FCPS Plans to Return More Kids in New Year
COVID-19 Cases Reach 535,267 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 24,643 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 713 deaths; there have been 232,009 cases in Maryland with 4,937 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 278,615 cases with 4,409 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
While no final decisions have been made, Fairfax County Public Schools has a tentative plan to bring more students back to classrooms in January. The plan is part of the district’s effort to expand in-person learning. According to a draft discussed at the school board’s meeting Thursday, FCPS would have all students begin the new year online, then start the phased return to at least a hybrid system of learning for all willing students between Jan. 12-Feb. 2. “Is this an aggressive timeline? Yes. Is it going to happen for sure? No, I can’t promise that it is,” Supt. Scott Brabrand said. During its monthly discussion on in-person learning plans, the school board heard from school officials including Brabrand, who said if cases continue to rise, he understands the school board won’t support such a timeline. The return to the classroom is being done in groups, and the only students reporting to classes now for a few days a week include the first three groups of students in special career preparatory classes, those with special needs and English language learners. The same groups would start the return to in-person learning next year under the draft schedule. A part of the discussion included a presentation from Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, the county’s health director. She said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s five guidelines for preventing transmission of coronavirus will need to be followed to ensure the safety of returning students. The guidelines include wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands, cleaning surfaces and contact tracing cases. “They are very effective when practiced consistently and correctly,” she said. The school system plans to create teams that will confirm that all the guidelines are being followed, and messaging will remind students and staff daily of what they must do. Michelle Boyd, assistant superintendent for special services, said visits to other classrooms will be restricted to reduce transmission of the virus throughout school communities. While some board members expressed concern about returning too soon, others asked for the school system to make more COVID-19 data from schools available to them. Before the proposed plan can be implemented, the school district needs to find more classroom monitors — 730 total for the groups that will return. A virtual job fair will take place to try and fill some of those positions. The school system is also considering compensating teachers to be classroom monitors during their planning periods. A vote by the school board wasn’t taken but will eventually be required to approve the plan to return to in-person learning. But the Fairfax County Federation of Teacher, a union representing some teachers in Fairfax County, said the district is rushing to put more students back in classrooms without regard to safety. As for students currently participating in in-person learning, it could be short lived. Brabrand said if coronavirus case numbers continue in the current direction, the school system could decide this weekend to resume 100% virtual learning. Loudoun County Public Schools announced Thursday afternoon that it would return to 100% distance learning beginning Tuesday, after revised COVID-19 metrics for the county showed that the point for automatically triggering the return had already been passed. The Fairfax Health District, which includes Fairfax, Fairfax City and Falls Church, posted a seven-day average of 43.6 daily cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. “We are sending letters of caution, advanced notice, that this may happen,” Brabrand said. Before the meeting, Tina Williams, union president, said, “COVID cases are surging across the county and it isn’t safe for anyone to be in our buildings right now. We continue to urge FCPS to transition all students and staff to virtual learning while the positivity rate is above 5% and meet all of FCFT’s 11 pillars of a safe reopening.”
Prince William Health District Director Dr. Alison Ansher urged the public to take the necessary precautions as the county’s coronavirus test percent positivity rate exceeded 16% last week. Ansher, who oversees Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park, said the current surge was expected and could get worse if public health guidelines aren’t followed. The region recorded a state-high 15.9% positivity rate Friday, nearly three times the World Health Organization’s target figure for safe reopening. The WHO recommends reopening when positivity rates are at 5% or lower for at least two weeks. The increase in caseload came as Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday announced new statewide restrictions to curb the virus’ spread, including a nightly curfew from midnight-5 a.m. and decreasing the size of gatherings. It also followed news that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine secured emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, becoming the first vaccine to do so. “I am concerned,” Ansher said Friday. “We’re seeing exactly what we expected would happen if people traveled, had people outside their household celebrating Thanksgiving with them, not being as cautious with the social distancing and face coverings. We’re seeing exactly what we did not want to see, but it’s not unexpected.” The surge has prompted the county to plan a second large-scale testing event Thursday at the Pfitzner Stadium lot, during which an additional 500 tests will be made available. An increase in testing, including at some hospitals before procedures, has partially contributed to the spike, but Ansher said community behavior is having a significant impact. Earlier spikes in cases came in urban areas where social distancing was challenging and employees didn’t have the option to telework, Ansher said. But now, in addition to cases associated with Thanksgiving gatherings, some outbreaks can be attributed to things like homecoming parties and group outings after league sports events. That can put the county in a challenging spot before Christmas and New Year’s Eve, she said. “I anticipate probably the same thing is going to happen with Christmas,” Ansher said. “And on top of that, you don’t have the month-long break, you go right into the next holiday, which is New Year’s Eve, where people tend to gather.” Because of the collaboration among Northern Virginia’s hospital systems, Ansher said hospitals in the region aren’t overwhelmed, despite an uptick in admissions. But she fears some may see the vaccine as a “panacea” and is urging Prince William County residents to change their behaviors. “Look how many people have chronic diseases and know what they need to do, but perhaps don’t do it,” Ansher said. “…We need to wear face coverings, we need to social distance and we have to change our behavior. I guess we haven’t done a good enough job in making people understand what’s in it for them.” As Loudoun County Public Schools returns to virtual learning and Fairfax County Public Schools discusses its path forward, Ansher said cases in Prince William County Schools can be attributed mostly to employees, rather than students, testing positive. Still, the Prince William Education Association last week urged Superintendent Steve Walts to return to 100% virtual learning. Ansher said some good things, such as the widespread use of telemedicine and businesses meeting virtually, have evolved from the current situation. But until the public follows proper safety measures, she doesn’t anticipate a dramatic decline in community spread. “If people just social distance and wear face coverings, it would make all the difference in the world to bring down [infections],” Ansher said. “We’ve seen it — data shows it, studies show it, it would do all this, we would flatten the curve. It certainly wouldn’t be perfect.”
The Arlington County Board on Saturday accepted two state grants totaling $660,000 to distribute coronavirus vaccines. The FDA late Friday issued emergency use authorization for the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. “It’s much needed funding because it’s quite expensive,” said Chair Libby Garvey. The funds will be used to hire temporary medical and non-medical staff and cover their travel costs, as well as to rent facilities and operate clinics. The money will also help to store the vaccine. “[The Pfizer] vaccine has to be stored at minus 90 degrees,” Garvey said. “That’s not your average freezer that can store this vaccine, so there are a lot of associated costs.” She added that the county expected “the first vaccines to come soon,” though that shipment would be “limited.” Garvey said that healthcare personnel and long term care facilities have the first priority for the vaccine, but “the next priority groups are still being determined.” She said it has been difficult to plan for what comes next. “The lack of federal leadership just makes it so difficult,” Garvey said. “Every state is kind of on their own.”
