2,500 Get Vaccine at D.C. Convention Center
COVID-19 Cases Reach 1,012,420 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 41,273 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 1,030 deaths; there have been 386,610 cases in Maryland with 7,759 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 584,537 cases with 9,519 deaths. Social distancing is recommended to help control its spread. You can read last week’s updates here.
D.C. opened its first high-capacity vaccination site at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center Saturday on with 2,500 residents getting the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Students, staff and physicians from George Washington University helped administer the vaccine, the university said in an Instagram post. The site’s debut went smoothly, with some residents saying the process involved a very little wait. “It was a model process,” one woman told NBC Washington. “It was easy, it was wide open. It felt very safe and very professional. I’m really grateful to everyone involved.” As it continues to vaccinate eligible D.C. residents, the city plans to open a high-capacity vaccination site at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast next weekend. That site will be supported by Georgetown University, according to a press release. Georgetown said the site will vaccinate 1,500 residents over the weekend. Providence Health System will be responsible for operating a third high-capacity vaccination site. All three high-capacity sites will offer the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. None of the three sites accept walk-ups. Appointments must be made using the city’s online portal or through the call center.
Long lines for the Six Flags America mass vaccination site continued Saturday, even with police there to control lines and manage traffic. The long lines resulted from COVID-19 vaccine appointments and opening day of the park for the season. Police tweeted that traffic for COVID-19 vaccines should not enter the site using the main Six Flags America entrance but should instead join the vaccine line beginning at Central Avenue westbound at Hall Road. Several people said they waited more than two hours for their vaccination but praised police for keeping order in the long lines and members of the National Guard, vaccinators and site staff for their running of the site. Saturday’s more orderly process followed extremely long lines Friday and reports that some drivers were cutting the lines, leading police to intervene and try to control the situation. One Waldorf couple had appointments a 1:45 p.m. Saturday but based on Friday’s long lines, they arrived about 11:45 a.m. They still didn’t get their vaccinations until 2:15 p.m. Another woman said she waited nearly three hours in her car so her husband, an essential government worker, could get his shot Saturday. The Maryland Department of Health encouraged residents not to cut in line. Officials said the vaccination site is a large logistical operation, and they are making daily adjustments to solve issues. An fender-bender was reported Friday when some drivers tried to cut the line that stretched for more than a mile. Friday’s backup was about 2 miles long beginning on Church Road and extending west along Central Avenue into the parking lots. The Six Flags America mass vaccination site is currently vaccinating 400 people an hour with a goal of 500 per hour. Traffic control measures for Saturday’s amusement park opening included personnel to direct traffic and signs.
Prince William County switched its COVID-19 vaccine scheduling system and will now use PrepMod, a website used by the Maryland Department of Health. The health district said in a press release that the email with a link to make an vaccine appointment will come from PrepMod instead of the Virginia Department of Health. Residents who scheduled their first dose through the old Vaccine Administration Management System will use the old system to schedule their second dose. If residents do not receive a call within three days of their scheduled vaccination due date, they should call the county health district call center at 703-872-7759.
Four days after Montgomery County Public Schools reopened for special education and career and technical education students, John T. Baker Middle School in Damascus reported that someone at the school tested positive for COVID-19. It is the first reported MCPS case since schools reopened. Principle Louise Worthington told school parents and families in a letter Friday the individual, who is not identified as a student or staff member, was last in the school building on March 2, 2021. Students and staff members who were known to have direct contact with the person were notified and advised to quarantine for 14 days. Worthington said that unless parents or family members were contacted directly, students do not need to be tested or quarantined. MCPS considers direct contact to be within about 6 feet of an infected individual for a prolonged period of time, such as being in the same office or classroom, or being coughed on. Direct contact does not include being on the same floor or in the same building as the person who tested positive. Worthington advised parents to monitor their children for symptoms, which include a fever, cough and shortness of breath. “If your child develops any of these symptoms, do not send them to school. … Students who develop symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 will not be able to return to the building until they are medically cleared,” she said.
Friday was the first anniversary of COVID-19 being reported in the DMV with the first case diagnosed in Maryland. On Friday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan marked the anniversary with a twilight vigil ceremony. Municipalities around the state lit up government buildings in amber in memory of the 7,748 people who have died because of the virus. He was joined by Frist Lady Yumi Hogan, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, Senate President Bill Ferguson, House Speaker Adrienne Jones and the Rev. Johnny R. Calhoun. “Exactly one year ago, I announced the State of Maryland’s first confirmed cases of COVID-19, and I declared a state of emergency. In those early hours of the crisis, as we began to take unprecedented actions to bring our entire public health arsenal to bear against this invisible enemy, none of us could truly have fathomed the toll that this global pandemic would take on our lives, and on our very way of life,” Hogan said. “But it was no surprise that Marylanders rose to meet this crisis with great courage and compassion. From doctors and nurses coming out of retirement to help on the front lines, to National Guard citizen soldiers distributing meals to kids, to the people volunteering, giving blood and donating to food banks. To the businesses that shifted their entire operations overnight in order to make masks, produce hand sanitizer and manufacture face shields. Together we marshaled an incredible statewide response, and in so doing, we showed the nation and the world what it means to be Maryland Strong.” He said each day brings us closer to a return to normalcy, but cannot forget to the virus has taken, many of whom couldn’t even have their loved ones by their side when they passed. “To their sons and daughters, their brothers and sisters, their mothers and fathers, and all of their loved ones, we know that we cannot bear as you do the unimaginable burden of their loss, but we grieve with you, and we resolve to keep each of you in our hearts and in our prayers. We resolve to honor the healthcare heroes and first responders whose incredible sacrifices saved us from losing far more of our fellow citizens. The citizens of our state will be forever grateful.” At National Harbor, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks also reflected on the last year.
