Montgomery Parks Ends Alcohol Program
COVID-19 Cases Reach 1,192,817 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 49,378 people (July 2) have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 1,141 deaths; there have been 462,535 cases in Maryland with 9,532 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 680,904 cases with 11,423 deaths. You can read last week’s updates here.
As of today, Montgomery County residents are no longer allowed to drink alcohol in 13 parks. Montgomery Parks, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, said Wednesday it will suspend the pilot program, started during the pandemic, that permitted drinking in 13 Montgomery County parks. The pilot ends today, the day Maryland’s state of emergency ends. The emergency declaration offered counties and local boards more flexibility when it came to liquor laws. The program started last September as a part of MoCo Eat’s Picnic in the Park Program to encourage residents to purchase take-out from local restaurants and eat at socially-distanced picnic tables throughout the county. It was originally supposed to expire on May 31, with the option to extend it through another year. With Maryland’s state of emergency lapsing, a spokesperson for Montgomery Parks said the group no longer saw a need. The Maryland-National Park Capital and Planning Commission oversees both Prince George’s County and Montgomery County parks, making it uniquely subject to state laws. “The pilot was launched as a means to support local restaurants by allowing patrons to get take-out/delivery [including alcohol] to enjoy responsibly in our parks [as an extension of outdoor space],” a spokesperson said. “With the end of the COVID-19 State of Emergency issued by the State of Maryland, we find there is no longer this need to allow alcohol in parks. We are still encouraging park visitors to support local restaurants by ordering food to picnic in our parks.” While some residents had concerns about public drinking leading to car accidents, underage drinking and excessive noise, Montgomery Parks Director Mike Riley said in a press release that there were no reported alcohol-related incidents at the parks during the program. Data on park attendance isn’t available, but a Montgomery Parks spokesperson said that generally, the county saw an increase in park usage throughout the pandemic. Montgomery County Council member Evan Glass said that using outdoor space in innovative ways was a boon to some residents’ mental and physical health during the pandemic, and he would like to see the park program stay. The council recently voted to extend the Open Streets program, which closes roadways to make room for bikers, pedestrians and streateries, through the summer. “Given that so many people have enjoyed the experience and there has been not one problem, I think this is a program that should continue,” Glass said. “We need to continue innovating and providing government services in the 21st century as people want to enjoy them.” Residents were equally disappointed to see that the program was ending. Del. Cheryl Kagan, who represents Gaithersburg and Rockville, tweeted about the program, hinting that a change to Maryland’s state liquor laws could be in her legislative future. Take-out cocktails are here to stay for a while; a new law goes into effect today in Maryland authorizing delivery and take-out alcohol sales for restaurants until 2023.
D.C. will open new COVID-19 vaccine clinics for residents ages 12-18 at six public schools. It is part of D.C. Heath’s effort to provide targeted vaccination opportunities as the city closes high-capacity walk-up vaccination sites on July 17. The clinics are open to all city children, not just D.C. Public Schools students. The clinics are scheduled at: Cardozo Education Campus, 1200 Clifton St. NW, from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on July 6, 13, 20 and 27 for first doses and July 6, 13, 17, 20 and 27 and Aug. 3, 10 and 17 for second doses. For more information, call 202-727-5148. H.D. Woodson High School, 540 55th St. NE, from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. June 30, July 7, 14, 21 and 28 for first doses and July 7, 10, 17, 21 and 28, and Aug. 4, 11 and 18 for second doses. For more information, call 202-724-2287. Roosevelt High School, 4301 13th St. NW, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Aug. 7 for first doses and Aug. 28 for second doses. For more information, call 202-727-6333. Dunbar Senior High School, 101 N St. NW, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on July 24 for first doses. Children’s National Hospital, 111 Michigan Ave. NW, will provide second doses on Aug. 14 or at the school during school hours from Aug. 16-20. For more information, call 202-476-5464. Ballou Senior High School, 3401 Fourth St. SE, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on July 31. Children’s National Hospital will provide second doses on Aug 21. or at the school during school hours from Aug. 23-27. For more information, call 202-476-5464. Anacostia High School, 1601 16th St. SE from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on July 31 for first doses and Aug. 21 for second doses. For more information, call 202-727-6333.
The Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor reopens today after being closed more than a year. While it was closed, the 1,996-room resort underwent a $64 million renovation. Like many businesses, Gaylord National is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on mask-wearing, asking visitors who have not been fully vaccinated to wear masks, while those who have been vaccinated won’t be required to mask up. Over the past year, said Jennifer Cerasani, director of marketing and public relations for the resort, “We’ve done upgrades to our HVAC system,” including the use of hospital-grade disinfectants in air ducts and coils. Cleaning routines have also been boosted, including what Cerasani said were “enhanced cleaning protocols.” When it first opened in 2004, the complex was projected to generate $308 million in taxes in Prince George’s County from 2008 to 2037. The Gaylord National Resort hosts large conventions and smaller gatherings, and Cerasani said bookings are already bouncing back from a challenging year. “Family reunions are extremely popular at the moment. People are ready to come back together.”
Marylanders who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 account for nearly all of the state’s recent coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths. The numbers, which Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader called “very sobering” on Monday, serve as a reminder that going unvaccinated is dangerous and that the pandemic is not over. The state’s overall coronavirus picture is significantly improved in recent months, with deaths, hospitalizations and cases falling, thanks largely to Maryland’s robust vaccination efforts, officials said. But Schrader told the state Senate’s Vaccination Workgroup on Monday that since May 10, unvaccinated people account for 97% of the COVID-19 caseload, 89% of the hospitalizations and 89% of the deaths. “There are approximately 1.4 million Marylanders 12 and older who are still unvaccinated and remain in serious risk of contracting and being hospitalized by COVID-19,” he told the group. Maryland has administered more than 6.8 million vaccinations, representing 72% of the 12-and-older population and 91% of seniors. The state is one of just three states, including Vermont and South Dakota, to see cases drop to below one for every 100,000 residents, Schrader said. Health department staff are poring through survey data to determine why vaccine hesitancy remains a problem, he added. Schrader appeared reluctant to get drawn into a lengthy discussion about vaccine hesitancy, but he stressed that the state is committed to figure out how to overcome it. “We’re not giving up on any county,” he said. “We really believe that we’ve got a lot more work to do — and we’re not going to slow down or stop until we get as many people vaccinated as possible.”
In an effort to boost vaccination rates east of the Anacostia River, D.C. will expand its $51 Visa gift card offer to people who help a friend or family member get a shot at three locations. On Tuesday, the city launched its new “vaccine buddy” program at Anacostia High School, the RISE Demonstration Center and Ron Brown High School. City residents who help a friend, family member or neighbor get a shot at any of the three sites can redeem up to 11 Visa gift cards — one per D.C. resident they accompany. The person who gets vaccinated will also receive a $51 gift card. The offer is only for D.C. residents 18 and older who present a government-issued ID, but residents who are 12 and older can get a $51 gift card after their first shot at those same sites through July 17. The new incentive is in addition to a previously announced prize drawing, which promises free cars, a year of free groceries and a year of free Metro trips. The incentives are part of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s effort to vaccinate more residents in the city’s lowest-income communities. About half of the city’s residents are now fully vaccinated, according to D.C. Health data. Ward 8 has the city’s lowest vaccination rate, at 21% fully inoculated as of June 21. The vaccination rate is 27% in Ward 7. The remaining wards are all at least 40% fully vaccinated, with the highest rate in Ward 6 at 48%.
