APS to Bring More Students Back at 3 Feet
COVID-19 Cases Reach 1,064,734 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 44,051 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 1,056 deaths; there have been 406,709 cases in Maryland with 8,061 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 613,974 cases with 10,178 deaths. You can read last week’s updates here.
Arlington Public Schools will bring more students back to classrooms as it implements the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s change in guidance allowing children to sit as close as three feet apart as long as they wear masks. APS Supt. Francisco Duran told the school board during its meeting Thursday that the plan is to allow additional students to participate in hybrid in-person learning this school year according to each school buildings capacity. The plan prioritizes special populations on waitlists, including English learners and special education students, and those struggling with virtual instruction. Families who want their children to return to school in person should contact their child’s school. Transportation will be provided for prioritized, eligible students on waitlists. Earlier this month Duran said schools would continue with the current hybrid model for the remainder of this school year. “Changing the model to provide additional in-person days now — even for targeted groups — is a monumental logistical challenge,” he said Thursday. Any modification would affect class schedules, staffing, space configurations, lunch procedures and coronavirus testing and contact tracing. APS’ decision to continue its current model, despite the CDC’s revised recommendations, divided some parent groups. Current schedules for hybrid learning were based on family surveys conducted last fall and 6-foot distancing recommendations. “Given the time of this changes, as we approach the end of the third quarter, this does help us plan more effectively for five-day schedules in the summer and the fall,” Duran said. The revised 3-foot guidance allows the school district to offer full in-person summer instruction five days a week, in addition to full-distance learning five days a week. Families of eligible students will be able to indicate how they prefer to attend. Students will also be able to return to classrooms five days a week next fall, if they choose.
Montgomery County reported 137 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, the fourth consecutive day with more than 100 cases. There have been 10 days this month with fewer than 100 new reported cases. Between Oct. 1-Feb. 28, there were 13 days with fewer than 100 cases. In total, there have been 66,250 confirmed cases of the virus in the county since March 2020. No deaths were reported in the county on Saturday. There have been 1,422 COVID-19 deaths in the county since the pandemic began. As of Friday morning, the most recent data available, 300,420 county residents had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 154,779 were fully vaccinated. In Maryland, there have been 406,709 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 8,061 deaths. More than 8.6 million tests have been administered since the start of the pandemic. About 1.6 million Marylanders have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and about 855,000 are fully vaccinated.
The COVID-19 vaccine site at the former Gander Mountain store in Woodbridge is expected to double its daily distribution in the next few weeks. The Community Vaccination Clinic near Potomac Mills mall currently inoculates about 3,000 people per day. With doses on the rise, the state hopes to increase daily distribution to 6,000 — 3,000 first doses and 3,000 second doses, Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia’s vaccine coordinator, said Friday. The clinic was originally scheduled to remain open until the end of this week, but Avula said it will stay open for 90 days, depending on demand. Demand for the vaccine in Northern Virginia remains high with dose allocations catching up, so health officials are considering a second clinic on Prince William County’s west end, Avula said. He didn’t have a timeline for when that might happen, but said the state is shifting resources regionally based on vaccine demand. “We’re adapting and moving every week,” he said.
Despite increasing vaccinations, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Virginia heading into spring break for many school districts is at its highest level in three weeks and test positivity rates are rising in several Northern Virginia municipalities. The Virginia Department of Health reported 1,912 new cases statewide on Saturday, increasing the commonwealth’s seven-day average to 1,461.3 per day. That is up about 13% over the past two weeks and the highest since March 5. In Northern Virginia, 499 new cases were reported Saturday. The region’s seven-day average stands at 399.1, but it had dropped to 318.4 two weeks ago. “Although cases have dropped dramatically in the past several weeks, they are flattening a level higher than we might have hoped given Virginia’s high vaccination rates,” the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute wrote in its weekly update on Friday. The institute noted that based on data through earlier last week, the statewide reproductive rate is more than 1.0 for the first time since January, meaning each person who has the virus passes it, on average, to more than one other person. The rate needs to be less than 1.0 for the number of cases to come down over time. In addition, the institute reported that six health districts, including Loudoun, are in a slow growth trajectory of new cases. And 81% of Virginia counties still have case rates higher than last summer, despite the fact that 26.5% of Virginians have received at least one dose of a vaccine and 14.3% are fully vaccinated. The number of patients being treated for COVID-19 in commonwealth hospitals remains less than 1,000 — 993 as of Saturday. It had been as low as 973 earlier last week. VDH 24 new COVID-19 deaths Saturday with eight of those in Northern Virginia. Over the past three days, the region reported nine new deaths, including four in Loudoun County, three in Fairfax County and one each in Arlington County and the city of Fairfax.
A study led by researchers at George Washington University found COVID-19 patients who enter the hospital and are already on a low-dose aspirin regimen or are given aspirin within 24 hours of admittance have increased chances for better outcomes. GW researchers found low-dose aspirin of 81 milligrams was associated with a 47% reduction in the risk of dying in the hospital, a 44% reduced risk of needing a ventilator and a 43% reduced risk of being admitted to the intensive care unit. “What is so promising about this study is that aspirin is an inexpensive drug. It’s widely available throughout the world, and this association is a huge win for those looking to reduce risk from some of the most devastating effects of COVID-19,” said Dr. Jonathan Chow, assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine and program director of the Critical Care Anesthesiology Fellowship at university’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences. The findings include more than 400 patients admitted between March and April 2020 to U.S. hospitals, including GW Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical Center. While the relatively small pilot was a retrospective study, Chow said a study underway in the United Kingdom should definitively determine whether aspirin is merely associated with or actually causes improved outcomes for COVID-19 patients. Recovery trial investigators, who confirmed dexamethasone as a COVID-19 treatment earlier this year, added aspirin use to their examinations last fall. The Recovery trial was designed to evaluate the effects of potential treatments in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.K. “We should see some results from that ‘gold standard’ randomized control trial very soon,” Chow said. He cautions against people trying to self-medicate — in people with cardiovascular disease, taking aspirin can increase the risk of internal bleeding 1.3 times. “Before patients start taking aspirin, they need to consult with their primary care physicians, so they can weigh the risks and the benefits,” he said.
Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are teaming up to vaccinate Latino residents. A total of 600 Latino residents will be vaccinated for COVID-19 at a special Adventist Healthcare community clinic in Takoma Park each week. CASA will sign up 300 Prince Georgians and the Latino Health Initiative will register 300 Montgomery Countians. “Our Latino community was hit particularly hard by this pandemic, so we are proud of this new initiative to further increase access to this lifesaving vaccine and ensure more residents can be Proud to be Protected from COVID-19,” said Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks in a press release. The partnership is part of an effort to make the coronavirus vaccine available to vulnerable communities that have experienced higher death tolls and lower vaccination rates. “We need to make sure that we reach communities that have been hit especially hard by this virus. They need access to these lifesaving vaccines,” said Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. Prince George’s County currently has the lowest vaccination rate in Maryland. “This pandemic has highlighted the need for closing the gaps in healthcare access in the long term, and I hope that this good work will provide the foundation for a better future,” Montgomery County Council member Nancy Navarro. “In the meantime, we need to continue to work together to proactively reach communities which have historically lacked adequate healthcare access if we want to truly stop the spread.”