D.C. officials chose Microsoft to host D.C. Health’s new COVID-19 pre-registration system. The announcement comes following a council oversight hearing during which members expressed concern when Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration couldn’t or wouldn’t say whether Microsoft or Accenture would deliver the new pre-registration system slated to be unveiled next week. “We are still missing very vulnerable people with the tech that we have,” Ward 1 council member Brianne Nadeau said during the 11-hour oversight hearing Thursday. “I want to keep talking about how we can expand opportunities for people to sign up and get the vaccine. I’m hoping having a registration system makes it a little easier.” D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt provided vague details about the pre-registration system that had been announced to launch next week when questioned about it during a Thursday press briefing. Chief Technology Officer Lindsey Parker walked reporters through the system, with Nesbitt saying registrants will be prioritized based on their Zip code, health conditions and age. However, hours into the council’s Thursday hearing, assistant city administrator Jay Melder said that the city hadn’t yet chosen between Microsoft and Accenture — meaning, the decision of which vendor the city would chose for the new system was still up in the air. “We want to make sure that when we do transition into a pre-registration system that it’s the right one, that it’s been through the right testing, that it has the right features that we’re looking for,” Melder said. “We can’t give you a time or date … We never said we were going to release it Monday. We can’t give you what day and time next week that’s going to become available because we’re still working out some things there.” Parker explained the decision-making process behind the current system, which Microsoft developed and hosts on its cloud, and has booked more than 45,000 appointments so far despite the glitches. Like at Thursday’s press conference, Parker walked council members through a demonstration of the pre-registration portal, outlining the questionnaire residents will fill out and the method by which residents will be invited to sign up for an appointment. Despite the demonstration, councilmembers were still perplexed by the proposed timeline. “I was surprised to find out we haven’t chosen a vendor yet for the new pre-registration system, despite a mockup shown to press & @councilofdc,” At-Large council member Elissa Silverman tweeted Friday. “The best explanation, which was not given, is that there is a backup plan if the chosen system does not work. But we need it to work.” Silverman added that she isn’t sure how D.C. Health can launch a system next week without ample user testing, load testing and other vetting measures. Officials with D.C. Health and the city administrator’s office offered vague answers when Silverman asked about how a vendor would be selected and how the new system would avoid further pitfalls. “We continue to develop and test a pre-registration portal with Microsoft to alleviate the traffic issue that an appointment portal presents,” Mike Rupert, a spokesperson for Office of the Chief Technology Officer, said in an email Friday. He added that OCTO is working to improve the user experience on the city’s appointment portal. On Friday morning, there was a delay in activating the site, as traffic was more than triple last week’s peak, he said. The site wasn’t activated until 9:06 a.m. and more than 4,500 spots were booked within 10 minutes.
Traffic control measures will be in place around the Six Flags America mass vaccination park to alleviate issues as the amusement park opens today for the season. Midday Friday, there was a 2-mile-long backup beginning on Church Road and extending west down Central Avenue into the Six Flags parking lots. “The Six Flags mass vaccination site is currently serving 400 people an hour with a goal of 500 per hour,” said Maryland Department of Health spokesperson Charles Gischlar in a statement Friday. “This is of course a large logistical operation and we are making daily adjustments to solve problems.” Traffic control measures for today’s park opening will include personnel who will direct traffic and signs. Gischlar said the state health department is working with the Department of Transportation and state and local law enforcement agencies.
Prince George’s County began dispatching mobile units to elderly homebound individuals, opening more vaccination sites and texting residents to schedule appointments. Although the county will temporarily close its Sports and Learning Complex vaccination site for routine maintenance between March 13-28, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said during a press conference Thursday morning that the county will open a site at Kentland Community Center in Landover on March 8 and one at the Cedar Heights Community Center in Seat Pleasant on March 15. The county can vaccinate 2,000 people per day, she said, but it only receives about 6,200 vaccines per week. “People are asking, ‘Where in the world are our vaccines?’” Alsobrooks said. “We cannot administer vaccines that we don’t have. That’s the chief issue we have. I can’t say it any more plainly than that.” There are currently 120,000 Prince Georgians on a waiting list for the vaccine. The Maryland Department of Health opened a state-run mass vaccination center at the Six Flags America in Bowie, but only 11% of vaccinations have gone to Prince George’s residents. “The unfortunate truth is that people have been made to compete for appointments,” Alsobrooks said. “So there is a whole equity issue that has been created and maybe just not anticipated … but the results speak for themselves.” Data from the state’s Department of Legislative Services shows that Prince George’s, the hardest hit county in the state, is lagging in vaccine distribution. County residents make up about 15% of the state’s population, but only about 8% of its first doses. Prince George’s and Charles counties and Baltimore City, the state’s predominantly Black jurisdictions, have the lowest percentages of residents receiving vaccine. Alsobrooks said she would like to see more vaccines go to the Six Flags site. “I’d like to see 50% of the vaccine that is administered at that site that is in our county to go to Prince George’s County residents,” Alsobrooks said. “Or in the alternative, I believe [in] setting aside a day or days … exclusively to Prince Georgians. This would help us tremendously to be able to increase [vaccination] numbers.” Alsobrooks added that she would like to see additional vaccines go to the University of Maryland College Park site because there are ZIP codes in the area with large populations of Latino residents heavily affected by the pandemic. In a press release Thursday, Gov. Larry Hogan committed to set aside at least 500 appointments for county residents, in addition to what residents can book online and through the state’s call center. suggested that he was amenable to Alsobrooks’ requests. The state is also looking to open the First Baptist Church of Glenarden, one of the county’s largest churches, as a vaccination site by mid-March, with the goal of ramping up to 1,000 vaccinations per day. The state would partner with the University of Maryland Medical System to supply some of the vaccine to those sites. As part of the state’s vaccine equity plan, faith-based and other community organizations can apply online to the state health department to hold vaccination clinics, Hogan said. Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead of the Maryland National Guard said setting up clinics at smaller churches and other community centers takes only a few days and is a much quicker process than trying to set up mass vaccination sites, which can take weeks of planning. “It’s community-driven because it’s specific to a community whose needs may be different where there is a barrier,” Birckhead said during a press conference Thursday afternoon. “These organizations know their communities and their needs best.” Interested community organizations can apply on the state website. The state is already partnering with Casa de Maryland in Laurel.
