to help contain the virus,” Health Secretary Robert R. Neall said in a press release. “I encourage Marylanders to use MD COVID Alert to help protect the people around them, including those they might not know directly.” Android and iPhone users with iOS version 13.7 or later can access the app. To give the app permission to push notifications on an iPhone, turn on “Exposure Notifications” in the phone’s settings and set the region to the United States, then Maryland, from the drop-down menu. Finally, agree and opt in. Android users can download the application from the Google store. To track potential exposure to COVID-19, the system assigns users a random ID, information it shares through Bluetooth technology with other nearby devices using the app when users are each other. For privacy reasons, the random ID numbers change every 10-20 minutes. Every day, users’ phones download a list of the ID numbers associated with verified positive COVID-19 cases. If there is a match between one of those numbers and an ID that a user’s phone came in contact with, MD COVID Alert will notify the user within a day of the potential exposure. Those who receive an exposure alert are advised to get tested, monitor for symptoms and quarantine. Some users may receive a call from a contact tracer if someone positive for COVID-19 shares their information with health officials. Local officials have emphasized that the system, which is voluntary, is designed to protect privacy and personal information. Users’ location is not tracked and no data is collected from their smartphones. “Privacy is important. MD COVID Alert does not collect, transmit or store personal information of users, and the system is completely anonymous,” Maryland Contact Tracing Unit Director Dr. Katherine Feldman said in the release. “We’re asking Marylanders to add their smartphones to the fight against COVID-19 by using MD COVID Alert.” The system is compatible with D.C.’s system, along with those in nine other jurisdictions, including New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania. It is not currently compatible with Virginia’s COVIDWISE, although that is expected to change “in the near future,” according to the health department.
School buses began rolling today as more than 3,000 Prince William County Public Schools students begin returning to classrooms. Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students are the first to go back to classrooms under a 50/50 hybrid model voted on by the school board last month. First grade students are expected to follow, coronavirus numbers allowing, on Dec. 1. Second and third grade students are expected to return Jan. 12. Students will attend two alternating days per week, with Mondays remaining virtual. Routines and classrooms will be much different as students return. There will be far fewer students per class to accommodate COVID-19 distance requirements, and everyone will be required to wear face coverings. In addition, teachers in many classrooms will be teaching both in-person and virtually at the same time, so cameras and other unfamiliar equipment might be a new classroom feature. Students in fourth through 12th grades will remain virtual through the second quarter, with a plan for fourth, fifth, sixth and ninth grades to begin returning Jan. 26. Students in seventh, eighth, 10th, 11th and 12th grades would start returning Feb. 2. At the Nov. 4 Prince William County School Board meeting, Supt. Steve Walts cautioned that plans are dependent on health metrics and staffing. “We continue to monitor local health metrics, and the trends are not positive, as COVID cases grow locally, regionally, and nationally,” Walts said. Families can opt to continue remote learning for students.
D.C.’s new coronavirus travel restrictions began Monday, just ahead of the holiday travel season and as daily cases are on the rise across the country. Visitors from a “high-risk” state will be required to take a COVID-19 test and receive a negative result within 72 hours before arriving. In addition to Maryland and Virginia, the only exempt low-risk states are Hawaii and Vermont. Visitors will be asked to take another test locally if they stay more than three days. D.C. residents who have traveled to a high-risk state are asked to limit daily activities and self-monitor for 14 days. “We want all D.C. residents to heed this advisory, as well as people visiting the District,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said during a press conference Monday. “We have to make sure that we spread the word far and wide that this is our expectation.” Sunday was the fifth day that coronavirus cases topped 100,000 in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University data. D.C.’s new system replaces one in place since July, which required visitors from non-exempt states to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival or limit activities until they get tests within 3-5 days of return and received a negative result. Bowser acknowledged at a press conference last Thursday that the quarantine system, which was entirely voluntary, was probably being violated by many visitors. Under the new restrictions, private institutions, such as hotels, universities, employers and houses of worship, are permitted to demand proof of negative COVID-19 tests before allowing people to enter, but Bowser said the government won’t be involved in such enforcement. “Nobody is going to be asking you at the airport, or on bridges or roads or at the train station to show your papers,” Bowser said. Exceptions will be made for family emergencies and funerals, she said.
