J&J Vaccine Approved; Headed to the DMV
COVID-19 Cases Reach 996,064 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 40,478 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 1,010 deaths; there have been 381,272 cases in Maryland with 7,674 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 574,314 cases with 8,382 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
The DMV could begin distributing the Johnson & Johnson single-dose COVID-19 vaccine this week after the FDA gave it emergency authorization late Saturday. A panel of experts advising the FDA endorsed it late Friday. Local health officials have struggled as demand for the vaccine far outpaces supply. The availability and administration of a third vaccine — joining the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines already available — is expected reduce the friction of a vaccine program that has health officials and patients frustrated. In D.C., 7.7% of the population has received at least one dose, while 13.6% of Marylanders and 14.5% of Virginians have. The national rate is 14.2% Vaccination efforts have seen many technical and logistical problems, including delayed shipments, long lines and frustrating experiences with online appointment portals. Virginia’s vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula called the Johnson & Johnson version an “exciting increase” for the state. He said Friday that Virginia is administering an average of 60,000 doses of vaccines per day as of Feb. 24th. This week, the state could see an additional 69,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses. Avula said it would be a “one time” delivery, followed by a drop-off the next few weeks, then a ramp-up later in March. On Saturday, the Virginia Department of Health announced the Johnson & Johnson doses will be “prioritized for mass vaccination clinics across the state.” An additional allotment is expected to go to pharmacies as part of the federal partnership to help vaccinate priority groups. VDH encouraged providers to advise people which vaccine they will receive when scheduling appointments. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires just a single dose and simple refrigeration, making it less complicated to distribute than the other two vaccines. But its 72% efficacy rate in the U.S. is lower than the nearly-100% of the other two. But public health officials are still pleased that a third vaccine was authorized. Avula called the Johnson & Johnson shot a “phenomenal option,” noting that while the efficacy rate is lower, the vaccine has proved 100% effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalizations. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan says he was told by federal partners that the state could also receive Johnson & Johnson vaccines as early as the first week in March, although state officials are not predicting the number of doses. He added that officials are working on plans to integrate the new vaccine into current vaccine allocations.
Following a week of all virtual classes and sequestering-in-place, the University of Maryland eased some restrictions on Saturday following an improvement in its COVID-19 metrics. The university said its positivity rate dropped to 1% after its latest three days of testing. The university lifted its sequester-in-place order at noon Saturday. On Monday, in-person classes will resume, and Stamp Student Union, the University Book Center and RecWell facilities will reopen. Limited programs at the recreation center can be booked starting Sunday at 6 a.m. “We will continue to actively monitor the situation and intervene appropriately as needed, including requiring additional testing in areas where we may observe increased viral transmission,” President Darryll Pines said in an email to the campus community. Indoor gatherings are restricted to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 25 people, or no more than one person per 200 square feet in either case. Physical distancing and proper mask-wearing are still required in all settings. Monitoring virus data will be key to maintaining the current reopening policies, Pines said, and there are “significant consequences” for those who break the guidance, including loss of housing or suspension. Since the start of the fall semester, Pines said nearly 600 referrals had been made to the Office of Student Conduct for potential COVID-19 violations and there have been 30 interim suspensions. The City of College Park, which Pines said has collaborated with, the university, has significantly increased its compliance activities, resulting in more than 250 warnings and municipal infractions for violations of noise and gathering limits, and more than $35,000 in fines.
Walmart will hold a COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic in Prince William County this week for those already pre-registered through the Virginia Department of Health. The location of the event hasn’t been released, but state health officials will be calling those on the list to make appointments, state vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said during a Friday afternoon update. The clinic will administer about 1,200 doses. Last week, Walmart held clinics in Roanoke, Chesterfield, Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Avula said. Prince William County was chosen for this week due to lagging vaccinations. The county health district has administered about 64,000 vaccine doses so far and has fully vaccinated about 20,000 people. The county’s population is just less than 468,000. “Walmart has agreed to go where they’re needed based on lower vaccination rates,” Avula said. Vaccines through that federal retail pharmacy program will be administered by Walmart, Walgreens, Giant and Safeway in Virginia. CVS pharmacies began vaccinations earlier this month.
Due to uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to begin planning early, Montgomery College classes will mostly be virtual through the fall semester. In a message to the school community last week, college President DeRionne Pollard wrote that it is important to make the difficult decision now. “Because of the complexity of class scheduling, student registration and financial aid processing, and assignment of faculty to thousands of class sections, the college must make operational decisions earlier than some other institutions,” Pollard wrote. Some specialty programs have had limited on-campus classes, and those will continue. Staff members will continue to work remotely through the summer and fall semesters, Pollard wrote, unless otherwise notified by their supervisors. Even if COVID-19 metrics improve or vaccines become more widely available, classes that begin the fall semester virtually will continue in that format for the entire semester. “If conditions improve, a class will not transition from one format to another in the middle of the semester, in order to minimize disruption,” Pollard wrote. “Should the metrics improve substantially, some additional fall classes, beginning in the second half of the fall semester (that is, October 27) may be offered face-to-face. … Worsening of health conditions, however, could move a face-to-face experience to emergency remote status.” Over the next few months, the college may offer some “small-scale uses” of on-campus facilities. One computer lab on each campus might be available, for example, Pollard wrote, or other areas may be available to reserve or rent.