High school sports could resume in D.C. as soon as March 15, as long as there aren’t any surges in COVID-19 cases due to the spread of new and more contagious coronavirus. Mayor Muriel Bowser said during a press conference Thursday that sports will resume in phases, with the lowest-contact sports starting first. “Let me just be perfectly candid that we hope on March 15 that this plan moves forward, and it would … not be able to move forward if we saw any significant change in our metrics,” Bowser said. “But it has been made very clear to us from schools and parents that they want some planning time, and we’re being as helpful as we can with that.” The move follows a steep decline in COVID-19 cases during February, although D.C. remains in a phase that D.C. Health categorizes as “substantial community spread” and amid an accelerating rollout of vaccines to residents. D.C. Public Schools are in the midst of a partial reopening with about 9,200 students back in classrooms. About 15,000 of DCPS’ 52,000 students were eligible to return. According to D.C. Health’s guidance, sports should resume in phases, starting with zero-contact “re-engagement” like conditioning then moving to group practices. Bowser also said Thursday that the city was starting to administer the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at three “high-capacity vaccination sites,” including the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Providence Health System and the Entertainment and Sports Arena. The receipt of 6,000 J&J vaccine doses this week added a significant amount of supply to the city’s existing weekly allocation of about 17,000 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Bowser announced during the press conference that all teachers and childcare workers will be eligible for vaccinations beginning next week. Currently only those who work in-person are eligible. “We will have more doses and appointments available in addition to having a different way to register for an appointment and have D.C. Health notify you when it’s your turn,” Bowser said. Saturday will mark one year since D.C. confirmed its first case of the coronavirus. “It has been incredible … and I don’t think any one of us would have expected that we would have to shut down our city, close schools, send people home from work, modify our thriving hospitality, arts and entertainment, have our hospital and healthcare workers fighting a deadly virus at first with limited supplies and to have lost over 1,000 Washingtonians,” Bowser said. “Don’t give up yet, because [the end of the pandemic is] in sight.”
The head of the Maryland National Guard who is leading the state’s COVID-19 vaccine equity task force released a plan Thursday for getting shots into the arms of hard-to-reach groups by partnering with churches and other community groups to quickly launch pop-up clinics. “We want to meet people where they are,” said Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead during a press conference with Gov. Larry Hogan. Hogan billed it as a first-in-the-nation “vaccine equity operations plan” to address racial gaps and inequities that have plagued vaccine distribution in Maryland and across the county. The seven-step plan relies on community organizations offering their locations to the equity task force, which will review proposals, perform site walk-throughs if necessary and then recruit hospitals and pharmacies to provide vaccine doses to the organizations to run their clinics. The task force will also assist with the rollout, with a goal of providing enough support and oversight to make sure the clinic is self-sufficient going forward. “The bottom line is that our efforts are transparent and will achieve what the governor has asked me to do, which is to break down barriers to expand access of the COVID-19 vaccine and to save lives of underserved, vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities,” Birckhead said. An upcoming clinic at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Prince George’s County with more than 10,000 worshippers is expected to administer 900 shots a day when it opens on March 16. Vaccine doses will come from a stockpile allocated to the University of Maryland Medical System. Similar community clinics have already been piloted in smaller settings. A recent “soft launch” at Baltimore’s New Shiloh Baptist Church administered 50 doses with supplies that Safeway provided. On Saturday, a bigger event with 250 vaccinations is planned. Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford said the goal of the action plan and its community clinics is to reach people “in ways that government often isn’t able to do.” While much of the focus on expanding access to vaccines has centered on standing up mass vaccination sites across the state, Birckhead said, in addition to reaching targeting populations, this approach has the benefit of speed, since launching a mass vaccination site can take weeks of preparation. Organizations interested in hosting clinics should contact their local health department, Birckhead said. The state will also launch an online portal. The equity plan will consider a host of factors to “identify the communities and the individuals who are vulnerable, underserved, hesitant or difficult to reach,” she said. The factors include the population older than 65; population with an annual income below $49,000; the unemployment rate; the population older than 25 without a high school diploma; minority composition of a community, the number of single-parent households, households with more than one person in a room, households without access to a car; total COVID cases; and the amount of the population that has already received at least a first dose of the vaccine.
Bethesda-based Marriott International will pay U.S. and Canadian employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine and is encouraging managers to offer flexible time off to get it. Marriott employees who receive a vaccination will get the equivalent of four hours of their standard pay. The hotel chain is also providing education on the benefits of vaccination and said, while it is encouraging hotel employees to do it, vaccination is not mandatory. “As vaccines become more widely available, this will create a safer environment for all associates, and we believe that consumer confidence to travel again will increase significantly and help the rebound of the travel and tourism sector,” said David Rodriguez, global chief human resources officer, said in a press release Thursday. Marriott cited recent research that indicates half of consumers in the U.S. see vaccine distribution as key to travel, and vaccines are a gating factor to their ability to confidently travel for leisure or business.