The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis reopens its gates to the public on Friday morning. The academy will allow public visits and resume normal access procedures on Friday morning, a day after Maryland ends its coronavirus state of emergency, according to a press release. Under HPCON A, the Naval Academy will retain what it refers to as basic health safety guidelines, which will require unvaccinated people to wear a mask and practice social distancing. “It affords us the ability to return to a close-to-normal operations status,” the press release said. Visitors may access the installation between sunrise and 7 p.m. but must present valid government identification or a U.S. or foreign passport to enter. Anyone younger than 18 without ID can visit with an adult who has a valid ID. The academy reminded visitors that retail business areas, such as tours, restaurant and stores, are not fully staffed and may not be for a while. It added that it will take time for staff to return and “become reacquainted and retrained.”
Concertgoers at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia can get a COVID-19 vaccination beginning July 3. The vaccinations will be provided through a partnership between the Howard County Health Department and the county’s Department of Fire and Rescue Services. Nurses from the fire department’s Mobile Integrated Community Health Team and the health department will have all three COVID-19 vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. “Merriweather attracts visitors of all ages from all over our region, and this is a clear opportunity to ensure that we’re removing barriers and providing access to vaccine to more people. We know that a virus does not see borders, and the more we can help our region get vaccinated, the better off we all will be,” Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said in a press release. At least 100 doses of vaccine will be available at each event. Howard County Fire Chief William Anuszewski said he hopes the presence of vaccines at the venue will “encourage concertgoers to take full advantage of this vaccination opportunity with ease.” Merriweather opens the season this weekend, July 2-4, with the M3 Rock Festival featuring Kix, Night Ranger and Queensryche. “We are … thrilled to team together with the Howard County Health Department and Fire & Rescue providing easy access to vaccines while enjoying live music again!” Merriweather General Manager Jean Parker said. Howard County said that 65.1% of all residents are fully vaccinated and 76.9% of residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated.
Montgomery County won’t host Fourth of July celebrations again this year because the pandemic interfered with the county’s ability to plan events. The county announced Thursday that its two annual celebrations — Germantown Glory in South Germantown Recreational Park and Mid-County Sparkles at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington — were canceled for the second year in a row. Rockville, Gaithersburg and Takoma Park have also canceled Independence Day parades and fireworks for the second year. Instead, Takoma Park is hosting a Parade of Houses. Residents can register and decorate their house or business and be entered into the contest. There will also be a concert at the gazebo from noon-4:30 p.m. on July 4. The route for the Parade of Houses will be available on July 1 on the Takoma Park Independence Day Committee website. In Gaithersburg, the city’s Red, White & Blue Weekend from July 1-4 will replace SummerFest and its traditional fireworks display. Patriotic-themed activities will be virtual and in person. Activities include a virtual photo parade, chalk drawing projects, a virtual cooking demonstration, an outdoor movie and a mural display at the skate park. The city has planned a fireworks show and stage entertainment for the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, Sept. 5. Poolesville and the Upper Montgomery County Volunteer Fire Department are hosting a public Fourth of July celebration with fireworks. There will also be food trucks and live music.
Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday launched Project Restore, a $25 million initiative aimed at revitalizing vacant storefronts in downtown areas and along main streets across the street. “If you’re a small business that starts operations in a vacant storefront, this program will provide you up to one year of rental subsidies to offset startup costs,” Hogan said. Rental subsidies will provide up to $2,500 a month up to $30,000 and up to $250,000 per year in sales tax rebates. New businesses in Tier 1 counties, which include Baltimore City and 148 other opportunity zones across the state, will be eligible to receive the rebate for up to two years. Investors and developers looking to build in downtown areas will have access to up to one year of sales tax rebates. Hogan said the goal is to drive more investment into the communities that need it most. “We’re committed to coming back stronger and better than ever before,” he added. So far, state efforts to improve the economy have provided more than $2.1 billion in emergency assistance. Applicants interested in applying for assistance through Project Restore will be required to remain in the space for at least 12 months if approved. Eligible applicants must also begin new or expanded operations in a storefront that hasn’t been generating sales tax receipts for the past six months or more.
