Anacostia High Vaccine Site to Remain Open
COVID-19 Cases Reach 1,198,182 in D.C., Md. and Va.
As of Saturday morning, 49,652 people (July 15) have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in D.C. with 1,146 deaths; there have been 464,031 cases in Maryland with 9,563 deaths; and in Virginia there have been 684,499 cases (July 15) with 11,477 deaths. You can read last week’s updates here.
The Anacostia High School vaccination site, which was scheduled to close on Saturday, will remain open. A new closing date was not announced. Vaccine sites at the RISE Demonstration Center and Ron Brown High School closed as scheduled on Saturday. Beginning Tuesday, the Anacostia High site will be open from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and noon-5 p.m. Saturday. While Saturday was also the last day for vaccination recipients to be entered into a lottery for a new car, $10,000 worth of groceries or free Metro for a year, residents 12 and older who get vaccinated at the high school will continue to receive a $51 Visa gift card, as will vaccine buddies who take unvaccinated family, friends and neighbors to get vaccinated. Since D.C. launched the gift card promotion, 2,086 were given to newly vaccinated residents and 602 to 391 vaccine buddies. According to a press release from the mayor’s office, the Anacostia High School site the largest daily increase from 25 vaccine doses a day to an average of 60 vaccinations a day. Seventy percent of the people vaccinated at the three sites were from Wards 7 and 8, according to D.C. Health.
Concerts in the Garden, a scaled-back version of the National Gallery of Art’s Jazz in the Garden summertime staple, will return July 29 after being canceled last year due to the pandemic. There will still be pitchers of sangria and other food and drink offerings at the Pavilion Café, but the four concerts will feature mariachi, brass and classical music, in addition to jazz. The series kicks off July 29 with global psychedelia ensemble Bombay Rickey. Other acts include the Baltimore Jazz Collective on Aug. 12, the U.S. Army Brass band on Aug. 26 and Flor de Toloache, an all-woman mariachi band, on Sept. 9. Lindsey Koren, an NGA spokesperson, said the museum isn’t ready to say just yet what the future of Jazz in the Garden will be but added that the NGA is “thrilled to pull off” the four-part series this year given how little time it had to prepare as venues reopened and COVID restrictions lifted. “This will give the gallery a chance to look at what’s going to work best for guests for next season,” Koren said. “It was a massive undertaking to make this happen.” Although the concerts remain free, tickets will be required. Passes will be available two weeks before each performance, and ticketholders can enter the garden any time during the shows — gates open at 5 p.m. and the shows run from 6-8:30 p.m. The museum encourages anyone who is unvaccinated or feels more comfortable doing so to wear a mask. “I am thrilled that live music will make a joyful return to the Sculpture Garden this summer,” said NGA director Kaywin Feldman in a press release. “Once again, our visitors will enjoy the sights and sounds that signal summer in the nation’s capital: modern sculpture in a beautiful natural environment accompanied by live jazz and other expanded genres of music.”
Beginning Tuesday, July 20, the Smithsonian will no longer require timed-entry passes to visit most of its museums. Also, museums on the National Mall will return to the pre-pandemic hours of 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.. Free passes will still be required to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Zoo. The Smithsonian, which closed in March 2020, reopened and closed again in late November 2020 due to COVID-19, first required timed-entry passes at most museums as part of a gradual reopening plan to manage reduced-capacity levels and allow for adequate social distancing. Starting Tuesday, the Smithsonian will return to pre-COVID-19 capacity numbers at its museums and the zoo. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which has required free timed-entry passes since it opened in 2016, will continue to require them. In addition, the National Zoo will continue to use free passes as a way to manage its normal capacity limits. However, starting Tuesday, the zoo will not require separate passes to visit the giant pandas. Museums scheduled to reopen the rest of this summer, including the National Museum of African Art and the National Museum of Asian Art’s Freer Gallery that both reopened Friday, will not require timed-passes. Other museums still to reopen this summer include the National Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian Institution Building (the “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. Passes issued for July 20-Aug. 15 will be canceled at all locations except the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Zoo