There are several pro-Trump and MAGA rallies planned in D.C. today, but they won’t be as large as the ones that happened last month. The rallies are scheduled two days before electors in each state are set to cast their votes for President of the United States, which will officially make Joe Biden president-elect and Kamala Harris vice-president-elect. On Nov. 14, thousands of mostly mask-less Trump supporters rallied in D.C. in support of his baseless claims of a stolen election. Protesters turned violent at night. While a significant number did show up, it was far from the millions that was promoted and claimed. Women for America First, a conservative group supporting the “America First agenda,” was one of the organizations behind the Nov. 14 rallies, and requested use of Freedom Plaza, John Marshall Park and Upper Senate Park for first amendment activities in its application for today’s planned rally received by National Park Service on Nov. 16. In it, organizers say they are planning for 5,000 people. However, it hedges that number by saying “we know it will be more than 50 but it won’t be like 11/14/20.” A permit issued to the group by the park service lists the anticipated number of participants at 15,000. The group will gather for a rally at Freedom Plaza, featuring speakers like including former Trump administration adviser Sebastian Gorka, recently presidentially-pardoned Michael Flynn and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem before marching to the Supreme Court, according to the permit. The permit also includes an agreed-upon COVID-19 mitigation plan that states everyone will “wear a mask unless unable to” or “formal speakers with 6’ separation exempted when speaking.” Also, the Million MAGA March says on its website it is organizing a rally from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Sylvan Theater grounds on the National Mall. According to its website, more than 21,000 people are expected to attend. Yet another permit issued by NPS to Alex Stovall, who is listed as a speaker on the Million MAGA March website, lists the event’s anticipated number of participants at 500 people. It also says they will be rallying about second amendment rights. Both permits note that demonstrations should conclude at 4 p.m. The March for Trump bus tour is also promoting a march today. To avoid potential conflicts, organizers are asking people to avoid what they are calling the “D.C. No Go Zone,” which extends from Scott Circle on the north to BLM Plaza on the south and 18th Street on the west to Franklin Square on the east. They say that this area “is a well know staging area for ANTIFA and BLM.” According to its website, one of their sponsors is My Pillow. NPS received several other applications for First Amendment demonstrations today as well, most listing November’s election results as the reason the protest. A number of the permits were applied for under individuals’ names, so it is unclear what organizations they represent. Also, Women for America First’s rallies were going to be moved to the Lincoln Memorial. But it appears that plans have changed again, at least partially. Initially, the Presidential Inaugural Committee held a permit for today at Freedom Plaza for the inaugural parade setup, according to NPS spokesperson Mike Litterst. But the Presidential Inaugural Committee has given up their permit to allow Women for America First to hold its rally at Freedom Plaza rather than at the Lincoln Memorial. This is because the parade set-up for the Jan. 20 inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden hasn’t started yet, Litterst wrote in an email. Knowing that the area was free on that date, the NPS reached out to the Presidential Inaugural Committee to see if they were willing to relinquish the permit. They were “willing to accommodate the request.” In other words, the very thing these pro-Trump organizations are protesting has given them the ability to have the protest. A number of local organizations are planning counterprotests. Defend D.C. organized a rally at Black Lives Matter Plaza on Friday and Saturday. It is asking people to come out to the plaza to make it “the safest space in the city for D.C. residents” and “to make sure Proud Boys and other neo-fascists cannot go unopposed.” Defend DC is endorsed by Black Lives Matter D.C., ShutDownDC and All Out D.C., according to its website. Black Lives Matter D.C. is hosting their own “Get This Dance & Black Joy” event at BLM Plaza with a live DJ starting at 2 p.m. ShutdownDC is asking people to call local hotels to tell them to enforce the current D.C. travel guidelines and to require a negative COVID-19 test as well as refuse service to those not wearing a mask. The They/Them Collective, a local group of queer, enby, trans, Black, brown and indigenous activists, is also planning counterprotests today. There will be one at noon to “protect BLM plaza” and a march at 5 p.m. Refuse Fascism is hosting a rally at BLM Plaza today. Due to these marches and protests, D.C. police have announced a number of parking restrictions and road closures for Saturday. Closures include Constitution Avenue from Pennsylvania Avenue to 23rd Street NW, Independence Avenue SW from 14th Street to Ohio Drive, the Ninth Street Tunnel and the 12th Street Tunnel. MPD does not anticipate closures on Friday or Sunday, but there is potential for intermittent closures those days.
The Washington Football Team will play the rest of its 2020 home games without fans in attendance. Fans won’t be able to watch from FedExField in Landover, as the team takes on the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 20 and Carolina Panthers on Dec. 27. The team made the decision “after careful consideration and close coordination with Prince George’s County health officials,” team officials said in a release. “We will miss the unbridled passion of our fanbase at FedExField, but we must remain diligent in protecting our staff, players, fans and the community as the region continues to fight against COVID-19.” In recent months, team officials have gone back and forth between opening the stadium at a reduced capacity and closing completely. Only one game this season was played with fans in attendance at FedEx Field: A Nov. 8 loss against the New York Giants. The team didn’t release any details about whether fans would be allowed to attend potential postseason play in 2021. The announcement comes as the team is on a three-game winning streak and tied for first in the NFC East with the Giants, most recently handing a loss to the previously undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday. Washington plays an away game against the San Francisco 49ers with no fan in attendance this Sunday. On Thursday, Prince George’s County was among local jurisdictions to tighten restrictions amid surging COVID-19 case numbers. The county is planning to prohibit indoor dining for about a month and scale back capacity at gyms, casinos and retail stores.
Fairfax County Public Schools will implement new grading policies come the new year to help curb the dramatic spike in students receiving failing grades during the pandemic. “We’ve seen some really, really large increases in percent of students earning ‘F’ grades,” said Sloan Presidio, the district’s chief academic officer. According to an internal report, which examined student grades this school year, in the first quarter the number of middle and high school students with at least two F’s increased 83% compared to previous school years, with almost 9,700 students in that category. Students with disabilities and English language learners have been impacted the most by lower grades since the start of the pandemic. Almost 1,200 more students with disabilities received at least two F’s during the first quarter — an increase of 111% from last year. Almost 1,800 English learners fell into that category — an increase of 106%. Presidio said district officials have been hearing from many students who say they want the school system to listen more closely to their concerns, especially when it comes to the struggles of distance learning and the impact it is having on their educational careers. “The many voices of students that we continue to hear have concerns about the impact of grades on their academic future,” Presidio said. He told school board members Thursday that grading policies have been modified. The change is expected to kick in after winter break. Among the changes: A 50 out of 100 will become the lowest score a student can get on an assignment, turning in work for major assignments late will only come with minimum penalties and no single assignment can be worth more than 20% of a student’s final grade. FCPS will also reduce the minimum number of assignments per quarter from nine to six. In addition, Presidio said the district will look at being more flexible with final exams and may consider changing how final marks are done and whether pass, no pass or incomplete grades should be used. FCPS also plans to offer summer school programs to help struggling students catch up. The district is also planning to host parent-teacher conferences with parents of students who are at risk of failing or not graduating. Those conversations will happen in the family’s native language.
