Va.’s Post-Holiday Surge Milder Than Feared
COVID-19 Cases Reach 843,039 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 35,077 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 870 deaths; there have been 339,307 cases in Maryland with 6,662 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 468,655 cases with 6,079 deaths Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
Virginia’s post-holiday surge of COVID-19 cases hasn’t been as bad as feared and the number of Virginians being treated for the virus in hospitals and nursing homes has fallen significantly in the past 10 days. However, even as the number of new coronavirus cases stabilized last week, the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute warned in its newest model that if the new, more contagious variant of COVID-19 becomes prevalent in Virginia, the state could have a 10-week sustained peak of cases from late February through late April. In that scenario, the state would average about 65,000 cases a week, almost double current trends. By comparison, Virginia reported just 50,000 new cases in the entire month of November. “These sustained high rates could place unprecedented pressure on Virginia’s health resources,” the report said. “Additionally, high case counts increase the risk that new, and perhaps more concerning, variants to emerge.” The variant has been identified in 20 states, including Maryland and Pennsylvania, the institute noted. The Virginia Department of Health reported 4,904 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, following 4,147 on Friday. The state’s seven-day average of new cases now stands at 5,609.1 and has fallen daily since peaking Monday at 6,166.3. In Northern Virginia, fewer than 1,000 new cases were reported for the fourth straight day Saturday, the first time cases have been below that level for that period of time since Dec. 16-19. The health department reported 975 cases Saturday, following 923 on Friday. The region’s seven-day average is 1,433.6, down from the peak of 1,628.4 hit last Monday. The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association reported that 2,927 patients were hospitalized statewide Saturday for treatment of COVID-19. That is the lowest number since Jan. 6 and down almost 9% from the Jan. 13 peak of 3,209 patients. Of those, 577 were hospitalized in Northern Virginia, the fewest since Dec. 26 and well below the region’s peak of 818 on April 30. Also, the association reported that number of COVID-19 patients in the state’s nursing homes fell to 1,768, down 22% from the peak of 2,275 on Jan. 14. Nursing homes and assisted-living facility patients were among the first group of Virginians to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Despite the good news, VDH reported another 77 deaths on Saturday, the fourth highest daily number, following 62 on Friday. The 373 deaths reported statewide over the past week is the most since the pandemic began. Death reports tend to lag the actual date of death by a week or more due to time required to file and verify death certificates. In Northern Virginia, 21 deaths were reported over the two-day period — 13 Friday and eight Saturday. Of those, 11 were in Fairfax County, four in Alexandria, three in Prince William County, two in Manassas and one in Arlington County. Northern Virginia’s COVID-related deaths peaked last spring. Average test positivity rates both statewide and in Northern Virginia continue to come down from the peaks reached in early January.
The Washington Monument will remain closed to the public indefinitely to protect staff and visitors from COVID-19. The National Park Service made the announcement Saturday. The monument closed Jan. 11 as part of security measures around President Joe Biden’s inauguration. NPS said it would keep an eye on the public health conditions in the DMV and other indoor attractions’ operating status to determine when it would be safe to reopen. Along with the Washington Monument, all indoor attractions managed as part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, such as the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site and tours of the Old Post Office Tower, are also closed. Outdoor memorials remain open as do public restrooms.
Montgomery County officials hope to begin rolling out the coronavirus vaccine to people 75 and older under Phase 1B of the state’s vaccine plans, but demand is still far outstripping the supply of vaccinations provided by the state. Since a pre-registration website for people 75 and older went live Jan. 15, more than 68,000 people have signed up to be notified by the county when appointments for older adults begin. Meanwhile, as the county continued vaccinating thousands of healthcare workers, it received only 7,300 new first doses of the coronavirus vaccine last week, officials said. It is an impossible math problem that is leading to frustration by both county officials and residents who are eager to get the vaccine. “If I seem frustrated by this, know that my true frustration is 10 times what you’re seeing right now,” said County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles. “The system is not fit to do what we need it to do.” He estimated there are more than 70,000 people who are 75 and older in the county eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, and another 170,000-280,000 people who are over 65. “And I’m getting 7,000 doses a week to dole out. The math doesn’t add up,” Gayles said. “We are working hard to get your doses. Trust me; we don’t want to turn anybody away. We want to get everybody covered right away, to get you protected. But we’re working with limited resources.” Gayles said he is “hopeful” the county would be able to move forward with vaccinations of people 75 and older as early as this week. Overall, Maryland receives about 72,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine from the federal government each week — a number that isn’t likely to change for at least the next several weeks. Of those, about half are distributed to the two dozen local health departments across Maryland for them to vaccinate the public, officials said. Nevertheless, Gov. Larry Hogan recently moved to expand eligibility requirements. Last week, under those new guidelines, Marylanders age 75 and older were eligible to be vaccinated. Starting Monday, people ages 65-74 are also eligible under state guidelines. Montgomery County officials have been clear: They didn’t have enough vaccine to begin vaccinating older adults last week, even as other jurisdictions, such as Prince George’s County, moved to do so. “So [Hogan is] going to create a group that thinks they’re immediately eligible for vaccine,” County Executive Marc Elrich said of the governor’s announcements. “They are eligible, but he’s not increasing the amount of vaccine beyond 7,000 new doses. So I can put you in a line you weren’t in before. But it doesn’t mean you’re going to get vaccinated any faster, unless the number of vaccines that we get actually increases.” The massive demand and the limited supply led to some confusion, and even potential line-jumping, for access to the vaccine. Several older adults, who had made appointments on the state system, were turned away from a county vaccination site at Quince Orchard High School Thursday morning. Officials said the people who were turned away were in the 75-and-older category who aren’t being vaccinated in the county yet because of the low supply. Gayles said the health department is still looking into how they were able to make appointments in the first place, but that it appears email links were inappropriately shared. The link to make appointments is through a state system designed for administering the flu vaccine, said Earl Stoddard, the director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Anyone with a link can make an appointment because the system doesn’t have functionality to automatically screen people out. For now, links to make appointments are still limited to healthcare workers being vaccinated under Phase 1A. “What’s happening is people — healthcare providers, most likely — believe they’re helping the community by sharing the link,” Stoddard said. “They’re actually doing a great disservice to their community by sharing that link, by slowing down the system.” The county is working to make sure vaccinations are done fairly and equitably, “not based upon you know or you may have access to in terms of getting a link,” Gayles said. Officials stressed that people 75 and older who have pre-registered will receive communication directly from the county with a link to sign up for a vaccination appointment when they are available. “Some folks were simply doing what they thought was appropriate, because someone sent them a link,” Gayles said. “But I will say this very clearly to anyone else who is unscrupulously utilizing the links or trying to register ahead of time: We will have zero tolerance for that behavior.” Gayles said he is sympathetic to state health officials who are responsible for distributing the relatively small number of vaccine doses. “They are having to thread lots of needles based upon a limited supply coming from the federal government,” he said. But Stoddard said the “allocations are totally uneven,” given Montgomery County’s overall population and number of healthcare workers who qualified for the vaccine under the very first phase of the vaccine rollout. Stoddard said the state’s moves to expand eligibility across the state, even though supply hasn’t increased, seems like the state saying, “‘We’re just going to throw 30% of the population against one another and have them compete for spots.’ We just don’t believe that’s a fair and equitable way to do vaccine distribution.”