Beginning Sunday, Metrorail will extend service until midnight seven days a week. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency’s announcement Wednesday came a month after it expanded late-night Metrobus service on 36 of its busiest routes. Last month, WMATA’s board approved a series of changes to try to lure riders back, including discounts on bus and rail passes and promises of more frequent buses and trains. Those changes also include steep discounts on monthly bus and rail passes for the month of September and other long-term fare reductions. This weekend’s service expansion isn’t the final change. Starting in September, Metrorail will expand service until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Metro started closing at 11 p.m. in March 2020 to protect workers from COVID-19 and allow more time to clean trains and stations at the end of the day. Now, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said in press release Wednesday, Metro needs to start offering more service. “Riders that work late, enjoy the region’s restaurants and nightlife or need to get to and from places at night will now have more flexibility with trains running longer every night,” Wiedefeld said. “As the region recovers, Metro will be there to meet the transit needs of customers and businesses in the National Capital Region.” Late-night transportation has been a long-standing issue in the DMV. Many residents have criticized Metro system for years because its schedule tends to accommodate the 9-to-5 office workforce and not workers in the service industry or other jobs that start early or end late. WMATA has said it cannot extend service into the late night because it needs those overnight hours to do the maintenance work necessary for safety. But in recent months, as the region’s nightlife industry has reopened, the issue of late-night transportation has become even more urgent. Prices on rideshare like Lyft and Uber soared. And while 2 a.m. bus service, which resumed in June, has been a help to some hospitality workers, many have been spending large parts of their paychecks on rideshares home after late shifts.
The Citi Open will allow 100% capacity for spectators when it returns Aug. 2-8 to the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center after missing last year due to the pandemic. The spectator limit was originally set at 50% capacity as part of COVID-19 precautions. The change comes after the National Park Service, which manages Rock Creek Park, issued updated guidelines. “We are thrilled to be able to invite fans back to Rock Creek Park at full capacity,” said Mark Ein, Citi Open chairman and CEO of MDE Tennis, in a press release Wednesday. The change will also allow organizers to restore full tournament prize money. At 50% capacity, players agreed to a 40% pay reduction. “We are especially pleased to be able to pay the players full prize money after a difficult period of time for many on our tour,” Ein said. Among the players expected to participate are World No. 3 Rafael Nadal, as well as world No. 12 Denis Shapovalov, No. 19 Felix Auger-Aliassime, Polish world No. 18 and 2021 Miami Open champion Hubert Hurkacz, and Russian world No. 29 Karen Khachanov, who collectively comprise four of the recent eight Wimbledon quarterfinalists. The tournament will also welcome U.S. Olympic Team members Coco Gauff, Jen Brady and Jess Pegula to the inaugural Citi Open Women’s Invitational.
More than 600,000 white flags will cover the National Mall honoring each person who has died from COVID-19 in the United States. There have been 33,948,497 COVID-19 cases and 608,141 deaths in the U.S. The art installation, “In America: Remember,” was created by Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, who first placed white flags outside of RFK Stadium last October. As the number of COVID-19 deaths in the country grew, so did the number of flags. “After 165,000 flags were planted in the center, the public was invited to help plant the remaining flags in sections under the trees,” according to Firstenberg’s website. “When we ran out of space in this massive field, we moved into adjacent green spaces for placement of flags.” That installation, called “In America: How could this happen…,” ended on Nov. 30. Visitors were allowed to personalized flags for loved ones lost to COVID-19. “By the end of the exhibit 1,905 flags were dedicated with names, dates and special messages,” according to the website. “A selection of personalized flags has been acquired by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.” The new installation at the National Mall will also feature personalized flags made by visitors, and those who can’t visit in person can dedicate a flag through the In America website. The flags will be on display from Sept. 17-Oct. 3.
As it battles back from the pandemic and its economic lockdowns, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport continues to make incremental progress. In June, the airport saw a passenger count down 46.5% from June 2019, based on Transportation Security Administration checkpoint volumes as reported by the Airlines for America trade group. That is still way below the rebound of nearly all airports nationally, but is a vast improvement from when Reagan National saw drops of 80% or more from its pre-COVID travel counts. Airlines for America puts out a monthly ranking of states in terms of TSA-checkpoint volume; Reagan National is the only airport counted in the District of Columbia, although technically, it is in Virginia, so its progress is easy to extrapolate. In Virginia, which does not include Reagan National but does count Washington Dulles International Airport, TSA-checkpoint totals for June were off 18.7% from June 2019. In Maryland, the passenger count was down 32.1%. In June, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming saw higher checkpoint totals than at the same point in 2019. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands also saw positive increases. Among some of the nation’s most populous states, California’s passenger count for June was down 38.5%, with Texas down 16.4%, Florida down 3.8% and New York down 46.2%. Twenty states remained down more than 25% from two years ago when air travel was at an all-time high in the U.S. The highest 2019-to-2021 drops were mostly concentrated in the Northeast with the exception of Maine, upper Midwest and Pacific coastal region. Pennsylvania and Ohio also saw passenger counts still down more than 25%.
Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando introduced a bill that would limit rent increases in the county. The bill builds on Maryland’s COVID-19 Rental Relief Act signed by Gov. Larry Hogan in March 2020, which prevents evictions due to non-payment of rent because of the economic impact of the pandemic. The state mandate expired at the beginning of July and a 90-day grace period on rent increases ends at the end of September. “When we were thrust into COVID-19 in March 2020, we had no idea how long it would last,” Jawando said in a press release. “Now, almost 18 months later, we are on our way back, but the economy has a long way to go toward a full and equitable recovery. Many of our residents who lost jobs are behind on rent, bills and are searching for employment and stability. Bill 30-21 will provide critical relief to help folks remain stable in their homes as we recover.” If the bill passes, rent increases and collection of late fees could freeze through August 2022.
The D.C. Council on Tuesday unanimously approved emergency legislation that will gradually phase out eviction protections put in place during the pandemic and limit debt collection. The eviction moratorium and other protections were tied to the city’s official public health emergency and were only supposed to last for 60 days after the designation ends. Mayor Muriel Bowser has said she plans to allow the public health emergency to lapse on July 25. The new legislation creates a new set of eviction rules that will last until late February of next year — 225 days after the measure is passed. The gradual phase-out offers a “soft landing” for tenants, according to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. The new law includes a ban on all eviction filings until Sept. 26, except for tenants who present a “current and substantial threat” to health and safety or have “willfully and wantonly” damaged the landlord’s property. Eviction filings for nonpayment of rent can resume Oct. 12 if the landlord has applied for relief through STAY D.C., given the tenant a 60-day past due rent notice and if the tenant has not applied for or been denied for assistance. Landlords can only pursue evictions for tenants who owe at least $600 in rent while the legislation is in effect. Rent increases are prohibited until Dec. 31. Families facing immediate eviction must be provided options for assistance and individuals with mental health issues must be offered “alternative housing arrangements,” before the eviction is carried out. If the tenant’s application for rent assistance is denied, the tenant and landlord must establish a rent payment plan within 14 days of the denial to avoid eviction proceedings. Tenants have a legal defense against eviction if they apply for rent help within 60 days of receiving a past due rent notice and the application is pending or under appeal. Eviction filings for lease violations can resume on Jan. 1. For tenants who were already scheduled for an eviction before the ban went into effect, landlords must provide 30-day notice informing the tenant of the new eviction date. Actual evictions for these tenants can resume Aug. 26, after the 30-day notice. The legislation also places restrictions on utility disconnections post-pandemic. After Oct. 12, and until the act expires in February, utility providers can only disconnect service for customers who owe at least $600 in late bills and have not sought financial relief or an alternative payment plan and are not receiving SNAP or TANF benefits. The council also approved three amendments to the original proposal. An amendment from At-large Councilmember Elissa Silverman would require landlords to alert tenants of their rights in specific language when they send past-due rent notices. Another amendment introduced by Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie stipulates that the mayor must send a list of people who qualify for utility disconnection relief to the Office of People’s Counsel, in addition to the utility companies themselves. And an amendment from At-Large Councilmember Christina Henderson requires the mayor’s office to proactively reach out to individuals enrolled in a number of D.C.’s social services programs to inform them about relief through the city’s STAY D.C. programs. The Bowser administration has struggled to quickly deliver millions of dollars in rental assistance through its federally funded $352 million STAY D.C. program. Since it launched in April, the city has distributed less than 20% of the $200 million Congress allocated in December, according to D.C. Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio. Advocates have warned about lingering issues with the STAY D.C. application process. D.C.’s debt-collection law was written in 1971, Mendelson said. That means it doesn’t cover modern techniques, such as voicemail, texts and email, and it did not cover credit card debt or medical debt, he said — the latter of which has reportedly exploded in D.C. and nationwide in the wake of the pandemic. The new law won’t let collectors call a particular customer more than three times in a seven-day period (a protection that already exists but would be expanded to all kinds of debt) or communicate any information about a person’s debt to their employers or family members. Another bill would eliminate the ability of creditors to have consumers jailed for contempt of court if they fail to appear for a proceeding, would prohibit collectors from threatening to take actions that they can’t actually take or threatening the descendants of a debtor who has died. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, who along with Mendelson put forward the legislation, said in a statement, “By passing our urgently needed legislation, the council is making sure District residents will be protected from abusive, unfair and misleading debt collection practices during this critical time.”
