Catholic U. Moves Graduation to FedEx Field
COVID-19 Cases Reach 1,105,334 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 45,762 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 1,081 deaths; there have been 425,247 cases in Maryland with 8,258 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 634,325 cases with 10,458 deaths. You can read last week’s updates here.
The Catholic University of America will hold graduation this year in-person at FedEx Field in Landover at 10 a.m. on May 15. “Commencement on our beautiful campus is the event we most look forward to every year, but COVID continues to make that impossible,” university President John Garvey said in a press release. Since 1973, graduation has been held on the University Mall facing the east portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. “ But COVID and the District’s guidelines made that impossible last year, and the guidelines announced on April 7 for this year are too restrictive to allow graduates to attend with their families,” Garvey said in a letter to university community. The nontraditional off-campus ceremony is necessary to secure a venue large enough to safely accommodate graduates and their loved ones while allowing for sufficient COVID-related protocols such as social distancing. “Location is secondary for us this year. After so much time apart, our priority was to bring our community together, but to do so safely. I look forward to seeing everyone in person.” Graduates and up to four guests can attend, along with the school’s faculty and staff. The ceremony will be ticketed, but it will be a few weeks before the university said it would be ready to release information on the process. Catholic University said it plans to hold graduation rain or shine, and guests and graduates should bring rain ponchos if there is a chance of rain. Masks will be required for everyone 2 and older at all times. Small bags, such as purses, will be allowed into the stadium for the event as well, and bags will be checked by stadium staff. “I would like to acknowledge the creativity of our team that has worked so hard over the past year to explore alternatives to virtual ceremonies,” Garvey said. “We know that everyone is suffering from Zoom fatigue. It’s a testament to the community culture of the university that we are able to find a way to come back together for graduation.” Graduation will also be livestreamed for those who can’t attend. The university said it is looking into ways to hold a ceremony for the Class of 2020, but coronavirus-related restrictions currently prevent the alumni association’s plan of doing so on campus.
The shortage of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine due to an issue at Gaitherburg-based Emergent BioSolution’s Baltimore plant may hamper Virginia’s efforts to vaccinate college students before they return home for the summer or attend large graduation ceremonies. The shortage, which is occurring nationwide, is due to manufacturing issues with the vaccine at the plant that resulted in 15 million doses being destroyed. State officials had hoped to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — which requires only one dose — to vaccinate many college students before spring semester ends. Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, said during a weekly press conference Friday that the state is working with colleges to explore other alternatives, which could include using one of the two-dose vaccines or — for smaller colleges — establishing partnerships with local pharmacies. He said the state is continuing to receive its regular shipment of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which require two doses, spaced three or four weeks apart. Last week, the state received about 200,000 first doses of the two vaccines and about 220,000 second doses. Avula also said the state’s vaccine allocation will be distributed differently starting April 18 and that vaccine doses will be distributed proportionately by the number of residents 18-64 who have not been vaccinated. He noted, however, that if demand wanes in certain localities, those vaccines may be reallocated to localities with more demand. Demand for the vaccines generally has been lower in rural areas of the state than in more populous areas, such as Northern Virginia, and Avula said the state’s strategy will shift to doing more outreach and addressing underlying skepticism about the vaccines. “We will get to a point -– sooner rather than later in some districts -– where the approach to vaccinations changes,” he added. “We’re really going to have to work harder to get that remaining 10[%], 15[%], and in some communities it’s going to be a higher percentage of people who don’t want it.” Avula was asked about incidents last week in North Carolina and Colorado in which clinics that were administering the J&J vaccine were temporarily suspended after an unusual number of recipients had bad side effects. “When things like that happen it usually raises concerns,” he said but noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t find any reasons to stop using the batches. “We will certainly continue to listen for any new developments.” In Northern Virginia, Inova Health System announced Friday it has administered more than 300,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 25% of all shots in Northern Virginia. In partnership with Fairfax County and the city of Alexandria, the healthcare system recently opened its Stonebridge Vaccination Center in Alexandria. The center is currently vaccinating 4,500 people a day and has the ability to administer over 6,000 doses a day as supplies and eligibility expand. With the recent news that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is proving 100% effective in children ages 12-15, Inova said that as soon as the FDA authorizes the vaccine for the group and the state declares them eligible, it is prepared to work with local school districts to vaccinate students.
Loudoun County’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the former Nordstrom store in Dulles Town Center was closed Saturday due to a plumbing issue at the facility. All vaccination appointments were canceled and anyone who had scheduled an appointment online should log onto the Vaccine Administration Management System to reschedule next week. Anyone who scheduled by phone or who is having difficulty rescheduling should call the county health department at 703-737-8300 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. seven days a week. The county announced Saturday that the clinic would reopen today, and anyone with an appointment should report at their scheduled time.
Health officials in the DMV are bracing for an 85% decrease in Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine next week. Maryland expects to receive only 11,000 Johnson & Johnson doses next week compared to 89,000 doses this week. Virginia looks to get 14,800 doses compared to 124,000 doses this week. And, D.C. will receive about 1,300 doses next week compared to 10,800 doses this week. The shortage is due to the 15 million doses of the J&J vaccine manufactured at Gaithersburg-based Emergent BioSolutions’ Baltimore plant after workers mixed it with ingredients for the AstraZenica vaccine. “We are entirely dependent on weekly allocations from the federal government, which we have consistently been told would either remain stable or increase,” Maryland Health Secretary Dennis Schrader said in a letter to vaccine providers earlier in the week. Records obtained by the Associated Press and the Baltimore Sun show that the plant has had numerous problems, including “deficient” space to prevent contamination, insufficient employee training and lack of standardization for quality-control measures. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called the reduction a “big hit” and said that the nation’s governors were blindsided when the White House told them they were seeing a drop in vaccine availability. “We really still don’t know how it happened,” Hogan said Friday afternoon. “It’s very frustrating. We were told by the White House COVID taskforce that we wouldn’t have any more issues.” J&J is expecting to fulfill its 100-million dose commitment to the U.S. by the end of May, a federal health official told the Sun. “I think we’re all a little bit in the dark here,” Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia’s vaccine coordinator, said Friday. “We’re hopeful that by the end of April it will pick back up to what we expected to receive in that 100,000 to 150,000 doses in that state allocation in Virginia.” But Hogan expects the J&J vaccine reduction in Maryland to last into May. “We were hoping with the [vaccine] infrastructure we built to be able to finish huge chunk of this in April and May, and now it’s going to be a little slower in April … than we were prepared for or that they’ve been leading us to believe. Hopefully we’ll be able to catch up in May,” Hogan said Friday. Hogan added that he is hopeful that Gaitherburg-based Novavax will submit its final trial information in late April or early May for its vaccine, which has an efficacy of 89.3%. Approval would mean another vaccine option for residents. Meanwhile, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that D.C. Health is opening up vaccine appointments to all residents 16 or older on April 12. Even with the limited supply of J&J vaccines, John Falcicchio, the mayor’s chief of staff, on Friday tweeted “full steam ahead,” while asking residents to pre-register for vaccine appointments.
