Md. Launches Mass Vax Registration Portal
COVID-19 Cases Reach 1,028,575 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 42,432 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 1,040 deaths; there have been 392,581 cases in Maryland with 7,856 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 593,562 cases with 9,985 deaths. You can read last week’s updates here.
Maryland launched a new website where people can register for a coronavirus vaccination at one of the state’s mass vaccination sites, including one at Six Flags America in Largo. Other mass vaccination sites include M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, the Hagerstown Premium Outlets and the Wicomico Civic Center in Salisbury. Once pre-registered, according to a press release from Gov. Larry Hogan, Marylanders will be notified when an appointment is available, and will be able to verify their pre-registration status and reserve an appointment. The website will also coordinate with local health departments, but does not include vaccine appointments through pharmacies or other health providers. Only residents in Phase 1, which includes Marylanders 65 and older, healthcare workers, nursing home residents and staff, public safety professionals, K-12 teachers and staff, childcare providers, individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, and residents 18-64 with certain medical conditions. It is the latest change for vaccination registration in the region. In Virginia, officials launched a statewide vaccine portal last week, centralizing the sign-up process that was previously with the local health departments. D.C. launched a new pre-registration system on Wednesday.
A clinic at the Benning Stoddert Recreation Center in Ward 7 on Saturday administered 500 vaccinations to those who qualified. Among those getting vaccinated were seniors from nearby facilities, who stood in line for their shot. Many of them were brought in by bus as part of the event. The process was easy and quick: The clinic was a partnership between the D.C. Housing Authority, Johns Hopkins and D.C. Health. Tyrone Garrett, executive director of the housing authority, said the goal was to make sure services are more accessible for residents in need. “We’ve been doing it in the past with our senior sites, and now we’re taking the opportunity to expand it. I think this is an opportunity for us to see if it works, and I think it’s important for the residents to know we’re here to serve them,” Garrett said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week extended waivers permitting school districts to distribute free meals to children through summer vacation. The extension will last until Sept. 30. Before last week’s announcement, the waivers would have expired in June. The waivers allow meals to be served at no cost, in bulk and to parents without their children being present. In an email Wednesday morning, a Montgomery County Public Schools spokesperson said the district has distributed about 13 million free meals to children since the pandemic began a year ago and expects to continue through the summer.
Come next fall, Montgomery County Public Schools plan to be back in classrooms five days a week for the 2021-22 school year. “We as a staff are going to move forward in the coming months to prepare for the fall,” Supt. Jack Smith said at a Montgomery County Board of Education meeting Thursday. “We think it makes sense to start from the perspective of planning for a much more regular school year.” Everyone will probably still wear masks and follow cleaning and hand washing protocols, Smith said. “One of the biggest areas that we have to address will be the physical distancing,” said Smith, who added that he believed health guidance related to how much separation there should be between students was still too vague. While the schedule may return to normal, virtual learning will still be an option for families with concerns about COVID-19. “If we only have 5% of the [106,500] students in this system that need or want a virtual program in the fall, that’s more than 8,000 students,” he said. The board is working out details for the next school year, including whether to start before or after Labor Day, which falls on Sept. 6. One option would have classes start Aug. 30, 2021 and end June 14, 2022. The option starting after Labor Day would have classes begin Sept. 8, 2021 and end June 21, 2022. For this current year, MCPS is preparing for its first big day of returning students to in-person classes, bringing back thousands of children in kindergarten through third grade on Monday. Most other grades are set to return in April. The board is still considering whether to move the return date back two days from April 6 to April 8 for students in prekindergarten and grades four, five, six and 12. The thinking is, it would give the district time to see if potential spring break travel impacted the spread of the coronavirus. Board members urged families not to travel for spring break.
Whether or not the pandemic is over when the next school year begins in August, D.C. Public Schools will still be feeling its impact. Chancellor Lewis Ferebee made clear his “expectation” is that all students will be back in the classroom at the start of the next school year during a nearly nine-hour long D.C. Council oversight hearing on Wednesday. But he also hinted that expectation is built more on hope than anything, conceding that backup plans are also being made just in case health and safety protocols don’t yet allow for a full return come August. “We are preparing for all scenarios concurrently,” Ferebee said. “Those scenarios include planning that we’ve done last summer with facility planning on how we can serve if we’re in a hybrid mode, [and] how we can serve all of our students and maintain a smaller ratio for social distancing, so there’s a number of different ratios and scenarios that we’re continuing to plan through, and we’ll be prepared to implement.” Ferebee said DCPS has been working to get additional devices needed for distance learning, mostly with the expectation some computers and other devices will need to be replaced because they were either lost or broken this year. At the same time, inflation and other operating costs are also rising while DCPS is facing a decline in funding. That led to some back and forth about “reallocating resources,” a term which D.C. council member Brianne Nadeau pressed Ferebee on at one point. Her concern was that “reallocating resources” was a coded way of saying job cuts are coming. Ferebee said it’s too early to get too deep into budgetary issues, but he did say some of the post-pandemic focus will be on social and emotional challenges facing many students this year. After the school district saw a more than 2% decline in enrollment, and since funding is primarily on a per-pupil basis, money woes could be on the horizon at a time when there’s an inclination by some on the council to provide more money for schools. Nadeau said principals she has heard from are bracing for staffing cuts. “It’s premature at this point to zero in on mass reductions in the budgets to schools,” Ferbee said. “But the reality though, transparently is that we did realize a decrease in enrollment and that has implication for school budget. But the reality is inflationary costs and operating costs continue to rise and that does shift the landscape. But I think it’s premature to set in stone what’s happening in school budgets.” Earlier in the hearing Ferebee acknowledged that the city has given the school system an extra $50 million to help stabilize budgets in addition to nearly $10 million more in other budget assistance programs. And he suggested more local and federal funding could be available. But it is clear there is some concern on the council that even all of that may not be enough to avert job cuts.
Vaccinating every Virginian in Phase 1B is “right around the corner.” Dr. Danny Avula, the commonwealth’s COVID-19 vaccine coordinator said Friday that President Joe Biden’s goal of having every adult eligible to get the vaccine by May 1 should be possible. “We really think we will easily make that May 1 marker, and maybe outpace it by a couple of weeks,” Avula said. It’s “very realistic” to get through Phase 1B by mid-April, in some areas sooner, Avula added, saying that different areas of the commonwealth can move “at their own pace” to Phases 1C and 2: “We certainly don’t want to slow any vaccinations down.” Phase 1B includes frontline essential workers; people 65 and older; people 16-64 with a high-risk medical condition or disability and people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters and migrant labor camps. He said Virginia was anticipating 195,000 first doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. As predicted, there was no Johnson & Johnson vaccine allocated this week and about 9,600 doses are coming next week. The week of March 29, allocation could “shoot up north of 100,000,” Avula said. Asked how the switch to Phase 1C would differ from the difficult progression to 1B in January, Avula said “it has everything to do with the supply and the capacity to get it out.” In January, the state was getting an average of 10,000-15,000 doses a day. It is getting 55,000 a day now and sometimes 70,000. “We’re not going to have that really stark supply-to-demand mismatch that we had.” He said that vaccination sites that drop below 90% of appointments being filled in Phase 1B can move into their 1C list if necessary to fill those appointments. If that happens regularly, he said, that is a good sign the health district can move to Phase 1C — other essential workers. “There aren’t that many people in 1C,” Avula said, predicting the move to Phase 2 when anyone is eligible could take as little as a week. He said people who have religious objections to the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine have options: When people get their appointments, they will be told what vaccine they are in line to get and can decline without losing their place in line. The state may get to a point where distribution is so strong that providers will have more than one vaccine in stock, so people can pick. Avula said he saw “really great turnout” at mass vaccination sites he attended where the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was being administered, and lots of “positive affirmation” about the one-dose shot from “many geographies and age and race demographics.”
