Traffic at National, Dulles Still Down 75%
COVID-19 Cases Reach 1,166,966 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 48,164 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 1,110 deaths; there have been 452,691 cases in Maryland with 8,652 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 666,111 cases with 10,885 deaths. You can read last week’s updates here.
Recent data shows reasons for some optimism, but the fact remains that local airports continue to face challenges attracting passengers during the pandemic. Year-over-year passenger counts were down two-thirds at Washington Dulles International Airport and about four-fifths at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in February, according to new data from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. A total of 312,617 passengers traveled through Reagan National in February, down 82.2% from February 2020. The 527,196 passengers at Dulles represented a drop of 66.1%. Combined, the drop at the two airports was 74.6%. At Reagan National, dominant carrier American Airlines saw its passenger totals fall 81.5%, although its overall share of passengers rose to 53.8% from 51.9% the prior year. At Dulles, dominant carrier United Airlines’ domestic-passenger count was down 59.1% and its international-passenger count fell 75.7%. Its market share has grown from 68.4% a year in 2020 to 78.5% in February 2021. The two airports are facing different challenges on the road back to normal. At Reagan National, the downturn is due largely to the whopping decline in business travel since the onset of the pandemic, and because the facility largely handles origin and destination passengers, rather than those transiting between two points. At Dulles, declines in international service have had the biggest impact. In addition to United’s drop, declines have included an 84.6% drop in Lufthansa’s passenger count, an 89.3% fall for Air France and a 91.2% decline for British Airways. Air China service remains suspended entirely. For the 12 months ending in February, passenger counts were down 80.5% at Reagan National and 75.4% at Dulles. Combined, the drop was 77.9%. At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, operated by the Maryland state government, the 751,501 passengers going through the gates in February represented a drop of 58.0% from a year ago. Throughout the pandemic, BWI has benefited from its focus on domestic leisure travel, a segment of the market that has held up more strongly than business travel. Southwest Airlines, long the dominant carrier at BWI, retained that distinction February, with a passenger share of 71.7%. For the 12 months ending in February, the passenger total at BWI was down 66.8% from a year ago.
Beginning June 6, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority will expand late-night service to 36 of the busiest Metrobus routes across the DMV. Metro will also restore some routes that have been out of service during the pandemic. Since August, Metrobus has been running until midnight daily. The changes will bring bus service back to 85% of its pre-pandemic levels, Metro said in a press release. Service will extend to 2 a.m. seven days a week on the 32, 33, 36, 38B, 52, 70, 80, 92, A6, A8, G8, H4, L2, P6, S2, U5, V2, W2, W4, X2, A12, C4, D12, F4, J2, K6, P12, T18, Y2, Z8, 1A, 7A, 10A, 16E, 23B, 28A and 38B routes. Service will be restored to pre-pandemic levels on the 60, W3 (Saturday) and C29 (Saturday) routes. Weekend service will be restored on route 62. Weekday service will be restored on routes 18J, 23B, 23T, 26A and 28F. Routes C26, 11C (new), 17K, 21C (new) and 22F will increase during rush hour service. Service adjustments will be implemented to improve service and reliability on routes 30N, 30S, 32, 36, 64, 96, A2, A4, M4, W3, W5, D13, D14, G12 and G14. Also, beginning July 10, Fairfax Connector will take over operations of routes 3T, 15K, 3A, 29C and 29W to restore and provide enhanced service to key areas in Fairfax County with connections to the McLean, East Falls Church, West Falls Church and Pentagon Metrorail Stations. Metrobus Route 3T will become Fairfax Connector Route 703, 15K will become 715, 3A will become 803, 29C will become 834 and 29W will become 835. Since last summer, WMATA has been ramping up services it cut at the outset of the pandemic, including re-opening Metro stations and increasing the frequency of trains and buses. At a recent meeting, board members acknowledged they would need to incentivize riders to return to the transit system as the region reopens and are considering lowering fares to attract riders.
D.C. Health’s COVID-19 vaccination clinics that use the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will begin accepting walk-in patients ages 16 and 17. The change in policy was announced Friday in a press release. Previously, teens and their families had to make appointments through Children’s National Hospital. Families can still do that if they prefer, the health department said. Pfizer is currently the only vaccine approved for people ages 16 to 17. The vaccination centers that administer the Pfizer vaccine include Arena Stage, 1101 6th St. SW, 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday; Fort Stanton Recreation Center, 1812 Erie St. SE, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. May 10-13 and 2-7 p.m. May 24-27; Lamond Recreation Center, 20 Tuckerman St. NE, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. May 8 and 2-7 p.m. May 12-15, 19-22 and 26-29; Langdon Park Community Center, 2901 20th St. NE, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. May 10-13 and 2-7 p.m. May 24-27; Rosedale Recreation Center, 1701 Gales St. NE, 2-7 p.m. May 8, 10, 13-15, 17, 20-22 and 24, and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. May 27-29; RISE Demonstration Center, 2730 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, 9 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Safeway, CVS and Walgreens pharmacies that are using the Pfizer vaccine can also vaccinate 16- and 17-year-olds, as well as MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and One Medical. Parents must accompany their teens to sign a consent form.
