DC, Md., Va. announce new coronavirus restrictions; feds get maximum telework flexibility

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, federal agencies in the D.C. region will open Monday with “maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees, pursuant to direction from agency heads,” the Office of Personnel Management said.

That announcement came shortly after the CDC recommended that gatherings of 50 or more people across the U.S. be canceled and postponed in the next eight weeks because of the virus.

Earlier Sunday, local officials delivered news of more closures, concerns for one section of southeastern Virginia and firm guidelines for bars, restaurants and nightclubs in D.C. See the latest developments below.

As of Monday morning, the number of confirmed cases in Maryland is 37; in Virginia, 45; in Washington, D.C., the number is 17.

Maryland

As more state and local governments consider how to best handle their duties during the spread of coronavirus, the Maryland General Assembly on Sunday announced that it would end its current session on Wednesday, March 18, before coming back for a special session in the last week of May.

Senate President William Ferguson, of Baltimore, made the announcement on Sunday afternoon, saying “this was not an easy decision to make, it was made in consultation with public health experts, and lawmakers from both parties. We will remain working for Marylanders through Wednesday.”

Ferguson said that all the sessions leading up to Wednesday will be livestreamed in an effort to maintain open government. Lawmakers noted they will consider the issues most important to Maryland before closing the session in the middle of the week.

“We believe this is in the best interest of the state of Maryland, for the members of the General Assembly, but most importantly, the public,” Ferguson said.

With the new session end date, the current session will conclude about 20 days earlier than planned.

In Howard County, Maryland, the Health Department announced its first case. However, that case has not yet been added to the state’s website, as the dashboard remains at 31.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced the case on Sunday afternoon, and signed an order declaring a state of emergency in the county.

County Health Officer Dr. Maura Rossman said the patient is an 82-year-old woman with an underlying health condition who is in a hospital. The Maryland Department of Health said later in a statement that the woman lives at the nursing home Lorien Elkridge. Acting Fire Chief Bill Anuszewski said six first responders were exposed to the virus, are self-quarantining and are doing well.

Under Ball’s order, The Mall of Columbia, the movie theaters and the restaurants without a separate external entry will be closed for at least seven days, starting at midnight. The Shops at Savage Mill and the movie theaters Regal Snowden Square and AMC Columbia will also close.

“We need to remain vigilant but calm,” Ball said. “This is the time for us to look out for each other.”

Ball on Friday had announced that Howard County government meetings and events would be limited for 45 days, and that all county workers who can telework should start doing so Monday.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Sunday afternoon that he has ordered the closure of all casinos, racetracks and simulcast facilities indefinitely as the number of coronavirus cases in the state has reached 31.

“These are unprecedented actions in an extraordinary situation, but they could be the difference in saving lives and keeping people safe,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement. The list of facilities that will close include the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill and the Live! Casino and Hotel in Hanover. The order takes effect at 12 a.m., March 16, and will last until Maryland’s state of emergency is removed.

Maryland announced Sunday it has embedded a dashboard that allows residents to zoom in by county on its health department Web page dedicated to tracking coronavirus cases.

On Sunday afternoon, the National Institutes of Health put out a notification that an employee had tested positive for COVID-19. The employee, however, is not involved in patient care and did not exhibit any symptoms while at work in the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

On Saturday night, Mayor Bernard Young announced that a man in his 60s was the first coronavirus case confirmed in the City of Baltimore. The mayor activated the city’s Emergency Operations Center this week.

In a statement, Young said “I want all residents … to rest assured that the city preparing for this eventual outcome for more than a month, and we are well-suited to respond to this specific case.”

D.C.

The D.C. Department of Health attempted to clarify its stance Sunday on what actions restaurants, taverns, nightclubs and multipurpose facilities must take to comply with rules to prohibit mass gatherings. The notice explained:

  • No more than 250 people may be present at the same time
  • Bar seating is suspended
  • Standing patrons will not be served
  • Individual tables may not seat more than six people
  • Occupied tables and booths must be separated by at least six feet
  • Venues licensed explicitly as nightclubs must suspend operations to comply with the rules

Also in D.C., the court system announced Sunday that it will limit its operations. New jury trials in criminal cases are delayed until at least March 30, the court said, and anyone called for jury duty between March 16 and March 27 shoudn’t come to the courthouse.

All evictions are stayed, the court said, and all stay-away orders and protective orders related to domestic violence cases are extended until May 1.

“The court will only hear emergency matters in the Civil, Family Court, Probate and Tax Divisions and Auditor Master,” the court announced.

You can read the full list of changes on the court’s website.

Mayor Muriel Bowser said Saturday there have been six additional confirmed cases, bringing the total to 16 positive cases in the District.

With the news on Sunday, the total number of coronavirus cases in the District, Maryland and Virginia is now close to 100. All three jurisdictions have all declared states of emergency.

Almost all area schools have been canceled as school systems prepare to switch to distance learning and many local venues have shuttered their doors.

Chef Jose Andres, known for his crisis-response nonprofit World Central Kitchen and his numerous restaurants around the D.C. area including Jaleo, Oyamel and Zaytinya, said he would be closing his local outlets “until further notice,” noting that some locations will become “community kitchens” that will prepare food for those unable feed themselves. He also advised bars and restaurants around the country to close temporarily, “as painful as it is.”

Virginia

In Fairfax County, the school system had earlier announced a closure, lasting from March 16 to April 10. However, the system had originally said it would allow students to come to their buildings on Monday to collect essential items. As of Sunday, that has been rescinded and a laptop distribution scheduled for March 16 has been postponed.

In a call Sunday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam confirmed the state’s total, saying: “This is serious. Everyone needs to take this seriously.”

Northam was particularly concerned about the part of southeastern Virginia known as the Peninsula, that includes cities such as Newport News, Hampton and Williamsburg, where there have been a concentration of cases, including the location of the first death, which was announced Saturday.

“The health of Virginians in our communities is our most important priority right now,” Northam said. He noted that the state is banning events which include 100 people or more, and in Peninsula region, he urged people to avoid “public gatherings of all kinds, and if you’re planning to go to a church, bar or restaurant [in that area], I would encourage you not to do it.”

Northam was asked how close the state is to mandating a quarantine.

“This is a very fluid and dynamic situation, we have not mandated a quarantine, but we are encouraging people to avoid public gatherings of any kind,” the governor said. “If you’re planning an event with several people, you should cancel it, period.”

Also Sunday morning, the Alexandria Department of Health confirmed its second case.

The Alexandria Health Department notes that it is the city’s second case and risk of exposure in the city remains low.

The affected resident attended a conference in D.C. on Feb. 25 and came in close contact with someone later confirmed to have COVID-19. After beginning to feel unwell, the Alexandria resident self-quarantined, received treatment and evaluation from the city’s health department and Inova Alexandria Hospital, and is now doing well at home.

One of the individuals who tested positive in Fairfax County is a teacher at Lynbrook Elementary School. It’s the first confirmed case involving staff at Fairfax County Public Schools.


More Coronavirus News


The Virginia Department of Health said the patient who died was a man in his 70s from the Virginia Peninsula, which is just north of Norfolk.

Health officials said he got the disease from an unknown source. The official cause of death was respiratory failure as a result of COVID-19.

Congressman Rob Wittman said the man was from James City County.

“My heart breaks for that patient, their family, and all those affected around the world by this virus. My staff and I are working extremely closely with Governor Northam and his staff as well as the Virginia Department of Health to address this ongoing situation,” Wittman said in a statement.

Fairfax County had the highest number of confirmed cases in Virginia with 10.

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