Faced with surging COVID-19 cases and a rise in hospitalizations, Prince George’s County will shut down indoor dining and cut capacity limits at stores to 25% at 5 p.m. on Dec. 16. Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced the new restrictions during a press conference Thursday. Outdoor dining will remain at 50% capacity, and restaurants may still offer curbside service and takeout. Retail store capacity, currently capped at 50%, will be cut to 25% during the holiday shopping season. The casino at MGM National Harbor will be allowed to stay open but also at 25% capacity, as will gyms and fitness centers. The restrictions will remain in effect through Jan. 16. “The numbers that we are seeing tell us that we are headed in the wrong direction, and that we need to take swift and quick action right now to make sure that we are working to contain this virus in our community,” Alsobrooks said. The positivity rate in Prince George’s County has risen past 10%. The average daily case rate per 100,000 is now 45.7. A month ago, the case rate per 100,000 was less than half of what it is currently. Alsobrooks said the county’s hospital capacity has shrunk since Thanksgiving, with 48.7% of hospital beds now available. On Nov. 8, there were 68 people hospitalized in the county with COVID-19. By Dec. 8, it had more than doubled to 177 and is continuing to rise, County Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter said. The number of hospitalizations have not yet reached the levels seen in the spring at the beginning of the pandemic, Carter said, in part because many of the people in the county testing positive recently have been younger. Alsobrooks said the decision to impose further restrictions wasn’t made lightly, and that the county is continuing to explore ways to support local businesses. Alsobrooks’ announcement came a day after neighboring Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich announced a proposal to temporarily suspend indoor dining. Anne Arundel County also unveiled new restrictions, similar to Prince George’s County, on Thursday afternoon.
Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Monday, Virginia residents will be under a “modified stay-at-home order” from midnight-5 a.m. daily through Jan. 31 as the commonwealth tries to stop the spread of COVID-19 amid a surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Gov. Ralph Northam announced the curfew, which applies to everyone except people going to or from work, buying food or goods, or seeking medical attention, at a press conference Thursday. “If you don’t need to go out, please stay at home,” Northam said. “We will ask Virginians to follow those guidelines.” The governor also reduced the size of gatherings to 10 from 25. “We’re not going to go into private places of businesses … but any time you’re around other individuals, you need to put your mask on,” Northam said. He imposed limits on spectators for recreational sports: 25 per field for indoor sports and two guests per player for outdoor sports. Northam also called on religious leaders to spread the message. “This is a holy time,” he said. “The holidays are typically times of joy and community. … But this year, we need to think about what is truly the most important thing. Is it the worship or the building?” He added, “You don’t have to sit in a church for God to hear your prayers. … Worship with a mask on is still worship. Worship outside is still worship.” Northam also said, “A lot of places of worship — most of them — have done the right thing,” but that some others hadn’t. “And, quite frankly, we know that a lot of the spread is coming from this.” He stopped short of placing any restrictions on churches, agreeing with a questioner that the recent Supreme Court case from New York had something to do with it: “So we are following suit with that.” The governor also said, “This does not change anything about schools and colleges or universities.” Local school boards and colleges are still making their own decisions based on local conditions.
The D.C. Council on Tuesday will consider giving Mayor Muriel Bowser authority to extend the city’s public health emergency through March. Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in the DMV, the council most likely wil extend Bowser’s authority to continue the public health emergency through March 31 in order to “continue to limit the spread of COVID-19.” That is according to a request from Chairman Phil Mendelson to add it to the agenda for discussion at the Dec. 15 legislative meeting. Currently, the public health emergency is set to end Dec. 31. Among various changes to the Coronavirus Support Temporary Amendment Act of 2020 and associated legislation, is one that would end the current utility disconnection moratorium in the city. “Utility customers entering into authorized payment plans are currently not subject to service disconnection,” the draft measure reads. “However, some customers have chosen to not enter into payment plans because, under current law, there is a blanket disconnection moratorium. Existing law also already prohibits disconnection of service for non-competitive utilities during periods of extreme temperatures.” The draft legislation proposes ending that moratorium on Jan. 31, to “ensure that utility providers are paid for service, especially providers in the competitive marketplace,” with customers not currently making payments transitioning to a payment plan. Virginia’s utility disconnection ban expired in October, but Gov. Ralph Northam signed a revised budget last month that included a new moratorium on disconnections, including water and electricity, until he determines economic and health conditions have improved or at least 60 days after the state of emergency ends. A similar moratorium in Maryland ended last month. The news comes as coronavirus cases continue to rise locally, with jurisdictions implementing a host of new restrictions in recent days and the DMV surpassing 500,000 known COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic and more than 10,000 deaths. The changes are currently on the agenda for next Tuesday’s meeting.
Loudoun County Public Schools will return to 100% virtual leaning beginning Tuesday, Dec. 15. Supt. Eric Williams announced the move in a letter to families and staff Thursday, in response to rising coronavirus numbers in Loudoun County. The decision came after two key coronavirus metrics surpassed previously set thresholds for a return to distance learning: the number of new cases per 100,000 persons and the percentage of positive coronavirus tests in the county. In November, the LCPS Board decided that schools would automatically revert to online learning if the test positivity rate surpassed 10% and the total number of new cases per 100,000 people surpassed 200. As of Thursday, the positivity rate in the county was 10.4% and the total number of new cases per 100,000 people in the county over the last two weeks had risen to 394, according to data on the school district’s website. Also, because the Virginia Department of Health retroactively updated data from earlier in the month, the school system learned that the numbers have been above the school board’s thresholds since Dec. 6. “Given this new information, and the expectation that metrics will stay above the thresholds for the foreseeable future, LCPS will revert to 100% distance learning for all students beginning Tuesday, Dec. 15,” Williams wrote. “We understand that this process is disruptive for families of students who have been participating in hybrid in-person learning this fall,” Williams said. “The safety and well-being of all students, staff members, their families and the community continues to be our highest priority, and this decision is being made consistent with our commitment to achieving that objective.” LCPS resumed in-person learning in October. Pre-kindergarteners, English-language learners and students with disabilities were among the first to return to classrooms, followed by students in kindergarten, first and second grade. Families who chose not to send their students back to classrooms could continue with virtual learning. Starting on Dec. 1, the county expanded its hybrid learning model to elementary school students in grades three through five, seniors who attended the Academy of Engineering and Technology, and seniors who attended the Academy of Science. For students whose parents elected to participate, that meant returning to the classroom two days a week. According to LCPS, 166 staff and 94 students have tested positive for the coronavirus since schools began tracking the data on Sept. 8.
