PG County Promises Better Vaccine Effort
COVID-19 Cases Reach 956,356 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 38,796 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 979 deaths; there have been 370,136 cases in Maryland with 7,356 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 547,424 cases with 6,996 deaths Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks on Saturday promised improvements to the county’s COVID-19 vaccine program this coming week. Alsbrooks held an hour-long telephone town hall to update Prince Georgians on the vaccination process and explain that county residents will see progress soon, beginning with the registration process. “The state registration site is very, very difficult to navigate and has created tremendous problems for all of us,” Alsobrooks said, calling it a disaster. “Right now, our office of information technology is working with our health department to build a more functional and user-friendly site for appointments,” she said. “It’ll take us a little while to build that site” but in between, the county will uses the county health department’s electronic records system to do more. With about 125,000 people pre-registered for the vaccine, Alsobrooks warned it is going to take time to get everyone scheduled. Even with more doses expected in the coming weeks — about 4,200 per week — it is going to take time. But the switch to county-run systems will allow for appointments to be scheduled further into the future. “By the end of this next week, those on our pre-registration list who have been waiting will begin to receive their appointments,” Alsobrooks said. “We’ll be able to schedule everyone in 1A and 1B and begin scheduling individuals in 1C within a couple of weeks.” She said the county is also going to book appointments for both the first and second doses at the same time, rather than scheduling people for their second dose only after they get the first. No signup links will be used, a process that has led to some abuse as people share the link with others who aren’t yet eligible. Another common complaint among seniors, as well as those whose parents are eligible for the vaccine, is the fact that people even have to go online at all to begin the process. Not all seniors are computer savvy, and the complications referenced by Alsobrooks can make it an even more overwhelming process. “Any senior who needs assistance may dial 311, press pound, and you will be directly taken to the COVID-19 response unit for assistance,” said Euniesha Davis, who heads the county’s office of community relations.
Starting in March, D.C. will allow people to sign up to be notified when a vaccine is available to them. D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt stressed during a press conference Thursday that the new pre-registration process is not a waitlist. “A waitlist would be that individuals would come onto the system, would essentially get in line for a vaccine and based on the number of doses we have would be ensured that at a specific date or time or based on when they register would be vaccinated sequentially,” Nesbitt said. “Our process will continue to apply an equity lens … a combination of criteria, including their qualifying eligibility phase, their geography or ZIP code in which they live based on that ZIP code’s priority in the city and when they register will be used to determine when they are eligible for a vaccine appointment.” The changes are in response to intense demand for appointments for vaccinations — new slots typically fill up minutes after being released at the end of the week — and concerns that the city’s approach is not accessible or equitable. Nesbitt said the new pre-registration system will help include people who can’t log onto the internet or wait on hold for the call center at 9 a.m. every Thursday or Friday to try to get an appointment. “This newer system, when it goes live in March, will be able to be flexible and accessible for people 24 hours a day online,” she said. “And then the call center will also have hours that tend to go outside of a traditional eight-hour workday.” Communities of color, especially Black Washingtonians, have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic in D.C. Some Black residents have expressed concern over a lack of access to the vaccine. D.C. has made other changes in its vaccine rollout process with an eye to equity, setting aside health department appointment slots for ZIP codes lagging behind in sign-ups and reserving others for appointments made through the call center.
Jeff McKay, chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said CVS Pharmacy’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout has confused residents. “This announcement, with no coordination with Fairfax County and no coordination with our health department, has been very frustrating for us this week,” McKay said. CVS announced last week that 38 stores in Virginia, including one on Little River Turnpike in Annandale, would vaccinate 200 people a day. McKay said the county, which manages its own vaccination registration system, only learned of CVS’ vaccination efforts when the public did. That led to residents contacting the county with concerns about how CVS’ plans would impact the county’s efforts. “The misinformation that’s out there, and the confusion that things like this bring on because they’re not well coordinated, cause unnecessary anxiety and stress among people,” McKay said. CVS’ program and the county’s vaccination plan are separate, according to McKay. CVS spokesperson Amy Thibault said answering a request from the Virginia Department of Health, CVS opened its registration Tuesday. “Only those who were 65+ and had pre-registered with their local health department were allowed to register on Tuesday and Wednesday,” she said. Thibault added that VDH said CVS could allow anyone who qualifies to get the vaccine to register beginning on Thursday. While McKay said he doesn’t have a problem with the selection of the Annandale CVS, he does question how stores were selected and why more locations couldn’t be used. “How in a county of 1.2 million people can you have one store doing this? Who determined where that was? Why that location?” McKay asked. Thibault said locations were chosen based on population density and demographics, as well as CDC data with a goal of reaching the most in-need populations. “We also selected locations with layouts best suited for setting up vaccination clinics and the ability to safely manage social distancing within our stores,” she said. Thibault said CVS plans to add more locations once it receives more vaccine. McKay also raised concerns about not having a clear view of CVS’ vetting process for those applying for the vaccine. “We have a very sophisticated way to vet people and to make sure that, in fairness, we’re vaccinating people in the order that they come in and that we are making sure they meet the qualifications to be eligible for a vaccination at this stage of the roll out, and it’s unclear to me you know how CVS is doing that,” McKay said. But Thibault said the process begins with patients providing truthful and accurate information while setting up an appointment on the CVS website. “We reserve the right to cancel appointments if it is determined that information provided for establishing eligibility is not truthful.” she said. While McKay said he is happy CVS is vaccinating people and obtaining vaccines that don’t subtract from the county’s allotment, he would have liked for the county be a part of the conversation before the roll out. “Going rogue without communicating with the people who, on the ground, are running a vaccination system just doesn’t seem like government working well with each other, and that’s frustrating,” McKay said. He urged residents to maintain their pre-registration with the Fairfax County Health District since he said it is vaccinating 14,000 people a week. But, McKay expects some people to get in-line for both CVS and the county, to see which offers a vaccination first.
Virginia is making changes to its pre-registration process for people eligible for the coronavirus vaccine. However, Fairfax County will not use the new system. “The Fairfax Health District will not be using the new system at this time,” the county said in a press release Friday. It said residents should not sign up at the state site but keep using the county system. “We invested a lot of resources into our registration system and worked out the kinks to ensure we continue to process more people than any other health district in the state,” said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay. “At this point, I am glad we can maintain our system that residents are familiar with to cut down on confusion.” Previously, Virginia residents in other jurisdictions pre-registered with their local health department to be notified when vaccine appointments became available. Completing the form put them on the local health district’s waiting list. Then they were notified in order about when appointments were available. But starting Tuesday, Virginia will roll out a statewide registration portal. Existing local registration systems closed at 5 p.m. Friday in preparation for the new state system. In an announcement, the Virginia Department of Health said the state expects the new system “will provide a unified and comprehensive process for people in Virginia to pre-register for the COVID-19 vaccine.” Officials said people who have already registered through their local health department will not need to register again in the new system. The information from local waiting lists will be automatically transferred into the new statewide database, and officials say people won’t lose their places in line. The most major changes include a standard form for all Virginians, so they are answering the same questions bout what priority groups they belong to. The new system will also give registrants a confirmation screen and issues weekly reminders as to where individuals stand in the queue. Residents will also be able to check their status at any time. The centralized system includes a statewide call center, with 750 call-takers speaking English and Spanish, as well as third-party access to translators in 100 languages. Virginia vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula predicted this would help with questions of equity for people who don’t have easy internet access and who can’t jump onto a website first thing in the morning to get an appointment. Representatives will be able not just to take appointments but answer general questions about COVID-19, Avula said. Residents will give their address when they sign up, and their appointments will be in their local health districts. Local districts “will still curate their own lists,” he said. The phone number and web address will be provided next week.
