Coronavirus update: Metro closes 2 stations after contractor tests positive; DC officials call Senate relief bill ‘outrageous’

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks on the COVID-19 crisis Thursday, March 26, 2020. (Courtesy Mayor Bowser’s Office)

The latest

  • President Donald Trump approves major disaster declaration for Maryland.
  • Van Ness and Tenleytown Metro stations are closed until 8 a.m. on Friday. WTOP has learned that a contractor who had done overnight work at the stations tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Metro also said it will have reduced rail and bus services this weekend, with a core network of 26 bus routes and twice hourly rail service.
  • Find out how much to expect in your coronavirus stimulus check.
  • D.C. Fire Chief Gregory Dean said on Thursday that two more members of D.C. Fire and EMS have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the department’s total to 12.
  • D.C.’s mayor and council chairman responded with anger to the categorization of the District as a territory, rather than a state, meaning that it will receive far less aid money from the $2.2 trillion rescue bill than states, even those with fewer people.
  • The number of COVID-19 cases in Maryland jumped overnight by almost 160 and stands at 580. Virginia is at 460 cases and D.C. is at 267, bringing the total for the area to over 1,300.
  • Loudoun County, Virginia, has reported its first death from COVID-19.
  • The deadline for getting a REAL ID-compliant identification has been pushed back a year, to Oct. 1, 2021.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told WTOP that social distancing measures, such as the shutdown of nonessential businesses, are “having an impact.”
  • An inmate in District Department of Corrections custody tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, the deputy mayor for public safety said.
  • A D.C. Council member said the city has seen 25,000 unemployment applications since March 13, and has lost 30% to 50% of its sales-tax revenue since the hospitality industry was shut down.
  • Driven in large part by the coronavirus public health crisis, 3.2 million unemployment claims were filed nationwide last week, quadrupling the old record set in 1982.
  • The Senate on Wednesday passed an unparalleled $2.2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump approves major disaster declaration for Maryland

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Thursday that federal emergency aid has been made available for Maryland. This supplements state and other local recovery efforts in areas affected by COVID-19 beginning on Jan. 20 until the present.

“We are pleased that our federal partners answered our calls for action and swiftly granted Maryland’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement.

Under this declaration, Maryland will be eligible for reimbursement for the emergency protective measures taken by state and local government agencies and certain nonprofit groups.

Hogan also announced on Thursday a $175 million relief package to assist small businesses and employees affected by the pandemic.

Senators say Maryland could get $2.3 billion from relief bill

In a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Maryland’s two Democratic senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin said the state would receive an estimated $2.3 billion from the rescue bill. The money would be used on everything from health care to emergency housing.

Montgomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, Baltimore counties and the city of Baltimore are expected to see the largest shares. Each are expected to receive anywhere from $100 million to $150 million.

“Whether it’s the Metro system or whether it’s our local education agencies, all of them have been stressed as a result of the coronavirus, and we’ve got to make sure they have the resources to get through these times,” Cardin said.

Transit agencies, including Metro, are expected to receive a portion of $645 million that would be set aside for transit agencies in the state.

“The transit systems are not obviously getting the ridership they used to; therefore, they’re not able to recover what they used to at the fare box,” Van Hollen said.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said the aid from the bill is needed in the county.

“Those dollars will absolutely come in handy, to help us as we respond to this pandemic,” Alsobrooks said.

Alsobrooks said a portion will go in part to federally qualified health centers to expand capacity. Test kits and personal protection equipment for health care workers and first responders will also be purchased using the federal dollars.

Metro closes two stations after contractor tests positive, reduces bus and rail service this weekend

Metro has closed the Van Ness and Tenleytown stations after it was reported that a contractor who had done overnight work tested positive for COVID-19. The transit agency does not believe the contractor had any contact with riders, and it is closing the stations out of caution. The stations are expected to remain closed until 8 a.m. Friday.

