Oops! Bowser Rolls Back Mask Easements
COVID-19 Cases Reach 1,156,693 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 47,800 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 1,106 deaths; there have been 448,340 cases in Maryland with 8,575 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 660,553 cases with 10,777 deaths. You can read last week’s updates here.
On Saturday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser backpedaled on a new mask mandate her office released late Friday that removed nearly all mask requirements, including indoors for fully vaccinated people. The link to the Friday order was removed from the city’s website (although still accessible) and replaced with a new one that still eliminates the mask mandate for fully vaccinated people outdoors, but leaves the indoor mask requirements in place. Instead, the new order refers to D.C. Health guidance. Specifically, Saturday’s order said fully vaccinated people are not required to wear a mask when gathering outdoors with members of their household or at small, outdoor gatherings of friends and family unless in a crowded area or at a venue; visit outdoors with a small gathering of vaccinated and unvaccinated people with whom they do not usually socialize; or visit with small groups of fully vaccinated people indoors in a private setting. Fully vaccinated people must still wear a mask when gathering or conducting activities outdoors in crowded settings or venues; driving or riding in taxis, ride-share and public transit; and when D.C. Health guidance requires it. It isn’t clear why the mayor’s office released the Friday guidance, which had stipulations that fully vaccinated people could enter establishments without wearing a mask. Under the updated order, fully vaccinated residents will still have to wear a mask when in indoor common areas or inside businesses. Also, the Friday order said fully vaccinated people could be in common areas of apartments, condos or co-ops without masks, but that has also been removed in the updated order. Previously, D.C. Health said it will follow most of the CDC’s recommendations. Anyone attending gatherings that include more than two households, whether vaccinated or not, should wear masks. Also, vaccinated people must still wear masks during public events, both indoors and outdoors. This includes neighborhood gatherings, worship services and weddings. Bowser’s office did not make any comments about why the Friday order was release or replaced by a new order on Saturday.
In a report released Friday, the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute predicted Northern Virginia could reach community immunity from COVID-19 by June or July. In its latest weekly update modeling various scenarios for the pandemic, the institute said that based on current vaccine acceptance and vaccine update levels, the region could be the first in Virginia to achieve immunity among adults. Researchers used the term community immunity rather than the more common “herd immunity” because it noted that immunity is local. “Some communities may achieve it and safely return to normal, while others are still ravaged by COVID-19,” the report said. For example, areas of eastern and southwestern Virginia, where vaccine acceptance levels are less than 50%, may not achieve immunity until next year. During a press conference Friday, Dr. Danny Avula, the Virginia Department of Health’s vaccine coordinator, said the commonwealth is starting to provide more vaccine doses to primary care providers in an effort to overcome vaccine hesitancy. Vaccines are being provided in smaller shipments, and providers no longer need to quickly use all the doses they receive. “That’s a big shift,” Avula said. “Survey after survey shows it’s your primary care provider you trust to make health decisions around.” He said Virginia has exhausted its pre-registration list, except for a few thousand people, some of whom may have received vaccines elsewhere. The commonwealth is also trying to make vaccinations more convenient, with an eye toward persuading younger adults to be vaccinated. Many of the community vaccination centers, including the one at the former Gander Mountain store near Potomac Mills in Woodbridge, are now accepting walk-ins, and the commonwealth has also begun scheduling more pop-up vaccination clinics. “Almost everywhere in the state you can go and get a same-day or next-day appointment.” Avula said about 160,000 Virginians have received a first dose of a vaccine but not returned for a second dose within 42 days or six weeks. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses administered three or four weeks apart to be fully effective. He said some of the challenges of making appointments may have contributed to the delay and that the state is reaching out to those people to schedule appointments for second doses. He also said that VDH expects vaccines for children ages 12-16 to be approved by late May. A vaccine for younger children is not expected to be approved until late this year or early next year. On April 30, 2020, 818 patients were hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19 in Northern Virginia, a number that was not surpassed even during the peak of the pandemic in January. Of those, 175 were in intensive-care units and 103 were on ventilators. As of Friday, Northern Virginia had only 218 patients hospitalized, with just 37 in the ICU and only 24 on ventilators. And the region reported its fewest average new daily cases over the past seven days (231.3) since Oct. 20. The story is similar statewide, as the seven-day average of new cases was down to 1,038.4, the lowest since Oct. 25. Hospitalizations statewide stood at 950 as of Friday, the fewest since Oct. 20. Statewide hospitalizations peaked at more than 3,200 in mid-January, when the state was averaging over 6,000 new cases a day. Deaths related to COVID-19 have likewise slowed considerably, but the commonwealth is still reporting about 100 a week. Eight new deaths were reported in Northern Virginia since Monday — five in Fairfax County, two in Prince William County and one in the city of Falls Church. The percentage of positive diagnostic tests has also fallen, with the state’s seven-day average of 4.7% near the low of 4.5% it hit on several occasions last fall. When rates are below 5%, experts believe the spread of the virus is generally under control. Meanwhile, VDH’s vaccine dashboard showed that 30.6% of the state’s 8.6 million residents were fully vaccinated, and a total of about 3.78 million Virginians, or more than 44%, received at least one dose. The percentage of adults who have received at least one dose is higher as vaccines have not been approved for anyone under age 16. In addition, the health department reported that another 328,000 doses of vaccines have been administered in Virginia by the federal government. Those include doses administered by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Defense. The commonwealth is currently averaging about 73,000 doses of vaccines per day, a level that has remained steady most of the month. The state reported seven new cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C, last week, with four of those in Northern Virginia. The syndrome is believed to be related to the virus that causes COVID-19. Of the four new Northern Virginia cases, two were reported in the Prince William Health District and one apiece in the Alexandria and Arlington health districts.
A new order issued late Friday night by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and effective immediately drops most mask requirements for fully vaccinated people in public spaces. Fully vaccinated people no long must wear a mask when passing through common areas in their apartments, condominiums or co-ops. A face covering must be worn if a person plans to stay in the common area longer, even if fully vaccinated. Businesses can also begin allowing vaccinated guests inside without masks. According to the order, businesses must post signs on exterior doors stating that a person cannot enter without a mask or being fully vaccinated. A person entering an establishment under the new protocols must show a vaccine card or other proof of vaccination to not wear a face covering. Those attempting to enter without showing proof or not wearing a mask can be removed from the building. The order also states that a business that requires vaccination for entry must provide exceptions for those with medical and religious reasons that “forbid” them from being vaccinated as long as they wear a mask. With more people preparing to return to their workplaces when fully vaccinated, employers must provide masks to their employees and establish more stringent mask-wearing rules for their offices. People are still required to wear a mask when using a taxi, ride-share vehicle or public transit in D.C. Finally, a person in the water at a swimming pool does not have to wear a mask.