The Virginia Hospital Center canceled first dose COVID-19 vaccine appointments scheduled on Jan. 26 or later after the Virginia Department of Health made changes to its distribution plans. State health department vaccines will only be distributed to local health districts going forward, meaning hospitals will no longer receive vaccines directly from VDH, according to a statement on the hospital’s website. In response of this change, Virginia Hospital Center said in the statement that all future first shot appointments at their community vaccine clinics, including the Walter Reed Community Clinic and its physician group clinic, are canceled. The change does not affect those receiving a second dose, who will still receive it at the same location on the originally scheduled date and time. “Arlington County is ready to deliver vaccine as supplies become available from the Virginia Department of Health and will be diligently working to contact affected Arlingtonians in the coming weeks,” Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said in a press release. “We also understand the community’s frustration and appreciate everyone’s patience.” Arlington residents who had their appointments canceled will be contacted directly by the county to reschedule their first dose vaccination once supplies become available. Non-Arlington residents should monitor their local health district departments for future announcements.
Prince William County health officials are working to get second doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to those who have already had their first dose. There are currently no available appointments to schedule second doses in the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS) in Prince William Health District clinics, which includes the county, Manassas and Manassas Park. But health officials are “working on a process to ensure any person who received their first dose at a Prince William Health District clinic between Dec. 28 and Jan. 21 who is unable to schedule their second dose in VAMS is accommodated,” the county said in a press release Friday. Those appointments are booked offline and individuals cannot register for a second dose online because of the upcoming transition to a new vaccine administration and management system, the release said. A dedicated scheduling team is available starting Monday to contact these individuals and assist them with manually booking an appointment. The health district has received confirmation from the state that vaccine supply for second doses is accounted for and will be shipped to health districts, in addition to their weekly first dose allocations. “As such, please be assured that everyone who has received their first dose from a Prince William Health District clinic has a second dose allocated and is prioritized for scheduling based on the second dose eligibility window,” the release said.
A second hearing in a lawsuit by dozens of restaurants seeking to overturn Montgomery County’s indoor dining ban might be held next month. The restaurateurs, represented by the Restaurant Association of Maryland, filed the lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court in December. They sought an injunction and a temporary restraining order after the County Council approved the dining ban on Dec. 15. The ban was in response to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths. The order allows outdoor dining, as well as takeout and delivery. The plaintiffs hoped a judge would overturn the county’s order just before the Christmas holidays, but Circuit Court Judge James Bonifant upheld it on Dec. 23 following a 12-hour emergency hearing. Bonifant said at the time that his ruling was based on the belief that county officials are acting in the public’s best interest by trying to protect the community from the virus. But he said he wanted to review the evidence further in a second preliminary injunction hearing. On Thursday, Alexandra Mussler, Bonifant’s law clerk, told Bethesda Beat that the plaintiffs’ attorneys sent a letter earlier last week expressing interest in participating in a second hearing. The parties are trying to work out a date, and it will probably be in the first or second week of February, she said. Mussler said Bonifant offered to hold a hearing earlier this month, but he never received a response from the plaintiffs. Attorney Ed Hartman of Annapolis represents more than 30 restaurants in one lawsuit. Attorney Dan Cox of Emmitsburg represents Clarksburg Tavern, which filed a separate lawsuit. The two lawsuits were merged, Mussler said. Hartman said in an email Friday morning that he does not comment on pending litigation. Cox could not be reached for comment. On Tuesday, attorneys Marc Hansen, Silvia Kinch and Amy DiBiasio, representing Montgomery County, filed an answer to the complaint in the lawsuit involving the more than 30 restaurants. In the answer, the attorneys requested the court to deny the plaintiffs’ claims for relief and dismiss the complaint with prejudice. Judges in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City upheld similar dining bans on the same day last month that Bonifant upheld Montgomery’s. But Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott announced last week that restaurants and bars could open for indoor dining at 25% capacity starting last Friday. Outdoor dining is allowed at 50% capacity. D.C. also started allowing restaurants to offer indoor at 25% capacity on Friday. Montgomery County will have to wait a little longer, County Executive Marc Elrich said during a briefing on Thursday. He said it is possible there will be a time limit for customers seated at tables. Also last week, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said the county’s ban on indoor dining would last until at least Jan. 29.
At least 38 U.S. Capitol Police officers and 150 Natural Guardsmen have tested positive for COVID-19 since the Jan. 6 insurrection by supporters of former President Donald Trump. “The union is very concerned and has been voicing its concerns with the USCP chiefs since March 2020,” said Gus Papathanasiou, chairman of the U.S. Capitol Police Labor Committee, the union representing the police, in an email. “The union had been pushing the department for testing and recently pushing for vaccines, but the incompetence of the USCP chiefs of police, both former and current with the new acting chief and assistant chiefs, speaks volumes of the lack of leadership at the top of the USCP.” Thousands of unmasked Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, raising fears of a super-spreader event that could expose local residents and law enforcement officers to coronavirus. The new cases mark the highest spike among the agency in months. “The continued systemic failures of this department is unacceptable and the congressional community as well as the officers that put their lives on the line every day deserve better than being led by inept chiefs of police,” Papathanasiou said. Steven Sund, the Capitol Police chief, stepped down following the riots, and Yogananda Pittman was named acting chief, the first woman and first Black officer to lead the force. More than a dozen Capitol Police officers were suspended and at least a dozen were investigated for their involvement in or support of the violence. D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department, which at one point led the effort to clear the mob from the Capitol, has also seen a rise in COVID-19 cases. On Jan. 6, 498 MPD sworn personnel had tested positive, according to D.C. Health data. As of Jan. 21, that number had risen to 580 cases, a jump of 82. It appears to be one of the biggest increases in positive cases in recent data. That jump came amid a huge regional spike since the holidays, soaring past fall and spring records. “At this time MPD is not able to ascertain if officers who have tested positive for COVID-19 contracted it as a result of working during the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “MPD officers continue to show up day after day during the public health emergency, putting their health at risk in order to serve the residents and visitors of the District of Columbia.” Acting MPD Chief Robert Contee said that a number of D.C. police officers have tested positive since Jan. 6, with “some platoons hit harder than others.” As the rollout of vaccinations continues across the DMV, the city is opening appointments to MPD members beginning Monday. MPD tweeted Friday that members of the command staff had received their vaccinations. Papathanasiou told Roll Call earlier this week that it was unclear when Capitol Police would receive vaccines. Meanwhile, the acting chief of the U.S. Park Police tested positive on Thursday. Amid reports of officer burnout among both the National Guard and Capitol Police officers, Papathanasiou said officers are working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. “I, too am worried about officers getting burnt out,” he said. “The union has asked for days off and schedules to change, but the department’s chiefs have yet to make a decision.” While USCP did not respond to a request for comment, the department released a public statement Friday, saying it had requested that the National Guard adjust schedules to keep troops to shifts of no more than eight hours, “to allow for more off-campus rest time post-inauguration.” USCP says the Guard is “reviewing the request.”