Virginia on Thursday reported its first death of a child younger than 10 from COVID-19 complications. The Virginia Department of Health said the child, who lived in central Virginia, died from a combination of coronavirus and a chronic health condition. “Our heartfelt condolences are extended to the family and friends of this child,” said state health commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver in a press release. “While fewer cases of COVID-19 are reported in children compared with adults, children are not immune to the disease.” He added that there have been more than 80 deaths from COVID-19 nationwide for children younger than 5 and 180 deaths among those from 5-17. According to the VDH dashboard, there have been more than 24,000 reported cases of coronavirus in children ages 0–9 and 192 hospitalizations. The child’s death will be reflected on the state’s dashboard today.
After portal crashes, dropped calls and error messages plagued D.C.’s vaccine distribution three consecutive days last week, D.C. Health will implement a new pre-registration system beginning next week. “Under the new system, individuals will be able to provide their information to D.C. Health through a pre-registration website or by calling the District’s call center,” according to a press release from Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt on Wednesday. When appointments become available, pre-registered residents will receive an email, phone call and/or text message alerting them to make an appointment. D.C. Health did not provide an exact date for the new system’s launch. It is also not clear how long people will have to make an appointment after receiving notification. When Nesbitt announced plans for a new system last month, she indicated that the city would notify eligible residents in small batches, giving them 24 hours to book an appointment online. D.C. Health has not announced the window for scheduling or the number of people who will be notified of availability. Starting at 9 a.m. today, the existing portal will have a virtual “waiting room” that will only 3,000 to access the questionnaire at a time and the CAPTCHA security feature has been removed. The press release also notes that D.C. Health and the Office of the Chief Technology Officer have been working with Microsoft to improve the server availability. Today at 9 a.m., about 5,750 appointments will open to residents 65 and older, and residents between 18-64 with qualifying medical conditions who live in priority ZIP codes in Wards 5, 7 and 8. At 9 a.m. Friday, another 5,750 appointments will open to eligible residents in all wards. “Residents can expect to see several new vaccination sites listed on the portal this week,” the press release said. “These new locations will serve as high-capacity sites where the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine will be administered.” The J&J vaccine was approved by the FDA last Saturday. Officials did not say where the sites would be but said the portal will list which vaccine the site will administer when registering. D.C. Health encouraged people to take the first vaccine that is made available to them. As of Wednesday, D.C. had administered 165,476 doses of the vaccine — about 9.3% of D.C.’s population have received at least one dose. In Wednesday’s announcement, the city said the new pre-registration system will maintain a focus on equity as a “top priority,” and D.C. Health will continue to set aside appointments for residents living in priority ZIP codes. The city also announced a slight modification to D.C.’s current quarantine requirement — 90 days after being fully vaccinated, residents who show no COVID-19 symptoms do not need to quarantine after coming into contact with an individual who has tested positive. Also, fully vaccinated travelers to or from the DMV no longer need to quarantine or be tested for 90 days after their second dose.
Montgomery County officials are proceeding with plans to open a large vaccination site in the northern part of the county hard-hit by the coronavirus, despite waiting for the state to give its approval and more vaccine doses. For now, a large-scale vaccination site on Montgomery College’s Germantown campus will operate as a proof-of-concept for the county to show the state it can handle large numbers of vaccinations. It is expected to use a portion of the doses supplied by the state to the county’s health department, which is about 4,500 doses weekly. Scaling up the site to a true mass vaccination site requires more vaccine doses, county leaders said. State-run vaccination sites at Six Flags America, the Baltimore Convention Center, M&T Bank Stadium and Regency Furniture Stadium receive vaccine separate from what county health department’s receive each week. “All we need is the vaccines,” County Executive Marc Elrich said during a press conference Wednesday. “If we’re provided the vaccines, we will open up a mass vaccination site in the county. We’re ready to do it.” Earl Stoddard, the head of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said both his staff and public health staff have toured the Germantown campus and found that it meets a number of requirements. “There are several elements about the site that are incredibly attractive and make it a very good site,” Stoddard said. They include multiple 10,000-square-foot spaces, including both a gym and a large conference space, and thousands of parking spaces. The campus is located off Interstate 270, which makes it accessible both within the county and even to neighboring Frederick County if the site becomes a regional hub for vaccinations. The college shares a campus with Holy Cross Hospital, which is interested in serving as a partner at the site, Stoddard said. In addition, the campus is located in one of the ZIP codes that has been prioritized for vaccinations because of the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. The county is moving forward with using the site “while we wait for a state approval just as … a demonstration that this site is functional,” Stoddard said. A large-scale site is also necessary given the federal government’s promises that a surge of vaccine supplies is on the horizon. President Joe Biden said Tuesday that his administration had secured enough vaccines doses following the FDA’s approval of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine on Saturday to vaccinate all adults in the U.S. by the end of May. That is two months ahead of the previous goal. “We need more spaces that are fully capable of ramping up — whether there’s a state vaccination site or our own sites — that are scalable, such that when the vaccine doses increase substantially, we can do much higher throughput,” Stoddard said.
