Coronavirus: Northam closes Va. schools for year; Hogan closes nonessential Md. businesses

The latest

  • President Donald Trump provided an update Monday afternoon on the COVID-19 efforts. He weighed in on the Senate relief bill that has been stalled. He talked about the possible treatment using malaria drugs. And, he said that critical supplies have been replenished. Find out more.
  • Trump also announced that REAL ID requirements are postponed. The new deadlines will be announced soon.
  • D.C. police said a second member of the department has tested positive for coronavirus. D.C. Fire and EMS said an assistant fire chief tested positive for the virus, the eighth person in the department.
  • Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered all Virginia schools to remain closed through the end of the academic year.
  • Virginia recreational/entertainment businesses will close. Non-essential stores can remain open but only with 10 or fewer patrons inside. Grocery stores, health services and businesses in the supply chain can stay open.
  • Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the closure of all nonessential businesses, organizations, establishments and facilities in Maryland. He did not issue a shelter-in-place order.
  • There are now more than 650 coronavirus cases in the Washington area — 288 in Maryland, 254 in Virginia, 137 in D.C.
  • COVID-19 claimed three more lives in Virginia on Sunday, bringing the state’s total to six deaths. Maryland has three deaths, while two D.C. residents have died of the virus.
  • Prince William County schools is notifying communities of three schools where members of a family, including a student, tested positive for the disease.
  • Metrorail and bus service is significantly reduced.

Virginia

Northam closes schools; new measures “will require everyone to sacrifice”

Saying that the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes, “is now everywhere or it will be soon,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday ordered all public and private schools in Virginia to close for the rest of the academic year.

He also ordered recreational and entertainment businesses to close, and put restrictions on other businesses in the commonwealth. The order, which goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, will last for at least 30 days.

“We are moving into a period of sacrifice,” Northam said at a news conference in Richmond Monday afternoon.

Currently there are over 250 confirmed cases and six deaths in the commonwealth, and Northam said those numbers will increase for months.

“States have been left to figure this out on their own, and I am acting to protect Virginians,” the governor added. “There is no playbook.”

Businesses that are being restricted fall into three categories: Recreational and entertainment businesses, which must close; restaurants, which must be takeout and delivery-only; and nonessential brick-and-mortar stores, which can stay open but must limit to fewer than 10 patrons and maintain social distancing.

Businesses serving the public have been told to carefully monitor the entrances, to ensure that customers are not crowded, waiting to get in.

In a webinar, the Fairfax County health department advised business owners to have a written response plan that can be adapted to evolving conditions. The health department and the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority also recommended that business owners keep employees safe and healthy, reduce physical contact between staff and even screen employees for fever before beginning work.

With schools closed, Northam said that, “School division leaders will decide” how students can continue to learn the information they need for the rest of the year. The Education Department will post guidance online on Tuesday, he added.

Options will include distance learning, extending next school year, incorporating some of this year’s curriculum into next year, and bringing some students back into school to complete requirements.

“We’re already working on waivers to relieve testing requirements and ensure that students who were on track to graduate can do so,” Northam said.

Several weeks ago, the unemployment picture in Virginia was the best it had been in decades, Northam said. But “today, thousands of people are without work” because of the public health emergency. He also said that about 40,000 Virginians filed for unemployment last week and added it will go up.

“It will lead to anxiety; it will lead to fear,” he said. “It is difficult to live with uncertainty. We can expect to see more depression, alcoholism and domestic violence. But the sooner we can take these necessary steps to slow the spread, the sooner we can all get through this.”

Fairfax Co. senior living home reports 2nd case

A second resident of The Kensington, an assisted living and memory care home in Falls Church, tested positive for the disease on Sunday — three days after the facility reported its first case.

“When COVID-19 occurs in a setting where there are many older people with underlying health conditions, we are concerned,” said Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, Fairfax County health director.

“We’ll be working very closely with the facility over the coming days to protect other residents and staff and prevent further spread.”

Staff at the senior living home and county health officials are taking “immediate action” to contain further spread, according to a news release.

Coronavirus cases have surged in senior care centers and nursing homes along the West Coast, with the virus posing a threat to people who are older or suffering from underlying health problems.


More Coronavirus News


Maryland

Hogan closes all nonessential Md. businesses

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the closure of all nonessential businesses, organizations, establishments and facilities in Maryland. The closure started at 5 p.m. Monday. He did not issue a shelter-in-place order.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at a news conference Monday. (Courtesy Gov. Larry Hogan’s Office)

Hogan said the move was necessary to “slow the spread of COVID-19 in Maryland.”

The order closes all businesses not covered by federal guidelines defined as critical infrastructures.

Find out what stores can stay open in Maryland.

