265,000 Wreaths Placed on Arlington Graves
COVID-19 Cases Reach 578,068 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 26,342 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 730 deaths; there have been 248,754 cases in Maryland with 5,242 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 302,972 cases with 4,643 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
The coronavirus pandemic kept volunteers from taking part in Wreaths Across America Day at Arlington National Cemetery, but that didn’t stop family pass holders, members of the Old Guard and the Wreaths Across America team from placing more than 265,000 live balsam wreaths at the cemetery in an event that usually brings thousands of volunteers to the cemetery to honor fallen U.S. veterans. “We’re excited to give everybody watching this an opportunity to honor, remember and explore our nation’s most hallowed grounds during this important annual event,” said Ray Alexander, superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery. “Thank you to the many who insured there was a wreath for every gravesite.” The wreaths were delivered by 45 tractor-trailer trucks throughout the week leading up to Wreaths Across America Day on Saturday. Wreaths Across America also helped place 1.7 million wreaths at 2,556 other cemeteries in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad. The virtual event showed family and military members laying wreaths and featured the stories of some of those who work at the cemetery. Wreaths Across America is usually a one-day event at Arlington National Cemetery, but this year, because of coronavirus precautions, it took place over more than a week while the cemetery held 100 funerals.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, AAA expects most Americans to stay home this holiday season. Public health concerns and travel guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are influencing the decision not to travel over the year-end holidays, a period that typically sees high demand for vacations, according to AAA. While AAA expects at least 34 million fewer travelers compared to last year’s holiday season, as many as 84.5 million Americans may still travel from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3, a decline in travel of at least 29%. “While Thanksgiving is traditionally spent gathering with friends and family, the year-end holidays are when Americans often venture out for longer, more elaborate vacations. That will not be the case this year,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. Two-thirds of all DMV residents are expected to stay home during the busiest and biggest holiday travel period of the year including Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The number of holiday travelers from the region will plummet almost 30%, AAA said. It is projected, however, that as many as 2.2 million people living in and around Washington, D.C. will opt to travel 50 miles or more from home during the 12-day holiday period. That is a 27% decline in the number of holiday travelers from the region, compared to last year, when nearly 3 million people from the area traveled over the holidays. “This time, both holidays, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, fall on Friday a week apart. Under normal circumstances, the number of travelers tends to spike when a holiday occurs on a Friday, creating a three-day weekend. Not this time under these existential circumstances posed by COVID-19,” said John B. Townsend, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public & government affairs. The worst time to travel the southbound Interstate 95 corridor (Capital Beltway to Va. 123), according to INRIX, a company that analyzes traffic patterns, will be around 11:30 a.m. Dec. 28. The delay is estimated to be 31 minutes. The CDC urges Americans not to travel for the holidays this year, warning that travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. For those that do travel, most will do so by car, according to AAA. Road trips are expected to account for 96% of holiday travel or 81.1 million people. This is still a decline of at least 25% compared to last year. Those expected to fly for the holidays is down almost 60% from 2019, with about 2.94 million people expected to purchase airline tickets, according to AAA projections. Nearly 71,000 DMV residents are expected to book flights and fly to their holiday destinations, compared to 165,000 locals a year earlier. That is a 57% decline in air travel across the region, according to AAA. AAA reminds air travelers to wear their masks, and wipe down seats, armrests, belt buckles and tray tables using disinfecting wipes, as an extra precaution. For those who decide to hit the road for the year-end holidays, gas prices remain nearly 50 cents cheaper than this time last year. Recent monthly gas prices are 19% below 2019 averages, AAA says. “Typically, cheaper gas prices are an incentive for last minute trips, especially around the holidays. But the lower prices and less traffic aren’t driving decisions to hit the road. Americans are looking to the public health landscape, including COVID-19 case numbers, to make their travel decisions,” said Jeanette Casselano McGee, AAA spokesperson.
County leaders in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties had harsh words for a group of restaurants seeking to overturn the counties’ bans on indoor dining that went into effect last week. The Restaurant Association of Maryland filed lawsuits in county circuit courts seeking injunctions and temporary restraining orders against Montgomery and Prince George’s counties for their bans on indoor dining and Baltimore City for its ban on indoor and outdoor dining. About 100 restaurants from the three jurisdictions have signed on as plaintiffs. RAM President Marshall Weston said Friday during a press conferment there is no evidence that indoor dining is associated with COVID-19 infection. Weston said if these restrictions continue without substantial relief from the government, 45% of state restaurants may close within six months. That would add to the more than 100,000 restaurant employees who have been reportedly laid off or furloughed since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Weston. “Restaurants are the backbone of every community and neighborhood and we cannot allow for this to happen,” he said. Montgomery County’s ban on indoor dining was proposed by County Executive Marc Elrich and approved by the County Council on Tuesday, the day it took effect. Elrich said Friday evening that county officials frequently talk about the data and their reasoning for decisions like shutting down indoor dining. “That’s a pretty flimsy approach,” he said of the restaurants pointing to the lack of data included in the executive order. “We talk about it all the time. I read the governor’s order and there are no lengthy explanations. … The contact tracing data is out there.” Gina Ford, a spokesperson for Prince George’s County executive Angela Alsobrooks, said the county has taken steps to disperse $7.6 million to restaurateurs through the county’s restaurant resilience fund and additional funds made available through the county’s $20 million business recovery initiative. “All of our efforts throughout this challenging time have been, not only to sustain restaurants, but to ensure they recover after COVID-19 leaves our community,” Ford wrote in an email. “Throughout this pandemic, we have worked in lock-step with our health officials to make difficult decisions to preserve the health and lives of Prince Georgians.” The lawsuits follow an effort by four restaurateurs in Anne Arundel County last week, who convinced a judge to temporarily block a ban on indoor dining there until Dec. 28. Elrich said there’s “no way of knowing” how a judge will rule on the request for the injunction in the county, despite the success of the requested injunction in Anne Arundel County. “Different judges listen to things differently,” he said. The whole reason for the order is to decreases cases and deaths, Elrich said. He noted that restaurants had to shut down indoor dining in the spring. “We are at a worse place [now] than we were in the spring, and we are far more open,” he said. “We’re trying to take steps to bend this back down.” The county isn’t looking to get all cases and deaths to zero before allowing indoor dining to open again, he said. “We need to get to a place that’s manageable,” Elrich said. “When your health professionals are saying you’re running the chance of overrunning your hospitals, I believe the government has a responsibility to protect the lives of its citizens, first and foremost. … I think we’re acting correctly.” County Council President Tom Hucker said he wasn’t surprised that the county is facing a lawsuit because of the case in Anne Arundel County. “None of us on the council suggested the restaurant restriction,” he said. “They came at the advice of our chief health officer [Dr. Travis Gayles] and the emergency management director [Earl Stoddard] based on their review of contact tracing data that shows so many of our cases in Montgomery County follow exposures related to indoor dining.” If a judge grants the injunction, more cases will probably be related to indoor dining, Hucker said. “Hopefully patrons will take that into account and decide to either dine outdoor — weather-permitting — or to patronize our local restaurants through carry-out,” he said. “The main thing is that none of us are happy with the restrictions, but we all have to get through the next few months to get to the other side of this crisis. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re still in the tunnel. … The more risks people take, the longer it will take to get out of the tunnel.”