The American Relief Plan that President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday will bring billions of dollars to D.C., Maryland and Virginia. A breakdown of the funds Maryland will receive was released by U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin. The state will receive $3.87 billion in direct funding. Just a little more than $1.17 billion will go to county governments, including $203.77 million to Montgomery County, $176.36 million to Prince George’s County and $112.24 to Anne Arundel County. Another 1.14 billion will go to the state’s city and municipal governments. Van Hollen said the coronavirus relief plan “is the bold relief our state needs at this moment” in a press release with Cardin. No congressional Republicans voted for the $1.9 trillion legislation. GOP lawmakers are critical of the package, arguing that it is packed with Democrats’ political priorities. But Democrats say the legislation provides badly-needed assistance for states and local governments, as well as money that will go directly to taxpayers through another round of stimulus payments. More than 2.5 million households in Maryland are expected to receive the $1,400 checks, which will go to those earning $75,000 or less. In Virginia, more than 7 million people will benefit from the checks, according to U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine. More than 300,000 Maryland residents currently rely on unemployment benefits. The legislation extends enhanced weekly federal jobless benefits of $300 through Sept. 6. Those benefits were set to expire March 14. Maryland will also receive $1.95 billion for K-12 education and $1.75 billion for Maryland’s school districts. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency is slated to get $1.4 billion. Like many transit systems, Metro has experienced a major drop in ridership and revenues. Virginia’s K-12 schools will receive more than $2 billion. The commonwealth is also getting nearly $800 million in childcare support to help keep childcare centers open. Cardin, who has worked extensively on small business issues, said he is also optimistic that a new grant program that will be operated through the Small Business Administration will provide help to struggling bars and restaurants. “It’s critically important to keep our restaurants afloat,” he said, noting he spoke recently with a restaurant owner who said the money infusion will allow that business to keep its doors open. As for D.C., the city is getting $2 billion through the coronavirus relief legislation. That includes $775 million it was supposed to receive under the CARES Act that was approved last year. The city originally didn’t get the funding because it was designated as a territory rather than a state, as it often is related to budget matters.
The annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which celebrates cultures from around the world, will go virtual again this June, following last year’s online event. While there won’t be a gathering at the National Mall, the event will include a series of online programs, master classes and panel discussions. In late June, the festival will offer a slate of programming that also includes workshops and cooking demonstrations. “It was a difficult decision to postpone the events on the National Mall again, but the safety of our many visitors, program participants, staff and volunteers is paramount,” said festival director Sabrina Lynn Motley in a press release Thursday. “Travel restrictions also caused delays in executing crucial research needed to create the caliber of experience expected by our visitors and partners alike. During this time, digital programs have played an instrumental role. We realize that they are no substitute for face-to-face exchange. As we continue make good use of our digital platforms, we are simultaneously putting exciting plans in place to welcome the public back to the Mall in 2022.” Festival planners have already announced the themes for the 2022 festival, which they expect to happen in-person. The three themes will be “UAE Living Landscape|Living Memory,” “Creative Encounters: Living Religions in America” and “Earth Optimism.” Events will include a stroll through an Ozone Bioindicator Garden and an exploration of culture and tradition in the United Arab Emirates. The festival has not announced its 2021 schedule.
Montgomery and Prince George’s counties will ease some COVID-19 restrictions at 5 p.m. today, but neither will follow the reopening plans Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced on Tuesday. On Friday, the Montgomery County Council voted to end local restrictions on childcare facilities, end curfews on alcohol sales and restrictions on buffet services and mall food courts, increase limits on outdoor gatherings to 50 people and indoor gatherings to 25 people, and raise capacity at houses of worship to 50%. Also, arts and entertainment facilities can reopen at 25% capacity and indoor dining at restaurants, fitness centers, bowling alleys, hair salons, swimming pools, retail establishments and recreation centers can increase from 25% to 50% capacity on March 26. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said Thursday that businesses, including restaurants, gyms, houses of worship, movie theaters and reception halls can reopen at 50% capacity. The limit on private indoor gatherings will increase to 20 people and the limit on outdoor gatherings will increase to 50 people. Alsobrooks characterized Prince George’s changes as “a measured approach” that takes into account the deep impacts of the virus on residents. “We are listening to the science and the advice of our health experts,” Alsobrooks said during a press conference on Thursday. “We have not forgotten that Prince George’s County was the hardest hit jurisdiction in the state. We saw over the holidays how our trends can reverse, and infections can begin to rise again.” Throughout the pandemic, both counties have taken a more conservative approach to reopening businesses than the Hogan administration. Asked to comment on the differences between the state’s planned reopening and Prince George’s approach, Alsobrooks emphasized that she has the flexibility to tailor her decision-making to the situation in the county. “The governor has different considerations than I do. He has to look at the entire state and make decisions for the entire state,” she said. “I have the pleasure of making decisions for Prince George’s County.” While more lenient than currently permitted, the changes do not go as far as the state’s more dramatic changes, which also go into effect today. Hogan announced an end to all capacity limits on restaurants, houses of worship, casinos, nail salons and other businesses. Indoor and outdoor dining will still be required to maintain six feet of social distancing and big venues like concert halls and sports arenas will be limited to 50% capacity.
The pandemic-induced reprieve in parking enforcement in D.C. will end in phases beginning Monday. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Thursday that parking around school zones will be the first to be enforced. Starting March 15, cars parked by no-parking signs in school zones will get warning tickets. Then on March 22, the Department of Public Works will begin issuing $25 tickets to illegally parked vehicles in school zones. Bowser said she has asked DPW to focus on these few areas to begin, but said residents “should expect as we have more activity in the city, full parking enforcement will resume at some point.” Vehicles currently being ticketed for parking violations in the city include non-commercial vehicles parked in commercial loading zones; large vehicles parked illegally next to parks, churches, schools and residential buildings; and vehicles illegally parked in or near bike lanes, crosswalks and fire hydrants. D.C.’s revenue from parking tickets fell 50% in 2020 to $62 million from $122 million in 2019 as people stayed home more and the city loosened its parking enforcement. For now, other parking enforcement remains suspended. Drivers are not currently getting tickets for emergency no parking violations (but vehicles are relocated without charge), expired license plates and inspection stickers, expired residential parking permits and expired meters. The city is also not booting or towing vehicles for those violations. Bowser said residents can expect suspended parking enforcement to resume in the near future. Ticketing for expired license plates and inspection stickers will start much later due to backlogs at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The announcement about increased parking enforcement came as Bowser said she will announce decisions about reopening and resuming some city activities and lifting some pandemic restrictions as soon a Monday.