A Maryland circuit court judge ruled Tuesday that Gov. Larry Hogan cannot unilaterally end enhanced federal unemployment benefits in the state. Following a full-day hearing on Monday, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill wrote in an opinion that Hogan and Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson cannot take any further action to prevent the state from receiving the enhanced benefits, which amount to an additional $300 a week per worker from the federal government. Hogan announced in June that he would end the enhanced benefits on July 3. But with the ruling the benefits are now expected to continue through Sept. 6 for some 180,000 Marylanders who claimed unemployment over the past few months. “This court is not free to ignore the general assembly’s mandatory direction that the Maryland Secretary must go as far as possible in cooperation with the United States Secretary of Labor to achieve ‘a common end or objective,’” Fletcher-Hill wrote, granting a preliminary injunction. “This lawsuit is hurting our small businesses, jeopardizing our economic recovery and will cause significant job loss,” said Mike Ricci, Hogan’s spokesperson. “Most states have already ended enhanced benefits, and the White House and the U.S. Department of Labor have affirmed that states have every right to do so. We firmly believe the law is on our side.” But Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) said the ruling was clear. “Abandoning federal help at a time when our economy is just beginning to rebound is foolish because it will hurt Maryland families, small businesses and our state’s recovery efforts,” Jones wrote in a statement. The ruling follows two lawsuits filed against the Hogan administration by a pair of advocacy organizations, the Public Justice Center and the Unemployed Workers Union, which pushed back on Hogan’s plan to end the enhanced benefits early as a means to encourage residents to start looking for jobs again. Hogan joined 24 other states with mostly Republican governors in ending enhanced federal unemployment benefits on July 3. The state simultaneously reinstated a requirement that people seeking unemployment benefits prove they are actively looking for work. The organizations claimed that the administration violated state law, which requires the Department of Labor to accept the federal unemployment funds. They also said that the administration caused irreparable harm to those struggling during the pandemic and created negative ripple effects throughout the economy. “It’s not hyperbolic to say that this case is life or death for many,” Alex Summerfield, a pro-bono attorney with the Unemployed Workers Union, told the judge in his closing statements on Monday. “The main question here is, does administrative inconvenience weigh heavier than human need?” But lawyers for the Hogan administration argued that federal law says the state isn’t required to accept federal funding for unemployment insurance or any other program. “It’s plain language that needs to be evaluated under the principles of cooperative federalism,” attorney Christopher Mellott told the judge in his closing statement. “Nowhere does … [it] suggest that the labor secretary and the state of Maryalnd shall accept, maximize or secure the CARES Act program or any other program for that matter.” Four witnesses testified on behalf of the plaintiffs during a hearing. Michael Siers, an economic analyst with the Regional Economic Studies Institute, was among them. He said there had been a shortage of workers since the beginning of the pandemic. But he added that there is “significant risk in ending enhanced employment benefits” because benefits drive consumer spending among poor residents. “Ending this subsidy could result in a weaker economy,” Siers said. State attorneys were quick to point out that as each of the 24 states terminated enhanced unemployment benefits, job searches increased by 5%. But Siers added that job searches don’t amount to closing the labor gap and people being hired. Even with the increase in job searches, the demand for labor has remained strong in Maryland and nationwide, according to the latest May jobs report from Indeed. Neil Bradley, a vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also testified, saying that one of the chamber’s surveys showed that the worker shortage was attributable to multiple factors like the lack of child care, people retiring and the skills gap. A smaller percentage of people said the level of government benefits removed the urgency to seek work. The most crucial testimony came from Robinson herself, who explained why the administration sought to end the expanded benefits early. “We saw 13 consecutive months of job growth in Maryland. We reviewed countless documents and reviewed countless phone calls among internal teams and with the governor’s office to make this very calculated policy decision,” she said. “We determined that the best thing for Maryland job seekers … at this time was to get them access to reemployment activities and connect