For three consecutive days, many D.C. residents were unable to register for COVID-19 vaccine appointments due to technical issues with D.C. Health’s vaccination portal. Following a failure Thursday that involved a “technical review failure” in which many eligible residents were unable to get through at all, the city made another 4,350 appointments available a 9 a.m. Friday, but residents faced more problems. Then on Saturday, the health department released 3,500 appointments to qualified residents in priority ZIP codes at 9 a.m., but issues with registering persisted. “Thanks for your continued patience. Microsoft had to restart their servers. Please try to book your appointment again,” Mayor Muriel Bowser tweeted at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. About 15 minutes later, D.C. Health tweeted that the appointments had been filled. Approximately 160,000 residents are eligible in the city’s current vaccination phase that includes residents 65 and older as well as those 18-64 with 20 qualifying medical conditions. As more than 36,000 people attempted to sign up for appointments Friday, the spots were filled within 30 minutes, according to Lindsey Parker, the city’s chief technology officer. Some residents said had better success Friday using the phone lines, but the website was not functioning properly for many. Some expressed their frustration on social media, saying they were met with errors in the CAPTCHA verification step to start the questionnaire, entering the correct string of numbers multiple times then having to re-enter it, while others reported that the site completely crashed after a few minutes. On Thursday, city officials apologized for the glitches and said the IT team was “working with Microsoft” to figure out the system errors ahead of an anticipated high volume of people signing up. “We know how stressful of a time this is, and we appreciate your patience as we work together to get Washingtonians across all eight wards vaccinated,” Bowser tweeted on Friday. “Currently demand for the vaccine in D.C. is much higher than the supply we are receiving from [the] federal government.” In a video message, Parker offered advice for residents as the city figures out its pre-registration system. She said people should use Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers, refresh the page if they experience issues and switch to another browser when facing issues. Parker also suggested that users clear their cache. Ward 7 council member Vincent Gray said the council’s Committee on Health is meeting March 4 to conduct oversight hearings, and he plans to “reconfigure the hearing to have a panel discussion with Bowser Administration officials about the vaccination appointment process.” During Friday’s performance oversight hearing for the Committee on Housing and Executive Administration, the topic of the malfunctioning vaccine portal took center stage. Acting City Administrator Kevin Donahue told the committee that Thursday’s signup woes were due to a coding error that meant the vaccine portal didn’t reflect the newly eligible residents, and those under 65 were shut out. Friday’s issues were due to the large volume of users on the site at the same time, “sometimes clicking repeatedly to try to get on,” he said. “Yesterday’s [issue] was an error in the code and that should not have happened,” Donahue said. “Today the system was operating more slowly than one might expect a typical internet site to operate, but it’s because we had tens of thousands of people who, when it wasn’t quick, would hit refresh, refresh, refresh.” A new vaccine registration system is scheduled to be released sometime next month, officials previously said. During the hearing, Ward 2 council member Brooke Pinto asked why technical problems still persist when “the vaccine delivery was not new news at the start of this year … why is it still not able to be up and running?” Donahue said officials introduced the signup system currently in place in an effort to provide transparency. “It let us set expectations for people that ‘look, this week we have 3,500 vaccines.’ … It’s clearer now the value of a registration system.”
Bank of America, Capital One and Wells Fargo banks will refund overdraft fees to D.C. workers collecting unemployment benefits who missed payments last week due to a technical issues at the D.C. Department of Employment Services. About 39,000 people received late unemployment payments because of the glitch. The three banks represent nearly half of the consumer banking market in the DMV, according to a press release from D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman on Friday. “D.C. workers receiving unemployment shouldn’t lose money for our error, that’s adding insult to injury,” she said. Silverman said she worked with the banks to get them to agree to cover any overdraft fees. “It wasn’t the fault of our unemployment claimants that the money wasn’t in their accounts; it was the District’s error, and they shouldn’t have to pay a penalty for that,” Silverman said. Thousands of unemployment recipients should have received their weekly payment via direct deposit, bank card or check on Feb. 18, but the technical glitch at DOES prevented the payments. “The D.C. Department of Employment Services, which administers the city’s unemployment compensation system, said that coding changes made by a vendor who maintains the legacy technology system caused the error,” Silverman said. “When the expected payments did not arrive, some workers faced overdraft fees since their accounts did not have the unemployment compensation funds, and automatic payments for rent, utilities and other bills had been scheduled.” Bank of America will refund nonsufficient funds and overdraft fees caused by this issue. Impacted clients do not have to call the bank or take any additional actions, the release said. Wells Fargo and Capital One clients will have to contact their local branches in order to have the fee waived. Capital One customers can also call 800-655-BANK (2265). Benefit recipients affected by the missed unemployment payments can also call Silverman’s office for assistance at 202-724-7772. “While today’s agreement covers the three largest consumer banks in the region, I hope other banks in the District will follow suit,” Silverman said. “My office will be reaching out to the other banks to ask them to also waive overdraft fees for our affected workers. I encourage workers who got an overdraft fee because of this issue to reach out to their bank as soon as possible.” Benefit recipients who missed unemployment payments Feb. 18 should have received payments either Tuesday or Wednesday this week, DOES Director Unique Morris-Hughes said at a news conference Monday. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she expects this week’s benefits to be unaffected and that the issues has been resolved. “We terribly regret that this happened,” Bowser said Monday. “We have a system that we’re asking to do a lot of things to accommodate these new programs.” Bowser said D.C. did not plan to cover any overdraft fees related to the late payments. In early February, D.C. announced an $11 million initiative at DOES to help fund additional staff and upgrade the computer system.
Virginia will see an increase in vaccine doses it receives starting next week. Dr. Danny Avula, director of Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccination program, announced a jump in vaccine doses during a press conference Friday, saying that after last week’s winter weather delays the state is “churning it out.” The commonwealth will receive 180,000 first doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines starting next week; 130,000 second doses and 52,000 doses for eight pharmacy partners. He also said that the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is pending FDA approval, would add another 69,000 doses, and the state is planning how to distribute them. CVS Pharmacy began administering vaccines earlier this month through a partnership with the federal government, and several other pharmacies began this week. Avula said that the other pharmacies used their own scheduling system this week, because it took time to import the state’s list into the pharmacies’ systems, and “it’s better that it goes to somebody than nobody.” Starting next week, they will use the state’s preregistration list. Albertsons, which operates Safeway, and CVS are using their own systems. Walmart, which has been setting up vaccination sites in communities rather than in stores, will be opening a site in Prince William County next week. Avula said people who sign up for vaccination appointments can be contacted by pharmacies, local health departments or the Virginia Department of Health call center, so he urged those who have preregistered to answer their phones, even if they don’t know the number. Residents who have preregistered for the vaccine through their local health districts can expect their information to be merged into the statewide system but should “go ahead and enter your information again” in the state system, he said. Fairfax County is not participating in the state system. Avula also reiterated that the vaccine is free, and if a pharmacy asks for a resident’s health insurance, it is just so they can bill the insurance for administration fees. However, if a resident doesn’t have health insurance, they can still receive the vaccine at no cost. He said as more vaccine doses become available, the challenge will shift from finding doses to convincing people to take them. Avula reemphasized the safety of the vaccines, saying that about 10% of the population have experienced side effects such as fever and aches after receiving the second dose. This is normal for all types of vaccinations, such as the flu vaccine, he said. He added that less than 1% of the population have had an allergic reaction to the vaccine. The target rate to reach herd immunity in Virginia is 75% of the adult population or 5 million people, Avula said. He added that it would be “realistic” to get to 5 million first doses by the end of June. He predicted Virginia will get through phase 1B by the third week of April.