A case of the B.1.351 coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa was reported in Northern Virginia. The Virginia Department of Health said Thursday that the first case of the variant was found in a sample from an adult who had no history of travel during the exposure period. The strain has been shown to be more easily transmitted. However, there is no evidence that the variant causes a more severe case of COVID-19, VDH said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been working with public health, academic and commercial labs to increase monitoring and sequencing of thousands of specimens every week. The Northern Virginia case was identified at a commercial laboratory. Currently, 20 cases of the South African variant and 49 cases of the U.K. variant have been identified in Virginia.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine sued Washington Sports Clubs’ parent company, charging the chain’s Dupont Circle gym failed to follow COVID-19 safety protocols for months and endangered the lives of its members. The lawsuit, filed in D.C. Superior Court on Thursday against New TSI Holdings Inc., alleges the gym violated social distancing and mask-wearing mandates and failed to properly disinfect equipment as stipulated in Mayor Muriel Bowser’s pandemic-related emergency executive order. Under current Phase 2 restrictions, gyms cannot exceed 25% of maximum capacity, must ensure at least 10 feet between patrons and staff, and must require everyone to wear masks at all times. But Washington Sports Clubs’ Dupont Circle location failed to do that, the lawsuit alleges. “Patrons of the gym have been observed, on multiple occasions, not wearing masks inside of the Dupont Circle location of the gym,” the lawsuit states. “Washington Sports Club has also failed to comply with social distancing requirements and rules for spacing and cleaning equipment properly.” The first complaint came from a resident who observed five people exercising on cardio machines without masks on Jan. 23. When the individual took the complaint to gym staff, they allegedly said they did not have to enforce mask-wearing when people exercised 12 feet apart. Subsequent complaints made in February by gym members alleged people were not wearing masks or social distancing. “Washington Sports Club has and continues to violate the emergency act by failing to comply with the order and guidance, and in doing so endangers the health of its staff and patrons, and district residents more broadly, amid the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency,” the lawsuit says. The lawsuit adds that WSC engaged in “unfair and deceptive trade practices” by misrepresenting a safe exercise environment. Racine is asking for an unspecified amount of civil penalties for violating its COVID-19 safety precautions, compensation for attorney fees and any additional penalties the court deems appropriate. WSC was widely criticized last year when members bashed the gym for not letting them cancel memberships during the pandemic. The company later agreed to stop charging members and credit those who paid fees when the facilities closed during the early stages of the pandemic. D.C. Superior Court issued a temporary restraining order on Sept. 1 barring the gym from collecting fees from customers that canceled their memberships between March 17 and June 22. Stuart Steinberg, general counsel for Town Sports International, said at the time the company credited patrons who canceled their membership during those three months.
Catholic University of America plans to bring students to campus for in-person instruction this fall. “I am happy to announce that Catholic University is ready to take the next step – a return to full in-person instruction beginning Fall 2021,” President John Garvey said in a press release Thursday. When the pandemic first struck one year ago, the university sent students home and held online classes. In the fall, freshmen were invited back to campus, and all students were invited back this spring. Still, many classes are being held virtually. “While there are many benefits to our newly developed ability to conduct classes online, the Catholic University experience is one that is lived together in community — in the classroom, in the lab, in the dining hall, on the sports field and in St. Vincent’s Chapel,” Garvey said. He said more details about the Fall 2021 semester would be provided in the coming weeks. The University of Maryland has also announced plans to return students to classrooms in the fall.
Wednesday’s rollout of D.C.’s new vaccine pre-registration system went smoothly with 52,956 people successfully registering by 1 p.m. Residents and D.C. workers can pre-register at any time using the website vacicinate.dc.gov or between 8 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends by calling 855-363-0333 instead of waiting for the next batch of vaccine appointments to be released. For now, officials ask that only people who are currently eligible use the pre-registration system, so it isn’t overwhelmed. Eligible people include healthcare workers, residents 65 and older, some essential workers and people with certain medical conditions. However, there was one problem — one category of essential workers who are currently eligible was omitted. In a call Wednesday with D.C. Council members, representatives of the mayor’s office and DC Health officials, Council member Christina Henderson pointed out that commercial and residential property maintenance and environmental service employees were not listed in a drop-down menu on the site, despite being eligible for the vaccine in the current Phase 1C Tier 1. D.C. Health officials said they were aware of the problem and working to fix it. The mood of the weekly call was largely congratulatory, however, compared to calls in the past two weeks, after several website crashes. Previously on registration days, social media was filled with screenshots of the malfunctioning website. Wednesday, many people reported a smooth experience. Pre-registered people will start getting invitations to book appointments on Friday. They will then have 48 hours to book. Starting next week, new appointments will be offered by 10 a.m. Thursdays and Sundays, with slots also released Tuesday mornings if any are unfilled. People who are eligible must pre-register by 11:59 p.m. the night before appointments are released to be eligible for an appointment. Invitations will go out based on a “randomized selection process” with 40% going to D.C. residents 65 and older, 40% going to people 18-64 with a qualifying medical condition and 20% going to D.C. residents 18 and older who are members of an eligible workforce. Half of each group’s allotment will go to residents in priority ZIP codes. Some people signing up were confused by a question asking which of the three available vaccines they would prefer to receive. Officials later clarified that stating a preference for one vaccine does not affect when users will receive an appointment. Health experts and city officials are urging people to take whichever vaccine is offered. This week, D.C. is getting 24,760 doses of vaccine. Of those, 14,680 are for appointments previously made through the vaccination portal; 7,210 doses are for hospitals and health centers; and 2,870 doses are for other vaccination initiatives.
Anne Arundel and Howard counties will follow Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s order and loosen COVID-19 capacity limits on Friday, but Anne Arundel County is keeping some coronavirus restrictions not required by the state. “Gov. Larry Hogan’s order yesterday lifted capacity limits and also revoked local jurisdictions’ authority to issue more restrictive local orders under the state’s authority, rendering the county’s most recent executive order #43 null and void as of 5 p.m. Friday, March 12,” Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said in a press release Wednesday. But Pittman said he will sign a new executive order that keeps social gathering limits at a maximum of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. The county will also continue to limit third-party food delivery companies from charging more than 15%. Meanwhile, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said his county will follow Hogan’s order and lift its previous limits on indoor or outdoor social gatherings. “We will continue watching our data very closely over the next two weeks, and if aligning with the governor’s decision is detrimental to the health and welfare of our residents, we will not hesitate to reimpose restrictions,” Ball said in a press release. Mask mandates and physical distancing requirements in both counties remain in place. Hogan announced during a press conference Tuesday that capacity limits on dining will be lifted at 5 p.m. Friday. Limits on retail businesses, religious facilities, fitness centers, personal services and indoor recreational establishments, as well as quarantine requirements and other out-of-state travel restrictions, are being lifted as well. “While I believe there is a risk to lifting capacity limits at this time, we are putting our faith in local business owners, operators and customers to continue abiding by the distancing and mask requirements that have pushed our case rates down. State regulations will continue to be enforced,” Pittman said. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said that Hogan’s push to reopen “will trigger another spike.” Montgomery and Prince George’s counties will have press conferences today.
