Md. GoVax Tour Takes Vaccine to the Shore
COVID-19 Cases Reach 1,183,591 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 48,898 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 1,132 deaths (the city only reports COVID metrics Monday through Friday); there have been 459,528 cases in Maryland with 9,387 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 675,165 cases with 11,160 deaths. You can read last week’s updates here.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan kicked off summer with a tour of the state’s Eastern Shore on Friday, including visits to pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Salisbury and Ocean City. The governor made stops at shot-and-beer clinics at Evolution Brewing in Salisbury and Seacrets, the biggest bar in Ocean City and maybe the state, as part of the GoVax Summer Tour, which will bring mobile vaccination clinics offering the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to cultural and community events, bars and brewers and other destinations across the state. The pop-up vaccination clinic at Seacrets’ entrance marked the kickoff of Maryland’s GoVax Summer Tour. As the unofficial launch of summer begins with Memorial Day weekend, there was no better place to take shots to the people than Ocean City, Maryland’s No. 1 summer tourist destination, which was already filling up with visitors by late Friday morning. Local officials said they are expecting perhaps the busiest season in history. As customers approached the massive Seacrets complex with its 18 bars, state health officials acted as vaccine barkers. Most, maskless and smiling, pointed to their arms and replied cheerfully that they were already vaccinated. But there were some takers. Coronavirus case numbers have been declining rapidly in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. since vaccinations became widely available in April. All three jurisdictions have largely lifted masking and other restrictions, although leaders advise those who are not vaccinated to continue to cover their faces and avoid close contact with others. Across the DMV, officials are seeking out creative ways to encourage more people to get inoculated. “Last summer, we were in the heart of this thing, where our hospitals were overflowing, many people were dying every single day. And really, at that point, nobody knew how to get it under control,” Hogan said during a visit to the bar. “We didn’t know where the end was. Nobody thought it would last this long. But now it’s such a hopeful feeling.” By the end of the weekend, Hogan said, state officials expect 70% of the state’s adult population will have received at least one shot, including 90% of the population over 65. For those still on the vaccine fence, Hogan offered both plea and warning. “These vaccines are very safe. They’re very effective,” he said. “We’ve done over 6 million of them in the state, and that’s why our health metrics are so good. There’s nothing to be afraid of, and it’s really the only way you can keep safe. Because even though our health metrics are great . . . there’s dangerous variants floating around the world that are in our state. If you’re vaccinated, you should feel completely comfortable. If you’re not, you’re still in danger.” Free walk-up vaccinations are available as part of the GoVax tour from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through June 6 at the Ocean City Convention Center and from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily through June 2 at the Garrett County Fairgrounds near Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland.
Beltway Brewing Company, 22620 Davis Drive, Sterling, is teaming up with Inova Health System to host a “Shot and a Beer” clinic June 2 from noon-4 p.m. Inova Health will administer 200 Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccines on the bar’s patio. Each participant will receive a voucher for a free 16-ounce beer that can be used until the end of June. Participants must be 21 years old with a valid driver’s license. In a Facebook post, Beltway Brewing said anyone who has already been vaccinated can take their vaccination card during regular taproom hours between June 2-6 to receive a complimentary tasting as well. The clinic is the latest in creative incentives to motivate people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. D.C. hosted its own “Shot and a Beer” event at the Kennedy Center in early May.
The Montgomery County Council unanimously agreed to support keeping some roads and parkways open only to pedestrians, cyclists and businesses. The program, which temporarily closed roads and parkways to allow for extra space, are in urban areas like downtown Bethesda, Silver Spring and Takoma Park. Restaurants have taken advantage of the closed streets and offered outdoor dining in those areas. On Beach Drive and Little Falls Parkway, residents have enjoyed walking, running and cycling through “temporary neighborhood greenways” as part of the corresponding Open Parkways program, according to county staff. The council’s resolution, approved Thursday, is not an official action, but a statement of support. As of April, Montgomery Parks reported 624,000 pedestrian and cyclist trips since the start of the parkways program, which began in March 2020. Many residents opposed the county’s decision to reopen Little Falls Parkway to vehicles last December. Local organizations have also supported keeping streets closed in urban areas through the Shared Streets program — including Bethesda Urban Partnership, which wants to keep its Norfolk Avenue Streetery open past summer. Many businesses, especially restaurants, have enjoyed it, as it has helped recoup revenue lost because of government restrictions and other challenges posed by the pandemic. Road that have closed to vehicles for the Open Parkways program include Little Falls Parkway in Bethesda between Massachusetts Avenue and Arlington Road; Beach Drive in Kensington between Connecticut Avenue and Knowles Avenue; and Sligo Creek Parkway in Silver Spring between New Hampshire Avenue and Piney Branch Road.