The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Virginia has reached a new phase. The commonwealth is at “the other side of the supply-demand curve,” Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia Department of Health’s vaccine coordinator, said during a press conference Friday. Avula said 44% of the commonwealth’s population has had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and in the eligible population 16 and older that number jumps to 57%. Almost every health district has ended preregistration, he said: “If you want an appointment, you can make it — in some cases the same day or the next day.” the challenge during the first few months of the year was to get enough vaccine for people who wanted it, he said, “We are pivoting all over Virginia” to make it easier for people to get vaccinated and to convince them of the importance of getting the shots. Avula said efforts have already begun, and will continue, to focus on neighborhoods, communities and primary care providers. Surveys show people trust their personal doctors, Avula said. Pfizer will soon make their vaccines, which come in packages of 1,170, into smaller increments that doctors’ officers and smaller providers would be willing to take on. “More providers will be willing to take small amounts of the vaccine and have it available.” He predicted that vaccinations soon would happen at mobile centers, farmers markets, polling places and more. “Convenience is such an important piece,” Avula said. Many people who haven’t gotten vaccinated “not because they don’t want to, but because of convenience.” He said the difficulty in getting vaccines to people has multiple causes: In the Black and Latino communities, he said, there was once “hesitancy over historical problems” between those communities and the medical community, but that conscious unwillingness to get the vaccines went down between December and March. Problems in those communities are less about hesitancy and more about access. Among “rural, conservative-leaning people who identify as evangelical Christians,” about 40% of whom say they won’t get vaccinated, Avula said there is more of a political hesitancy, which requires a different plan – a non-judgmental approach that leans on teachers, doctors and pastors. “It’s hard work.” Use of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine resumed in Virginia after the pause recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month, and while it isn’t known yet how much of an effect the pause had on Virginia’s vaccination numbers or Virginians’ willingness to get the shots, he said it put a dent in the plans to get students at colleges and universities vaccinated before classes ended. That is important, he said, because young, healthy adults generally think “if they get it they’ll be fine. And by and large they’re right.” But the number of people vaccinated is what brings about herd immunity and another surge “would be the worst.” Young people also have more risky behavior, he added, and that combined with the increased contagiousness of the variants is leading to a dominance of the newer strains. Avula also said the CDC “continues to affirm” that the existing vaccines would be approved for children down to 12 years old by mid- to late-May, probably giving authorities “a real chance” for in-school vaccinations before classes end for the summer. “The work is just as important, and a lot harder” now, compared with the early days of the rollout, when “everyone was clamoring for it,” Avula said. The job is “going to be slower and a lot more challenging.” Even so, “I continue to be encouraged by the way the guidance has been changing.” After the new CDC guidance was announced, he is seeing people outside without masks, and said, “It feels like progress.” Avula was quick to point out that there have only been 9,200 “breakthrough infections” in the more than 100 million people who have been vaccinated. Early reports in the development of the vaccine predicted an efficacy rate in the low 90s, and the reality has been more like 99.993%. “It’s really astounding how effective vaccination has been,” Avula said.
The Transportation Security Administration extended its face mask requirements on all travelers in airports, airplanes, terminals, trains, buses and boats through Sept. 13. The mandate was set to expire May 11, and comes as some states have rescinded orders or allowed mask requirements to expire. “Right now, about half of all adults have at least one vaccination shot and masks remain an important tool in defeating this pandemic,” Darby LaJoye, TSA’s acting administration, said in a press release. TSA officials consulted with health experts in considering whether to renew the requirement. The TSA said it received reports of 2,000 people who violated the rule, which took effect Feb. 2. The agency also began sending citations to violators. Fines range from $250-$1,500. There are multiple investigatory and review steps before a citation is issued.
Despite this week’s change in mask requirements by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the change won’t apply to some Montgomery County athletes. In a press release Friday, county officials said masks can only be removed for competition and practices outdoors if the heat index is 80 degrees or higher. That will have to be calculated based on a formula the county uses from ZIP code 20877. The press release added that for outdoor sports, while masks may be removed during high heat and humidity, masks must be worn at all other times, such as on sidelines, in dugouts and other times when athletes are not engaged in competition or vigorous practice activities. For indoor sports, the county said masks must be worn at all times, except for wrestling and gymnastics. During wrestling matches, a mask could become a choking hazard and is discouraged unless an adult coach or official is closely monitoring for safety purposes. For gymnastics, masks shall not be worn while on apparatuses.
Millions of Americans are skipping appointments for their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine, including D.C. residents. About 13% of people in D.C. who were scheduled to get a second Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna dose skipped it, Dr. Ankoor Shah, senior deputy director of D.C. Health, said during a D.C. Council Committee on Health pubic oversight roundtable on the city’s vaccination process Thursday. That is higher than the 8% nationally who miss appointments for their second dose as of early April, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Patrick Ashley, head of emergency response for D.C. Health, said the city has cleared out a backlog of people waiting for appointments as it pivots away from its preregistration system. Shah said 20% of D.C.’s population has been fully vaccinated compared to 30% nationally.
Ocean City, Md., beachgoers will be able to move around the boardwalk and dine and drink outdoors more freely this summer as the town lifted its mask mandate on the boardwalk and in outdoor public spaces. With a statewide mask mandate lifted, signs on the boardwalk referencing mandatory mask use were set to come down Thursday, Mayor Rick Meehan said. The removal of restrictions on outdoor dining beginning Saturday means people can be seated closer together, Meehan said. He added that outside bars can open and that people can stand at them as well. Also on the boardwalk, visitors will be able to ride the tram, which didn’t run last year. Bus service will be increased after being scaled back dramatically last year. Meehan said the pandemic caused a 20% drop in the city’s room tax revenue, but he is optimistic for the upcoming summer. “If the crowds we’ve had over the last month are any indication of what the summer’s going to be like, it’s going to be a fantastic year in Ocean City,” he said. “Because the boardwalk and the streets and the businesses and restaurants have been extremely crowded over the past month.” He added, using one noted Ocean City barometer: “The line at Thrasher’s [french fry stand] was the longest I ever saw it this past Saturday.” Visitors who are not fully vaccinated are strongly encouraged to continue wearing masks in outdoor public spaces, especially when physical distancing isn’t possible. Also, the city’s Springfest Arts and Crafts Festival returns May 6-9 for its 30th anniversary. The festival features live music, art, crafts and food at the Inlet Parking Lot at the south end of the boardwalk. More than 250 vendors are expected. The festival runs from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free.
