Virtual Easter Egg Hunt Replaces Egg Roll
COVID-19 Cases Reach 1,084,473 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 44,932 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 1,070 deaths; there have been 415,660 cases in Maryland with 8,157 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 623,881 cases with 10,287 deaths. You can read last week’s updates here.
Easter, April 4
The White House is offering a virtual Easter egg hunt this year. On the White House Historical Association’s website, the White House 360 Tour has been transformed to celebrate the history of the White House Easter Egg Roll, which was canceled last year and this because of the pandemic. While exploring rooms of the Executive Mansion, visitors can click on pink dots to learn about the history of the Easter Egg Roll, the White House and the people who have lived there. Visitors can complete a worksheet with correct answers from each fun fact on the tour to submit for a chance to win a set of commemorative official 2021 White House Easter eggs. The wooden eggs made in Maine. President Joe Biden’s goal of hosting small gatherings by July 4 comes well after Easter holiday, so for a second year in a row, there will be no in-person egg roll. The event normally draws about 30,000 visitors and is held the Monday after Easter. The commemorative eggs that go to children at the event — a tradition dating back to 1878 — continues this year. The colorful eggs, which this year feature a bunny wearing a mask on one side and the signatures of the president and first lady on the other, are blue, green, pink and purple. There is also a highly collectible egg featuring the two Biden dogs, Champ and Major, by First Lady Jill Biden. Thousands of the eggs are being donated to vaccination sites, community health centers and hospitals. They are also for sale.
Maryland set a new daily record for administering COVID-19 vaccinations on Saturday while it sees an uptick in new cases. Gov. Larry Hogan announced in a press release that health officials set a new record of giving 78,756 vaccinations Saturday. Nearly 18% of the population has been fully vaccinated. And nearly 32% of residents have received at least one dose. The state is now exceeding 60,000 doses a day. At the same time, the Maryland Department of Health reported more than 1,000 new cases of the coronavirus for the fourth consecutive day. The state has reported 415,660 cases so far. More than 1,000 people were reported to be hospitalized on Saturday. There have been 8,157 COVID-19 deaths in the state.
With every Virginian 16 and older eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine starting April 18, Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday created the Virginia Volunteer Vaccinator Registry, consisting of volunteers eligible to give the vaccinations during the ongoing pandemic. Recently-signed House Bill 2333 and Senate Bill 1445 expanded the pool of healthcare providers eligible to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia. In addition to training to administer the COVID-19 vaccine, volunteers will have to either be, or have been, a qualified healthcare provider with a Virginia Department of Health license in the past 20 years. The new pool of vaccinators is in addition to those in the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps, which is the volunteer program at the Virginia Department of Health. Healthcare providers who are now authorized to administer COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia include, but are not limited to, dentists, dental hygienists, veterinarians, optometrists and health professions students enrolled in an accredited Virginia programs. “Virginia is now administering an average of more than 70,000 of the COVID-19 vaccine each day and has given over 3.8 million shots to date,” Northam said, in a news release. “By further expanding our vaccinator workforce, we can build on this momentum and ensure we have additional vaccination capacity as supply increases and more individuals become eligible to receive the vaccine.”
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring wants Twitter, eBay and Shopify prevent people from selling fake coronavirus vaccination cards from the Disease Control and Prevention. Herring is one of 45 state attorneys general who sent a letter to the companies calling on the companies to monitor their platforms for ads or links selling blank for fraudulently completed cards, promptly take down those ads or links, and preserve records and information about the sellers. People who have gotten a shot receive a CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card. It proves that they have been vaccinated and provides a reminder for when to get their second dose. “Individuals who purchase fraudulent vaccine cards and go out into our communities pretending to be vaccinated could be detrimental to our efforts to curb the pandemic and put the safety of others at risk,” Herring said in a press release. “It’s important that these companies and platforms crack down on the sale of these fake vaccination cards to make sure our communities are safe, and we remain on the right track in combating the COVID pandemic.” D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh also signed the letter.
People who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can safely gather for Easter on Sunday both indoors and without masks. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the announcement Friday. It is still recommended that individuals who are not fully vaccinated have their Easter dinner and egg hunts with only the people in their household or outdoors while 6 feet apart to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the CDC said. The CDC’s guidance is for fully vaccinated individuals, meaning it has been two weeks since they received their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or it has been two weeks since they received the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The agency’s guidance, released in March, says people who have been fully vaccinated can meet indoors without masks. Additionally, they can gather with unvaccinated people without masks, but the visits should be limited to one unvaccinated household at a time. But precautions should remain in place when visiting an unvaccinated person at increased risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19, according to the CDC. The CDC said it is still learning how vaccines protect against the coronavirus, and its guidance will continue to be updated as health officials learn more. Until then, there remain some precautions fully vaccinated people should take in public, including wearing masks, keeping a social distance and avoiding crowds.
The Washington Nationals postponed their three-game opening series against the New York Mets on Friday because of a coronavirus outbreak affecting more than a third of the team’s roster. Four players tested positive and another five were in quarantine after contact tracing determined they might have been exposed, general manager Mike Rizzo said Friday during a video call. The team is in a holding pattern, uncertain when it actually will be allowed to play a game or hold workouts. After games against the Mets scheduled for Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at Nationals Park were scratched, the next possible game is at home Monday against the NL East champion Atlanta Braves. “Depending on what happens in the next day or so … we’ll make the decision on whether we’re playing or not,” Rizzo said. “But we are, as of right now, preparing to play Monday.” That would require calling up several players who did not make the cut at the end of spring training and are now at the Nationals’ training site in Fredericksburg, Va. Rizzo did not identify the players involved in the outbreak and said he would not. The Nationals did not report a single positive COVID-19 test throughout their six-week spring training camp that ended at the start of this week. The team flew from Florida to D.C. on Monday; the first positive of the current outbreak came from testing that day. Other positive tests came from testing Wednesday. “A virus is a virus. It’s very contagious. So I think it could happen in many, many different ways. I don’t think it’s a breach of protocol or inadequate protocols,” Rizzo said. “We’re going to try to find out how it happened and investigate it and see if we can stop it from happening again.” One player had a fever, according to Rizzo, but the rest were asymptomatic. He is hoping players will be allowed to practice in small, staggered groups at Nationals Park beginning today. “You can’t just go from a dead stop in this postponement to ramping up to play the Atlanta Braves and not expect [there] to be injuries,” Rizzo said. “But these other players, it’s just hard to have them sitting and playing video games or whatever for two or three days and then to ramp up again … We’ve got to get them moving around so they don’t go into the season going from zero to 100 miles an hour without preparation for the last couple of days.” Major League Baseball and the players’ union issued a testing update Friday, saying there were four new positive tests — three players and one staff member — from the 14,354 tests administered over the past week across all teams, a 0.03% rate. That presumably does not include the Nationals’ fourth positive player. Rizzo originally designated that person as a “likely positive” on Thursday, before updating that Friday to say the result was considered a positive. There is also one staff member who is quarantining after contact tracing.
