D.C. Tightens Rules on Gatherings, Eateries
COVID-19 Cases Reach 449,373 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 21,308 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 678 deaths; there have been 194,448 cases in Maryland with 4,447 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 233,617 cases with 4,054 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
Beginning Wednesday, D.C. will enact some new, stricter coronavirus restrictions, limiting indoor and outdoor gatherings, restricting indoor group exercise classes and ending alcohol sales at restaurants at 10 p.m. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Monday described it as an “adjustment” to the Phase Two restrictions. D.C. never moved into Phase Three like neighboring states. The rollbacks of the city’s phased reopening come as D.C. reported 139 new cases and two deaths Monday, following a week of consecutive spikes in cases in the DMV, with a popular travel holiday approaching and colder temperatures around the corner, which may cause residents to socialize indoors. New restrictions that go into effect Wednesday include limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people, down from 50; limiting outdoor gatherings to 25, down from 50; suspending alcohol sales at restaurant at 10 p.m., although they may stay open for dining until midnight; suspending group indoor exercise classes and limiting outdoor classes to 25 people; capping indoor worship services at 50 people or 25% capacity, whichever is lower; encouraging all non-essential, non-retail business employees to telework; and suspending the live entertainment pilot, which allowed six venues to have up to 50 people for events. On Dec. 14, indoor restaurant capacity will be lowered to 25% from 50% to give businesses time to adjust operations, Bowser said. But people on social media chastised her decision, saying the virus will only get worse in the three weeks before the tighter restrictions go into effect. The changes are “meant to flatten a curve, help us reserve hospital beds for the most in need of care and keep our communities safe during this nationwide surge,” Bowser said. The new order clamps down on the measures set forth in the city’s Phase Two reopening plan, which allowed gatherings of up to 50 people, retail businesses, libraries and restaurants to operate at half capacity, and gyms and salons to open with capacity limits and appointment requirements. The city entered Phase Two on June 22, a move that emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request later revealed may have been based on modified metrics. At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman said she has been asking since October for cluster data about where the virus has spread most but hasn’t received it. “It would be helpful to see if transmission is likely to have happened at gyms or live music venues or restaurants or to restaurant workers in the kitchen,” Silverman tweeted during the mayor’s press conference. The city has reported more than 200 new coronavirus cases on three different days since Nov. 10, pushing the city’s seven-day average of new daily cases higher than 150 for the first time since May. D.C. is currently reporting a seven-day average daily case rate per 100,000 residents of 23.86, the highest since May 10, and an average positivity rate of 4.5%. The city’s transmission rate, which estimates the number of people who will be infected from one positive case, is 1.35, a number D.C. hasn’t seen since March. Ahead of Thanksgiving, lines at D.C.’s public testing sites spiked last week with some residents reporting wait times of more than 90 minutes. In response to the high demand and the worsening metrics, Bowser announced expanded testing efforts on Nov. 18 with a new and semi-heated public testing site that opened Monday at Nationals Park and extended at other testing centers. Bowser’s order follows similar moves by Maryland and Virginia in recent days. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan cut restaurant capacity and limited hours of operation, while Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam limited all indoor and outdoor gatherings to 25 people, banned alcohol sales past 10 p.m. and expanded the commonwealth’s mask mandate. Officials in neighboring Montgomery County have reduced capacity in retail stores to 25%, a measure that goes beyond Hogan’s orders, and plan to ramp up enforcement. Prince George’s County made a similar move, reducing indoor restaurant capacity to 25%, among other amendments to the county’s reopening plan.