D.C. will distribute its initial allotment of coronavirus vaccine to six medical sites throughout the city including MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Howard University Hospital, the George Washington University Hospital, Children’s National Hospital, Kaiser Permanente and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. All the sites have the necessary equipment to store the Pfizer vaccine, which must be kept at -94 degrees Fahrenheit. D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said the city will use a “hub and spoke model,” so these facilities will partner with other healthcare sites to administer vaccines. For example, Nesbitt said Children’s National will partner with United Medical Center. That first shipment of 6,825 doses will come from Pfizer, pending federal approval which could come in the next few days. The city will prioritize healthcare workers and first responders in the first wave of vaccinations. But the initial allotment will not be enough for everyone in “Phase 1A” of vaccine recipients, which includes approximately 85,000 people. That group includes nearly 34,000 full- and part-time medical staff, nearly 15,000 nursing and residential care facility employees, and more than 8,000 home health providers, among others. “We will begin with those healthcare workers who work in emergency settings, those frontline healthcare workers,” D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said during a press conference Thursday. “We have worked collaboratively with the healthcare providers who will be receiving the vaccine to identify those individuals.” Nesbitt said it would not only be doctors and nurses who get the first doses, but “techs, environmental services staff” and others. “At the end of the day, vaccinating healthcare workers first ensures we have a healthy workforce that’s available to take care of and treat sick people. Protecting the workers helps to protect the patients,” Nesbitt said. After “Phase 1A,” doses will start going to “Phase 1B,” which includes high-risk residents, those 65 or older, law enforcement, grocery store employees, nursing home residents and staff, homeless residents and childcare staff. Nesbitt said she expects the city will get vaccine shipments every week or two as manufactured product it, but it is not clear whether subsequent shipments will be the same size as the first. The Moderna vaccine could also soon win federal approval and vaccines from several other companies continue to progress through clinical trials. In June, the city started acquiring supplies to administer the vaccine, which include 184,000 needles and syringes, 1 million alcohol prep pads and 1 million band-aids. While it is expected the Pfizer vaccine will receive federal approval in the coming days, Nesbitt cautioned that administration won’t happen right away. That is due to guidelines still needing to be set and local vaccinators to be fully trained. When pressed for a timeline about when the first vaccine could be administered in D.C., Nesbitt said she couldn’t provide one. “It’s impossible to do that,” said Nesbitt. “I’d surmise anyone who is doing that is ambitious.”
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton on Wednesday asked the National Park Service to close the Washington Monument, visitor centers and other indoor spaces, following a number of reported coronavirus cases among employees who work on the National Mall and an overall surge in cases across the DMV. In a letter to acting NPS director Margaret Everson, Norton expressed concern for the workers. “I understand that there have been at least four cases of COVID-19 and one hospitalization among NPS employees who work on the National Mall,” she wrote. “I also understand that NPS has not closed indoor properties such as the Washington Monument and that visitors are not uniformly following mask and social-distancing guidelines while on federal property, including inside the Washington Monument’s elevator,” she said. “These behaviors put NPS employees and the public at significant risk.” A spokesperson for NPS didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. But in her letter, Norton urged the agency to implement stricter protocols for its workers, including moving all non-emergency employees to telework or weather- and safety-leave. Norton asked Everson to provide a written response by Dec. 15. After a six-month closure during the pandemic, the Washington Monument reopened in October with limited capacity and new safety protocols in place, such as mask requirements.
Almost 75% of D.C. residents required to wear a face covering do so properly. During a press conference Thursday, D.C. Health Director Dr LaQuandra Nesbitt revealed the results of the city’s first mask audit that was conducted from Nov. 18-Dec. 9. Contact tracers were stationed at 151 locations across all eight wards. In total, the contact tracers observed 4,250 individuals. Of those, more than 4,250 people or 83% had a mask visible. However, only 72% were wearing it correctly. Meaning about 11% were not wearing masks that covered both their mouth and nose and 11% didn’t wear a mask at all. “The most common thing that we observed with people not wearing it correctly is that there’s often slippage where the nose is not adequately or properly covered,” Nesbitt said. Most adults wore their mask correctly, but adolescents and children between the ages of 5-18 were less likely to do so. Approximately 19% of youth wore their mask incorrectly. “We know that it could be a little bit of a challenge for a rambunctious younger person to use a mask, but also making sure that we get compliance with our teenage population when they are out and about,” Nesbitt said. Seniors 65 or older are more likely to wear their mask correctly than any other demographic. Nearly four in five women, or 79%, wore their mask correctly compared with 67% of men. However, more men were observed for the audit than women. Ward 2 had the highest percentage of people wearing a mask correctly (84%) while Ward 7 had the lowest (55%). Wards 1 and 3 had 80%, while Ward 5 had 70%, Ward 6 had 69%, Ward 4 had 68% and Ward 8 had 58%. “It was a noticeably huge gap there in terms of those observations,” Nesbitt said. Over the last several months, several reports and studies have shown that D.C residents do a better job at adhering to mask requirements compared to many U.S. states.
Montgomery County restaurants will have to temporarily end indoor dining beginning next Tuesday under a new proposal by County Executive Marc Elrich. Elrich announced the proposal Wednesday, saying he has sent it to the county council for review. If approved, the restrictions would take effect at 5 p.m. on Dec. 15. Outdoor dining, curbside pickup, deliveries and drive-throughs would still be allowed. But food and drinks could only be served outdoors until 10 p.m. under state restrictions. The proposal exempts indoor dining at licensed health care facilities. Indoor dining is currently allowed in Montgomery County at 25% capacity. Elrich’s proposal would also limit capacity in retail establishments, including big-box chains and grocery stores, to one person per 200 square feet of space or 150 people. It also includes a 10-person restriction on nonprofessional indoor sports activities and a 25-person limit on outdoor religious gatherings, unless organizers receive a waiver from county health officials. “All the data and trends indicate that we are heading toward more difficult times, and it is imperative that we take action now,” Elrich said in the press release. “We cannot wait for our hospitals to be overflowing. This was a difficult decision, and I know that is is hard on our businesses. I encourage everyone to support our local businesses. We must take steps to slow the spread of this virus.” Maryland reported 2,692 new COVID-19 cases and 46 deaths on Wednesday, while Montgomery County reported 343 new cases. County council can approve or reject the order, but cannot change it. Officials are bracing for a grueling winter in terms of the virus. “We’re determined to do everything we can do to bend the curve again,” Elirch said during a press conference with executives from central Maryland counties and Baltimore’s new mayor. “We know how to do it, we’ve done it before, we’re gonna do it again.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam will announce new mitigation measures today in response to a statewide surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations. The announcement comes as Virginia has been routinely breaking records for new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Spokeperson Alena Yarmosky said that “mitigation measures will be nuanced and in line with our targeted, data-driven response.”
On Wednesday, Virginia once again set a new record for daily COVID-19 cases. The previous record was set just days earlier. The new milestone came amid rising caseloads and hospitalizations in the DMV. The commonwealth reported 4,398 new cases Wednesday. On Saturday and Sunday, it set records of 3,793 and 3,880 cases, respectively. There were 267,128 total cases as of yesterday morning. Gov. Ralph Northam tightened COVID-19 restrictions in mid-November. He restricted indoor and outdoor gatherings to 25 people, boosted enforcement of coronavirus precautions at stores and expanded the mask mandate. But despite worsening metrics, Northam has declined to impose more restrictions, instead stressing “personal responsibility” at a press conference last week. On Wednesday, another 21 people died from the virus, bringing its toll to 4,281 fatalities. Virginia’s positivity rate stands at 10.9%, a level not seen since May and well above the 5% threshold that epidemiologists say indicates a need for more testing. The 7-day moving average of hospitalized COVID-19 patients continues to climb and stood at 1,885 people yesterday, its highest level ever. Hospitalization is a “lagging indicator,” meaning that rises follow increased case counts by a week or two, as the people who have contracted the virus get sicker. Still, Northam said last Wednesday his biggest capacity concern is not so much lack of ICU space or ventilators, but rather hospital staff burnout. He said the state stockpile of personal protective equipment is adequate, and hospitals experiencing shortages should request help.
