DC Adds 4,309 Vaccine Appointments Today
COVID-19 Cases Reach 776,513 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Friday morning, 33,140 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 842 deaths; there have been 320,739 cases in Maryland with 6,322 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 422,634 cases with 5,656 deaths Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
D.C. Health opened an additional 4,309 coronavirus vaccine appointments to residents 65 and older or people who work in healthcare settings in Wards 1, 4, 5, 7 and 8 today. Only residents of those wards will be able to make an appointment. The move is meant to ensure a more equitable distribution of the vaccine across the city, after those five wards had the fewest people sign up after the initial release of appointments on Monday. “This new ward-based approach will help ensure residents with the greatest risk have access to the vaccine,” said Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie in a statement. There is a big gap in people signing up across the city. Residents in Ward 3 registered for the most spots of any ward earlier in the week, with 2,465 appointments, according to D.C. Health. Meanwhile, mostly-Black areas of the city didn’t have many sign ups. In Ward 7, only 197 people made vaccination appointments. In Ward 8, that number was 94. Wards 2 and 3, both affluent areas of the city, have the fewest number of coronavirus cases, according to D.C. Health data. Ward 3 residents may have gotten the most vaccination appointments, but their neighborhoods have the lowest number coronavirus cases — 1,796 since the pandemic began. Ward 4 has the most cases with 5,477, but its residents booked a fraction of the appointments of Ward 3 residents. The original rollout of vaccine appointments for Washingtonians over the age of 65 on Monday had some glitches. Many complained about long wait times on the phone and technical problems with the online sign-up portal and the text alert system meant to inform residents that appointments were available. All 6,700 slots were gone in a matter of hours. To schedule a vaccine appointment when the new batch becomes available today, residents can log on to vaccinate.dc.gov or call 855-363-0333. The phone lines will be open on Saturday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. They are also open on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., although appointments are fill up fast. Residents who sign up for an appointment receive a confirmation code to take to their appointment along with a photo I.D. Anyone who attempted to sign up for a vaccination slot earlier in the week but did not receive a confirmation code will need to go through the process again. Expect to stay up to 30 minutes for observation after being vaccinated. According to D.C. Health data, the city has administered 26,672 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. In order to avoid any waste, the city has instructed providers to give out soon-to-expire to doses to any individuals available, leading some non-healthcare-worker residents to receive unused doses at local grocery store pharmacies when appointments don’t show up. An additional 1,436 doses will be released on Monday for any D.C. resident who is 65 or older or a healthcare worker.
Prince George’s County is opening up more coronavirus vaccine appointments adding residents in Phase 1B beginning Monday, however Montgomery County residents will have to wait until the county receives more vaccine. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said starting Monday, county residents 75 and older, those in assisted-living facilities, K-12 teachers and education staff, and child care providers can sign up to get the vaccine. Appointments are on a first-come, first-served basis. “We’re asking our seniors and everyone else in Phase 1B to please sign up to get the COVID-19 vaccine and be Proud to be Protected,” Alsobrooks said in a statement. Those who cannot complete the appointment form on their own should seek help from a friend or family member; the county is working to launch a hotline soon to help those with who have challenges with the internet. An estimated 25,000 people in Prince George’s County fall into Phase 1A, 95,000 people in Phase 1B and 150,000 in Phase 1C. “Due to the current limited supply of vaccines, it will take some time for the county to move through all of Phase 1, and vaccine appointments in the coming weeks will be made available as vaccine supply allows,” the county said. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said the county has not received enough supplies to finish vaccinating those in group 1A yet. “We will begin vaccinating those in Priority Group 1B as soon as we can, while continuing to vaccinate those in Priority Group 1A,” Elrich said Friday. Those who are eligible under Phase 1B can preregister at the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services website.
Thousands of D.C. Public Schools teachers are scheduled to start returning to classrooms on Feb. 1, but some are worried the city’s timetable for administering the COVID-19 vaccine to school employees will leave them vulnerable to the virus when buildings reopen. School employees are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations beginning Jan. 25, according to city plans, a week before many are expected to work in person for the first time in almost a year. The two coronavirus vaccines approved by the Federal Drug Administration require two doses, given weeks apart. Teachers and at least one elected official are urging the city to administer vaccines to school workers sooner or delay reopening schools until teachers can get fully vaccinated. D.C. Health and school system officials have not indicated they plan to vaccinate teachers sooner. “We are confident that the plans developed in partnership with our individual school communities will ensure a safe return to in-person learning,” DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said in a statement. Jacque Patterson, an at-large member of the D.C. State Board of Education, said the city needs to give educators higher priority for receiving the vaccine. Patterson said he has fielded concerns from many teachers worried they will be vaccinated too late and others who feel left in the dark about the vaccination process. “They want to be safe when they go back to in-person learning,” Patterson said. The Centers for Disease Control Prevention recommends administering vaccines to groups of people based on tiers, with healthcare workers and people who live and work in nursing homes getting vaccinated first. School employees should be placed in Phase 1B of distribution, a group that includes people aged 65 and older and other essential workers, according to CDC guidance. D.C. began offering vaccinations to residents 65 and older earlier this week, a process marred with technical glitches on its first day. Dozens of people eligible for the vaccine reported issues getting an appointment through the online portal the city uses to register people for the vaccine. Some teachers in Northern Virginia have already received their first dose of the vaccine. In Maryland, teachers are eligible to start receiving vaccines Monday, Gov. Larry Hogan said during a press conference Thursday. Some school districts in the DMV have hit pause on reopening classrooms as the number of coronavirus cases rise in the region. Montgomery County Public Schools planned on bringing small groups of students back for in-person learning at the start of February but the school board voted this week to delay reopening until March 15.
The Virginia Departments of Health and Education has released updated interim guidance for schools about when to bring students back into classrooms. The new guide incorporates and replaces the phased guidance released in July. It and a letter addressing how it should be used were sent to school districts Thursday. It asks school districts in the commonwealth to consider community needs, COVID-19 data and understand socioeconomic factors, literacy barriers and other educational needs when making plans to bring students back in person. The guide encourages prioritizing younger learners, students with disabilities and English-language learners. It also prioritizes learning over activities. When it comes to adding extracurricular activities, including sports, the guide says that school districts should only move forward once all students have been given an opportunity for in-person instruction. “Establish reasonably safe in-person educational environments and then think through including extracurriculars and athletics,” the guide says. Additionally, the guide suggests planning in-person learning for two- to four-week blocks instead of for long periods of time, since the COVID-19 metrics could change at any time. The guide says schools may choose to take a more or less restrictive approach to reopening than what state officials suggests, but regardless of what they decide, schools should maintain remote learning options for staff and students who need it. When it comes to mitigation efforts for coronavirus protections in schools, the guide says that every district should use social distancing, required face masks for everyone over 5 years old, hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting, and contact tracing.
Public schools in Maryland will receive more than $780 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to help reopen classrooms while mitigating safety risks. The funding, which is allocated through the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act, provides grants directly to school districts to “assist in reopening classrooms, assess and address learning loss, provide targeted tutoring and other initiatives to help alleviate the impacts of the pandemic,” according the Maryland Department of Education. The department said the funding is flexible, so that local districts can decide how the funds will be spent depending on their individual challenges and needs. School districts must submit requests for the funds. Montgomery County Public Schools will receive $112,233,764; Prince George’s County Public Schools will get $122,234,704; Anne Arundel County will receive $48,393,505; Charles County Public Schools will get $13,743,730; and Howard County Public Schools will receive $19,371,973.
A proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus plan from the Biden administration Thursday night includes $20 billion for “the hardest hit public transit agencies” so they can avoid cutting service and laying off workers. The relief would need to pass the Democrat-controlled Congress. The announcement came just hours after the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority board discussed how it would handle cuts starting in January. It isn’t clear how much WMATA would get if the latest proposal passes. This week, Metro said it would receive $610 million of the $14 billion set aside for public transit from the last stimulus package passed in December. That will help Metro avoid massive service cuts in 2021. The transit agency will even add more bus service in May, extending nighttime service by two hours on 34 routes. But that money is predicted to last only until the end of this year. Metro’s board spent Thursday morning wrestling with how to bridge a $171 million gap while trying to avoid 2,500 layoffs and severe service cuts from January-July 2022, although that conversation may be moot. If more funding doesn’t pass, WMATA said it would have to close Metrorail at 9 p.m., close 22 stations, have trains run every 30 minutes and institute “turnbacks,” which reduce service to the suburbs, on the Red and Yellow lines. Metrobus service would be consolidated into about 45 lines, which represents about 50% of pre-pandemic service levels. Michael Goldman, a board member from Maryland, said the proposal makes no sense at all. “Let’s face it, that’s the time when we would expect the economy to recover and we would expect the vaccination program… to be successful,” said Goldman. “[This is when] we could anticipate people beginning to come back to work, leave their homes, come to D.C. to visit the area, come downtown to celebrate and to enjoy a meal. But in order to do that, we need to have a service pattern that contributes to and promotes that kind of recovery.” Stephanie Gidigbi-Jenkins, a board member from D.C., said any decision the board makes now will influence the decisions riders make about how they move around. “‘I have to figure out another job,’ is really the conversation that people are having when we talk about not having night services,” she said. “I hope that we use the budget … as a space to reflect both our values, in addition to the regional priorities that we need for those who are most dependent on the system.” Some board members, like Virginia’s Matt Letourneau, questioned whether to spread out the federal funding from December more evenly throughout the Fiscal Year 2022 and have consistent, smaller cuts. Goldman argued that Metro should defer purchasing 50 new buses to save $125 million, sell $40 million worth of surplus property and save $18 million by delaying the opening of the second phase of the Silver Line to January 2022. But General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said opening the Silver Line in July is “extremely important to the region” and he disagreed with the tactic of deferring maintenance to pay for operational costs. “I think that’s created some of the issues we have [had in the past],” Wiedefeld said. By putting off maintenance, he said, “you’re just creating problems for the future.” Board Chair Paul Smedberg agreed. “We are committed to … making sure that we have a safe and reliable system,” he said. “State of good repair and preventative maintenance is an important piece to that. I fear that if we move away from that and use those funds, capital funds, for operating, we’re going to get criticized for that.” Thursday’s meeting felt like deja vu since the board has had similar conversations for months. Riders will have a chance to weigh in on the budget for July 2021-June 2022 in February and March before the board finalizes the budget in April.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks on Thursday extended several measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, including a ban on indoor dining, as cases continue to rise in the county following the holidays. Alsobrooks’ ban on indoor dining includes banquets, receptions, conference centers and hotel meeting rooms. Outdoor dining will remain limited to 50% of capacity. Casinos and retail establishments remain at 25% capacity. The measures will remain in effect until at least Jan. 29. The measures were enacted last month ahead of expected holiday travel as the county’s cases rose. “Much to our dismay, COVID-19 cases continue to rise and our metrics show that we need to extend measures previously implemented to minimize the spread of this virus,” Alsobrooks said in a statement. “While this is a difficult decision, we are continuing to do everything we can to support our restaurants during these difficult times, including allocating additional funding to our Restaurant Resiliency Fund.” She added that all residents should continue to follow health safety guidance by wearing a face mask, physically distancing, limiting travel and avoiding gatherings. Prince George’s County recorded a record high 762 cases in a single day on Jan. 4 and was up to 57 new cases a day per 100,000 residents as of Jan. 9. The county has also had more than 200 inpatients with COVID-19 in hospitals for more than three weeks.
Virginia on Thursday followed federal guidance and opened vaccinations for people who are 65 and older, and people with certain health issues that make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus as part of Group 1B. A number of Virginia health districts, including those in Northern Virginia, are already in Phase 1B. “This means about half of Virginia is now eligible to receive the vaccine. That is a major logistical effort, and it’s not going to happen overnight,” Northam said as he praised better coordination with federal partners. Group 1A included healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Group 1B includes front-line essential workers and people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters and migrant labor camps, and initially included people age 75 and older. Group 1C includes other essential workers, such as those working in media or food service. Virginia is steadily working its way through its list of Priority 1 recipients of the COVID-19 vaccines, but the director of the commonwealth’s vaccination efforts said that more would need to be done to stop the steady rise of coronavirus cases. Dr. Danny Avula, who was appointed by Northam to oversee the vaccine rollout last week, said that there would need to be mass vaccination sites around Virginia if the goal of 50,000 vaccines distributed per day was going to be met. “We’re gonna need to do more, and so part of what ‘more’ looks like is standing up fixed-site mass vaccination centers across the commonwealth — places that will be six- to seven-day a week operations,” Avula said. He added that he hopes these facilities will eventually be staffed by members of the National Guard and contracted vaccinators. That target of 50,000 vaccinations per day was set in order to achieve herd immunity in Virginia, Avula said. As for public schools, Northam said Virginia would be looking at the possibility of schools operating year-round in order to make up for lost time, but that those are longer-term plans that still needed to be further developed. In the short-term, Northam said he wanted school districts to begin thinking how they could get students back in schools safely. “It’s not going to happen next week, but I want our schools to come from this starting point: How do we get schools open safely?” Northam said. “Schools are places where we can do all the mitigation measures easily — social distancing, mask wearing and cleaning.” Northam said while vaccination efforts would help schools, they were not necessary for reopening. The Virginia Department of Education will be issuing new guidance for schools that will emphasize the importance of getting schools reopened and how school districts can go about making that happen safely. “The guidance will lay out a pathway, including how to use mitigation measures in school buildings and how to prioritize students,” Northam said. “Every school district will have to decide what works best for it, working with the local health department. I know all of Virginia shares the goal of getting our children back to school.” Also on Thursday, the Virginia Department of Health announced that it had partnered with Walgreens pharmacies to provide COVID-19 antigen testing at no cost to the public. “We are pleased to announce the expansion of this public-private partnership following a successful pilot with four Walgreens locations,” said Dr. Parham Jaberi, VDH Public Health and Preparedness deputy commissioner in a statement. “Our continued partnership will help ensure increased access to COVID-19 testing at no cost for some of our communities that lack a fixed testing location or have higher rates of vulnerable populations.” Virginians can see which Walgreens stores are participating in the program online.