Beginning Monday, Arlington residents who get a notification to schedule a vaccination appointment can get their shots at Amazon’s HQ2 offices in Crystal City. “Since its arrival in Arlington in 2019, Amazon has demonstrated its commitment to partnering with our community,” said Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti in a press release Friday. “By providing space at 2100 Crystal drive for a transit-accessible vaccination clinic, Amazon is helping us reach more residents.” Amazon will also provide some volunteer personnel. It will be the fourth county-operated site to vaccinate eligible residents. Residents can choose which site is most convenient for them to get their shots. Amazon HQ2 is near the Crystal City Metro station. Arlington County’s vaccination clinics are by appointment only. Patients must preregister on the state’s website and will be notified when they can schedule an appointment. There are no walk-up appointments at the site or a waiting lists for the end of the day. While Amazon is offering some employees the option to volunteer for the health department as greeters and to run the nonmedical portions of the site, Arlington County Public Health spokesperson Cara O’Donnell said Amazon employees will not get to jump the line to get a vaccine. “They are still on the same timeline as everyone else,” she said.
Montgomery County relaxed some COVID-19 restrictions Friday to allow for some spectators at sporting events. The Montgomery County Council voted 9-0 to approve new rules that allow up to two spectators per athlete at any sports event in the county up to a maximum of 50 spectators. The new rules also require the use of a barrier between spectators and athletes and coaches. The spectator area must be large enough for people to maintain 6 feet of social distancing from members of other households. All spectators are also required to wear face coverings. The new rules go into effect at 5 p.m. on April 2. “I believe the proposed amendment addresses the needs of our young athletes and our families while continuing to uphold the public safety measures we know keep us safe,” Council President Tom Hucker said before the vote. Under the new rules, the number of spectators is in addition to the overall cap on attendees at gatherings. Those limits are 25 people at indoor gatherings and 50 people at outdoor events. The new rules also allow for organizations to welcome even larger crowds of spectators if organizers obtain a waiver detailing their COVID-19 protocols to county officials. Earl Stoddard, the director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said Montgomery County Public Schools athletic officials have submitted a waiver plan, and he said he expected it to be approved by the time the new rules go into effect next week. “We generally agree that certain spaces have more flexibility,” he said, but it is important for venues to detail plans for maintaining social distancing at entrances and exits as well as restrooms. “Overall, we agree that there can be a capacity beyond 50. For many of these venues, we just want to be working with those individuals like MCPS to make sure that each facility has the appropriate protocols in place,” Stoddart said. Before the vote, Cynthia Simonson, president of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, said the 50-person spectator limit didn’t make sense considering the capacity of the county high school’s large football stadiums, which can hold 3,000-4,000 people. The new rules come a week after the council eased restrictions on high-risk sports, such as football and cheerleading. Council member Hans Riemer called the council’s vote an “interim step” and suggested council members should consider further changes in the future. “We are at the very early stages here of spring sports,” he said. “I think there are some issues that we’ll need to evolve on in a couple of weeks.” He noted that the spectator limits wouldn’t allow two parents of every player on a typical Little League team, which have 13 or 14 players.
Virginia did not receive as many doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as it expected this week, but an unexpected bump in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine made up for the shortfall. That kept the commonwealth on track to get through Phase 1B by mid-April and open vaccinations to the general population by May 1 or sooner, Dr. Danny Avula, the coordinator of Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccine program, said during a press conference Friday. Avula said he expects a big boost of the J&J vaccine as part of the 11 million doses that the company has promised to deliver nationwide next week. Virginia received 49,000 J&J doses this week, Avula said, but he expects those numbers will jump to about 150,000 doses per week in April. Meanwhile, the commonwealth received 252,000 Pfizer doses this week, an “unexpected surprise,” Avula said, although he noted the White House said it would be a one-time bump. Virginia also received 164,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine. “Our federal retail pharmacy allocation has jumped up a bunch,” Avula said. “Last week it was about 127,000. It’s gone up this week to 208,000 … What that means for the public is that there will be many more opportunities to get vaccinated for the 1B population through pharmacies.” He said the commonwealth is also monitoring vaccine rates in various jurisdictions to ensure that all of Virginia moves to Phase 2 at roughly the same time. “We are having to shift allocations to do that because what we’ve learned over the last month is that demand is really different in different parts of the state,” Avula said. While Virginia’s vaccine allocation has been primarily based on population, Avula said it will also take into account people’s interest in getting vaccinated, “which appears to be varying wildly in different localities. So when you look at communities like Northern Virginia, the greater Richmond area, not only do they have more people, but they also have a demographic that is more interested in getting vaccinated, so we are shifting allocations to those communities because we’re really trying to get everyone to Phase 2,” he said. Avula estimated that might mean Northern Virginia could potentially see an increase of 20%-30%, depending on demand. The Virginia Department of Health scaled down the mass vaccination site in the Danville and transitioned it to more of a hub-and-spoke model, with the main site still based in the Danville Mall with teams being dispatched to surrounding areas. Avula said the reason demand in places like Danville wasn’t as high as expected is likely a combination of hesitancy and access. He cited survey data showing more hesitancy among Republicans to get the vaccine, as well as access-related challenges, such as the lack of mass transportation in rural areas. But the lower demand in Danville caused many Virginians from outside the area to flock to the city’s mass vaccination site, prompting authorities to warn that anyone traveling to Danville without an appointment would be turned away. “Where you live shouldn’t be what determines your access to the vaccine,” Avula said, stressing that the state’s entire vaccination model is to prioritize high-risk populations. With the exception of Danville, Avula said demand overall at the state’s four mass vaccination centers remains high. He estimated that demand will likely drop and that come May and June, the state will have to focus more on winning over people who have refused to get a vaccine to reach its goal of 75% herd immunity by June or July. That will likely involve relying on personal physicians to work with their patients who are skeptical of the vaccine. In the meantime, Avula said Virginia is continuing its outreach to Black and brown populations to ensure vaccines are distributed equally. The commonwealth’s strategy includes hosting targeted events, allowing walk-ups at certain sites for those who either can’t or don’t want to preregister virtually and reserving a certain number of slots for minority populations. “We definitely have been waiving the preregistration lists for African American and Latino communities, and I think that’s made a difference,” Avula said.