Virginia launched a new online dashboard Friday that provides details on COVID-19 outbreaks in specific state programs and facilities in one centralized location. Creation of the dashboard follows a bill passed by the commonwealth’s General Assembly requiring the health department to publicly report the names of the facilities where outbreaks are occurring, as well as the number of confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19. Medical care facilities, group homes, assisted living and long-term care facilities, summer camps and public schools, among other state-licensed programs, are all included on the dashboard. Previously, the commonwealth had only been reporting specific outbreak locations for long-term care facilities and public schools on separate web pages. Outbreaks in congregate settings like prisons, jails or corrections facilities are not included on the dashboard. As of Friday, the commonwealth reported a total of 1,790 outbreaks across all facilities, with long-term care facilities constituting 664 of those. Between Dec. 6-12, Virginia reported a total of 80 new outbreaks, a weekly record for the pandemic. The Virginia Department of Health defines an outbreak as two or more confirmed cases where transmission occurred at the facility. There are currently more than 50 long-term care facilities reporting an active outbreak, including seven in Arlington County, eight in Fairfax County and three in Loudoun County, and nine public schools — including one school in the Washington region. According to dashboard data, Fairfax County’s Lanier Middle School disclosed cases to VDH this month. The number of cases at the school has been concealed, indicating less than five cases. Fairfax County also is reporting outbreaks at two daycares – KinderCare in Burke and Oakton, which have five cases each. The data will be updated every Friday.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Friday extended the city’s public health emergency and added new restrictions, including a “pause” on indoor dining, starting at 10 p.m. Wednesday through 5 a.m. on Jan. 15. Bowser just lowered the capacity for indoor dining from 50% to 25% on Monday and then five days later decided to shut it down all together. Restaurants can continue to offer outdoor dining along with takeout and delivery. The order comes just before Christmas and New Year’s Eve, a big night for many restaurants. Bowser’s order also closes museums and libraries, which may offer pickup and drop-off services, requires reservations at city pools and fitness centers, halts the D.C. Circulator’s National Mall route and requires nonessential businesses to telework. D.C. joins Maryland’s Prince George’s, Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties and Baltimore City in banning dining inside restaurants. In her new order, Bowser noted that the number hospitalizations and ICU patients has doubled in the past month. “The District of Columbia, like the rest of the county, is currently confronting a surge of COVID-19 cases that has worsened dramatically in the past month and will worsen still more, without intervention, as a result of activities over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays,” Bowser said in the order. “A pause in activity – both by order and recommendation – can help stem transmission.” However, four restaurant owners got a temporary injunction ban in Anne Arundel County allowing them to continue serving diners through Dec. 28 and the Restaurant Association of Maryland filed lawsuits Friday in Maryland Circuit Courts seeking temporary restraining orders against the closures in Montgomery, Prince George’s and Baltimore. In a reversal, Bowser’s order also repealed occupancy limits on retail food sellers and “big box stores selling a range of essential and non-essential goods.” An order that went into effect Thursday morning set capacity at those stores at 25% or 250 people maximum. A day later, the mayor revoked it. Instead, they “must make plans that provide for safe social distancing between persons and limit occupancy to the extent necessary for safety.”
Virginia will receive about 110,000 fewer COVID-19 vaccines than it originally expected by Dec. 31. The Virginia Department of Health expected 480,000 doses by month end. However, VDH said in a press release Friday that it was informed Thursday by the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed that, like other states, the commonwealth’s estimated allocation of COVID-19 vaccine doses will be less than initially planned for the next few weeks. Virginia now expects to receive 370,650 doses of vaccine in December from Pfizer and Moderna. Healthcare personnel and long-term care facility residents remain top priority groups for the vaccine, VDH said. About 500,000 Virginians in total are in those two categories, which will require about 1 million doses. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both require two doses to be fully effective, with the second dose administered three to four weeks after the first. Eighteen Virginia hospitals received initial shipments of the Pfizer vaccine this week, and they began dispersing a total of 72,125 doses to frontline healthcare workers. Among those vaccinated were employees at Inova Fairfax Hospital, StoneSprings Hospital Center in Loudoun County, Novant Health UVA Health System’s Prince William hospital in Manassas, and Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center in Woodbridge. Virginia has already placed an order for 146,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which received U.S. Food & Drug Administration approval and will begin arriving next week, the health department said. The Centers for Disease Control and Operation Warp Speed provide regular estimates to states for vaccine distribution planning. The estimates remain subject to change, the health department said.
Friday’s closure of the Washington Monument follows a potential COVID-19 spread related to Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who tested positive for the virus on Wednesday and gave a private tour of the monument to department appointees this week. The monument is closed as employees exposed to Bernhardt during the tour quarantine. “In working with our public officials and out of an abundance of caution, a couple of employees have quarantined resulting in a temporary workforce reduction at the monument and its temporary closure,” according to DOI spokesperson Nicholas Goodwin. He did not specify which day the tour took place. A statement on the National Park Service website reads “Consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance in coordination with the NPS Office of Public Health, the Washington Monument is temporarily closed due to a reduction in its workforce resulting from a potential COVID-19 exposure.” The monument just reopened Oct. 1 with limited capacity and new safety measures, after closing for six months due to the pandemic. Last week, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton wrote a letter urging the National Park Service to close the monument, citing reported coronavirus cases amongst NPS staff members and the surge of cases across the region. “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 to acting NPS director Margaret Everson. Goodwin said that since the monument reopened on Oct 1., no NPS employee working there has tested positive for COVID-19. He said the monument will reopen on Monday, with ticket sales available online Sunday.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C. will use an advance registration and ticketing system for some Sundays and Holy Days in the coming weeks. The move comes as D.C. eased its coronavirus-restrictions on religious gatherings to 25% capacity or a maximum of 250 people. Registration for tickets opens Friday at 9 a.m. They will be available on a first-come, first-served basis with a 10 ticket limit per person per event. The system will be used for the Fourth Sunday of Advent on Dec. 20; Vigil Masses of the Nativity of the Lord on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24; Masses during the Day of the Nativity of the Lord on Christmas Day, Dec. 25; Solemnity of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph on Dec. 27; Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God on Jan. 1; Epiphany of the Lord on Jan. 3; and Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 10. Those unable to join in person can watch the noon mass of each solemnity livestreamed on the basilica’s website.
Students from Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health put out a coronavirus parody of Cardi B’s WAP. Unlike the original, WAmP or Wear A Mask Please is family-friendly and health-conscious. The video was unveiled Thursday night on social media, with its message asking people to don face masks to slow the spread of the COVID-19. It mirrors the rhythm and melody of rappers Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s former chart-topper. Cardi B even gave the remix a retweet. The students performers, known as “Thee Mental Notes,” belted out some clever lyrics written by the video’s director Aliza Rosen. The highlights include: “Curbs the spread, can’t be denied/Wear a mask and do it with pride.” “I want you to/Put that face mask on/Right in front of your schnoz.” “Don’t just hold it like a prop/You’ve got to wear a mask please.” Mascot Bird Jay might be the real star of the video, though. His nimble moves do a great job of paying homage to the choreography in the original WAP video.