All 152 Giant Food pharmacies in the DMV are offering the COVID-19 vaccine to eligible residents. Giant’s pharmacies are currently offering the Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, depending on location. Giant’s pharmacists began administering COVID-19 vaccinations in D.C. in December, Maryland in January and Virginia in February. Prior to this week, the vaccine was offered at more than half of Giant’s pharmacies. The expansion of availability of supplies to all Giant pharmacies will increase access to the vaccine for eligible residents and future groups in addition to furthering vaccination progress throughout the DMV, the company said in a press release. “We’re extremely proud of all of our Giant pharmacy teams across our stores for their commitment to serving the public and doing their part to help our communities get vaccinated,” said Paul Zvaleny, director of pharmacy operations at Giant, headquartered in Landover, Maryland. In addition to in-store vaccinations, Giant offers off-site clinics to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine throughout its communities, the release said. To decrease barriers to access, Giant has worked closely with its community partners that have been able to assist with identifying populations that are most in need of receiving the vaccine. Last week, Giant pharmacists held a vaccination clinic at the Arc of Prince George’s County to administer vaccines to individuals served by the organization. Residents of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware can check for eligibility and schedule first dose appointments at giantfood.com/covid-info. D.C. appointments must be scheduled through the D.C. Health website. If either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine is received, the pharmacy staff will schedule second dose appointments at the time of the patient’s first dose.
The United Medical Center Mobile Health Clinic is providing coronavirus testing and vaccinations to vulnerable sections of D.C. and Prince George’s County, bringing those services directly to the residents’ neighborhoods in a 38-foot-van. The van functions as a mobile doctor’s office, serving those who can’t or won’t travel to get vaccinated. “It feels so good to come out to give services to people, some of them are 100 years old,” Teresa Korvah, one of the clinic’s nurses, told WJLA. “That is the best part of my job, coming to inoculate these people and making sure that they have their COVID shots, instead of worrying where to go. That makes me feel real good.” The mobile clinic sets up each week in various locations throughout the region, particularly in D.C.’s Wards 7 and 8, parking for the entire day while servicing as many as 80 people. For information about registering for the clinic, call 202-574-6473.
The recent problems surrounding the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine produced at Gaithersburg-based Emergent BioSolutions’ Bayview plant in Baltimore won’t affect Virginia’s allotment of the vaccines, at least for now. Dr. Danny Avula, the Virginia Department of Health’s vaccine coordinator, said during a press conference on Friday that next week’s more than 200,000 doses of the J&J vaccine —124,000 doses to local health districts and mass vaccination sites and about 100,000 to pharmacies — won’t be affected by the news that J&J had to sequester, and will likely have to destroy, 15 million doses due to mixing problems. “I don’t yet know what that will mean for future weeks,” Avula said. J&J has said it will still be able to meet its production goals for April. Avula said he was hopeful of that, but that “15 million doses is a lot of doses.” In other news, he said there were “no concerns” about meeting the April 18 deadline to enter Phase 2, which includes everyone 16 and older, that Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday. Virginia is just short of 4 million vaccine doses administered, Avula said. About 30.9% of adult residents have had at least one dose, while 16.6% have been fully vaccinated. Avula also said that allocations of vaccines have been shuffled among local health districts in order to meet demand, which can vary from area to area. He said that in Northern Virginia, allotments have gone up from 102,490 the week of March 14 to 132,000 for the week of March 21 and 145,000 the week of March 28. (Those numbers don’t include federal allotments to pharmacies.) That process would continue, he said, as areas move from Phase 1B to Phase 1C, the last phase before Phase 2, in which anyone is eligible for an appointment. While some areas in Prince William County are still on Phases 1A and 1B, Avula noted, it wouldn’t take very long. The county is “just about there,” he said. Local health districts can move into Phase 2 starting April 11 if they are able; individual clinics may move forward if they have three or more days with fewer than 90% of their appointments taken. Avula said Virginia’s cases are at a plateau, which isn’t the kind of decline one would hope for, but is better than the concerning rise nationwide. He said that at some point, the challenge will shift from getting enough vaccine for all the people who want it to convincing people to take the shot to get to the 70% threshold of herd immunity. About 60% of the commonwealth wants to be vaccinated, so that won’t be a problem, he said; “that last 10% or 15% is the job. … We’ve gotta do the harder work.” Vaccine hesitancy is “clearly a front and center issue for us,” Avula said. Non-English speakers, the non-tech-savvy, Black communities and rural white people all have different reasons for not wanting the vaccine. “Working through key leaders, through trusted members of communities” is the key, Avula said, and he hoped the herd-immunity level would be reached around the end of summer.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration failed to follow state procurement regulations when it bought 500,000 COVID-19 tests from a South Korean company last year. The first batch of tests later had to be replaced for an additional $2.5 million had not been authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a state audit released Friday said. Maryland’s purchase had initially been met with great fanfare last spring as states scrambled to secure tests, but state lawmakers started asking questions about the confidential deal and asked for an audit. About $12 million was ultimately paid for the LabGenomics tests and for a chartered flight to deliver them, but those funds were not supported by formal written contracts or agreements containing any critical provisions required by state regulations, the audit said. “The lack of a comprehensive written contract precluded effective monitoring,” Gregory Hook, the legislative auditor, wrote. “We also were not provided with comprehensive written documentation of the extent to which other vendors were considered, or of the specific parties involved in the evaluation and selection of LabGenomics.” The audit said a review of records indicated the state did not ensure that the tests received on April 18 and April 22 last year were authorized by the FDA prior to them being shipped. The chiefs of staff to the Maryland Department of General Services and the Maryland Department of Health wrote in a response to the audit that at the time the tests were purchased, an emergency use authorization with the FDA was pending. “The unprecedented nature of the emergency required adapting existing practices to assure that Maryland was able to meet the needs of this emergency and was not restrained by practices that had never been tested in such an extraordinary way,” wrote Eric Lomboy, the chief of staff for DGS, and Thomas Andrews, the chief of staff for the health department. Lawmakers who have been critical of the deal and a lack of transparency said the audit confirmed they had reason to be concerned. “Because the state rushed the process and failed to have a written contract, taxpayers were not only left on the hook for another $2.5 million just to exchange the initial batch of tests for a new set of tests that could be used, but it led to months of delay that might have actually cost lives,” Sen. Clarence Lam, who is a physician, said in a statement. He also noted that a review raised questions about the reliability of the first batch of tests. Hogan initially announced the procurement at a highly publicized press conference on the lawn of the governor’s residence at a time when states were struggling to find tests. Hogan’s Korean-born wife Yumi was instrumental in helping to negotiate for the tests. But as time passed without tests being used, lawmakers began asking questions and asked for the audit. After the administration quietly noted that it had spent $2.5 million to replace the initial batch of tests, lawmakers criticized a lack of transparency in the process. The state paid $9 million for the first batch. Sen. Paul Pinsky, who has questioned the procurement, noted findings in the audit about two state employees who were fired after they raised concerns about the tests. While supervisory officials told auditors that one of the terminations was due solely to unrelated performance issues, the audit said that wasn’t supported by written documentation in the employee’s personnel file. Pinsky also noted a finding by auditors that there was no support of the basis to charter a flight for the shipment of the first tests at a cost of $464,369 when the second tests were shipped for a cost of $14,265. Hogan appeared in photographs with the first lady on the tarmac by the Korean Air plane that delivered the first tests to Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshal International Airport. “That we spent $464,000 so he can get a photo op at the airport is unbelievable,” Pinsky said.