When some Northern Virginia schools reopen in the fall, students may not be sitting socially distanced. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines say students sit 3 feet apart in classrooms. In Alexandria City Public Schools, which will have in-person learning for five days a week this fall, the distance may not be possible. With the school district expecting most of its 16,000 students back in the classroom, Supt. Gregory Hutchings said some classrooms are too small to meet the CDC’s standard, but that doesn’t mean schools won’t be safe. “We will still be able to provide all the health and safety mitigations. We will be sure that we are, you know, incorporating anything that we need to ensure the safety of our students and our staff,” he said. Arlington County Public Schools, which has 27,000 students, is saying something similar. Supt. Francisco Duran said it would not be possible to follow the recommended guidelines in some schools. “We cannot guarantee that we will be able to maintain 3 feet between students in every classroom,” he said. Fairfax County Public Schools will decide how far students will be separated closer to when school resumes in August. However, in a statement, spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said the district might face the same issues. “Our schools will be socially distancing to the greatest extent possible, and we will continue to follow health and safety guidance to the greatest extent practicable,” she said. All of this could be moot before the August return-to-school date. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has said he may drop social distancing requirements on June 15 if cases continue to fall and vaccinations continue to rise. The CDC could also update its school guidelines before school starts, as well.
Democratic leaders from some of Maryland’s largest jurisdictions joined calls for a statewide eviction moratorium in a letter sent this week to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, arguing a more robust stay on evictions would give them time to set up rent relief programs. In the letter, local leaders said they need more time to get federal rent relief funding to tenants and landlords. The letter, which was posted to the Maryland Association of Counties’ website, was signed by Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, along with county executive Calvin Ball of Howard County, Steuart Pittman of Anne Arundel County and Jan Gardner of Frederick County, Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott and Baltimore City Council President Nick J. Mosby. “We have the funding to keep people in their homes, but the state and counties need time to ensure that it reaches our communities,” they wrote. “Governor Hogan, we urge you to take the critical step of declaring a targeted 90-120-day moratorium on failure to pay rent and tenant-holding-over eviction hearings in order to provide that time.” Tenant-holding-over actions, which can occur when a tenant remains on a property after a lease ends, have seen an increase during the pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, housing advocates have called on officials and legislators to expand current protections to include tenant-holding-over filings. In asking for a longer moratorium, the local leaders joined a broad coalition of housing advocates, community groups and faith organizations that have petitioned Hogan for a 90-120 day moratorium on evictions after several tenant relief efforts failed to pass during the General Assembly’s 2021 legislative session. That coalition argues that Hogan’s current executive order, which provides tenants a defense in certain eviction cases if they can prove a substantial loss of income tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, won’t be enough on its own to protect tenants as courts work through a massive backlog of eviction cases. That order is tied to Maryland’s state of emergency. “Right now in many counties across the state, thousands of people are suddenly simultaneously facing eviction and courts are using ‘rocket dockets’ to work through case backlogs,” the letter and an accompanying petition said. The local leaders wrote that a temporary stay on evictions would benefit tenants and landlords alike: Tenants would have time to apply for assistance and get relief funding, and landlords wouldn’t have to deal with “time-consuming and costly process of evicting tenants and re-leasing units,” the letter reads. Maryland received more than $400 million in rental assistance funding during the pandemic, with more on the way as part of the latest federal stimulus package, according to the letter. Hogan’s order was effective in keeping many tenants in their homes, particularly while courts were closed due to COVID-19, the local leaders said, but some evictions are still slipping through. “In this challenging time, many people fail to attend hearings for a number of reasons, including COVID-related health concerns and inability to take time off of work,” the letter said. Between 109,000-204,000 renter households and Maryland could be at risk of eviction, according to estimates. Earlier this week, a federal judge vacated a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stay on evictions, arguing the agency had overstepped its authority in issuing such an order. That order largely mirrored Hogan’s emergency tenant protections in providing renters with an affirmative defense in court.