D.C. and Virginia officials updated their mask mandates for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to align with newly relaxed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. D.C. Health guidance lays out activities residents can safely do without face coverings once they are fully vaccinated. Those activities include going for a run, walk or bike ride; attending small outdoor gatherings with other fully vaccinated or unvaccinated people; and attending small indoor gatherings with other people who are fully vaccinated. D.C. Health defines “small” group as people you regularly socialize with. The health department is still urging some caution, advising vaccinated people to keep wearing masks and practicing social distancing in public outdoor settings such as neighborhood gatherings and weddings. Everyone should also continue following those precautions indoors, including at stores, places of worship, offices and schools. Vaccinated people should also wear face masks when visiting unvaccinated people indoors who are at higher risk of contracting a severe case of COVID-19, according to the guidelines. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said mask use is still required indoors and outdoors at large crowded events like concerts, sporting events and graduation ceremonies. “The CDC’s recommendations underscore what we have said all along — vaccinations are the way we will put this pandemic behind us and get back to normal life,” Northam said in a press release. “Our increasing vaccination rate and decreasing number of new COVID-19 cases has made it possible to ease mitigation measures in a thoughtful and measured manner. I encourage all Virginians who have not yet received the vaccine to make an appointment today.” Northam also revised gathering limits to allow up to 1,000 spectators for outdoor recreational sports, effective immediately. This change advances by two weeks a change that was scheduled to go into effect on May 15 and will allow additional spectators to participate in final games of the current high school sports season and the summer sports season. Northam reiterated that the next steps to ease mitigation measures will go into effect on May 15 as previously announced. He expects to be able to roll back the remaining capacity limits in mid-June as long as the commonwealth’s health metrics remain stable and vaccination progress continues. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday went a step further, lifting the state’s outdoor mask mandate in nearly all settings except at “large ticketed venues” that are outside. Local jurisdictions in Maryland can set stricter requirements. For most of the past year, the CDC advised Americans to wear masks outdoors if they were within 6 feet of others. On Tuesday, the CDC said fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to cover their faces anymore outdoors unless they are in a big crowd of strangers.
The Montgomery County Health Department will resume administering the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine next week after federal officials cleared its use. The vaccine, which requires only a single dose, will be used at the mass vaccination site on the Montgomery College Germantown campus. The county paused the use of the one-dose vaccine at its mass vaccination site and clinics on April 13. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration called for vaccinators to stop using the drug while they investigated six cases of rare blood clots in women between the ages of 18-50. Since then, a total of 15 cases of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) have been reported. None have been in Montgomery County. About 8 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered nationwide. When the county stopped using the J&J vaccine, 1,300 doses for the mass vaccination site in Germantown and about 284 doses for county clinics were stored. The county will resume using the J&J vaccine at its mass vaccination site Monday. Health officials have already started using it for homebound vaccinations. According to the CDC, women younger than 50 years old “should be aware of the rare but increased risk” of blood clots that the reports have suggested follow use of the J&J vaccine. County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said during a press conference Wednesday that if people have concerns about the vaccine, they should speak with their medical provider. “It’s cause for concern when you do see the report of those cases. … But there were over 8 million other folks who received the [J&J] vaccine,” he said. “I would imagine probably 60% of those have been women so far as women have been outpacing men in terms of getting the vaccines. The overwhelming majority did not have those complications.” If people still have concerns about the vaccine after seeking advice from their medical providers, they can get either of the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, Gayles said. People who receive the J&J vaccine should watch for symptoms of a blood clot over the three weeks following inoculation. Those symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal pain, severe or persistent headaches or blurred vision, and easy bruising or tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the injection site. Anyone who develops one or more of those symptoms within three-weeks should immediately seek medical care, according to the CDC.
Anyone 16 or older who lives or works in Loudoun and Prince William counties can go online to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment sometimes the same day. On Thursday, the Loudoun County Health Department announced people could make an appointment online or by calling 703-737-8300 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Preregistration is no longer needed. “You can just go in and click on that link, give them your contact information, and within a half hour, get access to set up your own appointment — and that could be a same-day appointment,” said Dr. David Goodfriend, the county’s health director. Appointments can be scheduled at the county’s vaccination clinic in the form Nordstrom store at Dulles Town Center in Sterling. In addition, people who sign up will be told about other places they can receive the vaccine. “In Loudoun County it will also be by vaccine product. So, if you’re specifically looking for Johnson & Johnson, or if you want Moderna or Pfizer, it will say Moderna, Pfizer or J&J,” Goodfriend said. He said the county is trying to eliminate as many barriers as possible for people to receive the vaccine. Goodfriend said the self-scheduling is also available for people who only need a second dose: “Folks who got their first shot in Florida, because they were living down there over the winter and are now back in Northern Virginia — or were at UVA and are now coming home. You don’t have to go all the way back to where you got your first dose, if it was out of town,” Goodfriend said. “We’ll take care of it.” Prince William County residents can schedule appointments at the Manassas Mall (Moderna), Gander Mountain (Pfizer) in Woodbridge or Veterans Park Recreation Center (J&J and Pfizer) in Woodbridge online. The Gander Mountain clinic also accepts a limited number of walk-ins each day.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan rescinded the state’s outdoor mask mandate. Local jurisdictions, however, may continue to require masks to be worn outside. “Lifting this emergency order is in line with the new [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] advisory guidance yesterday,” Hogan said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon, adding that it “follows the advice of our team of public health experts as well as the advice from national health leaders.” Effective Saturday, the state will also lift physical distancing and mask mandates at outdoor restaurants and bars. Social distancing and masks are still required inside restaurants, businesses and on public transportation, as well as outdoors as mass ticketed events like sporting events and concerts. For people who aren’t vaccinated, Hogan says “public health experts recommend that you immediately get vaccinated, and until you do that you should continue to be cautious and continue to wear masks, especially when you cannot be physically distanced.” Hogan said he hopes that children will be able to get the vaccine in the coming weeks following the conclusion of trials on more than 6,700 children between the ages of 6 months and 11 years old with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Slightly more than 42% of Marylanders have received their first vaccine dose and just less than a third are fully vaccinated. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said during a press conference earlier Wednesday afternoon that the county would continue to follow the masking guidance of the CDC and the state’s department of health, whichever is stricter. “We will follow the CDC guidelines,” Elrich said in a statement Wednesday night. “The governor’s order regarding masks does not comport with the CDC guidelines.” The CDC’s latest guidance issued earlier this week said mask wearing outdoors is only necessary for those who are not vaccinated and said masks should still be worn while in close contact with others. Elrich also said the county will also not follow the governor’s new orders for outdoor dining. “We’re opening exactly when we should and how we should,” Elrich said. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks has not yet announced her plans for the outdoor mask mandate. Also beginning Saturday, residents will no longer have to preregister for the state’s mass vaccination sites. The governor said direct registration with each site will now be possible as supply issues ease. Hogan said he hopes to take additional action in the coming weeks “to return to a sense of normalcy … [but] the fastest way to put this pandemic behind us once and for all is for every single eligible Marylander to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
As new cases continue to fall and vaccinations increase, Montgomery County officials are concerned that one of the factors behind vaccine hesitancy may be too much optimism. “We need to convince those people who are hesitating to take the vaccine,” County Executive Marc Elrich said during a press conference Wednesday. “I’m concerned about the hesitancy.” Surveys by the county’s community engagement team conducted over the past several weeks probing residents’ hesitation about the vaccine show a variety of factors, including that “People don’t believe it’s urgent,” Elrich said, “that they want to wait and they’re looking at our declining numbers and thinking , ‘Oh, well, this might go away.’” Elrich urged people not to become complacent. “This is not going to go away, certainly not all by itself,” he said. “If it goes away, it’ll be because of all the things we do.” Other factors contributing to vaccine hesitancy, according to the community surveys, are tied to religious beliefs, privacy and confidentiality concerns, and a feeling that it is too much of a hassle to get vaccinated. On that point, Elrich laid some of the blame on the lack of a centralized state registration system early on in the pandemic, when vaccine supplies and eligibility were more limited. Elrich said he is also hopeful the vaccination rate will continue to climb following the county’s move Tuesday to a new plan that ties the easing of coronavirus-related restrictions to the vaccination rate. With more than 50% of residents having had at least one dose, the county loosened restrictions on movie theaters, camps, malls and sporting events starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday. According to Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles, white residents were more likely to travel outside the county to get vaccinated, although a majority of all demographic groups had been vaccinated within the county. Overall, 53% of white residents were vaccinated in Montgomery County compared to 47% out of the county. Among Black and Asian residents, 63% were vaccinated in the county and 37% out of the county. Among Hispanic residents, 62% were vaccinated in the county and 38% out of the county. In addition, white residents are getting vaccinated at state-run mass vaccination sites and county-run clinics at about equal numbers — about 21% each. Gayles said 29% of Black residents received vaccines through county-run clinics compared to 11% at mass vaccination sites. About 26% of Asian residents and 27% of Hispanic residents received doses at county clinics versus 14% at mass vaccination sites. “We’re continuing to look at our data to refine the work that we’re doing to make sure that we have maximum impact in terms of getting doses into folks’ arms,” Gayles said. As vaccine sites in Prince George’s County and D.C. move from requiring appointments to all walk-up sites, Montgomery County officials said they still have about 34,000 residents on the county’s preregistration list who have not been offered vaccine appointments yet. But Earl Stoddard, the director of the county’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said he expects the county’s mass vaccination site on Montgomery College’s Germantown campus to continue to evolve. At that site, some 2,100 appointments per week come from the county’s preregistration list, and the remainder are allocated to the state’s list. “We have largely worked our way through the state’s list,” Stoddard said. “We have about a week’s worth of appointments left and we’re not getting them as fast as we’re putting them out.” Beginning Saturday, the Germantown site – and all Maryland mass vax sites — will switch to an open appointment system. Residents will no longer be required to preregister for an appointment. People who have preregistered will be contacted by Friday to schedule an appointment. Appointments can be scheduled online at covidvax.maryland.gov or by calling 855-634-6829.
D.C. Health on Wednesday announced the hours for the 11 walk-up, no appointment needed sites across the city that open beginning Saturday. The walk-up sites are open to all D.C. residents 18 and older. On Saturday, 10 of the 11 sites will have special hours. Residents will schedule their second dose when they get the first dose. Pharmacies, clinics and healthcare providers continue to administer vaccines through their own scheduling systems. Residents 16 and 17 years old can schedule a vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine through Children’s National Hospital. Homebound residents should call 855-363-0333 to schedule an appointment to get a free vaccination at home. The walk-up clinic locations and hours are:
The Prince William Health District will hold a vaccination clinic using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from 2-8 p.m. Saturday at the Boys and Girls Club, 5070 Dale Blvd., Dale City. To make an appointment for the clinic, people should visit the Boys & Girls Club today from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. There may be room for walk-up registrations on May 1 based on availability. Before signing up for the J&J vaccine, patients should be aware of the rare risk of blood clots. Other sites offer either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. On May 4 and 5, the City of Manassas will hold a two-day, second dose clinic at Metz Middle School for people who received their first doses of the Pfizer vaccine on April 13 and 14.
Beginning Saturday, the Arlington County Detention Facility will resume in-person visitation. The new policy, announced by Sherriff Beth Arthur earlier this week, will end a year-long shutdown of in-person visits between inmates and their family and friends. “We recognize the value of in-person visitation for individuals remanded to the detention center and the importance of maintaining family and community ties,” Arthur said in a press release. “We have worked hard to create a safe plan to slowly bring back visitation.” The 60-minute visits will be non-contact with visitors and inmates separated by glass to minimize exposure to COVID-19, and must be scheduled in advance by the inmate. Inmates can have one in-person visit a month on their designated date. No more than two people 18 and older can visit at a time to allow for social distancing. All visitors will go through a COVID-19 screening and security check. In-person visits will take place Saturdays and Sundays between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Inmates will continue to be allowed two free daily video visits Monday through Friday.