The D.C. Council on Tuesday unanimously granted Mayor Muriel Bowser authority to extend D.C.’s public health emergency through May 20, 2021. It was set to end at the end of March. Bowser first declared an emergency March 11, 2020. She plans to extend it to May 20, according to a spokesperson. “We are renewing everything,” said Council Chair Phil Mendelson during a Monday press conference of past emergency legislation related to the pandemic. “The most important feature is the public health emergency is being extended to May 20, 2021, which will coincide with some of the work that is happening on the executive side with public health officials and where we will be in mid-May, in terms of improving our situation in the health emergency.” Council members also voted to extend protections for residents and businesses that are tied to the health emergency. The moratorium on evictions and utility shutoffs were extended until at least late May. According to Mendelson’s office, the council is waiting for recommendations from the mayor’s rental housing strike force before making any final decisions on legislation related to evictions. The s recommendations are due later this month. “It was and continues to be the council’s intent that the eviction moratoria from notice and filing up and through executed evictions are necessary to stop people from moving during the public health emergency, and that the moratoria apply to all parts of the eviction process,” according to the emergency resolution. Council also gave the mayor more time to submit her budget in their coronavirus emergency bill. The budget, subject to council review, was due March 31 but was extended until April 22 so officials can account for the federal stimulus package, which they hope Congress will pass this month. The council still plans to pass the budget within 70 days of receiving the mayor’s proposal. With the three-week budget delay, two weeks of public hearings were rescheduled. Mendelson said he will circle back with new dates, so people know when to testify.
Hundreds of COVID-19 vaccine appointments at the state-run Six Flags America mass vaccination site are being reserved for Prince George’s County residents, but County Executive Angela Alsobrooks on Wednesday called for the state to do even more to help residents who live in the county, which has the largest number of coronavirus cases in Maryland and the second-highest of deaths from the virus. “Of the approximately 32,000 vaccinations that have been administered at the Six Flags site, an alarming 3,500 of those have gone to Prince Georgians,” Alsobrooks said during a virtual hearing about vaccine disparities in her county and Baltimore City hosted by Maryland House delegations representing both jurisdictions. “I could use words to characterize what that feels like to us — that it is unfair; that it is outrageous. But I think the numbers speak for themselves. Ninety percent of the vaccinations at a vaccination site in our county have gone to residents who do not reside there.” During the hearing, the state announced at least 500 appointments at Six Flags would be filled exclusively by Prince Georgians through text messaging registration. But Alsobrooks and the county’s delegation in Annapolis demanded that entire days be reserved for county residents to get vaccinated at the location. “We have come together today to raise our voices and say we want every single vaccine that belongs to us … our tax dollars have paid for it. And we’d like to just ensure that equity is achieved, that fairness is achieved and that we are able to heal our residents like everyone else,” Alsobrooks said. The group will also ask the state to provide support and staff for new vaccination sites to be opened at the University of Maryland in College Park and the First Baptist Church of Glenarden. “We currently have 118,000 people who are preregistered in our county, on a waiting list, waiting to be vaccinated,” Alsobrooks said. U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown, who represents part of Prince George’s County, supported the demand to reserve entire days at the Six Flags vaccination site for county residents. “Vaccination equity needed to be a priority for Maryland from the very beginning.” Brown said in a statement. “The fact that only now Gov. Hogan is releasing a plan to address disparities in vaccinations speaks to how disorganized and dysfunctional vaccine administration has been in our state.”
Dr. Danny Avula, the director of Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccination program, on Wednesday called the 69,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine the commonwealth received this week a bolus — a medical term describing a large volume of a drug given to speed up a response – for those working to get residents immunized against the coronavirus. While the initial shipment will be followed by a few weeks without any more of the new vaccine, Avula said that vaccination numbers in Virginia would soon rise dramatically. “We were able to start ordering [the new vaccine] Monday,” Avula said, adding that supplies should arrive Wednesday or Thursday at the latest. He said the doses would be used at mass vaccination events across Virginia probably starting Friday. The state can place its next order of the J&J vaccine March 15, when production will have ramped up. The new vaccine doesn’t need sub-freezing storage, like vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, regular refrigeration is fine. And it only requires one dose, rather than the two of the older vaccines. “It won’t be until the last week of March that we see supplies tick back up,” Avula said, but then supplies should reach about 100,000 doses a week and continue to grow in April. Asked whether that meant he thought President Joe Biden’s forecast of enough vaccine supplies for every adult who wants one by the end of May was realistic, Avula said, “Yeah, I do.” He said Virginia should be able to get through everyone in Phase 1B by the end of March, predicted a half-million vaccinations a week in early April and “everyone across the board” by the end of May. Phase 1B includes residents 65 and older. “We’re going to see so much opportunity to get vaccinated” that soon it won’t be a matter of sufficient supply but “making sure we’re getting it all out,” Avula said. “We’re two to three weeks out from saturating our 65-and-up population.” He said mass vaccination events are being held in Northern Virginia and more were coming, including in Alexandria, Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William counties, as well as Inova Health events, in the coming week. He emphasized that the events are only open to those who are on the state’s preregistration list and whose turn has come up. He acknowledged that some people think the J&J vaccine is inferior with an efficacy rate of 72%. He emphasized that the numbers did not constitute an “apples-to-apples comparison” with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and that as far as the most important outcomes — protection against hospitalization and death — the new vaccine’s rate was “virtually 100%.” That said, he added that anyone who wanted to forego the J&J vaccine and keep their place in line for a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine could do so. About 8,500 doses of the J&J vaccine are being sent to Northern Virginia providers for mass vaccination events. In Arlington County, about 1,500 doses of the new vaccine will be administered Saturday at the Lubber Run Community Center on North Park Drive to people who are on the state’s waiting list. They will be contacted to let them know they can get a vaccination there. To sign up for the waiting list, residents can go to the Vaccinate Virginia website or call 877-VAX-in-VA (877-829-4682).