D.C. Public Schools is proceeding with getting thousands of students back in classrooms for in-person learning at the beginning of the third quarter. Following a four-hour D.C. Council hearing and testimony from 50 people, it was obvious there is anxiety and trepidation about those plans as the coronavirus continues to spread around the country and the number of related deaths rise. City education and health leaders made the case that the science is on their side in moving forward. “DCPS has remained grounded in the firm belief that a safe and healthy in-person learning opportunity is the best way to teach and reach our students who are facing significant barriers to success in virtual learning,” DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said. “We know this is particularly important for our younger learners as gaps in early literacy, social and emotional development, and access to quality learning experiences have long-term impact on student success.” Currently, there are 79 city schools offering in-person instruction to about 1,000 students. When the school district expands in-person instruction on Feb. 1, another 4,000 students are signed up to return to the classroom. Ferebee said that number has risen in recent days, although the numbers can vary greatly ward by ward and school by school. The question of safety was raised over and over again by both parents and politicians. Hours into the hearing, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson asked Dr. Ankoor Shah, D.C. Health deputy director and the person in charge of the city’s vaccination program, point-blank if it was safe. Shah’s answer was an unambiguous yes. “What we know now compared to what we knew in March is completely different,” Shah, who is also a pediatrician, said. “If you are able to put these safety measures in place, the risk of actually having COVID-19 spread in an in-person education setting is much lower.” He added that the risk of outbreaks gets reduced when you “cohort” students on a regular basis. City leaders said there is more than enough testing available to stay on top of situation inside schools. “We have all indications that now is the time,” Ferebee said. “Based on our own survey of our data, it’s appropriate at this time, and it represents what we know about the science. We also recently received additional reports from the American Association of Pediatrics that also recommend to continue to reopen schools and that schools are not contributing to transmission in the community at large.”
The Washington, D.C., Auto Show will not be held March 26-April 4 as planned. In a press release, show organizers cited the ongoing coronavirus health emergency in D.C. and around the world. “Nothing is more important to us than the safety and health or our loyal attendees, our participating exhibitors and all those who work so hard to make the show a success every year,” said event CEO John O’Donnell in a statement. “With that in mind, we are doing everything we can to host a show in 2021 that meets the high standards our visitors are used to, while ensuring that our region stays safe and finally defeats this terrible pandemic.” Organizers said they are working with the D.C. government and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to find dates later in the spring for the show, but no new dates were announced. The D.C. Auto Show is the city’s largest annual indoor event and has been held every year since the end of World War II. The 2020 show was one of the best-attended shows in its history and featured more than 600 new vehicles from nearly three dozen automakers. This is the second time the 2021 car show has been postponed. Before being moved to late March, it was originally set for Jan. 29-Feb 7.
Arlington County Public Schools Supt. Francisco Duran said the start of COVID-19 vaccinations for teachers is “exciting,” but he wants to see more shots in arms before setting new dates for students and teachers to return to in-person learning. Duran heard concerns from frustrated parents, as well as calls from teachers to hold-off on bringing more people back into classrooms, during the school board’s virtual meeting on Thursday. Duran said the process of vaccinating teachers began last weekend. “We were able to administer 1,800 doses to K-12 staff,” Duran said. “While that was exciting, we also know that 1,800 is certainly not all of our staff.” As with school districts throughout the DMV, Duran said demand for the vaccine is dramatically higher than the supply. “The public health department is continuing to work with the governor to identify additional vaccine doses. Because that’s the challenge our health department is having now, is having that vaccine availability,” Duran told board members. While encouraged by the start of vaccine administration, Duran said he wanted to hold-off on setting new return-to-school dates, while monitoring staff vaccinations and health metrics. Duran said he understands there are some teachers and staff who are frustrated that they have yet to be able to make an appointment for the vaccine. Fewer than 100 students in a career training program will return for some in-person learning this coming week because the small number of students enrolled and staff will be able to maintain strict distancing requirements, Duran said. He added that teachers who have asked for permission will be able to hold treamed lessons from their classrooms.
Virginia is making strides in getting doses of COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of residents but low federal supply remains the largest obstacle. Dr. Danny Avula, who was appointed to oversee Virginia’s vaccine efforts by Gov. Ralph Northam, said Friday afternoon that the state receives about 100,000 doses of vaccines per week. When Avula was first appointed, he said Virginia’s goal was to get to 50,000 doses distributed per day through mass vaccination sites staffed by members of the National Guard. Establishing that infrastructure remains important, Avula said Friday, but would be wasted without a bigger supply of vaccines from the federal government. Virginia is distributing about 20,000 doses daily to residents in Phases 1A and 1B. At the current pace, Avula said, it would take two to three months to get through those two groups, which represent about half of Virginia’s population. Virginia is not alone in facing shortages. Some states have canceled vaccination appointments due to a lack of vaccines, while others have received far less than what they were told to expect. Maryland is also facing a supply issue with the state receiving about 10,000 doses per day since the initial shipment and administering more than 15,000 doses per day. Despite the supply holdup, Gov. Larry Hogan authorized Maryland to move to vaccinate residents in Phase 1B last week and scheduled Phase 1C to begin Monday. D.C. is also moving forward with its vaccination effort despite a shortfall. On Tuesday, the D.C. Health announced that teachers and police officers are eligible to receive the vaccine beginning Monday. Still, D.C.’s desperation to get more doses was made apparent in that same announcement, which ended in an all caps message that read “DC NEEDS MORE VACCINE.”
At a press conference on Thursday, Mayor Muriel Bowser released a breakdown of next week’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution, but asked for patience as demand continues to outpace supply. Appointments for D.C. residents age 65 and older and healthcare workers will continue to be opened online each week. Each Thursday at 9 a.m., the city’s online portal will be open for sign-ups from eligible residents in prioritized ZIP codes in wards 1, 4, 5, 7 and 8. The city has done this to address the gap in sign-ups across the city in which residents from more affluent wards have received a disproportionate number of vaccine doses even though they face some of the lowest rates of infection. On Fridays, appointments will open for eligible residents across the city. Appointments have filling up quickly. On Thursday, all 2,235 of the appointments for eligible residents in prioritized ZIP codes were booked within 15 minutes. An additional 740 appointments will open up today. Next week, the city is scheduled to receive 14,375 vaccine doses. About 1,125 doses not made available on the vaccine portal will be distributed to other prioritized and vulnerable groups through partnerships that health officials have with hospitals, clinics and other facilities. The doses will go to residents of intermediate care facilities, residents of group homes, people experiencing homelessness, staff of D.C. Public Schools and charter schools, police officers and seniors who live in the city’s public housing. Bowser said the delays in vaccine rollout are due to a supply issue and not the city’s ability to distribute the doses. “We know that demand in D.C. is very high,” she said. “We know, too, from our sister cities around the country that they too are experiencing high demand for the vaccine and scarcity of vaccine. So we will continue to advocate for more doses so that we can protect more people in Washington more quickly.” Bowser added that the city would be “working with the Biden administration to figure out how we can get doses.” Nationwide, cities and counties have been struggling to come up with effective vaccine distribution plans because they say shipments from the federal government have been unpredictable and fluctuate from week to week. As of Jan. 16, Bowser said the city had received 62,200 doses. So far, 41,053 of those have been administered. D.C. Health director LaQuandra Nesbitt said the gap between doses received and doses distributed was not a sign that doses were being wasted. “It has nothing to do with the doses not actually being administered,” she said. “It has more to do with scheduling and a data reporting lag.” Nesbitt said providers are averaging about a 72-hour lag between administering a dose and reporting it to D.C. Health. She was unable to provide data on vaccine wastage, but said that officials were working to get the data and make it publicly available. The Washington Post reported Thursday that D.C. could open up vaccine access to a much broader swath of the population with chronic conditions, including people who have a body mass index over 25, as soon as February. That means more than half of adults in D.C. would be eligible for the vaccine. Some say that could boost access to the vaccine in D.C.’s poorest wards because obesity is more prevalent in those communities, but others worry that so many residents would be eligible that the rollout could exacerbate the inequities that have surfaced so far in the city’s registration process.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan wants all public school districts to open for some in-person learning by March 1. “A growing consensus has emerged, both here in Maryland and across the country, that there is no public health reason for county school boards to keep students out of schools,” Hogan said during a press conference Thursday. He and the state’s departments of health and education say school districts should consider one of two options for in-person learning. The first would be daily in-person learning for students who have disabilities, special learning needs, difficulties learning remotely or are in career or technology paths. The second option would include in-person learning for “those with unique educational needs” and phased hybrid learning for elementary students with remote learning for secondary students. In all cases, parents would still have the option to keep their children at home for remote learning during the pandemic. Hogan can’t require public schools to reopen. But he said if schools choose not to comply, “we will explore every legal avenue at our disposal.” Montgomery and Prince George’s county schools are among those that have yet to reopen for in-person learning. “Our children simply cannot afford anymore endless roadblocks or moving of the goal posts,” the governor said. Hogan and State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon noted that failing grades throughout the state were much higher during the pandemic than in previous years. They added that there has been a disproportionate impact on students of color, students with disabilities and students from low-income families. “It is estimated that by the end of this upcoming school year, the cumulative learning loss for students could equate to five to nine months on average with the losses disproportionately impacting students of color and low-income students,” Salmon said in a https://governor.maryland.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Governor-Letter-to-MSEA-President-Bost.pdf letter to the state’s teachers union. Dr. Jinlene Chan, Maryland’s acting deputy secretary for public health, said that studies show the virus’ spread within schools is relatively low if schools abide by proper mitigation and safety measures. “There is also some evidence that children younger than 10 are less likely to spread the virus,” Chan said. She added that reopening schools should not depend on COVID-19 vaccine accessibility. She also cited the American Academy of Pediatrics’ President Lee Savio Beers, who said earlier this month that “children absolutely need to return to in-school learning for their healthy development and well-being, and so safety in schools and in the community must be a priority.” The departments of health and education have provided guidance for schools to reopen safely. Epidemiologists with the health department have also created a dashboard of COVID-19 outbreaks associated with schools. Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson wrote in a letter to parents Wednesday that increased vaccination efforts mean students could return to classrooms in the spring. The county has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the state. Montgomery County’s Board of Education voted earlier this month to delay bringing small groups of students back for in-person learning until March 15.
