MoCo ‘Shared Streets’ Continue for Summer
COVID-19 Cases Reach 1,188,012 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 49,158 people (June 11) have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 1,137 deaths; there have been 461,183 cases in Maryland with 9,464 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 677,671 cases with 11,293 deaths. You can read last week’s updates here.
The Montgomery County Department of Transportation will continue its “Shared Streets” program, in which select roads and parkways are closed to vehicular traffic, through the summer. The county launched the program last year during the COVID-19 pandemic to create additional public space for biking and walking, and to increase space for outdoor dining to help struggling restaurants. The outdoor dining areas have come to be known as “streeteries,” where people can eat after buying meals from surrounding restaurants. They include the Bethesda Streetery, the Wheaton Streetery, the Silver Spring Streetdine, the Streetery on Gibbs in Rockville, the Takoma Park Streetery on Laurel Avenue and the Germantown Streetery at BlackRock. County Executive Marc Elrich said in a press release Friday that he is pleased that the Shared Streets program is continuing through the summer. “As we continue to reopen, we are encouraging all Montgomery County residents and visitors to support our restaurants,” he said. “The Shared Streets programs will allow restaurants to serve more tables while diners can enjoy summer weather and festive atmospheres.” The Bethesda Urban Partnership, which manages the Norfolk Avenue Streetery in Bethesda, expressed a desire to keep it in place beyond summer. Another part of the Bethesda Streetery, on Woodmont Avenue, is managed by landlord Federal Realty Investment Trust in partnership with the county. Federal Realty is committed to keeping that part of the streetery open at least through the fall, spokeswoman Jill McCarthy said. “We love the streetery and the restaurants love the streetery,” she said. McCarthy added that Federal Realty is working with Rockville officials on also keeping the Gibbs Street Streetery open through at least the fall. The county also has transformed certain roads into “neighborhood greenways” by limiting them to pedestrians, bicyclists and local traffic only. The transportation department said in the press release on Friday that many of these roads will reopen to vehicular traffic. Last month, the County Council issued an informal statement of support for keeping some roads and parkways open only to walkers, bikers and businesses.
Gov. Ralph Northam will not renew Virginia’s coronavirus-related state of emergency when it expires June 30. “With 68.7% of Virginia adults at least partially vaccinated and cases and hospitalizations at record lows, COVID-19 is no longer an immediate emergency in our commonwealth,” Northam’s spokesperson Alena Yarmosky said Friday. “Therefore, Gov. Northam will not extend Virginia’s State of Emergency when it expires at the end of this month.” The change means an end to the last remaining public-health restrictions, but Yarmosky said people who want to wear masks, or aren’t vaccinated, are encouraged to. That could run into a complication with Virginia law, which prohibits mask wearing. In May, Northam’s general counsel, Rita Davis, said the governor would consider issuing a new state of emergency to allow for masks. Yarmosky said the statute “currently prohibits mask wearing with the intent to conceal one’s identity — the governor is confident that no Virginians will be penalized for wearing masks for health reasons. That being said, he hopes to address any ambiguity during an upcoming special session this summer.” She added that various protections for tenants were already set to remain in place after the state of emergency ends. Stays of eviction when tenants can show failure to pay rent due to the pandemic stay in effect for 90 days after the emergency is lifted. Rent support for tenants and landlords will still be available when the emergency is over, she added. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan renewed the state of emergency on May 12. A spokesman said he anticipates it will be renewed Saturday for 30 days, noting “the state of emergency largely serves to facilitate some of the administrative aspects of our response.” In D.C., the council gave Mayor Muriel Bowser the authority to extend the public health emergency until July 25 at the latest with the ability to seek 15-day extensions.