The D.C. government signed a deal with Curative, a second private lab, to process coronavirus tests. City officials said Tuesday a surge in testing demand that began last month has continued after the Thanksgiving holiday. The city has provided free tests since early in the pandemic; by late summer, about 10,000 tests were being administered weekly, Director of Public Works Chris Geldart said. The number started rising after President Trump caught the virus in early October and soared before Thanksgiving to 25,000 tests a week. The city conducted 17,000 tests last week and is on track for a similar total this week, as the number of COVID-19 passed 700 in D.C. LabCorp, which had been handling most tests from the city’s public testing sites, told the city that it couldn’t process so many tests without slowing results, meaning people might wait more than five days for their tests to come back, Geldart said. The city decided that a wait of more than five days was unacceptable and arranged for Curative to process some of the tests. Anyone tested at Judiciary Square, one of the city’s most popular testing sites, or at Nationals Park will have their samples sent to Curative, Geldart said. The test is still the same — a PCR test that involves a five-second swab in each nostril, not a deep poke back toward the brain. And the results arrive the same way — generally in an email or text message from D.C. Health. In November, D.C. began trying to recoup some of the cost of those tests from insurers for the first time. So far, about 55% of people who use the public testing sites have agreed to provide their insurance information, which Geldart estimated saved the city about $500,000 in three weeks.
On his first day in office, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott ordered indoor and outdoor dining to be shut down at 5 p.m. Friday to fight the spread of COVID-19 in Maryland’s largest city. Scott made the announcement Wednesday. He also announced that capacity at religious facilities, retail establishments and malls will be cut to 25%. And he limited indoor gatherings, including in private homes, to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 25. Sports at all city-owned facilities are prohibited, and he ordered indoor recreation establishments, such as bingo halls, bowling alleys, pool halls, roller and ice skating rinks, fraternal clubs including the American Legions, VFW and Elks clubs, indoor pools, hookah establishments and adult entertainment venues shuttered. The announcement came as the leaders of Maryland’s seven largest jurisdictions and Scott held an afternoon news conference to urge state residents to adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines in their jurisdictions and across the state.
Medstar Health, one of the largest hospital systems in the DMV, expects to receive Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine “imminently” and is preparing for how to store, track and disseminate it based on whom health experts have determined are priority patients. Dr. Bonnie Levin leads the pharmacy across MedStar Hospital System’s 10 hospitals, including Washington Hospital Center and Georgetown University Hospital. Levin said there is a core team preparing for how it will receive the COVID-19 vaccine. “The first vaccine we’re getting is from Pfizer. That’s the one that requires the ultracold storage. It will arrive in specially developed thermal containers that look kind of like a rolling suitcase that will hold up to 5,000 doses, in individual they’re calling them personal pizza boxes. Each pizza box will hold, I think, about 1,000 doses,” Levin said. The hospital system has and is getting more freezers that can maintain -80 Celsius temperatures, which the Pfizer vaccine requires. Other vaccines will have different storage requirements, she said. MedStar is also coordinating with the Maryland and D.C. health departments to plan and allocate the expected amount of vaccine each jurisdiction is getting and disbursing it based on priority, starting with health care workers. “It really depends on your age, your job and your health as to when you get a vaccine. We get a lot of questions about that,” Levin said.
On Tuesday, D.C., Maryland and Virginia set a tragic new milestone as the DMV surpassed 500,000 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began in March. D.C. reported 270 new cases as its daily case rate climbs, with no new deaths and 29 new hospitalizations. Maryland reported 2,632 new COVID-19 cases and 51 new deaths. Hospitalizations also rose sharply, with an increase of 92 reported, although the state’s seven-day positivity rate dropped slightly to 7.61%. And Virginia reported 3,860 new cases, along with 52 new deaths and 33 new hospitalizations. The benchmark comes as new restrictions were implemented in the region this week. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday that high-contact sports are prohibited in the city. The new rule applies to high school extracurricular sports activities and competitions, as well as local sports leagues, but not university of professional sports. The decision marked the latest round of restrictions in the city, after Bowser previously announced new limitations on indoor and outdoor gatherings, indoor group exercise classes and alcohol sales. New limits on indoor dining going into effect Monday. But while D.C. seven-day rolling average of cases per 100,000 has been rising since mid-October, officials have been hesitant to implement a new stay at home order. During a press conference Monday, D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt voiced concerns about balancing public health considerations with the impact on the business community. She also raised questions about whether the public would follow such strict guidelines. “It would be much easier for us as the health department to advise the mayor to move us to a stay-at-home posture, but that would not be widely acceptable by the residents of our community, and the degree to which we would get adherence to that may also be debatable, now nine months into the response,” Nesbitt said. “We have to think about how we can make these incremental changes that will give us some benefit and impact based on the populations that are driving our increasing cases.” She said contact tracers in D.C. had found that some new cases appeared to be connected to Thanksgiving celebrations. Other jurisdictions have also imposed new rules in response to surging cases in recent weeks. In late November, Montgomery County announced new restrictions on indoor gatherings, as well as requiring that masks be worn at all times outdoors. They were already required in public facilities. The county had previously tightened other restrictions, including reducing occupancy at fitness centers, restaurants and retail businesses from 50% to 25% of capacity, and Prince George’s County took similar steps. Gov. Larry Hogan also set new rules for restaurants in Maryland last month, urging counties to enforce restrictions, and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam restricted indoor and outdoor gatherings to 25 people and expanded the commonwealth’s mask mandate.