Chef and restauranteur José Andrés is partnering with the White House to fight food insecurity. Andrés has long been a voice for those who don’t know where they will get their next meal. In disaster zones and throughout the pandemic, Andrés and the World Central Kitchen nonprofit organization he co-founded have mobilized the foodservice community to feed people who are in need. In a video released Friday in partnership with the White House, Andrés promoted the American Rescue Plan’s $12 billion in funding to tackle pandemic-era food insecurity The video highlights Andrés’ continued activist interests in emergency aid and helping to end poverty and hunger in the U.S. World Central Kitchen has provided 36 million meals to people in need since the start of the pandemic. “In this pandemic I have been in many communities across the country, the forgotten neighborhoods: many of Black Americans, Latino, Native Americans,” Andrés said in the video. “In this pandemic, they suffered the most because when everything was shutting down these people were forgotten and that’s something we cannot allow.” The $12 billion he refers to includes expanded funding for key assistance programs, such as access to the pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT, program throughout the school year and summer to allow families and children in need to gain access to nutritious meals; an extension of the temporary 15% increase in SNAP benefits through Sept. 30, 2021; investments in technology for SNAP beneficiaries to order groceries online; $880 million toward expanding access to healthy food as part of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children; $37 million for senior citizens’ nutrition; and $1 billion in nutrition assistance for U.S. territories. “With the American Rescue Plan … I know we will emerge out of this humanitarian food crisis stronger,” Andrés said in the video. With more than 4 million Americans out of work for more than six months, the question remains: Will this boost from the COVID-19 relief package be enough for struggling Americans to get by through the end of this economic crisis? Officials with the childhood hunger nonprofit No Kid Hungry called the Rescue Plan “a critical step in the right direction in addressing the nation’s hunger crisis.” Those with the DMV poverty and hunger-focused nonprofit organization, the Food Resource and Action Center, or FRAC, however, believe that more help is needed. Ellen Vollinger, legal director for FRAC said that for many, SNAP benefits are not enough to get by month to month. The organization also believes restaurants should have been used as a resource during the current crisis to address the growing food insecurity issue. “Throughout COVID-19, we have called on policymakers to facilitate restaurants as an additional food access point, including for SNAP customers,” Vollinger said. “Additional progress could be made by adopting policies proposed in the last Congress by Sen. Chris Murphy and Rep. Jimmy Panetta to adapt the SNAP Restaurant Meals Program to enable more SNAP purchases for meals prepared by restaurants.” During the pandemic, Andrés called on restaurants to aid in the hunger crisis — and many answered that call through WCK’s Restaurants for the People program. The effort helped many restaurants keep their doors open during pandemic-related lockdowns. Recently, Panera Bread partnered with Andrés and WCK to donate $1 for every full-sized sandwich purchased at the bakery and café chain through the end of March, up to $100,000. In January, he also worked with members of Congress to reintroduce the bipartisan FEED Act, a separate program from the American Rescue Plan that would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to supplement a greater share of the costs to state and local governments so that restaurants and nonprofits can partner together to provide meals for people in need, in a program similar to the Restaurants for the People program. Biden signed an executive order in February directing FEMA to cover 100% of the costs needed to help restaurants partner with local soup kitchens and food pantries, instead of the typical 75%.vStill, over the past seven weeks since Biden signed the executive order, FEMA has made no discernible movement to issue implementation guidance for state and local authorities, according to No Kid Hungry. Instead, the agency “has been encouraging local jurisdictions to begin implementing plans to work with nonprofits and restaurants in their communities to submit those plans to FEMA for approval.” Restaurant operators are hoping for clarity. “So far, absolutely no one I have spoken to has any idea how to initiate this program,” said Tony Clark, owner of the Kingston Ale House in Kingston, Wash. “I have spoken to my congressman, Derek Kilmer, my state representative, Christine Rolfes and my county commissioner, Rob Gelder. I even sent an email to FEMA only to get a ‘go ask your local folks’ response. … The executive order was signed seven weeks ago and so far I don’t think a single meal has been provided in Washington state.” FEMA did not respond to requests for more information on how restaurants can get involved with feeding their communities.
D.C. Public Schools is expanding its summer school options to include programs for every grade level due to the pandemic. During a usual summer, DCPS offers classes and programs such as literacy enrichment for elementary students and credit recovery for secondary students. But this year, there will be a mix of in-person and virtual learning opportunities for up to 7,000 students, with most programs starting on July 6 and running through Aug. 6. “There should be a mix of social, emotional and academic learning opportunities together, as well as an opportunity for students to reengage and have fun,” said Corie Colgan, the DCPS’ chief of teaching and learning. Colgan spoke Wednesday during an online recovery town hall, where she laid out the summer plans. In addition to the expanded systemwide programming, each individual school will develop its own summer learning opportunities that are meant to help students catch up and feel more normal again. These “acceleration academies” will be designed to serve a targeted group of students at each school, which will include 10%-35% of each school’s population. “We are working on approaches to recovery that will help accelerate student learning,” Colgan said. “We will design the programs for students who would most benefit from the additional support.” While registration is not yet open for any of the summer classes, Colgan said families will have a chance to sign up likely starting around April 5. The last day of the academic year is set for June 24.
Maryland adopted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidelines that allow students to return to schools with 3 feet of separation. Previously, the CDC’s recommendation was 6 feet of separation. “This updated guidance and the continued low rate of cases in schools should empower all Maryland schools to bring more students back into the classroom and/or give students the opportunity to receive in-person instruction more frequently before the end of the school year,” State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon and acting Deputy Secretary of Public Health Services Dr. Jinlene Chan said in a letter to local school superintendents on Thursday. Recent CDC studies found that 3 feet of distance between students did not significantly impact transmission of COVID-19 when compared to the earlier 6-feet-distancing guidance. “Every single Maryland student must have the opportunity to return to attending school in some form or fashion, and this updated CDC guidance is another step in the right direction,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a press release. State leaders have taken steps to keep schools as safe as possible as they reopen, including increased funding, COVID-19 testing, prioritizing teacher vaccination and making personal protective gear, such as masks and face shields, available.
Today is the last day that D.C. Health will offer free COVID-19 testing at Nationals Park. Testing in the Geico Garage will end March 26 as the Washington Nationals prepare to open their 2021 season on April 1 against the N.Y. Mets. “We are around on a weekly basis for the past couple of weeks around 35,000 or so tests, which is what we were seeing before the holiday season when the number of tests got up to 50,000 plus,” said D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt during a press conference Thursday. “Testing is still important. There are still very many unvaccinated individuals remaining in the District of Columbia and the country as a whole, because we don’t yet have enough vaccine for everyone who wants a dose.”
Virginia Department of Health officials reported the first cases in the state of a highly contagious B.1.427 and B.1.429 coronavirus variants that first emerged in California last summer. So far, VDH has identified 14 cased of the B.1.427 variant and nine cases of the B.1.429 strain. The health department did not release any information on the patients, including where in the commonwealth they lived. The discovery of the two California strains in Virginia means there have been four variants found in the state, including variants first discovered in South Africa and the United Kingdom. VDH said in a press release that the California variants are associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19. The variants were found in samples collected from Virginia residents between December and February. State health officials said there is no evidence that infections with the variants cause more severe disease. In total, state health officials have reported 176 cases of coronavirus variants in Virginia.
Loudoun County leaders are planning how they will spend about $80 million the county will receive from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. Virginia expects to receive $4 billion. Loudoun County will get $80 million in two tranches. The first will provide immediate relief, while the second will be devoted to more long-term issues. “I think we need to husband our resources and guard them well,” said Virginia Sen. Mark Warner during a virtual meeting. “This is, I think, will be the last of the COVID relief packages.” Phyllis Randall, chair of the county board of supervisors, said supporting the vaccination effort is among the board’s top priorities. As of the meeting, Randall said the county had administered more than 130,000 vaccinations, but almost half went to non-residents. “We have still a good little waiting list to get through just to get through everybody in [Phase] 1B,” Randall said. “We haven’t even started 1C yet.” She said immediate funding will also go toward rental and business assistance, along with nonprofits, while the second round will be devoted to infrastructure needs, such as providing better internet service to underserved areas. “In rural and western Loudoun County, we have people who just do not have solid and reliable broadband,” Randall said, adding it put people in an “unequal disadvantage” during the pandemic with the increase of telework. Others pointed out the significance of the federal funding relief for the Metro system, which was facing enormous budget issues that would have likely resulted in mass layoffs and service cuts. “One of my top priorities is getting people back on the road, back on the trains and back to work,” said Tony Howard, president of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, who thanked Warner for helping to ensure Metro had the funding to avoid major cuts. In addition to the expected $80 million in funding, Randall said individual towns will also receive their own funds that the county will distribute. “Loudoun, including our towns, will get over $85 million when we start counting in the money that towns will receive,” she said.