with the high number of jobs available in our state.” Robinson added that the program was more expensive during the pandemic to run due to the increased level of fraudulent unemployment claims. “Fraud from identity theft is new during this pandemic,” she explained. “Fraudsters that have collected information had been waiting for an opportunity.” She said the federal programs available during the pandemic made it very easy for anyone with a Social Security number, date of birth, a full name and address to access the benefits even if they were fraudulent. Robinson said the fraudulent claims led to a slowdown in claimants getting their benefits. But the judge shot down that argument. “To the extent defendants argue this fact is a justification for early termination of the programs because doing so might save money, the court rejects the argument as a consideration in the balance of harms,” Fletcher-Hill wrote in his opinion. “Unemployed Maryland residents should not be penalized by the criminal activities of bad actors.”Outside of the legal fight over the fate of the expanded federal benefits, Robinson has been facing political challenges from state Democrats. Last week democratic state legislative leaders called for Robinson’s resignation for “ongoing failures of her leadership to rectify the catastrophic unemployment benefit delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
A COVID-19 vaccination and testing center opened this week on Montgomery College’s Rockville campus. The center is in the South Campus Instructional Building and be open from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Appointments can be made online, but walk-ins are also welcome, according to county health officials. During a Montgomery County Council meeting on Tuesday, County Deputy Health Officer Dr. James Bridgers said identical operations are located at the Dennis Avenue Health Center in Silver Spring and the Upcounty Regional Services Center in Germantown. The county’s mass vaccination site at Montgomery College closed earlier this month. The county is now focusing on smaller vaccination operations throughout the county. Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said more than 75,000 vaccinations were administered at the mass vaccination site. “It was a huge success in the time that it operated and really pushed us farther along,” he said. He added that vaccinations are important because recent data show nearly all of the deaths and serious illness caused by COVID-19 in the past month were among people who had not received a shot. About 62% of Montgomery County residents are fully vaccinated, according to county data, and about 68% have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
University of Maryland workers are pushing to keep a broad telework policy in place until September. Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1072 rallied outside of the main administration building Tuesday and delivered a petition signed by 600 members. The union is calling on the university to drop plans to revert to a pre-COVID telework policy beginning Aug. 2. According to the union, supervisors would have the authority to decide which workers could continue to work from home and which would be required to work in-person Todd Holden, president of Local 1072, said leaving decisions on who gets to telework up to supervisors leads to unequal results. “A lot of supervisors and managers have bias when it comes to their opinions of telework in the first place,” Holden said. Of the 3,400 members represented by the union, about 2,000 would be directly affected by the telework policy, according to Holden. He said the university “is refusing to discuss telework at all outside of contract negotiations.” Hafsa Siddiqi, a university spokesperson, said in a statement: “The university’s most recent collective bargaining agreements with AFSCME Local 1072 contain provisions that allow for telework,” and added that “many divisions have already expanded telework options.” The university said that the most recent three-year term of its collective-bargaining agreement with AFSCME concluded June 21, and that an introductory session was held on Friday. “The university looks forward to productive talks with AFSCME and reaching an agreement on matters of interest to both parties, including telework,” the school said. But workers’ concerns — which center on things like finding childcare by Aug. 2 — don’t require collective bargaining, argued Holden, adding that such a process can take months. “There’s absolutely nothing that prevents campus leadership from engaging in direct problem-solving with the union” over keeping a blanket telework option open to workers now, he said. Not only is child care a challenge, Holden said, transportation is an issue for many workers who depend on Metro. Holden explained that Metro’s Green Line stations north of Fort Totten are closed until Sept. 6 due to maintenance. “Some people that have to come from D.C. and take the bus are facing a two-hour commute in either direction,” he said.