Maryland moved into Group 1B of its COVID-19 vaccine program on Thursday. During a press conference late Thursday afternoon, Gov. Larry Hogan said the state can begin vaccinating those in the group, which include residents age 75 and older, those in assisted-living facilities, K-12 teachers and education staff and childcare providers beginning Monday. In addition, Group 1C can start on Jan. 25. That group includes adults age 65-74; public health and safety workers not covered in Group 1A; and essential workers in lab services, food/agriculture production, manufacturing, the U.S. Postal Service, public transit and grocery stores. Hogan said the state is entering the most challenging phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the key is “testing and therapeutics” and the solution is “vigilance and vaccines.” Since Group 1A began in December, some 547,000 doses have been distributed to those administering the vaccine, which represents 99.6% of all the doses the state received. These have been distributed at hospitals, county health departments and nursing homes. A total of 202,254 doses have been administered as of Thursday. Also starting Monday, Maryland is directing all hospitals and county health departments to begin using their remaining doses by opening up Group 1B clinics focused on the elderly. “Our primary goal is for [vaccination providers] to get more shots into arms, the arms of more people in our vulnerable populations as quickly as they can,” Hogan said. The governor said 320,200 doses have been sent to Maryland hospitals and 112,175 doses have been administered — about 35%. Another 137,425 doses were distributed to county health departments. The 24 jurisdictions have administered about 56,600 doses, about 41.2%. The federal government sent 61,425 of the state’s doses directly to CVS and Walgreens, which have a federal contract to administer vaccines at nursing homes in the state. CVS has completed 94% vaccinations at its nursing homes, while Walgreens has completed 76%. Maryland is also launching a pilot program beginning Jan. 25 with Walmart and Giant to begin administering the vaccine at several of their pharmacies. Hogan said the state receives 10,000 first doses per day from the federal government, and it is far outpacing that supply. On Thursday, the state administered 16,644 vaccinations, he said. “We’re all looking forward to the day when we can take off and throw away the damn masks. And when we can get all of our children back in school, a time when we can go out for a big celebration and a crowded restaurant or bar with our family and friends,” Hogan said.
Montgomery County is using all the COVID-19 vaccine doses it gets from the state each week, but has received significantly fewer doses in its most recent shipment than requested and that could complicate the county’s efforts to move toward more widespread vaccination. “We can do more. We can ramp up and we can scale. But, unless we get more doses, it’s going to be very hard to move quickly through the remaining population,” County Executive Marc Elrich said during an online press conference Thursday. Montgomery County is among the most effective jurisdictions in Maryland in distributing the vaccine it receives from the state, second only to Baltimore County. So far, the county has distributed a little more than 98% of the doses it received and was on track to deplete its supply by today. The more than 19,000 vaccine doses distributed so far is a drop in the bucket compared to the people who are eligible to receive the vaccine during these first phases, which Elrich estimated at 750,000 people. The number of vaccinations distributed by the county doesn’t include healthcare workers, who are vaccinated with doses provided directly to the hospitals where they work, and residents and staff at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, who are being vaccinated through partnerships with CVS and Walgreens. The county puts in its requests for state-provided vaccine the week before shipments are arrive, according to Dr. James Bridgers, the county’s deputy health officer. Montgomery County requested between 10,000-15,000 doses, but only received 6,700 in the shipment that arrived this week. The week before, the county requested between 5,000-10,000 doses and received 8,600. Elrich acknowledged that the state is ultimately dependent on the federal government for its vaccine supply, and he said he understands that state health officials have to take into consideration the needs of two dozen other counties. In other words, the state may not actually have the doses to distribute. But, he said, “transparency would be helpful,” adding, “The frustration of myself and other county executives is we’re playing in the dark.” Earl Stoddard, the director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said officials were “pretty astounded” the county received fewer doses this week than last. “Our goal is to keep making progress and building and showing success every week, and showing that we can distribute what we’re provided,” Stoddard said. “And we never want to see less doses.” For next week, the county has requested 12,000-15,000 doses. Officials will know this weekend how many to expect. Stoddard emphasized that the county wasn’t seeking a fight with state health officials and that actually they shared the same goal: getting more people vaccinated. “The state has a vested interest in getting our residents vaccinated and should be providing more vaccine to the people who have demonstrated that they can actually get the vaccine out,” Stoddard said. Montgomery County is still working its way through the first phase of the vaccine rollout, which in addition to hospital staff and long-term care workers and residents, includes public safety employees, lab workers, school nurses and funeral home staff. The goal is to move to Phase 1B, which includes anyone age 75 and older and, in a second tier, teachers and childcare workers, by the beginning of February.
Three of Metrorail’s busiest transfer stations — Metro Center, Gallery Place and Union Station — began closing today through Thursday due to the inauguration. The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority announced the closures Wednesday night, but General Manager Paul Wiedefeld addressed the complications during a news conference on Thursday. “We’re working very closely with Secret Service and we cannot be providing shuttles at these stations to move people through an area that’s closed,” Wiedefeld said. “So it’s very unfortunate. That’s why we’re trying to get the word out … please don’t travel.” Metro closed 11 stations in the downtown security perimeter, including Farragut North, Judiciary Square, Union Station, Archives/Navy Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, Farragut West, McPherson Square, Federal Center SW, Capitol South, Smithsonian and Federal Triangle — today. Beginning Saturday, transfer stations Metro Center and Gallery Place will also close and transfers will not be allowed. Trains will pass through the closed stations without stopping. Buses will be diverted from the area as well. All transfers are still technically possible – Amtrak, MARC and VRE will still stop at other stations in the area including New Carrollton and L’Enfant Plaza — but unwieldy and unrealistic. Some riders will have to make trips with multiple transfers to get to where they need to go. For example, going from Dupont Circle to Eastern Market would normally require one transfer at Metro Center. However, rider will have to travel to Fort Totten on the other side of the city on the Red Line, transfer to a Green or Yellow Line train to L’Enfant Plaza and then transfer again to a Blue, Orange or Silver Line train. Wiedefeld said while there are no specific threats against Metro, the transit agency is ramping up its security given the insurrection on Jan. 6 and upcoming inauguration. He didn’t go into further details. Rail ridership is down 80%-90% due to the pandemic, although Metrorail had its highest ridership day with 130,000 riders on Jan. 6. During the pandemic, about 60,000-80,000 trips are happening every weekday. Many essential workers still need to get around during the inauguration. “We want to try to provide as much service as we can for those people that still need to travel,” Wiedefeld said. “But we recognize that as far as trains pass through or buses, they cannot pass through that zone.”
The Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority will close 13 Metrorail stations this week ahead of Wednesday’s inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They will remain closed through Jan. 21. During the time, Metro said in a press release Wednesday, trains will pass through the closed stations without stopping. Also, trains will run on a Saturday schedule of every 12 minutes on the Red Line and every 15 minutes on the Blue, Orange, Green, Yellow and Silver lines. Beginning this Friday, Metro will close 11 stations – Farragut North, Judiciary Square, Union Station, Archives/Navy Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, Farragut West, McPherson Square, Federal Center SW, Capitol South, Smithsonian and Federal Triangle. On Saturday, the Metro Center and Gallery Place/Chinatown stations will also close. Twenty-six Metrobus routes that go through the expanded security perimeter will also be re-routed. Buses will operate on a normal schedule, except on Inauguration Day when they will run on a Saturday schedule. “We are working closely with our regional and federal partners to keep the public safe during this National Special Security Event and to discourage travel within the secure zone,” Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said in the statement. “While we are supporting law enforcement plans to enhance security, we are also keeping essential services in place for our residents who need to get to work, to medical appointments and to grocery stores.” Many streets downtown have already been closed, mainly in the downtown central business district from east of the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and from Independence Avenue K Street NW. Beginning at 6 a.m. Friday, all parking garages in the restricted area will be blocked off and any vehicles in them must remain until after the inauguration. Constitution Avenue from Frist Street NW to Second Street NE, Independence Avenue from Washington Avenue SW to Second Street SE, First Street from Constitution Avenue NE to Independence Avenue SE and East Capitol Street NW from First to Second streets have already been closed.
Airbnb is canceling all reservations in the D.C. area for inauguration week after facing criticism for hosting supporters of President Trump during last week’s violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The company wrote in a press release Wednesday that it made the decision “in response to various local, state and federal officials asking people not to travel to Washington, D.C.” However, as of late Wednesday afternoon, reservations for inauguration week were still available on its website. It isn’t clear how Airbnb defines the Washington metro area and how far, geographically, the ban on bookings extends. It isn’t clear when the company will block their booking calendars. Since last week’s events, there have been reports of more violence planned during the inauguration of Joe Biden, as well as in the days leading up to it. On Monday, Mayor Muriel Bowser asked people not to come to D.C. for the event but instead “participate virtually” given spikes in coronavirus cases across the country. In addition, Bowser asked the Department of Interior to cancel all public gathering permits in the city between Jan. 11-24. The decision comes as Washingtonians on Nextdoor, Twitter and Facebook have been urging Airbnb hosts to remove their properties from the platform ahead of the inauguration. According to Airbnb, guests whose reservations were cancelled will get a full refund. The company also promised to reimburse hosts for lost income due to the cancellations. But, hosts who proactively blocked the dates around inauguration, or took down their listings entirely, will not get any reimbursement The company said it has been conducting its own investigation, trying to weed out Airbnb users who participated in the insurrection. “Through this work, we have identified numerous individuals who are either associated with known hate groups or otherwise involved in the criminal activity at the Capitol Building, and they have been banned from Airbnb’s platform,” the company wrote. Meanwhile, activists and labor leaders are pressuring hotels to follow Airbnb’s example and cancel all reservations. In a statement Wednesday, organizers with Black Lives Matter DC. And ShutDownDC urged hotel operators to close from Jan. 15-21. “Closing hotels completely for these six nights is the only way to guarantee the safety of hotel workers, neighbors, vulnerable and unhoused residents, incoming administration officials, member of Congress and our democracy,” the statement said. “Closing hotels completely for these six nights is the only way to guarantee the safety of hotel workers, neighbors, vulnerable and unhoused residents, incoming administration officials, members of Congress, and our democracy,” the statement said. Unite Here Local 25, a labor union that represents more than 7,000 hotel workers in the DMV, has also asked hotels to close “unless they are hosting security personnel” such as National Guardsmen. “No worker, union or non-union, should have to risk their life to go into work. Unfortunately, that is the situation we are now faced with,” said John Boardman, executive secretary-treasurer of the Unite Here chapter. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has the authority to close businesses for health and safety reasons during the 15-day public emergency that expires Jan. 21, but she has indicated she isn’t ready to order mass hotel closures. Bowser said in a press conference Wednesday that her administration remains in talks with hotels about their operational status around the inauguration. The fact that some hotels are hosting security personnel has been a sticking point, she said. “We are trying to understand and balance the need for housing with our encouragement that people not travel here,” Bowser said. “There may not be a one-size-fits-all approach.” Some have suggested the mayor step up enforcement of the city’s quarantine rules, which require visitors from out of town to get tested for coronavirus within 72 hours before traveling. Previous guidance from the city’s health department specifies that hotels “may ask visitors about their recent travel and may require a record of a negative COVID-19 test before allowing admittance.” Stricter enforcement of health and safety regulations may be a more palatable option to hotel operators faced with the prospect of canceling reservations after months of low bookings.
Fairfax County Public Schools employees can begin getting coronavirus vaccinations as early as Saturday. Some staff can begin scheduling appointments today. The school district published a schedule of when staff can get their vaccinations. “Staff are asked to schedule appointment times during their designated week only,” Supt. Scott Brabrand said in an announcement Wednesday. Bus drivers and assistants, custodial staff, food and nutrition staff, clerical staff, administrators, teachers in Groups 1-4, classroom instructional support staff, monitors and winter and fall coaches are among those who can get their first dose starting Saturday. The schedule aligns with the order in which student groups will return to classrooms. “All FCPS staff who wish to access the vaccine will have the opportunity to receive their first dose in the next three weeks,” Brabrand said. The vaccine currently being offered is from Pfizer-BioNTech. It is being administered by Inova Health System, which has partnered with the Fairfax County Health Department. There is no out-of-pocket cost to employees. Inova staff will schedule the second dose during the first visit. “Receiving the vaccine is a personal choice and FCPS will respect each individual’s decision,” Brabrand said. He asked staff to familiarize themselves with information about the vaccine by visiting the health department’s COVID-19 vaccine information page or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Virginia’s Phase 1B vaccine rollout started Monday. Groups in Phase 1B include front line essential workers (which include child care workers and preK-12 teachers and staff), those age 75 and older, and people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters and migrant labor camps.
Montgomery County Public Schools teachers and staff are awaiting their turn for a COVID-19 vaccination, which is not expected until late January at the earliest. Following the county school board’s decision Tuesday night to delay in-person learning until at least March 15, schools Supt. Jack Smith said there is no benchmark for the number of teacher and staff vaccinations needed before in-person learning can resume. “Having the vaccination available to school system employees is critical,” Smith said during a monthly news briefing. “So, there’s a lot of work going on around this, and I don’t think there’s any set percentage of our total staff members that we expect to see at any given moment.” However, Smith indicated that increasing numbers of staff vaccinations would boost confidence in the safety of in-person learning. “Our goal would be to continue to use the vaccine as yet another way to provide confidence in the safety of students and adults in school buildings,” he said. School officials said one school building is currently being used by the Montgomery County Health Department to administer COVID-19 vaccinations, and it has requested two others. Montgomery County’s high COVID-19 rate eliminated the chance for the county’s public high school juniors to take the PSAT, scheduled by the College Board for Jan. 26. “We just could not come up with enough space and enough systems to provide that opportunity to so many students,” Smith said.