Beginning today, four Metrorail stations in Maryland — West Hyattsville, Prince George’s Plaza, College Park and Greenbelt — are closed through Sept. 6 for extensive rehabilitation to the outdoor stations. That means no Green Line service north of Fort Totten, while the Yellow Line will stop at Mount Vernon Square. Free shuttle buses will run at all stations from 5 a.m.-11 p.m. weekdays, 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturdays and 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays. Buses will run every 6-10 minutes between Fort Totten, CollegePark-U of Md and Greenbelt and between Fort Totten and Prince George’s Plaza and West Hyattsville, and every 15 minutes between Greenbelt, College Park, Prince George’s Plaza and West Hyattsville but not Fort Totten for local service. MARC Camden line trains will continue to operate at Greenbelt and College Park. Parking will also be free at the stations during the closures. The outdoor stations are almost 30 years old. The project will rebuild the concrete and stone lips of the platform, replace old tile and add amenities like power outlets, new passenger information screens and improved security cameras. Closing the stations allows crews to work more efficiently rather than having a longer period of single-tracking while the stations remain open. Metro has rehabbed more than a dozen of its aging outdoor stations and has about seven more to go. The first shutdown in 2019 was somewhat disruptive, but Metro had historically low ridership because of the pandemic this year. Metro predicts ridership will remain low in 2021. This fall, the Red Line station at Rockville will close for several months so crews can demolish and rebuild the aging canopy over the platform. Trains will end at Twinbrook at times. Next summer, stations on the east end of the Orange Line will close for platform reconstruction. Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency community vaccination site at the Greenbelt station will be accessible by shuttle bus until it shuts down Tuesday afternoon.
Starting today, outdoor pools in D.C. are reopening after more than a year of closures due to the pandemic. D.C.’s public pools have been closed since 2019. Last summer, the city was in Phase 2 of its COVID-19 reopening plan, which didn’t include opening pools and spray parks. “Last year we were disappointed that our pools were sparkling and ready for our kids and families to exercise and have fun, but we couldn’t open them so that we could crush the virus,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said Friday during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly renovated Woody Ward – formerly Benning Park — Recreation Center in Ward 7. The city is currently in the process of lifting most of its restrictions. As of May 21, restaurants, libraries, museums and other types of businesses may operate at full capacity, while nightclubs and large entertainment venues will follow on June 11. The number and severity of restrictions are going down as vaccination rates go up in the DMV. In D.C., 40.4% of residents have been fully vaccinated, according to D.C. Health data. Beginning today, D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation’s 18 outdoor pools and 33 spray parks open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays until June 27. The pools will also be open Monday for Memorial Day. Another 11 Indoor pools will follow on June 1. Starting June 28, all pools will be open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. six days a week. The outdoor pool summer schedules is posted https://dpr.dc.gov/page/outdoor-pools online. Spray parks will open daily from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. starting today. Outdoor pools will open on a first-come, first-served basis. The lap lanes at indoor pools will require a reservation, DPR Director Delano Hunter said. Masks are mandatory when swimmers using indoor pools aren’t in the water and deck chairs must be six feet apart. At outdoor pools, masks are required when indoors at recreation centers and locker rooms. Apartments, condos and hotels will be able to open pools at 50% capacity. However, hotel pools can only allow guests. The new pool located at Woody Ward Recreation Center adds to the seven existing pools in Southeast D.C. The 24,000-square-foot building is reopening after an $11 million renovation that includes the new pool, a full kitchen, a dance room with mirrored walls, a boxing ring and a multipurpose room with a drop down screen and projector.
Following the move of its Arlington neighbor, the Archdiocese of Washington lifted mask requirements and capacity limits for Catholic churches in D.C. and part of Maryland. Catholic churches in the archdiocese, which includes churches in D.C. and in Calvert, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s counties in Maryland, no longer require masks as of 5 p.m. Friday. There are also no limits on the number of people who can attend mass, the archdiocese said in a press release. Masks are still required in Catholic schools and childcare facilities. There are still a number of safety protocols in place, however. Masks must be worn by those distributing communion. Social distancing should still be practiced but can be reduced from 6 feet to 3 feet. Churchgoers may resume giving the sign of peace during mass, but should do so with a bow or wave, and not a handshake. The announcement comes as COVID-19 restrictions lift in the DMV and more residents are vaccinated. The new guidelines apply to funerals and weddings also. The Catholic Diocese of Arlington on Friday lifted COVID-19 restrictions for masses and other activities.