The National Park Service will hold a virtual public hearing from 6-7:30 p.m. on July 8 to get public input on the future use of the part of Beach Drive that goes from Broad Branch Road NW to the Maryland line. “We recognize that making any long-term change to the way we manage this part of Beach Drive would affect people who use, enjoy and care about Rock Creek Park – the oldest urban park in the National Park System,” Rock Creek Park Superintendent Julia Washburn said in a press release. NPS said it will offer to the public a range of “alternatives for potential changes” to northern Beach Drive. They will include an option for no changes. After hearing public commentary, NPS said it will “refine” the options and present them to the public for more feedback in the fall. NPS will also complete an environmental assessment of the potential changes. Access to the section of Beach Drive will continue to be limited. NPS limited access in April 2020 to allow for social distancing. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton asked NPS in May to permanently close part of Beach Drive in Northwest to traffic. The public can submit comments from July 8-Aug. 22.
Virginia will pay people up to $500 to return to work at small businesses across the commonwealth. In an effort to lure unemployed residents back to the workforce after months of pandemic-induced joblessness, Virginia is piloting a $3 million “Return to Earn” grant program that will match up to $500 in signing bonuses provided by eligible small businesses. Companies incorporated in Virginia with 100 or fewer employees are eligible for matching funds. Grants are available only to full- or part-time W-2 employees earning at least $15 an hour, who are hired after May 31, 2021. Businesses can receive grants for up to 25 new employees. Qualifying childcare businesses can get up to $500 without any match. “Many Virginians who lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic still face a variety of barriers to returning to work like access to affordable childcare, transportation and a living wage,” Gov. Ralph Northam, said in a press release Friday. “These bonuses will serve as an incentive for unemployed workers to get back into the workforce while also helping employers fill vacant jobs.” The program coincides with the resumption of Virginia’s work-search requirement for individuals collecting unemployment, according to the administration. As of May 31, claimants can only continue to collect benefits if they can prove they are actively looking for work. Initial claims for unemployment dropped significantly in Virginia the week before the work search requirement was reinstated, federal data show. Claims dropped slightly during the week ending June 5. Employers across the DMV and nationally have complained that many unemployed individuals aren’t re-entering the workforce quickly as the pandemic wanes, despite the wide availability of COVID-19 vaccines. Some business owners blame federally subsidized unemployment benefits for keeping people at home, although recent research cast doubt on that theory. Many restaurant workers say they aren’t going back to work because wages and tips are too low, according to a survey by One Fair Wage, an organization that supports eliminating subminimum wages in the hospitality industry. Virginia’s $3 million program is funded by set aside dollars provided under the 2014 federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and will be distributed “proportional to the number of continuing unemployment insurance claims” in each of the state’s workforce development areas. Northam may allocate more funding if the program is successful.
The Library of Congress’ annual National Book Festival is returning Sept. 17-26 with a mix of virtual and in-person events. The 10-day festival will feature conversations with a host of big-name authors, poets and illustrators, including: horror novelist Silvia Moreno-Garcia, editor and columnist Roxane Gay, Nobel Prize-winner Kazuo Ishiguro, Pulitzer Prize-winner Isabel Wilkerson, novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen and actor Michael J. Fox, who’s written a memoir. The initial list of speakers also includes young adult novelist Angie Thomas, radio journalist Maria Hinojosa and renowned poet Nikki Giovanni. Attendees can select from a list of on-demand videos, live Q&As and nationally televised events through PBS, as well as in-person, ticketed events held at the Library of Congress. NPR will also produce an inaugural series of podcast interviews with the festival’s authors. “This year, we are inviting Americans to create their own National Book Festival experiences by offering free, high quality programs in a variety of formats that they can mix and match according to their interests and schedules,” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a press release Friday. “Our stellar cast of authors, conversations on timely topics and new ways to engage will allow everyone to enjoy a personalized National Book Festival how, when and where they want to experience it.” The LOC chose “Open a Book, Open the World” as the festival’s theme to symbolize how the featured authors have opened new worlds for their readers. The library plans to release more information on events and the full author list in the coming weeks.