The Prince George’s County Health Department will operate a mobile clinic for the next two weeks offering free Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to students ages 12 and older. From Tuesday-Friday this week and July 25-30, eligible students can receive vaccines free of charge from a mobile clinic parked at a different Prince George’s County Public School high school each day. Clinics will be open 1:30-5:30 p.m. Parents or guardians are not required to accompany their child, but all students must present a completed consent form in order to be vaccinated. The schedule is: July 13, Crossland High School, 6901 Temple Hill Road, Temple Hills; July 14, Fairmont Heights High School, 6501 Columbia Park Road, Landover; July 15, Parkdale High School, 6001 Good Luck Road, Riverdale; July 16, Surrattsville High School, 6101 Garden Drive, Clinton; July 26, DuVal High School, 9880 Good Luck Road, Lanham; July 27, Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School, 12650 Brooke Lane, Upper Marlboro; July 28, Charles Herbert Flowers High School, 10001 Ardwick Ardmore Road, Springdale; July 29, Largo High School, 505 Largo Road, Upper Marlboro and Laurel High School: 8000 Cherry Lane, Laurel; July 30, Bowie High School, 15200 Annapolis Road, Bowie and High Point High School, 3601 Powder Mill Road, Beltsville.
After being closed for six months, the Washington Monument will reopen to visitors on Wednesday. The monument will open at 9 a.m. on July 14 and be open for visitors from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. seven days a week, the National Park Service said in a press release Monday. Visitors need tickets, which can only be obtained online at recreation.gov. Each ticket is good for up to four people. There is a $1 reservation fee per ticket, and the tickets for each day are available at 10 a.m. the day before. The monument was closed from March to October 2020 due to COVID-19, reopened then closed again in January of this year. Visitors to the monument are required to wear masks, the park service said, regardless of vaccination status.
Prince William Health District’s Manassas Mall COVID-19 clinic will close on July 24 due to a drop in demand for the vaccines. The clinic will continue to offer second doses through closing and first dose walk-ins are welcome, but people will have to get the second dose at an alternate site. The clinic’s schedule is: July 15 from noon-4 p.m. (Moderna vaccine); July 17 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (Pfizer vaccine); July 22 from noon-4 p.m. (Pfizer); July 24 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (Moderna).
D.C. will pay $220,000 in legal fees after it lost a court battle last year with Capitol Hill Baptist Church about COVID-19 gathering restrictions. The church argued in the federal lawsuit filed last September that the city was violating its First and Fifth Amendment rights by refusing to allow the church’s entire congregation — roughly 850 people — to gather for outdoor and socially-distanced worship. The church claimed that social protests were happening in large numbers while it was being restricted by the city’s COVID-19 regulations, which only allowed up to 100 people at outdoor gatherings. Several conservative lawmakers joined the lawsuit, filing amicus briefs. In October, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the church a preliminary injunction, saying the city couldn’t prohibiting the gatherings. The church held an outdoor service soon after. “All Capitol Hill Baptist Church ever asked is for equal treatment under the law so they could meet together safely as a church,” Hiram Sasser, executive general counsel for First Liberty Institute, said in a press release. “The church is relieved and grateful that this ordeal is behind them. Government officials need to know that illegal restrictions on First Amendment rights are intolerable and costly.” D.C. didn’t admit any wrongdoing, but won’t enforce current or future restrictions on the church’s gatherings, according to the settlement. The settlement also includes $210,000 for law firm WilmerHale and $10,000 to First Liberty Institute. City officials also settled a separate lawsuit with the Archdiocesce of Washington in December over caps on indoor services during Christmas. D.C. lifted all of its COVID-19 restrictions last month.
Only 17 people who were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus have died of the disease in Virginia since January, according to the Virginia Department of Health. “Over 99% of COVID-19 cases in Virginia have occurred in people who were not fully vaccinated. I applaud those who have chosen to protect themselves and the community by getting vaccinated, and we appreciate the work of all who are helping to vaccinate Virginians,” said state Health Commissioner Norman Oliver in a press release. “I continue to encourage everyone who is able to get vaccinated to do so.” It is a fact that public health officials hope will persuade people to get their shots. Public health officials say vaccines will be the most effective tool at ending the pandemic. It has killed more than 11,400 Virginians and infected at least half a million.