President Joe Biden signed 10 executive orders at the White House on Thursday as part of his national strategy to combat COVID-19, warning that the pandemic is certain to get worse. “Above all our plan is to restore public trust,” Biden said at the White House, appearing alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Dr. Anthony Fauci, who will play a more public role as the new administration embarks on its pandemic response effort. “Let me be very clear, things are going to continue to get worse before they get better. The memorial we held two nights ago will not be our last one unfortunately,” the president said, referring to a pre-inauguration memorial service at the Lincoln Memorial. Biden promised his administration’s approach, laid out in a 198-page plan, matches the gravity of the moment, calling it a war-time undertaking. “The cases will continue to mount, we didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it’s going to take months for us to turn things around,” Biden said. “But let me be equally clear, we will get through this, we will defeat this pandemic, and to a nation waiting for action, let me be the clearest on this point: Help is on the way.” Under the “National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness,” the administration aims to greatly expand testing, reopen the majority of K-8 schools in the next 100 days and administer 100 million vaccine doses by the end of April. “The brutal truth is, it’s going to take months before we can get the majority of Americans vaccinated,” Biden reiterated Thursday. Biden said he will use the Defense Production Act (DPA) to speed vaccine and PPE production and reduce supply-chain log jams. The administration is directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to create a liaison for each state to speed up the vaccination process. The administration will also establish a coronavirus testing board. To increase vaccine availability, the administration plans to erect vaccine centers at stadiums and community centers and mobilize federal personnel to help administer shots. Vaccine doses will no longer be held back by the government, except for a small strategic reserve. The executive orders signed Thursday direct agencies to address vaccine and PPE supply shortfalls using all authorities including DPA; direct OSHA to publish worker safety guidelines; establish a coronavirus testing board; direct government scientists to identify new treatments for COVID-19; direct the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide clear guidance on safe school reopening; direct agencies to expand data collection and reporting capacity; establish a health equity taskforce that focuses on racial/geographic health disparities; enhance the collection, sharing and analysis of COVID data including metrics by race and ethnicity; require mask wearing on planes, trains and other forms of public transportation; and bolster clinical care facilities and long term care facilities. Two presidential memos provide reimbursement to schools for PPE through FEMA relief fund; and direct FEMA to increase state reimbursement for National Guard from 75% to 100%.
Only three states are faring worse in an aviation rebound as Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, according to new security screening data. In December, the year-over-year passenger count at the airport was down 74.3% from December 2019, according to figures from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration as reported by Airlines for America, an airline trade organization. The analysis puts Reagan National, but not Washington Dulles International Airport or Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, into D.C. for purposes of a state-by-state analysis of December’s transportation situation. Dulles is included with Virginia, where passenger totals at commercial airports were down 59.2% from a year before, while BWI is included with Maryland, which was down 64.2% from a year before. Of the three airports, National has been most impacted by the COVID turndown, even though Dulles relies on international flights, many of which are not currently operating, for about a third of passengers. BWI fared better than either of the Northern Virginia airports, because it is geared more toward leisure travel and because its main operator, Southwest Airlines, operates mostly domestic flights. Nationally, the largest year-over-year drop in reported TSA-screenings came in Vermont, which were down 82.8% in December. Other states with the largest declines include Hawaii, down 75.9%; New York, down 74.8%; California, down 73.5%; and New Mexico, down 73.4%. Also down more than 70% are Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut, which like most of the others at the top of the rankings are jurisdictions with heavier lockdowns than the rest of the nation. Most of the rest of the country saw declines of between 50%-70%, although a few with smaller drops include Wyoming, down just 27.8% from a year earlier; Montana, down 45.3%; Idaho, down 48%; and South Dakota, down 48.2%. Among Gulf Coast states, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas were all down less than 60%, while Louisiana was down 62.8%. Because figures from TSA are reported daily, they can be reported more quickly than data supplied by individual airports and airport-operating authorities. December’s passenger totals from the area’s three airports are likely to be reported by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and Maryland state government in early February. The U.S. aviation industry was coming off a record year of nearly 927 million enplanements in 2019 only to see itself demolished by the COVID-19 crisis. Ordinarily handling several million passengers a day, the nation’s airports bottomed out at 87,534 nationally on April 14 before beginning a long return. As the airline industry tries to get back on its feet, every bump up in passengers so far has been followed by an increase in cases and a pullback in travel. Recently, passenger counts nationally have been down 60%-65% compared to a year earlier. The count of 1,327,289 passengers going through TSA checkpoints on Jan. 3 was the highest since March 15, although numbers have since receded, as January isn’t a big month for leisure travel.
Just hours after being sworn in on Wednesday, President Joe Biden signed 16 executive actions in the Oval Office including two related to the coronavirus pandemic. Biden wore a mask while seated behind the Resolute Desk with a stack of orders early Wednesday evening including those halting funding for the construction of former President Donald Trump’s boarder wall and his travel ban targeting largely Muslim countries, and halting the U.S. withdrawal from the World Health Organization. Dr. Anthony Fauci will head the WHO delegation. Biden said there was “no time to start like today. I’m going to start by keeping the promises I made to the American people.” The first order Biden signed was related to the pandemic. The new president is requiring the use of masks and social distancing in all federal buildings, on federal lands and by federal employees and contractors, a break in approach in dealing with the pandemic from Trump, who repeatedly downplayed the virus. Biden also installed a coronavirus response coordinator to oversee the White House’s efforts to distribute vaccines and medical supplies. Consistently masking up is a practice that science has shown to be effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, particularly when social distancing is difficult to maintain. He is challenging all Americans to wear a mask for the first 100 days of his administration. That is a critical period, since communities will still be vulnerable to the virus even as the pace of vaccination increases in pursuit of Biden’s goal of 100 million shots in 100 days. Others extended the existing nationwide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until at least March 31 and extended the existing pause on student loan payments and interest for Americans with federal student loans until at least Sept. 30.