The National Building Museum is bringing back its Summer Block Party following a year-long pandemic hiatus. In the past, the massive displays have included a vast ball pit, a rolling hill of grass and a towering maze. This year, the museum is setting up a series of art installations. “It is a treat for the museum to be able to offer D.C. residents and visitors a variety of experiences this summer that fulfill our mission in many ways, from amazing architecture and engineering installations to engaging educational programs to partnerships with local organizations, artists, and designers,” Aileen Fuchs, the museum’s president and executive director, said in a press release Thursday. This summer’s events include smaller projects better suited for the “early post-pandemic era of smaller gatherings and social distancing.” Outside the museum, the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District commissioned local muralist Lisa Marie Thalhammer to create a lawn-based exhibit called the “Equilateral Network,” which features a series of pink triangles and walking paths that pays homage to LGBTQ Pride Month and was inspired by Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s use of geometry in D.C.’s design. The museum will also host the fourth annual Downtown D.C. Summer Flicks – Can I Kick It? outdoor free movie series. Weekly screenings on Tuesday nights will build on this year’s theme — “The Future” — and “travel through time and space across a range of science fiction movie favorites.” Each movie will be scored with an original soundtrack of hip-hop and soul by guest DJs. Inside the museum’s Great Hall, exhibits include the “Notre Dame Truss Project,” a replica of part of the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, which burned in April 2019. Organizations, including the National Park Service and Catholic University’s School of Architecture and Planning, collaborated on the project. Once the exhibit closes, the truss will be shipped to France, where it will be used to help rebuild Notre-Dame. Also inside is the “Maze of Knowledge,” an 8-foot-high labyrinth made of wooden blocks with books embedded in it that resembles a dilapidated structure. It represents how humans acquire knowledge and understanding from ancient ruins. Finally, the Lo-Fab Pavilion explores how complex structures can be built in areas where skilled labor is in short supply. The museum postponed several large programs and events last year, including the Folger Shakespeare Playhouse, an Elizabethan-inspired stage that would host family-friendly programming during the day and performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the evening. The museum closed in December 2019 to undergo renovations but was forced to stay closed due to the pandemic. The museum reopened April 9, 16 months after it closed, with to a new foundation, classroom on the ground floor and exhibition spaces.
The Citi Open, one of the country’s longest-running tennis tournaments, returns to the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center from July 31-Aug. 8. With capacity capped at 50%, organizers expect tickets, which go on sale today, to sell out quickly. Many tickets have also already been claimed by people who bought tickets for last year’ tournament and renewed them for this year. Organizers canceled the 2020 tournament last July due to international travel restrictions and “unsettling health and safety trends” caused by the pandemic. This year marks the 52nd time the tennis tournament has been held in D.C., although it has had different names over the years. Tennis legend Arthur Ashe played in it 11 times and won it in 1973. Other notable winners have included Jimmy Connors and Andre Agassi, who has won five times.
Metro will increase service and reduce some fares in an attempt to lure riders back. The Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Agency on Thursday voted to extend Metrorail hours to midnight, seven days a week starting next month and until 1 a.m. on the weekends beginning in September. Other changes, which start Labor Day weekend, include more service with trains arriving every 10 minutes on all lines and every five minutes on the Red Line during peak hours. Trains will run every six minutes on the Red Line and every 12 minutes on other lines during off-peak hours on weekdays and on weekends later in the year. After 9:30 p.m., trains will operate every 10 minutes on the Red Line and every 15 minutes on all other lines. Also, rail riders will pay a $2 flat fee on weekends and monthly passes will be temporarily cut by about 40%. The $1.50 rail-bus transfer fee will be eliminated and the price of a seven-day regional bus pass will drop $3 to $12. Twenty Metrobus lines will operate every 12 minutes or sooner and 16 other lines will operate every 20 minutes or sooner between 7 a.m.-9 p.m. seven days a week. Service will be restored or improved on an additional 46 bus routes. “I think these incentives on the table will hopefully welcome people back,” board chairman Paul C. Smedberg, said before the vote. “It will give them an incentive to get on Metro [and] hopefully resume their commuting patterns, because I think there’s one thing we can all agree on. … We don’t want people getting back to their cars.”