Maryland could receive its first doses of coronavirus vaccine early next week. Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday an initial 50,000 doses will come from Pfizer and will be divided between hospital workers and long-term care centers, pending federal approval of the vaccine. Maryland could then see 104,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which is also up for federal approval, begin to arrive the week of Dec. 22. The initial vaccine rollout is a glimmer of hope in the battle that has claimed more than 4,700 lives in Maryland. Hogan stressed that distributing the vaccine would be the “most massive undertaking of this pandemic.” The first 155,000 shots will only be the start of Maryland’s vaccination process, although Hogan said the state could see “perhaps up to 300,000 by year’s end.” For the vaccine to be truly effective, he said, residents need to trust the vaccine and take it in large numbers. Hogan said he and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford would take the vaccine in public once they are eligible, joining a growing list of public officials who have made that promise to project confidence in the vaccine. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, spaced several weeks apart. Hogan said Maryland’s first shots would begin the process for 155,000 people, and that the federal government is “holding back” additional supply for the second doses. Officials said this news does not mean an end to precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing just yet, as it will be some time before most of the general public can get the vaccine. As a larger supply becomes available, Maryland will turn to vaccinating “critical infrastructure” workers in areas like education and transit. Hogan’s update on Maryland’s vaccine rollout plans came hours after an FDA review confirmed the efficacy and safety of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, a good sign the agency will grant emergency use authorization this Thursday. COVID-19 cases in Maryland have been spiking, as they are throughout the country. “We still don’t believe we’re at the peak. We think that’s coming in the weeks and potentially months ahead,” Hogan said. Virginia updated its vaccine supply estimate late last week: Officials expect the state will receive 480,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine by the end of the month, pending regulatory approval. That is enough for nearly all the state’s healthcare workers and long-term care residents to get their first shot. Virginia’s first shipment of roughly 72,000 Pfizer vaccine doses could arrive by mid-December, officials said. A spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Health confirmed the state expects to receive the second doses at the appropriate time. D.C., meanwhile, is urging the federal government to up its allotment of the vaccine. Mayor Muriel Bowser said last week the city is expecting fewer than 8,000 doses at first, enough for about 10% of healthcare workers. Bowser said the formula for distributing the vaccine, which is based on population, disadvantages D.C. because three-quarters of its healthcare workers live in Maryland or Virginia.
Sixty percent of Montgomery County Public Schools students will continue virtual-only learning for the second semester, according to the final results of a questionnaire sent to families. About 98,231 students will continue to take classes from home in the second semester. That number includes students who chose that option in the survey and students who will be automatically assigned virtual instruction because their families did not respond to the survey. In total, 127,112 responses were submitted on behalf of the district’s approximately 161,583 students — about 79%. Of those responses, 63,760 (50.2%) chose to not return to classrooms if they begin to reopen in January, as planned. The other 63,352 (49.8%) chose to participate in a mix of in-person and virtual lessons. The approximately 34,471 students whose parents did not respond will be enrolled in the all-virtual model, according to school district officials. The move is to help the district plan its staffing and which schools will reopen. MCPS has said not all facilities will reopen at once. The calculations are based on MCPS’ official enrollment, recorded Sept. 30. Supt. Jack Smith has said the district’s enrollment has fluctuated since then, but a current count was not available Tuesday. MCPS did not provide further breakdown of the survey results by grade, school level, demographics or geography. Last week, the school board delayed the survey’s deadline by four days to give parents more time to respond. Between the original deadline and Monday’s final deadline, about 20,000 more people responded. For families who chose to participate in face-to-face instruction, they will have a second chance to opt out. Over the next few weeks, MCPS will build its plan for in-person instruction, including how many schools will open and how often students will have lessons from home. The district will share its plan with families the first week of January. From Jan. 11-15, families will confirm that they still want to return to classrooms. No changes to families’ selections can be made between Jan. 18-29, so staff members can finalize plans. Small groups of the district’s “highest-risk” students, like those in special education programs and English language learners,” are scheduled to begin a phased return to buildings Jan. 12. General education students will follow, beginning Feb. 1, according to the district’s current plan. The reopening plan relies on improved COVID-19 data, which has trended poorly in recent weeks. The reopening plan and the metrics that guide it are not final yet. Last week, the school board delayed finalizing the plan in a unanimous vote. Board members pressed district officials to take a second look at the reopening metrics to see if there can be more flexibility in bringing children back to schools and to prioritize the return of the district’s youngest students. The board is expected to take final action on the plan during a meeting Dec. 15.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit the restaurant industry hard, and Maryland’s eateries had been hit harder than most. The Restaurant Association of Maryland said in a statement that a survey from the National Restaurant Association found that the state’s restaurants were ahead of the national average in every metric designed to show the impact of the pandemic on the industry. According to the survey, 45% of Maryland restaurant operators said it was unlikely their restaurant will still be in business six months from now if there are no additional relief packages from the federal government. That compares to a national average of 37%. Other findings include 89% of Maryland operators expect sales to decrease from current levels during the next three months, compared to a national average of 65%; 89% of state restaurant operators say total sales volume in October was lower than the previous October, compared to a national average of 79%.; 70% said their total labor costs took a larger percentage of sales than before the pandemic, compared to a national average of 59%; and 91% said their restaurant’s profit margin is lower than before the pandemic, compared with a national average of 86%. Those numbers affect restaurant jobs: 84% of Maryland restauranteurs say their current staffing level is lower than normal, while 67% expect their staffing levels to decline during the next three months, compared with a national average of 49%. “The results from National Restaurant Association Research Group are staggering, but sadly they are not shocking, as we continue to see Maryland restaurants fight to stay alive,” Marshall Weston Jr., the association’s president and CEO said in the statement. “The time is now to support your local restaurants. Every day is critical to their survival.” The association suggests giving RAM gift cards as holiday presents, as well as booking small groups for dining and ordering holiday meals via takeout and delivery in advance from restaurants. The National Restaurant Association surveyed 6,000 restaurant operators and 250 supply chain businesses in the second half of November for the survey.
The spring semester at the University of Maryland will be much like the fall semester, with hybrid teaching and learning. About 25% of courses will be taught in person and the remaining 75% will be online, university President Darryll J. Pines said in a letter to the school community on Tuesday. “As we did in the fall, the first two weeks of undergraduate instruction, with few exceptions, will be conducted entirely online. This allows us to conduct testing and initially limit movement amidst our de-densified campus,” Pines said. Before students return to campus, they must test negative for the coronavirus. And all students, faculty and staff will be required to take a COVID-19 test every two weeks. The spring semester is set to begin on Jan. 25. Pines said spring break, scheduled from March 14-21, will proceed as planned but the two weeks of classes following spring break will be online. “This will allow the university to conduct large-scale campus-wide testing prior to the resumption of in-person classes,” Pines said. The spring semester is scheduled to end May 11.