Fans can return to Capital One Arena for Washington Capitals and Wizards games after D.C. officials approved a waiver for Monumental Sports and Entertainment to operate the indoor arena at 10% capacity or 2,100 fans. Christopher Rodrguez, director of the the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, approved the waiver effective immediately on Friday and also expanded the limits for Nationals Park and Audi Field to 25% capacity. It isn’t clear when Captial One Arena the arena will actually welcome hockey and basketball fans back. Monica Dixon, Monumental’s president of external affairs, tweeted that the company is “finalizing details” and will announce plans on Monday. When fans do return, they will only be able to purchase two drinks per person and alcohol sales will end at the end of the second quarter in at stands and start of the fourth quarter for in-seat ordering during Wizards’ games and midway through the second period at concession stands and at the start of the third period for in-seat ordering at Capitals’ games. The Capitals’ regular season ends on May 11 and the Wizards on May 16. “All of us @MSE are disappointed with the city’s failure to grant our waiver … Our staff have worked tirelessly putting in place numerous infrastructure upgrades & health and safety protocols to protect fans & staff,” owner Ted Leonsis tweeted Monday expressing his frustration with how long it took city officials to make a decision.
D.C. Health is pressing local pharmacies to immediately take down scheduling options on their websites for the COVID-19 vaccine, and send residents and workers to the city vaccine portal instead. The pharmacies receive doses through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which sends the vaccines directly to stores separate from D.C. Health’s weekly allotment. But on a conference call this week, D.C. Health’s leaders urged the city’s pharmacies to immediately take down scheduling options on their websites. It is the latest challenge for the city’s vaccine plan, which has been plagued by website problems. Since the city began distributing vaccines, officials have urged the public to register using the city portal, stressing the equitable aspects of their approach. While the city advertises vaccine opportunities at hospitals and health clinics, it hasn’t done so with pharmacies, many of which have opened online scheduling portals in recent weeks. The result has been Twitter accounts, such as one called “Coviddc,” that highlight when pharmacies have appointments available. At a press conference Monday, D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said the health department worked with pharmacies early on to ensure they all used the same preregistration list. However, she said, “It is not impossible that a site has been activated without our knowledge and is recruiting individuals separately from what is happening in the [D.C. government] portal.” A D.C. Health spokesperson confirmed the department’s call with pharmacies, saying “having multiple links for appointments leads to inequity in vaccine distribution.” She also said, “We are supportive of the pharmacies having other equitable mechanisms of vaccine administration.” At the city’s urging, some of the pharmacies shut down their scheduling websites. The call left many pharmacy owners, who said they contacted D.C. Health to collaborate several times when they learned the stores would be offering the vaccine, frustrated. They directed inquiries to several department employees but never received a response. D.C. Health also asked the pharmacies during the call to send the city information regarding how many vaccine appointments they can accommodate hourly. Several said they provided the information Wednesday night, but have not heard when the city may be filling their vaccination slots. Pharmacies were not told to cancel any previously scheduled appointments but were asked not to schedule new ones. Meanwhile, CVS and Walgreens are still offering the option to make appointments on their websites. Walgreens has been offering the vaccine in D.C. since mid-March, a company spokesman said in an email. “Given Washington, D.C.’s pre-registration system, we recommend residents check with D.C. Health to determine whether they must pre-register for vaccination in order to receive a vaccine, or if they can register with providers directly as appointments become available,” the spokesperson said.
Alexandria City Public Schools students will sit 3 feet closer to each other in classrooms after the school board reversed Supt. Gregory Hutchings decision to keep students 6 feet apart. Hutchings sent a message to families earlier in the week that students would remain 6 feet apart, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice to reduce the space to 3 feet. Hutchings’ decision was made without input from the school board. At Thursday night’s school board meeting, Vice Chair Veronica Nolan said she learned about the decision by reading about it. “We have to be overly transparent with this information and make sure they are public conversations and discussions,” Nolan said. Member Ramee Gentry said there was a real disconnect and breakdown in communication. “In my five years on the school board, this is probably the most frustrated I have ever been,” she said. Parents also expressed disappointment with maintaining the 6 feet distance. Erika Melman, parent of a second grade student, said when she read the announcement, she was furious because of how much her child has struggled with virtual learning. Melman said the right move is to reduce the distance to 3 feet for more space to accommodate students back in the classroom. Hutchings did not directly address the controversy, but did speak shortly before the school board voted to repeal his decision. “We are committed to bringing back as many students as we can, 3 feet is going to allow us to do that,” he said. ACPS will adopt 3 feet inside classrooms this academic year.
The University of Maryland could require COVID-19 vaccinations for people returning to campuses. In an advisory letter in response to state Sen. James Rosapepe, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh wrote that mandatory vaccinations could legally be required “if USM has sufficient evidence that mandatory vaccinations are reasonably required to protect the public health and safety. USM would likely have to provide reasonable accommodations for medical conditions or religious objections,” Frosh’s letter said. “The opinion makes clear that there can be exceptions,” Rosapepe said. “So it’s not all or nothing.” Rosapepe, whose district includes College Park, said the guidance provided by Frosh is not surprising “because we require vaccinations for kids to go to kindergarten.” The letter is not a formal legal opinion, but it does provide guidance on the issue. USM, which includes 12 campuses, including the University of Maryland at College Park, has been weighing the question of whether to require vaccinations. Asked whether the letter from Frosh changes the current policy at USM, spokesman Mike Lurie said in an email, “The University System of Maryland continues to review all the issues associated with a return to campus in the fall and the measures it will undertake to maintain the health and safety of our campus communities. At this point, system leadership has made no determination with respect to vaccinations.”
For the second consecutive year, the National Independence Day Parade on the National Mall has been canceled due to the pandemic. “The marching units that travel from across the country to participate in the parade have not had the necessary 8 to 18 months to organize, rehearse and fundraise before making the trip, and most are still unable to travel due to COVID-19 concerns,” the National Park Service said in a press release Thursday. NPS said it couldn’t put the show on without the “excitement and sound provided by these high school bands, drill teams and other youth organizations.” The park service said it is “disappointed” it won’t be able to put on the red, white, and blue celebration this year, but plan to next year. In planning the scaled-down Presidential Inauguration in January, the inaugural committee initially pointed to July 4 as a day when the country would have a larger celebration of the new administration on the Mall. With those plans scrapped — unless the administration plans something separate — it looks like Americans will have to have the small backyard barbecues with “loved ones” that President Joe Biden alluded to in his address last month. Locally, organizers of the long-standing Palisades Parade in Northwest said this week they are moving forward with plans for the annual Fourth of July festivities.
Just a day after Mayor Muriel Bowser announced any D.C. resident 16 or older could get a COVID-19 vaccine beginning April 19, D.C. Health on Thursday pushed the date up a week to April 12. D.C. Health said in a tweet Thursday it had offered every D.C. resident who is a senior, essential worker or has a qualifying medical condition who had pre-registered for the vaccine an appointment, and there were enough appointments remaining to begin offering them to all residents who were 16 and older. “We are now able to move to Phase Two for the general population with appointments starting on April 12, which is earlier than planned,” the twee said. As of April 2, 162,669 D.C. residents were partially or fully vaccinated, and more than 190,000 D.C. residents had pre-registered with D.C. Health for the vaccine and were still awaiting an appointment. D.C. Health encouraged all D.C. residents to pre-register for vaccine appointments online or by calling 855-363-0333. An additional “high-capacity” vaccination site opens at Arena Stage today. The earlier eligibility comes as more vaccine doses have started arriving at pharmacies. Some of them are booking appointments independently of the city’s centralized pre-registration portal. D.C. and its surrounding jurisdictions all recently announced that they would be expanding vaccine eligibility more quickly than previously anticipated. Maryland’s mass vaccination sites have already expanded their eligibility to all residents 16 and older, and pharmacies and county health departments will follow starting Monday. In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam has said eligibility will expand to include all residents 16 and older by April 18.