D.C.’s COVID-19 vaccine registration system crashed Thursday morning as thousands of newly eligible residents attempted sign up for 4,350 appointments. Appointments were to open at 9 a.m. to residents living in priority ZIP codes who are 65 or older, are 18 and older and have a qualifying medical condition ranging from asthma to cancer or are essential workers from childcare to grocery stores. But the demand almost immediately overwhelmed the city’s online and call center, with many callers reporting that they couldn’t get through on the phone. Others reported that even when they did get through online, the system wasn’t updated to reflect the new eligibility criteria for pre-existing conditions and essential workers. D.C Health announced Thursday afternoon that it will open 3,500 new COVID-19 vaccine appointments on Saturday morning following the glitches with the registration portal. The appointments will be available at 9 a.m., and people with qualifying health conditions who live in priority ZIP codes will be eligible to sign up for them. A spokesperson for Mayor Muriel Bowser attributed the issues to a “technical review failure that resulted in eligible residents with a qualifying medical condition being unable to register. As the IT team worked to stabilize the website due to heavy traffic, there were delays in finding and fixing the issue with the eligibility criteria. … The technical review failure has now been addressed, and with tens of thousands of residents newly eligible for the vaccine this week, we are currently working with Microsoft in anticipation of extremely high traffic during future appointment releases.” Many D.C. Council members tweeted that they had heard about the issues, and that crews were working to resolve them. “We apologize for the issues this morning with the Vaccination Registration site. Due to the high volume of traffic on http://vaccinate.gov, you may experience delays,” wrote D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson. “IT engineers are working to resolve the issues as soon as possible.” At-Large Councilmember Christina Henderson said she heard from residents online and via text of the website issues and said she shared the frustration with the website issues, especially after D.C. saw a similar problem occur when vaccines opened to residents 65 and older in January. “I think people expect that at this point, almost three months into the vaccine distribution process, that we would have been able to advise, manage and maintain a website that can easily facilitate individuals being able to sign up for the vaccine,” Henderson said. “I recognize that in this particular situation, it is a life or death right for some people.” Online, dozens of frustrated D.C. residents posted screenshots of the vaccination portal, reporting that the site denied them access to an appointment despite their qualifying medical conditions. Throughout the course of the morning, people posted on neighborhood listservs that they were able to secure appointments for their loved ones with qualifying medical conditions. Bowser’s spokesperson confirmed that people under the age of 65 were able to get appointments. But shortly after 10 a.m., D.C. Health tweeted that all the available online appointments had been booked. Today, D.C. residents 18 and older with qualifying medical conditions regardless of ZIP code will be able to schedule a vaccine appointment online. D.C. Health estimates that will widen vaccine eligibility to 160,000 residents. D.C. Health Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt announced earlier this month that the agency will transition to a new registration system next month, one aimed at allowing eligible people more flexibility when they log on to try to book an appointment.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman signed an executive order Thursday easing some of the county’s COVID-19 restrictions to align them with state requirements. The county experienced a jump in COVID-19 cases during the “deadly winter surge,” according to a press release, but cases and hospitalizations have since decreased to “pre-surge” levels. The press release said COVID-19 rates in the county have declined for more than seven consecutive weeks, the “longest decline since COVID cases were first identified in the county.” As of Thursday, the case rate was 13.6 cases per 100,000 residents and there were 59 coronavirus-related hospitalizations in the county. “Today’s loosening of restrictions are minor, but they simplify compliance and enforcement by aligning us with Maryland’s minimum standards,” Pittman said in the press release. Some of the changes include allowing establishments that were limited to 25% capacity to operate at 50% capacity, including fitness centers, pool halls, live bingo halls, hookah lounges and adult entertainment venues. Also, religious establishments can operate services outdoors with a 250-person maximum. Organized outdoor events are allowed with a maximum of 100 people. Indoor theaters can operate at 50% capacity or a 100 people, whichever is less. Outdoor entertainment venues can operate at 50% capacity or a maximum of 250 people, whichever is less. And outdoor sporting venues can operate at 50% capacity or 250 people, whichever is less. However, the county kept its restriction on social gatherings. Indoor gatherings will remain at a maximum of 10 people, and outdoor gatherings will remain capped at 25 people.
The Virginia Senate voted 36-3 Thursday to pass legislation that would require school districts to provide full-time, in-person instruction as the pandemic drags on. The measure now goes to Gov. Ralph Northam for his signature. If signed as is, it will take effect July 1. The bill would require districts to offer a full-time, in-person option for students, with limited exceptions. If a school has high levels of coronavirus transmission, it could temporarily revert to virtual learning. The bill also says school districts “may” provide fully remote virtual instruction, under certain conditions.
The Prince William Health District opened its newest COVID-19 vaccine clinic in the Manassas Mall in preparation for an anticipated increase in vaccine doses next month. The county’s other clinic, in Beacon Hall at George Mason University’s Manassas campus, which opened in mid-January, was suitable for healthcare workers and first responders, but presented limitations for older residents, said health district Director Dr. Alison Ansher. “The elderly population had to come with somebody and had walkers and wheelchairs. Because of the social-distancing requirements, it limited how many people we could have in the post-vaccine waiting area – it just wasn’t large enough,” Ansher said. The mall location allows people to stay inside while they are in line. “They don’t have to do that in the cold,” she added. Last week, the state of Virginia took over registration for the vaccine. Residents who previously registered with the county will be uploaded into the state system and should soon be able to see where they are on the waitlist, Ansher said. The Prince William Health District ranks below other Northern Virginia health districts in terms of vaccinations per capita. But Ansher said those rates are misleading because the health district vaccinates people who both work and live in the community. “A lot of people we vaccinated work, but do not live, in our community,” she said. “We have limited vaccines, and we want to vaccinate those people. But that’s a piece that’s not clear. If they get vaccinated here, that gets indicated in their county of residence.” County executive Chris Martino noted that Prince William has administered more vaccines than virtually every other jurisdiction in Virginia. The county is the second most populous jurisdiction in the state. Martino noted that at a current rate of about 360 doses a day, the Manassas Mall clinic is using only a fraction of its available space. The county expects to announce an even larger site for a vaccination clinic on the eastern side of the county by early March. “So we have the capacity to scale up to meet the supply as it arrives,” Martino said. Vaccine supplies were reduced last week due to winter storms across the country, but the number of doses shipped this week rose.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam will ease several coronavirus restrictions next week, citing the recent decline in infections and hospitalizations. Beginning Monday, the commonwealth’s limit on outdoor gatherings will increase from 10 people to 25 people, and the midnight-5 a.m. modified curfew will end. Restaurants and bars will be allowed to serve alcohol until midnight instead of 10 p.m., and the capacity limit on outdoor amusement or entertainment venues will increase from 25% to 30%, with a maximum of 1,000 people. Private in-person gatherings will still be limited to 10 people. “We hope that with trends continuing as they are, that we can look at further steps in the coming months,” Northam said during a press conference Wednesday. “But it’s critical that we do this slowly and thoughtfully.” The restrictions ease a flurry of measures Northam instituted in November and December, as cases began to increase and many feared further spikes would come after the holidays. Many of the restrictions were scheduled to expire in January, but Northam extended them through February as infections and hospitalizations soared to record highs in early January. During the press conference, Northam justified the rollback amid optimistic trends in the commonwealth’s coronavirus metrics. Since reporting the highest-ever infection rates in mid-January, cases have steadily declined. As of Tuesday, Virginia reported a seven-day average of 1,962 new daily cases. While it is less than one-third of the 6,166 average reported during the January peak, average new cases remain at a level last reported in mid-November, and still above those seen during the spring 2020 surge. The positivity rate has also fallen dramatically since peaking above 17% in early 2020, reaching a seven-day average of 8.0% on Feb. 21. Hospitalizations in the commonwealth have plummeted in recent weeks, falling from more than 4,000 Virginians hospitalized with the virus on Jan. 17 to just more than 1,500 residents hospitalized as of Wednesday.