Montgomery County Public Schools will begin fall sports practice on Feb. 27 and competition on March 19. Fall sports include bocce, cheerleading, cross country, field hockey, football, golf, pompons, soccer and girls’ volleyball. Games will only be against other teams in the county. Schools will be divided into three divisions, with two “pods” of four or fice teams per division to minimize students’ exposure to others. The school district said in a press release Friday that students must register through ParentVue by Feb. 22. “We’re ready to go. So everyone is excited: student-athletes, coaches, our parents and our communities,” said Jeffrey Sullivan, director of systemwide sports for MCPS. It may be odd to think about spring football, or any other sport traditionally played in the fall, to start practice in February, but the county is attempting to fit in sports activity for those who want to participate in a shortened calendar. Sullivan said the district is considering different restrictions and modifications depending on the sport while complying with national, state and county guidelines. Sullivan said he is also working with the county’s Department of Health and Human Services. MCPS is starting with fall sports, but Sullivan said student-athletes who also play spring sports will not be put in a position to have to choose. Fall sports will run from Feb. 27-April 17. Then spring sports, which include baseball, gymnastics, lacrosse, softball, tenns, track and field, and boys and coed volleyball, will run April 17-June 19 so there is no overlap. Participation is optional for students and coaches, and will be school- and team-specific, depending on the selection of coaches and the interest of student-athletes. “We’re asking for students and parents to register by Feb. 22. That gives us an opportunity to confirm our programming and to group students safely,” Sullivan said.
Three Baltimore County men were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and face 20 years in prison each in connection with a scheme to allegedly sell COVID-19 vaccine through a fake website. Olakitan Oluwalade, 22, and Odunayo Baba Oluwalade, 25, both of Windsor Mill and Kelly Lamont Williams, 22, of Owings Mills had their initial appearances in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Friday. A news release said the men created a fake website resembling the site of vaccine maker Moderna. Prosecutors said a federal agent ordered 6,000 doses of vaccine for $30 each through the website on Jan. 11 and was told to wire half the money to a Navy Federal Credit Union account in Williams’ name. Federal agents seized the fake website and searched Williams’ home.
A COVID-19 outbreak at the Prince William County Adult Detention Center has sickened 40 inmates and eight staff, and forced a third of the inmates into isolation. The outbreak has raised tensions between the public defender’s office, which wants to release inmates awaiting trial who are susceptible to the coronavirus, and the jail superintendent, who says he is following all health guidelines and managing a health crisis effectively. The incident underscores how jails continue to be hotbeds of infection despite efforts to contain the pandemic. “We take a lot of precautions here,” said ADC Superintendent Col. Pete Meletis. “We think we’ve got a pretty good system … It’s very difficult to figure out where it’s coming from.” Meletis said he noticed a rise in infections in December. By late January, he said, multiple units of inmates were sent to quarantine. He said all the quarantined inmates would likely be released by Feb. 19, provided they did not test positive. Infections are rising even as the jail follows guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Meletis said. All new inmates are quarantined for two weeks upon arrival, and anyone exposed to a positive COVID-19 case is also quarantined. Other measures include stopping inmate programs, reducing non-essential movement and supplying jail residents and staff with masks. He added 100 inmates were released early since the start of the pandemic to prevent the spread of disease. He said the jail started vaccinations last week, with 150 of 572 inmates vaccinated so far. Yet critics say there are unintended consequences to those protocols. Tracey Lenox, the public defender for Prince William County, said she trusted the jail was following state and national guidelines for health. However, she said the health precautions are creating conditions that border on inhumane. “They are in isolation, and in something that definitionally can be considered solitary confinement because people are locked down for 23 hours a day, and that takes a serious toll on anyone’s mental health,” she said. She has also received “lots and lots of reports” from inmates that they were going for extended periods of time without showering or getting clean clothes, she said. Meletis said the jail was following state requirements for inmates to get at least two showers a week, which he said was more difficult as officers retrieved inmates in quarantine and led them to showers one at a time to avoid infection. He said quarantined inmates receive daily medical checks. “People say solitary is inhumane, but in reality, we are keeping [inmates] from getting it, we’re keeping staff from getting it and we’re keeping them from spreading it to other people,” he said. “It’s not for punishment, and they get commissary and other things, but we don’t call it inhumane.” Lenox said the outbreak was particularly troubling because so many of the inmates are awaiting trial, and are legally innocent of any crime. Meletis confirmed that roughly half the inmates were awaiting trial, with others awaiting sentencing, serving sentences or being held for violating probation. “Our position in the public defender’s office is that every single person who is not clearly a danger to the community or for other reasons ought to be held, ought to be released,” Lenox said. Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy Ashworth said in an email that since March her office has been committed to keeping the jail population as low as public safety allows. “Whenever possible, our prosecutors support the release of arrestees and alternatives to incarceration for those who do not pose a danger to the community or a flight risk,” she said. “Ultimately, it is up to the court to decide whether or not to allow the release of an individual.” An expansion of the jail is set to open in March, which will have 204 regular beds and a 20-bed mental health unit, Meletis says. That should help contain the spread of disease by allowing for more distancing, he said. In the meantime, Lenox said she planned to keep pressing for early release for non-violent offenders, especially those with medical vulnerabilities. “We’ve made a point in the last couple of weeks to go through all of our files. Every single person is getting reviewed in the public defender’s office,” she said. “If the person already had a bond motion before, we’re bringing it again on the basis of the fact that the jail has an outbreak right now and conditions have deteriorated.”
The University of Maryland plans to resume in-person classes this fall as long as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout goes smoothly in the coming months. In a letter to the campus community, President Darryll Pines said multiple vaccines should enable the university to have in-person classes for the fall 2021 semester and “a return to more normal operations.” Pines said although he can’t say for sure whether all students will be vaccinated in the coming months, he expects the majority of the campus population will be eligible before the semester begins. The university hasn’t received any vaccine supply from the state, Pines said. He encouraged students to utilize non-university opportunities to be vaccinated. “I recognize that returning to campus after a long time away will be an adjustment for many,” Pines said. “Although technology has made it possible to connect with each other, teach, learn and communicate from a distance, the interactions of faculty, staff and students on campus contribute to a vibrant community.” About 25% of courses are currently taught in person, with the rest online. While Pines said he is planning to have in-person classes in the fall, he also said some classes will make use of multiple modes of delivery. “Being together brings with it much more than teaching a class or staffing an office,” he wrote. “It allows faculty, staff and students to interact more frequently and get to know one another; researchers to innovate and collaborate; and students to benefit from all that our campus has to offer.”