Maryland will see a 33% reduction in its total federal allocation of COVID-19 vaccines next week. Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said during a press conference Thursday the drop was “likely” due to the recent destruction of about 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine made at Gaithersburg-based Emergent Biosolutions’ Baltimore plant, but it isn’t known how hard the shortage will affect the county. Noting that about 500,000 residents are on the county’s waiting list and that the county’s capacity is currently at about 50,000 vaccinations a week, County Executive Marc Elrich said during the press conference that getting the population fully vaccinated “could take a couple more weeks, depending on how long this lasts.” The county generally learns on Friday or Saturday what its allocation will be for the next week, Gayles said. Elrich also announced that, while the county reserved vaccination appointments for people on the priority lists regarding age or health conditions, “anybody in the county can now register” for an appointment on the county’s website, and he encouraged all adults to do so. “We will call you as we get to you in the queue,” Elrich said. However, he warned, “Don’t confuse eligibility with availability.” A half-million people in the county need to be vaccinated, Elrich said, and the number of doses coming to the county are “far, far less than the number of people eligible to get those doses.” Gayles urged people to be patient, as difficult as that can be to keep hearing: “I know that folks are probably tired of hearing us saying this, but … if we hold on a little while longer, we can get across the finish line.” Meanwhile, anyone 16 and older can schedule to get a vaccine at any of the state’s mass vaccination sites, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday. He also announced the launch of walk-up lines at some mass vaccination sites that will be opening in the future. Starting today, the M&T Bank Stadium site in Baltimore will offer 200 same-day, walk-up vaccinations. Slots will be available daily from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. seven days a week, except Orioles game days.
High schools and universities may hold in-person graduations this spring as long as attendance is limited and physical distancing is observed. According to new guidance from D.C. Health issued Thursday, attendance at outdoor ceremonies for pre-K to grade 12 schools, colleges and universities are limited to 25% of a venue’s capacity or 2,000 people, whichever is smaller. Indoor ceremonies are limited to 25% of capacity or 250 people, whichever is smaller. After May 1, indoor graduations may host up to 500 people if a venue does not reach more than 25% of its capacity. The guidance comes as planning for spring commencement festivities across the city is underway. Last academic year, many ceremonies were canceled, held online, postponed or drastically modified because of the pandemic. This year, city health officials set a number of strict requirements, including wearing face masks, maintaining at least six feet distance between audience members and restricting groups of guests to six people or fewer. Ceremonies cannot be more than 2 hours and no more than 10 people are allowed on stage at a time, according to the guidance. Students may cross a stage for their diplomas but must maintain physical distancing from one another. No food or beverages can be distributed at graduation ceremonies. Also only single performers are allowed, no choirs or bands. All plans for in-person graduation ceremonies must be approved by the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. American University officials plan to host virtual commencement like last year and are developing possible plans for in-person festivities. Howard University will host an in-person commencement for the class of 2020 and 2021, provided the city approves its plans. High schools have also been planning for graduation. At Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School in Congress Heights, administrators plan to hold an outdoor ceremony that will resemble a traditional commencement. Students will likely sit spaced apart under a tent, said Stacey Stewart, the director of student affairs. Families will have assigned seating. The school has also tried other ways to make the end of year special for the more than 70 students who are expected to graduate, including waiving costs for caps and gowns and yearbooks. “This might be their last time to celebrate and be together,” she said. Administrators at Washington Latin Public Charter School in Brightwood Park also plan to hold an in-person ceremony, principal Diana Smith said. The school will hold its ceremony in a drive-in theater parking lot outside Baltimore. Families will watch the ceremony from their vehicles and students will be projected on the outdoor movie screen as they cross the stage to retrieve their diploma.
D.C. Public Schools students will likely be back in classrooms five days a week starting in the fall. “We have stuck together through this pandemic — now, we need a strong citywide commitment to reopening this fall so that we can meet the social, emotional and academic needs of all our students,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a press release Thursday. She said her proposed would include a 3.6% increase to the Universal Per-Student Funding Formula, the main funding source for DCPS, up to $2.2 billion. The mayor also announced changes to the formula, which she said would direct more money to students in more need. She also said DCPS would get an additional $386 million in emergency relief money from the American Recovery Plan.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s board discussed cutting fares as a way to lure more riders back to the system as they get the COVID-19 vaccine. During WMATA’s bi-monthly board meeting Thursday, four board members voiced support for several proposals that would simplify or reduce Metrorail fees, including lower fares and eliminating rush hour pricing. “I think we need to give our riders some incentives to return to the system,” board member Michael Goldman of Maryland said. “We cannot continue to operate a rail system at 15% of pre-COVID ridership levels… nor can we even be satisfied with a system that’s projected at 34% of pre-COVID levels by June 2022.” Goldman wants Metro to eliminate the peak fare system, which charges more for rides between 5-9:30 a.m. and 3-7 p.m. Peak fares cost between $2.25 to $6 depending on how far riders travel, compared to $2-$2.85 charged during non-peak hours. Many transit advocates have called for eliminating the peak fare during the pandemic because trains did not run at peak levels. Goldman also suggested reducing Metro’s base fare to $2 all day and reducing the maximum distance-based fare from $6 to $3.85, which would be beneficial for riders in the suburbs. Part of his plan includes simplifying the rail system’s distance-based pricing, which varies by station. Instead of the current system, Goldman suggested implementing $2 trips within D.C., $3 trips within the Beltway and $3.85 for all other trips, such as to the outer limits of the Silver and Red line. Finally, Goldman suggested free or reduced daily parking rates at Metro stations across the region. Parking costs vary by station. The simplified fare structure and parking should be a pilot from Labor Day to Thanksgiving, he said. “That should be a big incentive to riders generally, and it also should be a big help to our essential riders who have been forced, if they travel at peak periods, to [pay] for these higher rail fares to get to their essential service jobs,” Goldman said. Stephanie Gidigbi-Jenkins of D.C. pushed to eliminate the cost of transferring from bus to rail, which she said is fair and equitable. The change was previously planned before it was shelved during the pandemic. She hopes it comes back. Matt Letourneau of Virginia agreed with the need to offer riders some financial incentives. “It’s been no secret that I’ve been interested in all sorts of fare ideas, such as family passes,” Letourneau said, adding, “I think the [existing] peak versus non-peak scenario doesn’t make a lot of sense.” But he urged the board to hold off on changing fares until WMATA finalizes its fiscal year 2022 budget and until major employers finalize decisions about when to return to the office. The board’s discussion comes as some local leaders call for free rides to attract riders back to the system. Other local leaders say better reliability and increased service, with trains coming every three to four minutes and buses running more frequently, will help revitalize ridership. Fares traditionally only pay for about 38% of Metro’s operating budget with Metrorail fares comprising most of the fare revenue. The rest of Metro’s budget comes from local, state and federal subsidies. “I think the revenue loss, if there is any revenue loss at all, is minimal,” Goldman said of his proposed fare reductions. “And even if it were $50 million, which is highly unlikely, it seems to me it’s worth the effort,” he said. WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld did not sound enthusiastic about the idea. “From a technical perspective, yes, we could [produce a report on the change],” Wiedefeld said Thursday. “I think it’s obviously a policy decision for the board if they choose to go that way.” Ridership has slowly risen up in recent weeks but still remains at historic lows, with about 15% of riders returning to the rail system and roughly 40% of bus riders returning. Metro will receive $714 million from the American Rescue Plan, which will help it avoid cuts proposed last year. About $625 million will go toward operating costs, more than covering last year’s $209 million budget hole. Metro will refund about $89 million to localities that were asked to pay more during the lean times. “We heard from more than 25,000 people how important affordable and frequent transit is to them, and we will consider those comments carefully as we determine how to allocate the remaining federal support to meet the region’s mobility needs in the coming year and beyond,” board chair Paul Smedberg said in a statement. Under the transit authority’s current budget proposal, from July 2021 to June 2022, service will remain below pre-COVID levels. Rail will see about 80% of the service it did before the pandemic while bus will have about 85%. Trains would run until 11 p.m. daily every 12 minutes on weekdays (every 6 minutes on the Red Line, every 15 minutes on weekends (every 12 minutes on the Red Line) and every 20 minutes after 7 p.m. every day on all lines. Metrobus service would continue with current service and some improvements on certain lines, including 34 bus routes that would run until 2 a.m. Other routes would see more service. Some riders questioned whether that would be enough service once “normal” life resumes, although Wiedefeld has said Metro will examine service levels each quarter and make service adjustments accordingly. Metro also plans to open the long-delayed Silver Line extension early in 2022. “We are preparing to welcome back customers as part of a return to normalcy, and welcome new customers who have long awaited the convenience of the Silver Line and new stations serving their communities and workplaces,” Wiedefeld said. “I am especially looking forward to beginning rail service to Dulles Airport as people resume travel to and from the nation’s capital as one of the great destinations in this country.” Later next year, the new Potomac Yard station between the Reagan National Airport station and Braddock Road is set to open. WMATA’s finance committee approved those plans, wrapped into the fiscal year 2022 budget, on Thursday. The full board will vote on the $4.7 billion operating and capital budget on April 22.