Hundreds of students who have been stuck in housing leases at Maryland’s public universities for the last four months may soon see a resolution. The University of Maryland is planning to sign an agreement with the Maryland Economic Development Corp. to release students from their leases “within the week,” Carlo Colella, the university’s vice president for administration and finance told state lawmakers Thursday. Officials are currently “sandpapering” the edges of the agreement, Colella said. MEDCO is a quasi-governmental economic development agency that owns student housing at several University System of Maryland campuses. But as the COVID-19 pandemic stopped many schools’ plans for on-campus learning, students who had signed leases to live in MEDCO-owned properties found getting out of their leases was more difficult than if they had been living in university-owned dormitories. The lack of flexibility in the midst of a pandemic infuriated some students and their families. It has taken months to sort out the disputes. Now, students who requested cancellation in the fall will get housing credits that they can use in the future, Colella said. If students made rent payments in the fall, those payments would also be applied to the future. Seniors who requested cancellation in the fall but are able to come back in the spring will have the fall credit applied to the spring, Coella explained. They also have the option to sub-lease to another student or transfer their housing credit to another party. “It is a sacrifice that everybody is participating in – MEDCO, the university and the families,” he said during a hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and Economic Development. Towson University and MEDCO reached a similar agreement earlier this week. In some cases, MEDCO will release students from their leases if they requested cancellation for both fall and spring, Benjamin Lowenthal, Towson’s vice president of administration and finance told delegates Thursday. But conditions vary on a case-by-case basis and by which building students lived in. Students who already made payments will be given credit for those payments to any future semester they choose to live in a MEDCO-owned building, Lowenthal added. “We thoroughly understand the university’s desire and need to put this together, Robert Brennon, the executive director of MEDCO, told state lawmakers. “We too have a lot of concerns with the safety.” But no one expected it to take four months to resolve this issue, and some state lawmakers expressed impatience. Brennon said families and students can expect to hear back from MEDCO “immediately” after agreements are finalized. As it became clear that COVID-19 would pervade through the new school year, students from UMD and Towson tried to cancel their year-long leases during the summer so that they could attend classes virtually from home. When Towson suddenly shifted to virtual learning for the rest of the fall semester in late August after a spike in coronavirus cases, students living in residential halls were sent home and fully reimbursed. However, MEDCO-owned living facilities remained open and expected students to continue to pay. MEDCO is a state corporation that promotes economic development in the state through bonds and projects, which includes student housing projects. Several universities in the state established public private partnerships with MEDCO to build on-campus housing for students. As a result, the school does not own the buildings and thus does not have control over rent payments; MEDCO does. MEDCO owns two apartment buildings at UMD and three at Towson. While UMD students living in residential halls were given the option to either live on campus and accept the new risks related to COVID-19 or cancel their housing agreement without financial penalty, the only choices that students living in public-private apartments had was to stay in the lease or to re-lease their room to another student. University officials claimed that they had no responsibility over housing agreements that students signed with MEDCO. Meanwhile, MEDCO leaders said they were unable to release all students from their leases due to their obligations to bond holders and vendors. This led students and parents from both universities to organize and seek help from state lawmakers and even representatives in Congress.
With Christmas and New Year just around the corner, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan lowered the limit on gatherings and instituted a travel ban in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. “Today, the Maryland Department of Health is issuing a public health advisory, which lowers the gathering limit from 25 to 10,” Hogan said at a Thursday press conference. “They are also advising Marylanders against all nonessential activities and holiday gatherings with people outside of your immediate household.” The governor issued an emergency order that requires limiting travel to essential matters only. Marylanders who travel outside the state, or travelers who visit Maryland, must have a negative COVID-19 test result or self-quarantine for 10 days. However, violating the ban on nonessential out-of-state travel will not come with a penalty. Hogan said there will be no police enforcement or fines, but is instead relying on the good faith of people to listen to the orders. “With testing so widely available to anyone throughout Maryland, this is easier than ever before,” Hogan said. Those who travel regularly between Maryland and Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania or D.C. are not included. The tighter limits were announced as Hogan touted Maryland’s strong health metrics compared with other states. Maryland has had more than 600 coronavirus-related deaths in the past month and a statewide seven-day average of 2,590 cases per day. About 1,700 Marylanders are hospitalized with symptoms of COVID-19. “After doing so well for so long, we simply cannot afford to let our guard down over the holidays during this very critical time,” Hogan said. “So, our message today is simple: You are safer at home for the holidays.” Starting Monday, Maryland state workers are being shifted to mandatory telework, and Hogan urged all businesses to shift to telework wherever possible. “Making difficult sacrifices during these next few weeks will absolutely help to keep your family, loved ones and your fellow Marylanders safe,” Hogan said. “It will help our hospitals keep up with the demand and it will save lives.” The governor also announced a new $180 million relief package to help businesses and people affected by the pandemic. In addition to the new relief package, Hogan said he will propose another larger one when the legislature returns to work next month for the annual legislative session. The governor also signed an order extending the moratorium on foreclosures until Jan. 31. Taking a moment to reassure kids who may be concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic could affect their Christmas, Hogan signed a proclamation exempting Santa Claus from the travel restrictions. “I have issued a very special emergency order, which exempts the one, true Santa Claus, who resides at the North Pole, all nonhuman elves affiliated with Santa and the reindeer necessary for the propulsion of Santa’s sleigh from any and all travel, testing and parking requirements,” Hogan said.
Facing a lawsuit by the Archdiocese of Washington over capacity limits at houses of worship, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser late Wednesday night eased attendance caps for religious gatherings. “In order to resolve litigation, this order repeals the numeric cap of 50 persons on gatherings at houses of worship and allows physically large facilities to accommodate more worshippers based on their overall capacity, up to a maximum of 250 persons,” the new order said. The modification to her emergency order got rid of the 50-person limit for religious gatherings put in place last month and sets limits at places of worship at 25% capacity or 250 people maximum. However in “parity,” the order also imposed a 250-person cap on other activities. No more than 250 people may play sports on the same field; browse a museum on the same floor; use a gym, indoor skate park, bowling alley or skating rink; or shop in a store, including grocery stores. The change went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, a week before Christmas. The archdiocese’s complaint, filed last Friday, argued that people have worshiped safely since June and there haven’t been any known coronavirus outbreaks linked to religious ceremonies. It also argued the November restrictions violated the First Amendment and religious freedom of the 650,000 Catholics in the DMV. Despite the city’s rollback of religious gathering limits, D.C. officials disagree with the church’s complaint. In the Mayor’s order to modify restrictions, city officials said, the lawsuit “flies in the face of all scientific and medical advice and will doubtlessly put parishioners in harm’s way.” But in its own press release, the archdiocese said, “We are grateful that the new order will allow us to welcome more of the faithful to Church during the Christmas season and beyond. We are continuing to evaluate the impact of these new rules, and it may still be necessary for the court to weigh in on the proper balance between public safety and the fundamental right to worship. As always, we welcome continued dialogue with the Mayor’s Office to ensure that current and future restrictions are fairly applied and do not unduly burden the free exercise of religion.”
The Washington Teachers’ Union and D.C. Public Schools reached an agreement Thursday on how to reopen schools, ending months of negotiations that stopped the district’s efforts to reopen classrooms. Under the plan, teachers could be required to work in-person once the third quarter begins in February. The union, which represents more than 5,000 teachers, fought to allow those who did not want to return to buildings during the pandemic to teach virtually. WTU President Elizabeth Davis said many teachers are worried they may be required to teach face-to-face. But Davis said she decided to move forward with the agreement to secure other protections, including safety standards in buildings, personal protective equipment for teachers and a requirement that schools report cases of COVID-19 to staff and families. “Even though we didn’t get everything we wanted, it’s something I believe we can work with on ensuring that safety protocols are going to be observed,” Davis said. The agreement will make it easier for DCPS to offer more in-person learning. The school system planned to welcome back thousands of elementary school students to classrooms in November. Those plans fell through after the city’s Public Employee Relations Board ruled DCPS failed to collectively bargain with the union over reopening plans. The board mandated the school system rescind two surveys it used to determine staffing, leaving schools unable to fill classrooms with teachers. Both sides nearly reached an agreement more than a month ago but that stalled after teachers told Davis they wanted the ability to reject an in-person assignment. Instead, the district reopened for in-person learning under scaled back plans. Hundreds of students are currently learning in CARE classrooms, where they log on to virtual classes from inside school buildings under the supervision of an adult who is not a teacher. DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee has said the school system is planning to bring more students back in-person after the new year. Under the agreement, the district will survey teachers about their preferences for in-person or virtual teaching. In the second quarter, which is underway, only teachers who want to return to school buildings would teach in person. In the third and fourth quarters, DCPS has the ability to require in-person teaching based on the number of students who sign up to return. Teachers who are approved for leave or who receive a medical exemption because they are at higher risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19 will not have to return. The agreement also says the school system will host walkthroughs of each building with teachers, parents, school nurses and custodians to make sure safety measures are in place before students return.