Virginia could lift most of its COVID-19 pandemic restrictions by mid-June if the current trend of falling case and rising vaccination numbers continue. Gov. Ralph Northam said during a press conference Thursday that the state is planning to do away with social distancing requirements and restrictions on gathering sizes on June 15, provided COVID-19 cases continue to drop and the pace of vaccinations doesn’t let up. “If our COVID case numbers keep trending down and our vaccination numbers keep going up, we plan to lift our mitigation measures, capacity restrictions and social distancing requirements,” Northam said. He didn’t set any specific benchmarks for what would or wouldn’t cause him to change his mind. The state is currently reporting fewer than 1,000 new cases per day. “We’re not at the finish line yet,” Northam said. “But we’re approaching a time where we can think differently about how we interact, especially people who are vaccinated.” Northam didn’t say the state would lift its face mask requirement but said officials would continue evaluating the state’s guidance. However, the commonwealth’s state of emergency is set to end June 30 and wearing a mask in public in Virginia is not permitted unless there is one. Virginia was already set to relax some restrictions on May 15 by allowing up to 100 people at indoor gatherings and 250 people at outdoor gatherings. Entertainment venues will be able to operate at 50% capacity indoors, up to 1,000 people, and 50% outdoors with no cap. Also, restaurants will be able to sell alcohol after midnight and dining rooms can stay open later. The number of new daily coronavirus cases in Virginia has steadily dropped over the last two weeks and the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are the lowest since October, Northam said. Nearly 46% of people in the state have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. “That’s a big deal after a hard year,” he said.
Hours at three COVID-19 vaccine clinics in Prince George’s County will be extended this weekend. The Prince George’s County Health Department announced the extra hours on Thursday. The Southern Regional Technology and Recreation Center, 7007 Bock Rd., Fort Washington, and the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center, 7120 Contee Rd., Laurel, will be open from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. today. The Wayne K. Curry Sports and Learning Complex, 8001 Sheriff Rd., Landover, is open I a.m.-8 p.m. today, as well as 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Vaccinations are free but appointments are necessary. Appointments can be scheduled online or by calling 311 and pressing the # key. The clinics are open to anyone 16 or older, but people 16 or 17 must have a parent or guardian with them to sign a consent form.
The Washington Football Team plans to allow full capacity of fans at FedEx Field for the 2021 season. The team said in a press release Thursday it will deploy safety and public health measures at the stadium. The NFL schedule will be released May 12, and the regular season will begin in early September. During the 2020 season, the team allowed a small number of fans in the stadium for only a few games. “We take our responsibility to create a safe return for fans very seriously, and we do so with the confidence and collaboration of our state and local public health authorities with whom we stay in constant contact to assure proper protocols are in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said team president Jason Wright. The state of Maryland, where FedEx Field is located, allows outdoor venues to operate at 50% capacity, and the Washington Football Team has recently held events at the stadium, including serving as a voting site for the Peruvian election, the team’s 2021 NFL Draft Night party and Catholic University’s graduation ceremony this weekend. The events have adhered to strict COVID-19 protocols, the team said, including requiring all attendees to wear masks and socially distance from others. “Maryland continues to make steady progress on our health and economic recovery and working with the Washington Football Team to get fans safely back to FedExField is an important part of that process,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in the press release.
May is peak wedding season, but D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s recent order banning dancing at wedding receptions makes it hard for the couple to celebrate with family and friends. Changes that took effect Saturday allow venues to host events such as weddings at 25% capacity or 250 maximum, but attendees must “remain seated” and “standing and dancing receptions are not allowed.” Bowser said during a press conference on tourism Wednesday that she is following the guidance of D.C. public health officials. But venues, wedding planners and, most importantly, brides and grooms aren’t happy with her decisions. “You might look at this differently. You might say that for 14 months, we haven’t been able to host weddings at our venues, our hotels, and now we can. So I think people will book here, and I am very hopeful about that,” Bowser said. But many couples are rescheduling or moving their nuptials out of D.C. to Maryland and Virginia where dancing and standing are allowed. Couples, especially those who had to reschedule their 2020 weddings, are frustrated. But they aren’t the only ones. Venues that are seeing cancellations also express frustration at losing the first real business in over a year. City Winery has been closed since the pandemic and just opened up for wedding season this month. They have already seen weddings canceled this month. “There are all kind of crazy rules that are being instituted and some make sense and some don’t make sense,” owner Michael Dorf said. “The way we’re approaching it, is if everyone is vaccinated or has a negative test result. Dr. [Anthony] Fauci believes it’s safe to have some social gathering with some distancing and safety.” Speaking to last week’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated outoor mask guidance, Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said there are a lot of indoor activities that fully vaccinated people can confidently resume as long as they also wear masks, such as going to a barbershop, riding public transit with capacity limits or going to the movies. Dorf said enforcing the dancing ban falls on the venues, and it would be a tall order. “How do you tell the 80-year-old grandma and grandpa of the bride when they hear some klezmer music and they start moving their big ol’ tushies because they are dancing? Is it really up to the venue to tell them to sit down. These things are very challenging,” he said.