Montgomery County Public Schools will return to full classrooms and buses in the fall as capacity limits disappear. “We’re excited and ready to welcome all of our students and staff back in the fall,” Diane Morris, area associate superintendent in the Office of Teaching, said during an update for the school board Thursday. Bell times, bus schedules and the length of the school day will also return to pre-pandemic normal. Students will be allowed to share items once again, and the process of quarantining books and other library items until they are cleaned will end. Students who have school-issued Chromebooks won’t need to share those, as they will remain with the student until they leave the school system or are upgraded. Hallways will be open to two-way traffic and high-school students will see the return of open lunch. Morris said mask requirements will depend on current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state and county. Currently, masks must still be worn indoors, but are “highly recommended” and not required outdoors. MCPS has held several COVID-19 vaccination clinics that were open to teachers and students. As of Thursday, 70% of students 12 and older have received at least one dose. For students and families still concerned about retuning in-person, the district’s virtual academy is an option, but not for everyone. Students must apply and state the reason for needing to attend class online. Kara Trenkamp, director of instructional technology and learning management systems, said 500 students have already applied for online learning; and work to review those applications has began. The application deadline is July 2. While items, such as a student’s grades before and during the pandemic, will factor into whether a student is accepted to the virtual academy, MCPS has not yet determine what would lead to a student not being allowed to learn from home. Trenkamp said the district is still waiting for state approval for its virtual academy. When it comes to how it will work, she said online classes will line up with in-person ones. “It will mirror the brick-and-mortar school calendar,” Trenkamp said. That means students opt for in-person learning for the second semester won’t be behind when they return to the classroom.
With many D.C. residents unable to get appointments at the Department of Motor Vehicles, officials extended the deadline to renew driver licenses and vehicle registrations from July 1 to Sept. 9. DMV officials say they are ramping service back up, but not fast enough to meet the demand of people rushing to get services that were suspended during the pandemic. The situation has drawn the attention of several D.C. lawmakers, some of whom tweet as soon as appointments become available while others push the DMV to fully open to the public. “To ensure that District residents have ample time to secure appointments at the District Department of Motor Vehicles, Mayor Bowser is extending the July 1 date for valid DMV credentials to Sept. 9,” Deputy Mayor Lucinda Babers said in a statement Wednesday. Many of DMV’s services can and should be done online. According to the DMV, residents can only renew registration and residential parking permits online or by mail, for example. Vehicle inspections are first-come, first-served at the Half Street SW location or a self-service station at the Takoma Community Center parking lot. And the 92% of city residents who have a REAL ID licenses can renew online, the DMV said. The department releases new appointments daily and said it has 6,000 appointment slots each week. That will increase to 10,000 slots a week starting this week, but many of those are weeks out with the earliest being in early July. Later this month, the Rhode Island Avenue service center will return to full capacity after only being open Saturdays during the pandemic. It isn’t clear how many residents need to visit the DMV. The department wasn’t able to quickly provide an estimate of expiring registrations and licenses.