The Maryland Senate by a 45-2 vote on Friday confirmed Dennis Schrader as the secretary of health following weeks of questions about the Maryland Department of Health’s COVID-19 vaccine plan. Schrader has been acting secretary since Robert Neall retired in December. Since the start of the legislative session in January, Schrader has met weekly with the Senate Vaccine Oversight Work Group to review MDH’s COVID-19 response and vaccination distribution plan. Many Republican senators who voted for Schrader’s confirmation said he was doing his best during the global pandemic. “Let’s think about what he and his department have gone through in this last year,” Sen. J.B. Jennings (Harford and Baltimore counties) said on the Senate floor. “Did they make mistakes? Absolutely. They’re doing their best.” More than 75% of Marylanders approve of Gov. Larry Hogan’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a Goucher College Poll released last month. Hogan applauded the confirmation and Schrader’s commitment to the state. “Secretary Schrader has served the citizens of Maryland well and faithfully during the biggest public health challenge we have ever faced, and I am very proud of the work he and his entire department are doing to save lives every day,” Hogan said in a statement. Most Democratic senators voted in favor of Schrader’s nomination with some reservations and concerns about the future of the department’s COVID-19 response and vaccine distribution. “He shows up. He doesn’t have all the answers. He listens to what we have to say. He doesn’t do everything we want him to do, but he tries to,” Sen. Jim Rosapepe (Prince George’s County) said. Sen. Paul Pinsky (Prince George’s County) agreed with Rosapepe and added that he was fearful of the alternative of having to find a new candidate for the job during the Hogan administration’s final 18 months in office. “I hate to call it the lesser of two evils,” Pinsky said. “I also have to say the first two months were a disaster. The [vaccine rollout] was pathetic.” But Sen. Clarence Lam (Baltimore and Howard counties) and Mary Washington (Baltimore City) voted against the nomination. Both are on the work group. “Particularly during a time of a global pandemic, we need consistency and credibility from the health department, and particularly from the top of the health department,” Lam said. Lam, the Senate’s only physician, went through a list of what he called “inconsistencies” in Schrader’s response to vaccine distribution including saying there was no need for a statewide pre-registration portal for vaccine appointments or mass vaccination sites, creating a formula to deliver vaccines to counties which gave more vaccines to less populated counties and initially suggesting that racial disparities in vaccine distribution was due not to access problems, but vaccine hesitancy in communities of color. “Every week I have asked [Schrader] questions about the lack of a community health approach, a lack of engaging public health professionals that we have in the state of Maryland,” Washington said. “It’s not that I don’t think he’s a nice guy … but I believe when we’re talking about a secretary of health, there’s a general approach to securing the public health that we found lacking.” Rosapepe responded to those comments from Lam and Washington by saying that it is Hogan who Is to blame for issues during the pandemic, not Schrader. “The secretary of health doesn’t control the priorities, the governor controls the priorities,” Rosapepe said.
The Washington Nationals’ Opening Day game against the New York Mets was postponed hours before it was scheduled to begin Thursday because of COVID-19. The game, which was scheduled to start at 7:09 p.m., was postponed a day after the Nationals announced one of its players tested positive for COVID-19. General Manager Mike Rizzo said Thursday night two more players tested positive. A fourth player’s test was inconclusive, considered a likely positive and retested. All four were already in quarantine – one with a fever while the others were asymptomatic. In a statement tweeted Thursday, the Nationals said the game was postponed because of ongoing contact tracing to identify people who may have been exposed to the virus. The Nationals did not identify the players who tested positive. The team said it will not make up the game Friday. The Nationals are scheduled to play the Mets at 4:05 p.m. Saturday and 1:05 p.m. Sunday. Rizzo told MLB.com that players were tested for the virus Wednesday afternoon. The tests were previously planned.
All Marylanders 16 and older can now pre-register online to be vaccinated at one of the state’s mass vaccination site, advancing a previously announced eligibility date of April 27. Gov. Larry Hogan during a press conference Thursday credited the earlier schedule to an increase in vaccine doses from the federal government sent to the state. The news comes as the state sees a rise in cases. Since Hogan lifted many public health restrictions on restaurants and businesses early last month, Maryland has had an increase in cases. Early last month, the state’s positivity rate was 3.36%. It has since increased to 5.51% as of Thursday, according to Maryland Department of Health data. There have been 677 reported cases of new coronavirus variants. “We are quite literally in a race between these variants and the vaccines,” Hogan said. Most of the variants are the B.1.1.7 strain, also known as the UK variant, but the state health department also detected six others, including strains from New York, California, South Africa and Brazil. For now, Hogan urged residents to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing. He also urged residents to avoid travel to New York, California, Pennsylvania and Delaware, where these variants are prevalent. But he maintained the reopening of businesses and restaurants within the state last month had nothing to do with the spread of the variants. “Our indication is that these variants are much more contagious. That’s why they’re spreading across the country,” Hogan said. But Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said that whether or not the spike is driven by more contagious variants, “cases are far worse than they were on March 8.” Unlike other parts of the state, Montgomery County has been more conservative in its approach to business reopening and still requires restaurants to limit their indoor dining capacity to 50%. In part because of those decisions, the county has managed to maintain a positivity rate around 3%. But Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles warned Wednesday that since Hogan loosened business restrictions across the state last month, there has been a steady increase in cases across the state. “The numbers are concerning, and the numbers are increasing across the board,” Gayles said. Elrich encouraged residents to abstain from family gatherings this Easter and Passover if not everyone is vaccinated. He is also encouraging people to continue getting tested so that variants can be detected.
All Virginians 16 and older will be eligible to get a coronavirus vaccine beginning April 18. Gov. Ralph Northam in a press release Thursday said a boost in federal vaccine supply will give all local health districts enough doses to expand eligibility days ahead of the commonwealth’s previous goal of May 1. “The COVID-19 vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel — and that light is getting brighter every day as more and more Virginians get vaccinated,” Northam said. The state had administered more than 3.8 million doses as of Thursday, reaching 30% of the state’s population with at least one dose, while 16.1% of Virginians are fully vaccinated. According to Northam’s press release, nearly every resident in a high-risk category that registered for a vaccine has received one, and those who have not will be able to do so in the next two weeks. The commonwealth is currently in Phase 1C, vaccinating essential workers and individuals 16 and older with pre-existing conditions. The city of Alexandria, as well as Arlington, Prince William and Fairfax counties are still in Phase 1B, working through vaccinating older adults, adults with pre-existing conditions and a limited number of essential worker categories than those in Phase 1C. Previously, when the commonwealth moved into Phase 1C, Northam said all localities would be able to expand into that phase by mid-April. Now, the governor said they will be able to move straight into vaccinating the entire adult population, thanks to the increase in supply.