The mass vaccination site at Montgomery College’s Germantown campus will open Monday as a county-run operation in essentially a pilot phase with the capacity to administer 1,500 shots a day. Montgomery County officials provided more details about the site during a press conference Wednesday. Beginning April 5, the site is expected to ramp up with help from the state to a seven-day-a-week operation administering 3,000 shots a day, said Earl Stoddard, the director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Gov. Larry Hogan officially announced the site would be one of six additional large-scale vaccine sites the state is launching amid promises from the federal government that vaccine supplies will significantly increase in the coming weeks. Many details still remain to be worked out, such as the exact number of doses that will be sent to the site. If enough doses are provided, the site could administer 21,000 vaccinations a week, which is nearly three times the number of vaccine doses the county currently administers each week. Earlier this week, acting Maryland Health Secretary Dennis Schrader said the state could receive 300,000-400,000 doses with a ramp up in the production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine compared to 128,000 doses Maryland received this week. “There’s an impending increase from the federal government that is coming, and I suspect a significant chunk of that increase will be used over the coming weeks to fuel the site at Montgomery College and in Baltimore County” at the Timonium Fairgrounds, Stoddard said, referring to Hogan’s remarks during a press conference Tuesday. “Obviously, we are extremely hopeful and confident that the Biden administration is going to come through with their pledge to rapidly increase doses,” Stoddard added. “But in order for the state to commit to it, they have to see the doses from the feds.” The Germantown site will be listed on Maryland’s mass-vaccination preregistration website, meaning residents of other counties will be able to sign up for shots there. “While I expect our county to get a lot of these vaccinations, some of these will be folks from other counties, just as Montgomery County residents have been going into Baltimore, the Eastern Shore and Prince George’s County for vaccines,” said County Executive Marc Elrich. The county is still in talks with the Maryland Department of Health about how many appointments will go to people who have preregistered with the county versus the state’s mass-vaccination preregistration list. At the Six Flags America mass vaccine site in neighboring Prince George’s County, the state agreed to set aside 2,100 appointments a week specifically for Prince Georgians. Since the Six Flags America site opened in early February, it has administered more than 100,000 vaccinations, Hogan said Tuesday. The location of the site in Germantown places it within one of the ZIP codes the county has already identified as one of its most “high-risk” based on coronavirus case rates and deaths. Stoddard said it is important for the county to consider “how are we going to make sure that residents in the area that it’s serving are going to be able to benefit from the site.” In contrast to Six Flags America and most of the other mass vaccination sites, the Germantown location will be a “walk-through” site. But officials still have to figure out traffic and transportation access for people who can’t drive or who don’t have access to cars. Stoddard said the county is working on getting transportation set up from various “transportation hubs” across the county. “We have to make sure it’s equitable,” he said. Overall, the site will require staffing of 130 people every hour. Currently, more than 283,000 residents or 27% of the county’s residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Stoddard expects the Germantown site to receive its own “earmarked” allocation of doses and that the county health department will continue receiving its own weekly allocation, which will be used at other clinics throughout the county. This week, the department received 8,000 first doses. County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said the county is excited about the large-scale site “to be able to get thousands of people through the queue on a daily basis.” But he said the county also will need additional sites. “We also recognize that we have to continue to build up the infrastructure that we have in place in terms of having multiple venues that folks can access, including additional large community sites … as well as increased partnerships with our community partners to provide even better access deep within the community to take advantage of their footprints and their relationships with their client.”
D.C. is partnering with two CVS pharmacies in Ward 7 and one in Ward 5 to administer COVID-19 vaccines to teachers, school staff, childcare workers, healthcare workers and residents 65 and older. In a press release Wednesday, Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C Health said the three pharmacies will administer 3,150 doses of vaccine to residents over the next seven to 10 days. Residents will use the D.C. preregistration website or call center to begin the process, but will then be directed to schedule their appointments directly through CVS’ website if they are eligible. D.C. will receive 27,140 vaccine doses this week — 14,400 will go to vaccinate.dc.gov appointments, , 5,610 will go to hospitals and health centers, and 7,130 will be used for special initiatives, such as the CVS partnership. D.C. is currently vaccinating residents in Phase 1C Tier 1. Beginning the week of March 29, essential workers in Phase 1C Tier 2 will become eligible. Tier 2 includes those working in private transportation services; those working in logistics/delivery/courier services and essential employees working in media and mass communications.
Prince George’s County Public Schools students and staff who travel outside Maryland during spring break should get tested three to five days after returning and self-quarantine for seven days after traveling. An announcement this week from PGCPS spelled out guidelines for spring break travel and noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against traveling, even for people who are fully vaccinated. Even if tests come back negative, the district said students and staff they should stay home and self-quarantine for the full seven days. If students and staff don’t get tested, they should self-quarantine for 10 days after travel. Students can continue virtual learning during their quarantine. For in-state travel, the school district said COVID-19 tests aren’t necessary and no quarantine is required. PGCPS’ spring break runs from March 29-April 5. Under a phased return to classrooms, elementary and special education students and high school seniors are scheduled to begin returning April 8. People traveling internationally will need to get tested no more than three days before travel by air back to the U.S. and show a negative result to the airline before boarding the flight, the CDC said.
More than a dozen recreational facilities in Prince George’s County are set to reopen next week following coronavirus-related closures. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s Department of Parks and Recreation on Wednesday announced the openings, which include art galleries, fitness centers and a gradual reopening of the Prince George’s Ballroom. Thirteen fitness rooms and gyms at 12 Prince George’s community centers will reopen March 29. Reservations are required and can be made on the PGParksDirect.com website. “Following the guidance of the county executive and public health officials, we are pleased to begin reopening several facilities,” said Bill Tyler, the parks and rec director, in a press release. “We hope these measured steps will welcome the community back to our facilities and programs in a way that ensures them that their safety and comfort remain our top priority.” The reopening locations include the Bladensburg Community Center, College Park Community Center, Fort Washington Forest Community Center, Glenarden Community Center, Glenn Dale Community Center, North Brentwood Community Center, Seat Pleasant Activity Center, Southern Area Aquatics and Recreation Complex, Suitland Community Center, Tucker Road Community Center, Upper Marlboro Community Center, Vansville Community Center and William Beanes Community Center. The indoor pool at the Southern Area Aquatics and Recreation will also reopen. Other facilities are also set to reopen, including self-guided tours at the Watkins, Clearwater and Mount Rainier nature centers; canoe and kayak rentals at Bladensburg Waterfront Park and Patuxent River Park; a self-guided tour at the College Park Aviation Museum; .art exhibits at the Brentwood Arts Exchange; and the galleries at Montpelier Arts Center. The Prince George’s Ballroom in Landover, a meeting space for weddings and social events, is also preparing to reopen. The office will be open to help plan future events via phone, email or in person. Appointments are required. Even as the facilities reopen, the parks department is reminding visitors that gatherings in parks are limited to 10 people who must stay a minimum of six feet away from other groups. Face coverings are required at all times and temperature checks will be required for indoor activities.
The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis began easing restrictions that were put in place after an outbreak of COVID-19 cases. The Capital Gazette reported Tuesday that the academy is allowing food deliveries again and midshipmen to perform outdoor meetings and formations. Student interaction is still limited to roommates with the exception of socially-distanced formations outside. The academy experienced an outbreak beginning in late-February. Nearly 200 midshipmen were moved to two local hotels to expand quarantine and isolation space. However, there are still a number of students in quarantine. The number of cases isn’t decreasing fast enough to resume in-person classes. They will remain online through Friday.