More contagious strains of the coronavirus first reported in the U.K. and South Africa have been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in D.C. residents. Three cases of the U.K. variant and one case of the South African strain have been identified in samples sent to the CDC, said D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt during a Thursday press conference. She said the health department is still gathering information on the cases and did not know if the individuals traveled nationally or internationally. Because D.C. isn’t able to test every positive sample for mutations, Nesbitt said it is difficult to know the exact number of variant cases in circulation. The U.K. and South African strains, known as B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 respectively, have been reported in Northern Virginia and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. The variants aren’t believed to be more lethal than others but are more contagious. Nationwide, there have been at least 930 cases of the U.K. variant and at least nine cases of the South African variant, according to the CDC. While D.C.’s overall COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are decreasing, Nesbitt noted that the presence of more transmissible strains could reverse those trends. “We don’t want to get overzealous and compromise the progress that we are making,” Nesbitt said. “And I think that’s critically important for people to know.” She stopped short of recommending residents double-mask because of the new variants. A recent study from the CDC found double-masks and tight-fitting masks to be highly effective in protecting wearers from the strains. “If you’re wearing a cloth mask it should have two or more layers,” Nesbitt said “But the important thing is that people should wear a mask that fits.”
Hundreds of Montgomery County residents waited two hours or more in near-freezing temperatures Thursday afternoon to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville despite having an appointment. The line stretched from one side of school, past the baseball stadium and onto Fleet Street in the surrounding neighborhood. Many of those waiting were 75 or older. County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles blamed the long wait on people who aren’t yet eligible to receive the vaccine signing up anyway. “Two things happened,” Gayles said during a Thursday press conference. “One, there was communication to groups that we had open vaccine sites. We’ve not had open vaccine sites so far, and we’ve been very clear in terms of having to utilize a scheduling component in order to get those appointments. … So there was a significant number of folks who showed up at one of our sites today and were not happy when they were turned away. That is not consistent with the system that we have widely publicized.” The county is only vaccinating residents 75 and older or healthcare workers from Group 1A. “We also have received numerous emails this morning of, yet again, individuals who are not eligible based upon the criteria that we’ve been clear about — at the county sites as we have prioritized [residents] 75 and up — showing up and being turned away. We’ve been very clear about the priorities the county sites are utilizing, and we have also been very clear about the numerous other places and opportunities within the community … that individuals may get the vaccine.” Gayles also said some eligible residents have forwarded the link they receive to schedule an appointment to others who are not eligible. On Thursday, one link was shared on a community message board, Gayles said. The state is working to create “a mechanism so … if I send [the link] to you, you can’t forward it to someone else. Or, if you forward it to someone else the link is dead, if you will, and they can’t go in and register.” He urged ineligible residents not to sign up for appointments reserved for others. “We’ve been very clear about who’s eligible and who we’re prioritizing at different sites. If you know you don’t meet that criteria, and if you still register, how can you be ultimately upset when you show up to the place and we remind you that you’re not eligible to receive that vaccine there? In fact, you’re creating a system where you’re taking an appointment from someone who does meet the criteria and that slows the process down from moving forward.” County Department of Health spokesperson Mary Anderson said about half of the vaccination appointments made each week are by people who are not eligible, and who are turned away when they get to the head of the line. She said there are a limited number of appointments at each site per day, and ineligible people signing up means eligible people can’t get their shots.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan expressed frustration with the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses as the state is receiving as many Marylanders have shared their frustrations with trying to secure a shot since becoming eligible. “Federal guidelines and state policies currently make around 2 million Marylanders eligible for vaccines. The state currently receives around 11,000 doses per day. Unfortunately, just because you may be eligible does not mean that a vaccine or an appointment for a vaccine is currently available to you,” Hogan said. “We’ve been told by the federal government that this problem will continue to exist for the foreseeable future.” He expressed his frustration with the shortage, saying, “We need more damn vaccines.” Hogan said he would be willing to drain the state’s “rainy day fund” to buy more vaccines, but only the federal government is currently allowed to purchase and allocate doses. “We have built an infrastructure that is able to administer anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 shots per day as soon as they’re made by the manufacturers and allocated to us by the federal government,” Hogan said. Currently, Maryland is administering more than 26,000 doses per day at more than 2,000 distribution sites. Hogan said he is meeting with President Joe Biden today and will ask for an increase in the number of vaccine doses going to states. Some county health departments, including Montgomery County, have asked for better projections of how many vaccine doses they will be allocated weekly. Hogan said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has agreed to give two-week projections to state health officials, and he has directed state officials to go further than that when coordinating with county health departments. The governor directed state health officials to give four-week projections so that counties can better allocate their resources. “Up until now, state health officials have had to wait until Thursday, Friday — sometimes even Saturday night — of each week to know what we could allocate to anyone for the following week,” Hogan said. “I have now directed the Maryland Department of Health to provide county officials with four-week allocation projections so that they can plan ahead and can open up more appointments for their clinics.” One of the biggest hurdles the state faces, according to Hogan, is a reluctance on the part of some minority communities to get vaccinated. Many of these communities have experienced a history of mistreatment and unethical experimentation at the hands of the U.S. medical establishment. Hogan said the state would be hiring “equity officers” to act as liaisons to underserved communities that are reluctant to get vaccinated to convince them that doing so is safe. As the state’s health metrics improve, Hogan said MDH will allow some visitations in hospitals and limited indoor visits in nursing homes that have proper testing protocols in place. As for Maryland public schools, Hogan said 22 of the state’s 24 school jurisdictions have either returned to some form of in-person learning or have a plan in place to return to classrooms by March 1. He said the state will make 1 million COVID-19 tests and “unlimited” personal protective equipment available to school districts as they bring students back into buildings.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge James Bonifant dismissed a lawsuit Thursday objecting to the county’s ban on indoor dining, which is set to expire Sunday, after both parties agreed the litigation was unnecessary. The Montgomery County Council approved an executive order Tuesday from County Executive Marc Elrich that allows restaurants to reopen indoor dining at 25% capacity starting at 7 a.m. Valentine’s Day. Diners are limited to 90 minutes inside under the order, and alcohol sale and consumption must end at 10 p.m. On Thursday, plaintiff’s attorney Ed Hartman said the case is “moot” due to the lifting of the dining restrictions and asked for the case to be dismissed. Silvia Kinch, who represented the county, agreed. The county banned indoor dining on Dec. 15 in response to a rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Under the ban, restaurants could only offer outdoor dining in heated tents or for takeout and delivery. Shorty after the indoor dining ban was passed, more than 30 county restaurateurs and the Restaurant Association of Maryland filed the lawsuit in circuit court. Following a 12-hour hearing on Dec. 23, Bonifant upheld the county’s order, but said he would hold another hearing to review the matter further. In the weeks since the December hearing, D.C. and other jurisdictions in Maryland that had banned indoor dining have reopened it at reduced capacity. The restaurant association had lobbied Montgomery County officials to lift its dining ban. Following the council’s decision to lift the ban on Tuesday, restaurant association President Marshall Weston said he was “pleased Montgomery County is joining the rest of the region” in allowing indoor dining.