The Prince George’s County Memorial Library System is now offering help with COVID-19 vaccine pre-registration, booking appointments online and answering questions about eligibility. The PGCMLS Vaccine Hunter Hotline opened Thursday and is available from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday. The hotline number is 240-392-3622. Nicholas Brown, the library system’s chief operating officer for communication and outreach, said a soft launch of the effort was successful and that offering a hotline helps bridge the digital divide. “We have a significant rate of households that do not have home broadband access here in the county,” he said. The service is offered in English and Spanish. “Just about 20% of our residents speak Spanish, and it’s very important that we offer the information and the support in both English and Spanish,” Brown said. “We’re helping people get onto five different preregistration lists. We’re seeing all of the availability of sites regardless of their type.” The hotline reviews vaccination options at retail pharmacies and grocery stores, such as Giant and CVS, as well as county and state-run sites. The ability for callers to get direct information from someone on the other end of the phone is helpful, said Brown. He added that for people who work jobs that don’t have a lot of scheduling flexibility, the service is especially convenient. “We had a law enforcement worker call us yesterday who can only, because of their duty schedule, get a vaccine on a Monday.” Brown said being able to provide the service is exciting for the library system. “This is talking about the library helping people get back to their lives and being able to do something as simple as hug their parents.”
If you are one of the lucky fans to get tickets to today’s 7:09 p.m. opening day game between the Washington National’s and the N.Y. Mets, things will look a lot different than when you last visited in 2019. Currently only 5,000 spectators are allowed in Nats Park under the D.C. government’s waiver, compared to the regular 41,339 capacity. The Nationals offered priority ticket access to “Nats Plus” members based on tenure and ticket package size. Team officials have “already begun talking with officials from the District about increasing capacity for the second homestand, which begins April 15.” Tickets are currently sold out for April games. In order keep spectators socially distanced, fans can only purchase tickets in “pods” of two, four or six with their family. Pods will be no less than six feet from others, and there is a maximum of three pods per row. Seats that are not for sale are zip-tied to prevent spectators from moving and sitting in them. There are no physical tickets this year The MLB Ballpark App, which fans can download on phones, is the only form of ticket for the 2021 season, and box office windows won’t be open for sales. In order to promote social distancing and limit lines, color-coded gates — which will open two hours before the first pitch — will be assigned with digital tickets. The gates, which should also be used to exit the ballpark, are either closest to the assigned seat or an easy path. Anyone 2 or older must always wear an approved mask when not eating or drinking in their seat. Bandanas, gaiters and masks with exhalation valves aren’t allowed, although the team will provide disposable masks when needed. Anyone not wearing a mask will be given a verbal warning before being removed from the park. Masks and temperature checks are also required for all employees entering the stadium. No bags are allowed in the stadium this year, according to Scott Fear, vice president of public safety, except clutch bags (5” x 7” x 3/4” or smaller), diaper bags and ADA medical bags. Lockers will be available to rent outside the right field and home plate gates. One of the biggest changes this season is that the stadium is going cashless, except for the 50/50 raffle tickets. To purchase food and drink, fans can tap the “mobile ordering” section in the MLB Ballpark app, pick food and drink items, pay then grab the covered food and beverage containers at the pick-up window. Fans with only cash can exchange it for eCash at various locations inside the stadium, including guest services. Spectators can still order directly from concessions and purchase items using eCash, touchless systems such as Apple Pay or a standard credit or debit card. Due to the limited capacity and the pandemic, some concessions may be closed based on attendance and demand. Because of their location at the main entrance, Medium Rare, See You Tater and Haute Dogs & Fries are temporarily closed. Spots in the stadium where fans typically gathered are also shut. That includes the Budweiser Brew House, which won’t reopen for the 2021 season, the PenFed Kids Zone and the Coca-Cola Social Lounge. The Ultra Loft and Swing Big Beer Pen will be closed until ballpark capacity increases. A family picnic area is open with 50% capacity and distanced tables. The Budweiser Terrace bar is also open, but it is now a grab-and-go spot with the furniture removed. The PNC Diamond Club and Nationals Club (formerly the Delta Sky360 Club) are open, but at reduced capacity following D.C. indoor dining regulations.
Maryland expects to receive $3.9 billion from the American Rescue Plan, and Wednesday state leaders announced how they plan to spend the money on unemployment benefits, school reopenings, access to broadband and other priorities. Gov. Larry Hogan called it “an historic bipartisan agreement” that he said “effectively targets relief to Marylanders most in need.” At a press conference at the State House in Annapolis, Hogan was flanked by Senate President Bill Ferguson and Speaker of the House of Delegates Adrienne Jones. The governor said $1.1 billion, nearly one-third of the federal funding, will replenish the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund. “This shoring up of the unemployment system will help us to continue helping those who need it most, while also ensuring that we can provide continuing tax relief for struggling businesses,” Hogan said. An additional $800 million will go to supporting the state’s existing emergency economic relief programs. Another $600 million will go to the safe reopening of schools. That includes $481 million to address “pandemic-related costs,” $80 million to upgrade school ventilation systems and $46 million to address the long-term impacts of learning loss during the pandemic. The state will spend $300 million of the funding on what Hogan called “a game-changing broadband technology initiative,” expanding internet connectivity to underserved parts of the state. That includes $180 million to improve internet infrastructure in the state, $75 million subsidizing internet service and devices, and $45 million in grants to municipalities to boost broadband coverage. Ferguson lauded the broadband initiative. “The question is not how much does it cost to bridge the digital divide. The question is, how much will it cost if we don’t act right now, and who will be left out of the opportunities of today and tomorrow?” Ferguson said. “We cannot and will not let dis-connectivity exist in the state of Maryland.” Hundreds of millions more will be spent to assist Marylanders in need, including $100 million for employment training and apprenticeship programs, $100 million to support state employees, $500 million for infrastructure and transit improvements, $200 million to fund the state’s temporary cash assistance program and $50 million to help Marylanders struggling with late utility bills. Jones thanked the Biden administration and other state leaders, and said the funding package will “help small businesses, students and struggling Marylanders get back on their feet.” The funding comes from the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill signed by President Biden on March 11. D.C. expects to receive more than $2 billion, including $755 million it didn’t get under former President Trump’s CARES Act, which treated D.C. as a territory. Virginia will get $3.7 billion, and counties in the region will also receive hundreds of millions.