D.C. Public Schools are expecting a full return to the classroom come fall, but will offer a limited virtual option for those who need to stay home. “The way that we are planning for next school year is that DCPS will offer a DCPS virtual academy, and that virtual academy will be separate from the traditional operations of the school,” Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said during a D.C. Council committee hearing Friday. It will be for students who have a medical need to remain in remote learning. Families will need to have their doctor complete and return a form to their school, Ferebee said. One council member wanted to know if the absence of a vaccination amounted to a “qualified medical need.” Ferebee said it does not. “That is not a qualifying medical need, based on the guidance that we receive from D.C. Health, CDC and also, local and national pediatricians,” he said. Interim State Superintendent of Education Shana Young clarified that it is a medical need of the student that requires not to be in the classroom, and asks several questions of the family and of the consulting physician, who has to sign it, about the considerations made to determine that need. Ferebee said the school district is not anticipating requiring the coronavirus vaccine for staff and students at this time, but staff and students are encouraged to take it. Education officials are also encouraging families to get their other immunizations this summer. “So while we focus a lot on the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine, we also want families to ensure that students received the appropriate vaccinations based on the age level to be admitted to school next year,” Ferebee said. Anticipating a full return, teachers are expected to teach from their classrooms, but some teachers may also be teaching students who are part of the virtual academy. “We will utilize teachers throughout school. So, you may have a teacher from your school, you may have a teacher from another school that is teaching in the DCPS virtual academy,” Ferebee said. However, there may be unique instances when the concurrent simulcast model may be used for student who may have very specific course needs, for example if a student is taking an advanced class. “For example, if there’s a student that is taking AP chemistry, or another course that has a limited number of offerings, there may be a scenario in which they would have that class with other students that are in person,” Ferebee said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Greenbelt Metro Community Vaccination Center will shut down Tuesday after administering more than 115,000 shots. “The Greenbelt Metro CVC will continue to serve the community without interruption through Memorial Day weekend,” Tim Pheil, deputy federal coordinating officer-Maryland, said in a press release. “This is our last weekend, and we encourage people to come and get vaccinated.” The last day of operation at the site, located in the parking lot of the Greenbelt Metro station, is June 1. It will stay open even as the station closes for improvements beginning Saturday. The station will remain accessible by Metro shuttle buses, Metrobus, the MARC Camden Line and car. Walk-ups are welcome for those getting the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine or the only dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, although those getting the J&J vaccine must be 18 or older. The site is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. today through Sunday and 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday and Tuesday. The site also offers translation, sign language and deaf interpretation services. The vaccination center opened April 6. About 260 people have been working at the site, including U.S. Air Force medical personnel, who serve as vaccinators.
D.C. residents 12 and older can get a COVID-19 vaccine at four D.C. public schools beginning June 1. D.C. Public Schools said in a press release Thursday that walk-in vaccination clinics will open at Anacostia High School, Eastern High School, Luke C. Moore High School and Ida B. Wells Middle School Monday through Saturday. DCPS recommended all residents 12 and older get vaccinated. “The science is clear: Vaccines are the single most effective tool we have to stop the spread of the coronavirus,” said DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee. “To help meet our commitment to fully reopen schools for every student, every day in the fall, it is our responsibility as a community to get vaccinated, including our middle school and high school students.” The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is currently the only one approved for children 12-17, who must have a parent or guardian sign a consent form before receiving a vaccination. The COVID-19 vaccine is not required to attend school in D.C. this summer or fall, although all childhood vaccinations must be up to date to attend, the school system said. The clinics are open 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-7 p.m. as follows: Ida B. Wells Middle School, 405 Sheridan St. NW, Wednesday through Saturday; Luke C. Moore High School, 1001 Monroe St. NW, Monday through Thursday; Eastern High School, 1700 East Capitol St. NW, Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; and Anacostia High School, 1601 16th St. SE, Monday through Thursday.
The Catholic Diocese of Arlington lifted COVID-19 restrictions for masses and other activities beginning today. Bishop Michael Francis Burbidge said in a video message Wednesday, “We can once again celebrate as a community, without the need for social distancing or capacity limits.” People who are not vaccinated are “encouraged to wear a mask for the time being,” he said. Also, people who have “a grave concern or a serious medical condition” are still not obligated to attend mass — “the dispensation is still in place,” Burbidge said. An announcement lifting the dispensation will come soon, although he added that those who are “sick or homebound even outside of a pandemic are relieved of the obligation. For everyone else, I implore you: Please join us again at the table of our Lord.” He praised the resourcefulness and courage of priests during the pandemic, as well as the generosity of donors who were able to help the diocese continue to provide aid for people who needed it. But Burbidge said that while livestreamed masses serve a purpose, “nothing can replace receiving our Lord in the Holy Eucharist.” He added, “If you’re not here celebrating with your brothers and sisters in Christ, something is missing. I have been waiting more than a year to give you [this] good news,” Burbidge said. “Now is the time.”
Maryland revised the number of COVID-19 deaths in the state Thursday by adding 517 deaths that were not properly classified over the past year. The Maryland Department of Health said the update brings the total number of deaths from COVID-19 in Maryland to 9,368. There were five more deaths over the past 24 hours. The state also raised the number of probable cases with COVID-19 listed as the cause of death by 21 to 213. The health department said through maintenance exercises the Vital Statistics Administration identified that some medical certifiers had miscoded the cause or probable cause of death.