Metrobus riders will resume paying the $2 fare and boarding through the front doors beginning Jan. 3 The Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority said Thursday that it will resume fare collection as part of its pandemic recovery plan that aims to preserve service and jobs, according to a press release. Metro recently proposed budget cuts that would end weekend train service, close 19 stations, reduce trains to every 30 minutes, make cuts to several bus routes, and layoff workers. Bus riders can pay with cash, SmarTrip or new contactless payment on Apple Watch or iPhone. Metro implemented rear-door boarding in March to protect drivers from the coronavirus. Since fare boxes are located at the front of the bus, Metro suspended fare collection and urged riders to use buses for essential travel only. “With everyone wearing masks, shields for operators on every bus and enhanced daily cleanings, front-door boarding is safe, expands our capacity for more riders and helps us resume some normalcy,” said General Manager/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld in the press release. “We also need to collect fares from every rider to keep essential Metro transit employees working and continue to provide essential service.” The return of front-door boarding is consistent with recovery efforts seen by mass transit systems in cities across the country, Metro writes. WMATA and transit agencies across the country are calling on the federal government to pass a new federal coronavirus relief package that includes public transit funding. Resuming front-door boarding contributes to a small portion of the agency’s funding. Last year, Metrobus fares made up $138 million of an overall $2.1 billion budget.
The Washington Monument is temporarily closed to visitors beginning today due to a reduction in workforce from exposure to the coronavirus. The National Park Service said Thursday the monument could not be operated safely after accounting for the staffing shortage. The monument reopened in October after a six-month closure due to the outbreak of COVID-19. A NPS spokesperson said at the time that the reopening would be dependent on health metrics remaining above a certain threshold and that they were prepared to shut it down again. The NPS did not give a timeline for the monument to reopen, saying, “NPS is working to staff the Washington Monument at the appropriate levels to maintain the safety of its operations for visitors and employees.”
D.C. Superior Court Judge Anthony Epstein on Wednesday ruled that the city’s ban on new eviction filings during the pandemic is unconstitutional. While the decision does not allow actual evictions to take place, it does allow landlords to begin the eviction process and for future challenges to D.C.’s eviction ban. “The United States Constitution protects the right of property owners to go to court to regain possession of their property,” Epstein wrote in his order. “The filing moratorium limits this right by denying property owners their day in court for an extended and indefinite period.” The court stopped hearing new eviction cases during the pandemic. In May, the D.C. Council banned landlords from filing to evict their tenants during the public health emergency and for 60 days after. Landlords and property managers who filed eviction cases after the ban went into effect filed suit to overturn the ban. In his ruling, Epstein wrote that banning actual evictions protects the health and safety of D.C. residents, but freezing filings doesn’t have the same effect. “He’s saying there’s nothing about the filing of a case, in light of the protection from an actual eviction, that makes citizens any less safe,” says Richard Bianco, an attorney who represents property owners in the District, told WAMU. The ruling is not expected to unleash a wave of new eviction filings or actual evictions, said Beth Mellen, supervising attorney in the housing law unit at D.C. Legal Aid. That is because tenants are still protected from eviction under other parts of the law, and a filing must precede an eviction. While 1,854 eviction cases were filed in Landlord & Tenant court between March 11-Dec. 1, Epstein’s order notes only 458 of these cases remain open; the rest have been dismissed, are on track toward a settlement agreement or are otherwise inactive. Those are the cases that could potentially move forward under the new order, Bianco said. In his order, the judge wrote that the “only short-term impact of the Court’s ruling is that the Court will schedule a hearing in these cases as soon as it reasonably can, property owners will have to try to prove their case and defendants will be able to raise any defense or seek any relief to which they are entitled.” The ruling takes effect immediately, but tenants still have an opportunity to appeal it. At the same time, Mellen said attorneys for landlords could mount legal challenges against other aspects of the city’s eviction ban. “While the judge has noted that for right now, landlords cannot issue 30-day notices or go forward with actual evictions, our concern now is going to be whether landlords try to claim those parts of the law are constitutional as well,” Mellen said. Bianco agreed that more challenges are likely. He is also expecting to hear from clients who are eager to file evictions against tenants in arrears because they mistakenly believe the ruling will enable them to do so. “[But] it doesn’t work that way,” Bianco said.
Restaurants and diners in Anne Arundel County got a reprieve Wednesday as Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge William Mulford issued a temporary restraining order and injunction barring County Executive Stewart Pittman’s order banning indoor dining at 5 p.m. Pittman’s order initially banned indoor and outdoor dining in the county until Jan. 14. However, earlier Wednesday, Pittman rolled back some of the restrictions and said he would allow outdoor dining, as long as any tent surrounding diners remained at least half open to the air. He said the decision to change the restrictions came after discussions with businesses, stakeholders and health officials since the announcement last week. Originally, restaurants would have been limited to offering takeout, delivery or curbside pickup, only during the four weeks. A few hours later, Mulford issued his order agreeing with four restaurant owners filed the injunction Tuesday night, saying Pittman did not have the authority to close restaurants. James King, whose Titan Restaurant Group owns several county restaurants including the recently opened Smashing Grapes and Blackwall Hitch in Annapolis, along with the owners of Heroes Pub in Annapolis, La Posta Pizza in Severna Park and Joe Lefavor, owner of Adam’s Taphouse and Grille Severna Park, joined together to challenge Pittman’s order. Mulford found the restaurant owners might prove Pittman’s order cased harm to food service establishments and targeted those entities over similar businesses also linked as a source of COVID-19 transmission “The County Executive appears to have relied on selective interpretation of the data relating to COVID-19 matters that innores or minimizes other sources of COVID-19 contact, and has not clearly explained the overall hospital capacity in Anne Arundel County as it relates to COVID exposure,” Mulfurd wrote. He granted an extension on indoor dining for 12 days, meaning restaurants can continue to serve food indoors at 25% capacity and outdoors at 50% capacity until Dec. 28. Another hearing is scheduled for Dec. 28 to further consider the restrictions. Pittman said he was disappointed in the judge’s ruling but would not file an appeal. The rest of executive order went into effect 5 p.m. Wednesday and includes scaling back capacity at retail stores, fitness centers, casinos, nail and hair salons to 25%. Casinos cannot serve food or alcohol except for curbside takeout. All organized sports and practiced are suspended. And indoor theaters, performance venues, bowling alleys and pool halls must close.
Montgomery County healthcare workers began receiving their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday. County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said during a press conference the vaccine is on its way to a number of healthcare facilities around the state. He said the county plans to follow the guidance laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to decide who receives the vaccine first. Gayles said that while a limited supply is currently available, the county is working on plans for distributing the vaccine once more doses arrive. “Rest assured, we have a plan in place to disseminate those vaccines as quickly as we can once we receive confirmation when we will receive the vaccine as well as what that supply will be,” Gayles said. “Everything we do — particularly in the early stages — will be consistent with the guidelines provided at the state level in an effort to create uniform, standardized approaches and guidelines for all of the jurisdictions across the state of Maryland.” The county has added information about its distribution plan for the vaccine to its website. The plan mirrors that of the national plan for distribution, which divides people into three categories based on the urgency of getting them the vaccine. Phase One include high-risk groups such as frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents. Vaccines will be distributed to hospitals and nursing homes directly from the federal government. Phase Two will include people in critical infrastructure roles, including essential non-healthcare and transportation workers, and people at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness. Phase Three features wide-scale distribution of the vaccine to the general population. Gayles said all hospitals in Montgomery County either received the Pfizer vaccine Wednesday or will receive it today and will begin vaccinating their staff this week. Another batch of Maryland’s vaccine allocation was given to pharmacies that work with long-term care facilities. Those pharmacies will work with facilities on distribution and administering the vaccine to the residents and staff, Gayles said. “We received word this morning that that process has already begun in terms of transferring the doses to the pharmacies, and they have already started scheduling appointments with different facilities across the county,” Gayles said. “The expectation is that that process will begin either late December or early January.” The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses to be fully effective, and ensuring those who have received one dose return for their second present a logistical hurdle. Gayles said the county will use digital platforms to keep track of who received at least one dose and still needs to return for a second. He told the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday that three out of six hospitals in the county no longer had ICU bed capacity. Gayles said that hospital leaders had told him, as of Wednesday morning, that their surge capacity was in a better spot than they had been in the spring, but that vigilance was still needed as hospitalizations rates will likely rise in the near future. “We know that hospital numbers typically lag behind the cases, and the models that we have received from our academic partners as well as National Capital Region surveillance does suggest that through the holidays that we could be potentially looking at elevated hospital rates as we continue to move through the end of December and into next year,” Gayles said. County Executive Marc Elrich said he has been meeting regularly with the Maryland state legislature to ensure they are aware of the struggles Montgomery County is facing as pandemic-related closures continue to deal a hard blow to the bottom lines of local businesses. “I know that the comptroller has called on the governor to dip deeper into their reserves in order to provide a greater level of relief to the business community, and I’m certainly supportive of his efforts to do that,” Elrich said.