Montgomery County officials urged Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to reconsider his statewide easing of capacity restrictions amid concern about a rise in cases across the state. County Executive Marc Elrich said during a press conference Wednesday that he also hopes the county council, which had also eased some restrictions would also take a hard look at the latest coronavirus data. “The council said they would reexamine the data when they opened, and they’ve got data to look at. I know what I think of the data,” Elrich said. Hogan lifted statewide capacity restrictions last month, although he kept a requirement that people wear face coverings and that restaurants maintain social distancing, effectively cutting capacity. In the wake of that, the county council, acting as the board of health, issued rules for the county that moved more slowly in lifting restrictions. Under those rules, indoor dining remained capped at 25% capacity until last Friday, when it expanded to 50%. Movie theaters were also allowed to reopen for the first time since the pandemic began starting at 25% capacity. “The question I have for the governor is at what point do you look at the data and make a different decision?” Elrich asked. Short of outright reimposing restrictions, Elrich suggested the governor or council release public metrics that would indicate a trigger point for rolling some of the reopening measures back if the uptick in cases becomes a surge. County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles presented data comparing March 8, a few days before Hogan made his announcement, and March 31 showing a modest but steady rise in test positivity rates across the state. Earlier in March, the statewide positivity rate stood at 3.36%. It had increased to 5.3% by Wednesday. Before the governor’s announcement, no county was above an average of 25 new cases per 100,000 residents. As of Wednesday, there were four counties in the “red zone,” Gayles said, including Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Harford and Washington counties. People hospitalized with serious cases of COVID-19 are also on an upswing, according to state data. Montgomery County continues to fare better than the rest of the state. Earlier last month, the positivity rate was 2.73%, and it has since risen to 3.22%. The case rate per 100,000 residents, which was 9.33 earlier this month, has increased to just under 12 as of Wednesday. Officials have long claimed that Montgomery County’s more cautious approach has helped it keep its case numbers low and have repeatedly stressed that the county, Maryland’s most populous, is not in a bubble. Case rates and positivity rates for nearby Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties are significantly higher than in Montgomery County. “The numbers are concerning, and the numbers are increasing across the board,” Gayles said. “The more it gets out of control in other places, the more at risk we are in Montgomery County, and I’m worried about the county’s numbers because the county numbers are trending up,” Elrich added. Officials said they suspect part of the increase in cases is tied to variants that are spreading across the country. Five of the different strains have already been identified in Montgomery County. “We suspect that this is what is driving the significant increase in the number of cases in the Baltimore metropolitan area and thereby ultimately across the state,” Gayles said. But the county officials said the governor’s lifting of restrictions last month sent the wrong message to the public. “The governor kind of signaled to people that it’s time to go back to normal. I don’t think that was the right signal,” Elrich said, adding later, “My preference would have been caution, prolonged caution” until more of the state’s population is vaccinated.
Gaithersburg-based Emergent BioSolutions, the company that produced coronavirus vaccine that Johnson & Johnson discarded because it failed to meet quality standards, has a string of citations from the Food and Drug Administraiton for quality control problems. The little-known company was a key to J&J’s plan to deliver 100 million doses of its vaccine to the U.S. by the end of May. But Emergent has been cited repeatedly by the FDA for problems such as poorly trained employees, cracked vials and mold around one of its facilities, according to records obtained by the Associated Press. The records cover inspections at Emergent facilities since 2017. J&J said Wednesday that a batch of vaccine made at Emergent’s Bayview factory in Baltimore can’t be used because it didn’t meet quality standards. It was unclear how many doses were involved or how the problem would affect future deliveries of J&J’s vaccine. The company said in a statement it was still planning to deliver 100 million doses by the end of June and was “aiming to deliver those doses by the end of May.” J&J enlisted Emergent in April 2020 to manufacture the vaccine it was developing with federal funding. At the time, Emergent’s Bayview facility wasn’t able to make millions of doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to FDA records that describe the plant as a contract testing laboratory that “did not manufacture products for distribution.” Upgrades in technology and personnel were required before Bayview could begin making what is known as “drug substance” material for the vaccine, a two-month process during which the required biological cells are grown. The FDA inspected Emergent’s Bayview plant in April 2020, just as the J&J agreement was being announced. The agency criticized the company for problems with its testing of a potential treatment for anthrax, according to the records. The FDA’s lead investigator cited the company for failing to train employees “in the particular operations they perform as part of their function and current good manufacturing practices.” On the same day, J&J, in a separate press release, heralded its partnership with Emergent as a step toward its goal of supplying more than 1 billion doses globally by the end of 2021. Other problems cited by the FDA during the April 2020 inspection included failures by the Bayview plant “to ensure that electronically held data generated during analytical testing” of material “was protected from deletion or manipulation.” The inspection was the most recent in a series of critical reports from the FDA about Emergent, including one following a December 2017 inspection at a plant in Canton, Massachusetts, in which the FDA said the company hadn’t corrected “continued low level mold and yeast isolates” found in the facility. Nearly a year later, investigators questioned why Emergent had “an unwritten policy of not conducting routine compliance audits” at a separate plant in Baltimore, known as Camden, where an anthrax vaccine is filled into vials. Emergent is one of about 10 companies J&J is using to speed up manufacturing of its recently approved vaccine, the company said. The Bayview factory where the tainted vaccine ingredient was found has not yet been approved by the FDA, so no vaccine in circulation is affected. Emergent declined to comment. J&J said it was putting more of its manufacturing and quality experts inside Emergent’s factory to supervise production, a move meant to enable delivery of an additional 24 million vaccine doses through April. J&J said it still expects to deliver more than 1 billion vaccine doses globally by the end of the year.
The D.C. Youth Orchestra held its first in-person rehearsal in more than a year last Saturday at The Fields at RFK Campus. The D.C. Youth Orchestra Program, which offers music programs for students from age 4-18, never stopped practicing or performing during the pandemic, but students kept themselves muted during Zoom rehearsals, and concerts were essentially videos of students performing their parts from home. On Saturday, the group held an in-person, outdoor rehearsal with a group of about 20 students, mostly high schoolers. And for the young people who met at RFK, the return to rehearsing face-to-face was a sign that perhaps, one day soon, their lives could return to some semblance of normal. Some students were so eager to see each other and play together. They showed up early for the practice. After their warmups and distanced greetings, the musicians sat down and sounded an A. Some let out a brief cheer, but then the rehearsal proceeded with little fanfare as the ensemble launched into rehearsing their first piece, a composition by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. It felt like a fairly routine rehearsal — apart from the health precautions the orchestra put into place. The event was outside and capped at 30 people. Everyone wore masks. And the wind and horn sections were especially careful, since they were blowing air and, potentially, viral droplets. Their chairs were spaced farther apart than everyone else’s, they had special masks with slits in them to access their mouthpieces and they put covers over their horns to stop droplets. It was a little inconvenient, but the students didn’t seem to mind. The special masks and precautions were a reminder of the current state of the pandemic. The daily rate of coronavirus cases in D.C. is currently well below the January peak, and thousands of residents are getting vaccinated each week, but public health experts say D.C. is not out of the woods yet. The case rate throughout the DMV and across the country has been rising in recent weeks and is still above where it was this time last year. Still, as the weather gets warmer, it feels like space for safer gatherings outdoors has opened up. Even after a year of Zoom rehearsal, the students sounded good. Perhaps a sign that the self-reliance they gained when rehearsing independently was paying off. The transition to live rehearsal wasn’t without some adjustment, but the ensemble’s confidence grew with time. Onlookers, who gathered around RFK to play sports, enjoy the weather and hold cookouts in the parking lot, smiled as they passed the orchestra. Throughout its 60-year history, the youth orchestra has been a particular point of pride for the city. The group is affordable to join, with sliding-scale tuition. It draws young people from all eight wards of D.C., along with the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, and it is reflective of the region’s demographics: 59% of the students in the program identify as African-American. The organization hopes to expand the outdoor rehearsals to the rest of its students in April, while still keeping a virtual option for those who prefer to rehearse from home. And its leaders plan to put together an outdoor concert sometime in the coming months, although they are prepared to do another virtual concert if conditions require it. After 90 minutes of playing, the orchestra packed up and left. The ensemble that played on Saturday was mostly teenagers who had been doing schooling virtually for much of the past year, and hadn’t been able to see friends as often or at all. But on Saturday, they got at least one small piece of their former lives back.