A rental housing task force set up by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in January recommended “phased end” to the city’s eviction moratorium, based on COVID-19 case numbers, court capacity, the availability of eviction prevention resources and funding for rental assistance. The eviction ban, which the D.C. Council put in place in March 2020, is intended to protect D.C. tenants during the pandemic and limit the spread of COVID-19. But it has become the target of landlords, who say some residents take advantage of its protections. The 30-member task force delivered its recommendations in a report posted on the Department of Housing and Community Development website. It said members had “significant disagreement” about how to end the city’s eviction moratorium, but they ultimately agreed that evictions should be allowed to ramp back up “under a narrow set of defined causes, when necessary to ensure health and safety in residential communities while respecting the public and individual health goals of the eviction moratorium.” The language was devised by four members in particular, according to the report: Josh Bernstein, CEO of Bernstein Management Co.; Ralph Boyd, CEO of So Others Might Eat; Randi Marshall, vice president with the Apartment and Office Building Association of Greater Metropolitan Washington; and Marian Siegel, executive director of Housing Counseling Services. Tenant advocates have criticized the number of landlord representatives Bowser appointed to the task force. An attorney with Legal Aid D.C., which represents low-income residents in rental housing disputes, said the group was “stacked with landlord and developer representatives.” The final list of task force members includes six representatives of for-profit housing providers and one tenant representative. Landlord groups such as the Small Multifamily Owners Association have pressed the D.C. Council to weaken the eviction ban. A proposal introduced by Chairman Phil Mendelson last week would have allowed evictions to resume as long as landlords attempt to apply for federal rent assistance on the tenants’ behalf, inform them about rental aid options and provide proper notice. The council shot down the proposal, opting to revisit it after a public hearing about how to equitably wind down pandemic safety net provisions. Council is expected to reconsider changes to the eviction ban during its next legislative session. Lawmakers voted 12-1 last month to allow evictions of tenants who present “a current and substantial threat” to their neighbors, household members and building staff. The city funneled more than $350 million federal dollars into its Stay D.C. program to help tenants pay rent during the health emergency, but tenants and landlords both said there are problems with the application process that are limiting its effectiveness. Bowser asked the task force to “advise on how to handle immediate, emergency issues like eviction and distressed properties in a way that puts the District in a good position to meet the mayor’s housing goals during a recovery period and beyond,” in addition to other priorities. In the report, the group also recommends prioritizing rental assistance for the highest-risk residents; increasing funding to allow more tenants to purchase their buildings under the city’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act; supporting more housing density; creating incentives to retain or attract affordable housing in wealthy communities; convening a commission focused on rent control; and harnessing federal funds to create more affordable housing. Bowser on Monday pledged $400 million for affordable housing spread across the current fiscal year and 2022. The task force’s recommendations were sent to leaders of the city’s housing agencies for their consideration, according to the report.
This is the last week that the Prince William Health District will operate free COVID-19 testing sites. Free testing will be offered today from 2-6 p.m. or until test kits are depleted at Splashdown Water Park, 7500 Ben Lomond Park Road, Manassas. The health district said there has been a significant decline in residents getting tested. However, testing and vaccinations are two essential tools for ending the pandemic. The George Mason University MAP Clinic will continue to offer COVID-19 testing from 9 a.m.-noon Tuesdays and Thursdays. The MAP Clinic, 99 Tremont St., Manassas Park, is for the uninsured and underinsured. It will continue to partner with the health district to provide testing to those who cannot find opportunities in the community. A mobile vaccination clinic will be held at Americana Grocery, 14429 Jefferson Davis Hwy., Woodbridge, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on June 6. It will offer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for anyone 12 and older. Registration is available online.
D.C. will shutter several walk-up COVID-19 vaccination sites in the coming weeks. Clinics at Arena Stage, the RISE Demonstration Center, the University of the District of Columbia and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center will close by the end of June, D.C. Health announced Wednesday. Arena Stage will close on June 27. From June 7-27, the site will offer Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The RISE Demonstration Center will shut down June 30. Beginning June 10, it will also offer the J&J vaccine. The UDC site closes June 24 and will offer J&J starting today. And the convention center site closes June 20. It will offer the J&J vaccine on weekends and Pfizer vaccine on weekdays beginning Saturday. Residents wanting a vaccine other than Johnson & Johnson at one of the sites may choose to receive either Pfizer or Moderna but will need to find another provider for their second dose. The Turkey Thicket Recreation Center and Kenilworth Recreation Center sites will both shut down on Monday, and provider Giant Food will transition to giving vaccination in stores only. On or around June 1, according to D.C. Health, vaccination sites in Department of Public Recreation building will relocate to schools as DPR prepares for summer camps. The site at the Lamond Recreation Center will relocated to the Ida B. Wells Middle School; the Langdon Park Community Center site will move to Luke C. Moore High School; the Rosedale Recreation Center site will transfer to Eastern High School and the Fort Stanton Recreation Center site will relocate to Anacostia High School. Residents can still visit United Medical Center in Southeast, Community of Hope health center in Southwest or Providence Health System in Northeast for walk-up vaccinations. Some D.C. pharmacies are now offering vaccines, and homebound residents can call 855-363-0333 to receive a free vaccination at home. The closures follow Mayor Muriel Bowser’s announcement earlier this week, urging faith-based organizations, community groups or employers to directly request a vaccine clinic from the city through a vaccine exchange program. In addition to its walk-up and pharmacy vaccination sites, the city has been partnering with local churches and places of worship to host pop-up vaccine clinics. As of Wednesday, 40.4% of D.C. residents are fully vaccinated, and 51.2% are at least partially vaccinated. In the same press release, the D.C. Health said the Judiciary Square testing site will shut down Friday. Residents can visit other testing sites or get at-home test kits at any D.C. Library. Finally, D.C. Health said it will immediately begin releasing updated vaccination data on Wednesday mornings instead of Mondays and that the COVID-19 dashboard will only be updated Monday through Friday. Data from Saturday and Sunday will be incorporated into Monday’s data.