Maryland no longer requires appointments to get a COVID-19 vaccination at any of the state’s 13 mass vaccination sites. Gov. Larry Hogan made the announcement during Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting. Nine of the sites were already offering walk-ups. “Walk-ups have been an incredibly successful tool, and we are now able to make them available at all of our mass vaccination sites across the state. The sooner we get more Marylanders vaccinated, the sooner we can put this pandemic behind us once and for all,” Hogan said. Walk-up times vary, so be prepared to wait. Hogan on Tuesday said Maryland was ahead of President Joe Biden’s goal of making vaccinating 70% of adults with at least one dose by July 4. Maryland has administered nearly 5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses. Roughly 85% of Marylanders 65 and older have received at least one dose and 62% of all Marylanders 18 or older have received at least one dose. Hogan said his own goal is to “get things back to normal by Memorial Day, which is coming up very soon.” No-appointment vaccinations are available locally at Montgomery College (Pfizer, Moderna), 20200 Observation Drive, Germantown from 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; Six Flags America (Pfizer), 13710 Central Ave., Bowie from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Saturday; Regency Furniture Stadium (Pfizer), 11765 St. Linus Drive, Waldorf from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; the 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; and Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (Moderna), 550 Taylor Ave., Annapolis from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. Marylanders can get a guaranteed time by visiting covidvax.maryland.gov or calling 855-634-6829 from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
Children’s National Hospital now has a waitlist for children ages 12 and older to get the COVID-19 vaccine if the Food and Drug Administration issues an emergency use authorization for the vaccine in children. The waitlist is for children who live in D.C. or Prince George’s County. Pfizer has been conducting clinical trials on its vaccine’s effects on children and expects to receive the needed authorization in the next few weeks. It will also seek approval for use in children between 2-11 as early as September. Currently, no vaccine has been granted full approval by the FDA for any age range, instead receiving emergency use authorizations. In anticipation of the authorization, Children’s National launched a website where parents can sign their children up for the wait list. The website stresses the hospital is currently only vaccinating patients between 16-22, but eligibility criteria could soon change. Since March 3, the hospital has administered more than 3,600 first doses of the COVID vaccine to people 16-22. Roberta DeBiasi, chief of pediatrics, said the hospital is preparing for the vaccine to get authorized in the next two weeks. “We’re going to be distributing the vaccine at Children’s … for residents of D.C. and Prince George’s County — we’re limited to those two jurisdictions so far, we hope this will expand over time,” DeBiasi said. “We are taking preregistration, so you can contact Children’s hospital … and as soon as this is approved, we’ll contact you with an appointment.” She said the hospital has set up the preregistration page in the hopes of getting the vaccine distributed quickly once authorization is given.
Fairfax County Public Schools will offer all students in-person learning five days a week in the fall with a limited, centralized virtual program for students with documented health and medical needs. The virtual program is a response to the impacts of COVID-19 and the school district does not plan to offer it beyond the coming school year, FCPS officials said in a press release. Families must apply in order for their student to continue receiving virtual instruction in the next school year. FCPS currently has 85,396 students attending in-person instruction with more than 80% of them attending in person at least four days a week. The school district’s in-school COVID-19 transmission rates remain less than 1%, even with the reduced social distancing to 3 feet in schools. “We are excited to welcome all students and staff back to our buildings for the in-person experiences that we all missed this fall. We are encouraged and hopeful that learning in the fall will look as close to normal as possible. Over the past year, perhaps more than ever, we are reminded of the crucial role our schools play in our community as a gathering place where creative thinking, a culture of caring, and lifelong connections are fostered,” Supt. Scott Brabrand said in the release. “While we are busy planning for the fall, we do recognize that some students, in very limited circumstances, may have a documented health or medical need for virtual instruction. Today’s announcement will help ensure that we are able to continue to serve all.” While Virginia school districts must provide five days of in-person learning to any family who wants it for their students in the fall, school districts are not obligated to provide a virtual option for all students. Unlike Virtual Virginia, the Fairfax virtual program will be taught by FCPS teachers and accommodate students with special education needs and those who require English as a Second Language services. Some specialized programs will not be available, however, including some immersion, Advanced Placement courses and specialized career and technical programs. Also, while there may be options for virtual students to participate in activities or athletics, they will be made on a limited, case-by-case basis. Course offerings in the virtual program will be limited and will be subject to student enrollment and staffing. The school district will send a letter to all families with students who are currently virtual this week and will ask them to declare their intent to apply for the virtual program. Families choosing to apply must complete a COVID-19 Health Eligibility Form, which requires a health/medical certification of need completed by a licensed physician, nurse practitioner, psychiatrist or a licensed clinical psychologist. The health forms and enrollment application must be submitted by May 21.