Read Maryland’s guidance on essential/nonessential businesses (PDF).

Hogan also announced the creation of the Maryland Small Businesses COVID-19 Emergency Relief Grant Fund, which will provide grants of up to $10,000; and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Loan Fund, which can provide no-interest loans of up to $50,000 to businesses with 50 or fewer workers to help with payroll, rent and utilities.

Maryland has also announced the COVID-19 Layoff Aversion Fund, which makes grants of up to $50,000 available for businesses trying to avoid layoffs by helping them buy teleworking equipment and software and more.

Secretary of Labor Tiffany Robinson said the state is looking for a piece of the $100 million that has been authorized from the U.S. Department of Labor to grow the two funds.

Hogan said there were 288 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland as of Monday morning. The disease has reached 21 of 24 Maryland jurisdictions, he said, adding that the third person in the state to die of the disease is a Montgomery County woman in her 40s.

The governor thanked “the overwhelming majority of Maryland who have taken this seriously” but added, “unfortunately many people are not taking it seriously,” citing reports and pictures he’d seen of crowds at the cherry blossoms in D.C., in Ocean City and at many county and local parks.

Hogan described “pictures that would make your toes curl … of people just completely ignoring the directives” in Maryland and other places.

He said directives had been sent to state and local police departments to use lights, sirens and loudspeakers to “break up the crowds,” similar to actions recently taken by the New Orleans police.

“If you are engaged in this kind of activity,” Hogan added, “you are breaking the law and endangering the lives of your family, friends and fellow citizens.”

Hogan also announced plans to establish a field hospital at the Baltimore Convention Center and to reopen the Laurel Hospital in his plan for the addition of 6,000 hospital beds statewide.

Drive-thru testing sites are also set to open at DMV emissions centers, as well as at FedEx Field, as soon as the test kits, protection equipment and lab capacity become available.

“Absolutely necessary to protect the health of Marylanders and save lives,” Hogan said.

Positive coronavirus cases around Maryland

A Maryland General Assembly staff member has tested positive for the virus. Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones’ chief of staff wrote in an email that the office was notified about the positive test last Sunday, and the staff member hasn’t been at work since last Monday.

Also, a U.S. Naval Academy midshipman tested positive and is currently under self-quarantine at home.

Ocean City shutters boardwalk

Ocean City, Maryland, is closing its beaches and boardwalk until at least April 15.

how coronavirus compares to other illnesses
Here’s a look at how coronavirus compares with the flu, cold and allergies. (WTOP/Brett Snyder)

DC

More new cases in DC, including assistant fire chief

On Monday night, D.C.’s Health Department announced 21 new positive cases, bringing the total positive cases up to 137 patients. Among the new patients: a 1-year-old girl, six people in their 20s and six people in their 30s.

A spokesman for D.C. Fire and EMS said in a statement Monday night that an assistant fire chief with the department has tested positive. The assistant fire chief was tested over the weekend, after he reported not feeling well. D.C. Health officials are working to identify people who had been in contact with him since Saturday, March 21.

Seven other D.C. Fire and EMS members have tested positive. Another 118 Fire and EMS personnel are being asked to self-quarantine.

DC tax deadline extended

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt announced that deadline to file 2019 D.C. income tax returns has been extended to July 15, 2020, an additional 90 days from the original April 15 deadline.

The Internal Revenue Service has also extended the federal filing and payment deadline to July 15, 2020.

Another case confirmed in DC police department

Another member of D.C. police has tested positive for coronavirus, Chief Peter Newsham said in a statement Monday afternoon.

The person has been quarantined, he said, and is recovering at home. Contact tracing is underway to determine the potential spread of the virus.

“Those members will be notified as they are identified and provided with further instructions,” Newsham said.

Bowser urges DC residents to stay home

Bowser asked residents of the District to continue staying home and avoiding crowds in a news conference Monday morning. The appeal came a day after Bowser ordered the National Guard and D.C. police to block roads near the National Mall and Tidal Basin in an attempt to limit large crowds visiting the cherry blossoms.

But Bowser stopped short of issuing a shelter-in-place order that would more severely restrict public life.

The news conference came the day after District health officials announced the death of a second COVID-19 patient in D.C. — a 65-year-old woman with underlying health conditions who had been hospitalized. A total of 137 D.C. residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, as of the last update Monday night.

Several states and other large cities across the U.S. have issued some form of shelter-in-place or lockdown.

Bowser suggested the steps she’s taken so far — prohibiting large gatherings, closing schools and banning dine-in service at bars and restaurants — are sufficient.

“We have basically closed down the District,” she said. “So the gathering places where D.C. residents can go have been shut down.”

While she hasn’t ordered nonessential businesses to close — as has been done in Maryland — Bowser said her administration would “continuously review” any businesses that aren’t adhering to the ban on large gatherings and the need to facilitate social distancing.