The Maryland State Board of Education on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution requiring all school districts to reopen five days a week for in-person learning beginning this fall. While the resolution requires schools to reopen for full-time in-person instruction at least 180 days and a minimum of 1,080 hours next school year, board President Clarence Crawford said the stance could change if the pandemic worsens. “The stakes are way too high for our students and society,” state Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon, who presented the proposal, said before the vote. She presented a series of data points about the downside of virtual learning and hybrid instruction formats during the pandemic. Salmon noted that approximately 42% of students are currently receiving in-person instruction. “Research across the nation shows that the majority of our children have experienced disruptive learning as a result of a lack of in-person instruction over the past year,” she said. Aside from offering amendments to change the resolution’s language, at least two board members expressed concern that the resolution was presented to them just a day before the vote and that the public didn’t get a chance to review it. “I do believe things like this should have been put out to the public prior,” said member Rachel McCusker. “I know that not everyone agrees with me, but that is my position.” Board Vice President Jean Halle disagreed. “It’s the board’s position that we always allow public comment when there’s new policy involved,” said Halle. “This is not new policy. It’s reinstatement of existing policy.” Gov. Larry Hogan supported the board’s vote. “The science supports getting our children back into school for in-person learning, and every student in Maryland should have that opportunity right now,” Hogan said in a press release. “Families and students deserve certainty that all school systems will return to full in-person learning. To address the academic and emotional toll of prolonged online instruction, today’s vote is an important step toward getting things back to normal.”
The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday unanimously approved loosening COVID-19 restrictions and laid out a three-phase plan for automatically lifting restrictions in the future as more residents get vaccinated. As of 5 p.m. yesterday, indoor gathering limits increase to 50 people and outdoor limits rose to 100 people. Also, business capacity — excluding restaurants – increased to 50% from 25%; touch exhibits at museums and galleries were allowed to reopen, as were indoor pedestrian concourses with tables and chairs at malls. County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said it would probably take two to three weeks to move into Phase 2 and another four to six weeks to move into Phase 3. At a public hearing before the vote, many county business owners supported the changes. Amy Rohrer, president and CEO of the Maryland Hotel Lodging Association, said hotels in the area have had a 75% decrease in occupancy since last year. “Ongoing restrictions on gatherings and events, which are a significant driver of room revenue, have resulted in historically low occupancy and revenue losses for hotels,” Rohrer said. “Montgomery County hotels hope to win some meeting space business as it slowly and [this] is a step in the right direction.” Steve Castro, owner of Davidus Cigars, which has three locations in the county, said he supported the legislation, but would like to allow for smoking inside his store when the county gets to 60% of residents with at least one dose of the vaccine. “We have a better ventilation system than bars and restaurants,” Castro said. “At 50% capacity we may have four to 10 customers smoking in the store at one time. Unlike other smoking establishments, premium cigar smokers do not share the same cigar.”
Arlington County is the latest DMV jurisdiction to offer open signups for COVID-19 vaccines. The county announced in a press release Tuesday that people can directly book an appointment at an county-run clinic on the county’s website or vaccinefinder.org. “As we continue our work to efficiently vaccinate our residents and do so equitably, open scheduling helps remove barriers to making an appointment and ensures our community can quickly and conveniently access COVID-19 vaccines,” Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said in the press release. The county added that people 16- and 17-years-old should look for dates with Pfizer vaccines and that the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be back in clinics in a few days. Residents can also call the county health department at 703-228-7999 or the statewide call center at 877-VAX-IN-VA.
Maryland’s drive-through mass vaccination sites at Six Flags America in Prince George’s County, Regency Furniture Stadium in Charles County and Ripken Stadium in Harford County no longer require appointments. People can now get vaccinated at nine sites in the state without appointments. Teens who are 16 and 17 are only eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine. The sites include Six Flags America (Pfizer), 13710 Central Ave., Bowie from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Sunday; Regency Furniture Stadium (Pfizer), 11765 St. Linus Drive, Waldorf from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Sunday; Ripken Ironbirds Stadium (Pfizer), 873 Long Drive, Aberdeen from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Sunday; M &T Bank Stadium (Pfizer), 1101 Russell St., Baltimore from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Sunday; Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital (Pfizer), 1 W. Pratt St., Baltimore from 10 a.m.-noon Monday through Saturday (Baltimore City residents only); Greenbelt Metro Station (Pfizer), 5717 Greenbelt Metro Drive, Greenbelt from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 2-6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (Moderna), 550 Taylor Ave., Annapolis from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday except when there are sporting events; Wicomico Youth & Civic Center (Pfizer), 500 Glen Ave., Salisbury from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Sunday; Hagerstown Premium Outlets (Pfizer), 900 Premium Outlets Blvd., Hagerstown from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Sunday. Walk-up times and capacity may vary, so be prepared to wait.
Capacity limits on social gatherings in Anne Arundel County were lifted Tuesday. During a Tuesday morning briefing, County Executive Steuart Pittman said the remaining limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings would end at 5 p.m. State COVID-19 restrictions remain in effect, but “they’re not specific to social gatherings,” Pittman said. The move comes as coronavirus cases in the county dropped below 19 per 100,000 residents in the latest numbers, down from 23 at the height of the most-recent surge. “We are expecting and recommending that people continue to mask and [practice] social distance,” Pittman said. While case numbers are down, the county is also experiencing what county Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman called “a pretty steep dropoff” in vaccination rates. Last week, county-run vaccination clinics began the week with 5% of appointments still available; this Monday, 70% of appointments were available. “That is a cause for concern,” Pittman said, noting that roughly half the adults in the county have been vaccinated. “We have a lot of work to do.” He and Kalyanaraman said the county is making efforts to reach out through advertising and social media, as well as through community leaders, to people hesitant about taking the vaccine, but that people needed to look at the big picture too. Before another fall and winter surge of cases can get going, Pittman said, “This is the moment that every adult has a choice to make: We either end this pandemic or we allow it to continue.” Getting vaccinated for the sake of the entire county, he said, was not only a matter of personal protection, but also “a chance to do something truly great.” Kalyanaraman added that vaccinations lead to such developments as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcement Tuesday that masks are no longer required outdoors if there is proper distancing. “It makes sense. This is what vaccinations are for,” Kalyanaraman said, adding that with more people vaccinated, more mandates can be lifted. The executive order also ended the 15% commission cap on food delivery companies in the county.