Prince George’s County will lift its mask mandate at 5 p.m. Friday. Masks will still be required in schools, healthcare settings and on public transportation, in line with Gov. Larry Hogan’s statewide order lifting mask requirements earlier this month. Businesses may decide to continue to require masks, and County Executive Angela Alsobrooks on Wednesday called on residents to respect these policies. “You don’t know a person’s situation, whether they were sick, whether they lost a loved one … so please be respectful of a person who says ‘I’m not comfortable taking off my mask’ or a business, if that business says ‘we prefer for you to keep the mask on,” Alsobrooks said. “You don’t know what that business has experienced, whether a number of their employees were sick at some point. Let’s be respectful of each other.” Throughout the pandemic, Prince George’s County, one of Maryland’s hardest hit jurisdictions, has not followed in step with Hogan’s reopening and has taken a more conservative approach. Prince George’s joins neighboring Montgomery County and D.C., where officials already dropped mask mandates for fully vaccinated individuals. Alsobrooks noted during a Wednesday press conference that it may take some time for residents to feel comfortable without masks, but said the county’s plummeting case rates justified the decision to end its mask mandate. The announcement comes after she lifted restrictions on most business and activities May 17. “I know that some of you remain concerned about lifting the mask mandate and I want you to hear me — I understand your concern. Prince Georgians have suffered greatly during this pandemic, and we were so hard hit. I know that we’ve experienced the worst that this pandemic can do, and so those days have not been forgotten,” Alsobrooks said. “For those who are not comfortable removing their mask at this point … there is no problem with you continuing to wear it.” As of Wednesday, the county reported a positivity rate of 1.9%. Prince George’s has held that metric below 5% for at least a month. During the spring 2020 surge, the positivity rate passed 40% in the county. The seven-day moving average of new cases per 100,000 residents has also dropped from nearly 60 during the winter peak, to below 5.0 as of Tuesday, the lowest since the beginning of the pandemic. The significant decline in new cases can be attributed, at least partially, to an increase in vaccination rates across the county. So far, Prince George’s has administered more than 700,000 vaccines: 327,348 residents are fully vaccinated, or about 36% of the county’s total population. Alsobrooks stressed the importance of increasing the county’s vaccination rate and encouraged residents to open the door to the county’s vaccine canvassers, who are offering information about immunizations and connecting people with ways to get their vaccinations. “This is necessary because we have reached a point where the supply for the vaccine has outpaced the demand,” Alsobrooks said. “We are really doing everything we can from the government standpoint to make sure we’re not waiting for you to come to us.”
Black D.C. residents account for eight out of every 10 coronavirus cases. According to D.C. Health, 48% of COVID-19 cases the week of Dec. 20 were in Non-Hispanic Black populations. During the week of May 17, that number had risen to 80%. “I got a troubling statistic from [D.C. Health Director] Dr. [LaQuandra] Nesbitt today that the percent of people of color — Black and Brown people — who are getting COVID has gone up,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a call Tuesday with Ward 8 leaders. Bowser said the numbers are a direct result of vaccine hesitancy and pushed people who have received the vaccine to encourage others to get it. “It’s also helpful if people talk to people that they know — tell them what your experience is. and why it’s so important to get vaccinated,” Bowser said. Almost 20% of Black D.C. residents were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, compared to nearly 30% of white residents, according to the Washington Post’s vaccine tracker. Cases involving people of color started spiking in April, about the same time the vaccine became widely available. “And that is a direct function of vaccination, so COVID is not anything to mess with — people need to go and get this vaccine so we can get back to life,” Bowser said. She added that as D.C. continues to open up, it is important for people to get vaccinated to protect themselves from the virus. “As the world opens up, it becomes less hospitable to people who aren’t vaccinated — in a social sense, but more importantly, in a health sense.” She said if people do not get vaccinated, there could be a spike in cases. “You’re putting yourself at risk and you’re putting the city at risk, because if this virus kicks up again among unvaccinated communities, it could drive our numbers up and shut us down, and none of us wants that,” Bowser said.
The remaining Smithsonian museums will reopen this summer with timed-entry passes and some COVID-19 restrictions in place. The Smithsonian Institute announced Wednesday that the museums set to reopen to the public this summer include the National Museum of Natural History on June 18; the National Museum of African Art and the National Museum of Asian Art Freer Gallery on July 16; the National Air and Space Museum and Smithsonian Castle on July 30; the Anacostia Community Museum on Aug. 6; the Hirshhorn Museum on Aug. 20; and the National Postal Museum on Aug. 27. People wishing to visit one of the museums need to get a free timed-entry pass for every member of their group, regardless of age. Passes can be reserved online or by calling 800-514-3849, extension 1. Visitors will be limited to six passes. The passes cannot be sold or transferred. All visitors under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Seven Smithsonian institutions have already reopened, including the National Zoo. A spokesperson said the Smithsonian was were excited to make the museums available to the public, although there were some challenges involved in getting them ready to reopen. “It takes a lot of planning and resources to reopen these museums,” the spokesperson said. “All of the ones opening between June and August have been closed since March 2020 due to COVID, so that staggered schedule is just simply to give us the time and to spread the resources we need to reopen these buildings again.” Timed-entry passes will become available one week before each museum reopens. A full list of openings, along with the days and times each museum will operate, can be found on the Smithsonian’s website.