The Prince William County Public Schools board on Tuesday night voted to meet again Feb. 17 to discuss bringing older students back to classrooms, with a goal of phasing children in as soon as the end of February. During the almost six hour special meeting, board members voted down Supt. Steve Walts’ revised model presented last week that would have delayed bringing back grades four and up to classrooms until after spring break. Preschool through third-grade students are attending in-person classes two days a week, if parents chose. Families can choose all-virtual learning. School board chair Babur Lateef made the motion to meet again next month, giving school officials time to see where COVID-19 vaccines and metrics stand after learning that vaccinations would be available for school staff starting the end of this month. “I believe the vaccine changes everything,” Lateef said. “I’m hopeful all teachers will be done by March 1. Whether we get there or not we can reassess on Feb. 17.” Member Loree Williams, who represents the Woodbridge district, moved to substitute that motion, instead proposing a pause in any further return-to-classroom proposals until the Feb. 17 meeting. Her motion failed 5-3. The board then passed Lateef’s proposal, with Williams and members Adele Jackson and Lilly Jessie voting against. Board members all agreed that Walts’ proposal to bring older students back after spring break, beginning April 27, seemed too long, particularly with vaccines so close. Walts’ plan gave no hope that older students would return at all this school year, said school board member Jennifer Wall, who represents the Gainesville district. “And we need hope at this point,” she said. COVID-19 vaccinations will begin Jan. 30 for school employees within the Prince William Health District, Director Alison Ansher said Tuesday. Speaking just hours before the school board meeting, Ansher told the Prince William Board of County Supervisors that teachers would be vaccinated through Inova Health System rather than the public health district. Registration for vaccination appointments will open Jan. 28, she said. During the school board meeting, Lateef asked Walts and his leadership team about finding ways to push for getting vaccines to staff faster. Walts said the school district has no control over when and how the vaccine will be distributed, but has offered the Kelly Leadership Center, several school stadiums and dozens of certified nurses to help vaccinate not just school employees, but local residents too. Under Lateef’s resolution, in-person classes would be delayed for one month from Walts’ fall proposal to have students from grades 4-12 return to school two days a week beginning Jan. 26 and Feb. 3.
As more groups become eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines in the DMV, local leaders could face challenges that might affect the equitable distribution. During a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments briefing Wednesday, Loudoun County Health Department Director Dr. David Goodfriend said the county could not handle the demand when the vaccine eligibility transition to Phase 1B was announced late last week. “All of our call centers have been overwhelmed, probably starting Saturday, but definitely on Monday, with people calling, people emailing, trying to get in for vaccine and trying to figure out where they fit. That’s been a challenge for us in Loudoun, and probably has been throughout” the DMV, Goodfriend said. In Northern Virginia, Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax and Arlington counties, and Alexandria, began Phase 1B distribution this week to people age 75 and older, as well as essential workers, including day care workers, K-12 teachers, first responders and food workers. “As we’re focusing on getting shots in arms, it’s a little challenging to make sure we’re not leaving folks behind,” Goodfriend said, while expressing concern about equity. “We know it’s a lot easier for people with internet access, with education, with time and means to call up to make an appointment, to go online to make an appointment, to navigate the databases that we use,” Goodfriend said. Another challenge is getting partners, such as chain pharmacies and large medical providers, through the federal application process to receive the vaccines so people can get shots close to home. The goal eventually is for the COVID-19 vaccine to be available anywhere flu shots are available. Over the past year, during each stage of the COVID-19 pandemic response, Goodfriend said there have been challenges and public concern about meeting demands at the time. “I think we’re definitely experiencing that now, but there are going to be other and differing challenges going forward with the vaccine,” Goodfriend said. “We’re all committed to trying to get the vaccine as quickly into people’s arms as safely as possible.”
The more contagious strain of the coronavirus known as B-117, which was first detected in the United Kingdom, was found in two Anne Arundel County residents. The Maryland Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Tuesday that one individual younger than 65 years old returned from traveling abroad with the more contagious strain of the virus. That person infected their spouse, said Gov. Larry Hogan during an afternoon press conference. The couple is currently in isolation with their children, and contact tracing is being conducted. Neither patient has required hospitalization. Hogan said the private lab that conducted the COVID-19 test “found some strange sequences that they didn’t understand, they didn’t know what to do with [them].” The lab sent the sample to the state’s public health lab where the strain was confirmed. During a meeting with CDC’s Director Dr. Robert Redfield on Monday, Hogan said he was told that the B-117 strain is most likely in every state — it was first discovered in Colorado late last year. “I know we are testing at five-times the national average,” Hogan says. “So we may have found it faster than other [states], but I think it’s everywhere across the country, and it’s much more contagious.” The state health department said there is no evidence of other transmissions of this strain of the virus. It does not cause more severe illness or increased risk of death compared to other strains, and there is no evidence that the current COVID vaccines are less effective on it. So far, the CDC has identified 72 cases of the B-117 strain in the U.S.
Shortly after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the city would begin giving COVID-19 vaccines to residents ages 65 and older on Monday, many who tried to sign up through the city’s online vaccination portal ran into problems. By Monday afternoon, older residents began sharing their frustrations on social media and hyperlocal listservs, detailing the technical problems and long hold times that prevented them from scheduling appointments. Just hours after the mayor’s announcement, appointments for all 6,700 doses allotted this week had been booked. D.C.’s vaccination page now tells people that there are no appointments available and to sign-up for email or text alerts to be notified when appointments become available next week. During her press conference, Bowser told Washingtonians 65 and older to make an appointment at vaccinate.dc.gov, or call the city’s coronavirus call center. “Very simple,” Bowser said Monday. “It should take only five minutes on the phone.” Yet dozens of residents found the process to be the opposite, marking a road bump in the city’s vaccine distribution. D.C. Health began the first phase of the vaccine rollout in mid-December, vaccinating healthcare workers and other medical first responders. In late December and early January, residents and staff in long-term care facilities and nursing homes began receiving vaccinations through a federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens pharmacies. Phase 1B of the city’s plan, which kicked off Monday, includes individuals 65 and older, and residents and staff in congregate settings like group homes and homeless shelters. One major issue was the portal’s system for checking for available appointments. Residents had to select each site individually to check for appointment times; once one location proved unsuccessful, residents had to restart the entire process, re-registering their information, to try another. And for those who attempted to schedule their appointments over the phone, wait times were nearly two hours. Some people stuck it out and were able to get an appointment, but many gave up before they could get through. By mid-morning, the online system had broken several times. The director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Relations and Services commented on one Nextdoor thread about the issues with the portal, stating “Thank you all for your patience during this initial roll out. Your experiences and suggestions have been shared.” A D.C. Health spokesperson said the department will “continue to make improvements to the site to make it easier to navigate” based on feedback from users. A mayor’s spokesperson said any updates on the registration process may be expected early next week.
Montgomery County Public Schools pushed the start for in-person learning from Feb. 1 to March 15, but only if health metrics are met or health guidance is adjusted because of vaccine distribution. The school board voted to delay the start of returning small groups of students at its meeting Tuesday. “The COVID-19 new case rate and test positivity in the county remain significantly above the thresholds adopted by the county and state,” MCPS said in a statement. In the meantime, the district will try to improve the online learning experience of students through focused outreach services for struggling students; greater use of the Wednesday virtual check-in day for students who need academic and social-emotional support; providing opportunities at the secondary level to request an abbreviated schedule to lighten course load and take a course over the summer or in future semesters instead; relaxing restrictions to allow students to take up to two courses as credit/no credit instead of a letter grade; providing more instructional times that could involve Saturdays, including for advanced placement and international baccalaureate courses; tutoring and homework help options; and providing more professional development for staff to improve virtual learning. The school board will meet again on Feb. 23 to determine if metrics can be met by March to return to in-person learning.