Beginning next week, Prince Georgians could find it easier to get a COVID-19 vaccine appointment at the Six Flags America mass vaccination site in Largo. The number of appointments at the site set aside for Prince George’s County residents will more than quadruple, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced Wednesday. Under the change, at least 300 “priority appointments” per day at Six Flags will be set aside for residents signed up on Prince George’s County’s pre-registration list. That totals 2,100 appointments per week set aside for county residents, an increase from the 500 appointments since the site opened last month. Residents who have signed up on the county’s list will be contacted by text message to make appointments, the governor’s office said. Alsobrooks pressed the governor for changes to the appointment system to ensure more slots for county residents. “We have been working diligently in the county to expand vaccination access for our residents, and these new partnerships and increased access to appointments will help ensure vaccines are being distributed equitably to the hardest-hit jurisdiction in the state,” Alsobrooks said in the press release. “We thank the governor and his administration for working closely with our team to ensure Prince Georgians have increased access to these life-saving vaccines, and we look forward to continued collaboration.”
Loudoun County Public Schools could soon offer four-day-per-week in-school learning to hybrid students and will likely hold in-person high school graduations. During a school board meeting Tuesday, Interim Supt. Scott Ziegler said he will present a full report on March 23 detailing the implications of expanding hybrid learning offerings from two days per week to four. “At this time, we are looking at space and enrollment analysis at each school to make sure that we can adhere to either the six feet or the three feet of physical distancing required,” by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Education, Ziegler said. If the board approves four days of in-person learning, Ziegler said bringing more desks back into classrooms would require shrinking the space between students from six feet to three feet. While at least three feet of physical distancing with masks has been the state education department’s guidance, the CDC recommends six feet between students. Ziegler was asked how long it would take to implement four-day-per week, in-person learning: “In order to give principals time to prepare and transportation time to prepare updated routing information, the earliest I believe we could do it would be at the start of the fourth quarter,” he said. April 12 is the start of LCPS’ fourth quarter. Only current hybrid students would be eligible to return to four days in school buildings, Ziegler said. Offering the option to 100% distance learners would take too long to implement. “We’re looking at a 10-week delay if we resurvey the parents,” he said. As schools work to safely return to a more normal environment for students, Ziegler looked toward the end of the current school year. “We are working on graduation right now, and we do anticipate some form of in-person graduation,” he told the board. “Principals are working on having hosted graduations in the football stadium, with more details to come.” Earlier plans for an in-person graduation at EagleBank Arena have been canceled, since the facility on the George Mason University campus is being used as a COVID-19 mass vaccination site. However, Ziegler said outdoor stadium graduations are still an option. “I don’t want to make any promises prematurely, but we are working on that … as a possible solution,” he said. Looking toward the 2021-22 school year, Ziegler reiterated the school district plans to return to five days per week of in-person learning, while maintaining a distance-learning option. In addition, the school board will hone a resolution by member Ian Serotkin, which further codifies the expectation of a return to full-time in-person learning.
Target is partnering with in-store CVS Pharmacies to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to more than 600 stores nationwide, including locations in Maryland and Virginia. Target made the announcement Wednesday. “Target already supports CVS-administered vaccinations each year for the flu, shingles and pneumonia, and we’ll continue to partner closely as they administer the vaccine while following state and federal guidelines,” the company said in a press release. “We’re also making fitting rooms available to CVS at select stores to host appointments.” Target said it will provide more support for vaccination efforts in the coming months. “That’ll mean continuing to work with CVS to offer vaccines to guests and team members within stores,” the release said. “We’ll also continue to support public vaccine education efforts, like the newly launched Health Action Alliance and the Ad Council’s new campaign which focuses on reaching communities of color hit particularly hard during the pandemic.” Locations are listed online. As of Tuesday evening, all locations in both Maryland and Virginia were listed as “fully booked.”
The DMV lost the fewest number of jobs to the COVID-19 pandemic early on among the nation’s 10 largest metropolitan areas, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Between March and April 2020, the DMV lost more than 300,000 “non-farm” jobs — more than during the Great Recession about a decade ago. During the same period, Los Angeles lost nearly 900,000 jobs and the New York metropolitan area lost almost 1.8 million jobs. “We’ve recovered about 180,000 of those jobs [as of December], so we’ve actually clawed back about three-fifths of what we’ve lost. But there are still some protracted losses in a number of different sectors,” Paul DesJardin, COG’s director of community planning and services told the COG board Wednesday. Hardest hit have been people working leisure and hospitality jobs, followed by accommodation and food services and educational and health services. An evaluation of census data revealed the pain is being borne fairly evenly. “People who work in the hospitality industry live everywhere throughout the metropolitan area. They might be your neighbor; they might be somebody you see on a day-to-day basis,” DesJardin said. The most recent data show the area’s unemployment rate is about 5.5%-5.6%, DesJardin said. That is about half what it was roughly a year ago. Our unemployment rate basically tripled. We went from a little over 3% to almost 10% in one month. Conversely, the national rate jumped almost 15%, so we were still fully five points below the national average.” He said the DMV’s unemployment rate is traditionally a point or so below the national average, and the job growth rate typically is a point or so above the national average. Finding an affordable place to live, though, could be an ongoing issue. New housing permits issued during 2019 and 2020 declined from about 22,000 to about 21,000 per year, which does not meet COG adopted goals of 32,000 a year needed to accommodate an anticipated expanding workforce. “If we cannot, in fact, produce more units, there’s the concern that the housing affordability challenge that we’re facing now will only get worse,” DesJardin said. COG has been gathering pandemic-related data on the economy, environment, transportation and health to get a holistic view of how the region had been affected and how it might best plan long-term for recovery. “We’re rolling it up into a series of discussions and briefings to all of our different policies bodies at COG to inform our elected officials,” DesJardin said. Presentations to policy committees on additional topics are expected in coming months.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan will lift capacity limits on indoor and outdoor dining, as well as several other businesses and recreational activities, at 5 p.m. Friday. “The time is right,” Hogan said during a press conference Tuesday, calling it a step toward normalcy. “We’ve been following a very balanced approach from the beginning of this, from day one to now more than a year, where we get all the input and try to balance both the health and the economic recovery of our state.” Restaurants and bars must still seat diners six feet apart, while indoor facilities such as houses of worship, gyms, nail salons and casinos will be allowed to fully open. Larger indoor and outdoor spaces, such as concert venues, wedding halls, racing facilities and sporting arenas, will be allowed to open at 50% capacity. The state’s mask mandate remains in effect. Hogan said Maryland’s health metrics continue to improve to levels not seen since late last year. More than half of people older than 65 and the state’s Phase 1 population have been vaccinated, he said. “With the pace of vaccinations rapidly rising and our health metrics steadily improving, the lifting of these restrictions is a prudent positive step in the right direction and an important part of our economic recovery,” Hogan said. He touted the state’s vaccine distribution efforts, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent update that Maryland has vaccinated more people with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine than any other state. In addition to four mass vaccination sites in each corner of the state, he said a fifth site in Salisbury and a sixth at the Hagerstown Premium Outlets will open within the next two weeks. Hogan continued to urge businesses to encourage and support telework but said quarantine requirements for out-of-state travel will be lifted. “I want to make it clear that the virus is still with us,” he cautioned. Maryland isn’t the first state to lift indoor dining restrictions, some have even done away with mask mandates, but it is the first in the DMV. D.C. still limits indoor dining capacity to 25% or no more than 250 people, and Virginia caps indoor dining capacity at 50%. In states that have lifted on-premises dining restrictions, a CDC study found that coronavirus cases and deaths increased within two to three months. The authors said mask mandates and restrictions on dining are “increasingly important given the emergence of highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variants in the United States.” Meanwhile, it isn’t clear whether Prince George’s County will follow the state guidelines. Montgomery County officials said Tuesday they don’t plan on making big changes to the county’s coronavirus restrictions but may loosen indoor and outdoor restrictions. Both counties have some of the state’s highest coronavirus rates and have lagged behind previous state reopening phases. Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker tweeted harsh criticism of Hogan’s order. “Over the last few weeks, as we marked one year of grappling with this deadly virus, many of us recalled our lasts,” Hogan said. “In the months ahead, with continued vigilance, instead, we will start to mark new firsts.”