Montgomery County Public Schools’ students will be in classrooms full-time, with a teacher, in the fall. Interim Supt. Monifa McKnight told the school board Tuesday that a return to a more normal schedule will be the “default” for the district that has been slow to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic. There will also be a full-time virtual option for students who cannot return to buildings for health or other personal reasons. But every student who wants to be in a classroom in the fall “absolutely will,” McKnight said.“In-person is the default,” she said. “The expectation is that all of our students will come back. For those who have extenuating circumstances, there is a virtual option. Outside of that, all other students, we are excited to welcome them back to an in-person experience in the fall.” Later in the meeting, McKnight said classes will be taught by a teacher who is in the classroom, as well. This spring, while some students returned to buildings and others continued learning from home, some teachers taught classes virtually while students in classrooms were supervised by other staff members. “We are expecting staff back to accommodate the in-person experience,” McKnight said, adding that some staff members will be assigned to the fully virtual option. A more comprehensive plan for the fall semester is expected to be presented at a June school board meeting. MCPS officials have said since March that they are “planning” for a “more typical” school year beginning in the fall. But the lack of specifics have driven concerns that the district would continue to rely on virtual options or models that include teachers working remotely. About 18,000 people responded to a recent survey to gauge the level of interest in the virtual academy, according to Chief of Engagement Innovation and Operations Derek Turner. Roughly 20% of those who responded said they were interested in the virtual option, he said. But data from other districts with a virtual option show that closer to 10% of students register. The “virtual academy” will be a yearlong, all-virtual option available to students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Students who apply and are accepted into the program will remain enrolled as students at their “home schools,” but will take all of their classes online. Students will be allowed to participate in in-person sports and extracurricular activities and receive meals at their home schools. MCPS is still determining the criteria students must meet to be accepted into the fully virtual model. Associate Supt. Peter Cevenini said the district will meet with “every single person who applies” to examine whether it is a good fit. During Tuesday’s meeting, Associate Supt. James Koutsos said, in alignment with county COVID-19 guidelines, face coverings will not be required at outdoor graduations for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Graduation ceremonies are scheduled to begin June 2 through June 17. “We ask that people be respectful of those who choose to wear masks and of those who are not required to wear them,” Koutsos said. MCPS staff members said that 662 children ages 12-17 were vaccinated at a clinic at Argyle Middle School last week. In total, about 770 doses were administered. A second school-based clinic is scheduled for today at Paint Branch High School. Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, said Tuesday that 39,143 children ages 12-17 in the county have received at least one dose of a vaccine. There are about 86,000 eligible children of the same age in the county. MCPS is planning for a third clinic in partnership with the county health department in the upcounty area on June 2. The district is also considering having vaccination sites permanently stationed in some schools throughout the summer. Potential locations were not disclosed during Tuesday’s meeting.
Most school districts in Maryland had third quarter attendance rates of 90% or better, according to the Maryland State Board of Education. Baltimore City Public Schools had the lowest attendance rate of 79% overall. Montgomery County Public Schools’ attendance rate for the third period was slightly more than 95%, while neighboring Prince George’s County Public Schools was just less than 92%. High school attendance rates were slightly lower, with MCPS high school students at 94% and PGCPS at 89%. Throughout the pandemic, school districts attempted to weigh the impact of virtual learning. The Maryland State Department of Education’s information on failure rates is presented in raw numbers, not percentages, but shows that failure rates among high school students in math and English were typically greater than failure rates in science and social studies. In PGCPS, 9,593 high school students failed English and 9,220 failed math during the third quarter. In MCPS, 6,721 high school students failed English and 7,491 failed math. The data showed that six of the state’s school districts had more than half of students learning fully in person, six had more than half of their students getting hybrid instruction, five had more than half of students getting virtual instruction and seven districts “did not have a majority of students in any one learning mode.” According to the data, Maryland school districts reported students were adjusting well to in-person learning and had “more positive social-emotional outcomes when they were engaging in in-person learning compared to fully virtual instruction.” At the same time, the report said many districts found a number of students and families expressed some anxiety and stress related to COVID-19 exposure and in-person interaction. When it came to where teachers were conducting classes, the information on third quarter instruction showed 23 school systems had 80% of teachers in the same physical location as their students. MCPS is the one school system that didn’t include data on that question. During Tuesday’s discussion by the State Board of Education, State Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon, was asked about the board’s resolution calling on school districts to return to in-person learning in the fall. Board member Vermelle Green asked if there were a “drop-dead date” or last possible date for schools to report back to the board to say whether they would comply with the board’s resolution. “It would be an expectation that schools are in-person instruction on the first day of their calendar,” Salmon said. “I’ll just put my 2 cents in that there’d better be pretty darn good reasons” for any school system to apply for a waiver. Board member Lori Morrow asked if there’s existing data on why some parents would want to continue with virtual learning. Salmon responded that schools should not be offering virtual learning as an option in the fall. “There needs to be a qualitative reason to continue something we know that — for a majority of the students — has not been successful.” Another question that has been a major concern for educators and parents is how schools will address any learning loss by students. State Board of Education data show that 18 school districts are offering some kind of extended learning opportunities during the fourth term and that all of the districts are providing some form of summer school. PGCPS just announced its “Summer Learning Spark.” The district will offer what it says are “opportunities for acceleration, enrichment, intervention, credit recovery and original credit” to students from pre-K to through 12th grade.