Arlington County is opening kiosks in the Aurora Hills Community Center parking lot and at Tucker Field at Barcroft Park beginning Wednesday to offer no-cost COVID-19 testing to residents. The tests do not require a doctor’s referral or government ID. Patients will be asked for insurance information, if available, so insurance providers can be billed, but no co-pay will be required. Appointments are not required, although they are encouraged. The Arlington kiosks will use oral swab tests made by San Dimas, Calif.-based Curative, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said can produce false results. Last week, the FDA warned of a “risk of false results, particularly false negative results” with Curative’s tests. That means patients might falsely believe they are not infected with COVID-19, even if they are. In particular, the FDA noted that it had provided emergency use authorization for the Curative test for symptomatic patients, while the county will be allowing anyone to get tested without a doctor’s referral. Alexandria and some D.C. public charter schools also offer the Curative tests. Still, epidemiologists and other cities say there is a benefit to expanding testing options as cases are rising. Asked about the FDA alert, Hannah Winant, a spokesperson for the Arlington County Department of Public Safety, said, “Curative is following FDA guidelines to ensure testing accuracy, and will offer on-site Curative staff to assist visitors in the collection process.” The kiosks will be open seven days a week from noon-8 p.m. Patients will swab their mouths under the supervision of a Curative employee and will receive results within 48-72 hours. Winant said Curative will bill insurance providers for people with insurance and will attempt to bill the Health Resources and Services Administration for the uninsured. She said the county will assume the costs for people who are not covered. “We’re hopeful we’ll continue to fill that need for testing and have consciously located them in communities that have been more disproportionately impacted by the virus,” Winant said. Arlington is rolling out the kiosks as Virginia sees a rise in COVID cases. The state reported 4,561 new cases and 84 new deaths on Tuesday, nearly breaking a previous record of 96 deaths in mid-September. Arlington has a 9.7% positivity rate, which is higher than the 5% threshold epidemiologists say marks community spread.
The COVID-19 death of a sheriff’s deputy at the Fairfax County Jail appears to be part of a larger outbreak that the county’s public defender says was predictable. “With profound sadness, we mourn the loss of Deputy Sheriff Sergeant Frederick ‘Butch’ Cameron who died in the line of duty today due to COVID-19,” the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office said on Facebook Tuesday. Spokesperson Andrea Ceisler said Cameron was a 16-year veteran of the force. She said 13 inmates in the county jail and 19 sheriff’s office employees have tested positive for the virus, despite precautions that have been taken. Those include quarantining new inmates for 14 days upon arrival, restricting the movements of inmates, requiring all staff and contractors to take their temperatures and daily screenings. Ceisler said in January the jail had an average of 563 inmates, and she said each had their own cell. “Now the population is low so it’s easier to do that,” she said. “We have space in the jail to spread people out.” Inmates share common areas and bathrooms. Dawn Butorac, the Fairfax public defender, said the outbreak was predictable. “It doesn’t surprise me that there was a major outbreak as I and others in my office routinely see deputies not wearing a mask,” she wrote in an email. “New inmates are quarantined for 14 days upon arrival. Therefore, it seems incredibly unlikely that an inmate would have been the cause of the outbreak. Deputies are leaving the jail every day, making them more susceptible to contracting COVID. If they refuse to follow the rules by not wearing a mask, they must be the source of the outbreak.”
D.C. restaurants will have to wait another week to resume indoor dining after Mayor Muriel Bowser late Monday evening extended her three-week ban that was set to expire at 5 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 15, through 5 a.m. on Jan. 22. The ban, which went into effect Dec. 23, also includes museums and libraries, which may only be open for curbside service, requiring reservations to swim in a city pool and halting the D.C. Circulator’s National Mall routes. The mayor’s executive order cites a new record in the city of 41.22 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, total infections of 31,993 cases and 821 deaths. But during a press conference earlier Monday, she said she was extending it due to a public emergency declared Jan. 6 regarding the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol when Trump supporters stormed the building. The indoor dining ban will make it harder for people planning to come from out of the area to protest or riot during the inauguration on Jan. 20. Also on Monday, Bowser announced that D.C. residents 65 and older can now get vaccinated against COVID-19. “And today we move into yet another phase of vaccine of eligibility,” Bowser said. “Beginning today, D.C. residents 65 years old and older can make an appointment to get the COVID vaccine through vaccinate.dc.gov portal.” They may also call the city’s coronavirus call center at 855-363-0333 or 311 from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. “It should take only five minutes on the phone,” Bowser said. “I know many of our seniors are eager to get this vaccine. It has been a long 10 months for many seniors, it has been very isolating and frightening.” She added that those making appointments will be asked for demographic information: their race, gender, age, medical history, COVID-19 history, contact information and insurance information, if they have it. Those without insurance would not be charged or turned away. After scheduling an appointment, residents will get a confirmation code that should be taken to their appointment along with their ID and any insurance card. After residents get their vaccinations, they must stay for 15-30 minutes for observation. “You will receive a vaccination card, a printout that tells you which COVID vaccine you received, the date you received it, where you received it and when you should return for your second shot,” Bowser said. The vaccination is free. “Those with insurance will not be charged a copay,” the mayor said. D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said there are known side effects associated with the vaccine with some people. “We already know that the COVID-19 vaccine cause side effects in some people, such as pain at the injection site, sore muscles, fatigue or a mild fever,” she said. “These reactions simply mean that the vaccine is working.” Nesbitt said the side effects don’t last longer than a day or two for most recipients. A second dose can be scheduled after the first. According to Bowser, 26,672 vaccine doses have been administered so far in D.C. Nesbitt also outlined new tiers in the city’s phases for vaccinations. Phase 1A, which is ongoing, includes healthcare personnel, fire and emergency medical personal, frontline public health works and long-term care residents. Phase 1B Tier 1includes residents 65 and older and people in congregate setting including group homes and homeless shelters, as well as correctional officers; Tier 2 includes people working in correctional facilities, law enforcement, K-12 school employees, grocery store workers and childcare workers; and Tier 3 includes court staff and lawyers, frontline mass transit workers, U.S. Postal Service employees and people working in manufacturing and food packaging and distribution. Phase 1C Tier 1 includes residents with chronic medical conditions, essential government and public utility employees, and property maintenance workers; Tier 2 includes for-hire and ride share drivers, delivery and courier drivers and journalists; and Tier 3 include college and university employees, construction and IT workers, federal government employees and people working in commercial and residential property management. Phase 2 is the general public.
Second and third grade students in Prince William County Pubic Schools return to in-person learning today and Wednesday. They join students pre-K through first grade who resumed in-person learning in November and December. While that may be welcome news to some students and parents, some teachers are concerned about the spread of COVID-19. “We are not comfortable with the safety of the situation,” said Chuck Ronco, a calculus and geometry teacher at Unity Reed High School in Manassas and vice president of the Prince William Education Association. According to the Virginia Department of Health, Prince William County’s seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 people is 57 as of Monday. “Prince William County is the highest for both positivity and number of new cases in the Northern Virginia area, so it’s definitely of great concern. We have to be paying attention to those numbers. We can’t ignore the science,” Ronco said. The association said that PWCS Supt. Steven Walts’ plan is a step in the right direction. Walts hopes to delay the return of students in grades 4 and higher until late April. The Prince William County School Board will discuss Walts’ plan at tonight’s meeting.