The Washington Nationals will return to Nats Parks on April 1 for opening day against the New York Mets, but there will be no fans to cheer them on. On Tuesday, the D.C. government approved the team’s application to play home games during the 2021 season at the stadium as long as the stands are empty. “The opportunity to have fans in attendance will be reexamined as the public health metrics associated with COVID-19 evolve in the District,” said Christopher Rodriguez, the director of D.C.’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. “We are assessing the prevalence of new, more transmissible viral strains on the progress we are making through our various public health measures, including our vaccination program, and expect to be able to get you some word on ticket sales for fans in the middle of the month,” Rodriguez wrote to Nationals senior vice president of community engagement Gregory McCarthy. “With you, we are looking forward to fans returning to Nats Park. Answers as to how many and when are still premature.” Rodriguez also requested the Nationals notify D.C. Health of any positive COVID-19 cases among players, employees or volunteers. If D.C.’s current decision stands, it will be a major disappointment to both fans and the Nationals back office. The team went without ticket revenue for all of the 2020 season. Last month the team submitted a proposal to the city to seat fans at the ballpark in socially distanced pods. Some other Major League Baseball teams have received the go-ahead from their cities to open with limited capacity. The Mets and the Yankees seat 10% of the stadiums’ capacity, as long as attendees get a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the game. Texas teams got approval from the governor to welcome back fans at 50% capacity. Other teams are still waiting for rulings, including the Baltimore Orioles. All 30 MLB teams are allowing fans into spring training facilities in Arizona and Florida with limited capacity. On Monday, the Nationals filled their West Palm Beach, Florida ballpark to 18% capacity. The Nationals test players, coaches and staff every other day in compliance with MLB’s current protocols.
Pepco is urging customers in need of financial assistance to apply for a number of programs it says has millions of dollars still available a year into the coronavirus pandemic. The electric company said it remains committed to helping D.C. and Maryland customers who are struggling to pay their power bills on time through partnerships and grants including the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Utility Discount Program and Electric Universal Service Program. LIHEAP offers grants in varying amounts based on a customer’s household income and type of dwelling that are not required to be repaid. Pepco said Maryland customers could qualify for more than $1,000 through the program, while D.C. customers could qualify for up to $1,800. To apply for LIHEAP, visit the Maryland Department of Human Services website or call 800-332-6347 or the D.C. Department of Energy and the Environment website or call 3-1-1. D.C. customers can also apply for the Utility Discount Program, which assists low-income residents with their utility costs through discounts up to $475 per year on their bill or $300 if they don’t have electric heat. Apply online or by calling 3-1-1. The Greater Washington Urban League can provide up to $500 in assistance for D.C. customers facing disconnection. More information is available by calling 202-427-4100. The Electric Universal Service Program can help eligible Marylanders pay a portion of their current bills. The Arrearage Retirement Assistance program provides up to $2,000 in aid to offset large, past-due electric and gas bills. Information on both programs specific to each county can be found on the Department of Human Services website. Prince George’s County and Montgomery County residents have local options available to them through Mary’s Center and Interfaith Works, respectively. Pepco said the most important step customers can take if past due on their bill is contact the company by calling 202-833-7500 or visiting the website as soon as possible to discuss payment options such as eliminating down payment or security deposit requirements, extending payment periods for balances and connecting customers with assistance funds.
D.C. Public Schools will set up a “situation room” at the request of the Washington Teachers’ Union to immediately respond to coronavirus-related issues at city schools. WTU President Elizabeth Davis talked about the situation room during an online discussion Tuesday. “This situation room is basically where the chancellor and I everyday would have discussions about reports coming in from you, from 115 schools and him intervening right away to address the issues at that school,” Davis said. She will meet with schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee every weekday morning at 9 a.m. and again at 4 p.m. to discuss any reported coronavirus case or related issue, such as contact tracing, social distancing and cleaning protocols. Ferebee would then respond to the problem within 24 hours. “We do not need to go through any lengthy grievance or arbitration process to address issues that are related to COVID-19,” Davis said. The union asked for the situation room and additional precautions last month after Helen Marie White, a cosmetology teacher at Ballou STAY Opportunity Academy, contracted the virus in January and died last month. She volunteered to teach in-person but it is unclear if she contracted the virus at a school facility. DCPS began returning students to classrooms last month for the first time in nearly a year.
Inaction and a lack of planning contributed to the deaths of 18 patients at St. Elizabeths, D.C.’s only public psychiatric hospital, according to a new report from Disability Rights D.C. The secure facility located in Southeast D.C. has been under public scrutiny since last spring for its lack of coronavirus safety measures. By April 14, four patients had died, prompting patients to sue the city-run facility claiming sick patients were not isolated from others. Within a month of its first reported case, 14 patients had died and 78 were infected, according to the federally mandated watchdog group’s report, titled “Deadly Delays and the Tragic Loss.” Over the past year, more than half of the patients at St. Elizabeths have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Seventeen patients and one employee have died. In February, three people died at the hospital, according to D.C. Health’s data. “The St. Elizabeths patients who became ill and died are not merely statistics. They had families and friends who loved them and who continue to grieve their loss,” the report said. “St. Elizabeths leadership and administration were obligated to take aggressive and effective measures to protect the patients from the deadly virus quickly. They did not.” Staff reported they weren’t given adequate equipment and resources to protect the patients at the hospital, which is operated by the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health. Unlike medical hospitals, St. Elizabeths doesn’t have a robust infectious disease department, the report said. Most of its patients are Black or Latino. Andrea Procaccino, a staff attorney for DRDC, said the city knew early on that institutional and congregate settings like St. Elizabeths were especially vulnerable to outbreaks. “We pleaded with them to obtain more expert assistance. They did not and our worst fears came to fruition,” Procaccino said. “Although it may not have been possible to prevent the virus at St. Elizabeths completely, with adequate preparation and adherence to CDC guidelines, it was possible to contain it, to minimize the spread and prevent such tragic loss and terrible suffering.” Erica Cunningham, a spokeswoman for DBH, told the Washington Post that St. Elizabeths has followed CDC guidance for quarantining and PPE usage, and has regularly tested patients and employees. No patients are currently infected, she said. D.C. Health data show that 17 personnel are still out or in quarantine due to COVID-19 and 100 patients who have tested positive for coronavirus are in quarantine or isolation. The hospital, Cunningham added, has administered the coronavirus vaccine to 76% of its patients and 63% of its staff. “The hospital continues to admit and treat people to recover from severe mental illnesses while maintaining a safe environment for patients and employees,” she said. In at least one case, a patient’s family didn’t learn of his death until months later when they were notified by mail, according to the Post. Procaccino said DBH and St. Elizabeths’ leaders need to be transparent about their lack of preparation and must detail how they plan to address these concerns. Over the summer, DRDC released another report revealing statistics about the hospital’s overuse of restraint and seclusion on patients. “Our multiple previous reports detail even more patient suffering as a result of St. Elizabeths’ actions,” Procaccino said. “How many more investigation reports that reveal serious abuse and neglect are required before meaningful change is instituted?”