The Georgetown Business Improvement District is expanding the neighborhoods notoriously narrow sidewalks in the historic shopping district using temporary decking for dining and pedestrians. The decking will add about five feet of space along M Street NW between 29th and 34th streets, and on Wisconsin Avenue between Q Street and the C&O Canal. Concrete and metal barriers will provide some protection from traffic. “The deck extensions are designed to be accessible to those using a wheelchair or pushing a stroller, to allow stormwater to flow under the deck to the curb and to keep storm drains and fire hydrants clear,” the BID said in a press release. The decking should be fully installed by mid-May and be in place through the end of the year. Then, the community will evaluate and decide what to do next with the project and apply for new permits if businesses and the community want to keep it. Three prototypes are already installed at Clyde’s, 3236 M St. NW, Laduree, 3060 M St. NW, Thunder Burger, 3056 M St. NW and L’Annexe, 2917 M St. NW. “The goal of the Georgetown Decks is to help Georgetown recover from the pandemic by making it an even better place than it was before COVID,” the BID said in the press release. The D.C. Department of Transportation has repurposed many city streets during the pandemic through its “streateries” program to allow more room for outdoor dining and social distancing. Restaurants can choose to have tables closer to the building and leave the decks open for walking, or they can put tables on the decks. That is when concrete barriers will be installed around that entire section, in accordance with DDOT safety standards. The BID said retailers may be able to use the decks as well for a sales area if the city allows such a permit. The project will cost about $1.3 million, with $500,000 coming from a city grant.
Maryland leaders on Wednesday celebrated the opening of the federally operated mass coronavirus vaccination site at the Greenbelt Metro station, which can vaccinate 3,000 people a day. While it is focused primarily on Prince Georgians, anyone can get a vaccine there by registering online and choosing Greenbelt as the location. Gov. Larry Hogan, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, Greenbelt Mayor Colin Byrd and representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is running the site, spoke at a press conference Wednesday. They all agreed the clinic, located at a key public transportation point, was a welcome development. But Byrd, who plans to run for Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s seat in the 2022 Democratic primary, criticized Hogan’s response to the pandemic. He said during the press conference that the Republican governor had lifted coronavirus restrictions prematurely and constructed a vaccination campaign that left people of color behind. The mayor said Hogan scapegoated people of color by saying they were hesitant to get the vaccines, but the problem was in fact vaccine accessibility. When he was urged to wrap up his remarks — including when someone tried to cut off the microphone, Byrd continued. “I’ll wrap it up in a second, Mr. Governor,” Byrd said. “You’re in my city, sir.” Asked to respond, Hogan said he “would disagree with every word” and said Byrd “had nothing to do with our vaccine effort or this site and didn’t have any idea what he was talking about.” Prince George’s County has been at the forefront of the conversation about racial equity, as the state’s second-most populous jurisdiction, with about 909,000 people, is about 65% Black and about 20% Latino, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. And as the state escalated its immunization campaign, the D.C. suburb has lagged behind other state jurisdictions. Its residents have been vaccinated at the lowest rate in the state, and the site, selected by President Joe Biden’s administration, along with collaborative efforts from the state and county to vaccinate hard-to-reach populations, is expected to help close the gap. Prince George’s County is the only jurisdiction in Maryland with less than 13% of its residents fully vaccinated, according to Maryland Department of Health data. Recently confirmed state Health Secretary Dennis Schrader said ensuring an equitable vaccine distribution by county and along racial lines was one of the two key guidelines for the state’s rollout. He was flanked at the news conference Wednesday by Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead, whose Vaccine Equity Taskforce has launched mobile vaccine clinics to get to hard-to-reach populations. “As I’ve said many times we have the dual responsibility of speed and equity,” Schrader said Wednesday. “We’re getting the speed there and here in Prince George’s County we’re very focused on the equity.” Alsobrooks, a Democrat, said, “It does not take talent to spot a problem, it does not take very much talent to spot what’s wrong. It takes talent and commitment to fix it. And we’re here today to fix it.” Hogan also said he learned on a call with White House officials Tuesday night that the state will receive thousands fewer doses of the single-shot coronavirus vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson. The federal government’s plans to shrink state allocations of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine meant Maryland would get about 80,000 fewer immunizations, Hogan said. He said it was a concerning development, though he expected providers across the state would be able to fulfill existing vaccination appointments.
Anne Arundel County no longer requires preregistration for COVID-19 vaccination appointments. The county’s website began scheduling appointments directly on Tuesday, without preregistration, the county health department said in a press release. “Preregistration was the key to managing the process when demand exceeded supply,” making sure vaccine got to the populations who were most vulnerable, County Executive Steuart Pittman said in the press release. “As we move into lower demand and higher supply, our team has stayed ahead of the curve, removing steps in the process and expanding locations. We must vaccinate everyone, and all hands are on deck to get it done efficiently.” New appointments are posted on the website at 7 p.m. Tuesdays and noon Thursdays, the health department said. The mass vaccination clinic at the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, which opens April 15, is run by the state, the health department said. Appointments are preferred but not required, they added, and you can register online or by calling 855-634-6829. The mass vaccination clinic will begin April 15.