A $1 billion COVID-19 economic relief package unveiled Monday will provide more than $267 million in stimulus payments to more than 400,000 low-income Marylanders through $700 checks to families and $450 checks to individuals. The RELIEF Act of 2021, announced by Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday, will put another $180 million toward tax relief and unemployment for Marylanders by eliminating income tax on unemployment benefits. He also proposed $300 million in small business tax relief. “It’s clear to all of us that the primary focus of the 2021 legislative session must be providing additional, immediate economic relief to the hundreds of thousands of struggling families and the tens of thousands of small businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic,” Hogan said during a press conference. The proposal stipulates that there should be no sudden increases in unemployment taxes for small businesses. The proposed package will be introduced as emergency legislation on Wednesday, the first day of the legislative session. The bill is funded by the remaining surplus from the fiscal year 2020, budget reductions and a portion of the state’s rainy day fund. “We can’t waste a lot of time,” Hogan said. “This is not something that should be debated until the end of the legislative session in April.” However, Hogan’s proposal falls about half a billion dollars short of what Democratic leaders requested. Comptroller Peter Franchot, Treasurer Nancy Kopp, and other state and federal lawmakers have been asking Hogan since mid-December to use about $528 million from the state’s general fund and $925 million from the rainy day fund to provide relief. Their proposed stimulus package includes $2,000 stimulus checks for Marylanders making less than $50,000 for a single filer and couples making $100,000 or less. Advocates also want to allocate $250 million to help small businesses. “There is a better day ahead for Maryland, but could we please help out our friends and neighbors right now who are suffering?” Franchot said in a press release. But Hogan criticized Franchot’s proposal for $2,000 stimulus checks saying it isn’t possible. “We don’t have the power to just write $2,000 checks,” Hogan said. “[Franchot] was talking about draining the entire rainy day fund … we want to maintain our AAA bond rating and make sure that state government continues to function.” Franchot said Monday that Hogan is delaying funding to those who need it more and passing the responsibility off to lawmakers. “What’s being ignored is the suffering and pain that hundreds of thousands of Marylanders are going through right now,” Franchot said. “Should [Hogan] run it by legislative leaders, yes. But he has power as governor to make decisions and take action unilaterally.” Senate President Bill Ferguson of Baltimore City and House Speaker Adrienne Jones of Baltimore County thanked Hogan for incorporating their priorities into the stimulus package and said in a statement, “we look forward to the governor working with us to accomplish these goals and demonstrating for the country what the true value of bipartisanship can be.” In his own press conference Monday, Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker called Hogan’s proposal a step in the right direction. “However, the proposed plan does not provide any immediate relief and slows down the process to getting stimulus checks to Marylanders,” Hucker said. “His package is insufficient and we hope to continue working with him.” Additionally, of the federal government’s $900 billion stimulus package, Maryland will receive nearly $15 billion in funds to support the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment insurance, COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, and other relief efforts, Hogan said. Last fall, Hogan used $250 million from the rainy day fund, which left the state with $935 million in its reserves. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Maryland has provided $700 million in economic relief, according to the governor’s office. The state also received $2.3 billion through the federal CARES Act last spring.
The Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority will avoid many of the budget cuts and layoffs officials previously said were needed to stem the financial impacts of COVID-19 for now. The federal government will send $610 million in coronavirus relief to WMATA after a package was signed into law last month. But unless ridership returns to pre-pandemic levels or Congress approves another relief package this spring, service reductions and layoffs are planned starting in January 2022. The transit agency unveiled its revised budget through June 2022 on Monday. The WMATA board will discuss the changes Thursday and the public will be able to comment in February and March. The budget will be finalized and voted on in April. Metro management previously proposed drastic service cuts for July 2021 through June 2022 including eliminating weekend rail service, running trains every 30 minutes on all lines weekdays, implementing turnback on the Red, Yellow and Silver lines, closing Metrorail at 9 p.m. weekdays and closing 19 stations. The budget also including laying off nearly a third of its workforce in response to lagging ridership due to the pandemic. In a news release Friday, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said Metro is far from out of the woods yet. “While the choices may not be quite as severe, there is still enormous financial pressure on our funding jurisdictions, and ridership and revenue is likely to return very gradually, so we have tough choices still ahead,” he said. The revised budget proposes to spend about $96 million of the federal funds to increase bus service and preserve rail service levels. It also will help avoid 1,200 layoffs, although WMATA says it will continue to reduce positions through attrition, voluntary departures and buyouts. Metro will also no longer shift $30 million of regular maintenance in operating costs to the capital budget. This move aimed to free up money but was seen as an imprudent, emergency financial move. Metrobus will see the same level of service — about 78% of pre-pandemic service — through spring. By May, Metro would add service including extending the hours from 12 a.m.-2 a.m. on 34 lines. Metro will also restore service on several routes and add back weekend service on others. The additions will help maintain social distancing and support higher ridership routes. Metro started charging for bus fare and mandating front-door boarding again at the beginning of 2021. Bus drivers now have plexiglass partitions to protect them from the spread of the coronavirus. Metrorail would see no changes and continue to operate from 5 a.m.-11 p.m. with trains arriving every 12 minutes on weekdays and every 15 minutes on weekends on the Blue, Orange, Silver, Green and Yellow lines and every 6 minutes on weekdays and every 12 minutes on the Red Line. Beginning in July, Metro will use $515 million of the federal funds to cover much of the fiscal year 2022 budget, but that won’t cover everything. Wiedefeld is proposing keeping the same service levels outlined above through 2021. One addition is opening the Silver Line Phase II from Wiehle-Reston to Ashburn, which includes six new stations including one at Dulles Airport. That could happen as soon as July, but it will likely stretch into this fall as Metro officials say the addition needs to pass a series of safety hurdles before opening. Management will also cut $58 million while hoping union employees will agree to defer pay increases. Metro is usually allowed to ask localities for 3% more than what it got the previous year in subsidies. This year, it will forgo that increase, except for $42 million, which will help pay for new service like the Silver Line extension and more. New service does not count toward the 3% increase. Even with the federal funding, Metro will still have a $171 million budget gap that it hopes to close in the first half of 2022. That could be addressed by another aid package from Congress, or if ridership returns to higher levels. Metro predicted 314 million rides a year during pre-pandemic times. From July 2021 to June 2022, Metro expects just a quarter of that ridership, although it predicts an increase from the 61 million this past year. If Congress doesn’t authorize more relief and ridership doesn’t increase, Metro will face reduced service and layoffs similar to what was previously proposed. The cuts would mean service would be about 30% of pre-pandemic service levels. Metrorail would close two hours earlier, operating from 5 a.m.-9 p.m. every day. Trains would run every 30 minutes on all lines except the Red Line, which would run every 15 minutes. Metro would close 22 stations and institute “turnbacks,” which reduce service to the suburbs on the Red and Yellow lines. Metro is not recommending closing on weekends. Metrobus would have about 50% of pre-pandemic service levels.