Amid rising COVID-19 cases, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Monday halted high-contact sports in the city. Basketball, football, hockey, boxing, lacrosse, martial arts, rugby, soccer and wrestling are now prohibited in the city. The restriction applies to all high school extracurricular sports activities and competitions, as well as local sports leagues, although it does not apply to professional or university sports. Recreation centers and clubs must end all athletic activities for high school athletes, not just high-contact sports. Clinics and drills can continue for students in middle school or younger provided the activities do not require direct contact and that young athletes are in groups of no more than 12. The Department of Parks and Recreation will no longer issue permits for organized sports activities in public parks, Bowser said at a press conference Monday. Organizations with existing permits can still hold sports activities, provided they are non-contact and for children younger than high school age or for adults. D.C.’s coronavirus metrics have been getting worse for weeks. The 7-day rolling average of cases per 100,000 has increased since mid-October and has now surpassed its high from the start of the pandemic. On May 5, it peaked at 27.56 new cases per 100,000; on Monday, it was 34.33. Additionally, 8.5% of patients in D.C. hospitals have COVID-19. Hospitals were operating with about 83.2% of their beds filled on Saturday, a slight decrease from Friday’s number, 86.6%. The city considers 90% “insufficient capacity” in the local hospital system. D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said contact tracers are finding that some new cases appear to be tied to Thanksgiving celebrations. “We are noting that individuals are reporting some activities related to the Thanksgiving holiday,” Nesbitt said. But city officials have been reluctant to reimpose a new stay at home order, instead making changes to Phase Two restrictions. Nesbitt on Monday expressed concerns about balancing the public health imperatives of the moment with impacts on the business community and called into question whether residents would adhere to more onerous restrictions. “It would be much easier for us as the health department to advise the mayor to move us to a stay at home posture, but that would not be widely acceptable by the residents of our community, and the degree to which we would get adherence to that may also be debatable, now nine months into the response,” said Nesbitt when pressed about the possibility of broader action. “We have to think about how we can make these incremental changes that will give us some benefit and impact based on the populations that are driving our increasing cases.” Not everyone agrees with the direction of the city’s response. “It is past time for D.C. to move back to Phase 1,” incoming Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George tweeted. Asked about plans to increase enforcement of public health rules, Bowser called on individual residents to hold themselves accountable for following D.C.’s mask mandate and maintaining social distancing. “The thing about human beings, they will be human beings,” she said. “You can see it in workplaces, for example, people who haven’t seen each other. We put up all this wonderful plexiglass, but then they come in and they want to talk, so they go to the side of the plexiglass … that’s a very simple example of how the best guidelines and rules are in place, but we have to be vigilant.” As of yesterday, the health department added new public data to its coronavirus dashboard: It will track “outbreaks,” defined as at least two cases related to the same location in a 14-day period. Specific information about the exact location of the outbreaks, such as the specific restaurant or school, will not be available. The data will be split into type of location, including different kinds of schools, restaurants and bars, food and retail establishments, congregate residential buildings, places of worship, offices and more. The data will not include outbreaks related to healthcare settings. It will be updated on Mondays. The first batch of outbreak data shows that 27.5% of outbreaks since August have been at colleges and universities, followed by 17.4% at K-12 schools, 13.8% at childcare facilities and 13.8% at restaurants and bars. Bowser also announced that the city will provide a one-time $1,200 stimulus payment to D.C. residents who had applied and were deemed eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance support before Nov. 30. The funding for the stimulus payments will come from CARES Act funds. The city expects to give about 20,000 residents the extra money, which will be sent out on a rolling basis this month. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance covers gig workers, contractors, self-employed workers and others who aren’t eligible for traditional unemployment help. PUA benefits were approved under the CARES Act, but are set to expire Dec. 26. Workers do not have to fill out an additional application to receive the stimulus payment.
Faced with surging COVID-19 cases, the Virginia Department of Health directed the commonwealth’s contact tracing teams to prioritize their caseloads, saying local health departments may not be able to contact everyone with a COVID-19 infection or all of their close contacts. The health department said in press release Monday that local departments should prioritize residents recently infected and people in their households, as well as target those living or working in nursing homes and other congregate settings. The department cited “substantial levels of COVID-19 community transmission” for the change, which also comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued revised contact tracing guidelines amid a nationwide spike in coronavirus cases. “As cases of COVID-19 increase across the commonwealth, this change will allow us to deploy resources where they have the most impact,” said Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver. “We urge residents to continue to follow public health guidance on wearing masks and physical distancing, and to notify their circle of friends and family quickly if diagnosed with COVID-19.” Virginia on Sunday reported 3,880 new coronavirus cases, the state’s highest one-day total of new cases. The number of people hospitalized with the virus is also climbing. With less intense levels of community spread of the virus, contact tracers would generally try to contact all COVID-19 patients and all their close contacts. But Elena Diskin, epidemiology program manager and co-lead for the department’s COVID-19 Containment Unit, said the spike in cases means not every person infected with COVID-19 should expect a call from their local health department. The adjusted guidance is focused on speed and making the biggest impact, she said. “Contact tracing works really well when you’re able to break those chains of transmission really quickly,” Diskin said. “So, with these levels of transmission in the community that we’re seeing now — and we’re seeing continuing to rise — the process doesn’t work as well, because you can’t trace every exposure or break that chain of transmission fast enough.” Focusing on more recent cases allows health officials to interrupt potential outbreaks early on. “With these rising number of cases, the contact tracers really just need to focus on kind of reaching people as quickly as possible,” Diskin said, noting that individual contact tracers’ caseloads are increasing by hundreds of cases a day in some areas. The new guidelines say, if needed, contact tracers should prioritize people diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past six days and their household contacts; people who live, work or who visited congregate living facilities, such as nursing homes; people involved in known clusters or outbreaks; and people at increased risk of severe illness. Contact tracing is an essential part of limiting outbreaks of the coronavirus, officials say, and Virginia has hired nearly 2,000 contact tracers since May. Diskin stressed that during the current spike in cases, people who test positive should self-isolate at home and away from others for at least 10 days, even if they don’t hear from their local health department. In addition, the VDH has tips for how people can identify and notify contacts on their own. Some local health departments in Virginia say they will continue contacting all positive cases in their jurisdictions. Shawn Kiernan, the epidemiologist with the Fairfax County Department of Health, said in an email: “Currently, in the Fairfax Health District, we are working hard to continue to investigate all cases that are reported to us in a timely manner rather than prioritize cases. Case and contact investigations are an essential tool in ‘boxing it in,’ and we firmly believe that investigating all cases is one of the most effective tools public health has.” Fairfax County said nearly 400 contact tracers work seven days a week on the effort. In addition to the contact tracing priorities, Virginia announced Monday that the state is adopting the CDC’s recently revised quarantine guidance. Last week, the CDC announced a shortened quarantine period: 10 days for people who don’t exhibit symptoms, or just seven days for people who receive a negative test result after their exposure. Saying the 14-day quarantine is still the safest, Virginia health officials added that they are adopting the new CDC guidelines except for health care workers, who will need to continue to quarantine for the full 14 days.
Coronavirus vaccines face a trust gap in Black and Latino Communities. Only 14% of Black Americans and 34% of Latinos trust the safety of a coronavirus vaccine, according to a study by the COVID Collaborative. Emergency room physician Dr. Geoffrey Mount Varner said historical reasons such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment make the idea of trusting a vaccine a hard sell. “Who’s going to present this to Black Americans, saying, ‘Hey everybody, you all have seen me, you know me and you trust me,’” said Mount Varner, who founded Lifeline Medical, in Bowie in 2004. Lifeline Medical consults with hospitals and health-related companies. The infamous Tuskegee experiment was a 40-year government study on syphilis involving the deception of 600 poor Black men in Alabama. Mount Varner said that their concerns are legitimate. “I understand the concern but because of a crisis, we must go into crisis mode and think outside the box, and right now the goal is to save your lives and the lives of our loved ones,” he said. The study collected questionnaire responses from 1,050 Black and 258 Latino adults. The study found that 55% of Blacks and 73% of Latinos said that they know someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Additionally, 48% of Blacks and 52% of Latinos said that they know someone who has been hospitalized with or died from COVID-19. When it comes to vaccine effectiveness, 18% of Blacks and 40% of Latinos said that they trust that the COVID-19 vaccine will be effective. And, 28% of Black and 47% of Latinos said that they are confident that a vaccine will be tested specifically for their racial or ethnic group.