Maryland is rolling out a COVID-19 education and enforcement task force to monitor nightlife hotspots around the state this Thanksgiving. Gov. Larry Hogan said he is concerned that people may let their guard down as they gather with friends and family. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is traditionally a time for young people to gather to catch up with old friends, he said. Starting Wednesday night, State Police will work with local officials to monitor popular nightlife destinations to make sure everyone is following coronavirus safety protocols. These efforts will continue throughout the holiday season. “We cannot afford to undo all of the progress that we have made together in this war against the virus,” Hogan said during a Monday press conference. The compliance units will go to popular nighttime spots in Bel Air, Bethesda, Fells Point, Salisbury, Silver Spring, Towson, Baltimore City and to other places around the state. “State troopers will support local authorities with compliance checks, with a focus on educating the public about existing orders, protocols and priorities to prevent super-spreading events and to insist on enforcement compliance when actions are necessary,” Hogan said. Those who violate the public health orders are “not only willfully endangering themselves, but their family, friends, and neighbors as well,” he said. Most people are following restrictions and doing their part, but as COVID fatigue has set in, “some individuals and businesses have unfortunately started to become more lax at the very worst part of the pandemic,” he said. Last week, the governor enacted new restrictions amid the surging pandemic that includes bar and restaurant closures at 10 p.m. Inspectors found that compliance with public health protocols drops dramatically later in the evening. The state has also set up a hotline and email address to report violations. The COVID Prevention Hotline can be reached at 833-979-2266 or by emailing Prevent.Covid@maryland.gov. On Wednesday evening, Marylanders will also get a push notification to their cell phones reminding them of the coronavirus rules and urging them to stay home for the holiday. The news comes as the state has seen a surge in cases. Maryland reported nearly 2,900 cases a day on Nov. 19 and Nov. 21 and has consistently been above 2,000 cases a day for the past week. The state had less than 1,000 cases daily in October. Some hospitals in western Maryland are already at capacity and 29 other hospitals are at more than 90% capacity. Maryland’s statewide seven-day positivity rate stands at 6.88%.
Students in Fairfax County Public Schools “Group 4,” which includes students taking culinary, computer, dance, music and other career training course, as well as Burke School elementary student, returned to virtual instruction Monday after beginning in-person classes on Oct. 26. The district blamed the move on the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the county. FCPS used two health indicators suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the total number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over the last 14 days and the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests over seven days — to make the decision. The number of cases per 100,000 must be equal to or less than 200, and the positivity rate must remain at, or equal to, 10%. And the school system said the county has reached seven consecutive days of cases exceeding the threshold of 10%. “As soon as these metrics indicate that it is safe to return to in-person instruction, Group 4 students will be phased back into schools,” the school said in a statement. Before Monday’s move, only four groups of students had returned to some in-person learning. Plans to bring more students back were put on hold until during a town hall meeting last Thursday. Group 5 was supposed to return last Tuesday, but on the Monday before they were to return, FCPS announced that it would be postponed in response to growing coronavirus numbers in the county.
Ford’s Theatre closed to the public again on Monday as COVID-19 cases surge nationwide. It has just reopened Oct. 14 as part of a D.C. pilot program for phased reopening. “We have implemented a series of new health and safety measures to safely welcome back visitors,” Ford’s Theatre director Paul R. Tetreault said. “However, we cannot ignore the rising cases in our city and region. Based on the data and in partnership with the National Park Service, we are reclosing the site to further protect our staff and visitors.” Prior to this latest closure, the theater had been closed for seven months. Virtual programming such as the scheduled monthly cabinet conversations, virtual play readings and distance-learning will continue.