The D.C. Inspector General will audit the city’s Department of Employment Services following months of delayed unemployment insurance payments and technical problems that have left many workers without income. D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman announced the audit during a joint oversight roundtable of the agency Wednesday morning. OIG sent a letter May 3 informing DOES Director Unique Morris-Hughes that the audit’s objectives will be to assess the agency’s responsiveness in processing unemployment claims and “controls over the accessibility, availability and reliability of the UI systems.” OIG said preliminary audit fieldwork will begin on or about May 12. Agency audits can take months and may or may not result in legislation or administrative changes to fix any issues that are found. D.C. Council members took testimony Wednesday from unemployed workers who have struggled to collect benefits from the agency, which was overwhelmed by new claims at the beginning of the pandemic and continues to experience delays with no clear resolution in sight. “I was always on hold for at least an hour, and they would hang up on me,” said Brittany Goddard, a recent graduate of Howard University who lost her catering job during the pandemic, and has never received benefits despite months of phone calls and emails to DOES. “It’s been over a year at this point, and I haven’t gotten a single dime yet.” Michael Haresign, chair of the D.C. Bar and Restaurant Workers Alliance, said an audit “is necessary to understand why DOES has been unable to fulfill its mandate.” He added that problems with benefits have eroded the public’s trust in the city’s safety net, and “an independent audit… is the first step to restoring that trust.” According to DOES, more than 143,000 new claims for unemployment benefits were filed in D.C. between mid-March and mid-September. That is more than five times the number filed in all of 2019, according to federal data. In February, the city announced it was investing an additional $11 million into DOES after the coronavirus exposed major shortcomings in the system. But workers testified that they are still experiencing delayed payments and confusing or nonexistent communication from agency staff about their claims. “‘There’s a glitch in the system’ can’t continue to be their excuse,” Jesus Campos said. Another oversight hearing is scheduled for May 12. Morris-Hughes is expected to testify along with the contractor that operates the agency’s unemployment benefits website.
With D.C.’s COVID-19 case rate falling and the number or residents getting vaccinated rising, the 437-bed field hospital at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center is being dismantled. “We’re winding that down,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said during Destination D.C.’s annual travel rally at Audi Field Wednesday. “If we haven’t started to break it down, the breakdown of that facility is imminent.” Destination D.C. is the city’s tourism marketing arm. Now Bowser and tourism officials want to return the convention center to its original use and are expecting a rise in domestic tourism this year. They announced a $2.5 million plan to begin welcoming visitors back again, hoping tourists will revive the industry and bring back tourism jobs. The initiative includes marketing and advertising campaigns, both of which were suspended last spring. “We are making travel and hospitality a top priority for our recovery,” said Bowser, who also announced a new giveaway that will award 51 residents of D.C., Maryland and Virginia with prizes and gift cards ranging from $500-$25,000 to spend at city restaurants, shops, entertainment venues and hotels. In 2020, D.C. lost $6.1 billion in tourism revenue as national borders closed and travel between states was restricted. From March 2020 to March 2021, visitor spending in the city was down 68% compared to the prior year, leading to thousands of layoffs in the hospitality industry. Industry officials say tourism is ready to bounce back. Elliott Ferguson, Destination D.C. president and CEO, said he expects a 50% increase in domestic visitors in 2021 compared to 2020, citing data from the company Tourism Economics. By 2022, domestic visitors could be back at pre-pandemic levels of 18-19 million a year. Ferguson said the ad campaign will be targeted at Maryland and Virginia residents, and others within a reasonably short drive. In addition to focusing on what people can do in the reopening city, the campaign will also highlight health and safety guidelines. “There are 50 million people that live within four hours of Washington, D.C., and that’s our market,” Ferguson said. “Not everybody is confident in terms of travel and maybe flying.” Ferguson acknowledged that international travelers, who tend to spend more, will be slower to return. “I always joke about the eighth grader coming to Washington and doing all the free things and eating at Chipotle and probably not staying in D.C. — the economic impact is not as great,” said Ferguson. “We love all visitors, but the international visitor stays longer and spends more. So they’re extremely important to us.” Ferguson said international tourism will probably not rebound until 2024. Another sector that will not come back immediately is meetings and conventions. “The word ‘hybrid’ is being thrown out there a lot,” said Ferguson, noting that many event organizers are planning to include virtual options, even as the coronavirus pandemic recedes.
Prince George’s County is targeting younger residents as the supply of COVID-19 vaccines outpaces demand in the county. About half of county residents have received their first dose of the vaccine and a third of residents are fully vaccinated. That is on par with Maryland’s more rural, conservative counties. On Tuesday, County Executive Alsobrooks said men 25-35 seem to be more hesitant to get the vaccine and bolstering demand is the county’s top priority. “We are looking for you if you are unvaccinated,” Alsobrooks said during a press conference Tuesday. “The vaccine is not just for you. We have Mother’s Day coming up. We have all of these wonderful occasions. We want people to be able to gather safely.” The county’s Vaccine Equity Team is going door-to-door to ensure residents have accurate information about COVID-19 vaccines and to help with scheduling vaccination appointments. Canvassers are targeting Bladensburg, Temple Hills, Capital Heights, Hyattsville, Oxon Hill, College Park, Riverdale, Suitland, Langley Park and Mount Rainier with door knocking, text banking, and phone calls. The county is also expanding vaccination hours this weekend at the Sports and Learning Complex in Landover, the Southern Regional Technology and Recreation Center in Fort Washington and the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center in Laurel. The sites will be open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Dr. George Askew, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer for health, human services and education, said the county has reached a point where residents who remain unvaccinated tend to say “come and talk to me about why I need to take this vaccine, and bring the vaccine to me.” For those still on the fence about the vaccine, Alsobrook said “we’re done waiting and seeing, we have plenty of information” about the vaccine. Last week, the county lifted its outdoor mask mandate and Alsobrooks said basketball hoops will be reinstalled at all county parks by the end of the week. “Lifting the outdoor mask mandate is something to celebrate, but we are not done … by a long shot,” Askew said. “Let’s get to the place where we can shed our masks no matter where we are. Getting vaccinated in the key to unlocking the world.”