President-elect Joe Biden made clear on Monday that he would focus on the raging pandemic by forming a coronavirus advisory board, an abrupt shift from President Donald Trump’s approach, as the nation surpassed 10 million COVID-19 cases. Biden began with a direct appeal to all Americans to wear masks, a departure from Trump, who has mocked Biden and others who make a point of always wearing protective face coverings when around others. In an official move, the president-elect appointed former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, former FDA commissioner David Kessler and Yale physician and researcher Marcella Nunez-Smith, serving as co-chairs of the committee, which is dominated by scientists and doctors, while Trump has had a falling out with the medical experts on his own virus task force. The swift actions come at a critical moment in the U.S. effort to combat the coronavirus. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced its COVID-19 vaccine may be 90% effective, based on early and incomplete test results. The drug maker said it is on track to file an emergency use requestion with the FDA this month. But surging caseloads, including new infections among leading figures in Trump’s administration, offered a fresh reminder that the nation is still in the grip of the worst pandemic in more than a century. “The challenge before us right now is still immense and growing, and so is the need for bold action to fight this pandemic,” Biden said after being briefed on the virus. “We are still facing a dark winter.” He called on Americans to separate politics from the virus and embrace mask-wearing. “We could save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democratic or Republican lives, American lives,” Biden said. “Please, I implore you, wear a mask.” Over the past two weeks, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has risen nearly 65%. The 7-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. went from 66,294 on Oct. 25 to 108,736.7 on Sunday. In the past week, one of every 433 Americans was diagnosed with COVID-19, and hospitals in several states are running out of space and staff. Throughout his unsuccessful campaign, Trump insisted the nation was “rounding the corner” on the coronavirus and that a vaccine was imminent even as infection rates grew. The president, who has yet to publicly acknowledge Biden’s victory, seized on Pfizer’s announcement and the positive reaction in financial markets. The White House task force, which includes the federal government’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has been diminished in recent months as Trump grew impatient with efforts to slow the virus that were having a deleterious impact on the economy. Public health officials warn that the U.S. could be entering the worst stretch yet for COVID-19 as winter sets in and the holiday season approaches, increasing the risk of rapid transmission as Americans travel, shop and celebrate with loved ones. Biden has pledged to make testing free and widely available, to hire thousands of health workers to help implement contact-tracing programs and to instruct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide clear, expert advice.
The 98th National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony will take place Dec. 3 virtually. The National Park Service and National Park foundation announced that the ceremony will be streamed on the National Tree’s website. “Due to COVID-19-related public health concerns, the National Park Service and National Park Foundation will not host a live audience at the 2020 National Christmas Tree Lighting,” the pair said in a press release. The park service said that the National Christmas Tree will be lit every evening in President’s Park throughout December. Fifty-six smaller trees representing every state, territory and D.C. will be decorated with ornaments designed by students from all over the U.S. It will also be the second year for a relatively new tree, according to the park service, which planted a 30-foot Colorado blue spruce from Palmyra, Pa., in 2019.
New COVID-19 cases in Northern Virginia on Sunday topped 400 for three consecutive days, a rate not seen since late May. According to the Virginia Department of Health, the region reported 437 new cases Sunday, following 460 on Saturday and 412 on Friday. Sunday’s numbers included 209 new cases in Fairfax County and 109 in Prince William County — the two largest jurisdictions in the region. Northern Virginia’s seven-day average of new cases now stands at 356.1, the highest since June 10. The region’s average peaked at 685.3 on May 31. Overall, Northern Virginia has had 61,398 cases and 1,245 deaths from COVID-19. Statewide, 1,302 new cases were reported Sunday, raising the state’s seven-day average to another new high, 1,397.6. The state’s average is up 8% over the past week and up 35% over the past two weeks. Southwest Virginia reported fewer new cases than in recent weeks, just 262, lowering that region’s seven-day average to 411.9. Virginia’s seven-day average test positivity rate remained at 6%. It was as low as 4.5% on several occasions during a 22-day run under 5% in late September and early October.
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.
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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.