The U.S. Naval Academy moved another 98 midshipmen to an Annapolis hotel in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19 within the brigade. On Tuesday evening, the academy moved 98 midshipmen to the Graduate Hotel on West Street in downtown Annapolis Tuesday evening, saying the move was made to increase quarantine/isolation space in the Bancroft Hall dormitory. On Monday evening, the academy moved 98 other students to the Hilton Garden Inn. The academy is renting 50 rooms at the Graduate Hotel. The midshipmen are required to stay in their rooms except when escorted outside at set times for “wellness purposes.” They will attend classes virtually and cannot have guests in their rooms or food deliveries. The academy selected the hotel because of its COVID-19 protocols and proximity to the Hilton Garden Inn, a news release said. “This is a dynamic situation and decisions are made on a daily basis in a way that prioritizes the healthcare needs of the midshipmen and wellbeing of our entire Naval Academy community,” Supt. Vice Adm. Sean Buck said in a press release. The academy will continue restrictions of movement on campus ordered Sunday because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases. Students will remain in their rooms for classes and meals, and may go outside for two hours a day with one roommate. The campus remains closed to the public. To boost morale for the remaining midshipmen in Bancroft Hall, the Naval Academy Business Services Division is providing contactless shopping through an online marketplace to buy essential items. It will also give more than $10,000 worth of free food to students through a new coffee shop on the yard and meals and snacks from the Drydock Restaurant. The initial hotel quarantining of midshipmen came on the same day that Buck told the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee that the academy was developing plans to vaccinate its students so they can be deployed on ships this summer as part of their training.
The DMV has surpassed more than 1 million reported cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, a grim milestone about a year after the first local cases were detected in early March 2020. Of those 1 million people, 40,684 are Washingtonians, 382,702 are Marylanders and 577,174 are Virginians. Almost 17,500 of those people died, including 1,019 in D.C., 7,697 in Maryland and 8,783 in Virginia. Most of those deaths were in the past three months: The DMV saw 10,000 coronavirus-related deaths in early December. Blacks have borne the brunt of the disease. In D.C., Black people account for 49% of the city’s cases and 75% of its deaths, despite representing less than half of the population. In Maryland, 109,768 Blacks have contracted the disease and 2,646 have died. Black Virginians make up 21% of the commonwealth’s cases and more than 23% of its deaths. The pandemic came to a head during the holidays, at the height of the DMV’s worst surge so far. At the beginning of January, Virginia recorded an average of nearly 6,000 new cases daily — a little less than six times its daily case rate last spring. D.C. and Maryland also saw similar numbers. Now, the pandemic settling into a new stage in the DMV with a downward slope in cases despite a scramble to vaccinate residents along with the threat of new strains. Local leaders are optimistic, and some have taken modest steps to roll back restrictions. The number of people who have been fully or partially vaccinated locally has been rising steadily. In D.C., 9.3% of residents are partially or fully vaccinated. Maryland has vaccinated nearly 859,000 people with a first dose and a little more than 474,000 with a second dose. Virginia has vaccinated almost 1.3 million people with at least one dose, or 15.2% of its residents. D.C.’s daily case rate is currently 19.3 per 100,000 people, which puts it in the red zone of D.C.’s reopening metrics. In Virginia, the rate of positive tests is 7%, which is above the 5% threshold public health experts consider “too high” a rate of community spread.
Maryland will begin distributing Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot coronavirus vaccine this week. Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday that the state will receive an initial 49,600 doses of the vaccine from the federal government. The entire amount will make its way to providers this week, according to the governor’s press release. “The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is safe, effective and made right here in Maryland,” Hogan said in the press release. “Our plan is to get this vaccine into the community right away and right into arms so that we can continue increasing our vaccination rate.” The FDA gave emergency authorization to the single-dose vaccine late Saturday. Additional supply is expected to relieve some pressure on the state’s vaccine program. The company said production of the vaccine will accelerate in the coming weeks, with 20 million doses expected by the end of the month. Virginia will receive 69,000 J&J doses this week. D.C. has not announced how much it expects to receive or when. Hogan warned the next shipments of the vaccine may be significantly smaller. “This is only an initial allocation of the J&J vaccine from the federal government, which has shipped its entire inventory to jurisdictions,” the press release said. Future allocations of the J&J vaccine doses could be uneven, according to the federal government, and may be “significantly smaller than this week’s allocation.” Clinical trials conducted in multiple countries show the J&J vaccine is 67% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 disease and 77% effective against severe to critical illness two weeks after vaccination. The vaccine achieves full potency four weeks after it is administered. Medical professionals advise the public to get whichever vaccine they have access to first. Pfizer’s vaccine has shown efficacy figures of 95% in preventing COVID-19, while Moderna’s has shown 94% effective. Both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines require a second dose. The J&J vaccine is the first to show single-dose efficacy and does not need to be kept frozen while being shipped. Experts say these advantages could be key in vaccinating a large portion of the population, which is necessary to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Montgomery County Public Schools students began returning to their classrooms Monday. They have been learning online since March 13, 2020, after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and State Supt. Karen Salmon “announced the two weeks emergency closure.” On Monday, the school district brought its first small group of special education and technical and career education students back into classrooms, which was “under 1,000” students, according to MCPS Supt. Jack Smith. As Maryland’s largest public school system, MCPS is offering families a slightly different hybrid learning model. While most schools are offering in-person learning two days per week, MCPS has one set of students in school four days a week, every other week. “We originally looked at an A/B schedule — two days a week — and many of our families told us that childcare is much easier if you do it week by week,” Smith said. “And, our health professionals said if you do it every other week, you have a lot of time between sessions. So, if you have an outbreak, it’s less likely to happen when students are at school, because you’ve built in some time.” He said the configuration of the learning model, as well as coronavirus-mitigation strategies, are a work in progress. “New information is being added to that body of knowledge every day about this pandemic, so it’s just making the best judgment you can, within the guidelines that the health professionals are giving us,” he said. Smith, who will retire at the end of the school year, said the pandemic “has had an effect on every child in Montgomery County. It’s a different level of intensity and effect on different children, so you have to know where they are socially, emotionally, academically,” he said. “I think it’s just important that we all work together as we bring children back into school, to begin creating a more typical world for children.”