Raymond Deskins, 61, from Sterling, was charged with misdemeanor assault, after he didn’t wear a mask and blew on protesters outside the Trump National Golf Club, according to the Loudoun County sheriff’s office. In a video shared on Twitter Saturday, Deskins wears an inflatable Trump inner tube and approaches protesters. One demonstrator tells him, “You’re in my face and you don’t have a mask.” Deskins then takes a deep breath and huffs at her in the video. As the video circulated online, Loudoun County board chair Phyllis Randall sent a letter to Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman and commonwealth’s attorney Buta Biberaj. In it, Randall referenced the deadly nature of the pandemic and that “all of the Loudoun County numbers are headed in the wrong direction. Given these facts, I request that a full investigation be completed to ascertain if the man seen coughing in the video has violated any laws, and if so, are charges applicable,” she wrote. The sheriff’s office said in a statement that two separate parties reported they were assaulted. “As the incident was not witnessed by law enforcement and the video did not capture the entire interaction, an investigation was conducted on scene and both parties were advised they could go to a Loudoun County Magistrate and seek a citizen obtained warrant,” the sheriff’s office said. The sheriff’s office said Deskins was charged with misdemeanor simple assault and released on a summons. Protester Kathy Beynette, a Leesburg artist, shot the video. She is part of a group that regularly assembles when Trump visits his golf course in Potomac Falls. Beynette said on Saturday morning she was once again outside the golf club, anticipating the presidential motorcade, when “out of nowhere a guy with a Trump blowup toy strapped under his belly comes charging across from his side.” Beynette says she asked Deskins to keep his distance, saying he didn’t have a mask and was moving too close. She says Deskins laughed, then started “violently exhaling onto” another protester. “It makes it even worse that he would come over and deliberately expose two senior citizens to COVID when everybody knows we are at higher risk,” Beynette said. Beynette said she asked sheriff’s deputies monitoring the scene to investigate what she believed was assault; however, she says they claimed they had not witnessed the event. Instead, she says deputies told her to obtain a warrant from the magistrate. “It happened under their noses. And the fact they didn’t want to do it just reflects a bias in the department,” she said. Michele Bowman, a spokesperson with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, said “an investigation was conducted on scene.” A misdemeanor can carry a punishment of a fine or up to 12 months in jail, and knowingly infecting someone with a serious disease could trigger a felony charge. In 2012, Deskins was convicted by a federal jury on mail fraud and false statements related to failing to disclose work he did to the Department of Labor’s Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs.
If you are flying to visit family for Thanksgiving, you can take the turkey and all the trimmings with you. Some people might be surprised to learn that there are many foods that can be transported through U.S. airports during the holidays, but there are certain rules to keep in mind. Most foods can be carried through a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, but some items need to be stored in your checked baggage. “If it’s a solid item, then it can go through a checkpoint. However, if you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it or pour it, and it’s larger than 3.4 ounces, then it should go in a checked bag,” the TSA said in a press release. So you can bring the turkey, along with other meats like chicken, ham and steak — frozen, cooked or uncooked — on the plane. Food items often need additional security screening, though, so the TSA recommends placing them in a clear plastic bag or other container and then removing those items from your carry-on bag to place in a bin at the screening checkpoint. In addition to meats, other Thanksgiving foods that can be carried through a TSA checkpoint include baked goods like pies, cakes and cookies; stuffing (cooked, uncooked or packaged); fresh fruit such as apples, pears and pineapples; fresh vegetables; your favorite casserole; your classic mac ’n cheese (cooked in a pan or traveling with the ingredients to cook later); spices; and candy. And if you need to keep anything cold during your trip, ice packs are allowed as long as they are frozen and not melting when they go through the security screening. While fresh cranberries are allowed on the plane, cranberry sauce and other liquids need to be carefully stowed in your checked baggage. That includes gravy and any canned fruits or vegetables (cans that contain liquid). Jams, preserves and jellies are best checked. And pack the booze and bubbly or sparkling cider in the checked bag. For more information on what you can and can’t bring to the airport, you can visit the TSA’s website.
D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia have joined the nation’s first, multistate effort to quickly share contact tracing data. “There’s [a] lot of travel, people live in one jurisdiction and work in another, so this really helps the data-sharing processes, which are so critically important in our fight against COVID-19,” said Dr. Katherine Feldman, chief public health scientist at the Maryland Department of Health. The contact tracing data is being shared on a secure cyber platform provided by the Association of Public Health Laboratories. Public health labs have a low public profile but play an important role in monitoring and detecting health threats. Sharing such information across state lines has presented challenges in the past, and D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia have been working for months, with the help of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, develop their unified approach. How might the information sharing help against the virus? Speed is important when trying to curb the spread of infection. “We can really cut down on the amount of time that’s lost in trying to correctly identify an individual or locate contact information for them,” Feldman said. The Association of Public Health Laboratories is planning to expand the newly designed system into other states. Since the outbreak in March, the COVID-19 pandemic has been causing disruption on countless levels — and for many people, life-altering hardship. In addition to deaths and illness related to coronavirus, economic offshoots are being felt by lower-income people struggling to pay their rents, and small business owners that are trying to survive with fewer customers.
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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.