Outdoor concerts will return to Wolf Trap this summer. After being closed last summer due to the pandemic, Wolf Trap will celebrate its 50th anniversary season with its first live music performances since December 2019. “Since opening in 1971, concerts at Wolf Trap have helped define the summer for generations of music lovers,” President and CEO Arvind Manocha said in a press release. “Our pandemic intermission is nearing its end, and the resumption of concerts can finally begin — an important first step forward for us all. We couldn’t be happier to welcome patrons back.” The Wolf Trap Opera kicks off its season with Bologne’s 1780 chamber opera The Anonymous Lover (L’Amant Anonyme) on June 18. This rarely-staged work will be performed in collaboration with the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Geoffrey McDonald and directed by Kimille Howard. Toward the end of June, Wolf Trap will host a series of “Thank You Community Concerts,” celebrating front line healthcare and education workers. Marin Alsop will conduct the National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic on June 24, followed with three ensemble performances by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band on June 25, 26 and 27. On July 1, Wolf Trap will host the special anniversary concert Fifty Years Together: A Celebration of Wolf Trap, starring Cynthia Erivo, the NSO under the direction of JoAnn Falletta, world-renowned soprano Christine Goerke and Van Cliburn International Piano Competition silver medal recipient Joyce Yang. On July 2 and 3, Emma Griffin directs Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in Concert in partnership with the NSO conducted by Roberto Kalb. Americana-folk duo Watchhouse (formerly Mandolin Orange) performs on July 7. The NSO performs Beethoven and Bologne on July 8 and 9. The concert will feature Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Bologne‘s Violin Concerto in A major No. 2, played by Italian violinist Francesca Dego under the direction of Jonathon Heyward. Max Weinberg of The E Street Band presents an interactive jukebox on July 10 and 11. The Wolf Trap Orchestra performs Viardot’s Cinderella (Cendrillon) and Holst’s Sāvitri conducted by Kelly Kuo and directed by Amanda Consol in a double bill July 16. New Orleans jazz legends Preservation Hall Jazz Band arrives July 17. D.C. go-go music icons Big Tony and Trouble Funk take the stage July 18. Acclaimed singer-songwriter Amos Lee brings a stripped down show on July 21 and 22. STARias: Opera’s Most Powerful Moments on July 23 features Wolf Trap Opera alumni Tamara Wilson (soprano), Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano), Paul Groves (tenor) and Ryan Speedo Green (bass-baritone) performing from Tosca, La bohème, La traviata, Rigoletto and Faust. Renowned mandolinist Chris Thile defies genre with solo shows July 24 and 25. Grammy winner Aoife O’Donovan joins The Knights to play Americana on July 28. The War and Treaty brings a unique style of musical fusion on July 29. Norm Lewis (Da 5 Bloods) joins the NSO for Broadway show tunes July 30 and 31. In addition, Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods presents Inez Barlatier’s Ayiti: Stories and Songs from Haiti on July 20; Oran Etkin’s Timbalooloo in Finding Friends Far From Home on July 21; Dan + Claudia Zanes’ New Beginnings on July 24; Joanie Leeds’ All The Ladies on July 27; Elena Moon Park and Friends on July 28; and Maryland Youth Ballet performing Snow White on July 31. “During the pandemic, people rediscovered and enjoyed Wolf Trap as a beautiful national park for fun outside, but nothing says ‘Wolf Trap’ like live performances,” Supt. George Liffert said. “The National Park Service’s long-standing partnership with the Wolf Trap Foundation makes this harmony of arts and nature possible, and we are looking forward to celebrating.” Tickets will be sold in socially-distanced pods of two to eight seats. Ticket buyers must buy a full pod; no single tickets will be sold. All tickets will be delivered electronically. Tickets go on sale to the public at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 7. Tickets may be purchase either online or by phone at 877-WOLF-TRAP. August and September concerts will be announced at a later date.
The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday delayed the deadline for air travelers to have a Real ID-compliant ID, pushing it back until May 3, 2023. The most recent deadline was Oct. 1, 2021. The change allows air travelers more time to update their IDs due to the ongoing pandemic. DHS officials said that obstacles brought about by COVID-19, including the closure of state motor vehicle offices, caused the most recent delay. Over the past decade, REAL ID enforcement has stalled after states failed to comply with the security requirements for issuing the updated driver’s licenses. About 119 million of the 274 million state-issued driver’s licenses and IDs are REAL ID-compliant, according to DHS. That is a 43% adoption rate. A DHS spokesperson said the national adoption rate increases approximately 0.5% each month. That is a drop from a 1% adoption rate the month before the COVID-19 pandemic began. “Protecting the health, safety and security of our communities is our top priority,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a press release. “As our country continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, extending the REAL ID full enforcement deadline will give states needed time to reopen their driver’s licensing operations and ensure their residents can obtain a REAL ID-compliant license or identification card.” A Real ID, which has a star at the top of the card, will be required by travelers 18 or older to board a plane, enter a federal building or a military base. Passports, military IDs or Global Entry cards also will qualify to get through airport security. The Real ID Act passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks after several of the hijackers improperly obtained state IDs. All 50 U.S. states, D.C. and four of five U.S. territories are covered by the REAL ID Act. Americans must undergo a more stringent ID check when applying for a REAL ID-compliant card, incorporating new security features that prevent counterfeiting. According to DHS, state licensing agencies in several states have shifted to appointment-only scheduling amid the pandemic, closing the window of opportunity for many Americans to update their licenses. DHS also said that various state agencies need time to implement requirements mandated by the REAL ID Modernization Act, including changes that will streamline processing by allowing the electronic submission of certain documents.
As D.C. COVID-19 cases trend downward and vaccination numbers rise, city officials will ease restrictions on dining, retail establishments, fitness centers and places of worship beginning May 1. On Saturday, number of people who can sit together at a table will increase from six to 10 and alcohol can be served outdoors without purchasing food as has been a requirement throughout the pandemic. Live music will also be allowed for summer gardens, courtyard dining and sidewalk cafes. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who announced the changes during a press conference Monday, did not relax the 25% capacity limit on dining. Gyms and fitness centers can operate at 50% capacity but no more than 250 people while indoor fitness classes can include up to 25 people. Places of worship may increase capacity to 40%, but virtual and outdoor services are still encouraged, especially for those who have not been fully vaccinated. The changes are in addition to rollbacks Bowser announced earlier this month, which also go into effect on Saturday. Entertainment venues like concert halls and movie theaters, as well as special event spaces, may increase capacity to 25%. Entertainment venues are capped at 500 people, while special events like weddings or seated conventions will require a waiver if attendance exceeds 250 people. Also, public and private pools may open with health and safety plan in place, but only guests may use hotel pools. Outdoor splash pads may open at full capacity. Since last week, the city has sustained a community spread metric within the “moderate” zone for the first time in several months, an indication of the city’s ability to further rollback pandemic-era business restrictions, according to Bowser. On Monday, D.C. reported a daily case rate of 13.4 per 100,000 residents, a number not seen since last fall. Bowser also pointed to the city’s vaccination progress as further justification for the changes. As of Monday, 363,307 residents were partially or fully vaccinated. Bowser said future changes to the city’s COVID-19 restrictions will come as officials continue to monitor case and infection rates. She said she hopes to further relax restrictions by July 4 if the trends continue. “We’ll look at what vaccinations and infections are doing, to see if we’re able to forecast sometime in advance,” Bowser said Monday. “We will likely have another forecast of what future activity could open pending our vaccination levels and infection rates moving in the right direction.” She added that the city is moderating restrictions “where they’re warranted and safe,” but emphasized the need to get residents vaccinated in order to get closer to a return to normal. “The way we get open is to crush the virus and to get people vaccinated,” she said.