Most Manassas City Public Schools students could return to classrooms two days a week starting March 15. Under the plan, which was discussed at Tuesday’s school board meeting and will be voted on Feb. 22, the general student population would start returning in mid-March with career and technical students returning March 15, school dependent learners returning March 17, pre-k through fourth graders returning March 23 and grades five through 12 returning April 6. Students would continue to receive most instruction from home, attending classes virtually three days per week — Mondays would be through pre-recorded videos uploaded by their teacher. Two days per week, students would be in classrooms, but some teachers may still teach via Zoom with a monitor in the classroom. Currently, some special education and English-language learners receive in-person instruction two days a week, but for most students it would be the first time back in a classroom in a little over a year. Board members indicated a willingness to approve the plan at their next meeting, provided there isn’t a significant spike in cases or a problem with the second round of staff vaccinations. “This is hard on everybody, not just the students,” board chair Sanford Williams said. Initially, MCPS staff proposed that students return March 8, but board member Suzanne Seaberg said that with staff scheduled to receive their second vaccinations Feb. 28, that would be before the vaccine reaches its full efficacy. According to the CDC and vaccine manufacturers, the second shot typically takes full effect within seven days, but it can take up to 14 days. To provide more time after the second shot, district staff moved the proposed start date back a week. Manassas teachers received their first shots on Feb. 8. Supt. Kevin Newman said the district wasn’t allowed to track which staff members got vaccinated, but that vaccines were made available to all teachers. “It was made available to over 1,300 members of the MCPS family,” Newman said. “How many of that 1,300 showed up, we don’t know. … There was enough to cover the over 1,300 names we sent to the health department.” The timeline for return aligns with Gov. Ralph Northam’s recent call for schools to bring back students by March 15, but MCPS board members insisted the decision was theirs. New COVID-19 cases have fallen recently in Manassas and Northern Virginia, but Manassas is still in the highest risk category for school divisions published by the CDC and Virginia Department of Health. “I appreciate the governor’s attempts to help us out. However, he doesn’t know Manassas. [Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James] Lane doesn’t know Manassas,” board member Tim Demeria said. “I think they’re out of line here. … I just want people to know that what this board decides is going to be decided what’s best for Manassas. It may coincide with what the governor is saying, but if it does, that’s just a coincidence.”
CVS Pharmacy’s COVID-19 vaccine program in Virginia got off to a rocky start Tuesday when the program that was supposed to start today launched early. CVS will administer 26,000 doses of the vaccines weekly through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination. The plan was for CVS to start accepting appointments today for vaccinations beginning Friday, state vaccination coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said during a press conference Tuesday. But the site launched two days early in an effort to get all the people who had signed up for vaccine appointments with local health districts to get into the CVS system. Instead, when the site went live, anyone was able to sign up. Avula said the idea was for people who had signed up with local health departments to get into the CVS system when it opened Thursday to reinforce Virginia’s equity guidelines and priorities. “For various reasons, CVS was … not able to deliver a technological solution that would allow us to preregister folks who had already been waiting on our list,” Avula said. Instead, he said, CVS made the appointment scheduler available starting Tuesday. “And then that would hopefully give our health department folks a bit of a head start to get folks off of our registration list enrolled in appointments,” he said. But things didn’t go as planned: “Unfortunately, they were not able to do that in a way that limited access. And so, what that led to was that anybody who was on the internet trying to get an appointment through CVS could go in and make an appointment.” Avula didn’t know exactly how many people the health departments were able to move from their lists into CVS appointments. CVS will check identification to make sure anyone showing up to a vaccine appointment is 65 or older, Avula said, but they can’t check to make sure they were signed up with their local health department. Health departments compiled waiting lists with equity in mind, Avula said, and opening the site to anyone led to a situation that several health directors likened to “people getting the best concert tickets, because they were … just ready to go on the website. And so that’s the core issue for us, is that this is an issue both of fairness for people who have preregistered and who have been waiting, but also have equity” among people with low incomes, who don’t speak English or who don’t have internet access. Avula chose to look at “the silver lining,” saying that in the end, “it’s 26,000 more doses. And so we’re happy to welcome that into Virginia.” CVS vaccine appointments are only for residents 65 and older, and “it’ll relieve some of the pressure … so that we can continue to serve the most vulnerable who are preregistered,” Avula said.
D.C. could receive about $2.2 billion in federal aid, including millions of dollars the city was shortchanged under the CARES Act that passed last year, as part of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill working its way through Congress. The proposed breakdown for the $350 billion in direct aid to states, localities, tribes and territories was released Tuesday by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, ahead of a markup scheduled for Friday. As part of the bill, each state would received $500 million plus an extra allotment based on the number of unemployed workers; cities and counties would also get direct aid. D.C. would get $1.49 billion in combined state and local aid, while Maryland would receive $5.85 billion and Virginia would see $6.47 billion. D.C. would also get an additional $755 million to make up for aid it did not receive under the CARES Act, the $2 trillion COVID stimulus package approved by Congress last March. While that package gave every state $1.25 billion in direct federal aid, D.C. got less than half that amount because it was designated as a territory rather than a state. That prompted D.C. officials to call for the city to receive more funding, but no direct aid for states and localities was included in the second coronavirus stimulus bill passed in December. “We’re number one per capita in federal taxes paid to support the United States of America, so we were especially outraged when we lost money,” said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has been pushing since last year for D.C. to get the money it was shorted in the CARES Act. “What’s important is that D.C. is treated as a state, city and county and therefore gets funding at all three levels. So we are getting the same funding as the states.” In a letter this week to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Mayor Muriel Bowser said the money would help the city cover the costs of the pandemic, which is almost a year old. “The pandemic has presented unforeseen challenges from health, human and economic standpoints that we haven’t seen for generations,” she wrote. “Local solutions to shore up the District’s finances, without drastic cuts to critical staff and services, are nearing exhaustion. As the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic remains unclear, the District cannot sustain its current response without significant federal support.” D.C. officials said they spent the full $495 million the city received through the CARES Act on responding to the pandemic, along with more than $700 million from the city’s reserves. And while the city was forecasting a significant downturn if the pandemic-related shutdowns continued, more recent estimates from Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt have shown that the pandemic’s overall impact has been less severe than initially expected; sales taxes and hospitality jobs have taken a hit, while income and property tax collections have done better than expected. “People in the stock market are doing very well. People working at a restaurant are not,” said DeWitt during a D.C. Council hearing last week. Still, DeWitt warned that the city faces a $500 million budget deficit over the next four years and has recently fully drawn down its unemployment reserves that are used in part to pay benefits to people who are out of work. While the city can borrow money from the U.S. Treasury to continue paying its share of benefits, DeWitt said lawmakers will have to find a way to replenish those reserves. “Providing direct, flexible aid to localities in the most efficient and immediate way to help families and communities who have been suffering for far too long,” Bowser wrote.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam asked the federal government to set aside COVID-19 vaccines, supplies and sites for federal employees in the National Capital Region, detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities and defense contractors, as well as Metro employees. The letter asked Norris Cochran, the acting secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Robert Fenton, the acting head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for “a dedicated allocation” of COVID-19 vaccines and supplies for workers and contractors in the DMV, as well as a federally supported and operated vaccination site for those workers and a messaging campaign about getting vaccinated. Noting there are about 281,000 federal workers in the DMV, and that about 30,000 workers, contractors and Metro employees have been deemed essential, the letter reads: “The District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia simply do not have the resources available to support these priority vaccinations, due to the additional burden on local resources that this mission would require — especially when considering the amount of vaccine each state receives.”