Virginia plans to open 13 large-scale vaccination sites across the commonwealth over the next three months. Gov. Ralph Northam made the announcement Tuesday during a press conference and urged Virginians to stay vigilant. The high-capacity vaccination sites will distribute the vaccine equitably. Virginia emergency management director Curtis Brown said the commonwealth is identifying locations based on the results of an equity analysis that looked at accessibility and proximity to populations vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19. The first three mass vaccination sites will be in Portsmouth, Danville and Petersburg. Brown said the sites will use both private contractors and state-funded resources like the Virginia National Guard and Medical Reserve Corps to administer the vaccines. People hoping to access the sites must use Virginia’s online registration portal until the commonwealth receives enough vaccine doses to support drive-up service for all residents. Northam urged Virginians to register for an appointment and to answer their phones in case it is the health department calling to schedule an appointment for their second dose. Citing reports from call center employees, Northam said many residents aren’t answering calls. “I know that everybody, including myself, is tired of spam calls, and most of the time, it’s not smart to answer if you don’t know who’s calling. But right now, until we get everybody vaccinated, please answer your phone,” he said. Virginia is sixth in the nation in the percentage of vaccine doses used; 18% of the population has received at least one dose. Northam said the original goal was to reach 25,000 shots per day, which Virginia has surpassed. “We are now averaging almost 51,000 doses administered each day in the commonwealth,” he said. Virginia recently revamped its vaccine scheduling system but so far it has been plagued with issues, making it difficult for many people to get appointments. Virginia’s vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula addressed some of the problems, including a glitch that made a link intended for a single person to register for an appointment available to anyone with access to the link. Avula said that the issue still has not been resolved, but that state officials are working to fix it. “The Office of Information Management has built a solution that we’re testing this week. Hopefully, it will really resolve some of these issues,” Avula said. Last week the state’s limit on outdoor gatherings increased from 10 to 25 people. Restaurants and bars are now able to serve alcohol until midnight, and the capacity limit for outdoor entertainment venues increased to 30%. But even with these changes, Northam asked Virginians to continue to be vigilant until the population has reached herd immunity. “The virus needs hosts to survive and mutate, this is why it’s so important to continue the guidelines and to get as many people as we can vaccinated,” he said. “Once we get to that herd immunity, the virus will not be able to survive and this will be behind us.”
Montgomery County health officials are one step closer to opening a COVID-19 mass vaccination site opening on the Germantown campus of Montgomery College, but it probably won’t be until April that the site is up and running. Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, told the county council on Tuesday that state health officials agreed to a walk-through with the National Guard at the site. “They are definitely interested in our proposed site in Montgomery College-Germantown, so much so that they are going to schedule a walk through with the National Guard … to look at site logistics and planning,” Stoddard said. He said the county is moving forward with a clinical partnership with Holy Cross Hospital to develop the site. “We will proceed forward with the planning,” Stoddard said. He warned that even if the site is approved, it may not open until April, when the state expects to receive a higher volume of vaccines. State officials said they are also committed to opening their next two sites, in Salisbury on the Eastern Shore and in Hagerstown in Western Maryland before they commit to additional sites, Stoddard said. “They haven’t said no, they just haven’t said yes either,” he told the council. “So we’re going to continue with planning efforts. Our goal is to do as many of the logistic things upfront as possible to make it as difficult for them to say no once the state has more vaccine available to add in a few weeks.” County leaders have pressed the state for a mass vaccination site. Montgomery County is the largest in the state and one of the most diverse. A mass vaccination site opened at Six Flags America in neighboring Prince George’s County last month, which has distributed a large volume of doses to Montgomery County residents. The state-run vaccine sites are open to all state residents. Despite the county’s concerns it is receiving fewer vaccines per capita than other jurisdictions across the state, council member Nancy Navarro said she is grateful the state has committed to the site visit. “It’s a small step forward, but I think it’s great that the state will come to at least do a site visit,” Navarro said. “I am all about being proactive, and as the production starts to increase and more vaccines are available, it would be great for us to be ready for that moment.” State health officials said they are “currently reviewing proposals from a number of jurisdictions to determine if it is appropriate to stand up additional community or mass vaccination sites based on anticipated federal vaccine supply. If we determine that a particular site is in the best interest of the state, we will work with our vaccine partners in the appropriate jurisdictions to move forward.” The county health department receives about 4,500 doses a week,. “I think the expectation is that this will be our allocation weekly for the foreseeable future,” said county health officer, Dr. Travis Gayles. Other sources, such as hospitals and retail pharmacies, are supplied by the state with vaccine. Last week, the county health department received 1,600 doses of the recently approved Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine. But it will be a few weeks before the county receives more Johnson & Johnson vaccine. County officials have been pressing the state to increase the allocation of doses to the local health department. While the county’s allocation of doses has held steady, the state’s supply has increased from 72,000 last month to well over 100,000 doses a week, Gayles said.