For the second consecutive year, D.C. students will not take standardized tests this academic year. Interim State Superintendent of Education Shana Young requested a one-time waiver to the federally-mandated tests in March from the U.S. Department of Education, which granted the request Tuesday. A similar waiver, which applies to D.C. Public Schools and charter schools, was granted last year. Administrators use scores on the end-of-year Partnership for Assessment of Readiness in College and Careers or PARCC exams to gauge students’ academic performance and direct resources to schools that need additional help. But with the majority of D.C. public school students still learning from home, Young said testing this year would not give an accurate picture of student achievement. Planning for the standardized exams would divert attention away from getting students back to in-person learning, she added. “Limited school and staff time and resources must be prioritized to ensure that students successfully adjust to new routines and schools are able to maximize instructional time,” Young said in the application. She said the city will not mandate students show up to schools to take tests in person. And having students take the exams remotely would lead to different testing conditions, creating equity issues. In a statement, Young said the city values the assessments for helping advance student learning. The city plans to resume standardized testing next year, she said. Some D.C. students lack stable internet and access to digital devices or do not have quiet home environments, she said. The decision to cancel the exams this year are a relief to many teachers and parents, who argued the tests would be too academically and emotionally disruptive for students during the coronavirus pandemic. Preparing for and administering PARCC tests can take several weeks of class time. Testing also creates stress for students and teachers, who have already faced significant strain this academic year. Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George, who co-sponsored a measure last month directing city officials to apply for the waiver, said students’ scores on standardized exams would not tell educators anything new. Research widely shows the pandemic has disproportionately affected students of color, students from low-income families and students with disabilities, exacerbating long standing achievement and opportunity gaps. “We don’t need standardized tests to tell us that,” she said.
Beginning April 12, Virginians can seek help for funeral expenses related to the pandemic from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Residents who have lost a loved one to COVID-19 will be able to seek financial help with funeral arrangements, interment or cremation through a new partnership between Virginia and FEMA. “We appreciate the partnership with FEMA as the Commonwealth of Virginia continues to assist its residents that have been financially impacted by the pandemic,” Curtis Brown, Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s state coordinator, said in a press release. “These funeral assistance funds will help ease some of the financial burden incurred from a tragic COVID-19 death.” To be eligible, applicants must have incurred funeral-related expenses for a death attributed to COVID-19 after Jan. 20, 2020, within the U.S. or its territories. Assistance is limited to a maximum of $9,000 per funeral and up to $35,500 per application. A person can apply for multiple deceased individuals. Applicants are encouraged to keep related documents on hand for the approval process including an official death certificate attributing the death directly or indirectly to COVID-19, expense receipts and funeral home contracts. They will also need to note any money or compensation received from other sources, such as insurance. To apply, call FEMA’s dedicated call center at 844-684-6333 (TTY: 800-462-7585) between 7 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays beginning Monday.
The Gaylord National Resort at National Harbor, the DMV’s largest hotel, will reopen July 1, 16 months after it closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Hotel owner Ryman Hospitality Properties lost more than a year of convention and conference business but used the time to give the 1,996-room hotel a reboot. Ryman is completing a $64 million guest room renovation, including the resort’s 110 suites. “Gaylord National’s reopening represents a significant milestone for our company as we get closer to a much-anticipated return to group travel. After accelerating a previously planned rooms’ renovation and repositioning our food and beverage offerings over the last year, we are ready to welcome guests back to the most spectacular resort on the East Coast,” said Colin V. Reed, chairman and CEO of Ryman Hospitality in a press release. With business travel still a long way from returning to normal, there has been little demand for Gaylord’s more than 600,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space. The hotel is the largest nongaming resort and convention center on the East Coast. It laid off more than 2,000 employees last year. A Gaylord spokesman declined to comment on how many employees will be brought back, but issued this statement regarding COVID-19 reopening plans and capacity limits: “We are partnering closely with the local health authorities to align our enhanced protocols, including any capacity restrictions within our expansive resort and multiple meeting spaces, with the most up-to-date medical guidelines and in accordance with Marriott’s Commitment to Clean.” The seven other hotels at National Harbor, including the MGM National Harbor, are all open.
The D.C. Council voted 12-1 Tuesday to approve a bill from At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds that allows landlords to evict tenants who present “a current and substantial threat” to their neighbors, household members or building staff, the first loosening of the city’s eviction moratorium that was established at the beginning of the pandemic. Under the legislation, which must undergo a second vote before going to Mayor Muriel Bowser for approval, tenants could not be evicted unless a judge finds them guilty of threatening behavior including unlawful possession of a firearm and assault. Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George was the lone opposing vote. A second bill proposed by Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto that would allow landlords to immediately raise rent for tenants who have not qualified for unemployment benefits or experienced other financial hardship due to the pandemic was narrowly defeated in a 7-6 vote. Under the current ban — in effect through at least July 20 — landlords in the city can’t evict anyone for any reason during the pandemic. D.C. landlords sought the exception for months, saying they need a legal way to evict the small minority of renters who pose a health and safety risk. “As the pandemic has gone on, we’ve started to hear our housing providers tell us they’re getting a lot more complaints from tenants” about troubling resident behavior, said Randi Marshall, vice president of government affairs with the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, which lobbies on behalf of large property owners and managers. “Before, it was noise complaints, because everyone’s working from home, which was to be expected. Now, they’re saying there are a ton of incidents happening — violence, drug sales.” D.C. landlord Keith Carr told the Washington Post he was assaulted by a young man who had begun hanging around after a tenant died and her grandson took over her apartment. He had no legal way of removing the man from his building while the eviction moratorium was in effect, Carr said. “You are responsible for his injuries,” Dean Hunter, the founder of a lobbying group that represents the city’s small landlords, wrote in an email to D.C. councilmembers last month. But it isn’t clear whether Bonds’ bill, as written, would have helped the landlord remove the man from the property — the legislation could be interpreted as only applying to tenants, not squatters. Opening evictions for public safety reasons is one of several recommendations made by the Rental Housing Strike Force that Bowser assembled earlier this year to come up with policy solutions to landlord/tenant issues brought on by the pandemic. But advocates for the city’s lowest-income residents say that task force is stacked against renters since there are few tenants on it. “It’s pretty hard to argue that a person who is breaking the law and endangering neighbors cannot be evicted,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said during a press conference Monday.