Montgomery County officials called for the Maryland officials to establish a COVID-19 mass vaccination site in the county amid “significant concerns” about how the state is allocating a limited supply of vaccines. County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles, who voiced his concerns about a decreasing share of vaccine doses being sent to the county health department in favor of other providers such as pharmacies, asked state health officials to consider a mass vaccination site in the county. “We’ve got sites. Let’s have a conversation about it,” Gayles said, suggesting the county’s fairgrounds as one option for a mass vaccination site. Gayles spoke during a county council hearing Tuesday at which Maryland Deputy Health Secretary Jinlene Chan also made an appearance. A mass vaccination site opened Friday at Six Flags America in neighboring Prince George’s County, and is ramping up to perform 2,000 vaccinations a day. Although shots on the first day were reserved for Prince George’s County residents, the site is now open to all Marylanders although appointments remain limited. “It is incredibly challenging to expect our residents to go to another jurisdiction and assume that will they have access there,” Gayles said. As an alternative to opening a separate mass vaccination site in Montgomery County, however, Gayles also proposed setting aside a certain percentage of appointment slots at Six Flags specifically for Montgomery County residents. Three members of the county council also pressed Chan to commit to establishing a mass vaccination site in the county. “It’s illogical not to have something like this in the largest jurisdiction in the state,” said council member Nancy Navarro. Chan said the state was open to considering additional mass vaccination sites but didn’t make any promises. In addition to the Six Flags site in Prince George’s County, another site opened last week at the Baltimore Convention Center. Other sites are planned on the Eastern Shore, and in southern and western Maryland.
The union representing Prince George’s County Public Schools teachers wants key safety measures before teachers and students return to classrooms. In an open letter to district CEO Monica Goldson dated Feb. 8, the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association said the school system has not addressed its request for investment in facilities upgrades, specifically adequate air-filtration systems in every room where students and teachers are. The letter also called for investment in COVID-19 testing, tracing and vaccination, with vaccinations phased in and aligned with those being asked to go back in buildings. The letter signed by Theresa Dudley, PGCEA president, said the union wants to jointly develop with the school district a safety agreement for the return to school buildings. Still lacking, according to the letter, are clear plans, protocols and communication when there are COVID-19 outbreaks at schools. The union is also seeking hazard pay for its members and wants what it calls reasonable self-directed time for educators to transition from distance to in-person learning.
Prince William County trails nearly all other Northern Virginia jurisdictions in vaccinating residents against COVID-19 with nearly 50,000 people are on the local waitlist for their first dose. County Executive Chris Martino told the county supervisors Tuesday that it could be months before many residents are vaccinated. “We’ve got quite a backlog that’s going to take us some time to work through,” Martino said. Local vaccinations are managed by the Virginia Department of Health’s Prince William Health District, which also includes Manassas and Manassas Park. According to state health department data, 42,345 doses of vaccine had been administered to residents in the health district as of Wednesday, with 8,314 people receiving both doses that are required for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to be fully effective. That translates to 9,003 doses per 100,000 residents in the health district, the next-to-lowest rate among all Northern Virginia jurisdictions, just ahead of Arlington County at 8,970 doses per 100,000 residents. Among Northern Virginia municipalities, Fairfax County leads with 11,457 vaccinations per 100,000. Fairfax is the state’s most populous county, with more than 1.1 million residents. Brain Misner, Prince William County’s emergency management coordinator, told supervisors Tuesday the Prince William Health District, which has three vaccination clinics, administered 15,090 vaccines as of Feb. 6. The remainder of the vaccines administered to residents of the health district have come primarily from healthcare providers, such as Inova, Novant and Sentara, or at long-term care facilities. Misner said that as of Monday, 48,899 people were on the waitlist for their first dose. Of those, 1,232 have been scheduled for appointments. Residents 65 and older and those under age 65 with significant underlying health conditions can register for vaccines through the health department’s website. Misner said 8,839 people are pre-registered for their second dose, with 423 appointments scheduled. The vaccination process became more complicated this week when CVS Pharmacy started taking appointments to administer vaccines beginning Friday. CVS has only one location giving vaccines in Prince William, Virginia’s second-most populous county. Misner said that decision was made at either the state or federal level with no input from local health officials. About the time Misner was making his presentation to the supervisors, Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccination coordinator, told reporters at a press conference that CVS’ original plan for Virginia consisted of just 28 locations – none of which was in Northern Virginia. The state worked with CVS to add some additional locations, targeting lower-income communities or areas where COVID-19 had been more prevalent. However, CVS is using a different registration system than the local health department, so residents who want to obtain a vaccine through CVS must sign up directly with the pharmacy, Avula said. CVS vaccines are available only to residents 65 and older. The pharmacy plans to administer 26,000 doses a week statewide. The health department has operated a vaccine clinic at George Mason University’s Manassas campus since mid-January and opened clinics at Potomac Middle School in Dumfries and the Prince William County Public School’s Kelly Leadership Center in Independent Hill last week.