The Washington Monument closed to tours due to “credible threats to visitors and park resources” surrounding President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. It will remain closed through Jan. 24. The National Park Service said that groups involved in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol “continue to threaten” disruptions, including to the set up of inauguration events. In addition to the suspension of Washington Monument tours, NPS may temporarily close public access to roadways, parking areas and restrooms on the National Mall “if conditions warrant, to protect public safety and park resources,” according to press release. As of Saturday, NPS had received seven applications for public demonstrations in downtown Washington. A review of the applications shows that only one permit is clearly a pro-Trump demonstration, with 300 attendees expected. The permit applicant, “Let America Hear Us, Roar For Trump”, describes the event as a “1st Amendment Rights Gathering.” The efforts to clamp down on security ahead of the inauguration follow last week’s violent insurrection at the Capitol, which left five people dead, and numerous threats of violence made on D.C. for the coming days. Plans for a “Million Militia March” on Inauguration Day have circulated on social media platforms like Parler and Telegram, where extremist groups, white supremacists and Trump supporters flocked after Twitter permanently suspended the president’s account. Other threats included plans for an armed march on the U.S. Capitol and all state capitols on Sunday, Jan. 17, and calls for violence on Tuesday, Jan. 19. Mayor Muriel Bowser sent a letter to the acting secretary of the U.S. Department Homeland Security over the weekend calling for increased security measures for the inauguration. She requested that the Department of the Interior Secretary cancel any permits granted for public gatherings from Jan. 11-24 and deny any applications for permits during that time since NPS, under the Department of the Interior, issues permits for events on the Mall, not local D.C. officials. Bowser has also urged Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to extend the National Special Security Event, which is currently in place from Jan. 19-21 to Jan. 11-24 to allow for further collaboration between local D.C. agencies and federal officials. During a press conference Monday, Bowser said that she does not believe the inauguration should be closed to the public and instead called for partnership between city and federal law enforcement to establish a “security and federal force deployment plan for all federal property.” According to the NPS statement Monday, “the closures will not adversely affect the park’s natural aesthetic or cultural values, nor require significant modification to the resource management objection, nor is it of a highly controversial nature.”
The Maryland attorney general’s COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force completed its report and on Monday announced 59 legislative and policy recommendations. “Our objective was to examine COVID-19’s impact on Marylanders and make recommendations on how to deploy the legal system to ensure that the state’s most vulnerable remain housed, fed, safe, secure, employed, healthy and connected to civil justice,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. The COVID-19 pandemic has strained an already stressed social safety net, and people of color are affected disproportionately. “COVID-19 did not create the systemic failings and inequities of our social safety net in our civil justice system, but it laid bare the fault lines, and the pandemic exacerbated and brought to light with painful clarity the deficiencies and the suffering that they cause,” Frosh said. When pandemic-related restrictions on evictions are lifted, Frosh said hundreds of thousands of Marylanders face homelessness. Maryland has about 665,000 evictions a year, but only about 825,000 rental units. “That’s an extraordinary number, and one of the reasons is that landlords file multiple times during the year against the same tenants,” Frosh said. “There are some landlords who file every month on the sixth of the month — regardless of whether the tenant always pays on the eighth or 10th, landlords are in court on the sixth.” One recommendation would raise the fee for landlords to file for evictions. Maryland’s current $15 filing fee is third lowest in the nation. The task force proposed raising the fee to $122 to match the national average. The goal would be to create resources for legal services to ensure people have “right to counsel” in eviction proceedings. “We’re looking for targets that we can hit,” Frosh said. “Right to counsel, at least in eviction proceedings, is within our grasp in the near future — especially if we can bring the cost of filing an eviction action in line with that of the rest of the country.” Another task force recommendation would create a system so people filing for unemployment insurance can see their place in line, track the status of their claim and get an anticipated wait time for rulings to be made.
Fairfax County Public Schools employees are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine as a part of the 1B group of other essential workers. The vaccine will be administered through Inova Health in partnership with the Fairfax County Health Department, FCPS Supt. Scott Brabrand said Sunday in a note to families and staff. “I received official confirmation from our health director this morning about this positive announcement and wanted to share it with you immediately,” Brabrand said. Virginia’s Phase 1B strategy for frontline essential workers requires local health departments to adhere to vaccinating the groups as prioritized in Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement last week. Fairfax County will begin vaccinating police, fire, hazmat, corrections and homeless shelter workers through closed vaccination clinics this week. The next priority group are childcare, K-12 teachers and staff, Brabrand said. Starting as early as Saturday, Jan. 16, the Fairfax health department has partnered with Inova to vaccinate an estimated 40,000 teachers and staff of public and private schools and childcare programs across the health district. The health department is finalizing the logistics with Inova and is collaborating with FCPS on an implementation plan to accomplish this within the next three weeks, as vaccine supplies permit. School officials will provide registration details and other vaccine information this week. More specific information regarding Group 1B workers is available on the governor’s website. “The availability of this vaccine for our staff, coupled with implementation of the five key mitigation strategies, strengthens our ability to gradually return to in-person instruction,” Brabrand said. “Hope and help are now truly on the way.”
The U.S. House Office of the Attending Physician told members of the U.S. House of Representatives to get tested for COVID-19 after possible exposure to the virus while sheltering from Wednesday’s riots in the Capitol. “Many members of the House community were in protective isolation in [a] room locating in a large committee hearing space,” the attending physician told House members and their staffs. “This time in this room was several hours for some and briefer for others. During this time, individuals may have been exposed to another occupant with [the] coronavirus infection,” the message said. Medical officials are concerned about the proximity with which House members and staff had to gather in an enclosed space. The attending physician went on to advise those who sheltered to monitor for symptoms daily, wear masks and social distance. Dozens of lawmakers were whisked to the secure location after pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Wednesday, breaking through barricades to roam the halls and offices and ransack the building. No further details were provided on which person has tested positive for the virus. Some lawmakers and staff were furious after video surfaced of Republican lawmakers not wearing their masks in the room during lockdown. Newly-elected Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was among those Republicans not wearing masks.
Maryland leaders are calling for Gov. Larry Hogan to use rainy-day funds to assist with pandemic relief. Comptroller Peter Franchot said Maryland has the funds to help those struggling with food and rent and that money needs to be made available now. “I’m just kind of at the end of my rope because we thought the feds would come through,” Franchot said. With state and local aid blocked by Congress in the recent stimulus package, community leaders from the Maryland United for COVID Relief NOW Coalition held a virtual rally Sunday to call on Hogan to release aid from the Rainy Day Fund. Franchot said he wants it to be used for $2,000 stimulus checks to qualifying Marylanders and aid for local businesses. “There is a light, there’s a better day ahead for Maryland but could we please help out our friends and neighbors right now?” Franchot says there is more than $1 billion available, and if he is given the green light by the governor, he will get that money in the hands of locals in need as soon as possible. “I, as comptroller, will immediately — within three days or so — put $925 million into the accounts of these very needy, suffering Marylanders,” Franchot said. Sen. Chris Van Hollen said the state can’t wait for another package and that they need these funds now. “If a COVID-19 global pandemic is not a rainy day, I don’t know what is. We are in a torrential downpour and worse,” he said. Van Hollen said that this fund was made for situations like a global pandemic. “This money has been put in the rainy-day fund for this kind of crisis, to help people who are in desperate need at this moment.” The coalition is collecting signatures on an online petition to deliver to the governor.