Many Americans are stockpiling necessities again as a winter wave of coronavirus cases hits the U.S. and the DMV. A new survey by LendingTree found 34% of Americans — or 86.7 million consumers — have already begun stockpiling supplies for a potential winter wave of COVID-19. Another 35% say they plan to stockpile but haven’t started yet. The most common purchases include food (64%), hand sanitizer (61%), cleaning supplies (60%), face masks (60%), water (49%) and paper products (49%). Many people stockpiled at the pandemic’s beginning in March, but there are mixed feelings about that. “Some people regretted not buying enough cleaning supplies and enough face masks and those sorts of things. But some people regretted buying too much of those sorts of things,” said Matt Schulz of at LendingTree. LendingTree estimates consumers have spent an average of $359 stocking up on coronavirus-related supplies during October and the first week of November. Some people are more likely than others to be stockpiling, including parents of young children (44%) compared to parents with adult children (28%) and people with no children (26%). “If it was just one or two people in the house, that is one thing, but when you’re stocking up for a family, sometimes you go a little overboard,” Schulz said. In March, shoppers began encountering bare shelves with the most sought-after items in short supply because of the high demand. That could happen again this winter. “A lot of retailers and a lot of grocery stores may have figured out how to handle things a little better since the spring, but I do think there is a pretty good chance that things could get a little harder to find before too long,” Schulz said. There are mistakes some consumers made last time around that they don’t intend to make this time, like not stocking up on beer, wine and liquor. Nearly a third of those surveyed — 30% — said they regretted not loading up on booze during the pandemic’s first wave, and 45% of those stockpiling now say liquor has been on their list this time. LendingTree surveyed 1,050 Americans between Nov. 6-9. The survey’s full results are online.
Virginia expects to receive enough coronavirus vaccine by the end of December to give most of its healthcare workers and long-term care residents their first of two shots. Based on the latest information from the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed, the commonwealth will get 480,000 doses from vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna. That is just short of the estimated 500,000 healthcare professionals and long-term care residents in Virginia, according to a press release. “We will focus initially on the groups that have been most at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 infections and those whose work puts them at greatest risk of contracting COVID-19 infections,” state Health Commissioner Norm Oliver. “Over time, as more vaccine supply becomes available, more Virginians will be able to get vaccinated, and we can look forward to a time when this pandemic will end.” In line with federal guidance, Virginia will prioritize healthcare workers and long-term care residents for initial doses of the vaccine. Gov. Ralph Northam has said that by early to mid-summer, he hopes most people in Virginia will be vaccinated. Both companies’ vaccines require two doses. The second Pfizer shot comes three weeks after the first, and the Moderna booster is given four weeks later. In a mid-November update to its vaccine plan, the Virginia Department of Health said, “a reserve [of vaccine] will be held at the federal level to ensure access to a second dose.” A health department spokesperson said, “We do expect to receive second doses at the appropriate time.” The commonwealth’s first shipment of roughly 72,000 Pfizer vaccine doses should arrive in mid-December, according to the press release, pending emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. Virginia will distribute the vaccine to healthcare systems that have ultracold storage capacity — the Pfizer vaccine must be kept at -94 degrees Fahrenheit. Healthcare workers who provide direct care to COVID-19 patients will be the top priority for the initial doses, according to the health department. The department said subsequent weekly shipments of the vaccine will be divided between healthcare workers and long-term care centers. Most nursing home residents and staff will get their shots at pharmacies like CVS or Walgreens. The Moderna vaccine does not require ultracold storage, which makes it easier to administer to people outside a hospital setting, officials said. Several hundred thousand vaccine doses is more than Virginia had previously announced. As of last week, Virginia had only said it was anticipating 70,000 or so does of the Pfizer vaccine. And health officials had divided their “Phase 1” priority group into multiple subgroups in case initial supply was very limited. Virginia estimated it will spend $121 million on vaccine distribution. In October, Northam allocated $22 million in CARES Act funding to support vaccine distribution through the end of the year. Northam said he would identify additional sources of funding to continue operations into 2021. Localities in the region are also beginning to prepare. Next week, the Arlington County Board plans to consider accepting two state grants totaling $660,000 to support the mass distribution of the vaccine. The funding would go toward expenses like hiring temporary workers, renting facilities and operating clinics, according to the county. D.C. officials, meanwhile, are fighting for additional vaccine. Mayor Muriel Bowser said last week the city is slated to get about 7,000 doses, enough for about 10% of its healthcare workers. The federal government’s plan determines high-priority patients based on where they live, which Bowser said hurts D.C. because roughly three-fourths of its healthcare workers live in Maryland or Virginia. “So far, the Operation Warp Speed is approaching every jurisdiction by resident population, and we think that that especially doesn’t work for us because of how people live and work in our region,” Bowser said Friday. “We are an outlier with the number of healthcare workers that don’t actually live in the District. So that makes it very difficult for us to get up to 30% or 50% of our health care workers, given our population.”
While new COVID-19 cases in D.C. and Maryland eased off Sunday, as they usually do over the weekend, Virginia’s continue to rise, setting a new record for the second consecutive day and third time in the past two weeks. The Virginia Department of Health reported 3,880 new cases Sunday morning, breaking the previous record of 3,793 reported Saturday morning – both ahead of the previous record of 3,242 posted Thanksgiving Day. The number of people currently in Virginia hospitals in also rose to a record 1,969. On Nov. 30, the record was 1,658; it went to 1,757 the next day, and except for a couple of single-digit drops, it has gone up daily since then. In Northern Virginia, hospitalizations and deaths have remained relatively stable, but looking at the case rate per 100,000 residents, the region has seen a spike in the past week while staying at or near the statewide average of 32.1. There were 152 new cases reported in Arlington on Sunday, breaking the previous record of 105 set Dec. 5. The seven-day rolling average jumped to 76 and to 32 cases per 100,000 residents, up from 60 and 25.1, respectively, on Dec. 4. After a gradual rise ending Nov. 28 with a case count of 98, an average of 68 and an average rate per 100,000 of 28.6, the numbers had gone several days until Saturday. Deaths and hospitalizations, however, remain largely the same. Other local jurisdictions have seen similar rises, with numbers peaking around Thanksgiving, trailing off for a few days and spiking again in the last two days. The case rates per 100,000 residents in other Northern Virginia include 29.9 in Alexandria; 5.8 in Fairfax City; 29.0 in Fairfax County; 17.4 in Falls Church; 21.6 in Loudoun County; 28.1 in Manassas City; 24.8 in Manassas Park; and 36.8 in Prince William County.
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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.