Indoor dining resumes in Montgomery County at 25% of capacity for the first time in two months beginning Feb. 14, just in time for Valentine’s Day. Under an executive order approved 7-2 by the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday, customers will only be able to sit at a table for 90 minutes. Alcohol cannot be served or consumed on-site after 10 p.m. Councilmembers Craig Rice and Will Jawando voted no, saying the risks of resuming indoor dining outweigh the benefits to businesses and residents. “The idea that we would be doing an executive order to encourage people to go out on Valentine’s Day… flies in the face of public health guidance,” said Jawando. “We know that [indoor dining] is not a safe activity.” Rice agreed, adding that reopening dining rooms risks the health of restaurant workers, who are disproportionately Black and Latinx. Rice and Jawando were outnumbered by their colleagues, the rest of whom voted to approve County Executive Marc Elrich’s order even after acknowledging that they personally don’t consider indoor dining a safe activity. “I will not be going out on Valentine’s Day. If I asked my wife to meet me at a restaurant, she would probably say this is our last Valentine’s Day together,” said Councilmember Hans Riemer. Councilmember Evan Glass agreed. He said he plans to get takeout with his husband on Valentine’s Day, but added that the executive and council members can change course if they see coronavirus infection rates trend back upward. “It’s the accordion principle. We open it up, we close it down, we look at the data and we act accordingly,” Glass said. Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction in Maryland where indoor dining remained banned. Prince George’s County and D.C. reopened dining rooms at 25% capacity last month. There are no capacity limits on restaurants in Virginia. Some lawmakers said their decision to support reopening was partly motivated by the fact that residents are traveling outside of the county to dine, making local restrictions less effective. “In the absence of a regional approach … I’m willing to support this with some reservations,” said Council president Tom Hucker before voting to approve the executive order. “There is a difference between allowing something and encouraging something.”
Arlington Public Schools students whose parents opted for hybrid learning will return to classrooms beginning March 2. Supt. Francisco Duran said in a letter to families Tuesday that students in pre-K through second grade and elementary students enrolled in Interlude will return two days a week (Tuesday-Wednesday or Thursday-Friday), while pre-k through fifth grade students in special education programs will return four days a week (Tuesday-Friday). Third through sixth graders and ninth graders will return twice a week and secondary students enrolled in special educations programs will return four days a week on March 9. Finally, seventh and eighth grade students and 10th-12th graders will return twice a week beginning March 16. The announcement comes after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam pushed for Virginia school district to begin offering in-person learning options by March 15 during a news conference last week. In the letter, Duran said he was “encouraged by recent improvements in the health metrics, with case positivity rates and other indicators currently decreasing in Arlington and neighboring communities.” According to the letter, staff returned to school buildings over the past two weeks to prepare for the transition back to in-person learning. The school system will release more details in the coming weeks. Duran also said that more than half of APS teachers have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccines. More information will be shared at the Feb. 18 school board meeting.
Montgomery County Public Schools will begin opening classrooms for in-person learning beginning March 1. The transition will begin with career technical education students and some special needs students. Larger groups of students will be phased back by grade starting March 15. The county school board unanimously approved the plan on Tuesday. No in-person classes will be held on Wednesdays. Some in-person learning will rotate on various schedules. Schools will contact families with details that apply to each child. Each school will hold a virtual orientation by March 15 for all students, regardless of when their group returns. Some special education students in all schools and vocational students at Thomas Edison High School of Technology, Seneca Valley, Gaithersburg, Damascus and Paint Branch high schools return on March 1. Other special needs students and grades K-3 will return on March 15, followed by pre-kindergarten and grades 4, 5, 5 and 12 on April 6, grades 8-11 on April 19 and grades 7 and 10 on April 26. About 40% of families have indicated that they will send their students back to classrooms. Families that previously opted for in-person learning can maintain their virtual learning status if they want or return to online learning at any time. “A family can reach out directly to their school if they wish to discuss a change,” Associate Supt. James P. Koutsos said. “However, moving from virtual to in-person will only be able to be accommodated on a space-available basis and may take time to discern.” When students and educators return to classrooms, teachers and support staff will collectively focus on students learning virtually and those who may be split up in different classrooms because of physical-distancing requirements. “Some will be on virtual, and we can’t have more than 10 or 11 students typically in a classroom, physical space, together,” Supt. Jack Smith said. Principals, administrators and staff at individual schools will determine specific plans and schedules based on subject content, the age of the students and their developmental levels. A large part of the return to in-person learning involves the logistics of ensuring everyone stays safe. Smith said hiring began last November for when students returned to classrooms. However, that return ended up being postponed when COVID-19 cases surged. There is a need for staff to monitor lunch and bathrooms, to greet and dismiss buses, to run errands to the front office and to go to the school’s front door. “Because you don’t let the outsider come into the closed system of the school anymore to bring a backpack or a missing book,” Smith explained. He said typical safety protocols surrounding the hiring of staff are being followed. In addition to following strict COVID-19-related safety measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing and rigorous cleaning, schools will stock personal protective equipment for students who forget to bring them or lose them. “Knowing very well — my son who may lose about four coats throughout the winter season — it will be the same for masks. Students will lose them and not have them, so we have to be able to accommodate those situations,” Deputy Supt. Monifa McKnight said. “That’s why we ordered the extra PPE and are having them available in the spaces where students are interacting, so that they can have them readily available.”
Following the death from complications related to COVID-19 of a popular cosmetology teacher, the Washington Teachers’ Union filed a complaint against D.C. Public Schools Tuesday, alleging the district violated health and safety protocols at the Ballou STAY Opportunity Academy where she taught. In its complaint, the union alleges DCPS failed to maintain a safe environment at Ballou STAY and neglected to inform students and staff about a COVID-19 case at the Ward 8 school in a timely manner. Helen M. White died over the weekend, according to DCPS. White’s son confirmed that she died from complications of COVID-19. In the grievance, the union asked for a meeting with the district’s employee relations department to resolve issues outlined in the complaint. The union claimed DCPS failed to meet provisions in its contract with teachers, alleging class was held in a room or building where teachers were in danger because of unsafe conditions. WTU also alleged the district failed to maintain a school environment “free of hazards” that could lead to illness. Union president Elizabeth Davis said the district never told students in White’s class that she was sick, and it took 11 days to notify the school community that someone at the school had tested positive. “There is absolutely no justification for that much of a delay. None that I would accept,” Davis said. “She was truly admired by her students, highly regarded by her colleagues.” DCPS spokesperson Elizabeth Bartolomeo said White reported to administrators on Jan. 11 that she had been in close contact with someone outside the school who had COVID-19. White did not teach after that and informed administrators on Jan. 21 that she had tested positive for the virus, according to the district. DCPS sent a letter notifying community members the next day that someone at Ballou STAY tested positive for the virus. “We continue to follow all of our COVID-19 protocols,” Bartolomeo said. “We take our health and safety protocols very seriously.” The majority of DCPS students who are learning in person returned to classrooms last week. But Ballou STAY and a handful of specialized schools opened to small groups of students in October. The Southeast high school for young adults was among the first campuses to return students to classrooms during the pandemic, bringing back students enrolled in career and technical education programs, including cosmetology. White was among the first teachers at the school to volunteer to teach in-person, according to DCPS. In a message to the school community Monday, Principal Cara Fuller said White died of “health complications” over the weekend but did not mention COVID-19. City health officials determined the teacher was not in close contact with anyone at the school, according to the district. A close contact is defined as someone who is within six feet of a person who has COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time or having contact with the secretions from an individual with COVID-19, such as being coughed on.