Scientists at the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech are developing a coronavirus vaccine candidate that showed promising results during animal testing. So far, the vaccine has only been tested on pigs. “Pigs are very similar to humans in their genetics, physiology and anatomy, perhaps the closest model to humans next to non-human primates,” according to an article written by the researchers, which has not been peer-reviewed. The scientists made two vaccines, one for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and another to protect against the pig coronavirus. They found both vaccines produced a “potent” immune response in the subjects and “provided significant protections against clinical disease.” The vaccines did not prevent the illness, but researchers observed “significant protections against severe disease,” the findings reported. The vaccine would cost only $1 per dose, U.Va. Health’s Dr. Steven Zeichner, one of the researchers, said. While the currently approved vaccines are free to most in the U.S., they cost the U.S. government between $10-$19.50 per dose. The U.Va./Virginia Tech vaccine would also be “easy to store and transport, even in remote areas of the world, and could be produced in mass quantities using existing vaccine-manufacturing factories,” Virginia Tech Daily reported. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be stored in ultracold temperatures of -112 to -76 degrees Fahrenheit; while the Moderna vaccine must be kept between -13 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine between 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit. “The new vaccine platform utilizes a genome-reduced bacteria to express the coronavirus vaccine antigen on its surface. Such a vaccine platform can be manufactured with low cost in existing facilities around the world, which could meet the pandemic demand,” Virginia Tech professor X.J. Meng said.
With 25% of Virginians having received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine and about 1 million residents fully vaccinated, the commonwealth will ease limits on some sports and entertainment venues, as well as gatherings beginning April 1. Virginia ranks eighth in the nation in vaccine doses used, administering more than 60,000 shots on most days. Health officials expect the effort to ramp up even more with the addition of new mass vaccination sites. “We expect it’s a matter of weeks until we can open it up to anyone who wants the vaccine,” Gov. Ralph Northam said during a press conference Tuesday. “There’s still a lot of virus out in our communities, but it’s hit a plateau.” Despite the number of cases, Virginia will continue easing restrictions on gatherings, counting on residents to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Beginning April 1, gatherings will be capped at 100 people outdoors and 50 indoors, with entertainment venues operating at 30% capacity capped at 500 people. Outdoor venues are not limited to a specific number of people, but limited to 30% of the venue’s capacity. The new rules will allow roughly 3,000 in outdoor spaces with room for people to safely distance themselves, citing venues with huge capacity like Flying Squirrels Stadium in Richmond and the Richmond Raceway. The class of 2021 can look forward to graduations, which will be capped at 5,000 people or 30% of the venue’s capacity outdoors and 500 people or 30% indoors, whichever is smaller. Masks are still required in public throughout the commonwealth. Spectators for recreational sporting events will be capped at 100 people indoors and 500 people outdoors, limited to 30% capacity. Northam described the changes as measured and said that social distancing and masks will still be required, shifting some of the responsibility to Virginians. “To be very clear, we are not simply throwing the doors open. … These are measured changes. We still have a strict gathering limit, a universal mask mandate and capacity limits both indoors and outdoors. We will continue to closely follow the data to see how these changes go, but it really depends on Virginians. If we continue to be careful, wearing our masks in public, washing our hands, keeping our distance and getting vaccinated, I expect our case counts will keep going down,” he said.
All Marylanders 16 and older will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination beginning April 27. The state has administered more than 2 million vaccine doses as of Tuesday — more than 35% of residents 18 or older. Following a two-week lull between shipments, additional vaccines from are on their way and a weekly shipment schedule will resume, Gov. Larry Hogan said during a press conference Tuesday. He couldn’t provide exact numbers on how many doses the state expects but said he hopes to outpace the Biden administration’s tentative schedule to make all Americans eligible. “The president’s goal was to open up eligibility by May, and he said finish by the Fourth of July,” Hogan said. “We’d like to be ahead of that time frame … as long as we get the supply.” Maryland entered phase 2A of its vaccination program Tuesday, meaning residents 60 and older can be vaccinated. On March 30, the state will enter Phase 2B, which includes anyone 16 and older with a qualifying medical condition or disability. People in the priority group began pre-registering on the state’s vaccination site Tuesday, and so far, Hogan says more than 150,000 people had signed up. On April 13, Maryland will enter Phase 2C, which includes people 55 and older and all essential workers. The state will expand eligibility to anyone 18 and older two weeks later. Several counties, including Prince George’s and Montgomery, have lagged behind the state’s vaccination schedule. They will now be required to follow the state’s timeline. Hogan also announced that Maryland will open six new mass vaccination sites, including the Timonium Fairgrounds and Montgomery College’s Germantown Campus the week of April 5, Anne Arundel and Frederick counties the week of April 12, and Howard and Hartford counties later in the month, for a total of 12 mass vaccination sites across the state. Hogan said mobile vaccination clinics have made progress distributing the vaccine to hard-to-reach ZIP codes. David Marcozzi, COVID-19 incident commander for the University of Maryland, cautioned residents about virus variants, particularly strain B.1.1.7 or the UK variant, which he said is more contagious and making residents sicker. Marcozzi advised residents experiencing nausea, vomiting and diarrhea to get tested, as these could be symptoms of the coronavirus variant. “We are in a race between the variants and vaccination rates,” Hogan said.
The National Park Service will limit vehicular and pedestrian traffic at the Tidal Basin, East Potomac Park and West Potomac Park during the cherry blossom’s peak bloom period to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. According to a statement issued by NPS on Tuesday, the closure dates depend on the bloom cycle, but are currently project to occur between March 25 and April 12. NPS will update specific closure times on its website and social media accounts. U.S. Park Police and NPS will monitor the Tidal Basin for crowds, NPS spokesperson Mike Litterst said. “It’s an eyeball test to see when there are simply too many people down there.” The Tidal Basin walking trail, Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and several of the surrounding roads and parking lots will be closed. “What we don’t want to do is create the illusion for people that [the Tidal Basin] is likely to stay open,” he said. Last year, amid rising COVID-19 cases, officials closed roads around the Tidal Basin and discouraged visitation during one of the city’s biggest events. Peak bloom is currently projected for April 2-5. NPS announced Monday that the blossoms had reached the halfway point to peak bloom. NPS is advising visitors to view the blooms at other sites around the city on the Bloom Cam. According to the press release, the following streets and areas will be closed: Ohio Drive SW, from Buckeye Drive SW (Washington Channel side) to Independence Avenue SW; East Basin Drive SW east of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial to Ohio Drive SW; West Basin Drive SW from Ohio Drive SW to Independence Avenue SW; Northbound I-395 ramp to Potomac Park (Exit 2); Southbound I-395 ramp to Potomac Park (Exit 2); the Tidal Basin walking trail; the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial; the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial; the Thomas Jefferson Memorial; the Tidal Basin paddle boats; and all curbside parking and parking lots within the area..
Fearing the spread of COVID-19 in schools following spring break, the Montgomery County Public Schools board of education on Tuesday unanimously voted to delay the April 6 return of students in pre-K and in grades 4, 5, 6 and 12 until April 8. In the same resolution, the board voted to bring seventh and 10th graders back to classrooms on April 19 with students in eighth, ninth and 11th grades. The seventh and 10th graders had been scheduled to return April 26. The board said it was approving Supt. Jack Smith’s plan for the earlier return of seventh and 10th graders based on the success of the return plan that has been in motion since March 15. While students and staff are urged not to travel during spring break, the board acknowledged that some will. It is asking those who travel to get tested before returning to classrooms on April 8.