A COVID-19 mass vaccination site will open in Alexandria by the end of the month that will be able to administer thousands of doses each day. The Inova Stonebridge Vaccination Center is a partnership between Alexandria, Fairfax County and Inova Health System. The site at 5001 Eisenhower Ave., Alexandria, is just off the Beltway and accessible by the Van Dorn Metro Station. “This has been a difficult year for this region. This has been a difficult year for our community,” Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson said during a press conference Tuesday. “But for one of the first times in the last year, there is a palpable hope. There is palpable excitement. We can feel that we are turning the corner.” He called the facility opening the “beginning of the end” for the pandemic. It can vaccinate thousands of Alexandria and Fairfax County residents every day. “We have the capacity here to deliver at least 6,000 vaccinations every single day and the ability to expand to 12,000 a day if we make certain adjustments, which we will consider as we move forward,” said Inova Health President and CEO Dr. Stephen Jones. Jeff McKay, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, emphasized the importance of vaccinations. “This is not just about us as individuals,” he said. “This is about every single person we interact with on a daily basis. This is about protecting our grocery store workers. This is about protecting our transit drivers, our home health care workers, our children, their teachers and everyone we interact with. … Do this, get vaccinated, help us get through this pandemic and help us make the progress that we’ve been making.” There were 67,945 reported COVID-19 cases in Fairfax County as of Tuesday. More than 3,500 residents have been hospitalized, and 1,025 people have died.
Montgomery County Public School warned against nonessential travel over spring break citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Maryland Department of Health guidelines. “Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. The CDC recommends that you do not travel at this time. Delay travel and stay home to protect yourself and others from COVID-19,” a letter sent to parents on Monday said. It also said students who travel outside Maryland an neighboring jurisdictions should get a coronavirus test within 72 hours of returning home and self-quarantine while they wait for results. “This guidance applies to spring break and any other travel a student may take during the school year, and it also applies regardless of vaccination status. Please note that these protocols will be regularly reviewed and updated as federal and state health guidance changes. We are committed to providing updates when these changes take place,” the letter said, adding that school officials understand the guidance could disrupt travel plans. “However, we believe taking precautions like this can reduce and limit the possible spread of COVID-19 in our schools.” Spring break for MCPS students is scheduled for March 29-April 5.
Traffic delays in D.C. fell 77% last year due to the pandemic. According to the 2020 Global Traffic Scorecard by the traffic analysis firm Inrix, D.C. had the largest traffic decrease of any major U.S. city, including New York, Boston and other urban areas. “The lockdowns, in general, restricted business operations and consumer activity, leading to large decreases in travel across all modes, the likes of which has not been seen since vehicular, rail and air travel data has been collected,” the report notes. Inrix uses billions of anonymous data points from smartphone apps and other GPS units to analyze traffic trends. Several factors contributed to emptier city streets, including a sharp jump in teleworking at federal agencies, government contractors and other office-based industries. School was mostly virtual last year. And some residents moved, who could now telework, moved permanently for lower rent and home prices, access to outdoor space or proximity to family. D.C.’s drop in traffic was so large that the once-notoriously congested city isn’t even one of the top 10 most congested U.S. cities anymore. D.C. now ranks 12th in traffic congestion, down from fifth in 2019. Stamford, Conn. had worse traffic than D.C. last year. The drop in traffic led to more cash in Washingtonians’ pockets, according to Inrix. D.C. tied with Boston for the largest cost savings: drivers in both cities pocketed about $1,500 due to the decline in miles travelled by car. But sitting in traffic still cost area residents about $425 last year. Washingtonians also lost an average of 29 hours to traffic in 2020, which is slightly more than the national average of 26 hours but considerably lower than previous years. Commuters across the country spent an average of 99 hours in traffic in 2019. Much of last year’s traffic reduction can be traced to a drop in trips to downtown areas in cities across the country. Trips to downtown D.C. fell 83% last April, the first full month of the pandemic, compared to April 2019. Empty streets are now the norm in an area once known for its busy restaurants, packed offices and entertainment venues. Office vacancy rates in downtown D.C. hit record levels last fall, and the area’s economy has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic. The area has partially recovered in recent months: The number of trips to downtown D.C. in Feb. 2021 was only down about 60% compared to the same month a year earlier. But the drop in traffic had benefits for the local environment. D.C. had the lowest smog levels in decades last summer, due in part to a drop in pollution from cars. Also, the number of parking tickets handed out by the city has been cut in half.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has acquired the vial that contained the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine administered in the U.S. as part of its plans to document the pandemic and “this extraordinary period we were going through.” The vial, along with other materials related to that first vaccine dose, was announced by the museum on Tuesday to mark the upcoming one-year anniversary of the pandemic. Materials include vials, special shipping equipment and the medical scrubs and ID badge of the New York City nurse who was America’s first coronavirus vaccine recipient. “We wanted objects that would tell the full story,” said Anthea M. Hartig, the museum’s director. “Everything from the scrubs to the freezer unit that shipped the vaccines.” The first dose of vaccine in the U.S. was given on Dec. 14, 2020, by Northwell Health, a New York-based health provider, to Sandra Lindsay, an intensive care nurse. The donation from Northwell includes the original Pfizer vials as well as the specialized shipping container, about the size of a hotel room fridge, that would deliver the super-cold Pfizer doses packed in dry ice. The museum also obtained first-batch vials of the Moderna vaccine, and Lindsay donated her hospital ID badge and her white and blue medical scrubs. The COVID-19 materials will join the museum’s extensive medical collection. That includes one of the first batches of the polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk in 1955 and specialized syringes and vaccination cards from that era, as well as an authentic iron lung machine, multiple artificial hearts and an extensive selection documenting the fight against AIDS. The collection also now includes the personal blue and pink plastic COVID-19 model donated last week by Dr. Anthony Fauci. Museum officials aren’t sure if the coronavirus-related materials will be on display immediately when the museum reopens later this year. For now, they are planning to use them as part of a larger display on the history of medicine that is expected to debut next year.
The U.S. Naval Academy will begin administering the COVID-19 vaccine this Thursday following an outbreak on campus that sent about 200 midshipmen to quarantine in area hospitals last week. The Department of the Navy gave the Annapolis -based academy the go-ahead to administer vaccines to midshipmen. Summer training programs are set to begin in three- to four-week blocks starting May 15; the academy was forced to cancel most of last year’s summer programs due to the pandemic. “The Navy has prioritized vaccinating the operational forces first, and they’re developing very safe and healthy bubbles,” Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck said in a press release Tuesday. “For midshipmen to participate in summer training programs to meet Navy requirements, we need to begin vaccinating them now.” Faculty, staff and employees still fall under Navy population schema 1B and will continue to get vaccinated concurrently with midshipmen as doses are available. COVID-19 vaccines with emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration remain voluntary for active duty members, including midshipmen, but may become mandatory in the future if a vaccine is formally licensed.