Maryland will send 8,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to D.C. According to a letter Wednesday from Maryland Acting Health Secretary Dennis Schrader to D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, the doses are to vaccinate frontline healthcare workers from Maryland who work in the city. D.C. received 6,825 doses of the vaccine as an initial allotment from the federal government, a number based on overall population. However, that would vaccinate less than a tenth of the city’s 85,000 healthcare employees, many of which live in Maryland and Virginia. That means the 8,000 doses that Maryland is giving D.C. is more than what the federal government was set to initially provide the city. Over the weekend, Virginia also promised to provide 8,000 doses for frontline healthcare workers who live in the commonwealth. These exta doses will allow D.C. to proceed faster on vaccinating its second priority group, long-term care residents. Since the federal government’s plan was made public last month, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has pushed for the city to receive more doses. That includes a letter she sent to Operation Warp Speed earlier this month asking that the vaccine to be distributed based on workforce population as opposed to residential population. Maryland is scheduled to get 155,000 vaccine doses within the next two weeks, provided the Moderna vaccine receives FDA emergency authorization later this week. Of that total, 55,700 doses will be the vaccine made by Pfizer and 104,300 doses by Moderna, according to the Maryland Health Department. The 8,000 doses for D.C. are expected to be from that allotment, representing only about 5% of Maryland’s initial vaccine allotment. It is unclear when those 8,000 doses will be delivered to D.C. or which vaccine manufacturer will have made them. Frontline healthcare workers in both D.C. and Maryland started receiving the vaccine on Monday. On Tuesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said the state expects to receive up to 300,00 doses by the end of the month, although deputy health secretary Dr. Jinlene Chan cautioned that availability from the federal government could change “even on a daily basis.” The Maryland National Guard will also be assisting in the distribution of the vaccine in the state.
D.C. Water, the city’s water and sewer authority, will be testing the city’s sewage in an attempt to identify clusters of coronavirus cases. It is part of a national study on potential COVID-19 hotspots. being led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and involves several wastewater treatment agencies. “The samples will be taken from the waste stream, where feces can indicate the presence of a COVID-19 infection even if the person is showing no symptoms and may not even be aware they are sick,” D.C. Water said in a press release Tuesday. “Because SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, shows up in stool samples, it provides an almost immediate indicator of the presence in the local community.” The first phase of the program will collect samples from 100 wastewater treatment plants. which serve about 10% of the U.S. population. The second phase will include facilities in 42 states that serve 30% of the U.S. population, although the details of the sampling protocol haven’t been determined yet. “The goal is to have a broad but also diverse cross section of the national population getting sampled so that health officials can look for signs of any COVID-19 spikes before there is community spread and the virus infects others,” the press release said. Officials will test the samples for RNA, or ribonucleic acid, which carries biological codes for protein synthesis. Similar efforts are underway in Maryland and at dozens of U.S. colleges.
Montgomery College will continue to offer mostly virtual classes in the spring as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. In a press release Wednesday, college President DeRionne Pollard said “bringing additional classes back to campus … will put people at too great a risk, given the high levels of COVID-19 in our region.” Staff members will continue to work remotely and college-sponsored travel will be restricted through Feb. 28. No events will be held on campuses through April 1. Montgomery College has been in nearly all virtual mode since March. During the fall semester, the college offered 34 in-person classes including automotive trades, biotechnology and nursing, that required hands-on experience. Class sizes were reduced, masks were required and the classrooms were cleaned multiple times each day. Similar courses will be offered in-person in the spring.
The D.C. Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to grant Mayor Muriel Bowser the authority to extend the city’s public health emergency until March 31. Should Bowser extend the emergency, the city will have been in a state of emergency for more than a year when it ends. Declaring a state of emergency activates a broad range of powers that allow the mayor to mobilize people and resources more quickly to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The council’s emergency measure also includes an extension of a moratorium on both evictions and disconnection of utility services until March 31. Chairman Phil Mendelson did not originally plan to extend utility disconnections past Jan. 31. Last week he introduced the extension with a provision that would end the moratorium on utility disconnections. In a press conference Monday, Mendelson said he withdrew that provision, but repeated his claims that individuals who had the ability to pay their utility bills had been taking advantage of the moratorium. He cited numbers from Washington Gas that 24,000 people were behind on payments, yet only 3,600 of those residents were considered low-income. “What we’re seeing is that there’s people who have the ability to pay rent or pay their utilities and aren’t because of this moratorium on shut-offs or evictions, and that’s not the intent,” Mendelson said Monday. “The intent isn’t to help people who don’t need help.” He also noted that many are not taking advantage of a payment plan option for those behind on bills, a duplicate relief measure. Eventually, in what he said was an effort to relieve residents’ anxieties about possible disconnections, Mendelson withdrew his proposal for an early end to the moratorium ahead of the council’s vote. But he said he plans to refine relief efforts for residents struggling to make payments. The vote to extend the public health emergency comes as the city reported 301 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, and for the first time during the pandemic, more than 10% of the city’s hospital beds are filled with COVID-19 patients. For several consecutive days, the city has recorded a positivity rate above 5%, the expert-recommended benchmark for reopening, and on Monday, new restrictions on indoor dining capacity went into effect.
D.C. Council on Tuesday also passed the Displaced Workers Right to Reinstatement and Retention Amendment Act that requires employers to offer jobs to workers laid off during the pandemic as their jobs become available again. The law was approved by the council unanimously despite pressure from the restaurant industry to vote it down. The bill, backed by the labor union Unite Here! Local 25, passed unanimously on initial vote earlier this month, but the final version contained significant changes that respond to industry concerns. The legislation requires owners of restaurants, hotels, bars, entertainment venues and retail stores with 50 or more employees as of March 1 to offer reinstatement to workers whose jobs were cut during the health emergency, once the positions reopen. Workers would have at least three days to accept or decline the offer before the employer could hire someone else. The bill’s requirements expire on June 30, 2024. The earlier version applied to businesses with 35 or more employees, and workers were given 10 days to accept or reject a job offer. It also expired Dec. 31, 2024. The measure does not entitle workers to the same wages they earned before they were laid off, and workers can still be fired after they are rehired. The protections do not apply to workers who received severance pay. The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington opposed the bill, characterizing the legislation as overburdensome and harmful. Councilmembers were receptive to some of the industry’s concerns and adopted them into amendments approved Tuesday. Some business owners said giving workers 10 days to respond would prevent them from adapting nimbly to changing business needs, and that the rules should mainly target larger businesses that are more likely to have administrative professionals on staff to ensure compliance with the law. The legislation heads to Mayor Muriel Bowser for her signature and the standard 30-day congressional review. The council also approved an emergency version of the measure that will go into effect immediately after it is signed by the mayor.