Despite tensions over the D.C. Public Schools’ return to classrooms, teachers will not go on strike. The majority of Washington Teachers’ Union members voted against authorizing the union’s executive board to call a walkout, a lawyer for the union said during a D.C. Superior Court hearing Tuesday. The city withdrew its request asking the court to bar the union from holding a strike at the hearing. In D.C., it is illegal for city employees to go on strike. Union leaders had warned teachers that doing so could carry major consequences, including fines and terminations.
The number of parking tickets and moving violations in D.C., and the fine revenue they bring in, took a dramatic hit in fiscal year 2020, which started in Oct. 2019 and ended last September. According to the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, the city issued 837,899 parking tickets in fiscal year 2020, down from almost 1.5 million the year before. It also issued 53,929 citations for moving violations, down from 91,194 the prior year. As a result, revenue from parking tickets was $62 million, down from $122 million the year before. Revenue from moving violations totaled $8.8 million, down from the $16.5 million the year before. The declines coincide largely with the pandemic, when people were more likely to work and stay home, and after the city relaxed many of its traffic enforcement efforts. However, that didn’t stop D.C.’s traffic cameras from busting drivers. The number of speed and red-light tickets issued by the cameras stayed relatively steady at 1.3 million for fiscal year 2020 fiscal, the same as the prior year. The expected revenue from the citations declined slightly during that time, from $237 million in 2019 to $190 million in 2020. It is unclear exactly why, but it could be because drivers weren’t driving as fast — lower-level speeding violations have lower fines. The revenue from traffic tickets that were actually paid also decreased last year to $166 million, down from $206 million the previous year. One thing did remain constant, Maryland drivers still owe the most to D.C. in unpaid tickets. Traffic enforcement has been a consistent source of revenue for D.C., and city officials said last week that they will eventually have to return to more consistent enforcement of parking rules and moving violations. “At some point we are going to have to turn back on some of the revenue collection,” said City Administrator Kevin Donahue during a D.C. Council hearing, addressing what is expected to be an almost $500 million budget deficit in the coming years. Donahue said the city was aiming to be sensitive to the economic impacts the pandemic has had on many residents and workers. “We recognize that there’s more inequality and some of that enforcement can be regressive in nature,” he said. “So when we turn it on, we have to look at our policies about how we do forgiveness and how we do payment plans so that someone who has not been impacted by the pandemic should be paying their tickets — they should be paying for meters — but someone who has been [impacted], we have to probably change how we approach some of our policies and allow some forgiveness there.” D.C. previously offered amnesty periods, when drivers could pay outstanding fines without any of the associated penalties that come with paying them late or not having paid them at all. But the last amnesty ran in 2012, and currently, any parking, moving or traffic camera ticket that is not paid within 30 days doubles in value. In 2018, the D.C. Council passed a bill extending the period to 60 days before a ticket doubles, but the measure can’t take effect until lawmakers find a way to pay for the more than $30 million in lost revenue each year.
D.C. is investing $11 million to upgrade the city’s unemployment insurance software after the pandemic exposed multiple shortcomings in the system. Unique Morris-Hughes, director of D.C.’s Office of Employment Services (DOES), explained the changes during a press conference with Mayor Muriel Bowser on Monday. Hughes said the city’s unemployment benefits portal and call center will be getting several upgrades, including up to 200 additional staff members to process claims and direct claimants to assistance. There will also be a new chat feature that allows claimants to speak more quickly to a claims examiner or call center employee. It will also include texting and robocall functionality to inform claimants about new benefits availability and other updates from the agency. Morris-Hughes did not give a timeline for the changes. As part of the changes, DOES employees will undergo training on Feb. 17 and Feb. 26 that will affect operations on those days, she added. The department is also preparing to distribute expanded unemployment benefits extended under the federal relief legislation signed Dec. 27. Those benefits include Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), for which claimants can begin to file weekly certifications after Feb. 10; Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which will begin accepting weekly certifications after Feb. 19; Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC), a new federal program that will open to applications on Feb. 15 with payments beginning Feb. 19; and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), which contributes $300 a week to an individual’s unemployment payment and began payouts the week ending Jan. 2. The city previously created a stimulus fund for D.C. residents whose PUA benefits expired temporarily last year, but those $1,200 checks already went out and the program is closed, Morris-Hughes said. While the department estimated that as many as 20,000 residents would be eligible for the money, the actual number of recipients did not exceed 10,000, she said. The mayor and D.C.’s housing director also encouraged residents to seek out rental assistance as the health emergency approaches the one-year mark. Funds are still available in the city’s COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program, or CHAP, said Department of Housing and Community Development Director Polly Donaldson, and landlords can now apply for help on behalf of their tenants. A household of four can earn no more than $6,633 a month in order to qualify for CHAP. For individuals, the monthly income limit is $4,646. D.C. residents struggling to keep up with utility bills can get help through the city’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides between $250 and $1,800 in one-time benefits, Bowser said. More assistance is available through utility discount programs provided by the Public Service Commission. Bowser said residents who can afford to pay bills and rent should do so, despite a citywide ban on evictions and utility shutoffs. Those who can’t pay “should be seeking assistance for which you are eligible,” the mayor said, “because there’s a considerable amount of assistance available.”
A teacher at Ballou STAY High School in D.C. died from health complications from COVID-19 over the weekend. Helen M. White was a cosmetology teacher at the Opportunity Academy that prepares young adults 23 and older for college and the workplace for 14 years. A letter from Ballou STAY principal Cara Fuller described White as more than just an instructor and someone who taught more than just cosmetology. “Ms. White taught others how to be a good mother, a better sibling and how to better support and strengthen each other,” Fuller said. The Washington Teachers’ Union expressed its condolences to White’s family and the school community, and added that it is looking into White’s “in-person placement and exposure.” It is unclear whether the exposure the union is referencing is related to the coronavirus. Ballou STAY began some in-person learning last year for cosmetology and barbering students. White had COVID-19 and in the ICU for a couple weeks before her death. On Jan. 22, D.C. Public Schools sent a letter to Ballou STAY families notifying them that someone who was last in the school on Jan. 11 reported a positive COVID-19 test. As of last Friday, 105 D.C. public school personnel working in person have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 31 students participating in in-person learning have tested positive.
The Anne Arundel County Department of Health canceled second-dose vaccine clinics scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday morning due to “the lack of vaccine arrival from the Maryland Department of Health.” Approximately 7,000 second-dose vaccines were delayed in the last two weeks and that deliveries are expected later this week, the DOH said in a press release Monday. First dose vaccine clinics are unaffected by the delay. People affected by the cancellation will be contacted by email or phone and offered appointments for Saturday. Those unable to receive a second dose Saturday will be rescheduled for upcoming clinics, the DOH said. In a statement, a Maryland Department of Health spokesman said, “The Maryland Department of Health ordered the second doses this morning — well in advance of the established ordering deadline — and the doses are scheduled to arrive on Tuesday. A Monday order/Tuesday delivery cadence is the established standard for second doses, and local health departments have scheduled their vaccination clinics accordingly in past weeks.” Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests second vaccine doses be given as close to recommended time as possible – 21 days after a first Pfizer-BioNTech dose and 28 days after a Moderna vaccine. However, the CDC has said vaccine recipients could receive second doses up to 42 days after the initial dose.