Seven more Montgomery County Public Libraries will reopen in mid-June, after county officials announced earlier this month that six branches would reopen June 1. Montgomery County Public Libraries announced in a press release Tuesday the following branches would reopen June 14: Aspen Hill Library, 4407 Aspen Hill Road, Rockville; Damascus Library, 9701 Main St., Damascus; Davis Library, 6400 Democracy Blvd., Bethesda; Little Falls Library, 5501 Massachusetts Ave., Bethesda; Long Branch Library, 8800 Garland Ave., Silver Spring; Potomac Library, 10101 Glenolden Drive, Potomac; and Quince Orchard Library, 15831 Quince Orchard Road, Gaithersburg. Library officials said that all remaining branches, except for Germantown Library and the Noyes Library for Young Children in Kensington, will reopen July 6. Once the branches reopen, there will be no social distancing requirements, no capacity limits and no appointments necessary. Originally, the first six branches to reopen required appointments, but that no longer will occur. The six branches scheduled to open on June 1 are Connie Morella Library in Bethesda, Gaithersburg Library, Marilyn J. Praisner Library in Burtonsville, Olney Library, Rockville Memorial Library and Silver Spring Library.
Maryland’s chief judge updated COVID-19 health measures for courthouses and judicial facilities to enable vaccinated people to enter them without face coverings beginning next week. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera issued five orders Tuesday in response to modified protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are effective June 1. “Recent changes to the CDC guidance for those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 allows the Maryland Judiciary to move forward consistent with these protocols” Barbera said in a press release. “More and more Maryland residents have responded to the call to be vaccinated, and COVID-19 infection rates have dropped steadily throughout Maryland. We will continue to monitor the state and local jurisdictions closely and respond as necessary to protect, as much as possible, the health and safety of all who use the courts and their services, as well as the Judiciary personnel who serve them.” The new orders allow all judicial employees and court visitors over the age of 2 who are fully vaccinated to enter judiciary facilities without masks. That is unless the administrative judge or state court administrator determines there are certain settings that may require them.
As coronavirus restrictions are lifted, many DMV residents are planning to hit the road this summer. More than 70% of D.C. residents and more than 60% of Maryland and Virginia residents said they are planning to take a trip this summer, according to an AAA survey. “This is the year when people really want to travel,” said John Townsend, manager of public and government affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic. He said the survey showed about a quarter of D.C. residents and about 20% of Virginia and Maryland residents are planning longer, more extravagant trips, or “revenge trips” as the AAA is calling them. “They’re trying to make up for or compensate for the time they lost last year,” Townsend said. The survey also found that 36% of D.C. residents, 31% of Virginians and 29% of Marylanders are traveling this summer because of a need for a “quick getaway.” AAA is projecting about 2.8 million people in the DMV will travel more than 50 miles this Memorial Day, which is about a 60% increase from last year. They also expect nine out of 10 of these travelers to travel by car. “They are suffering from cabin fever and wish to break that spell,” Townsend said. Nationally, more than 37 million Americans expect to get away for the holiday weekend. When it comes to the coronavirus, AAA found that travelers are still concerned about travel safety. Of D.C. residents, 43% said they still have COVID-19 related travel concerns as do 38% of Marylanders and 31% of Virginians.
Businesses and organizations in D.C. can request a COVID-19 vaccine clinic for their groups through a partnership between D.C. Health and the Office of the Chief Technology Officer. Through the Vaccine Exchange Program, faith- and community-based organizations, as well as D.C. employers, can submit requests for a vaccine clinic, and providers would be able to accept those requests and schedule clinics. “This public-private partnership allows the District to help meet the demand of employers looking for ways to protect their workers from COVID-19 and its devastating results,” D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said in a statement. The clinics can take place indoors or outdoors but must be able to accommodate three spaces for check-in, vaccine administration and post-vaccination observation. Social distancing must also be maintained. Organizations interested in getting a clinic set up must coordinate with the vaccinator for site visits, site preparation and scheduling; recruit a minimum number of people to be vaccinated at the event to prevent vaccine waste; commit to organizing two events within the recommended intervals for when both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines should be administered; and communicate key information on first and second doses. They must also gather and ensure participants provide all information and documentation needed by the vaccinator and provide staff and volunteers to assist the vaccinator with clinic operations, including check-in, wiping down surfaces, directing patient flow and enforcing masking and social-distancing requirements. Organizations interested in offering a vaccination clinic can submit a request on the Vaccine Exchange Program site.
The University of Maryland’s athletic teams will play before full crowds come fall. On Monday, the university said the lifting of COVID-19 gathering and distancing restrictions in Prince George’s County made the move possible. Masks will still be required for anyone older than 5, including those who are vaccinated, UMD said, citing county health regulations. “We knew the day would come when we could welcome our loyal Terp fans back to our venues at full capacity in a safe manner,” Athletic Director Damon Evans said in a press release. “This is wonderful news for our community and the entire state of Maryland. We are excited to have every seat available for our Terp family to come out and cheer on our Terrapins.” The football team plays seven games at home in College Park, starting with West Virginia on Sept. 4 and concluding with Michigan on Nov. 20.