Almost a year after the first case of COVID-19 was reported in D.C., the city reached a grim milestone on Wednesday as more than 1,000 residents have died from the virus. On Wednesday, the city reported three additional residents had died of the virus, bringing the death toll to 1,001. A few days ago, the U.S. surpassed 500,000 coronavirus-related deaths. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a proclamation declaring Feb. 24 a day of remembrance for Washingtonians who died from the virus. “These beautiful souls who passed were grandparents, parents, siblings, cousins, neighbors, classmates, colleagues, friends and loved ones,” Bowser said in the proclamation. “This tragic milestone is a reminder that this pandemic has forever changed families and communities. Even when the pandemic ends, for many, the pain and loss will still be there.” The sobering statistic serves as a stark reminder of the severity of the pandemic, even as D.C. makes progress in several of its COVID-19 metrics. Since a spike in cases earlier this year, the average number of daily new cases per 100,000 population has consistently decreased over the past month. Early this week, the city moved back into the “moderate” range for community spread after remaining at a “substantial” level since November. Hospitalizations have also decreased since early January with 10.1% of total hospitalizations in the city linked to COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Still, despite the optimistic outlook for the region’s caseloads, deaths plateaued in the past few months at a level higher than what the city saw during the summer and fall, averaging between three and six deaths a day for much of January and February. In early December, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia recorded 10,000 total deaths as a region. Among those lost were public figures, activists, teachers, friends, and community pillars. One of those deaths was Mercia Bowser, 64, the mayor’s older sister, who died Wednesday morning due to COVID-19. While leaders are optimistic about cases trending down, so far in 2021, 209 residents have died of the virus (accounting for 20% of deaths recorded since the pandemic began) as the region underwent a massive surge following the holidays. Vaccine rollouts may provide a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel, but more contagious variants have been identified in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, which experts worry could threaten the hopeful progress of vaccinations. “We will never know just how many lives have been saved through our shared commitment to wearing masks and social distancing, but we continue to make these efforts because we know that every single life saved is precious,” the mayor said. She ordered all flags to fly at half-staff throughout the day.
Montgomery County officials are working to stop link sharing in order to prevent people from booking COVID-19 vaccination appointments before their turn. County officials have been asking people not to share links for appointments. Link sharing has led to people getting turned away and slowing down the process for those with valid appointments. County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said during a press conference Wednesday that the state’s fix to stop the link from being shareable could come soon: “The state is intending to go live with that change this Friday,” he said. The appointment links are generated by a state-run site, known as PrepMod, which the county is required by the state to use. There are roughly 90,000 people in the next eligible group for COVID-19 vaccinations in Montgomery County, which includes those 65-74. But it could be weeks before the county is ready to move to that group. Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, reminded people: “There are also 100,000 or so essential workers as well, and so this next grouping that we are moving into could be very large. Just because you are part of that next grouping does not mean there will be a vaccine ready for you the day that we begin vaccinating in those new tiers.” Officials also said they were going to be launching a mobile unit pilot program, possibly this weekend, that will help homebound seniors and those with medical conditions get COVID-19 vaccinations. “We’re trying to finalize that and, behind the scenes, where we would test out a mobile platform that would be able to go to and provide some vaccines to homebound seniors who are within their particular practice,” Gayles said. The hope is to expand the program to get more people vaccinated. “We hope to be able to identify some best practices that would allow us to scale that up and support that effort, as well as potentially set up some others that would be able to provide doses to that population,” Gayles said. The county continues a push for a mass vaccination site. County Executive Marc Elrich said the county has talked to the fairgrounds in Gaithersburg, as well as Metro, for possible locations, but there is no timeline or current plan from the state. The mass vaccination sites are decided at the state level. Elrich said it is needed because the closest mass vaccination site is at Six Flags America in Prince George’s County, which isn’t convenient for older Montgomery County residents or those without transportation. If one is approved, Elrich said the vaccine doses should not come out of the county’s supply. The county is currently getting 4,500 doses each week. “We need them to provide additional doses to run the site, and we’ve got to be allowed to continue to finish the target populations, like the 75-year-olds,” Elrich said. “The people who died the most from this are going to continue to be left out there waiting for vaccines.”
American University and the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area launched a mobile COVID-19 testing lab that will process saliva-based tests at Gallaudet University. The mobile lab is expected process more than 50,000 tests per week when operations begin in March, with the goal of increasing public health safety for the participating universities as they shift back toward in-person learning. On Tuesday, the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners voted to join the consortium’s testing program to assist with the return of students with Baltimore City Public Schools to classrooms. “Robust COVID-19 testing is essential to the health and safety of the American University community and the entire D.C. region,” said American University President Sylvia Burwell. “Bringing together universities, K-12 schools and community organizations to provide testing will increase knowledge about the virus, help prevent further community spread and advance in-person activity.” American, Gallaudet, Catholic University of America and Marymount University plan to use around 5,000 of the available tests per week. The saliva-based test that the mobile lab will use was initially developed by researchers working with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. It requires a saliva sample instead of a nasal swab. The consortium said the test has been used to detect the U.K. variant of the virus, B.1.1.7, as well as the original strain. The test does not require trained medical personnel to administer, so participating schools can collect samples at their own sites and then send them to the mobile lab at Gallaudet for testing. “We have worked hard to make testing widely available to the community through the universities we serve, as testing is a critical component in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” said Andrew Flagel, the consortium’s -resident and CEO. “We are pleased to partner with our members to bring this new testing option to D.C.”