More than 2,000 additional appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations will be made available for D.C. residents who are at higher risk of coronavirus infection starting this morning. At 9 a.m. today, “2,235 additional vaccination appointments will be made available for city residents who are 65 years of age and older and/or healthcare workers and who live in priority ZIP codes,” D.C. Health said in an announcement. Priority ZIP codes are in areas of the city that have been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic, mostly in Wards 1, 4, 5, 7 and 8. The high priority ZIP codes include 20001, 20002, 20009, 20010, 20011, 20012, 20015, 20017, 20018, 20019, 20020, 20030, 20032, 20039, 20040, 20056, 20059, 20060, 20064, 20223, 20242, 20260, 20306, 20317, 20340, 20373, 20375, 20422, 20441, 20509, 20542 and 20593. D.C. Health said residents should sign up for an appointment quickly because demand is very high. Appointments can be secured online, or residents can schedule one by calling 855-363-0333 after 9 a.m. today. On Friday, 740 more appointments will be made available to D.C. residents age 65 and older, or who work in a healthcare setting in the city. D.C. said demand for the vaccines is much higher than the supply currently being made available from the federal government.
D.C.’s ban on indoor dining ban will end at 5 a.m. Friday morning. Restaurants will be able to return to 25% of their regular capacity inside, according to a tweet Wednesday from John Falcicchio, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s chief of staff. A “holiday pause” on indoor dining went into effect Dec. 23 as part of a series of steps to try to flatten the curve of rapidly-rising coronavirus cases in the city. The order was originally set to expire Jan. 15, but Bowser extended it as an “inaugural pause” for an additional week citing public health and safety concerns following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol and leading up to Wednesday’s presidential inauguration. With restaurants reopening for indoor dining, Restaurant Week will begin Jan. 25. It was rescheduled after the indoor dining ban was extended. Museums and libraries were also ordered to close for indoor visitors under the same Dec. 23 executive order, and the D.C. Circulator route around the National Mall was temporarily suspended in an effort to discourage visitors, who might have become rioters. Those closures also expire on Friday. Some museums may not reopen immediately, however: The Smithsonian closed the National Zoo and its museums a month before the December order, and has not set a reopening date. Although city officials are lifting the indoor dining ban, the pandemic continues to rage in D.C. Last week, D.C. recorded its highest number of new cases yet — 45.9 per 100,000 people. The city’s new cases have fallen over the past week, but it is still higher than the peak of the first surge last spring. City hospitals are at just more than 80% of capacity, down from a high of 89% earlier this month, according to D.C. Health data. Though the city is now moving to vaccinate adults 65 years and older, as well as first responders and healthcare workers, vaccination rollout has been rocky across the city. Some have also questioned the equity of the vaccine rollout across the city after five wards saw the fewest sign-ups during the initial release of appointments last week. Reopening restaurants amid the current coronavirus picture is worrying some locals. But the D.C. restaurant industry, especially downtown, has been hit hard by the pandemic with people working from home and this week, by the security perimeter. “Those businesses in the central business district were really being impacted by the pandemic. And so to have this additional burden on them is really going to be troublesome for those businesses,” Falcicchio said earlier this week. He pledged outreach to businesses downtown struggling in the wake of the pandemic and the closures.
Prince George’s County Public Schools released specifics on COVID-19 metrics that could possibly trigger the transition toward in-person learning sometime this spring. “While some aspects will undoubtedly change over time, we will do our best to deliver timely updates,” PGCPS CEO Monica Goldson said in a letter Wednesday to the school community. COVID-19 vaccinations of teachers and staff are tentatively set to begin Feb. 1 through a partnership with Kaiser Permanente, and Goldson said that makes her “more optimistic” about the possibility of reopening classrooms. Among the factors being considered are the percentage of positive COVID-19 cases in the county, the number of daily new cases and the average daily case rate based on population. “Specifically, we would consider moving to in-person instruction when the percent of positive cases falls between 5% and 8% with fewer than 91 daily new cases and an average daily case rate between 5% and 10%,” Goldson said. Meeting those goals would require big changes. On Tuesday, based on 14-day averages, there were 468 new cases, a positivity rate of 10.5% and a daily case rate of 51.4 per 100,000 residents. Because the county’s COVID-19 situation is so fluid and case rates so high, no specific date has been identified. Goldson said an in-person return would start with small groups of specific students, such as those in special education, those learning English or in specifically targeted grades, using a hybrid model. Families would have the option of finishing the school year under the hybrid option or distance learning. She said school officials with reassess reopening plans in mid-February.
Montgomery County Council Member Hans Riemer pushed county officials to begin vaccinating older adults, who are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines under state guidelines. But county health officials say they are still vaccinating thousands of healthcare workers, and the state isn’t providing enough vaccine doses to begin putting shots in the arms of people 75 and older in large numbers any time soon. Under Phase 1B of Maryland’s coronavirus vaccination plan, older residents were eligible to receive the vaccines beginning Monday. Other jurisdictions, including neighboring Prince George’s County, are moving ahead with vaccines for older residents. Speaking during a Montgomery County Council hearing Tuesday, Riemer pushed for expanding vaccinations under the state guidelines. But Earl Stoddard, the director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said the county still has 15,000-20,000 healthcare workers, such as dentists and pharmacists, to be vaccinated. “If we’re going to vaccinate 75-year-olds this week, it will be basically … taking doses away from the healthcare workers and giving them to the 75-and-older population,” Stoddard told council members. “Those are the kinds of choices we will have to make.” Overall, the supply of COVID-19 vaccines provided by Maryland is extremely limited. The county’s allotment for this week totaled just 7,300 first doses of the vaccine, officials told council members. Demand, on the other hand, is sky-high. As a first step in moving toward Phase 1B vaccinations, Montgomery County can preregister for the next phase of vaccinations. As of Monday, some 53,000 people had preregistered for Phase 1B vaccinations, Dr. Raymond Crowel, director of the Montgomery County Health and Human Services Department, said. Still, Riemer pushed for seniors to begin to be able to make vaccine appointments, even if they are weeks into the future. “There’s so much anxiety out there because older people are hearing that they can get vaccinated in Virginia, they can get vaccinated in D.C., they can get vaccinated in Prince George’s County,” Riemer said. “But they can’t get vaccinated in Montgomery County, and that is untenable. We have to be able to offer that.” But health officials said they are exhausting their supply of vaccines provided by the state each week and there aren’t any leftover doses sitting on shelves. In fact, the county is leading the state in vaccine administered. Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said Montgomery County is consistently distributing all the vaccine doses it gets from the state each week. “We’ve pushed out all of the vaccine … We don’t have any left,” he said. Officials said the governor’s announcement last week to move into Phase 1B this week and 1C next week “created a massive expectation that there’s something available to people that there is not,” Stoddard said, pointing to the limited supplies. Montgomery County officials said they are working on ways to expand supply, including leveraging doses from hospitals, which receive their doses directly from the federal government, for public use, or to vaccinate other types of healthcare workers who are still waiting on shots. During the hearing Tuesday, council members questioned how the state distributes the vaccines it receives from the federal government to the various counties. “I’m trying to figure out how the state is fairly and equitably distributing the short supply of vaccines that we have and why here in Montgomery County, with a population of nearly 1.1 million people, our residents are not receiving more,” Council Member Evan Glass said. But, he added, “We are at the mercy of the state, and the state is at the mercy of the federal government.” Overall, the limited supply also risks delaying the county’s move to further tiers of Phase 1B, such as teachers, as well as Phase 1C, which includes people age 65 and older. Under state guidelines, Phase 1C is set to begin Jan. 25. Overall, the state receives about 72,000 vaccine doses weekly from the federal government, which is then parceled out to the counties. Montgomery County estimates there are between 100,000-140,000 residents in Phase 1B, which has yet to get underway. “So, if the state of Maryland gave us every single dose the state received, it would take us at least two weeks to vaccinate all of what’s in 1B before we could move on to 1C,” Stoddard said.