The pace of Montgomery County residents getting COVID-19 vaccinations has slowed, and people in their 20s and 30s seem to be driving the slump. Last week, there was 19% reduction in vaccine uptake across all providers in the county, Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said during a County Council meeting Tuesday. Compared to the average over the previous five weeks, last week saw a 25% reduction. “This is consistent with numbers that are being seen across the country, so this is not a Montgomery County-specific phenomenon,” Stoddard said. “We are seeing a reduction in vaccine uptake, and I speculate that No. 1, the people who were really gung-ho to get the vaccine have largely gotten it. Now, we’re moving into that next tier, which is not necessarily the people who are hesitant but the people who have other barriers or impediments, or for whom there isn’t the same sense of urgency to get vaccinated.” Stoddard said the county is working on ways to remove barriers to getting vaccinated. In addition to those who are dead-set against being vaccinated or who express some reservations about doing so, there are some people “who are willing to be vaccinated if the opportunity is made more convenient,” he said, such as by having night and weekend hours at vaccine clinics. Broken out by age group, people in their 20s and 30s are getting vaccinated at a lower rate than older residents, county Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said. Currently, about 85% of residents 65 and older have received at least one dose compared to 70% of people 40-64. However, residents younger than 40 are lagging with just 56% having received at least one dose. “We’ve had great success in getting our older populations covered,” Gayles said. “We now have … close to 80% of those age groups being fully vaccinated. We’re continuing to see increases in the percentage for the 40- to 64-year-old group. The area that seems to be lagging behind is our 17- to 39-year-olds.” Anyone 16 or older are eligible for the vaccine. Gayles referred to the demographic as the “doughnut group,” saying he suspected it would continue to pose the most challenges even after the Pfizer vaccine is approved for use in young people ages 12-15. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for young people as early as next week. Gayles said the county is already planning how to target vaccinations to a newly-eligible population of teens if the FDA approves Pfizer’s emergency-use application, meeting with officials in both the public school system and nonpublic schools. “Our team has been working on looking at logistics in terms of how to best be able to provide that, whether that would be going to school directly or creating central sites for adolescents and young adults to come in.” Council member Hans Riemer suggested the county follow other states by giving out movie tickets or restaurant gift cards. “As we’re seeing from the changing pace of vaccinations, we’re gonna have to work harder,” Riemer said. “Not that anything was easy, but the easier part in a sense, is sort of behind us. The harder part is ahead of us, and we’re probably going to need to work harder to get all the way to the finish line.” The slowing demand is causing the county, which initially saw a race to secure appointments, to shift to more walk-up appointment at its Germantown mass vaccination site. The county is continuing to make appointments for the site, but will also offer walk-up vaccinations daily from 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Stoddard said. “If you just have a few minutes at your lunch break, you want to run over and get vaccinated, we’re going to accommodate you there too,” he said. County health officials said they have “exhausted” the once-considerable preregistration list, as well as the preregistration list supplied by the state. Gayles’ office has been working to identify and communicate with homebound residents who need vaccinations, and he said the county, working with its Aging and Disability Resource Unit, hoped to start performing vaccinations for that group by the end of the week.
The Kennedy Center will offer a free shot and beer from 4-8 p.m. Thursday … but the shot is a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Tuesday that anyone 21 or older who gets the J&J vaccine at the Kennedy Center will receive a free beer from Solace Brewing Co. No appointment is necessary.
Students 16 and older in Anne Arundel County Public Schools can get COVID-19 vaccines at clinics at 12 of the high schools. The clinics, which are also open to school district employees, will be held from noon-3 p.m. on May 12, May 19 and May 26. The clinics will use the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has been approved for ages 16 and older. The clinics will be held at four schools each of the three Wednesday, and second-dose clinics will also be held at each school. “This COVID-19 vaccination initiative with the school system helps to preserve and protect the well-being and education of county youth,” county Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman said in a press release. “We’re working together to improve health equity by increasing access to vaccines for students throughout the county.” Parents and guardians will get information from the school system on how to register for each clinic.