Maryland is increasing its COVID-19 screening after more-contagious strains were found in the state. During a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan said the state is partnering with the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University to increase screening for variants from Brazil, South Africa and the U.K. by more than 100%. “This enhanced capacity will enable us to screen and sequence over 10% of all COVID-19 cases, giving Maryland one of the strongest surveillance programs in America,” Hogan said. “If Maryland were a country, it would rank us sixth in the world in terms of percentage of cases being sequenced.” Genome sequencing allows scientists to decode the virus’ genetic makeup and learn more about how it evolves over time. Dr. Jinlene Chan, acting deputy secretary of public health services, said COVID variants are more transmissible than earlier strains of the virus, but have not been found to be more severe. “We will be expanding our capacity from approximately 300 sequences a week to over 700 sequences,” Chan said. “So that’s about 10% or over 10% of the total number of cases that we are currently averaging every week.” So far, the Maryland has identified about 60 cases of variants in the state, mostly the U.K. variant. Chan said a majority of these individuals did not contract the virus outside the county and believes community spread in the state is increasing. Hogan also announced that Maryland continues to ramp up its vaccination capacity ahead of the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which the governor anticipates the FDA could approve as early as next week. The state is opening four mass vaccination sites — including one at Regency Furniture Stadium home of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in Waldorf by March 11, which will be staffed by FEMA — in order to make the most of its supply. The state will also mass vaccination sites on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland. It has also launched a COVID information hotline to connect people who need access to vaccines and an appointment pre-registration system. But despite efforts to vaccinate as many people as possible, Hogan said the state does not have enough vaccines to meet demand. He and other governors have called on the federal government to increase vaccine allotment. The state has administered 1 million vaccine doses — more than 200,000 in the last week alone — and is seeing an overall improvement in its key COVID metrics. Case numbers, the positivity rate and nursing home cases are the lowest since October. Hospitalizations have also dropped 50% in the last six weeks. When asked how Maryland is ensuring equity in vaccine distribution, Hogan said despite the state’s best efforts, Prince George’s County residents are reluctant to get vaccinated. Prince George’s County has a majority Black population and some of the state’s highest case rates. “We’ve asked the local health departments to appoint an equity officer and have them focus their efforts on reaching underserved communities in places where they need more help,” Hogan said. “We’re going into mobile vaccination centers. It’s taken into consideration when we’re opening up pharmacies and other locations.” Hogan also announced he is issuing an executive order to require everyone over the age of five to wear a mask in schools as they prepare to reopen for in-person classes. Last week, the state submitted a $1.5 billion dollar supplemental budget to facilitate school openings. Schools will also be provided with unlimited PPE and more than $1 million in COVID tests. There has also been an increase in vaccine-related fraud. Last week, the U.S. Attorney for Maryland pressed charges against three individuals from Baltimore attempting to sell COVID vaccines. “I want to make this very clear. No one can sell you a vaccine. No one can charge you for a vaccine. It is free. No insurance information is required and no Social Security information is required,” Hogan said.
Montgomery County’s COVID-19 vaccination clinics are still focused on giving shots to residents 75 and older in Phase 1B of the county’s vaccine rollout, but the next phase is in sight. County health officials told County Council members during a meeting Tuesday that about 60% of the county’s residents who are 75 and older have been vaccinated. About 25,000 residents 75 and older remain on the county’s preregistration list who not been offered a vaccine appointment yet, said Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. However, some may have been able to get a vaccination elsewhere. Overall, given the weekly doses the county receives and the pace at which vaccinations are given, it could be just a few weeks before the county begins vaccinating those 65-74. “I think we’re optimistic that it will be on the sooner end rather than the later end,” said County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles. “Our goal isn’t to achieve 100% vaccinated,” before moving to the next phase of the vaccine plan, he said, but to ensure everyone on the list has at least been offered an appointment. For about a month, residents 65-74 have been able to preregister with the county. There are about 91,000 county residents in this age group, according to U.S. census data. When eligibility at county clinics expands, they will receive a notification from the county, Stoddard said. “But we’ll just have to be very clear in our messaging that, just because we’re moving into next tier, does not mean instantly that everyone in that tier will have a vaccine waiting for them,” he said. “That’s 90,000-plus people in our estimation. It’ll be several weeks from the beginning to the end.” After a delay in the shipment of vaccine doses from the federal government due to winter weather across the U.S. last week, the county’s shipment arrived Monday with a boost. In addition to last week’s shipment of 4,500 first doses, the county received this week’s allocation of 4,500 doses, too — a day earlier than they typically arrive. Even with a doubling of doses, Gayles told council members he didn’t anticipate any issues getting shots in arms. “I’m confident in the infrastructure that we have that we’ll be able to do that,” Gayles said. “It creates the opportunity where we may be able to add additional clinics.” Hospitals in the county, which also receive doses from the state, are also likely to handle a bigger than usual shipment of vaccine doses, Stoddard said. “Just about all the hospitals have been receiving well below their capacity,” Stoddard said. “So a doubling of it would still be within the bounds of what they would be able to do.” Officials also described efforts to get Montgomery County Public Schools teachers and staff vaccinated before the return to classrooms next month, saying they are largely on track with an informal goal of offering at least the first dose before schools reopen. A small group of MCPS vocational students and some students with special needs will return March 1. Then, larger groups of students will return in phases by grade beginning March 15. The district’s plan requires about 9,000 teachers and staff. So far, about 5,300 MCPS employees have been vaccinated or have appointments. Another 1,500 staff still need appointments for first doses before March 1, officials said. A partnership between Johns Hopkins University and Suburban Hospital has provided the bulk of vaccinations for educators. To finish vaccinating teachers before the March 1 deadline, Stoddard said the county would be relying on several partners. Nonpublic school teachers are also eligible for vaccinations. So far, about 2,000 appointments have been made available to them and 500-700 are expected to be added each week, Stoddard said.