D.C. will launch its new pre-registration system for coronavirus vaccine appointments on Wednesday. The system will prioritize several groups, including those 65 and older and residents with certain medical conditions, but it will randomize people in those groups. Officials said that registering first thing will not get people to the front of the line, so there is no rush to register. D.C. residents can pre-register at vaccinate.dc.gov or by calling 855-363-0333 and answering a short questionnaire. When residents receive an invitation to make an appointment, they will have 48 hours to book it Mayor Muriel Bowser said residents who register should monitor their email inbox and spam folder for a notification. If someone misses the 48-hour window, they will return to the queue and have to wait again to be invited to make an appointment. Residents will be invited three times, but if they do not book an appointment after the third invitation, they will need to re-register. After the pre-registration system opens on Wednesday, the first invitations will go out via calls, texts or emails by 10 a.m. Friday. The first appointments will start Monday. Going forward, invitations will be sent out by 10 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Bowser said even with the system, it could take days, weeks or months to get an appointment. “We do not have enough vaccine for everyone who wants it,” Bowser said. But everyone who registers will eventually get a vaccination. D.C. will get 24,760 doses this week. More than 7,000 of those will go to hospitals for their patients, about 3,000 to special initiatives and about 15,000 will go toward appointments on vaccinate.dc.gov. To begin, 40% of appointments will be allocated to people 65 and older, 40% will go to D.C. residents 18-64 with qualifying medical conditions and 20% will go to eligible workers. Those groups will be subdivided even further with half of each group’s allotment set aside for people living in priority ZIP codes where the coronavirus has hit hardest. But officials say they will reevaluate distribution periodically as demand changes for the groups. The pre-registration system replaces a weekly race for appointments on Thursdays and Fridays that has frustrated residents for weeks with technical glitches and capacity issues, among other problems. Demand for the vaccine has outpaced supply; more than 36,000 people tried to get about 4,000 appointments one day, Bowser said. Appointments were often filled in less than 10 minutes. While any city resident will be able to pre-register starting Wednesday, Bowser said residents should wait to pre-register until their eligibility phase is announced so the system isn’t overloaded. Registering early will not get anyone ahead in line, she said. “We’re doing the best we can to make the technology match the very high demand,” Bowser added. “And what we’re also doing is hopefully ensuring that they won’t have to encounter [frustration] week after week.”
Some Montgomery County residents are being profiled at COVID-19 vaccine clinics. During a press conference Monday, Vaccine Hunters, a group of educators who help residents who have language barriers or don’t have digital access find and schedule appointments for COVID-19 vaccines, said some Black and brown residents are being asked for proof of citizenship or job-related paperwork while white residents are not. Maisie Lynch, one of the Vaccine Hunters founders, reported at least three incidents in the past week where documented and undocumented immigrants went to retail pharmacies and were asked for paperwork that was requested from others. At one, a pharmacist insisted that an individual have a U.S.-issued ID and a Social Security number. When a state delegate tried speaking to the pharmacist on the phone to clear up the matter, the pharmacist hung up, Lynch said. Another time, two Latino clergy members went to a retail pharmacy for vaccine appointments and took W-2 forms to confirm their eligibility. However, they were told they needed a letter from their employers, Lynch said. The situation was cleared up when a Vaccine Hunters member intervened over the phone. On Sunday, a Black woman who tried to get a vaccine at a hospital clinic was asked for a work ID, a letter from her employer and one other document. White residents at the clinic were not asked for the documentation, Lynch said. The woman who visited the hospital clinic was also asked for her teaching certificate even though she had already provided her pay stub and teacher ID, according to Maria Peterson, another Vaccine Hunters member. Tania Perez-Fuentes, another member of the Vaccine Hunters, said racial profiling instances can discourage people from getting the vaccine. “We’re wanting to get people past the initial fear of getting the vaccine,” she said. “And now they’re fearful of what they’re going to be asked and what they’re going to be questioned, and if their legality is going to be questioned.” Perez-Fuentes said the incidents were “humiliating” for the residents. Vaccinators are not supposed to require proof of health insurance or ask about immigration status. The group called on the state and vaccine providers to have a multilingual hotline so people can report accessibility and equity issues when they are at a vaccine site and receive assistance, post clear multilingual signage at all vaccine clinics and have all clinics require just one form of ID or clear ID requirements. “Our focus is how we can prevent this going forward,” Lynch said. County Council President Tom Hucker, who hosted the briefing, called the problems the group cited “troubling.” The state should enforce its guidelines and provide more doses to the county health department, which has equity policies, he said. “We don’t know how widespread this is, but to have multiple incidents like this come up with the same storyline behind them is really, really troubling,” he said. “The retailers cannot be treating people any differently based on their race or immigration status.”
Following weeks of criticism over the rollout of Maryland’s COVID-19 vaccination program, the state’s vaccination program has expanded and the pace of vaccinations has increased. “We’ve administered nearly 1.6 million vaccines and our seven-day average is more than 36,000 per day, and in just one month that’s jumped 70%,” said acting Secretary of Health Dennis Schrader. He told the Maryland Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup Monday that vaccinations are nearly complete in all long-term care facilities in the state and 50% of the eligible population has been vaccinated against COVID-19 since the first hospital workers were vaccinated last December. But the demand for vaccine continues to exceed supply, leading eligible Marylanders to scramble to secure their first dose. “The data continues to bear out that vaccine-hunting is very much still the case, so people are traveling to wherever they can get the vaccine,” said Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, whose district includes parts of Baltimore. Ferguson is the chair of the Vaccine Oversight Workgroup. He acknowledged the improvement in the Hogan administration’s vaccine efforts. “So there is no doubt things are moving much more quickly and that is very good for everyone,” Ferguson said. The state has opened four mass vaccination sites, including one at Six Flags America in Prince George’s County, with two more opening in Hagerstown and Salisbury later this week. Schrader said counting local health departments, pharmacies, clinics and other places where the COVID-19 vaccine is administered, there are 418 vaccination sites in the Maryland. He also said the state’s pre-registration website, which will encompass all state vaccination sites, is expected to launch in mid-March giving eligible residents a more expansive platform to search for the vaccine. While Maryland has boosted its daily rate of vaccinations to the 16th-highest in the nation, it continues to lag other states in promptly administering the doses that it receives from the federal government, ranking it 30th, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data provided by the state. Schrader said that there’s been a general uptick in the volume of delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTeach vaccine with the state expecting 128,000 doses this week.