As Fairfax County Public Schools expands in-person learning to four days per week, students will begin to see more traditional and hands-on learning. During hybrid learning, students would be in the classroom but still use a laptop for instruction to stay congruent with students learning at home. But Supt. Scott Brabrand said that will change over the next month. “It’s going to be returning, in many cases, to more traditional instruction. There still may be some students who are coming in concurrently from the virtual option at home,” Brabrand said Tuesday. “But we are working very closely with our teachers in supporting more traditional, hands-on, in-person, instructional activities, while still providing support for our virtual students.” FCPS was able to expand in-person learning because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last month that schools could safely reduce social distancing from 6 feet to 3 feet. “We are also going to see a difference in the classroom where those desks are going to move from 6 feet apart to 3 feet apart,” Brabrand said. As of Tuesday that only applied to elementary students. Middle and high schools will expand capacity for in-person instruction but will remain at 6 feet of social distancing until community spread of COVID-19 is reduced. Staff must remain 6 feet from students and other staff. Children eating lunch will also remain 6 feet apart. The change to four days of in-person instruction began Tuesday for some students in pre-K through grade 12. The first group moving to four days per week includes students who have the greatest learning challenges, as identified by school personnel. Others in the group will return April 13. All pre-K through 12th grade students whose families chose in-person instruction will increase their in-person learning from two days a week to four starting April 20. FCPS plans to return to five days a week of in-person learning in the fall. “This expansion to four days of in-person instruction this spring will really help us with all of the challenges and opportunities to be better prepared to do five days of in-person in the fall,” Brabrand said. Unlike last year, Brabrand said the Class of 2021 will graduate in-person. “We have been really working closely with Gov. Northam’s administration, and we will have in-person graduations at all of our high schools,” Brabrand said. Each high school will finalize plans and release more information about the ceremonies later this month. Falls Church City Public Schools students also returned to classrooms Tuesday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday awarded Maryland $54,627,875 to ramp up vaccine efforts as the state expands eligibility. State officials are required to send 75% of the money to “programs and initiatives intended to increase vaccine access, acceptance and uptake among racial and ethnic minority communities,” according to a new release. The state will also need to use 60% of the money to support local health departments, community-based organizations and community health centers, according to the CDC. That means state officials will have to overlap some of the funding to ensure it helps both minority communities and local health departments. That could mean training community members to go door-to-door promoting vaccines or hiring bilingual health workers. “We are doing everything we can to expand access to vaccinations,” CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky said in the release. “Millions of Americans are getting vaccinated every day, but we need to ensure that we are reaching those in the communities hit hardest by this pandemic. This investment will support state and local health departments and community-based organizations as they work on the frontlines to increase vaccine access, acceptance, and uptake.” The CDC’s focus on vaccine equity comes after repeated warnings that people of color and low-income residents have been disproportionately impacted by both the pandemic and the state’s vaccine distribution plan. Gov. Larry Hogan’s Vaccine Equity Task Force announced last month that it would give community organizations that want to host vaccination clinics the opportunity to apply for doses and support from the state. The group is currently supporting vaccination clinics in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, as well as in rural parts of the state. The $54 million award is part of $3 billion in CDC funding to improve vaccine distribution, access, and administration efforts across the country. That funding comes from the recently passed American Rescue Plan and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader told the Senate Vaccine Work Group on Monday that ramping up vaccine eligibility and distribution is key to curbing the rise in cases. “The data tells us that we’ve got to get young people vaccinated faster, so that we can break the back of this pandemic,” Schrader said.
The D.C. Board of Elections is contemplating whether mail-in ballots, ballot drop boxes, super vote centers and other initiatives it used during the November election should be permanent. At the time, the initiatives were supposed to be temporary adjustments to voting during a pandemic. The board held the first of two town hall discussions Tuesday morning, seeking public input on what worked and what didn’t in 2020, and what should be carried forward to the 2022 election. The conversation is happening as many Republican-led states go in the opposite direction, debating bills that critics say would limit voter access. D.C. BOE officials have hinted they are considering keeping the expanded mail ballot system, which was popular among voters. More than 200,000 mail ballots were returned in November’s election — double the number of people who cast ballots in person. “The DCBOE should maintain some form of a mail ballot program for the majority of D.C. voters,” the board told the D.C. Council in documents submitted as part of the budget oversight process earlier this year. Speaking on Tuesday, Ward 4 ANC Commissioner Zach Israel encouraged the board to not only keep the 55 ballot drop boxes, but to expand the number. “Just having the drop boxes in more neighborhoods would be extremely beneficial,” he said, proposing that each of the city’s 144 precincts get its own drop box. That led to broader discussion on whether D.C. should even bring back its traditional neighborhood-based polling places or continue the use of citywide vote centers where any voter can cast a ballot. Those could include super vote centers, which included Nationals Park, the Capital One Arena, the Entertainment & Sports Arena, the University of the District of Columbia, Omni Shoreham Hotel and Dock 5 last year. “One of the things that would be helpful to think about is should we continue the precinct system? That means you’re assigned to a specific place and on Election Day that’s where you vote,” said Michael Bennett, BOE chairman. Even before the November election, Mayor Muriel Bowser pushed to open all 144 neighborhood polling places, even though election officials said at the time it would be impossible because of staffing and space constraints. Speaking Tuesday, Dorothy Brizill, a longtime D.C. government watchdog, expressed skepticism over a shift away from the traditional precinct-based polling places. “I am one who still believes in the need for voter precincts,” she said. “I am not an overwhelming fan of vote centers. They are not in residential neighborhoods, there is no parking in many instances. If you’re going to revisit the issue of polling sites, we need a serious hard look at the population surrounding those sites and whether they are accessible.” She also said the elections board needs to be concerned about some more critical issues, including cleaning up the city’s bloated voter rolls, developing a new voter registration system, investing in additional IT infrastructure and personnel, and developing a new app voters can use for information and to register to vote. The elections board killed its voter app last summer, after complaints that it was unreliable and buggy. The city’s next election cycle comes in 2022, when the mayor’s seat will be on the ballot. It will come after the city’s wards are redrawn with new population data from the U.S. Census. Given those changes, Brizill suggested the board proceed slowly on making permanent any changes to the way people vote in D.C. The elections board will hold another virtual town hall on April 20.
The Kennedy Center has big plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year as many area music venues prepare to reopen with in-person shows this fall. The Kennedy Center said Tuesday it will kickstart its half-centennial celebration in September by reopening all its stages and campus for a year-long series of events including a reimagining of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS, which opened the center in 1971. It will also add two interactive exhibits, a life-sized statue of John F. Kennedy on the rooftop overlook the Reach, artist residencies, new plays and a series of operas inspired by D.C.’s monuments and architecture. The center will continue standard coronavirus safety protocols including requiring masks, disinfecting surfaces, mandating six feet of physical distancing and reducing points of contact with measures like online ticketing. “I can think of no better way to reemerge from the darkness of these last many months than to reopen with a vibrant, season-long celebration of the center’s rich history and the bright future of the arts in our nation,” said Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter in a press release. D.C. relaxed capacity restrictions for local businesses and entertainment venues as vaccination rates increase. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced earlier this week live music venues can reopen indoor and outdoor events at 25% capacity on May 1; museums can also reopen to 50% capacity indoors and outdoors. Before Monday’s announcement, D.C. launched a pilot program last September opening City Winery, GALA Hispanic Theatre, Pearl Street Warehouse, The Kennedy Center, The Hamilton and Union Stage to audiences of 50 people or fewer. The recently increased capacity limits, however, include all venues. The 9:30 Club, Anthem and Union Stage have already scheduled concert dates and opened ticket sales for shows later this year — more than a year after they first closed their doors.
Maryland and D.C. residents 16 and older will be eligible for vaccines sooner than expected. Marylanders will be able to get a coronavirus vaccine appointment starting today at the state’s mass vaccination sites, Gov. Larry Hogan said during a press conference Monday. Eligibility will be expanded at the state’s mass vaccination sites at first. Other providers, such as pharmacies and county health departments, will be required to expand eligibility beginning April 12. Marylanders 16 and 17 years old will only be able to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is the only one approved by the FDA for people younger than 18. Late Monday evening, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser tweeted that all D.C. residents 16 and older will be eligible beginning April 19. She confirmed that the city will still extend eligibility to Phase 1C Tier 3 workers, which includes higher education employees, construction workers, information technology staff and commercial and residential property managers, on April 12 as planned. Bowser encouraged residents to sign up with the city’s pre-registration system, which schedules appointments based on age, ZIP code, medical conditions and jobs. And as federal distribution of vaccines ramps up, some pharmacies have also begun scheduling appointments directly. Hogan cautioned that many Marylanders won’t get an appointment right away because demand for vaccines already outstrips supply and opening vaccinations to more people would intensify the problem. “But with the supply of doses increasing over the next month or so, a vaccine should be available for everyone who wants one,” he said. D.C. has also struggled to meet high demand with reports of residents traveling out of state to get an appointment. A mass vaccination site operated by FEMA is scheduled to open at Greenbelt Metro station in Prince George’s County on Wednesday. The new timeline is an aggressive change from the state’s previous goal of expanding eligibility by April 27, just a few days before President Joe Biden’s national timeline for vaccination eligibility. The governor urged residents to preregister for a vaccination through Maryland’s official vaccination website or the state’s hotline: 1-855-MDGOVAX. As more people are vaccinated, Hogan said, the state’s goal is to phase out mass vaccination sites and direct residents to local pharmacies instead. He acknowledged that COVID-19 cases in the state have been trending up instead of down for several weeks. Instead of attributing that to his decision to reopen businesses statewide last month, a move some public health officials have called premature, Hogan said small family gatherings, working outside the home and travel are increasing cases. He also said virus variants which have been found in Maryland, are a top concern. He called on all residents to sign up for a vaccine appointment as soon as they can, saying: “Time is not our friend in this battle.”