Following good-sized crowds over the weekend, 70 degree temperatures and plenty of sunshine Tuesday drew a lot of people to the Tidal Basin once again to see the cherry blossoms, despite guidance to stay away. Walking around the Tidal Basin, there are a lot of people, but not as many in years past, and most were wearing masks. “Over the last couple days we’ve seen a small portion or a fraction of the crowds we would see on a normal year,” National Park Service spokesperson Mike Litterst said. He said the trigger to close the area would be if people cannot maintain social distance, or clump together in groups of 50 or more, which would violate D.C.’s COVID-19 protocols. Litterst said the Park Service is still reminding people there are other ways to enjoy the cherry blossoms. “We will continue throughout the peak bloom period to encourage people to enjoy a virtual peak bloom this year and avoid the Tidal Basin,” he said.
The D.C. Superior Court will resume jury trials next week after suspending in-person proceedings more than a year ago because of the pandemic. The court is implementing additional safety measures including six feet of space between seats, temperature scans, health questionnaires, capacity limits, mask requirements and plexiglass shields at locations like the judge’s bench and defendant and plaintiff’s tables. Jurors may fill out an online questionnaire to determine if they are eligible for virtual jury duty. Those who aren’t will complete a health questionnaire and be directed to socially-distanced spaces for jury deliberations. On-site daycare will be available, and jurors must wear face coverings at all times. The court suspended all jury trials that weren’t already in progress last March and has held limited in-person hearings for emergency court operations and qualifying cases, such as juvenile cases and misdemeanor arraignments. All cases set to expire before May 15 were suspended or extended under the public health emergency. With trial dates suspended, many inmates at the D.C. jail were left waiting indefinitely for a new court date. A court spokesperson said in January the court will prioritize cases of defendants who have been detained before trial the longest.
Montgomery County’s Ride On Transit Service will remain free through the end of June. Set to begin front door boarding and fare collection on April 5, free service will continue on Ride On buses as well as Ride On extRa and Flash buses through the end of the current fiscal year on June 30. County Executive Mark Elrich said funding provided by the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan will help pay for the free rides. “Many of our residents who rely on public transportation have been severely impacted economically by the pandemic, and we must continue to do everything we can to assist them to move around the county and region,” Elrich said in a press release. “As our residents will need bus service to receive vaccines that become more readily available over the next few month, I am pleased that we will be extending free Ride On bus service until the end of June” Front door board will still resume Monday on Ride On and Ride On extRa buses. On Flash buses, which operates on the Route 29 corridor, passengers are able to use all doors. Safety measures remain in effect, and all passengers must wear face coverings. Buses will have a supply of masks for riders without them. Interiors are cleaned twice a day with a “hospital-grade” disinfectant and plastic barriers have been reinstalled to protect drivers and passengers while opening front-area seats for riders. The bus filter and ventilation system are inspected and cleaned nightly.
A COVID-19 outbreak forced the D.C. Department of Public Works to shut down its parking enforcement facility today. In statement, DPW said out of “an abundance of caution,” the facility will be shut down for a deep cleaning of the entire building due to four confirmed employee COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks. The statement also said employees at the location who were deemed to have been in close contact have been notified, and that no public exposure resulted from the cases. Employees at the facility have been told the building will be closed, and those who can work remotely will do so. The closure does not mean no parking tickets will be written in D.C. today, but no additional information was provided. Recently, the city began writing parking tickets again for illegally parking in school zones and other types of violations, such as like blocking bike lanes, crosswalks and fire hydrants. Tickets are still not being issued for expired meters, emergency zone no parking violations or for expired plates or inspections.
University of Maryland students are participating in a nationwide COVID-19 study to determine whether vaccines can help end the pandemic by blocking vaccinated people from infecting others. Beginning Monday, the first group of 500-1,000 participants will undergo blood testing and commit to daily nose swabs for the next five months. They will be among 12,000 students at more than 20 universities across the country who will be vaccinated and undergo twice-a-week COVID-19 testing to determine whether an mRNA vaccine will prevent infection and transmission. “We know that being vaccinated minimizes your risk of infection, but we don’t know by precisely how much … the significance of this trial is pretty profound,” said Neil Sehgal, assistant professor of health policy and management and associate director of the Health Systems and Policy Research Lab at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. “This is actually the first large national study that’s going to tell us if being vaccinated will better enable a safe return to normal life.” Sehgal is also the leader of the Maryland branch of the nationwide study. Up to 1,000 UMD students will be enrolled in the trial during April. Students participating in the study will be compensated. All participating students will be vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine. The first group of Maryland students will get their first shots on April 2. “The reason college students were selected for this trial is because they are the perfect population for this sort of research,” Sehgal said. COVID-19 infections have been associated with factors including congregate housing. College students live in dormitories and other shared housing, and students tend to socialize more than other groups. Also, college students tend to experience less severe illness than older people when infected, and campuses already require robust COVID-19 testing. Sehgal pointed out that during the pandemic that began more than a year ago, young people, in particular college students, have been accused of not taking the pandemic seriously and that they pose a risk. “In reality, it’s these young people that are going to help pull us out of the pandemic because the results of this trial are going to be very significant in determining how we chart our course out of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sehgal said. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle is leading the study.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will set up a COVID-19 vaccination site in the Greenbelt Metro station parking lot. According to a Facebook post Monday by Greenbelt Mayor Colin Byrd, the FEMA-run site will be open by Easter through June and come with additional doses of vaccine beyond Prince George’s County’s usual allotment. “It will also be the first community-based vaccination site with a focus on equity and with a focus on serving Greenbelt and local communities in Prince George’s County,” Byrd said in the post. “I am very grateful to the Biden Administration for this decision, and I look forward to continuing to work hand in hand with the Biden Administration and our partners at other levels of government to help more Greenbelters and more Prince Georgians get vaccinated.” Prince George’s County, like many jurisdictions, has struggled to get enough vaccine to meet demand and has also had trouble getting them to communities hit hardest by the coronavirus. Earlier this month, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks asked the state to allocate more appointment slots to county residents at the state-run facility at Six Flags America. Metro has allowed jurisdictions the use of its parking lots and garages for vaccination centers for months across the region, but Greenbelt is the first to take advantage. The large lots and garages at the end of its rail lines allow space for vehicles to line up as they wait their turn. Greenbelt has more than a square mile of parking with 3,500 spaces. FEMA has not commented. Byrd said he would post more details soon.