D.C.’s Alcohol Beverage Control Board voted unanimously Wednesday to stop requiring city restaurants, bars and nightclubs to collect contact-tracing information of guests and offer a reservation system. The requirement ends June 11, when the last of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s pandemic-related restrictions on nightclubs and other large entertainment venues are lifted. The contact-tracing requirement allowed D.C. Health to track COVID-19 outbreaks by setting type, but its ability to gather the data was often difficult and yielded inconclusive results. D.C. Health’s contact tracers haven’t asked individuals who tested positive after visiting a restaurant whether they dined indoors or outdoors since last fall. When someone participates in multiple activities, determining the point of transmission is challenging. Throughout the pandemic, the city also struggled to meet its own goals of contacting those who tested positive within a timely manner. According to city data, restaurants and bars account for 26 outbreaks — meaning two or more cases were reported at a location with a plausible link — since tracking began last July. The most recent outbreak at a restaurant or bar was reported the week of April 16. Businesses can choose to maintain their reservation-only systems or continue to collect patrons’ information for contact tracing purposes, but will no longer be required to do so. In Virginia and Maryland, the public health guidance for restaurants encourages but does not require reservations. Restaurant capacity limits ended May 21, but some eateries are taking the reopening a bit slower. With streateries now popular, reservations allow businesses to avoid potentially overcrowded patios.
D.C. and Maryland hospitals will require all workers to be vaccinated for COVID-19. The D.C. Hospital Association, which includes 14 area hospitals, called on all of the city’s health systems to require COVID-19 vaccines for all employees and contractors. “The District of Columbia is blessed with a hospital workforce of over 30,000 individuals that provided and continue to provide compassionate and quality care throughout the pandemic,” Jacqueline D. Bowens, DCHA president and CEO, said in a press release Wednesday. “This consensus is a reiteration of our hospitals’ commitment to safety by keeping our staff, patients and visitors protected against COVID-19.” The Maryland Hospital Association, which represents the state’s 60 hospitals and health systems, also said in a statement Wednesday that employees at member facilities will be required to be vaccinated as a condition of employment. The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association has not put in place a vaccination requirement. The association represents 110 member hospitals in the commonwealth. D.C. and Maryland hospitals will set their own deadlines, and they must abide by any laws that allow medical or religious exemptions. Many hospital workers have already been vaccinated, although there are some holdouts. According to the D.C. and Maryland associations, about 70% of hospital employees in the two jurisdictions are fully vaccinated. Area hospital leaders applauded the decision. “Currently, the vaccine is not authorized for children under the age of 12, so this new requirement for our employees is an important and meaningful way to safeguard the health of the children whose care is entrusted to us,” said Kurt Newman, president and CEO of Children’s National Hospital, in a statement. Newman said Children’s National employees, more than 75% of whom are already vaccinated, must be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30. “As health care professionals, we accept that we hold ourselves to a higher standard and we embrace our mission to devote ourselves to the welfare of those in our care,” Mohan Suntha, president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System, said in a press release. “COVID-19 vaccines are by far the best way to stop the spread of the virus, and given our ethical obligation to our patients, we must take every appropriate measure to keep our hospitals and other locations as safe as possible.” The system’s more than 29,000 employees, contractors, volunteers and students have until Sept. 1 to be vaccinated or be tested weekly for COVID-19 testing. Once the vaccines are given full approval by the Food and Drug Administration, rather than emergency use authorization, UMMS plans to fully mandate the shots. MedStar Health, which operates the Georgetown University Hospital, Washington Hospital Center and National Rehabilitation Hospital, said in a press release that it wouldn’t require vaccintions until the FDA removed the Emergency Use Authorization status. United Medical Center, D.C.’s public hospital, has not yet made vaccinations mandatory, according to a spokesperson.