Prince William County Public Schools officials have secured more than 3,000 COVID-19 vaccines from the Novant UVA Health System for teachers and staff. PWCS has been working with the Prince William Health District, INOVA Health and Novant to obtain vaccines amid the supply shortage. Late last Friday, school officials were notified of 100 available vaccinations at INOVA Fairfax Hospital. Last Saturday and Sunday, the vaccinations were administered to Tier 1 employees who have been working in-person, the district said Tuesday. Tier 1 employees are those with documented underlying medical conditions that place them at high risk according to the CDC if they were to contract COVID-19. School Board Chairman Babur Lateef posted on his Facebook page Tuesday night that Novant UVA “has created the capacity for us to vaccinate 3000+ of our staff over the next two weekends. This is an incredible effort made by the medical staff at NOVANT/UVA. Our school nurses will be a critical part of the team that will make this happen.” The school pandemic team is working with Novant UVA to vaccinate 750 Tier 1 employees this weekend and 2,400 staff members the following weekend. The district has nearly 12,000 teachers and staff. Lateef said the pandemic team, Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair Ann Wheeler and state Sen. Chap Peterson from Fairfax, have worked “around the clock” to accelerate vaccinations for school staff. “The PWCS Pandemic Team led by Associate Superintendent Denise Huebner was instrumental in making this happen with hours and hours of dedicated effort. She was aided by our communications team led by Matt Guilfoyle and Diana Giulotta,” Lateef wrote. “It SHOULD NOT be this hard. But with limited supplies and resources and the county health district stretched thin everyone has chipped in.” The news of more vaccines came as the Prince William Education Association, which represents county teachers, launched a daylong “Twitter Storm” on Tuesday calling for a return to remote-only learning until teachers are vaccinated. “PWEA calls on @PWCSNews and SB to communicate a transparent and achievable plan to vaccinate our school staff NOW!” the association tweeted to kick off the campaign. “PWC SB has the most aggressive in-person learning plan with the slowest vaccine rollout. #WhereIsOurVaccine.” As the health district partners make vaccines available, the school division will register the remaining teachers and staff in Prince William County starting Jan. 28, with vaccines beginning Jan. 30.
Prince George’s County will “reset” all COVID-19 vaccination appointments scheduled for after Feb. 9 and require applicants to preregister on the county’s website. The move comes as people from Montgomery County and neighboring jurisdictions cross into Prince George’s County to get their vaccinations. “We intend to make sure [vaccine distribution] is equitable,” County Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter said during a press conference Tuesday. “We want people who are living here and working here to get their vaccinations here,” County Executive Angela Alsobrooks added. The change only applies to first doses of the two-dose vaccines; the county will honor the second-shot appointment of anyone who has already had a first dose. Carter estimated between 30%-50% of those who have gotten vaccination doses in Prince George’s County don’t live in the county, although he was quick to add that some portion of that percentage included people who work in the county, including first responders. Although some crossover is “unavoidable,” Carter said, registering on the site will “give us the information we need to … make sure people are in the proper categories.” Both officials said that all residents should fill out the preregistration form, even if your phase doesn’t qualify yet, so that you can get information on when your place in the line comes up. Alsobrooks cautioned that Internet Explorer is not compatible with the state site. Alsobrooks and Carter also said the county would enter Phase 1C of vaccination appointments on Monday. That includes teachers, people ages 65-74, essential workers, transit workers and grocery store workers. While there were about 25,000 people in Phase 1A and 95,000 in Phase 1B, there are about 150,000 residents in Phase 1C, Alsobrooks said. The vaccine expansion comes as coronavirus numbers continue at historically high rates. Over the past few months, Alsobrooks said, “COVID-19 numbers in Prince George’s County have increased greatly. It is rampant … it’s spreading.” As of Tuesday morning, the county reported 63,316 total cases, with 6,479 current hospitalizations and 1,144 deaths, Alsobrooks said. The positivity rate is more than 10% — double the statewide target — while the infection rate is still over 1, and half the ICU beds in the county are taken by COVID-19 patients, Carter said. “COVID-19 is still ravaging our community,” he said. Both he and Alsobrooks repeated the warnings to use “the weapons that we know stop the spread,” mask wearing, keeping physical distance and avoiding travel and unnecessary gatherings. Both Alsobrooks and Carter have received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and received their second doses Tuesday. Prince George’s County has the smallest percentage of people vaccinated in the state, but Carter said that will change “rapidly,” adding, “You’re going to see us soar.” Once more people know someone who has been immunized, the doctor said, more people will be willing to get the shot. Alsobrooks said a new “mass vaccination” site would be opened in the southern section of the county as early as next week and said the main site at the Sports and Learning Center would be closed Tuesday and Wednesday as emergency management officials and staff work on the inauguration.
Beginning Monday, teachers and staff at public and charter schools in D.C. may start receiving COVID-19 vaccines, marking the next step in the city’s vaccination plan. Through a partnership with Children’s National Hospital, the city and D.C. Public Schools will be coordinating vaccinations for all DCPS staff currently working in-person or who will return in-person for the start of the third term on Jan. 29. According to a press release from D.C. Health on Tuesday, staff will receive emails explaining how to schedule an appointment. They will be booked through Children’s National, not the city’s vaccination portal, and given at Dunbar High School beginning Jan. 25. D.C. public charter school in-person staff will be contacted by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to book appointments starting Jan. 25. Metropolitan Police Department offices will also get vaccinations beginning Monday, according to D.C. Health. The city is currently vaccinating healthcare workers, residents and staff in long-term care facilities, and residents 65 and older. Groups still to be vaccinated in the city’s Phase 1B include grocery store employees, childcare providers and adults between ages 19-64 that have a high risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19. The move comes amid concern from local educators that they will be returning to classrooms without both doses of the vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech both require two doses, weeks apart, for highest efficacy. D.C. teachers and staff have advocated for a higher prioritization in the city’s vaccination plan and pushed for a delayed start to in-person learning until employees can be fully vaccinated. As of Jan. 15, a total of 73 in-person staff have tested positive, according to D.C. Health’s public school data. D.C. Health also announced Tuesday that going forward, vaccine appointments for residents over 65 and healthcare workers in “priority zip codes” will become available at 9 a.m. every Thursday on the city’s vaccination portal, with any remaining slots opening to eligible residents across all eight wards on Friday — a response to critiques of an inequitable distribution benefitting the city’s wealthier wards. “If D.C.’s weekly vaccine allotment from the federal government changes, this schedule is likely to change in accordance,” the health department said. “The District’s goal is [to] make the vaccine available as promptly as supply comes in from the federal government, and to ensure an equitable distribution of the vaccine across all eight wards.” When the first round of appointments opened for residents 65 and older on Jan. 11, the rollout was riddled with technical glitches. All 6,700 doses allotted for the week were gone within hours — with Ward 3 residents — the ward with the lowest number of COVID-19 cases — nabbing the most appointments at 2,465, compared to only 94 in Ward 8. After a meeting with D.C. councilmembers who advocated for a more equitable vaccination distribution to low-income and primarily Black wards, the city opened an additional 4,309 appointments on Saturday to residents in 1,4,5,7 and 8. With demand for vaccines outpacing allotment, officials are continuing to push for more doses from the federal government. “Put bluntly: D.C. NEEDS MORE VACCINE,” the release said.