D.C. is ending its “slow streets” program, which attempted to create safer neighborhood streets for people to exercise while maintaining six feet of social distancing. While the idea had community support, implementation and enforcement never materialized quite as many had hoped. The D.C. Department of Transportation installed 22 miles of “slow streets” in seven wards last summer – Ward 8 opted out. The pilot project lowered the speed limit to 15 MPH and erected barricades that instructed “local traffic only.” The signs were often moved, hit or ignored by drivers. Those restrictions will disappear at the end of May. DDOT said it will re-evaluate the program and is asking residents to share their experiences. “We are committed to reviewing the lessons learned from this experiment,” interim DDOT director Everett Lott said (about 3 hours into the video) during a D.C. Council Transportation Committee roundtable on Tuesday considering what transportation will look like in the city after the pandemic. “It was conceived and implemented on a very quick turnaround during the emergency, and we seek a permanent and more effective strategy to safely create spaces for people,” Lott said. Several residents testified that there was a lack of enforcement and that the slow streets should have been a contiguous or connected network, instead of one-off blocks. They also argued that signage needed to be clearer for drivers. Ward 5 Councilmember Charles Allen said much of the DDOT efforts during the pandemic, like streateries and bus lanes, were good, but the slow streets didn’t go far enough. “I don’t think we’d have been as aggressive with our public space as we could be,” he said. “We’ve given up so much space for the convenience of a car in a neighborhood.” Allen recalled one day early in the pandemic when a tree fell into his street. With the street blocked off, it became a de-facto playground. “Kids were out on their bikes and their scooters, neighbors were out talking to each other from across the street,” he said. “And that moment stuck out for me because it really was a moment when everyone desperately needed more safe outdoor space.” His experience with the slow street on G Street NE was a bad one. He said his family lasted 30 seconds on the street before drivers sped through the area. Lott said he has also heard those criticisms from residents who advocated to close the streets to vehicular traffic completely. “I don’t know if that’s truly an option that we can consider,” Lott said. He added he would want more input from residents and advisory neighborhood commissions. The pandemic brought a host of other changes to the way residents use city streets. The hearing also touched on streateries, bus-only lanes and closing the upper portion of Beach Drive to traffic. The latter is a National Parks Service decision, but D.C. will provide input. Last October, NPS said the street would re-open to cars after the pandemic. Many of those who testified lauded streateries and the closure of Beach Drive and called for more bus lanes, as well as a better slow streets program.
Montgomery County’s Ride On buses, including Ride On extRa buses, will resume boarding at the front and charging fares on April 5. Rear doors have been used for boarding since March 2020 to help protect drivers during the pandemic, but they will not be used for boarding on any services except for Flash buses, according to the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. Clear partitions have been installed to separate drivers and passengers. The partition also allows for the reopening of seating in the front of the buses so passengers can socially distance. “We are glad to be able to welcome riders through the front doors again and open up more seating inside each bus,” MCDOT Director Chris Conklin said in a press release Tuesday. The county asked passengers to prepare for boarding by having the exact fare ready to pay. The standard cost per trip is $2. All passengers are required to wear a face covering for the entire trip on the bus. For riders who do not have a mask, buses have a supply. Social distancing is also recommended both on board and at the bus shelters.
Georgetown University will hold a virtual university-wide commencement on May 23 followed by virtual ceremonies for each school and program that will recognize each graduation student by name. Awards ceremonies will also take place virtually in the days leading up to graduation. But, university President John J. DeGioia said in a letter Tuesday there will be a few opportunities for in-person gatherings. DeGioia said the approach will enable the university to “provide moments of celebration among graduating students and adhere to public health measures.” He said plans are being developed for small-scale, in-person opportunities on campus that are contingent on public health conditions and review by D.C. officials. The events will be for graduating students only. The university will also extend in-person commencement celebrations in 2022 to the classes of 2021 and 2020. “I recognize that this is not the commencement experience that our students envisioned when they first arrived at Georgetown. I share your disappointment in not being able to gather in person and celebrate our students’ accomplishments alongside family and friends,” DeGioia said.
Following a sharp decline in February, COVID-19 cases are rising again in Virginia and Maryland as officials ease restrictions and ramp up vaccination efforts. The average number of new daily cases in Maryland and Virginia has increased by 10% and 9%, respectively, over the past week, following the states’ rollbacks on coronavirus restrictions. Meanwhile, D.C., which loosened some restrictions on Monday, saw its average daily infection rate drop by 27% over the past seven days. The trends in the DMV follow a national pattern as governors relax public health ordinances. Infections are high and staying high in 22 states, including Maryland and Virginia, and all three local jurisdictions have reported cases of the more contagious variants. Increasing infection rates also come despite the DMV’s progress in vaccinating residents. Last week, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser all announced optimistic vaccine outlooks after President Joe Biden pledged that every adult would be eligible for a vaccine by May 1. Virginia encouraged local health departments to move into Phase 1C of its plan, Maryland opened vaccine eligibility to all residents over 60 and D.C. opened eligibility to more groups of essential workers. But public health experts warned against easing restrictions too quickly while vaccination rates move at a slower pace. In a press conference last week, White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci explained the risk that relaxing public health ordinances could pose to the progress of vaccinations. “The concern is that throughout the country, there are a number of state, city, regions that are pulling back on some of the mitigation methods that we’ve been talking about,” Fauci said. “It is unfortunate but not surprising to me that you are seeing increases in number of cases per day in areas — cities, states, or regions — even though vaccines are being distributed at a pretty good clip of 2 to 3 million per day. That could be overcome if certain areas pull back prematurely on the mitigation and public health measures that we all talk about.” As of Monday, Maryland reported an average daily rate of 15.71 new cases per 100,000 residents — much lower than the infection rate during the January surge, but well above the numbers reported for much of the summer and fall when the state maintained stricter coronavirus orders. The average positivity rate was 4.37% Monday, after staying below 4% for several weeks. The increase follows Gov. Larry Hogan’s move to lift capacity limits on restaurants, gyms and other businesses on March 12, citing improving health metrics at the time and the increasing rate of vaccinations. “The time is right,” Hogan said when announcing the rollbacks, making Maryland the first state to do away with all indoor dining restrictions. Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, which did not follow Hogan’s directive to loosen indoor restrictions, haven’t seen infections increase at the same rate as the state. Prince George’s County has maintained a case rate above that of the state for nearly the entire pandemic, but in recent weeks the gap has narrowed. On March 1, the county reported an average case rate per 100,000 residents of 17.2, compared to the statewide rate of 13. On Monday, the county’s case rate was 16.7, compared to the statewide rate of 15.7. Instead of completely lifting capacity limits on indoor businesses, which Hogan recently permitted statewide, Prince George’s County increased its limit from 25% to 50%. Montgomery County officials, critical of Hogan’s leniency, issued a more measured reopening order similar to Prince George’s County, ending curfews on alcohol sales and increasing indoor capacity limits on most restaurants and businesses from 25% to 50%. The county has seen its average infection rate stay around 10.0 since mid-March. While hospitalizations in the state remain lower than during both last spring’s and January’s peaks, Maryland is currently one of six states where new deaths are increasing. The average daily reported death count increased by 35% over the past seven days. The rolling average of new cases in Virginia has likewise ticked up in March reaching 1,443 as of Monday. A little more than one week ago, the metric had dipped below 1,300. While still a marked improvement from the averages of 5,000 or more daily cases in January, the average number of new cases remains higher than at any point reported last spring, summer and early fall. On March 1, Gov. Ralph Northam rolled back a several restrictions imposed in November and December as cases increased ahead of a feared holiday spike. The modified curfew ended, the 10 p.m. limit on alcohol sales was pushed back to midnight and outdoor gatherings can include 25 people, up from the previous limit of 10 people, but the limit on indoor dining remains at 50%. In Northern Virginia, Alexandria and Loudoun County have seen especially large increases in their coronavirus metrics in recent weeks. In Alexandria, the average number of new cases per 100,000 residents increased from 9.4 on March 10 — the lowest been since November — to 16 on Monday. Loudoun County, which saw its average new infection rate dip below 14 for the first time since mid-November on March 7, is now reporting 22 cases per 100,000 residents. Despite the rising case counts, the commonwealth continues to report a decrease in hospitalizations and deaths since the January spikes. As of Monday, Virginia’s seven-day average of deaths was 27, compared to nearly 200 at the beginning of the month, and the number of patients hospitalized with the virus dropped below 1,000 for the first time since mid-October. Meanwhile, in D.C., which eased several of its pandemic restrictions on Monday, cases have declined this month, except for a backlog in reporting that led to a brief spike in mid-March. As of Monday, the city reported an average daily case rate of 16.0 per 100,000 residents, just slightly above the 15.0 threshold indicating substantial community spread. D.C. dipped briefly into the moderate community spread zone in late February. The city’s transmission rate has stayed in the “moderate” range since late February, and hospitalizations have consistently dropped throughout March. Even so, the city’s seven-day average of new cases remains slightly above 100. Throughout much of June, July, August and September, the city reported an average well below as D.C. operated under tighter COVID-19 precautions. Bowser’s new order that went into effect Monday increased the limit on outdoor gatherings to 50 people, and the city has granted permits for both Nationals Park and Audi Field to host 5,000 and 2,000 fans at home games, respectively. Indoor dining can increase to 25% capacity or 250 people and alcohol can be sold until midnight.