As Montgomery County Public Schools students begin returning to classrooms next month, the county school board on Tuesday approved changes to some graduation requirements for seniors. Students now only need three math credits, including one in algebra/data analysis and one in geometry, a half-credit in physical education and a total of 21 credits to graduate, which are the Maryland state requirements. The board voted to waive the county’s additional standards. Also, students have the option to attend summer school to fulfill graduation requirements. Niki Hazel, associate superintendent of curriculum and instructional programs, said the district is seeking a waiver for summer school fees for students. She said students are allowed to request a reduced schedule this semester and make up credits during the summer or in another school year. Students will also be able to take up to two courses that aren’t graduation requirements as pass/fail. They can also retroactively apply the pass/fail standards for last semester. Meal services will continue for in-person and virtual learning students, said Essie McGuire, associate superintendent for operations. Students have until Friday to notify schools if they want to return to in-person learning. Some schools currently have a waiting list, because capacity has been reduced. When students return, face masks, social distancing and using hand sanitizer will be the main safety methods used to prevent the spread of COVID-19, said Derek Turner, chief of engagement, innovation and operations. In addition, he said, thermometers will be administered to all families, and students and staff will be required to fill out a health attestation each week, answering a series of questions about the individual’s contact with COVID-19, potential symptoms and whether they have tested positive. The form will be provided in multiple languages. As an additional safety protocol, Turner said MCPS plans “pool testing,” which will be a voluntary testing of asymptomatic students and staff on a regular basis. The district will get 50,000 rapid testing kits from the state for pool testing in schools. If one person tests positive in a class, then the entire class must quarantine and move to virtual learning while each students is individually tested. Under the plan approved Feb. 9, students with special needs and in Career and Technical Education programs will return March 1. Other students and staff will begin returning March 15, unless their families chose to remain virtual. Seth Adams, director of facilities management said more than 65,000 air filters have been changed and 5,000 air cleaner systems have been placed in classrooms and health offices. He said water fountains will be out of service, but water bottle stations will be open or installed in schools. Turner said 5,427 staff members have received vaccinations, but several board members argued that that isn’t enough, given that more than 24,000 teachers and staff work for the system.
Pre-K through fourth-grade students in Manassas City Public Schools will begin hybrid learning on March 23, but the school board Tuesday night declined to set a timetable for the return of older students. Lower grade students whose parents choose in-person learning will return twice a week starting March 23. Career and technical education students will return March 15 and other school-dependent learners will be back March 17. But a vote to bring middle and high school students back starting April 6 failed 4-3. No other plan for returning older students to classrooms before the end of the school year was discussed, although a small number of special education and English-language learners have been receiving limited in-person instruction since fall. Two weeks ago, the board indicated a willingness to bring students back earlier, with staff presenting a plan that would have had pre-K through fourth-grade students return by March 15 with older students returning the following week. Instead, the new dates were presented Tuesday night and board members voted 4-3 to bring CTE, school-dependent and younger students back. But a second motion for middle and high school students to return April 6 failed 4-3. At the end of the meeting, board chair Sanford Williams said Gov. Ralph Northam has called for all schools to reopen to some degree by March 15, but Williams pointed out that Manassas remains in the highest tiers of “primary” risk metrics, according to the Virginia Department of Health and the lowest in “secondary” metrics. “It’s great to have expectations,” Williams said of Northam’s March 15 goal, “but … it gives parents the expectation, and staff and students, that we’re going to open by a certain date without giving us the resources to do and explaining why it should be thus.” Williams also said that while pediatric experts largely agree that younger learners are safe in classrooms with masking and distancing, some research has shown that the virus spreads easier in classrooms with older students. For those pre-K and elementary school students returning, things will look very different with the district following state and federal guidelines on masking, signage and plexiglass barriers. Ventilation systems have been “inspected and adjusted to maximize the outside air intake,” according to a presentation from school staff, and all HVAC air filters will have been upgraded by the time students are back. Also, all school staff will have had the opportunity to receive two vaccine doses by the end of the month. At the last meeting, the board requested that staff move start dates back by a week to allow for the second doses to have their full effect. Manassas has persistently had relatively high levels of COVID transmission throughout the pandemic compared to other parts of Northern Virginia. As of Tuesday, the seven-day average for new cases per 100,000 of population was 15.4, down from 97.4 on Jan. 17.
The Virginia Department of Health confirmed five cases in the Richmond area of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children or MIS-C. The pediatric inflammatory illness associated with the coronavirus causes inflammation of one or more organ systems. Those include the heart, lungs and brain. MIS-C can be serious and even deadly. But most children who have been diagnosed with it have improved with medical care. The department said the cases coincided with the surge in cases of COVID-19 in the Richmond metro area. Other states have also reported increases of the syndrome as the overall COVID-19 rate has risen.
Just weeks from the first anniversary of the pandemic, coronavirus numbers in the DMV are slowly improving. Some metrics are as low as numbers not seen since last fall. Following January’s record-breaking number of new cases, COVID-19 infection rates and hospitalizations continue to drop consistently in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. On Monday, D.C.’s average daily cases per 100,000 residents slipped just below 15 for the first time since November, putting the city into the “moderate” range of community spread. Similarly, Maryland’s 14-day average of new cases dropped to 752, a number not seen since late October. And in the past seven days, new cases in Virginia dropped 34%. Experts attribute declines across the U.S. to several factors, including no holiday travel, better mask wearing and social distancing acceptance, and some level of population immunity. But despite their gradual decline, the DMV’s case counts remain higher than those reported at other points of the pandemic, and the identification of new coronavirus strains has DMV leaders urging continued vigilance, while not advancing additional reopening measures. “None of us want to let ourselves think we’re out of this,” D.C Mayor Muriel Bowser said during a press conference Monday. As of Monday, D.C. reported an average daily case count of 108, more that 50% lower than the average during the post-holiday surge in January. The city reported a positivity rate of 5.2% as of Feb. 18, but it had dropped below 5% earlier in February. The city’s average daily case rate per 100,000 people reached 14.9 on Monday for the first time since Nov. 9, ending D.C.’s months-long position in the “substantial” community spread range. The city briefly reached “minimal” community spread, the lowest transmission range, with an average daily case rate of 4.5 last July. D.C.’s hospitalization capacity remains the only metric in “red,” according to D.C. Health guidelines. On Monday, the city reported a seven-day average of 10.1% of city hospital beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients, although that metric has also been falling since mid-January. However, deaths from the virus have plateaued at a level higher than the city saw during much of summer and fall. The city is averaging between two and six deaths per day. The city is nearing a death toll topping 1,000 residents. As of Monday, 995 D.C. residents died from COVID-19. Maryland has seen similar trends, reporting an average daily case rate of 12.43 as of Feb. 21. That metric reached a pandemic record of 53.29 on Jan. 13. The state’s positivity rate has remained below 5% for nearly two weeks and dropped to 3.91% on Monday, its lowest since Oct. 31. As of Monday, 992 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, nearly half of the patients hospitalized during the peak in January. Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, the two jurisdictions with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state, have also seen case counts drop recently. The average daily case rate per 100,000 residents in Montgomery County dropped by nearly 80% in the past month, reaching 10.59 on Monday. In Prince George’s County, the daily case rate remains higher than the state at 17.78, but still shows significant decline from its spike of 58 earlier this year. Deaths in the state have started to fall recently after they began a steady rise in December. By early January, Maryland’s average of daily deaths was around 40; but dropped to 22 as of Monday. In Virginia, the seven-day average of new cases plummeted since the commonwealth recorded its highest counts earlier this year. One month ago, Virginia reported an average of more than 6,000 cases a day; as of Feb. 22 that number dropped to just below 2,000. Virginia’s positivity rate is down to 8.3%, after it jumped as high as 17% in the first days of 2021. In Northern Virginia, new infections have also declined, reaching an average of 446 new cases on Monday, the lowest since mid-November. Like in D.C. and Maryland, hospitalizations in Virginia have dropped significantly over the last month. Hospitalizations in the commonwealth began increasing in early November and set a record when Virginia reported an average of more than 3,000 coronavirus patients in early January. On Jan. 22, 2,969 people were hospitalized with the virus in Virginia. One month later, that number has dropped to 1,537, a trend in the right direction but still higher than the commonwealth reported in the early fall. Deaths in Virginia remained high in 2021, and on Monday the commonwealth reported 155 deaths. Over the past three days, the state reported more deaths than during any whole week during the pandemic, but a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Health said the spike was due in part to back-logged data. While the declining case counts for the region may be a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, the spread of more transmissible COVID-19 variants has experts concerned about another surge. Cases of the U.K., South African and Brazilian variants have been identified in D.C., Northern Virginia, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties. If the spread of these strains outpaces vaccinations, experts worry that cases could quickly rise again. As of Monday, D.C. had vaccinated 7.7% of residents. Maryland administered 1,087,086 doses — slightly more than 12% of the state’s population, and Virginia had administered 1,414,079 doses – 13.1% of the population have received at least one dose as of Feb 22.