Virginia is 343,000 first doses away from having 70% of adults vaccinated, but herd immunity may not be possible without immunizing more young people. “We’ve done really well in our 65-and-up population. I mean we’re at 80+% there, but where we are not doing as well – and it’s not just Virginia, it’s everybody – is young people,” Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia’s vaccine coordinato, said during a press conference Friday afternoon. He said Virginia is on track to meet President Joe Biden’s goal of vaccinating 70% of adults with at least one dose by July 4. As of Sunday, 65.6% of Virginians 18 and older have been vaccinated with at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine according to the Virginia Department of Health. Avula noted that federal approval of the Pfizer vaccine for children 12-16 has been critical in helping the state meet the goal. More than 7.8 million vaccine doses have been administered to Virginia residents. The commonwealth’s population is about 8.6 million. Northern Virginia is slightly ahead of state numbers, with 69.4% of adults having received at least one dose and 53.6% fully vaccinated, according to data from the Northern Virginia Regional Commission. However, to reach herd immunity, Avula said vaccinating a much larger percentage of people ages 16-30, as well as children below the age of 12, may be required. “It may not be until we have authorization for younger children that we get to that goal of herd immunity,” he added. Younger people 20-29 have experienced the largest share of COVID-19 cases, 19.5%, by age group in the commonwealth, according to VDH. Avula said state and local public health officials have been ramping up their efforts to reach younger people and reduce barriers to obtaining the vaccine. “We’ve used some community ambassadors in that age group, but I think it means doing more on site at employers, making it really convenient for young adults who aren’t necessarily against being vaccinated, but just haven’t been compelled to, to make an appointment or to you know go out of their way to get vaccinated.” He did not say if any of these methods are helping to increase vaccinations among younger people, but noted that meeting the current goal of 70% of adults with at least one vaccine dose is a step in the right direction. “It’ll take about somewhere between 7,000 and 8,000 new adults … vaccinated each day for us to meet that goal, which I think we can easily do,” he said. COVID-19 case and hospitalization numbers continue to improve statewide and in Northern Virginia. As of Sunday, the state’s seven-day average of new cases was down to 406, its lowest level since April 16, 2020. The seven-day average in Northern Virginia stood at 72 cases a day. The average fell as low as 69.3 on Wednesday, the lowest since April 1, 2020. Hospitalizations for treatment of the virus hit a new low Sunday of 543 statewide since data began being reported in early April 2020, with patients in intensive-care units at 160, up one from Saturday’s new low of 159. In Northern Virginia, hospitalizations fell to 125, tied with May 14 as the lowest level since the data were first reported.
Prince William County Public Schools’ graduation ceremonies at Jiffy Lube Live will have unlimited seating for guests and face masks will be optional. The change follows new state guidelines set to go into effect May 28, which will lift coronavirus social distancing and capacity restrictions. “In alignment with Virginia guidelines which will go into effect on May 28, 2021, there will be unlimited seating available for guests of graduates at our commencement ceremony,” said a senior update from C.D. Hylton Senior High School. The announcement comes after the school board asked Gov. Ralph Northam waive the 6-foot social distancing requirements for outdoor graduations. These will be the first on-time and restriction-free high school graduation ceremonies PWCS has had in two years, as last year’s graduations were canceled and later pushed to August due to the pandemic. Only Colgan High School and Independence Nontraditional School are holding graduation ceremonies on school property. All of the other county high schools will hold graduation ceremonies at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow. The school district revised the times of some of the ceremonies, so the new schedule at Jiffy Lube Live is as follows: C.D. Hylton High School, June 3, 6 p.m.; Gar-Field High School, June 4, 2 p.m.; Patriot High School, June 4, 7 p.m.; Forest Park High School, June 5, 9 a.m.; Potomac High School, June 5, 2 p.m.; Osbourn Park High School, June 5, 7 p.m.; Woodbridge High School, June 6, 5 p.m.; Brentsville High School, June 7, 2 p.m.; Battlefield High School, June 7, 7 p.m.; Freedom High School, June 8, 2 p.m.; and Unity Reed High School, June 8, 7 p.m. Colgan High School’s ceremony will be at 9 a.m. on June 5 at the school, and the Independence Nontraditional School graduation is scheduled for 9 am. on June 7. All the graduation ceremonies will be live-streamed with a digital program included, the district said.
Fairfax County libraries will be return to more normal operations on June 5. “Patrons will once again be able to visit FCPL branches without time or capacity limits to enjoy the full range of library services and resources,” library officials said in a press release. Libraries were closed at the beginning of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, then reopened with limitations in place only to be shuttered again when there was a spike in cases late last year, then returned again to limited in-person operations. Beginning June 5, regional libraries will be open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Community branches will be open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. They will be closed Sundays. Fully vaccinated patrons won’t be required to wear masks but “are welcome” to if they choose, library officials said. Under the revised operating rules all time limitations will be eliminated and capacity restrictions also will end; meeting rooms, access to public computers and in-person programming will resume; returned materials will no longer be quarantined; fines will again be assessed for materials returned late; and curbside services will remain in operation from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on days branches are open.
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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.