Essential workers in some of Northern Virginia’s largest jurisdictions are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations. In Loudoun and Prince William counties and Alexandria, officials announced Monday essential workers under Phase 1C of Virginia’s vaccine plan are now eligible to be vaccinated. Access has been expanded to workers in the following fields: energy; water, wastewater and waste removal; housing and construction; food service; transportation and logistics; higher education faculty and staff; information technology and communication; media; legal services; public safety (engineers); other public health workers; and barbers, stylists and hairdressers. In a press release, Alexandria said it can now begin offering vaccine appointments to all residents who have pre-registered, including those in Phase 1C without further prioritization due to increased vaccine supply. The city said after those recent increases, everyone who has preregistered in Phase 1A and 1B — residents 65 and older as well as healthcare workers, teachers and other essential workers — has been offered an appointment. People eligible under the earlier phases and registered before March 30 but who have not received an appointment, should check their email spam folder. If they don’t see anything there, they can fill out a form online to check their status. Alexandria plans to launch an updated appointment system in the coming weeks that will provide an opportunity for residents to make an appointment directly with pharmacies, grocery stores and other providers. Both Alexandria and Loudoun County residents are encouraged to pre-register for a vaccine appointment on the state’s vaccinate.virginia.gov website. “We are pleased that we’ve been able to offer appointments for nearly all of those who had pre-registered in the Phase 1A and 1B priority groups, which makes this expansion to include the 1C group possible now,” said Loudoun County Health Director Dr. David Goodfriend in a press release Monday. “Any essential workers who have not yet submitted the pre-registration form online or by phone should do so now so that you can receive an invitation for a vaccination appointment within the next week or two.” The neighboring Fairfax County Health Department Monday said in a press release it was expanding vaccinations to only some frontline essential workers to start with. Starting Monday, vaccine eligibility is limited to workers in energy; water, wastewater and waste removal; housing and construction; food service; transportation and logistics; and faculty and staff of colleges and universities. On the Fairfax County website, the county said it expected to move into the other categories of essential workers later this week and Phase 2 by April 18. The Fairfax Health District includes Fairfax County as well as the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church and the towns of Clifton, Herndon and Vienna. Fairfax County does not use the state’s pre-registration system. Workers and residents of Fairfax County must pre-register on the
D.C. will loosen some capacity restrictions beginning May 1 as vaccination numbers continue to rise in the city. Mayor Muriel Bowser said during a press conference Monday there was an expectation that there will be an increase in cases, but with vaccines and continued safeguards, she is optimistic the numbers will eventually come down. Starting May 1, seated live entertainment venues may reopen, both indoors and outdoors, with a capacity limit of 25% or 500 people, whichever is less. Also, movie theaters can reopen at 25% capacity and live music will be allowed near outdoor restaurant seating. In addition, weddings and special events, business meetings and conventions will be allowed at 25% capacity or 250 people, whichever is less. Organizers can apply for a waiver to have more than 250 people. Graduations will be allowed, with limits — specifics on those limits will issued this week, Bowser said. Non-essential retail, indoor and outdoor pools, recreation centers, outdoor races, libraries, museums and galleries may operate at 50% capacity. Finally, Outdoor splash pads will be allowed to open at full capacity. “We want to ask people to get vaccinated as soon as you have the opportunity [and] help others get vaccinated,” Bowser urged.
Some D.C. pharmacies are allowing residents to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments directly on their websites but the city never publicized the change, despite high demand for vaccines across the city. Walgreens pharmacies in the city have been offering appointments since mid-March. Kalorama Pharmacy in Adams Morgan also had available appointments on its website last week, according to reports on Twitter. Both are part of a federal partnership that sends doses directly to retail pharmacies — a program that is expected to ramp up quickly nationwide as vaccine supply increases. D.C. officials said residents can expect more local pharmacies and other providers to offer vaccinations in the coming weeks. Some will be available for booking outside of the city’s centralized pre-registration system. But the city hasn’t highlighted these pharmacies as an option for getting vaccinated, even as demand has driven residents to seek vaccine outside of D.C. Last Wednesday, D.C. Health sent an email to more than 190,000 people who had pre-registered for an appointment as of that day and made no mention of opportunities to book appointments through local pharmacies. The department advertised opportunities with hospitals and CVS pharmacies, which are vaccinating school staff, childcare workers, healthcare workers and seniors but not other eligible D.C. residents. Residents were largely left to find out about the pharmacy appointments through word of mouth. D.C. Health officials have not directly answered questions about why they did not publicize the pharmacy vaccination opportunities. It isn’t clear if they knew about the doses, which were provided to the pharmacies directly by the federal government. When asked at a press conference Monday, D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt did not provide a full list of pharmacies currently offering the vaccine in the city. She said the health department prefers pharmacies use the city’s system to prioritize residents who are most vulnerable but acknowledged some pharmacies will book appointments directly. “The theory is that no one will use their own system without consultation with D.C. Health,” Nesbitt said. She added, it’s “not impossible” that federal pharmacy locations were activated and began vaccinating residents outside of D.C.’s portal without first connecting with the health department. This new availability at pharmacies comes as the city had finally managed to smooth out its vaccination registration process, which was plagued by technical issues as residents raced to make appointments on a first-come, first-served basis. Critics of the system pointed out that it privileged the most tech savvy and well-resourced residents and contributed to persistent racial disparities in D.C.’s vaccine rollout. The city recently launched a pre-registration system that allows residents to sign up at their own pace and then doles out vaccine appointments according to a formula that prioritizes residents based on their age, ZIP code, medical conditions and jobs. By all accounts, the process appears to be working well: it reduced confusion and made the experience of booking an appointment less frantic and fraught with technical glitches. Nesbitt said Monday that residents can expect shots to become available at a broader array of providers. “We expect over time as vaccine supply increases that we will have more pharmacies, more private physician offices, more urgent cares that have doses of vaccine available,” adding that much of this availability may not happen until May. Some providers, Nesbitt said, might choose to use their own booking systems if their technology does not work well with the city’s. In D.C., 12.3% of residents have been fully vaccinated and 23% have been partially vaccinated. In the meantime, more than 190,000 residents remain on D.C.’s pre-registration list and many are likely unaware that they currently have other options for scheduling a vaccine outside of the D.C. Health portal. D.C. Council members are drawing attention to the new FEMA-supported vaccination site at the Greenbelt Metro station that opens Wednesday. While D.C. was denied a site that would use federal doses to vaccinate thousands a day instead of pulling from D.C.’s allotment, Maryland is allowing D.C. residents ages 16 and older to register for a shot at the Greenbelt location. In D.C., all residents over 16 and older won’t be eligible for a vaccine until May 1. Nesbitt also announced Monday that D.C. would be opening a new high-capacity vaccination site at Arena Stage on Thursday, where it will send residents who are pre-registered through D.C. Health’s website. The Arena Stage site will be open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. As residents increasingly get vaccinated outside the city’s pre-registration system — including traveling out of state to do so — D.C. officials encouraged residents to remove their names from the list since it will delay getting invitations out to others who need a shot.
The Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves will make up their game that was postponed Monday due to the Nationals’ COVID-19 outbreak as part of a doubleheader on Wednesday. Major League Baseball announced the change Monday while the Nats’ players were working out at Nationals Park. Four Nationals players tested positive for COVID-19 and seven more have been placed under quarantine after contact tracing determined they were potentially exposed. The 2019 World Series champions have yet to play a regular game this season. Their opening three-game series against the New York Mets was postponed entirely. The Nationals will begin play at 4:05 p.m. today against Atlanta. The teams then will play two seven-inning games back-to-back on Wednesday, with the first starting at 12:05 p.m.
As Washington Dulles International Airport rebounds from the drop in air-traffic caused by COVID-19 in 2020, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport continues to lag considerably. With 340,116 passengers passing through its terminals in January, Reagan National’s passenger count was down 80.6% from January 2020, according to new data from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. By contrast, Dulles saw a better, but not robust, passenger total of 627,957 in January, down 64.3% from a year earlier. January is usually one of the slowest months for local air travel, although figures would have been higher this year if there been traditional inauguration festivities. January’s figures are definitely a lagging indicator since air travel for domestic tourism has improved significantly the last two months based on Transportation Security Administration passenger counts. But Reagan National will have challenges even with that rebound, since it is not a “hub” airport where passengers connect and because there is, for now, little reason for tourists to come to the DMV. Dulles, by contrast, benefits by being a hub for dominant United Airlines, which in January was off just 58.4% from a year ago in terms of domestic traffic – an improvement from earlier in the pandemic. At Reagan National, by contrast, passenger totals reported by dominant American Airlines were down 81.9%. Internationally, United’s passenger totals at Dulles were down 70.3%, with Avianca down 64.7%, Lufthansa off 78.2%, British Airways down 84.8%, Air France off 85.2%, Korean Air down 85.9% and Air China out of the game entirely, having suspended service at the start of the pandemic. Smaller international carriers Turkish was down 47.2% and Ethiopian was down just 38.3%. At Dulles, United’s January market share was up to 73.4%, an 8-point increase from 65.3% in 2020, while American’s 48.5% percent market share at Reagan National was down 3 points from 52.1% a year ago. At Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, operated by the Maryland Aviation Administration and focused more on low-cost leisure travel, the passenger count of 789,909 for January was down 58.5% from a year ago. Southwest Airlines flew 542,536 of those passengers, a market share of 69.5%.
The Washington Nationals are set to open their 2021 season at 4:05 p.m. Tuesday against the Atlanta Braves at Nats Park after at least four players tested positive for COVID-19 and several others were quarantined for possible exposure. In addition to the four players who tested positive, seven other players and two staff members were in quarantine as of Sunday. Major League Baseball announced Sunday that the team’s most recent round of test results came back negative. The team, except for the 11 players in quarantine, will practice on Monday. “Any symptoms that they may have been experiencing have subsided,” general manager Mike Rizzo said Sunday afternoon of the infected players. “They’re feeling much, much better.” Rizzo said a majority of the players were on the National’s 26-man roster. The team will fill roster vacancies from its alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va., where more than 30 players have been working out daily. The roster has not been announced. Tuesday’s game will be the first time the team has played in front of fans since their 2019 World Series win. “They really want to get back into the routine of baseball, and they want to work out and get the blood flow[ing] again,” Rizzo said. “I think they’re very excited about getting back on the field.” Plans for rescheduling Monday’s game against the Braves and the postponed season-opening series against the New York Mets have not been announced yet.
The Maryland Department of Health reported 1,669 new COVID-19 cases and eight more virus-related deaths on Sunday. That is the state’s highest number of new daily cases since Jan. 31, when 1,747 cases were reported. The total number of cases in Maryland is now 417,329. More than 8,100 people have died. There are 1,131 people hospitalized in the state due to complications from the virus. That is up 67 people from Saturday.
Four of Northern Virginia’s five health districts are seeing growth in new COVID-19 cases as the B.1.1.7 variant, also know as the UK variant, becomes the predominant strain in the commonwealth. According to the latest weekly update from the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute, the Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax and Loudoun health districts are seeing a slow increase in the number of new cases, the institute said based on data through last Monday, while cases in the Prince William Health District plateaued. The institute warned that if the B.1.1.7 variant, which is more contagious, becomes more dominant, Virginia could experience another peak in cases this summer that would be worse than the one in January. “Unfortunately, case counts are not continuing to decline as vaccination coverage continues to improve,” the institute wrote. “This does not mean that vaccinations are not working, but rather that other factors are in play, including less social distancing and the B.1.1.7 variant.” The number of new cases both statewide and in Northern Virginia has fallen slightly over the past several days, according to the latest data from the Virginia Department of Health. Through Sunday, Virginia’s seven-day average of new cases was down to 1,397.4. That is down 6.5% in the past week and 3.8% in the past two weeks, but only down 6.1% in the past month despite a significant increase in the number of vaccinations. It is also still at a level similar to early November, before the holiday surge. In Northern Virginia, the seven-day average is down to 391.1 after being above 400 for nearly a week. It was as low as 318.4, however, on March 13. As with cases, hospitalizations for treatment of COVID-19 have trended in a narrow range — around 1,000 patients over the past 10 days after falling dramatically from a high of 3,209 in mid-January to as low as 973 on March 24. In Northern Virginia, 227 patients were hospitalized as of Sunday, but that number had been as low as 195 on March 20, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. VDH reported 87 deaths related to COVID-19 over the past five days, including 42 on Sunday. During that same time period, Northern Virginia reported seven new deaths — three in Fairfax County, two each in Loudoun and Prince William counties, and one in Arlington, with one fewer death reported in Falls Church. As case levels have risen and testing has declined generally, the percentage of positive diagnostic test results has increased both statewide and in Northern Virginia. The state’s seven-day average rate was as low as 5.5% several weeks ago but is at 6.4%, and the Prince William Health District’s rate of 8.9% is its highest since Feb. 25. Meanwhile, VDH’s vaccine dashboard showed Sunday that almost 2.77 million Virginians have received at least one dose of a vaccine, representing more 30% of the commonwealth’s population of about 8.5 million. Because vaccines are not yet approved for children younger than 16, the percentage of adults who have received at least one dose is significantly higher. In addition, VDH reports another 225,000 doses of vaccines have been administered in Virginia by the federal government. The numbers were previously not included in Virginia reports and include doses administered by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Defense. About 17.8% of the state’s residents have been fully vaccinated, either with two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The state currently averages about 75,000 doses of vaccines per day, the highest so far. It set a record on March 31, when more than 104,000 vaccine doses were administered statewide.
The peal bells at the Washington Cathedral rang on Sunday, the first time since the church closed due to the pandemic. The cathedral rang its funerary bells to commemorate COVID-19 deaths, but this is the first time since March 2020 that the peal bells rang. While the inside of the cathedral remains closed to the public, families and others gathered outside Sunday wearing masks and social distancing. The cathedral said the return of the bell-ringing team represents significant progress in the pandemic recovery.
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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.