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan awaiting U.S. House of Representatives approval could help prevent service cuts to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. “We’re all hoping that the actions that were taken by Congress over the weekend will eliminate these issues for us,” WMATA General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld said during a briefing of the Prince George’s County Council. Metro has a $210 million funding gap for the upcoming budget year, and because revenue is expected to remain down due to pandemic-related declines in bus and rail ridership, the proposed budget contains drastic cuts. Wiedefeld said it is too early to know how much could be coming the transit agency’s way once the plan is approved. Federal relief from two rescue packages last year stopped Metro from instituting other proposed service cuts, Wiedefeld said. As the American Rescue Plan awaits approval from the House and President Joe Biden, Wiedefeld said he can’t update his budget yet. “We can’t put out a budget that has assumed” any federal aid, Wiedefeld said. According to the current revenue and projected ridership numbers, Metro can only afford to offer rail service at 30% of pre-pandemic levels and bus service at 50% beginning in 2022. Metro’s board is considering a grim budget. Among the cuts being considered are the closure of up to 22 rail stations and an increase in the time between trains. Early turnarounds on the Yellow and Red lines would also be instituted and service would end at 9 p.m. Dozens of bus routes would be eliminated and agencywide layoffs have been proposed. Wiedefeld said the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is a positive development, but under the proposed budget, Metro isn’t planning for revenue numbers to begin rebounding until next year. As has happened in the past, it is expected that the proposed budget will be amended once additional funding is received. As debate over the stripped-down budget continues, this week the WMATA Board is holding virtual listening sessions to hear about the proposed cuts from Metro users. During its first virtual hearing Monday morning, speakers did not support the cuts.
A new poll by Goucher College found that 64% of Maryland residents will either get the vaccine as soon as they can or have already received at least one dose. The survey of 725 Marylanders was conducted during the last week of February and released Monday. Five months ago, less than half of Maryland residents said they would get vaccinated if an FDA-approved vaccine were available immediately. The results from Maryland mirrored national trends. National polls conducted late last year before vaccine distribution began suggested that a majority of Americans were hesitant to receive the vaccine. In December, 49% of adults surveyed said they were going to get the vaccine, up from 39% in September, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. The Goucher poll details some lingering hesitancy around the vaccination process. About 15% of respondents said they would wait to see how the vaccine works before they get it themselves, and 18% said they would not get it at all or get it only if it was required. “Vaccine hesitancy has declined among Maryland residents over the past few months,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher. “Notably, our poll results also show that Black Marylanders are not significantly more hesitant to get the vaccine than their white counterparts. There are, however, differences across party lines: Republicans are more resistant to taking the vaccine than Democrats. The big picture is that most Marylanders will get the vaccine as soon as it’s available to them.” Residents also reported dissatisfaction with how the state is handling distribution. About 66% of respondents said the Maryland government is doing a “fair” or “poor” job at distribution. Nearly three-quarters approve of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s handling of the outbreak, but that number is down from 82% in October. Almost 1.6 million immunizations have been administered in Maryland as of Sunday. About 16.5% of Marylanders have received at least one dose and 9.1% are fully vaccinated.
Government leaders across the DMV praised local aid included in the COVID-19 American Rescue Plan Act that passed the U.S. Senate on Saturday. In a tweet, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser thanked President Joe Biden, congressional leaders and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton for including local aid in the latest relief package. “The dedicated local funding in this historic legislation will help fuel our shared recovery and ensuree can get through this pandemic and emerge stronger and more resilient than ever,” Bowser said in another tweet. In January, Bowser sent then President-elect Biden a letter asking him to allocate $755 million in funding for the city, saying D.C. was “shortchanged” in the CARES Act. The requested $755 million is included in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam also tweeted his satisfaction with the bill. “The #AmericanRescuePlan will provide much needed relief to working Virginians, help us safely reopen schools, accelerate our vaccination program and boost our recovering economy — this has been a difficult year, but we can all be hopeful that brighter days are ahead,” Northam said. Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner also praised the passage of the relief bill. “The past year has been dark, but with this much-needed relief and the acceleration of vaccinations, a brighter, healthier, more prosperous America is on the horizon,” Kaine tweeted. Warner tweeted that he is proud he was able to work with Biden and his colleagues in the Senate to add $17 billion to the bill to “expand access to high-speed internet,” which he said “is a necessity, not a luxury, during COVID-19.” Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen also praised the bill. Cardin tweeted that the American Rescue Plan “enjoys bipartisan support” from the public and that it will “help get #CovidVaccine shots in arms, help frontline workers, families and all sectors of our economy.” Van Hollen tweeted that the bill is “exactly what we need to defeat the virus. The American people called for action. Today we answered that call.”
Financial scam calls are rising in Maryland, and the state’s attorney general said it is because of COVID-19. In a normal year, the state’s Consumer Protection Division receives about 40,000 financial scam calls, resulting in $10 million-$15 million in recovery. Attorney General Brian Frosh discussed his concerns Friday during an online forum with Sen. Chris Van Hollen as part of National Consumer Protection Week. Discussions centered around how residents can better identify and avoid falling victim to scams. Frosh said scam targets include unapproved FDA COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, as well as phony stimulus check payments. “There are still folks and companies claiming that their dietary supplements, herbal products, can prevent disease,” Frosh said. “I would urge you not to try them. If you find yourself the victim of something like this, you can get in touch with the FDA.” The state is working with telecom companies to prevent robocalls from getting through to consumers, Van Hollen said, and efforts are also being made to provide consumers with the ability to better detect scam-related calls. Legislation was also passed to enforce stricter penalties on scammers. “We’re really trying to move forward on all those fronts,” Van Hollen said. The COVID-19 relief bill passed Friday by the Senate also provides more funds to help protect consumers. The bill goes back to the House of Representatives for a final vote before potentially heading to the White House for President Joe Biden’s signature. “It includes more than $30 million for the Federal Trade Commission to combat those who are engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices,” Van Hollen said. The focus now he says is educating Marylanders about the risks to avoid as many scams as possible. If you suspect you have been impacted by a scam related to COVID-19 treatments, contact the FDA at 410-779-5713.
Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport outperformed the other two major airports in the DMV but still ended 2020 down from pre-pandemic passenger levels. The airport reported a year-end total of 11,204,511 passengers. That is down 58.5% from the 26,993,896 passengers in 2019 due to the COVID0-19 pandemic that crippled air travel beginning in March. Southwest Airlines, the airport’s main tenant, reported 7,732,156 passengers for the year, a down 55.7% from 2019 but still representing a 69.0% market share at the airport. Also posting significant year-over-year declines were Spirit Airlines, which was down 59.5% and had an 11.0% total market share at BWI for 2020, as did American Airlines, which was down 59.4% with 6.9% market share, Delta Air Lines, which was down 69.8% with 5.9% market share, and United Airlines, which was down 69.2% with 3.2% market share. International passenger totals plummeted 88.2% to just 42,250 for the year. British Airways is the largest international carrier serving the airport but has not operated flights at BWI since mid-March. In fact, there have been no international travelers since mid-March. If there was a silver lining, it came in cargo, which was up 19.6% year-over-year to a new record of 595 million pounds. In December, a total of 912,114 passengers traveled through BWI, down 61.6% from a year before. Because of its emphasis on domestic leisure travel, which did not take as much of a COVID-19 hit as business travel or international travel, BWI’s passenger decline was not as steep as those reported at Northern Virginia’s two major airports. For the year as a whole, 7.58 million passengers traveled through Reagan National and 8.33 million through Dulles, representing declines of 68.3% and 66.4%, respectively. In December, traffic at Dulles totaled 712,080, down 65.7% percent from a year ago, while the 392,082 travelers moving through Reagan National represented a year-over-year plunge of 80.2%, according to figures from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
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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.