Even as more Marylanders get vaccinated, the number of COVID-19 cases in the state has increased the past few weeks, and health officials say younger people are getting sick. Since March 3, the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate has climbed from 3.3% to 4.99%, more than a 50% increase. “We’re monitoring the age … and we’re finding that younger people are getting ill, and it’s probably natural that younger folks, as we opened up, are more likely to be out and about and getting sick,” Acting Health Secretary Dennis Schrader told the Senate Vaccine Oversight Work Group Monday. The spike in positive cases coincides with Gov. Larry Hogan’s reopening plan, which has been taking place this month. Schrader said the COVID-19 death rate in the state remains fairly low and the percent of older Marylanders becoming infected is very low. The rise in COVID-19 cases nationwide has raised fears of another coming surge, and the increases in Maryland drew the concern of state Sen. Clarence Lam, who represents parts of Baltimore and Howard counties. “The younger population, we’ve seen, also end up infecting the older population; and that’s where most of the deaths have been occurring, and I’m concerned that we’re reopening faster than we can vaccinate,” said Lam, a physician and member of the vaccine work group. “We don’t want to overreact,” Schrader said. “We’re monitoring very carefully, but it’s generally been the younger population that’s been getting sick.” Schrader told the panel the state is expanding its capacity to vaccinate, improving its access to vaccine and reaching deeper into communities to get the vaccine to those who need it most. He said more doses are being delivered to primary care doctors, hospitals and the state’s mass vaccination sites. In recent weeks, Maryland has been vaccinating people at a rate of more than 50,000 a day. Schrader told the Senate committee that he expects the state will meet that threshold each day over the next couple of months, presenting the possibility that every Marylander who wants to be vaccinated could receive a first dose by June 1.
The Maryland Department of Health has begun preregistration for Montgomery County’s mass vaccination site at Montgomery College’s Germantown campus, which will open Wednesday as a county-run clinic administering 1,500 doses a day. On April 5, the site will ramp up operations under a partnership with the state, the county, Holy Cross Hospital and the college. By April 15, the site is expected to administer 3,000 doses a day or about 21,000 doses each week. Maryland and the county are currently vaccinating eligible residents and workers in Phases 1, 2A and 2B, which include healthcare workers, first responders, residents 60 and older and residents 16 and older with underlying medical conditions or disabilities. Preregistration places an eligible individual’s information into the state system but does not guarantee an immediate appointment. When a vaccine dose is available for preregistered individual’s group, an invitation to sign up for an appointment will be sent. Eligible residents and workers can preregister at COVIDvax.maryland.gov or by calling 1-855-634-6829.
The first federal mobile vaccination units in the country will be located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Two mobile sites will bring COVID-19 vaccines to Marylanders who live in remote areas or are socially vulnerable within eight different counties, according to a FEMA news release on Monday. “We continue to expand our vaccine distribution network to maximize points of distribution in every jurisdiction, which will now include the nation’s first federally-operated mobile vaccination units,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a press release Monday. “These federal units will complement the Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force’s mobile clinics and help us get more shots into the arms of our most vulnerable populations,” he said. The mobile vaccination units will focus on Maryland residents who are more vulnerable along the Eastern Shore, including those who work in manufacturing and food processing plants, specifically those in poultry processing plants; residents who are in minority and migrant communities, including those who do not have reliable transportation; and Marylanders who live in small towns and enclaves. “Throughout this entire vaccine mission, we’ve been fighting two enemies: a virus and the inequities it has caused.” said FEMA Region 3 Administrator Janice Barlow in the FEMA press release. “These mobile units will ensure that we reach the underserved in their neighborhoods, where they live, and bring us one step closer winning the war against COVID-19,” she said. The mobile vaccination sites are 32-foot trailers with cold storage for vaccine doses and are intended to distribute a minimum of 250 doses a day, according to the governor’s release. Each vaccination site is expected to stay in a single location for a few days at a time. Each site is funded by FEMA and will use trained vaccinators and clinical staff from across county, state and federal agencies, FEMA said. Maryland is one of the first states in the U.S. to have the mobile vaccination units. Residents can book an appointment through their county health department.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday extended a nationwide eviction moratorium through June 30. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed a declaration determining that evicting people from their homes would hamper attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19. Housing advocates have said the moratorium helps keep most cash-strapped tenants across the country in their homes during the pandemic. “Evicted renters must move, which leads to multiple outcomes that increase the risk of COVID-19 spread,” the moratorium states, adding that many renters who are evicted move into shared housing or other settings where they are exposed to other people. “According to the Census Bureau American Housing Survey, 32% of renters reported that they would move in with friends or family members upon eviction, which would introduce new household members and potentially increase household crowding,” the moratorium reads. “Studies show that COVID-19 transmission occurs readily within households. The secondary attack rate in households has been estimated to be 17%, and household contacts are estimated to be 6 times more likely to become infected by an index case of COVID-19 than other close contacts.” To be eligible for protection, renters must earn $198,000 or less for couples filing jointly, or $99,000 for single filers; demonstrate that they have sought government help to pay the rent; declare that they can’t pay because of COVID-19 hardships; and affirm they are likely to become homeless if evicted. John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, said current surveys show that 18.4% of all tenants owe back rent. That number also revealed significant racial disparity; the percentage of Black tenants behind on their rent was 32.9%. Not everyone supports the moratorium. Landlords in several states have sued to scrap the order, arguing it was causing them financial hardship and infringing on their property rights. There are at least six lawsuits challenging the authority of the CDC ban; so far three judges have sided with the ban and three have ruled against, with all cases currently going through appeals. One judge in Memphis declared the CDC order unenforceable in the entire Western District of Tennessee.
After 16 months, the National Building Museum will reopen to the public from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday through Sunday beginning April 9. Renovations closed the museum in December 2019 for what was supposed to be just three months dark. The museum was set to reopen March 13, 2020 just as the pandemic arrived in the DMV. The museum will now open with a new foundation replacing the original concrete floor, a new classroom on the ground floor and new exhibition spaces on the second floor, among other changes. A new three-room visitor center will feature a wall-sized installation of objects from the permanent collection. Three new exhibits are also awaiting visitors. Justice is Beauty: The Work of Mass Design Group highlights a nonprofit architecture firm that focuses on public health, personal well-being and human dignity. It is on display through September 2022. Also, The Gun Violence Memorial Project is an architectural space for memory and healing, the museum said in a release. It features four glass houses filled with objects belonging to victims of gun violence in the U.S. Mass Design Group and conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas are behind the project, developed in partnership with the gun violence prevention organizations Purpose Over Pain and Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. It will be on display through September 2022 and is available to view without purchasing a museum ticket. Finally, Alan Karchmer: The Architects’ Photographer focuses on the work of the prominent architectural photographer and his iconic portraits of works by some of the world’s most influential designers and firms, as well as personal images and artifacts that shed light on the photographer’s work. Karchmer bequeathed his professional archives to the museum’s permanent collection. His photos will be on display through June 2022. The exhibitions House & Home and Animals, Collected are still on view. The museum will also continue its online public programming over the coming months until D.C.’s restrictions on indoor gathering size allow for in-person events. As for the popular summer exhibitions, which previously included a ball pit beach and a giant grassy hill, they will return in 2022. In 2020, the museum had planned to collaborate with Folger Shakespeare Library on a massive Shakespearean playhouse, where a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream would run. The museum postponed the exhibit when the pandemic hit. A museum spokesperson said they are planning to bring the installation back next summer. Admission is from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. or 1-4 p.m. Visitors must enter through the Fifth Street NW entrance.