The Washington Nationals will relax some pandemic protocols as Nationals Park returns to full capacity today during a series opener against the San Francisco Giants. Single game tickets are now on-sale for the rest of the season, with prices starting at $13. Because capacity restrictions are being lifted, fans are no longer restricted to purchasing seats in socially-distanced pods. The PNC Diamond Club and the Nationals Club are open again. When entering and leaving Nationals Park, fans will continue to use the assigned color-coded gate on their ticket. Gates will open two hours before the first pitch and parking garages will open 2 1/2 hours early for all future games. Bags smaller than 16 inches by 16 inches by 8 inches are again permitted in the stadium, easing a ban meant to reduce staff contact at security checkpoints. Diaper bags and bags for medical needs have always been permitted. Backpacks are still not allowed. All approved bags will be searched. Prohibited bags can be placed in rental lockers available outside the Right Field and Home Plate gates. For children, the PenFed Kids Zone playground inside the Right Field Gate reopens today. The Kids Run the Bases event will return July 18 and every Sunday day game for the rest of the season. Food and beverages will no longer be served in closable packaging and condiment stations will no longer be touchless. Water fountains and standing room-only areas will reopen. Also returning is the Budweiser Happy Hour for fans 21 and older before every home game. From the time the gates open until 30 minutes before the first pitch, select 24-ounce Budweiser, Bud Light and Michelob Ultra will be $4 off at all concession locations selling them. The Buweiser Brew House will also reopen with limited menu options. Getting player autographs is still not permitted. However, fans interested can tour the stadium beginning July 1. Giveaways will be distributed at all gates in a grab-and-go format while supplies last. Fully-vaccinated fans do not need to wear face masks in indoor or outdoor areas of the stadium. Those not fully vaccinated are required to wear a mask at all times, unless they are eating or drinking in their ticketed seat. The stadium will remain cashless and will continue to accept contactless forms of payment such as credit or debit cards, Apple Pay and eCash. Cash can still be used to purchase 50/50 raffle tickets.
Amtrak has fully restored long-distance service on routes that include Union Station. Amtrak started restoring full service on long-distance routes in May after reducing service last year during the pandemic. As of Monday, Amtrak has resumed full service on the Crescent route between New York, D.C., Atlanta and New Orleans; the Palmetto route between New York, D.C., Charleston and Savannah; the Silver Meteor route between New York, D.C., Savannah, Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami; and the Silver Star route between New York, D.C., Raleigh, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa and Miami. Amtrak restored its Capitol Limited route from D.C. to Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Chicago on May 31. It began restoring full service on long distance routes on the West Coast, South and Midwest in late-May. There are no longer passenger capacity limits on Amtrak trains. Amtrak does provide real-time seat availability. Travelers searching for trains will see the percentage of seats sold next to each trip option, giving then the opportunity to book a train that is less crowded. If capacity exceeds a customer’s comfort level closer to the travel day, tickets can be changed without a fee. Face mask requirements for all passengers and crew remain in place. Ridership has been increasing. For the most recent travel period that included the Memorial Day holiday, ridership exceeded 50% of pre-pandemic levels.
The Fairfax County Health Department closed its COVID-19 community-testing sites on June 4. The sites were shutdown because “we are not seeing the level of COVID-19 cases compared to a few months ago and are attributing this trend to the number of residents who are getting vaccinated,” Jesse Habourn, the health department’s public health emergency management coordinator, said in a press release Friday. The county transitioned its COVID-19 testing to its traditional clinic sites, while other testing options will remain operational throughout Fairfax County and are widely available through healthcare providers, urgent-care centers and pharmacies. “Residents who need testing should utilize the vast number of options available in our community or make an appointment at one of our clinic sites,” Habourn said. Residents who exhibit COVID-19-like symptoms and do not have access to testing options can schedule an appointment for testing at a Fairfax County Health Department clinic location by calling the health department’s call center at 703-324-7404. Testing at the health department is reserved for people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Testing will not be offered for routine testing, travel, return to work or school, or proof of negative test for other purposes, county officials said.
Prince George’s County Public Schools students will return to classrooms in the fall after a year of virtual and hybrid learning. “Hybrid instruction will be discontinued in line with guidance from the Maryland State Department of Education and state school board of education,” Monica Goldson, PGCPS chief executive officer said in a YouTube video to the school community posted Tuesday. “Our goal is to have students back in our buildings this fall full time and in person daily.” Goldson encouraged students who are 12 or older to get their COVID-19 vaccinations. Full-time, in-person classes will be available to students from prekindergarten through 12th grade, five days a week, under a pre-pandemic school schedule. Children in kindergarten through sixth grade who are not eligible for a vaccine will have a limited, application-based virtual learning option during the first semester. Older students who can’t return to school due to medical conditions may apply for the full-year Online Campus, which has 700 slots. “I can’t wait to see your familiar faces in person,” Goldson said. She said when students return, the district will adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. If those guidelines continue to recommend mask-wearing, she said, that is what the schools will require. “And we will continue to practice safe hygiene and social distancing. So I think regardless of whether the vaccine is available for our children under the age of 12, what we do know is that frequent hand washing, and good hygiene practices is what will help to ensure that there is no spread of COVID-19.”