Northern Virginia officials are ready to ramp up COVID-19 vaccinations and ensure that shots are distributed equitably, but they need more vaccine. The Northern Virginia Regional Commission, which includes leaders from Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church cities and Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties, said in a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday that each health district has a waiting list of several thousand people in the 1A and 1B categories. The waitlists in each locality include more than 20,000 in Alexandria, more than 28,000 in Arlington County, more than 102,000 in Fairfax County, 99,942 in Loudoun County and 92,000 in Prince William County. The letter said the region has partnered with the state, Inova Health Systems and other community organizations, including faith-based groups, nonprofits and free clinics to reach out to underserved and at-risk groups. But despite the capability to deliver thousands of doses a week, the region is not receiving enough vaccine supplies, the officials said. According to the letter, Alexandria is able to deliver 15,000 doses a week but is only receiving 5,000. Arlington County can administer 14,000 doses a week but receives just 8,000. Fairfax County can deliver 34,000 doses and the Inova regional facility can add another 84,000 doses. Loudoun County can administer 49,000 a week but has received a maximum of 18,000 a week. And Prince William County can give 28,000 doses a week. The commission also said that the health districts in each jurisdiction “have plans to ensure equity in expanded distribution” and asked for flexibility in how to administer vaccinations to ensure speed and equity. “We fully understand it is very difficult to balance the diverse needs and interests of different parts of the commonwealth. However, it is hard to explain to our residents how we will meet the expectations the commonwealth has laid out if we do not have the vaccines to do it.”
Montgomery County is slated to get nearly $204 million in direct funding through the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress earlier this month, which officials say will provide a much-needed cushion to the county’s budget as it seeks to put Maryland’s largest county on a path to post-pandemic financial recovery. In total, Maryland received just less than $4 billion in direct funding in the relief bill, with about $1.2 billion total set aside for the state’s nearly two dozen county governments, according to a summary from the office of Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who spoke to reporters during a press conference Monday. Details on what the county funding will support are still sparse, but Van Hollen and County Council President Tom Hucker, who hosted the press conference, pledged transparency. “These funds need to be distributed in a way that helps the communities that have been hardest hit,” Van Hollen said. “One of the reasons though that we provided these funds directly to county governments and directly to municipal governments and did not have all of them going to the state government was because we wanted to provide the county with the flexibility to use the funds where they think are most needed, and that’s to help fill the gaps.” The senator said there are “guard rails” in place to make sure the funds are spent responsibly, pointing to the oversight commission created under last year’s CARES Act and President Joe Biden’s pick of Gene Sperling to lead oversight in the executive branch. The county will receive about half of the funding within 90 days, Van Hollen said. Local officials will have to provide an accounting for funds that are spent to receive the second half of the funding next year, he added. Hucker said the county would also track funding on the county’s budget website. Separate from the $203.7 million for the county, independent municipalities in the county, such as Gaithersburg, Rockville, Takoma Park and Chevy Chase, are set to receive $100 million in federal funding, Hucker said. The $204 million in direct federal relief for the county was first noted in the nearly $6 billion operating budget introduced by County Executive Marc Elrich last week. The budget, which doesn’t include a property tax increase and includes full funding for schools, “allowed us to breathe a real sigh of relief after this year of unanticipated challenge and it’s largely due” to the federal relief, Hucker said. For example, the federal funds will help improve the county’s revenue outlook, officials said, increasing the county’s reserves to 9.6%, which Hucker said was key to maintaining the county’s AAA bond rating.
The Washington Wizards and Capitals have submitted a waiver application to begin hosting fans at Capital One Arena. But it will probably be several weeks until they learn their next steps. The Washington Nationals were granted a waiver to allow 5,000 fans when their season begins on April 1 and D.C. United can host 2,000 fans at Audi Field. The Wizards and Capitals, owned by Monumental Sports and Entertainment, expect to get a response the week of April 5. “Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which operates Capital One Arena and the Washington Capitals and Wizards, has submitted to the D.C. government our request and plan to safely allow fans back into the arena,” Monica Dixon, chief administrative officer and president of external affairs said in a press release. Monumental referenced the timeline the government applied to the Nationals, which took weeks before they received official word. The fact that the Wizards and Capitals play indoors at Capital One Arena could also be a factor. The Nationals play outdoors in a stadium that holds more than double the capacity of Capital One Arena – 41,000 fans compared to 20,000 – and they were only granted a 5,000-fan limit. The Capitals’ final regular-season game is set for May 8, while the Wizards’ schedule runs until May 16. There is also the possibility one or both of the teams qualifies for the postseason.