She continued to urge residents to only leave their homes for “essential activity,” such as going to the grocery store. And she said people who do venture out should only do so with their immediate family and remember to practice social distancing.

Over the weekend, after large crowds took advantage of the springlike weather to visit the Tidal Basin’s array of cherry blossoms, Bowser ordered a large swath of nearby streets closed.

“People from not just D.C. but all over the region were flocking to that location. And the measures that we employed are pretty extraordinary,” she said. Typically, D.C. authorities do not police national parks — they’re the purview of the federal government.

“So for us to use our local police resources to basically police a national park is an extraordinary use, but we thought very necessary,” Bowser said.

Last week, the mayor ordered all outdoor recreation centers, playgrounds and sports fields closed.

Bowser said D.C. police, the National Guard and park rangers would all be put into service “to help move along crowds” if they develop in parks across D.C.

DC health warnings

Officials in D.C. also said they’re preparing for a surge in demand for medical supplies and a demand for hospital beds.

The D.C. Health Department has been working with hospitals across the District to discharge patients with non-acute conditions and to cancel elective procedures in order to free up space.

The preparations come as D.C. officials warn they expect to see an increase of cases over the coming days. Last week at this time, were there 17 cases in D.C.; currently there are 137.

Of them, eight D.C. Fire and EMS members have tested positive, officials said. Another 118 Fire and EMS personnel are being asked to self-quarantine. Of them, about 80 are self-isolating, according to Kevin Donahue, deputy mayor for public safety. Another 40 members are quarantined based on interactions they had off-duty.

Two D.C. police officers have tested positive. Another 80 officers are currently home sick with flu-like symptoms, which the department tracks every flu season, Donahue said. The number of sick officers is about 15% higher than in a typical year, he added.

One bright spot: D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said 17 patients in D.C. have recovered and are out of isolation. In order to be considered “recovered” from COVID-19, the patients must have gone three days without experiencing respiratory symptoms or fever (without using fever-reducing medicines), and it must be at least seven days since they first started experiencing symptoms.

In recent days, there have been a number of patients in the District younger than 40 who have tested positive.

Nesbitt said health experts are unable to draw any definitive conclusions so far. “There’s still a lot that we are learning about the impact of COVID-19 on particular age groups in the District and in the U.S. in particular,” she said.

The health director said the data, so far, don’t show any “geographic clusters” of outbreaks around the D.C. area.

National Guard, police block pedestrians from Tidal Basin

The District’s signature cherry blossom peak bloom couldn’t have been more ill-timed this year, as city officials are pleading for people to stay home in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

On Sunday evening, Mayor Muriel Bowser tightened restrictions on road and foot traffic along the western end of the National Mall bordering the Potomac River and Tidal Basin — areas known for their picturesque pink spring blossoms, whose annual flowering are an economic boon for the nation’s capital with visitors typically numbering in the tens to hundreds of thousands.

Though this weekend’s numbers were muted owing to advice on social distancing, crowd sizes were still large enough to worry officials who have imposed progressively stricter limits on public gatherings, including restrictions on restaurants, bars and nightclubs, to reduce infection rates and strain on hospitals.

Bowser directed the D.C. National Guard and Metropolitan Police Department to enforce restricted access to the Tidal Basin, much of which now applies to pedestrian and bicycle traffic in addition to motor vehicles.

“As crowds increase at the Tidal Basin, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain effective social distance and appropriate space from other visitors,” the National Park Service’s National Mall unit said on Saturday, after the initial announcement of parking lot and street closures.

The Arlington Memorial Bridge, Rock Creek Parkway, Independence Avenue and Constitution Avenue are among major roads affected. See a full list of street closures and restricted access zones.

Instead of visiting, would-be blossom spectators can tune in remotely to a live bloom cam and virtual video tours of the Tidal Basin.

On Twitter, celebrity D.C. chef Jose Andres rallied Washingtonians around the hashtag #StayHomeCherryBlossomsChallenge, pledging to “cook a huge Paella for thousands of Washingtonians” next year if they kept the number down.

Watch Bowser’s Monday news conference.

DC Attorney General calls for shelter-in-place order

In a Monday morning tweet, District Attorney General Karl Racine called for a shelter-in-place order to “to reduce the spread of #COVID19 and keep all DC residents safe.”

Children’s National Hospital opens drive-up testing site

Children’s National Hospital opened a location for COVID-19 testing at a site donated by Trinity Washington University. Patients who are children or young adults up to 22 years old can drive up or walk up with a referral from their doctor.

WTOP’s Abigail Constantino, Matthew Delaney, Dick Uliano, Sandra Salathe and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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