Indoor dining in Montgomery County shut down at 5 p.m. yesterday after the county council approved new measures proposed by County Executive Marc Elrich. In addition to indoor dining, the restrictions include cutting capacity limits at retail stores, indoor sporting events. Elrich proposed the new restrictions last week, but final signoff was required by the county council, which unanimously approved them Tuesday afternoon. The new rules restrict restaurants to outdoor dining, carryout, delivery and drive-thru only. Under a previous order from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, late-night dining is prohibited between 10 p.m.-6 a.m. In addition, indoor sports gatherings are limited to 10 people, and the capacity for retail stores is being cut to one person per 200 square feet of retail space or up to 150 people. Large stores could have more than 150 people inside but first must submit a request to the county, and the exceptions would only be allowed after Dec. 23. Religious institutions remain capped at 25% capacity with special approval needed to host more than 25 participants outdoors. Previously, approval was needed to host outdoor services of more than 150 people. Elrich said the tighter restrictions were needed to reduce the spread of the virus to levels that would eventually allow students to return to classrooms. Earl Stoddard, the director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said the restrictions “are the best and only real chance we have of having kids in school in February.” Montgomery County’s new rules are similar to tightened restrictions put in place in Prince George’s County. Indoor dining there will be suspended starting at 5 p.m. today.
Gov. Larry Hogan reactivated the Maryland National Guard to assist with COVID-19 vaccine distribution in the state. Hogan said during a press conference Tuesday that the National Guard will provide logistical support, and special field teams will be help state health officials with planning and operations related to the vaccine. The guard will also provide support at distribution points across the state. “We’re very fortunate to have these elite citizen soldiers and airmen to call on,” Hogan said, noting that the National Guard has assisted with other efforts like transporting coronavirus tests and personal protective equipment, and building hospital surge capacity. “And once again we’re going to be utilizing them as we launch what will be the largest and most important vaccination campaign in the history of our state and our nation.” Hogan said the National Guard will help set up mobile vaccination clinics as more doses of the vaccine become available. The news comes after healthcare workers were vaccinated Monday as the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in the state. The initial doses will be divided between hospital workers and long-term care facilities. Maryland officials said Tuesday that over the next two weeks, all hospitals and nursing homes in the state will receive vaccine and be able to begin vaccinations. Maryland has been allotted 155,000 initial doses of the vaccine and expects to see up to 300,000 doses by the end of the month, although deputy health secretary Dr. Jinlene Chan said Tuesday that the information from federal partners regarding availability can change “even on a daily basis.” Other local jurisdictions also started receiving vaccines this week, with five George Washington University Hospital employees getting their first doses during a “kickoff” event at the hospital on Monday. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the latter of which is likely to receive emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration on Friday, require two doses spaced several weeks apart. The Pfizer vaccine received emergency authorization last Friday. During the press conference, Hogan asked Marylanders to be patient with the vaccine rollout, but said the first inoculations were “a light at the end of a very long tunnel, and the beginning of the end of this deadly pandemic.” Hogan said Maryland has agreed to provide some doses of the vaccine to D.C. to cover residents who work in the city, since allotments are based on population and not the number of healthcare workers to be vaccinated. While he didn’t provide a number of how many vaccines would be sent to D.C., he was to meet with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam today to discuss a “regional approach” to COVID-19 going forward.
Maryland Schools Superintendent Karen Salmon on Tuesday called for teachers to have first priority when it comes time for essential workers to get the coronavirus vaccine. “The safety and education of our children demand immediate attention,” Salmon wrote to Dr. Jinlene Chan, Maryland Department of Health Acting Deputy Secretary of Public Health Services. Salmon’s request includes teachers, school staff and childcare workers. “Prolonged school closures have resulted in our children experiencing diminished academic achievement and social-emotional distress,” Salmon wrote. “We care about all of our education and childcare professionals, many of whom have continued to work on the frontline throughout the pandemic, and we are requesting that they be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine in the earliest stages of distribution to essential employees.” Maryland received its first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday including at Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, where five employees received their first doses. Maryland’s vaccine plan calls for healthcare workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and first responders to be vaccinated first. That is followed by people at significantly higher risk of developing severe COVID-19. Essential workers are set to be vaccinated in the second phase of the vaccine rollout before the general population. Most of the large school systems in Maryland, including Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, the state’s two most populous jurisdictions, have been providing classes entirely online since the beginning of the pandemic in March, which has led to concerns about a rise in failing grades and students falling behind. Salmon and members of the State Board of Education have pushed school systems to partially reopen under hybrid models. “Continued school closings impact all of our children, especially those in underserved communities and vulnerable to abuse,” said Clarence Crawford, president of the Maryland State Board of Education in a press release. “Prioritizing distribution of this vaccine to our teachers and school staff will help expedite the return of full in-person instruction for our students.”
Montgomery County Public Schools students could return to classrooms on Feb. 1 if county health metrics meet key benchmarks. The Montgomery County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to delay the start of in-person learning until the start of the second semester. The school board had previously given tentative approval to a phased return starting in January. However, they decided to delay a vote on those plans as COVID-19 cases around the DMV increased. For students to return to a physical school building, the 14-day test positivity rate must be no higher than 5% and the daily case rate must be below 15 cases per 100,000 residents. When metrics are between 10-15 cases per 100,000, students in special education programs, pre-kindergarten through sixth grades, seniors and those in career and technical education programs can return. If metrics reach 5-10 cases per 100,000, all students who chose could return. Supt. Jack Smith said the new guidelines would “accelerate” the return of more students back into a school building. The board will meet again Jan. 12 to decide if a Feb. 1 return is possible, based on the status of the pandemic at that date. If metrics are met, the first set of students who would be allowed to return are in special education, career and technical education, and kindergarten through third grades.
Urban Athletic Club, which has gyms in Shaw, Adams Morgan and Glover Park, has agreed to follow the city’s emergency COVID-19 health and safety requirements after D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine filed a lawsuit last week. The lawsuit alleges the gym failed to comply with social distancing requirements and rules for cleaning equipment. “We are pleased to have reached an agreement with Urban Athletic Club wherein it will follow and enforce the District’s health guidelines, whose sole objective is to contain the spread of COVID-19 and keep District residents safe,” Racine said in a press release Tuesday. In early October, Racine’s office notified the club of a report that employees and customers at the gym’s Shaw location were violating COVID-19 safety requirements — a complaint owner Graham King acknowledged on Oct. 14 in a letter, according to the press release. An investigator from Racine’s office visited the Shaw location six times between Oct. 20 and Nov. 23 and witnessed patrons not wearing masks within six feet of each other, according to the release. An outdoor workout setup wasn’t properly spaced for people working out or those walking past, the suit alleges. Racine’s office said the practices directly violate Mayor Muriel Bowser’s mask order and Phase Two guidance for gyms and workout studios. The lawsuit also cites photos, taken since late-October, on the gym’s Instagram account that show employees and customers “in close proximity — in some instances, touching — without masks.” After Racine’s office filed the suit, Urban Athletic Club entered an interim agreement to enforce the emergency health orders at its gyms, the release said. The agreement is in effect until the case is resolved by a trial or final consent order. Bowser modified Phase Two guidelines on Nov. 23, requiring gyms, private trainers, and recreation centers to suspend all indoor group exercise classes and outdoor classes of 25 or more. “With coronavirus cases spiking across the District, everyone must take simple precautionary measures, such as wearing masks and social distancing, to reduce exposure and transmission risk,” Racine said. “Any business that knowingly flouts the District’s emergency orders, and needlessly endangers residents, will be held accountable.”