By Independence Day, 70% of Prince George’s County adults 18 and older were vaccinated against the coronavirus. “Hitting this milestone, which was officially achieved on July 4, is a big step toward declaring the county’s freedom from the COVID-19 pandemic,” County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said in a press release Friday. “As we continue our efforts to make sure that every eligible resident is protected from COVID, we are determined to not only emerge from this pandemic better prepared for the next public health crisis, but also grow and thrive as a stronger, healthier community.” Prince George’s vaccine canvassing program was cited as a key reason for success. Canvassers knocked on 189,000 doors, made 1.2 million calls and sent 509,000 texts in Phase II of the program, which ended June 30, according to the county. Combined with Phase I, canvassers knocked on 284,000 doors since April 22, exceeding the program’s goal, the press release said. “We know that many members of our community faced barriers in getting the vaccine. Our program succeeded in large part by getting our teams out into the community and not waiting for residents to come to us,” Alsobrooks said. With Phase II now over in the county, door-to-door visits have ended, but officials said they will still try to reach residents by phone.
Most D.C. government employees return to their offices in person today, in some cases after as many as 16 months working from home. About 40% of the city’s employees have worked in person during the pandemic, including emergency responders, Mayor Muriel Bowser noted, and others have been called back to work already as various city services including the Department of Motor Vehicles, libraries, parks and schools have reopened. Still, Monday will mark the first time back for as many as half the city’s workers, and Bowser said she intended for nearly every employee to be at their desk in person that day. “We are a local government. We provide local services, and those jobs, for the most part, happen in person,” she said. “All of us in D.C. government feel privileged to have the jobs that we have. We all recognize that our jobs don’t exist for our convenience. They exist for the convenience and efficiency of this government.” The return to work happens as coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations remain low in the DMV. The seven-day average of new daily cases in D.C., Maryland and Virginia stood at 277 on Friday, continuing an overall decline that started April 13, when the average was 3,119. The seven-day average of new daily deaths was 6 on Friday and has not climbed higher than 20 since May 28. At the height of the pandemic last winter, it exceeded 200.
Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement Friday that vaccinated teachers and students don’t need to wear masks inside schools, school districts in the DMV are evaluating what their mask policies will be for the remainder of summer school programs and into September. Children 12 and older are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and coronavirus-related hospitalizations and deaths are down nationwide. Patrick Ashley, from D.C. Health told the D.C. Council during a Friday meeting that the city is still weighing the CDC’s guidance and will likely issue its guidance on the matter in the coming week. The CDC is not recommending that vaccines be mandated for students and teachers and, for now, neither is D.C. Chris Rodriguez, director of the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said the city reserves the right to mandate its employees to get vaccinated, but there are no immediate plans to do so. “We are reviewing the latest guidance from CDC and will regularly update our families about the latest health and safety protocols as we work to reopen strong this fall,” D.C. Public Schools said in a statement. “Current guidance remains in effect for students and staff participating in our summer programming.” Montgomery County Public Schools will continue to require masks inside school building through the rest of the summer, spokesperson Gboyinde Onijala said. “Tentative mask guidance for the 2021-2022 school year will be provided in late July/beginning of August,” Onijala said in an email. Prince George’s County Public Schools media relations director Meghan Gebreselassie said the school district has not yet changed or updated the mask-wearing policy but will follow CDC guidelines. “Our protocols throughout the pandemic have been based on CDC guidance and on metrics specific to Prince George’s County,” Gebreselassie said. She said there is no timeline yet for when the policy will be changed. Charles County Public Schools does not require face masks in its facilities. “Mask use by students, staff and visitors to CCPS buildings is strongly encouraged but voluntary. Health officials strongly encourage unvaccinated staff and students to continue mask use,” CCPS spokesperson Shelley Mackey said. The district is still following the federal order requiring cloth face masks, but not neck gaiters or face shields, be worn on school buses. It does not require staff or students to be vaccinated. Fairfax County Public Schools “will keep the current layered prevention strategies in place (including the mask requirement for all when students are in an FCPS facility) through the current extended school year session,” a spokesperson said. She added that the school system advocates for vaccinations but does not require them. District officials consult with the state departments of health and education about other COVID-19 protocols. Loudoun County Public Schools is also reviewing the new CDC guidance and will “keep families, administrators and the staff informed if there are any updates,” spokesperson Wade Byard said.
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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.