Hook Hall ended its free meal distribution for struggling restaurant workers on Monday. The beer hall and event space established Hook Hall Helps with the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington early in the pandemic and, with donations, has been paying restaurants to prepare prepackaged meals for regular distribution to out-of-work restaurant employees or those whose hours were drastically cut and their families. D.C. restaurants have been allowed to fully open since May 21, but Hook Hall owner Anna Valero kept the meals program going. “We very intentionally chose a few weeks after restaurants were fully reopening for us to scale back meal distribution, knowing that when workers are restarting, you have that few weeks’ gap between when you start working and when you get those first paychecks,” Valero said. The program has not only helped struggling restaurant workers feed themselves and their families, it was also an additional stream of revenue for participating restaurants. Hook Hall Helps distributed about 100,000 free meals and raised close to $1 million over the last year. It received some large donations, including $130,000 from Planters Peanuts and $100,000 from the Rockefeller Fund, but the majority of donations were from individuals. While meal distributions have ended, the initiative will continue to serve as a free source of assistance for restaurant workers with existing and future donations. That assistance includes ensuring workers are current on all the changes the pandemic has brought to how they do their jobs, such as new technology.
Fairfax County Public Schools is planning to welcome students back on Aug. 23 with all in-person learning and minimal coronavirus restrictions. FCPS Supt. Scott Brabrand said he is ready to get students back in schools and he thinks it will be pretty normal as far as precautions go. “We’re very excited for our students to return,” Brabrand said. While FCPS is still awaiting final guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Brabrand said district officials are getting ready to welcome students back five days a week for in-person learning. “Our planning assumptions include no social distancing in our classrooms,” Brabrand said. Virtual learning didn’t work for all students and he said in-person learning is important for some students to catch up this fall. “Many of our students, second language students, special education students struggled, and we need to return to in-person instruction so that we can finish the unfinished learning from this past year,” Brabrand said. In-person learning is important for both academic and mental health, he said. “Our students have missed those connections, those social and emotional connections.” Brabrand said almost 5,000 FCPS students between the ages of 12-17 were vaccinated at school-based clinics in the last few weeks of school. He said the school district is closely watching for children under 12 to be eligible for the vaccine and will use school clinics to administer vaccinations if it happens. “We’ve done school-based vaccination clinics and I think they’ll be part of the mix as we approach the fall,” Brabrand said. As for sports, he said, “We’re continuing to work with the Virginia High School League, but we do expect a normal season.”
The COVID-19 pandemic altered many aspects of life, including the retail industry and consumer behaviors. But that doesn’t mean the impact was entirely negative. According to a new report from the National League of Cities, the pandemic fast-tracked existing industry trends. The report highlights three main trends. One is that more mixed-use retail spaces are popping up in cities. In areas like D.C., that was evident before the coronavirus. Another trend is that people are spending more on experiences, rather than goods. The third trend, which was made glaringly clear during the pandemic, is that emerging technology is changing the retail game and broadband is a necessity. Even though more than 12,000 retail chain locations closed in 2020, it seems this year, more stores will open their doors than will close. And even with that extra space, there is a chance to re-imagine what to do with it. That is what Gaithersburg Council member Laurie-Anne Sayles said during a recent NLC panel. “We now have, you know, an abundance of a surplus of approximately 1 million square feet of this space in our community. But this also presents an opportunity, this segment of retail space, is a prime for redevelopment,” Sayles said, noting that this includes an opportunity to convert some spaces into mixed-use developments where there is a shortage of affordable housing. “These are areas that we hope that we can redevelop so that they are more accessible, more walkable and people can work and live where they play,” she said. The retail industry might need a little sprucing up, but it may not be on its deathbed. “As things become safer and start opening up again, I think it’s left a lot of people with a huge appetite to start supporting their local businesses, their local restaurants, their local retail. I think people are craving that experience now,” said Erin Simmons with the American Institute of Architects’ Communities by Design. “And I’m hoping that means that the people who are the establishment owners are going to be able to really capitalize on that opportunity,” Simmons added.