The Prince George’s Forward task force has made several suggestions about how the county can recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. “A Redefined Future,” which was released Tuesday, is the third report from the task force and focuses on long-term actions. The first two reports focused on “Actions Today” and “Visions for Tomorrow.” The report made 29 recommendations in five categories: economic recovery; education recovery; health government operations, health recovery, and human and social services recovery. Under economic recovery, the task force called for establishing a workforce-development strategy that would connect small and medium businesses with local universities to recruit graduating seniors and prioritize hiring county residents. It also called for improving the regulatory process and developing other strategies to create a resilient economy that can support sustainable growth and survive downturns. On education, the task force called to begin expanding internet access in underserved areas. It also suggested an online forum that can “formalize peer-peer/parent-parent supports” and serve as a platform to improve feedback. Under government operations, the task force recommended securing internet access for telework by expanding the distribution of smartphones and hot spots. It also recommended offering more services online. Among the recommendations on health recovery were to review the county health department’s needs and “capability gaps,” to create a sustainable budget and “modernize operations and programs.” The task force also recommended collecting and storing patient health information in a database “to allow clinicians to track patients’ conditions over time.” The report also called for using trusted community influencers who have large online followers to help with messaging. Finally for human and social services recovery, the task force recommended making Wi-Fi access available 24/7 “using public facilities and by adding public hot spot outposts.” It also urged the county to create an interactive app that addresses food-related issues, with information on such things as food pantries, farmers markets and giveaways. The task force also challenged the county to earn an AARP “Age Friendly County” designation by 2030. “Many of the recommendations are already in progress or have been completed,” according to the report’s conclusion. Members of the task force, who were appointed in May 2020, include former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and University of Maryland President Darryll Pines.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Maryland fell to 276 on Monday, the lowest level since March 30, 2020. The number peaked at 1,952 on Jan. 12. There were 67 people in intensive care because of the coronavirus in Maryland hospitals Monday — the second lowest level since March 26, 2020. ICU hospitalizations peaked at 598 on May 15, 2020. Overall, hospitalizations have fallen by 78% since mid-April. “All of our key health metrics are at or nearing their lowest levels, while our vaccinations continue to outpace the country,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a press release Monday. “As we near the end of the pandemic, we continue to strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t gotten vaccinated yet to do so. It is the best way to protect yourself against getting sick from COVID-19 or spreading it to others.” So far, 6.3 million adult Marylanders have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. That is 71% of the state’s adults. The state’s 7-day COVID-19 positivity rate continues to set record lows and has fallen to 1.12%. Overall, the positivity rate has declined by 81% since mid-April. Across the state, 18 jurisdictions are reporting a positivity rate under 2%, including Montgomery County at 0.57% and Prince George’s County at 1.6%.
Montgomery County ended its mask requirement for most county facilities and buildings Monday, as health metrics continue to improve. A notice from the county’s Office of Human Resources that masks are “voluntary” but still “highly encouraged” for unvaccinated county employees and visitors at most county facilities. As of Monday, 60.1% of county residents have been fully vaccinated, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Masks are still required in some facilities countywide, including childcare settings; correctional facilities; healthcare settings, like the Health and Human Services’ crisis center; HHS dental clinic; HHS HIV and TB clinics, and the occupational medical services and fire and rescue occupational medical services clinic; homeless shelters; public transportation; schools; and summer camps.