A coronavirus outbreak at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis sent 98 midshipmen into quarantine at a local hotel. The academy said it took the 98 midshipmen to the Hilton Garden Inn in Annapolis on Monday to quarantine away from the rest of campus. Officials said they moved the students because they needed more “quarantine/isolation space” in Bancroft Hall, the academy’s dormitory. “These midshipmen are recovering from the COVID-19 virus and are from a variety of classes within the brigade,” according to a Monday press release. They are being housed two to a room and monitored twice a day. According to the release, the midshipmen are not allowed to leave their rooms except when escorted outside for “wellness purposes” and are attending classes virtually. At the academy, all midshipmen have been ordered to stay inside their dorms for at least 10 days with two hours of outdoor physical activity per day with one roommate. The order said all meals would be eaten in dorm rooms and all classes will be virtual. “While our midshipman population is young and healthy and likely able to rebound from COVID-19, there are still too many unknowns with COVID-19 to take this situation lightly,” Supt. Vice Adm. Sean Buck said in a press release. “The health and safety of our entire Naval Academy family is, and will remain, my highest priority while we continue to execute our mission of developing our future naval leaders.”
The impact of Virginia’s winter surge of COVID-19 is now showing up in the number of deaths due to the virus as health officials reported a 20% rise over the past nine days, with a peak set on Jan. 8. The Virginia Department of Health, which has been working through a backlog of death certificates filed since Jan. 1, reported 185 coronavirus-related deaths on Saturday and another 170 on Sunday. The bulk of these deaths occurred in early January, when the commonwealth saw its biggest surge of COVID-19 cases. Updated data now show Jan. 8 had the most fatalities when 79 related deaths were recorded — 65 confirmed and 14 probable. On average, 50-60 people died due to the virus daily during late December and early January, far surpassing the first wave of virus-related deaths last spring. The health department reported 1,454 new deaths over the past nine days, bringing the state’s total to over 8,500, or about 1 per 1,000 residents. Of the new deaths reported over the weekend, 68 were in Northern Virginia, including 22 in Fairfax County, 15 each in Loudoun and Prince William counties, six in Arlington County, five in Alexandria, three in Manassas and two in Manassas Park. The higher number of deaths came even as current indicators show the spread of the virus continuing to abate both statewide and in Northern Virginia. The health department reported 499 new cases of COVID-19 in Northern Virginia on Sunday, following 350 on Saturday. The region’s seven-day average of new cases, which peaked Jan. 18 at 1,628.4, now stands at 423.3, its lowest level since Nov. 15.
After technical issues have stymied D.C. residents trying to make COVID-19 vaccination appointments, council member Christina Henderson called for a review of what happened as the city prepares for the next group of available appointments this Thursday. D.C. Health made 3,500 appointments available Saturday, but for the third consecutive day, technical issues made registering difficult for some and impossible for others. “If individuals cannot schedule an appointment, and this is one of the main ways that we’re able to do that, that’s a problem,” Henderson said. She has requested that the Committee on Health and the Committee on Government Operations hold emergency oversight hearings with D.C. Health and the Office of the Chief Technology Officer for a thorough review of what happened. “We cannot afford for that website to fail two weeks in a row,” Henderson said. “It’s important for us to get this right.” Henderson also asked for information from the Office of Contracting and Procurement regarding the contract for the registration portal. She has been pushing for a second website to be built so that residents can preregister for appointments and make the process smoother for all involved. In addition to the contract party details, she wants to know how much money was spent. “I think residents deserve to know how much we’re spending on this, how much we spent on the first website, how much we’re spending on this second one,” Henderson said. She said it is crucial that the website works on Thursday, when additional appointments become available. “What are the fixes? And what are the assurances that we can provide to residents that this will not happen again?”
Children’s National Hospital has created a waitlist for D.C. teenagers to receive the Pfizer vaccine. Both 16 and 17-year-olds with “qualifying chronic conditions” are eligible for the waitlist. Parents of eligible teens can complete the form online. Once there are doses available, the parent will be sent a text message to schedule an appointment. Teens must be accompanied by a parent or guardian to receive the vaccine. The legal guardian must consent to the vaccination on behalf of the teenager in person. While the Pfizer vaccine was granted emergency use authorization for those 16 and older, the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines received authorization for those 18 and older.
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Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.