Following delays in the shipment of COVID-19 vaccine doses to Montgomery County because of winter weather, vaccination appointments were on the verge of being postponed until a new supply arrived Monday afternoon. The Maryland Department of Health sent 10,000 doses to the county for last week — 4,500 first doses and 5,500 second doses — and 4,500 first doses for this week from the delayed shipment, a spokesperson for the county’s Department of Health and Human Services said. County officials had said Monday morning during an online briefing that COVID-19 vaccination appointments scheduled last week could be rescheduled starting Wednesday if the delayed vaccine shipments were delivered soon. The county saw a drop of about 5,000 first-dose vaccinations last week after winter weather delayed vaccine shipments. The winter weather delayed vaccine shipments across the DMV. Dr. Raymond Crowel, director of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, said people should drive safely to appointments Monday and Tuesday, and that if they were late, vaccination workers would wait. Residents can also call 240-777-1755 to reschedule. County officials reiterated their call for Maryland to create a statewide vaccination website, as well as a regional vaccination website, that they said would help residents get vaccinated quicker. About 127,000 Montgomery residents have received their first COVID-19 dose, and about 50,000 people are fully vaccinated, according to Crowel. County Council President Tom Hucker said that residents are “very frustrated and angry” at the “chaotic” system, adding, “We could be vaccinating 10 times as many residents” if the Maryland Department of Health was not “siphoning off” doses for private providers and mass vaccination sites. Crowel said a regional vaccination site would allow officials to target doses to particular communities who cannot travel to the state sites, including one at Six Flags America in Prince George’s County and two in Baltimore. The county is currently working with partners, such as Connect-A-Ride, for taxi services to help residents without access to transportation get to mass vaccination sites. County Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz said it doesn’t make sense that Maryland’s largest county doesn’t have a mass vaccination site. Crowel said that the county is allocating doses to communities that have been hit the hardest, which he said is mostly Black and brown communities. The county is assigning doses based on ZIP codes and census tracking; he said it is “not based on population, but on impact.” Crowel also encouraged residents to continue to get tested, as testing numbers have dropped from 50,000 a week to 35,000-40,000 a week after the holidays.
Maryland will launch a new coronavirus vaccine registration website in March. Acting Health Secretary Dennis Schrader made the brief announcement during a Maryland Senate vaccine oversight committee hearing Monday. The new website will allow Marylanders to pre-register for vaccine appointments. Currently, the state’s coronavirus website offers only a list of 222 vaccine providers, but no way to pre-register. Schrader said new the site will help “manage the flow” of appointments and improve the user experience. He said vaccine supply from the federal government is the largest hurdle at the moment, but the new site will help when more supply is available. It will be used for state-run mass vaccination sites, but will also coordinate with local health departments, Schrader said. It won’t include vaccine appointments through pharmacies or other health providers. Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Navarro tweeted, “This is an important step forward, hopefully soon there will be a centralized system for all sites, not just for mass vaccination sites.” Rep. Anthony Brown was more critical, tweeting: “Not good enough. We need a one-stop portal for everyone to get vaccinated.” Schrader also said the state is upgrading PropMod, its vaccination appointment system, to stop the sharing of links. “These upgrades will address the sharing of vaccine invitations to unauthorized parties, so we can end the sharing of links.”
A year filled with turbulence ended on a challenging note for the DMV’s two major airports, with passenger counts in December off 80% at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and 65.7% at Washington Dulles Interinational Airport from the previous year. For all of 2020, passenger counts at Reagan National and Dulles, combined, were down more 67.4% compared to 2019. The figures were released by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates both facilities. In all of 2020, 7.6 million passengers traveled through Reagan National and 8.3 million through Dulles, representing declines of 68.4% and 66.4%, respectively. In December, traffic at Reagan National totaled about 400,000, down 80.2% from a year ago, while the 700,000 travelers moving through Dulles represented a 65.7% drop. For Dulles, the December data may be something to mildly celebrate. Passenger enplanements, which represent about half the total passenger count, in December were the largest since March. At Reagan National, however, enplanements since July have been between 202,000-228,000 per month, and December’s total was the second lowest during the six-month period. Passenger-count declines among airlines for December were relatively uniform at Reagan National: Totals were off 81.3% at American Airlines, the airport’s largest carrier, with drops of 83.4% at Southwest Airlines, 80.6% at United Airlines, 80% at Alaska Airlines, 77.4% at JetBlue, 76.7% at Delta Air Lines and 51.1% at the more leisure-oriented Frontier Airlines. At Dulles, domestic-travel passenger counts were down 59.5% at dominant United, 69.4% at Delta, 74.6% at American, 60.7% at Southwest and 88.9% at Alaska. International passengers at Dulles were down 70.9% on United, 82.1% on Lufthansa, 85.5% on British Airways, 84.4% on Air France, 64.1% on Avianca and 86.9% on Korean Air. The two carriers that saw the smaller declines were Ethiopian Airlines down 24.4% and Turkish Airlines down 45.2%. Service from Air China remained suspended. At Dulles, domestic cargo was up 10.7% in December from a year ago due largely to additional service from FedEx, but international cargo fell 32.3% due largely to fewer flights by United and international carriers.