The Prince William Health District opened its first COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Tuesday as new cases of the virus continued to soar both regionally and statewide. A small group of residents were in line when the clinic at George Mason University’s Manassas campus opened. The clinic has capacity to administer 540 vaccinations a day by appointment to Virginians age 65 and older or those who are younger and have co-morbidities. The health district said Sunday that all appointments at the clinic are filled through Feb. 15, and it is not making any additional appointments due to an anticipated shortage of vaccines. It is, however, placing eligible residents on a wait list. Volunteers were on hand Tuesday morning to guide vaccine recipients to parking near Beacon Hall on GMU’s campus. After receiving a health screening from a volunteer with the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps, recipients entered the center to check in. The wait was only about 15 minutes. After receiving the vaccination, recipients had to wait in an adjacent room for 15-20 minutes to ensure they had no adverse reactions to the vaccine. Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Health reported another 11,700 new cases of COVID-19 the past two days — 7,245 on Monday and 4,256 on Tuesday. That followed more than 6,700 cases on Saturday and 9,900 on Sunday, making Saturday, Sunday and Monday the three worst dates since the pandemic began. The state’s seven-day average of new cases stands at 6,161.3, down a few from Monday’s peak of 6,166.3. In Northern Virginia, 1,006 new cases were reported Tuesday, following 1,854 on Monday. The region reported a record 3,678 on Sunday. The region’s seven-day average stands at 1,619.1, also down slightly from Monday’s peak, 1,628.4. As of Tuesday morning, the health department’s vaccine dashboard showed that the state received 943,400 doses of the vaccine and administered 341,388. Nearly 37,000 Virginians have received the two doses required for the vaccines to be fully effective, while another 267,000 have received at least one dose. Deaths related to COVID-19 continue to remain high statewide, with 59 reported Tuesday and 10 on Monday. In Northern Virginia, eight new deaths were reported Tuesday with none on Monday. Two deaths were reported in both Loudoun and Prince William counties and one each in Arlington and Fairfax counties and the cities of Alexandria and Manassas.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan unveiled his new proposed budget Tuesday, which includes both pandemic relief and education as the next fiscal year’s top priorities. At a news conference Tuesday, Hogan said “The Relief Act of 2021” will provide more than $1 billion in immediate, targeted emergency tax cuts and financial relief for families and small businesses. It includes rebates to nearly 400,000 Marylanders who receive the low-income tax credit, and it repeals the income tax on unemployment benefits. It would also give immediate sales tax credits of up to $12,000 to thousands of small businesses, “enabling them to keep more money in their pockets, to keep their businesses open and keep more people on the payroll.” Hogan also plans to reduce retirement taxes through more than $1 billion in cuts. “Even though we’re one of the best places to live in America, and we have so many great things going for us, we’re losing many of our best citizens. People who have been lifelong Marylanders and have contributed so much and still have more to offer are moving to other states for one reason: our state’s sky-high retirement taxes,” Hogan said. Another top budget priority is education, and the planned allocation of $7.5 billion eclipses the legislature’s formula for full funding by $213 million, according to Hogan. “I’ve always believed that every single child in Maryland deserves a world-class education regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in,” he said. “This is especially important now when we are working to address the learning loss caused by the disruption of the pandemic.” An additional $151 million would go toward tutoring grants for students who have fallen behind over the past year. Infrastructure would also see additional funding, with $1 billion for road construction and another $1 billion for mass transit projects. “We are moving forward on nearly all of the highest priority infrastructure projects in every single jurisdiction all across our state,” Hogan said, “including the transformative Howard Street Tunnel project, which will dramatically increase the revenue at the Port of Baltimore and create tens of thousands of Maryland jobs. “It’s one of the most impactful economic development job-creating projects in state history.” Other projects that will be funded through his budget include fully funding Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts; $43 million for renewable-energy programs; $74.6 million in police aid to local governments; and a record $978 million for mental health and substance abuse programs to help combat the opioid epidemic and other mental disorders. “If you told me last spring — when we faced the prospect of a near-fiscal Armageddon — that we would be able to introduce a budget that provides a billion in immediate tax and stimulus relief for struggling families and small businesses; that makes record investments in education, public health and other key priorities; and which is structurally balanced without any tax increases, furloughs or cuts to services, I would not have believed that it was possible,” Hogan said. “But that is exactly what we have been able to accomplish with this [fiscal year] 2022 budget.” His budget will be sent to the General Assembly today for review.
Older residents in Virginia are finding it hard to get in a virtual line for COVID-19 vaccinations because health systems are overloaded or experiencing technical issues. Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun counties are having difficulties taking appointments for those interested in getting vaccinated after the ages for eligibility expanded. Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday opened registration to those age 65 and older. Previously, the state was only allowing healthcare workers and those age 75 and older to get vaccinated. According to the Arlington County Health Department, the county’s system is not able to send confirmation emails to anyone with a Verizon or AOL email account. In a confirmation email sent to a resident after talking to a representative, “Please note we are aware that there may be issues with email accounts from @aol.com and @verizon.net receiving a copy of the form through email at this time. If you have an email account with these providers, you may not receive the email confirmation — you are still pre-registered.” In Fairfax County, the vaccine registration website crashed about 9:15 a.m. after the county opened registration to those 65 and older and high-risk residents. :We are having technical difficulty with our registration system,” the county reported on its website. “Please be patient as we work to fix this problem.” Meanwhile, hundreds have taken aim at the Virginia Hospital Center on social media, asking why its website does not allow patients younger than 75 to register for a vaccination appointment despite Northam’s order. The hospital said it doesn’t have the vaccine supply to meet the demand. “We have received no confirmation from the state on future vaccine supplies, but should we receive additional vaccines we plan to open up additional appointments,” said Maryanne Boster of the Virginia Hospital Center in an email. “Virginia Hospital Center does not currently offer a waitlist and our system only sends confirmations to those individuals who have scheduled an appointment. We encourage people to check the website frequently for updates and appointment availability.” Also citing low vaccine reserves, the Loudoun County Health Department is not currently taking any vaccination appointments for eligible patients. It is asking patients to take a pre-screening survey, which will make the county aware of their interest in a vaccine when they are available.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan received his first Moderna COVID-19 vaccine dose at the statehouse in Annapolis on Monday morning. Hogan was joined by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, First Lady Yumi Hogan, Second Lady Monica Rutherford and acting Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Jinlene Chan. “I did not even feel the needle go in,” Hogan said. “I feel I could drop and give 100 pushups,” he joked after receiving the shot. “We’re all looking forward to the day when we can take off and throw away our masks, when we can get all of our children back into school, and when we can go out for a big celebration at our favorite crowded restaurant or bar with all of our family and friends. The only way that we’re going to return to a sense of normalcy is by these COVID-19 vaccines,” Hogan said. He said that, as of Monday, Maryland has administered more than 255,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine. “We’re administering doses at a faster pace than we are currently receiving them from the federal government,” he said. Hogan said he understands the frustration people are feeling about the vaccine rollout not moving fast enough. “We need 12 million doses. We have 500,000. This is a brand new thing. It’s the largest peacetime undertaking ever in America. So it’s going to take a while to ramp up. This is happening all across the country. It’s not going to happen overnight. We were supposed to move into Phase 1B and C in March. We’re moving in January. So we’re ahead of schedule.” Residents who are 75 or older can get vaccinated as of yesterday, as can teachers and school staff, childcare providers, residents of assisted living facilities and others in high-risk groups. Next week, the list of those eligible for a vaccine is expected to expand to include people over 65 and workers in critical sectors, including grocery, transit and agriculture.