The Maryland Department of Health issued an order Tuesday requiring nursing homes and long-term care facilities to publicly report vaccination data for all residents and staff on a weekly basis. The data will posted on the state Department of Aging’s dashboard and in each facility to provide “full transparency” to families and the public, Gov. Larry Hogan said during a press conference at FutureCare Northpoint senior care facility in Baltimore. He took a brief tour of the facility, where 34 staff and residents were getting vaccinations. Hogan said the push is part of the state’s “No Arm Left Behind” campaign to continue the pace of vaccinations in harder-to-reach populations. The state also launched mobile vaccination teams to conduct additional clinics at nursing homes across the state, which comes as a partnership between the federal government and retail pharmacies come to an end. The plan aims to ensure that “vaccines continue to be readily available to everyone who lives and works in our nursing homes,” Hogan said. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities were “ground zero” in the fight against coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic, he said. Staff and residents of nursing homes were later among the first people eligible late last year for the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Hogan said vaccinations in nursing homes were critical to cutting outbreaks by more than 65% from a peak this past winter. Still, there have been concerns specifically about nursing home staff who have remained hesitant about getting the shots. Edwina Bell, director of nursing at St. Elizabeth Nursing Center in Baltimore, said “there was a good number of staff” who were agreeable to getting the vaccine during the first round of vaccinations carried out by the federal program. “But there was a number who did not want it,” she added. Bell said it was important for staff to see their peers getting vaccinated, “proving that demonstration can be the most powerful motivator.” She participated in the first round in part because she has a parent in long-term care. “Our time apart over the past year has been hard on both of us,” she said. “Getting vaccinated is how I get back to him,” she said. Under the federal program, three vaccination clinics were held at all 1,900 nursing homes and assisted living facilities across Maryland. Leslie Ray, with Brookdale Senior Living, said one of the company’s facilities in Prince George’s County achieved a 99% vaccination rate among its residents and 93% vaccination rate among staff. “Now, it was wasn’t always like that,” she said. “It took a while … our staff had concerns and questions and reservations.” The facility noticed that residents were much less hesitant about the vaccine than staff, so they launched a campaign called “Ask your elders,” where nursing home residents talked about the reasons they got vaccinated as an encouragement to staff members.
The D.C. government wants employees who have been working from home during the pandemic to return to their offices downtown, hoping it will help small businesses and storefronts in the area. “We know that people have been working throughout the pandemic, but now is the right time to bring people back to the office,” said Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio during a press conference with the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District in Farragut Park. The Golden Triangle BID announced the return of its Outdoor Office, which features socially-distanced furniture in the park that can be used for work and free WiFi. It will be open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays. Now in its sixth-year, the Outdoor Office was previously part of Farragut Fridays, which was canceled last year because of the pandemic. “Right now, across the District, about 10%-12% of office workers are actually in their office space on any given day,” Greg Meyer, who works with Brookfield Properties which manages many of the office buildings, said. “We need to ramp that up methodically and safely.” Most of the small businesses that include small retail and food service depend on office workers as their primary customers, and with most of them home, business has been rough. According to the BID, about 60 storefronts have closed since the start of the pandemic. Currently, about 120 storefronts are vacant. Meyer said about half of the surface level storefronts his company manages are delinquent on their rent. “We were hit by the crash of 2008, but nothing can compare to the pandemic because you don’t see an end in sight,” said Ginger Park, who owns Chocolate Chocolate on Connecticut Avenue. Park owns the chocolate store with her sister Frances Park, and they are trying to fight through the remainder of the pandemic. More than 100 businesses leaders signed a pledge last month saying they would follow D.C. Health and the mayor’s guidance on bringing large amounts of their employees back to the office. This comes as Falcicchio shared plans for D.C. government employees to return to their offices. Managers are expected to return in June with plans for other employees to return sometime in July. No plans have been released for federal employees, which numbers about 100,000 workers, to return.
No one is saying exactly what happened Friday when D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s officed issued a signed and dated executive order that said, in essence, lifted an indoor mask mandate for fully vaccinated people, including in public places like restaurant and bars. On Saturday afternoon, the mayor’s office issued a revised order that restored the indoor mask requirement, but not before confusion and fear broke out, particularly within the restaurant industry. Friday’s order went above and beyond the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says fully vaccinated individuals may “visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.” But as the guidance makes clear, it does not apply to businesses that are open to the public. During a press conference Monday to kick off the city’s summer crime initiative, Bowser was asked to clarify what the mask rules are and why the Friday order was issued. “There was an error out of my office. That’s just plain and simple. So what is correct was posted on Saturday,” Bowser said Monday. When pushed for an explanation, she referred all other questions to D.C. Health. The Friday order is still available online, although the public link been removed from the city’s website.
Maryland is offering its almost 100,000 state employee a $100 incentive to get vaccinated. “Incentives like this are another way to reinforce the importance of getting vaccinated,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a press release announcing the program. “We strongly encourage businesses across the state to consider offering incentives to their workers as well.” State employees who are already vaccinated must provide proof of vaccination to their department’s human resources office to receive the incentive pay. Employees must also agree to receive “all subsequent CDC recommended booster vaccinations” within 18 months of being fully vaccinated. A spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Health said booster doses of the vaccine have not been established yet by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “No additional doses are recommended at this time,” according to the CDC website. “Since they are receiving compensation for vaccinations, we want to also encourage them to get booster shots if and when they are needed,” a health department spokesperson said in an email. Employees who receive the incentive, but fail to get subsequent booster shots will have to pay back the $100.