Northern Virginia municipalities and school districts will receive nearly $1 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress earlier this month and signed by President Joe Biden. According to data provided by the region’s congressional representatives, stimulus funding ranges from about $260,000 for the tiny town of Clifton in Fairfax County to more than $402 million for Fairfax County itself. About $617 million in total will go to the region’s city, county and town governments, while the region’s public school systems will receive almost $347 million. During a virtual meeting with the Prince William Chamber of Commerce last week, U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly said Prince William County will get more than $181 million — about $92 million for the government and $89 million for the school district. “I think that’s very welcome relief,” Connolly said. Most local governments and school districts have been expecting money from the package but haven’t announced plans for using the funding because it wasn’t finalized. The money will have fewer strings attached than the CARES Act funding that Congress passed at the beginning of the pandemic, which could be used to cover specific COVID-related services and expenses but was not meant to make up for losses in revenue. But federal and state leaders have said that they do not want localities to use the money to pay for tax cuts. While the apportionments in the most recent bill are based on population, need was also a factor, congressional leaders said. “It doesn’t have to be directly COVID-related but I believe that everything will be,” Rep. Jennifer Wexton said about how the funds can be spent. “Because there’s not an area of our lives that hasn’t been touched by COVID. And the hope and expectation in speaking with the representatives of the localities is that they’re going to be using it in a way that is equitable and really impacts most communities who are worst affected by COVID.” Manassas will receive $45.3 million, while its school system will get a little more than $10 million. Manassas Park will receive $19.3 million and its schools $2.5 million. Unlike municipalities that depend more heavily on office workers and tourism, both Prince William County and Manassas have avoided budget shortfalls seen elsewhere. Once the money is received, the individual governing bodies will then determine how to spend the money. Regional transit providers will have to wait to find out exactly how much of the transit-specific funding in the rescue plan they will receive. Allocations for services such as Virginia Railway Express and OmniRide from the previous relief bill, which totaled $900 billion and was passed in December, are just now being finalized. Because the money for transportation is largely divided up to individual regions or metropolitan areas and then allocated to the individual providers, that process takes much longer. The most recent stimulus includes $30.5 billion for transit providers, more than twice the amount allocated in the December bill. OmniRide Executive Director Bob Schneider said he expects his agency to know how much it will receive by the end of April. Once the formulas are agreed upon at the regional level, the Federal Transit Administration will then transmit the money. “This money comes to a metro area, like the D.C. metro area, and then its subdivided … in almost every instance WMATA [Metro] is going to get the lion’s share of funding,” Schneider said. Despite lagging ridership across the board as COVID continues to affect commuting patterns and rider comfort levels, major transportation providers have far not had to lay off workers because of the federal support they have received. In his remarks to the chamber, Connolly also discussed transit funding, particularly for Metro. He said all the federal stimulus bills have been able to cover potential Metro funding gaps to avoid cuts in service, but the real question is how ridership will bounce back after the pandemic. “We’re going to have to provide interim funding to keep those systems alive,” he said. “We’ve bought them a lot of time and we’ve guaranteed the systems aren’t going to degrade.”
At least 375 brick-and-mortar D.C. businesses closed permanently or temporarily during the pandemic, but new businesses have quickly replaced them. A new report, issued Tuesday by the D.C. Policy Center, said the city lost roughly 68,000 private sector jobs between September 2019 and September 2020 — a 12.6% loss that exceeded the national average of 7.5%. But the number of wage-paying businesses grew 4.8% over the same period, compared to the 2.9% growth seen across the U.S. overall, according to Yesim Sayin Taylor, executive director of the business-backed think tank and the report’s author. D.C. outpaced new business openings in Maryland and Virginia, adding 1,951 of the 2,396 net new establishments that opened in the DMV between September 2019 and September 2020, the report said. Most of those jobs are in the city’s biggest job category — professional and business services — although education, health services and “other” services saw big bumps too. Even the leisure and hospitality sector added 40 new businesses, despite massive job losses at restaurants, hotels, bars and nightlife businesses during the health emergency. By mid-2020, businesses were closing 19% faster than during the previous year, but also opening 2% faster, Taylor said. “While business closures have become more common, the pace of new business formation in the District has not slowed down,” Taylor wrote. The economist relied on the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data on employment, wages and Business Employment Dynamics to inform her findings. Taylor said it is not clear why D.C. startups grew during the pandemic. It is too early to say whether it stemmed from federal or city-level aid, like the Payroll Protection Program created by Congress or the $100 million D.C. released to support businesses in the wake of COVID-19. But evidence suggests that entrepreneurial activity ticked up during the crisis. That is clear from looking at the number of new business applications filed in D.C. last year, according to Taylor. In 2019, business applications remained fairly stable from the previous year. But by this past February, Taylor said, “that number had jumped to over 16,000, showing an increase of 23%.” Not all of those new business applications will go on to create jobs, Taylor said. But applications identified as “high-propensity businesses” by the Census Bureau — meaning they are expected to lead to wage-paying jobs — grew by 20% over previous years, Taylor said. A comparison of business applications and unemployment data suggest the trend is driven by individuals identifying new business opportunities during the crisis, as opposed to starting a new business because they lost their jobs. But historically, the entrepreneurs who drive D.C.’s startup activity are women, immigrants and people of color, and they are more likely to fund new ventures with their own money instead of taking out large bank loans, she said. To help ensure the new startups eventually create wage-paying jobs, the city needs to simplify the process of starting a new business, loosen the city’s clean hands requirements, improve internet access for all residents and create incentives for landlords to rent office space to new businesses they might not have considered before, Taylor wrote. “The increases in the number of establishments and business application filings are most welcome news for the District of Columbia,” she said. “Turning business ideas created in the aftermath of the pandemic into wage-paying and eventually brick-and-mortar businesses would not only bring back vibrancy but could create opportunities for residents who find themselves excluded from opportunity.”
While some areas of the country should see the overall number of airline flights return to near pre-pandemic levels as spring rolls on, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport will not be among them. Airlines for America, a trade group representing most major U.S. airlines, said airports will see a one-third decline in flights compared to April 2019 in April. But that number will vary widely on a state-by-state basis, with Montana expected to see a slight uptick in flights as travelers flock to vacation spots. Reagan National, which is calculated separately from Virginia, as it is essentially a D.C.-based airport, is expected to see a 52% drop in flights in April from the same period two years ago. Only Massachusetts (also down 53%), Vermont (down 55%) and New York (off 56%) are expected to fare as bad or worse. Virginia is expected to have a 42% drop, including Washington Dulles International Airport but not Reagan National. Maryland is expected to see a 34% decrease. Among states that are within 10% of April 2019 figures are Idaho, Utah, South Dakota and Colorado. Among the largest states, Florida is expected to record a 16% decrease in flights, Texas 21% and California 45%. The arrival of vaccines, the easing of some government restrictions and the fact that many Americans have wearied of the lockdown have led an uptick in recent weeks in overall passenger volumes. As of the week ending March 16, the most recent week reported, domestic airline passenger volume was down 50% from 2019. International travel was off 68%. Whether, or how soon, the aviation sector will rebound to its pre-pandemic levels remains an open question. A compendium of analyst data by Airlines for America presents a best-case scenario that total passenger traffic will return to 2019 levels by 2023, while a more pessimistic reading suggests it will still be down 15% then. Either way, airlines will have a hole to dig out of. U.S. passenger airlines incurred $35 billion in net losses in 2020, the U.S. airline industry is not expected to see positive cash flow at least through the third quarter of 2021.
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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.