Loudoun County Public Schools completed its first stage of employee coronavirus vaccinations last week and are preparing to begin administering second doses. After finishing the first stage last Friday at its distribution site at Brambleton Middle School, LCPS will begin giving second vaccine doses this Friday. Some 10,500 staff have received their first does since Jan. 15. The site at Brambleton Middle School was a joint effort among the school district, the Loudoun County Health Department and the Office of Emergency Management. The Loudoun County School Board approved bringing pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students whose parents chose hybrid learning back to classroom no later than Feb. 16. Middle and high school students whose parents previously opted-in to the hybrid model will return to classrooms two days per week by March 3.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease scientist, answered questions from Prince George’s County residents about the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, attempted to dispel rumors, fears and mistrust by offering assurances that the vaccines approved by the FDA are safe, even though they were developed in less than a year. “That speed was not a reflection of cutting corners,” Fauci said in the webinar hosted by Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. “It was a reflection of the extraordinary advances that were made in the science of vaccine platform development.” Among the questions he addressed: Can someone catch COVID-19 from the vaccine? “It’s impossible to get COVID-19 from the vaccine,” Fauci said, explaining that the virus is not used in the vaccine. Fauci also acknowledged mistrust in the medical system from some in the African-American community who are mindful of unethical federal medical trials, most notoriously the Tuskegee Experiment, in which cases of syphilis in Black men from Alabama were left untreated. “The first thing we need to do is to respect the concern of people of color,” Fauci said. “The ethical safeguards that have been put into place since Tuskegee … are such that those types of things would be impossible under today’s conditions.” He also dispelled a rumor that the vaccine could alter a person’s DNA: “Absolutely not; the vaccine has absolutely nothing to do with modifying your DNA.” In response to a questioner’s concern about waiting until summer to get the vaccine, Fauci said, “You’re putting yourself at an extra risk, and that’s the reason why we tell people when the vaccine becomes available to you, please take it and don’t wait.”
Montgomery County’s vaccine allotment last week from the state was down 1,000 from the week before, and county officials haven’t been told why. “We do not have a good explanation,” said the county’s Health and Human Services Director Dr. Raymond Crowel during an online briefing Monday. “We could vaccinate more than 25,000 residents a week if the state would just give us the doses,” said County Council President Tom Hucker. Hucker, Crowel and council Vice President Gabe Albornoz also said they had “concern” — although no hard evidence — that the mass vaccination sites opened by the state last week at Six Flags America and the Baltimore Convention Center are taking away from county allotments. “We have broached the topic” of opening a mass vaccination site in the county with Gov. Larry Hogan, but “To my knowledge, he has not made a commitment,” Crowell said. The county is home to 17% of the state’s population and 73,000 people older than 75 who are among the first people who are supposed to receive vaccinations, Hucker said. Following the press conference, Hogan spokesperson Mike Ricci said, “The official data shows that the county is still sitting on more than 6,000 first doses right now … that gives them a lower administration rate than just about every county.” He added that the officials were talking about the allotment for the public health department and that “Local health departments are one facet of an expanding distribution network. Allocations are distributed to each county equitably based on population across all providers.” The officials said they were looking forward to meeting with Maryland Department of Health officials today during council’s session about vaccine distribution, and added that they thought a one-stop method for registering for vaccinations would be the best way to go in the future. The creation of one portal for all Marylanders to sign up for a spot in line for vaccination “would be an ideal frame,” Crowel said, as long as there is a way to address equity in older and underserved populations. Even a county-level single-portal system “would simplify things a lot,” he said, rather than the current system in which people can sign up with the county, with private providers and more. Albornoz agreed, calling the current system “immensely frustrating” and leading to “chaos” at “a level I haven’t seen in 14 years in government.” Albornoz said a one-stop system would be better for people who don’t speak English, who don’t have technological capability and who don’t have hours to spend on hold. The council will meet at 10 a.m. today to vote on County Executive Marc Elrich’s order allowing indoor dining at 25% capacity and with a 90-minute limit starting Sunday. The original start date was 5 p.m. today, but Hucker said restaurants needed the time to ramp up their operations for Sunday, which is Valentine’s Day and a huge day for the industry. Although Hucker said he supported the measure, he added that it was because the laxer standards of other communities have “eroded” Montgomery County’s efforts at mitigation anyway, so “it makes sense” to bring themselves in line.
Virginia has administered more than 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, but while new cases continue to slow or stabilize statewide, Loudoun County is experiencing a surge. The Virginia Department of Health’s vaccine dashboard on Sunday showed that 1.52 million doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine have been administered to Virginians, with 10.3% of the commonwealth’s population having received at least one dose. About 196,000 Virginians have received the necessary two doses for the vaccine to be fully effective. The state’s numbers do not include vaccines administered by the federal government. The federal government has administered 1.9 million doses, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker, which includes active-duty and retired military servicemembers and their families, along with some federal employees and contractors. That means the number of Virginians who have received vaccines is likely higher, especially in Northern Virginia. Meanwhile, analysis by the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute shows that Loudoun County is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. The Loudoun Health District is the only one of Virginia’s 35 health districts with a surge; cases are declining in 29 of the 35 districts. The health department on Friday reported Virginia’s first new case of the South African variant of the coronavirus, known as B.1.351, in the state’s Eastern Region. It previously has reported four cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, first found in the United Kingdom, with three of those in Northern Virginia. The variants are believed to be more contagious. U.Va.’s report suggested the surge in Loudoun could be tied to the B.1.1.7 variant, although details on where in Northern Virginia it has been found have not been released. VDH reported 2,949 new coronavirus cases statewide on Sunday, following 4,709 on Saturday and 5,069 on Friday. The state’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases has risen slightly to 3,478, but that is well below the peak on Jan. 18 of 6,166.3. In Northern Virginia, 582 new cases were reported Sunday, following 1,274 on Saturday and 1,106 on Friday. The region’s seven-day average has also ticked up slightly to 813, also well below its record high of 1,628.4 set Jan. 18.
Starting today, D.C. will open vaccination appointments every Monday at noon and 7 p.m. for people who work at a licensed childcare provider or at an independent or charter school in the city. Appointments will be made on the One Medical portal through a link sent by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to eligible workers, according to a Sunday press release. One Medical has vaccinated 2,000 childcare and school staff so far, the release said. The city is also introducing a “Faith in the Vaccine” initiative. D.C. Health is teaming up with the Leadership Council for Healthy Communities and the Black Coalition Against COVID to meet with members of the faith community to spread the word about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy and support residents in getting vaccinated. To support the launch of the initiative, the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church is hosting two vaccination clinics. A total of 200 D.C. residents will get vaccinated at the two clinics, and D.C. Health is working with the church to pre-register residents for the clinics. No walk-up appointments will be available.