The National Aquarium at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor reopened Monday after being shuttered by the Baltimore City Health Department Sunday for violating social distancing guidelines. “The National Aquarium has reopened after taking additional measures to improve social distancing within our buildings. We will continue to work closely with the health department and the city. The safety of our guests, staff and animals remains our top priority,” aquarium officials said in statement Monday morning. Capacity for retail, attractions and museums, which includes the aquarium, is capped at 25% in Baltimore City. On Sunday, Adam Abadir, director of communications for the city health department, said, “The Baltimore City Health Department has temporarily closed the National Aquarium this afternoon following a health inspection, after issuing warnings to the aquarium for failing to address overcrowding or to maintain social distancing at some of their exhibits. No citations or fines are associated with the closure. Our teams are working with the National Aquarium’s leadership and are reviewing their COVID-19 reopening plans, to resolve these health and safety concerns as quickly as possible.”
With less than 48 hours left in his presidency, President Donald Trump late Monday lifted COVID-19-related travel restrictions as of Jan. 26 that he placed on foreign nationals coming from much of Europe and Brazil. Travel restrictions will continue for most coming from China and Iran. But President-elect Joe Biden’s spokesperson Jen Psaki tweeted Monday that the new administration does not intend to lift the travel conditions on Jan. 26. “With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” Psaki wrote. Trump cited coordination with U.S. officials and transparency as the justification for lifting travel restrictions on Europe and Brazil. The president’s proclamation said that “unrestricted entry into the United States of persons who have been physically present in the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom (excluding overseas territories outside of Europe), the Republic of Ireland and the Federative Republic of Brazil is no longer detrimental to the interests of the United States and find that it is in the interest of the United States to terminate the suspension of entry into the United States of persons who have been physically present in those jurisdictions.” Trump restricted travel coming from China in late January 2020 and restricted travel coming from Europe in March 2020. Now, many countries restrict travelers from the U.S. due to high infection rates. The U.S. has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world and the highest death toll.
The Prince William Health District has filled all available COVID-19 vaccine appointments through Feb. 15 and is not scheduling any more appointments because it will not receive enough vaccine doses from the federal government, according to a memo to local elected leaders. The memo, sent Saturday, states that the health district still plans to begin vaccines on Tuesday at Beacon Hall at George Mason University’s Manassas campus, as it announced last week. At that time, the health district said it had capacity for about 540 appointments a day and that the clinic would operate Mondays through Saturdays. The health district includes the county as well as the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. However, health district officials told the local officials that it was notified Friday that its order for more vaccines from the federal government would not be filled at this time. “In addition, the health district and other community vaccination sites were notified that their order of vaccines for the upcoming week will not be completely filled,” the memo said. “This is extremely disappointing and concerning for everyone involved.” A health district spokesperson said last week that in just the first two days more than 5,500 Prince William County residents registered online for the vaccinations when the registration form opened Monday for residents age 75 and older. Later in the week, according to guidance from Gov. Ralph Northam, eligibility was expanded to include anyone age 65 and older as well as residents under the age of 65 with co-morbidity conditions. At 540 appointments a day, the health district will be able to administer about 10,800 doses between Jan. 19-Feb. 15. The vaccines require two doses – administered three or four weeks apart to be fully effective, so it would need another 10,800 doses just to fully vaccinate those recipients. The health district said that as of Saturday morning, the number of eligible recipients in the current scheduling system currently exceeds the number of appointments, so no additional invitations to create an account are being sent until its supply of vaccines increases. Prince William County’s emergency operations center helped the health district establish a new wait list application, according to the memo. The new form is available online. The form asks residents a series of questions that determine their eligibility; if they meet the criteria, they will be added to the wait list and contacted in the order in which they signed up once appointments become available, the health district said. “Due to limited vaccine availability from the federal government, it will likely be weeks before they are contacted to schedule an available appointment,” the memo stated. “If the health district receives additional vaccines, then this timeframe will change.” Residents who do not have access to a computer, the internet, or email may contact the Prince William Health District call center at 703-872-7759 to be added to this wait list by phone. The call center does not have the capability to take requests or make appointments, as call center agents are only able to enter information into the form. At the request of the health district, the county’s Emergency Operations Center worked with them to relocate the center to a larger facility and are reassigning county staff to assist callers, according to the memo. Starting Tuesday, the call center will operate seven days a week from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. The state is also moving to a new vaccine registration management system called PrepMod, which health district director Dr. Alison Ansher said should allow for more efficiency for the health district, as well as residents. Appointments for vaccinations after Feb. 15 are expected to be scheduled through the PrepMod system. According to the Virginia Department of Health’s vaccine dashboard, more than 9,000 residents of the Prince William Health District have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 1,204 have received both doses. Statewide, 316,000 doses have been administered of 943,000 that have been distributed.
More than seven in 10 Virginians are likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a statewide poll by the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University conducted Dec. 11-13. The VCU poll, which included 827 adults, showed there are demographic disparities to vaccine receptiveness. Poll results showed more people are receptive to getting vaccinated now compared to a September poll, but there were higher number jumps for whites, up 14%, versus minorities, which was up 8%. Other findings of people likely to get vaccinated include 80% have a college degree and 82% have a family income of more than $100,000. In Northern Virginia, 87% said they were likely to get a COVID-19 vaccination compared to 74% in the South Central region, 68% in the Tidewater region and 53% in both the Northwest and West regions. The study also found that 64% of Virginians support having a federal mask mandates with 93% of Democrats supporting one and 77% of minorities. “There is a clear disconnect between what the people want relative to vaccination administration and the vaccine implementation plan provided by Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration to day,” said former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. Other findings include 54% of Virginians think it’s safe to send children and personnel back to into classroom this winter. That is a 12% increase from September 2020. Men were more likely than women to think it is safe — 62% versus 48% — and whites were more likely than minorities — 64% versus 37%. Republicans were most likely to think it is safe with 78% compared to 57% of independents and 28% of Democrats. There were regional differences with 67% of the Northwest and 64% of the West regions thinking it was more safe. Northern Virginia and the South Central region were less likely to say it was very or somewhat safe with 51% and 54%, respectively. Tidewater was the least likely with 45%. Virginians are most concerned with employment and health care being impacted by the pandemic, with 34% and 33% noting those as the greatest concern. One-quarter said education was the greatest concern and 5% said housing. Seven in 10 residents think broadband internet access needs to be expanded and available to all Virginians. Nineteen percent of Virginians report receiving financial assistance from the state related to the coronavirus pandemic, such as the Paycheck Protection Program or unemployment benefits.