President-elect Joe Biden’s inaugural committee urged the public not to travel to D.C. for the Jan. 20 ceremony amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and instead participate from home. “Our goal is to create an inauguration that keeps people safe, honors the grand traditions of the Presidency and showcases the Biden-Harris Administration’s renewed American vision for an inclusive, equitable and unified citizenry,” the Presidential Inaugural Committee CEO Tony Allen said in a press release on Tuesday. The committee said the ceremony, during which Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will take their oaths of office at the U.S. Capitol, will include strict health and safety protocols, and that its “footprint will be extremely limited.” The parade following the ceremony will also be “reimagined,” according to the release. The committee also announced that former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. David Kessler would join as its chief medical advisor. Kessler also counseled Biden’s campaign on health and safety protocols. The committee has hired staff dedicated to health and safety measures, and a team of production experts that will create a “new and innovative” program with opportunities for people to safely participate in the inauguration. At a press conference earlier this month, Biden said it is “highly unlikely” that millions will gather on the National Mall for the ceremony. “The key is, keeping people safe,” he said. Normally, D.C. would be readying itself for an event that can bring about 2 million people to the city, but Biden’s team has been signaling for weeks that the event would be smaller than in the past. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center, which is currently set up as an emergency COVID-19 field hospital, will not host any inaugural balls. The inauguration committee said more details would be released in the coming weeks.
As deliveries of the coronavirus vaccine began arriving at hospitals Monday, five George Washington University Hospital workers were among the first Americans to get it. At 2:30 p.m., U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams held “The National Ceremonial COVID-19 Vaccination Kickoff Event” at George Washington University Hospital before the five healthcare workers were given their first doses of the vaccine. The officials made remarks and were joined by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. The first vaccine was given to Barbara Neiswander, an emergency department nurse at GW Hospital for more than 25 years. Anesthesiologist Dr. Raymond Pla was vaccinated next and spoke about the reasons he, as a Black man, was receiving his dose publicly. “There’s a certain amount of deep mistrust that has its roots in historical wrongs. I think that the ongoing disparities that exist and latent bias — and sometimes conscious bias — fuels and furthers that mistrust of vaccines and the medical community more broadly,” Pla said. He added that Black and Brown communities might see his example and “take that leap” to get the vaccine. “This is not just the best way forward,” Pla said, “this is the only best way forward.” The employees were selected based on an algorithm GW Hospital used to determine their age and health risks, as a way to demonstrate how the inoculations will be administered nationwide. “This will start off vaccinations for healthcare workers at GW,” a hospital spokesperson said in an email. “We anticipate administering vaccines all this week.” A critical-care nurse in Queens, N.Y., became the first U.S. resident to receive the vaccine Monday morning, following plans to administer the first doses to healthcare workers most at risk of being infected. Sandra Lindsay, a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, was inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use on Friday and requires two doses, given weeks apart. Azar told NBC News that the federal government is shipping 2.9 million doses in its first batch to hospitals across the country this week. Bowser on Sunday named the “First Five Responders” on Sunday, five firefighters who will receive the vaccine publicly on Thursday to bolster public trust in D.C. Health’s vaccination plan. The first five recipients are acting Fire Chief John Donnelly, the department’s medical director Dr. Robert Holman, Lt. Joseph Papariello, Lt. Keishea Jackson and firefighter/EMT Julio Quinteros. Kaiser Permanente will receive the doses on Wednesday and administer the vaccine to the FEMS members, according to a press release. Jackson said her main reason for getting the vaccine was her father, whom she takes care of, and her loved ones who have contracted the virus. Jackson said she initially had a lot of hesitation when it came to getting the vaccine. “I was definitely one of the ones who was opposed to it, against it, was not going to do it,” Jackson said at the mayor’s press conference earlier Monday. “But you go through life, and certain situations come up in your life that will change you.” She said she is trying to “send also a message to Black and Brown people that look like me,” adding, “It is my race that is dying at a high rate.” A friend of Jackson’s since she was 10, a nurse, has become severely ill, she said. She is also worried about passing an illness along to her father since she’s often working during demonstrations in D.C. “So again, I was that person. I can admit I was that person who was definitely against it. I was not going to do it. ‘Let me wait a year, let me see what happens,’” Jackson said. “I can’t afford to do that anymore. I can’t, I can’t. So I have to step out on my faith and believe that I’m going to be fine. And that is my belief. That’s what I’m going to do. Again, it’s my race who is leaving here at an alarming rate.” George Washington University Hospital, Howard University Hospital, Children’s National Hospital, Kaiser Permanente, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and MedStar Washington Hospital Center would receive the first 6,825 doses. “Washington, D.C. has been a leader in mask usage and testing. Now, we are ready to lead an equitable distribution of a safe and effective vaccine,” Bowser said in a newsletter over the weekend. “The next few weeks and months will be critical. A successful vaccination implementation will finally bring an end to this crisis. It will save lives. And when Washingtonians are vaccinated, we can finally come back together.”
In preparation for a possible snowstorm in parts of the DMV on Wednesday, Montgomery County Public Schools will provide three days’ worth of free meals at its distribution sites today. MCPS’ Department of Food and Nutrition Services tweeted Monday that meal sites will be closed on Wednesday and Thursday, “due to the incoming winter storm.” So, three days’ meals will be served on Tuesday. Meal distribution sites will reopen on Friday. The National Weather Service forecast heavy snowfall across the region on Wednesday, with the potential for 3-10 inches in northwestern parts of Montgomery County. Snow could start falling between 6-7 a.m. Parts of the county near the Frederick County line could see up to 10 inches. MCPS operates more than 60 meal sites to provide free meals to children from 10 a.m.-noon weekdays except Thursday. Other community organizations distribute free meals at 30 additional sites. Children younger than 18 and MCPS students of any age can receive the meals; student identification is not needed. Each site has both a drive-through and walk-up options. Children receive breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
Virginia is sending 8,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to D.C. hospitals to cover Northern Virginia residents who work on the front lines fighting the pandemic in the city. D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said at a news conference Monday that the collaboration happened over the weekend and details are being finalized. D.C. will receive 6,825 initial vaccine doses from the federal government, which isn’t enough to cover a tenth of the city’s healthcare workers. After front line workers are vaccinated, D.C. will focus on long-term care facilities. “We have to be able to vaccinate individuals who are in the higher risk groups before we can move to Phase 2 and Phase 3, where the general public is,” Nesbitt said. She said she could not provide a timeline “in terms of what date, what weeks, we will get to the general public in Phase 3 or when we will get to other risk groups in Phase 2 because we simply don’t know how much vaccine we will get and when.” Nesbitt added that the city is in discussions with Maryland for extra doses as well. D.C. will have the ability to track the number of vaccine doses that come into the city and track who has been vaccinated. Additionally, they will be able to remind them of when their first and second dose is due. Mayor Muriel Bowser said that the Pfizer vaccine the city receives is 95% effective with two doses. She cautioned that there are some side effects of the vaccine, but they are normal. “It is expected that some people may have an immune response to receiving the vaccine, such as a sore arm or fatigue, headaches, muscle pains and chills. And this is normal and expected and revolves shortly after the vaccine has been administered,” Bowser said. “So we want everybody to find the facts, get the facts, so that you can, with your healthcare provider, get any questions that you have answered.” The vaccine has been approved for people 16 and older. It is unknown when a vaccine for children will be considered safe. “We do not have significant data on the pediatric population, as it relates to safety and efficacy at this point, to be able to indicate when that population will begin to be vaccinated,” Nesbitt said.