Virginia lawmakers advanced a new version of bipartisan school-reopening legislation that would tighten the requirements for in-person instruction that districts must offer next year. The legislators negotiating the bill said Monday that the aim of the latest version is to require school districts grappling with the pandemic to offer a full-time, in-person option for students, with limited exceptions. If a school has high levels of transmission of COVID-19, it could temporarily revert to virtual learning under the measure. A committee sent the latest version of the bill to the full House on Monday.
Montgomery County residents 75 and older living in one of the areas hit hardest by COVID-19 were able to get their first dose of vaccine Sunday at the East County Community Recreation Center in Silver Spring. The clinic was visited by local officials and health executives. Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the National American Public Health Association, said the only way to end the health disparities is to go where the need is. “You take the shots to the people; you don’t ask the people to come to the shots,” Benjamin said. He also said a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that Americans lost one year of life expectancy is significant. “In Hispanic men, two years of life; African American, men three years of life,” Benjamin said. “So what we’re going to do — we’re going to vaccinate as quickly as many people we can in the highest priority areas. That means our seniors and then, within that category, communities of color.” County Executive Marc Elrich addressed the county’s vaccine shortage, saying the number of vaccine doses available “is way smaller” than the number of people eligible to receive it. Councilmember Will Jawando said Gov. Larry Hogan was partially to blame for the county’s shortage of vaccines. “Meanwhile, [the] governor and his health department sent the majority of the vaccinations to private sector entities who are not focused on getting it out equitably,” Jawando said. “That’s what this is about; that’s why we’re here.” One of the solutions the state should consider is creating a mass vaccination site in the county, Council President Tom Hucker said. “I’m glad Baltimore has one; I’m glad Prince George’s has one,” Hucker said. “We need one in the largest county in the state where we have the most deaths in the state. Right here, in Montgomery County.” The county’s health department prioritizes vaccinating residents 75 and older from the ZIP codes most ravaged by the virus in priority groups 1A and 1B. It estimates about 50% of eligible residents have received their first dose.
After almost a year of working from home due to the pandemic, a new report by the Greater Washington Partnership predicts many workers in the DMV will continue working remotely when the health emergency ends, hampering downtown D.C.’s recovery. “If a quarter of the employees capable of working remotely continue to do so after the pandemic, the impact of this shift will be felt beyond just those working remotely,” the report said. According to the U.S. Census, D.C.’s daily population swelled 87% because of commuters – more than any other city in the U.S. More than 250,000 commuters came from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and another 100,000 came from Fairfax County. The office buildings they occupied are a valuable source of property tax revenue for the city. And their daily spending for lunch and lattes averaged $127 a week. “The effects of a moderate to substantial shift to remote work in the Capital Region will not be felt evenly across geography, industry or occupation,” according to the study conducted by Ernst & Young. “While remote-capable workers may benefit from a more flexible work environment, public services, smaller businesses, and restaurant and retail workers who historically relied on regular commuters will be required to adapt to a post-pandemic future of work,” the report said. The 40-page study defines “the Capital Region” as stretching from Richmond to Washington to Baltimore, with 188,000 employers overall, including the federal government, and 5 million workers. The report said 49% of the region’s jobs are considered “remote-capable” for the long term, second only to the San Francisco area. Before the pandemic shutdown began, only about 5% of DMV employees worked remotely full time, according to the study, which said that by the end of 2020, nearly 80% were working remotely at least some of the time. After examining survey results and other data, Ernst & Young considered two possible post-pandemic scenarios in which 18% or 14% of employees continue working remotely from three to five days a week — fewer than do so now but more than before the health emergency. If pre-pandemic demographics hold true, a majority of those remote workers will be White and employed in high-skill professions, the research showed. Before COVID-19, downtown D.C. was a textbook example of a once-distressed city center reborn into economic vitality. By fall, though, about 95% of its 167,000 office employees were working from home. If a substantial number of them opt to continue indefinitely after the pandemic, the long-term impact on small businesses could be devastating, the report said. It said government and corporate leaders, in planning post-pandemic work patterns, should be mindful of the ripple effect on employees in other sectors who cannot work from home and whose livelihoods depend on commuters. The pandemic has devastated downtown D.C. Some fear the damage is permanent. These leaders “need to consider . . . mitigating the costs that will be more heavily borne by smaller businesses, people of color and non-essential, non-remote workers,” the study said, adding that “equity will need to be at the center of agendas to create an inclusive economy where workers can thrive irrespective of their job, race or neighborhood.” Education is a major issue. While most people in remote-capable jobs have college degrees, workers who cannot stay at home “generally have lower levels of educational attainment, with 39% holding a bachelor’s degree or above,” the report said. “The disparity is more pronounced for restaurant and retail workers, of which 16% have a college degree.” These restaurant, retail and entertainment workers would be particularly at risk in a major, long-term shift toward remote work. More days working at home “will decrease spending on meals, shopping and entertainment around the workplace,” the study said. “This could disproportionately impact smaller businesses around workplaces” in urban downtowns. And the study does not foresee “a dollar-for-dollar shift in consumer spending” from downtown restaurants to restaurants in residential areas, close to people’s home offices. “Remote workers may shift to eating self-prepared meals when working at home rather than purchasing meals.” Small-business owners of color are especially likely to suffer, given their existing problems, the report added. “Nearly half of all Latinx-owned and almost 60% of Black-owned small businesses nationally were found to have liquidity concerns in 2019 by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, as compared with only 31% of all small businesses reporting similar levels of financial distress.” As for public-sector services, the study said, transit systems — especially Metrorail — could face major post-pandemic financial woes if a large percentage of employees continue working remotely. The consultants reported that 68% of Metrorail riders hold remote-capable jobs. After Metrorail ridership tanked during the shutdown, how much it rebounds depends on how many remote-capable workers return to offices. “Buses and cars, on the other hand, are more likely to be used by commuters who cannot conduct their job remotely,” the study said, noting that from Richmond to Baltimore, “only 35% of bus commuters have remote-capable jobs.” The scary issue for those folks is whether their non-remote jobs will be available long term if huge numbers of remote workers continue to stay home. Small businesses in high-rent cities face disaster. If they go under, urban life will change.