D.C. will transition 11 COVID-19 vaccine sites across the city from preregistration to walk-up sites on Saturday, after health officials said the city has reached an “equilibrium” in supply and demand for the vaccine. The clinics do not require an appointment. They are located at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW; Fort Stanton Recreation Center, 1812 Erie St. SE; Kenilworth Recreation Center, 4321 Ord St. NE; Lamond Recreation Center, 20 Tuckerman St. NE; Langdon Park Community Center, 2901 20th St. NE; Providence Health System, 1150 Varnum St. NE; Rosedale Recreation Center, 1701 Gales St. NE; Turkey Thicket Recreation Center, 1100 Michigan Ave. NE; University of the District of Columbia, 4200 Connecticut Ave. NW; Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mt Vernon Pl. NW; Entertainment and Sports Arena (May 1 only), 1100 Oak St. SE; and RISE Demonstration Center (after May 1), 2730 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE. Some sites will be able to administer hundreds of doses a day while others will be able to do thousands of vaccinations. Days, hours and available vaccines will be listed on vaccinefinder.org. Residents do not need to bring ID or have insurance to get vaccinated but presenting an insurance card will help reimburse some of the cost to the provider partners. The vaccine is free for everyone. The walk-up sites are only for residents 18 and older and walk-up vaccinations are only available for first doses. Staff will schedule second doses when patients get their first dose. Residents who want a scheduled appointment can register online with pharmacies, like CVS and Walgreens, or healthcare providers. Residents who are 16 or 17 years old can get vaccinated at Children’s National Hospital by registering at childrensnational.org. “Vaccination is becoming easier and easier,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said during a press conference Monday. D.C. has partially or fully vaccinated 237,354 residents, Bowser said, adding “there are a lot of people who still need to be vaccinated.” Bowser also announced that the city will stop accepting pre-registrations for the vaccine on Wednesday. The system still will send out appointment invitations for those who preregistered already. D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said D.C. was able to move quickly through most of the people who pre-registered, which allowed officials to open the walk-up sites. She added that the supply of and demand for the vaccine is almost equal right now but could tip either way. She encouraged residents to talk to neighbors and friends about getting vaccinated, particularly with the arrival of more accessible shots. She suggested having potentially tough conversations, even telling friends and relatives, “I won’t hang out until you’re vaccinated. We need that chorus to get even louder … of grassroots folks, of neighbors telling neighbors ‘this is the benefit of getting vaccinated. I did it. You should do it, too,’” Nesbitt said. “It’s going to help our community move along.” Bowser said the spread of the virus has slowed and that the community spread metrics are all out of the “red” category now. D.C. has been in the “moderate” category since last week, which marked the first time in months that the city had dipped out of the “substantial” category. “Thank you for all that you’re doing to adhere to health guidance and to get vaccinated because it is making a difference,” Bowser said.
With half of county residents having received at last one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, the Montgomery County Council is set to vote on lifting some restrictions today. The county passed 50% over the weekend and expects to have half of residents fully vaccinated in the coming weeks. Currently a little over a third of residents are fully vaccinated, according to county health data. Meanwhile, the county’s COVID-19 case rate is half of the state’s case rate, which is 17 cases per 100,000. Residents. “These data I believe are a validation of the very difficult decisions we’ve made to keep our public health measures in place, to address racial and social inequity in vaccine distribution, and to reopen responsibly following the guidance of our public health team,” Council President Tom Hucker said during a press conference Monday. Today, county councilmembers sitting as the Board of Health will vote on a proposal to loosen some restrictions as the county meets vaccination distribution milestones. The proposal would increase indoor gathering capacity limits to 50 people and outdoor limits to 100 people. The measure would also increase business capacity, except restaurant, to 50% from 25%, as well as reopen touch exhibits at museums and galleries, and pedestrian concourses in malls with tables and chairs inside. If the council votes in favor of these changes, they will go into effect immediately. As the county reaches 60% of residents having received a first dose, 250 people will be allowed at indoor gatherings and there will be no limit on outdoor gatherings under the plan. Also, businesses, restaurants and churches will be allowed to have 75% capacity, campsites can accept visitors from outside the DMV, conventions and banquets may have 50% capacity, and cigar and hookah bars can permit smoking outdoors. When county reaches 50% of residents fully vaccinated, the proposal would bring county restrictions in line with statewide requirements. Deputy Health Officer Jeff Bridgers said while case numbers are moving in the right direction, officials will continue to monitor hospitalizations and consider all data as they move forward with loosening restrictions. The county council will hold a public hearing at 10:30 a.m. today on the proposal to lift restrictions.
Prince George’s County no longer requires preregistration for COVID-19 vaccines at county health clinics. The county said in a press release Monday that people who live or work in the county can go to the county’s vaccine website, pick a clinic and make an appointment. People without web access can call 311 and press the pound key. The website handles first appointments. For people getting a two-dose vaccine, the second appointment will be scheduled during the first one, the county said. People needing to change the second appointment, can email the county or call 311. “The county’s vaccine supply and administration capacity have grown to the point where we can give residents even more convenience and predictability in the process to get these safe and highly effective vaccines as quickly as possible,” Dr. George L. Askew, deputy chief administrative officer for health, human services and education, said in the release. People looking wanting to go to one of the state-run mass vaccination sites can schedule appointment at covidvax.maryland.gov or by calling 855-634-6829. The county also has an interactive map.