Loudoun and Prince William counties, two of Virginia’s fastest-growing counties, hope Gov. Ralph Northam signs a bill authorizing them to establish their own health departments, rather than continuing to rely on commonwealth-run health districts. The commonwealth-run health districts add another step, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall said. “If [current Loudoun Health District Director Dr. David] Goodfriend chooses to do something in regards to testing, or whatever needs to be done, it has to be a directive from the state health department,” she said. “We don’t feel that a county as large as Loudoun — or for that matter, Prince William County — should have to wait another step to get permission to do whatever we think is the best thing for our constituents,” Randall said. “It’s a smoother, cleaner way to distribute services to the constituents.” Randall said Virginia has continued to offer assistance in staffing “a large kind of FEMA health department site” for mass vaccinations. “In Loudoun, we keep saying, ‘Thank you, but no thank you,’” said Randall. “We can do up to 7,500 shots a day — what we need is the vaccine.” In neighboring Prince William County, Board of County Supervisors Chair Ann Wheeler said her county’s health department “was not robust when the pandemic started. We’re one of the locations in the commonwealth that the state is coming in and actually doing a mass vaccination site, down at the old Gander Mountain site, near Potomac Mills,” she said. Wheeler said a county-run health department could provide the ability to target communities during a public health crisis. Recently, the county said that while white residents only represent 41% of the county’s population, 54% of the vaccines given so far have gone to white residents. Latinos have received 17% of the county’s allotment and 13% of shots have gone to Black residents. Under the current arrangement, health districts are staffed by a mix of state and local employees. Typically, county employees make more than the state health workers, which often results in difficulty in retaining workers. “As of right now, our health department has a 27% vacancy rate, the highest in Northern Virginia,” Wheeler said. “We think, as a county, we might be able to do it [better] because we have more resources than the health department at the moment.” If Northam signs the bill, introduced by state Sen. Barbara Favola of Arlington, by the March 31 deadline, Loudoun and Prince William would join Fairfax and Arlington counties as the only four jurisdictions in the state to control their own health departments. “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a number of challenges with public health infrastructure across the country, and in Virginia we aren’t waiting for the next crisis to take action,” said Northam spokesperson Alena Yarmosky. “Gov. Northam is still in the process of reviewing [the bill], but he certainly supports efforts to improve the infrastructure and increase funding for public health. One of the major challenges has been an outdated funding formula for local health districts that hasn’t been changed in a generation.” Northam signed several bills Friday, including one to modernize local health department funding. Fairfax County established its own department in 1995 and Arlington County took control in 1988. SB1221, which passed easily through the state Senate and House, specified Loudoun only, but Randall said that after speaking with Wheeler, she asked Northam to amend the bill so it includes Prince William County. “We have communicated to the governor, to the state health department and to all the staffs that we are in support of the governor amending the bill and including Prince William County,” Randall said.
Krispy Kreme is offering a free glazed doughnut to anyone who show their COVID-19 vaccination card. Starting yesterday through the end of the year, if you take your vaccination card to any Krispy Kreme location in the U.S., you can get a free glazed doughnut each day, the company said in a news release. The card must show one or two shots of any of the Covid-19 vaccines to qualify and must be redeemed at a store. You don’t need to buy anything to get your daily free doughnut. “We all want to get COVID-19 behind us as fast as possible, and we want to support everyone doing their part to make the country safe by getting vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available to them,” said Dave Skena, Krispy Kreme chief marketing officer. However, the company acknowledges that not everyone will get the vaccine. “We understand that choosing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is a highly personal decision,” the news release said. Those who decide not to get the COVID-19 vaccine can still get a free glazed doughnut and a medium coffee on Mondays from March 29-May 24. The promotions are all part of their “Be Sweet” initiative to inspire joy and kindness. Krispy Kreme’s vaccine support is not limited to customers. The company is also offering employees an incentive to get the vaccine with four hours of paid time off to get vaccinated. In addition, Krispy Kreme will support healthcare workers and volunteers who are helping administer vaccines, delivering free doughnuts to select vaccination centers throughout the country in the coming weeks.
Montgomery County’s seven-day average of COVID-19 cases has risen slightly from earlier this month. According to data from county’s Department of Health and Human Services. the county recorded a daily average of 10.0 cases per 100,000 residents as of Sunday, up from 9.1 cases per 100,000 residents on March 9. The metric has been on the rise since then, peaking at 10.7 on March 14 then hovering between 10.0 and 10.6 since. However, the daily average has fallen overall over the past two months, from its peak of 49.8 cases per 100,000 residents on Jan. 12. The slight increase in Montgomery County’s case rate mirrors a similar rise in cases across Maryland and the country since the beginning of the month. The county added 216 cases of COVID-19 over the weekend, according to the Maryland Department of Health. The county has had 65,505 cases of the virus since the pandemic started a year ago. The county recorded one confirmed fatality from the virus on Saturday and none on Sunday, bringing the death toll to 1,410. There have been 46 “probable” deaths. “Probable” deaths have the coronavirus listed as the cause of death on certificates but have not been confirmed by laboratory tests yet. As of Friday, Montgomery County was reporting that 253,250 residents (24.1%) had received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 130,945 (12.5%) had been fully vaccinated, meaning they either received a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Maryland has had 400,023 cases of COVID-19 and 7,985 confirmed deaths as of Sunday.
The number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in both Virginia and Northern Virginia has fallen to the lowest level in five months, although new cases continue to rise slightly. The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association reported Sunday that 994 patients were being treated for the virus in the commonwealth’s hospitals, up slightly from 978 on Saturday. Saturday was the first time the number of patients fall below 1,000 since Oct. 25 and the lowest level since Oct. 20. In Northern Virginia, just 195 patients were hospitalized as of Saturday morning, the fewest since Oct. 5. However, the rise last week in the number of new COVID-19 cases both statewide and in the region could lead to additional hospitalizations in coming weeks as those cases become more serious. The Virginia Department of Health reported 312 new cases in Northern Virginia on Sunday, following 430 on Saturday and 456 on Friday. The region’s seven-day average of new cases, which peaked Jan. 18 at 1,628.4, had fallen as low as 318.4 on March 13, but now stands at 422 cases per day. Statewide, VDH reported 1,159 new cases on Sunday, following 1,563 on Saturday and 1,632 on Friday. The commonwealth’s seven-day average of new daily cases also peaked at 6,166.3 on Jan. 18 and had fallen as low as 1,287.4 on Tuesday. However, the average is now back up to 1,453.7 cases per day, up 12.8% from a week ago but still 39.7% below a month earlier. On Friday, following a comprehensive review of deaths attributed to COVID-19, VDH lowered the number of such deaths by 99, determining that although those patients did have the virus, it did not contribute to their deaths. That resulted in a net decline of 90 deaths statewide from virus and 14 in Northern Virginia. On Saturday, just 13 new deaths were reported statewide, with two in Northern Virginia: one each in Loudoun County and the city of Fairfax. The state health department reported a new case of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C, in the Prince William Health District last week. The syndrome is connected with the COVID-19 virus. Prince William now has seven cases, second in the commonwealth to Fairfax, with nine. Of the state’s 47 cases overall, none has resulted in a death. The VDH’s vaccine dashboard shows that as of Sunday, 3.1 million doses of vaccines have been administered to Virginians out of about 3.4 million the state has received. About 1.1 million residents, or more than 12% of the state’s population, are now fully vaccinated. The state is averaging about 46,722 doses a day, slightly below Gov. Ralph Northam’s goal of 50,000 a day.
The annual White House Easter Egg Roll has been canceled for the second consecutive year due to the coronavirus pandemic. “Due to COVID-19 this year, unfortunately the annual Easter Egg Roll at the White House will not take place,” Michael LaRosa, First Lady Jill Biden’s press secretary, tweeted Friday. “The Biden hope to continue this tradition in 2022.” LaRosa said that the White House will send thousands of the 2021 commemorative Easter Egg Roll eggs to vaccination sites and hospitals in the coming days. The souvenir wooden eggs that are usually given to children at the event are also sold online. One of the eggs features the Biden family dogs Champ and Major. The other features the Easter bunning wearing a mask. The White House Historical Association is hosting some online Easter Egg Roll activities. The first White House Egg roll was held in 1878 with President Rutherford B. Hayes, and it has become an Easter tradition every year since. But plans for last year’s event on the South Lawn were canceled by COVID-19 as well.