D.C. Public Schools outlined the health and safety measures it will implement this fall as students return to classrooms full time. All staff, students and visitors will be required to wear a mask, DCPS said in a press release Monday. Personal protective equipment and hygiene supplies will be provided. School buildings will receive heating, ventilation and air conditioning updates for improved ventilation. Students will be separated as far possible and social distancing will be practiced, including at meals. There will be no cap for the number of interactions within a cohort, DCPS said, meaning students will switch classes throughout the day. However, interactions will be limited to the “extent feasible.” Students and staff will complete a daily screening, but temperatures will not be taken when arriving for school. Families and community members will be invited to walk through their schools this summer to see the safety protocols and improvements in place for the fall. “With collaboration, transparency and a commitment to health and safety, we will ensure our buildings remain safe and healthy spaces for engaging and joyful learning experiences,” Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said. DCPS is expecting a full return to the classroom this fall, but for those who need to stay home, the district is also offering a limited virtual option.
The Maryland Department of Health is looking to partner with community-based organizations to increase COVID-19 vaccine confidence and vaccination access for residents in vulnerable, underserved and hard-to-reach communities. The Community COVID-19 Vaccination Project is part of the state’s ‘No Arm Left Behind’ initiative to ensure vaccines are available to every resident who wants one. As part of the project, MDH will award $3 million to fund community-focused strategies to get Marylanders vaccinated. “The project will be a partnership between state health officials and community-based organizations that understand the unique needs and concerns of their residents,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a press release Monday. MDH will award grants of $50,000-$250,000 to about 30 community-based organizations to support vaccine education and outreach and establish community vaccination clinics. MDH will prioritize applications that focus efforts in ZIP codes with low vaccination rates.
Vienna will resume its July 4th fireworks at Yeonas Park, 1319 Ross Drive SW, at about 9:30 p.m. Big Bad JuJu will perform. The 2021 Sprinklers & Sparklers event at Caffi Field has been canceled. For information and registration, check the website. Editor’s note: We originally reported that only residents were allowed, and they were required to make reservations. Due to an outdated notice on Vienna’s website, those requirements were dropped when Gov. Ralph Northam dropped social distancing and mask requirements in Virginia.
Montgomery County’s COVID-19 test positivity rate dropped below 1% last week for the first time since the pandemic began in March 2020. The rate was 0.9% Monday through Wednesday and 0.8% on Thursday through Saturday, according to state health department data. On March 29, 2020, the first day the county began recording data on the positivity rate, it was 17.7%. It then rose 31.9% on April 25, 2020, although the county was conducting fewer COVID-19 tests then than it is now. The rate eventually fell 2.4% on Aug. 28 before rising during the fall to peak at 8.0% on Jan. 7. The rate has fallen steadily since then as the number of cases and deaths per day has decreased. Montgomery County has had 70,978 cases of the virus since the beginning of the pandemic and added 13 new cases on Saturday. The county added three confirmed deaths from the virus on Saturday, bringing the total to 1,558. There have been an additional 51 “probable” deaths, meaning COVID-19 is listed as the cause but it was not confirmed with a laboratory test. As of Saturday, all the the county uses to measure the severity of the pandemic were listed as “low risk” or “very low risk.”
The Rockville Senior Center, 1150 Carnation Dr., will reopen on June 14 with limited hours and amenities. The center will not be open for drop-in use or daily lunch. The senior center and fitness room will be open, by reservation only, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday. Face coverings and physical distancing of 6 feet or more will be required. Summer programs that have been advertised and scheduled will remain virtual. New, in-person programs will be offered. Participants will be required to leave after their scheduled time, meeting or class. The fitness room, game room and library will be open for scheduled use only. The wood shop is currently undergoing construction and will reopen when construction is finished. Limited transportation will resume for shopping on weekday mornings and to use the fitness room and classes in the afternoon. Rides must be scheduled in advance.