With baseball, hockey and other professional sports gradually reopening to fans, Metro will extend service for games that run past the system’s 11 p.m. closing time. Metro announced Monday that, from Tuesday through the end of the year, it will “flex” service an additional 30 minutes after a game ends (until midnight) and will waive the fees normally charged to teams for extra late-night service. “Metro is proud to be a part of this community, and we are excited to welcome back fans and workers who support our home teams,” General Manager and CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld said in a press release. “We welcome them to ride Metro on game day with the assurance that Metro will be there for them on the ride home.” If Metrorail service is extended beyond the normal closing time, the following stations would remain open: Nationals/D.C. United – Navy Yard; Wizards/Capitals – Gallery Place; Washington Football Team – Morgan Boulevard; and Mystics – Congress Heights. Other stations will be exit-only. Metro changed its operating hours last year due to the pandemic, closing at 11 p.m. seven days a week.
Virginia’s colleges and universities can require students to get the COVID-19 vaccine before being allowed to attend in-person classes and activities. Attorney General Mark Herring released an advisory opinion Monday in response to a request from Del. Mark Keam of Fairfax County. Herring noted that there is no federal law prohibiting Virginia colleges and universities from imposing a vaccine requirement. He also said the boards of visitors of Virginia’s higher education institutions have been granted broad authority by the General Assembly to implement policies and regulations to protect the safety and welfare of students.
D.C.’s public health measures, including mask mandates, indoor dining closures and capacity limits on businesses, helped the city mitigate the spread of COVID-19 last fall and winter better than nearly every other state. That is according to a new report from the Office of the D.C. Auditor. D.C. ranked sixth in the nation for “apparently lessening the severity of the fall surge of COVID-19,” resulting in some of the lowest cases and fatality rates per capita. That is in large part thanks to speedy direct interventions by health officials, a resident population that widely followed pandemic policies and financial relief measures like hazard pay and eviction moratoriums, which encouraged people to stay home, the report concluded. The study by Talus Analytics and Georgetown University Center for Global Health Science and Security analyzed how well local leaders blunted the soaring case and death rates from coronavirus in the fall and winter, with a specific focus on the DMV. “The report finds that the District’s ‘enabling and relief policies’ such as foreclosure delays and leave entitlements combined with early mask mandates and measured reopening policies contributed to the District’s success in ‘bending the curve’ of cases,” according to a letter in the report from D.C. Auditor Kathleen Peterson. “A key central message … is that early action increases the success of public policy intervention slowing disease spread and saving more lives.” As the U.S. failed to contain the fall and winter surge of coronavirus cases with a unified pandemic response, D.C. saw among the best outcomes. For its part, the city saw large surges in December and even more devastating case counts in January, setting grim records that surpassed case counts during the initial spring 2020 wave. Last Thursday, D.C. dropped out of the “substantial” community spread zone for only the second time since November, a testament to the severity of the pandemic’s hold on the city over the past several months. As of Sunday morning, 1,099 Washingtonians died from the virus. While things were bad, they could have been much worse. “A major caveat on the region’s success has been the country’s failure: even the areas in the United States that had the most effective response to the pandemic had many more cases than other parts of the world,” Patterson wrote. The report looked comprehensively at D.C.’s, Maryland’s and Virginia’s responses to the pandemic throughout 2020, but narrowed in on fall and winter months, at which point stricter stay-at-home orders had largely fallen away, replaced by cycles of restrictions easing and tightening with the changing case trends. While D.C. recorded higher cases per capita than an average state during the initial spring wave last year, city officials’ early and swift public health interventions, as well as residents’ adherence to such measures, kept the city’s average cases lower than state averages for the latter half of the year, according to the report. Universal messaging around state-level mask-wearing in any public setting helped diminish coronavirus spread immensely, according to the report. Mayor Muriel Bowser was the first regional leader to mandate mask-wearing when residents leave their homes, implementing the policy last July. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan followed a week later, while Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam did not expand the mask-mandate to outdoor spaces or retail establishments until December. D.C. Health director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt has said the city has no plans to change its current mandate, although some have questioned the need for such a sweeping mandate now, with recent scientific evidence pointing to lessened risk during brief outdoor encounters. D.C. also took a more conservative approach when easing restrictions on indoor dining and increasing capacity limits on mass gatherings. Hogan increased indoor dining capacity from 50% to 75% last September, while D.C. kept indoor dining capacity at 50%, later reduced it to 25% and eventually closed it completely in late December and early January during the height of the winter surge. Beyond public health measures, the report found that financial relief mechanisms like moratoriums on evictions and utility shut-offs also correlated with spread mitigation, as more people were encouraged to stay home. “The mobility changes in D.C. also indicate that policies worked — the initial stay at home orders had the largest impact, but D.C. residents stayed at home more often than people in Maryland, Virginia and across the United States,” the report said. “Part of the success can likely be attributed to the key enabling and relief policies that were put in place in D.C. that helped support citizens through relief funding, leave entitlement adjustments, modification of unemployment benefits and eviction and foreclosure delays.” However, that’s not true for all of D.C. Wards 5,7 and 8, majority-Black wards, which have seen the highest death rates from the virus, house the highest populations of essential workers who face a disproportionate risk of exposure and were not able to pivot to working from home. And actually receiving pandemic relief wasn’t always easy or accessible to everyone equally. Some residents reported waiting months for their unemployment checks and spending hours on hold with D.C.’s beleaguered Office of Employment Services. For undocumented residents, who were excluded from traditional unemployment benefits, the city’s direct cash payments barely covered essentials. D.C.’s success relative to the rest of the country suggests that Bowser, her administration and the D.C. Council have done comparatively well in their response to the pandemic, although the mayor has faced criticism for easing some COVID-19 restrictions too early, and even manipulating some of the data to do so. It also comes despite the federal constraints that limited D.C.’s pandemic relief measures; the original coronavirus relief package in March 2020 shorted the city $755 million due to its non-statehood status, even as D.C. recording more coronavirus cases than 19 states at the time.
On Friday, Virginia launched an online dashboard tracking cases of COVID-19 variants in the commonwealth. The Virginia Department of Health and the Department of General Services’ public health lab unveiled the COVID-19 Variants of Concern dashboard, which includes variants received from participating labs of specimens that tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Variants of concern that are reported are significantly less than the total number of daily tests, however, as of last week 965 cases of the variants were reported to the VDH, according to health officials. VDH said it uses the information to estimate how many cases of COVID-19 are caused by variants circulating statewide. The dashboard will be updated weekly. As of April 23, the state reports 240 variant cases in Northern Virginia, including 210 cases of B.1.1.7, two cases of B.1.351, two cases of B.1.427, 14 cases of B.1.249 and three cases of P.1.
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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.