D.C. launched a new website Monday meant to act as a clearinghouse for residents’ vaccination records from the flu to tetanus and COVID-19. The website allows residents to view and print official copies of their vaccination records, and their dependents’ records, at any time.. The record can also be used as proof for places that require COVID immunization. But many people, despite being vaccinated, cannot locate their data on the website, MyIR.dc.gov. Patrick Ashley, senior deputy director of Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Administration at D.C. Health, said it could be a lag in the reporting. Vaccination sites in D.C. must transmit the data to D.C. Heath’s immunization registry, which feedsthe MyIR portal. The rest comes through the CDC immunization gateway, which may take longer, he said. Most times it should show up instantaneously, Ashley said. D.C. residents who got the vaccine in a different jurisdiction may have a delay in the information posting in MyIR. People who said they got their shots at a pharmacy like Walgreens and CVS, that are outside the city’s pre-registration process, also reported issues. Some users didn’t find their COVID immunization on the main page, but it did appear on a PDF version of their record. Users also must have the correct information to access the records, like the spelling of their name, address, phone number and more. Ashley said data could be missing if providers input information incorrectly or were given an old address. Some people may have also opted not to share their records when they got the shots. Anyone having trouble finding their COVID vaccine record should use the chat function to start an investigation in which website representatives will help track down the information and get it on your record. Ashley also recommended reaching out to the provider for help. The portal is just one tool to show you are vaccinated. The vaccine card is still the most important tool, he said. “Make sure to take a picture of it,” Ashley said. Maryland has a similar vaccination record website at md.myir.net. Virginians have to fill out an online form for their vaccination record.
Prince William County Public Schools are planning for five-day in-person learning this fall. According to a plan scheduled to be presented by Supt. Steve Walts at Wednesday night’s school board meeting, virtual learning will be an option for students at all grade levels. However, a preliminary survey by the school district indicated that 85% of parents plan for their students to return to classes in person. The plan was developed with assistance from a 78-person task force that included teachers, counselors, principals, district staff and the Prince William Education Association. The school board asked Walts on March 17 to prepare the plan for in-person learning this fall. COVID-19 mitigation strategies will be followed to the “fullest extent possible,” according to the plan. They include requiring 3 feet between students, with all students wearing masks, and 6 feet between students in cafeterias. Students may share seats on school buses but will be required to wear masks. The presentation notes that the plan is subject to change based on state and federal health directives, and that incoming Supt. LaTanya McDade may choose to make changes. McDade begins July 1 following Walts’ retirement. Parents can opt-in for virtual learning for their students for the fall semester between May 24-28, according to the plan. Virtual students will be grouped together in virtual-only classes, and, to the greatest extent possible, teachers will not have to teach students online as well as those in person at the same time. Teachers who are asked to do so — or to teach during a quarantine — will receive additional compensation. Schools will follow normal bell schedules, and virtual classes will follow the same bell schedule. A limited number of classes may not be offered virtually, such as technical education classes requiring hands-on work. In addition, school-aged childcare before and after school is planned as normal at the district’s 62 elementary schools and select middle schools.
Montgomery County’s COVID-19 case rate on Sunday was the lowest it has been since late September with a seven-day average of 6.8 cases per 100,000 residents. That is the lowest since Sept. 28, when the rate was 7.4 cases. The case rate in the county increased steadily through the winter, peaking at 49.8 cases per 100,000 residents on Jan. 12. In the months since it has dropped steadily. The county reported 49 new cases of the virus on Sunday, bringing the total to 69,822 since the pandemic started more than a year ago. The county has added fewer than 100 cases for 10 of the past 11 days. The county has recorded 1,477 confirmed deaths as of Sunday from COVID-19 since the pandemic started. There also have been 46 “probable” deaths. “Probable” deaths have the coronavirus listed as the cause but have not been confirmed by laboratory tests yet. As of Sunday, 34.3% of county residents were fully vaccinated and 50.3% were partially vaccinated. As of Sunday, Maryland has had 448,989 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and 8,585 confirmed deaths.
D.C. hospitality workers who also live in the city can get a free, no appointment COVID-19 vaccination with the Moderna vaccine from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. today at Hook Hall, 3400 Georgia Ave. NW. The move is part of a push by Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture to get people in the city vaccinated. RSVP online. Last spring, Hook Hall started Hook Hall Helps, a relief center located inside the restaurant for hospitality workers that provides care kits and hot meals to current and formerly employed members of the hospitality industry. The food is prepared by local restaurants, which are compensated, to also give back and support local business. Meals and kits are handed out every Mondays between 3-5 p.m
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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.