President Donald Trump reversed an administration directive to vaccinate top government officials against COVID-19, while public distribution of the vaccine is limited to front-line healthcare workers and people in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Trump made the announcement hours after his administration confirmed that senior U.S. officials, including some White House aides who work closely with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, would be offered coronavirus vaccines as soon as this week under federal continuity of government plans. “People working in the White House should receive the vaccine somewhat later in the program, unless specifically necessary,” Trump said in a tweet. “I have asked that this adjustment be made. I am not scheduled to take the vaccine, but look forward to doing so at the appropriate time.” It was not immediately clear what the scale of the vaccination program was supposed to be, according to two people briefed on the matter, or what effect Trump’s tweet would have on the government’s efforts to protect top leadership. News that White House staff would receive the vaccine early drew criticism on social media. Trump and his aides have consistently flouted the COVID-19 guidelines issued by his own administration, including hosting large holiday parties with maskless attendees this month. Officials said Sunday that doses of the newly approved vaccine from Pfizer would be made available to those who work in close quarters with the nation’s top leaders. They said the move was meant to prevent more COVID-19 spread in the White House and other critical facilities. Trump was hospitalized with the virus for three days in October. “Senior officials across all three branches of government will receive vaccinations pursuant to continuity of government protocols established in executive policy,” National Security Council spokesperson John Ulyot had said. “The American people should have confidence that they are receiving the same safe and effective vaccine as senior officials of the United States government on the advice of public health professionals and national security leadership.” The two people briefed on the matter spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses administered three weeks apart. According to a Capitol Hill official, lawmakers have not been told how many doses would be made available to them, adding it would be premature to speculate who might receive them. The official was not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
About 4,100 students in Fairfax County Public Schools will return to 100% virtual classes today as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surge in the county. The students in Group 3, who include students at the Key and Kilmer Centers, special education students and English language learners, returned to classrooms part-time in October. “We know this is a disappointment to our families,” the district said in letter to families. “Our goal is to return students to in-person learning soon after winter break. We understand that in-person learning is the best option for most students.” School officials have used two key metrics to guide reopening decisions: the test positivity rate and the number of new cases per 100,000 residents. Fairfax County’s test positivity rate has been more than 10% for seven days. FCPS students had been returning to the classroom in phases. But the district had already sent one group of about 3,000 students back to all online learning and delayed another group of close to 6,000 students’ initial return. About 1,400 students will continue to receive in-person instruction, according to information on the district’s website. FCPS is also planning for the next semester. In a tentative plan laid out to the school board Thursday, all students would begin the first week of school virtually. Groups would return to the classroom in phases between Jan. 12-Feb. 2, according to the presentation. The district is also proposing new more lenient grading policies, after a report showed a rise in failing grades during the pandemic. FCPS isn’t the only Northern Virginia school district to scale back reopening as the pandemic worsens. Loudoun County Public Schools announced last week that it would go to all-virtual learning starting this Tuesday. Fauquier County, which was the first local school district to offer the majority of its students a hybrid learning model, will also resume 100% virtual learning today. Other local districts, like Arlington, had only allowed a small number of students to begin hybrid learning. The Virginia Education Association called for schools throughout the commonwealth to close until the pandemic improves, but Gov. Ralph Northam has left those decisions up to local leaders. “As I have said since the beginning of this pandemic, we have enormous diversity of school districts within our commonwealth — a one-size-fits-all solution simply does not make sense,” Northam said in a statement.
The Archdiocese of Washington has sued D.C. over its coronavirus restrictions heading into Christmas. The lawsuit argues that since mass resumed in June, people have been able to worship in a safe, responsible way, and there have been no known coronavirus outbreaks linked to the religious ceremony. The lawsuit states that D.C.’s new attendance limits, imposed near the end of November, violate the First Amendment and religious freedom rights of the 650,000 Catholics in the DMV. The lawsuit claims the city’s cap on attendance is discriminatory and singles out religious institutions, claiming that libraries, restaurants, nail salons and retail stores, among others, don’t have the type of stringent capacity limits that places of worship have. Mayor Muriel Bowser imposed new restrictions after coronavirus cases surged. Attendance at indoor worship services is capped at 50 people, despite the size of the room. The lawsuit claims half of the city’s Catholic parishes can seat more than 500 people. St. Matthew’s Cathedral and the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception can accommodate 1,000 or more. The lawsuit cites the Diocese of Brooklyn, which identified occupancy-based limits as a less restrictive means of protecting public safety, and says that D.C.’s numeric cap is unfair to the religious community. The archdiocese filed the lawsuit ahead of the upcoming holiday, asking for less restrictive rules, such as percentage-based limits, rather than a 50-person cap, so they have time to plan for worshippers to attend mass safely.
The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority last week moved closer to approving drastic budget cuts that would eliminate weekend rail service and close 19 stations. The Metro board voted 6-2 Thursday in favor of the cuts, sending the proposal for public review. Vice chair Stephanie Gidigbi, who represents D.C. on the board, and Maryland representative Michael Goldman voted against the cuts. Goldman said Metro should wait until next month to go forward with the public comment, when what Congress intends to do may be clearer and there is more information on the implementation of the coronavirus vaccine. Board Chairman Paul Smedberg said that while there may not be a unanimous vote, “We are unanimous in feeling that this budget is unacceptable.” Even with federal aid, the board still has a difficult decision to make, Smedberg said. Several people left comments to the board, urging members not to cut service. The Metro Riders’ Advisory Council tweeted the decision was a mistake. Virginia Sen. Mark Warner called the cuts devastating. “The federal government runs on WMATA. Frontline workers across our region rel,y on WMATA to provide essential services,” Warner said. Under the proposal, Metrobus service would be reduced to about 45% of pre-pandemic levels. Weekend bus service would be increased to account for the lack of weekend rail service. According to Metro’s budget proposal, the 19 stations that would close are Arlington Cemetery, Archives/Navy Memorial, Cheverly, Clarendon, Cleveland Park, College Park, East Falls Church, Eisenhower Avenue, Federal Center SW, Federal Triangle, Greensboro, Grosvenor-Strathmore, Judiciary Square, McLean, Morgan Boulevard, Mt. Vernon Square, Smithsonian, Van Dorn Street and Virginia Square.
Senior U.S. government officials, including some White House staffers who work closely with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, will be offered coronavirus vaccines as soon as this week, while it is publicly limited to front-line health workers and people in nursing homes. Doses of Pfizer’s newly approved vaccine will be made available to people who work in close quarters with the U.S.’ top leaders, two people familiar with the matter told the Associated Press. They said the move was meant to prevent more COVID-19 spread in the White House, which has suffered from several outbreaks that infected Trump and other top officials, and other critical facilities. It was not clear how many people would be offered the vaccine and if Trump or Pence would take it. The administration is undertaking the vaccination program under federal continuity of government plans, officials said. “Senior officials across all three branches of government will receive vaccinations pursuant to continuity of government protocols established in executive policy,” National Security Council spokesperson John Ulyot told the AP. “The American people should have confidence that they are receiving the same safe and effective vaccine as senior officials of the United States government on the advice of public health professionals and national security leadership.” The two people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The New York Times first reported the news. The move to vaccinate top U.S. officials would be consistent with the rollout of rapid testing machines for the coronavirus, which were similarly controlled by the federal government with kits reserved to protect the White House complex and other critical facilities. According to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is not yet enough information to determine whether those who have had COVID-19 should also get the vaccine. Pence has not come down with the virus, and aides have been discussing when and how he should get the vaccine as the administration looks to boost public confidence in it. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses administered three weeks apart, meaning Trump administration officials would receive the final shot just weeks before leaving office. The administration’s vaccination plan could prove to be a boon for his successor, as aides to President-elect Joe Biden have been discussing when and how he should receive the vaccine and working to establish plans to boost virus safeguards in the West Wing to keep the 78-year-old Democrat healthy. The White House vaccinations come as Trump and his aides have repeatedly flouted the COVID-19 guidelines issued by his own administration, including hosting large holiday parties with maskless attendees this month. According to a Capitol Hill official, lawmakers have not been informed how many doses would be made available to them, adding it would be premature to speculate who might receive them. The official was not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
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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.