“The stations were closed as soon as we were advised that a contractor who recently performed work during overnight hours tested positive for COVID-19. The task force is currently assessing the situation,” a Metro spokesman said.

Nineteen other Metrorail stations are closed for an indefinite period. The station closures are meant to limit Metro’s staffing and cleaning requirements amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Metro also announced that it is reducing rail and bus service this weekend. Find out what bus routes are operating and how often trains are running.

‘It’s shocking; it’s infuriating; it’s wrong’

D.C.’s mayor and council president reacted angrily to the terms of the coronavirus relief bill passed by the Senate late Wednesday night.

Mayor Muriel Bowser pointed out that the bill categorizes the District as a territory, which means that D.C. will get $500 million, while each state, even those with fewer people than D.C., gets a minimum of $1.25 billion.

“It’s shocking; it’s infuriating; it’s wrong; it’s outrageous,” Bowser said at a news conference on Thursday. “We pay more taxes than 22 states. We have more population than several states.”

CLICK TO EXPAND: A graphic showing the amounts of money D.C. will get, relative to smaller states, in the COVID-19 relief bill. (Courtesy Mayor Bowser’s Office)

“It’s unconscionable,” she said, “given the unique challenges we take on as the seat of government.”

The mayor said that D.C.’s lack of voting representation prevented the District from getting its fair share.

“Every state that has two senators was treated the exact same,” she said. “We do not have two senators. And that matters.”

Council President Phil Mendelson said District officials got the word about the terms of the bill Wednesday afternoon when it was first released.

He pointed out that D.C. is working on public-health measures with neighbors in Maryland and Virginia, but that “we are not able to stand side-by-side with them” due to the distribution of money.

Mendelson also said that the District is a densely populated urban environment, where a virus is more likely to spread than in a spread-out state, and that the city relies on the tourism and hospitality industries.

As such, “We are seeing a disproportionate impact” from the virus, he said, adding, “We don’t want to be like New York City,” where a huge proportion of the nation’s coronavirus cases are coming from.

“It makes no sense, and I mean no criticism here, that states like Wyoming or Vermont would get more money than us, when the pandemic is clearly far more of an issue and a public health threat here than it is in those states.” Mendelson said.

“For everything, we’re treated like a state when it comes to federal funding formulas,” Bowser said, listing housing, Medicaid and education as examples. “We’re treated like a state because we have state functions, and we should be. And we pay taxes — more taxes than 22 states.”

She added, “We want everything that every taxpaying American is getting out of this relief bill.”

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine is leading a bipartisan coalition comprising 36 attorneys general that includes 10 Republicans.

In a letter to Trump and congressional leaders, they urged the federal government to ensure that D.C. gets the minimum allocation of $1.25 billion, citing the number of cases it has and the economic impact of the coronavirus on its residents, among several other reasons why they believe D.C. deserves the amount.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi weighed in on Thursday, saying, “In this bill, they decided to treat the District of Columbia in a very discriminatory way. It really makes no sense.”

Pelosi added that it’s a concern of many Democratic lawmakers in Virginia and Maryland, as well as D.C.

“It doesn’t face the realities of a public health crisis that we have in our country,” she said.

Pelosi added that she would like future legislation to address the issue, but there is no indication that it will be changed before or during the vote on the relief package on Friday.

11th, 12th DC firefighters test positive, as well as third DC police

Two more members of D.C. Fire and EMS tested positive for COVID-19, Fire Chief Gregory Dean told the department on Thursday.

Both are self-quarantining at home, and firefighters who have been in contact with the two are being contacted.

D.C. police said Thursday that a third member of the department has tested positive. The person has been quarantined at home, and contact tracing has been initiated.

REAL ID deadline pushed back

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday that the deadline for residents to get REAL ID-compliant identification has been pushed back a year.

“I have determined that states require a twelve-month delay and that the new deadline for REAL ID enforcement is Oct. 1, 2021,” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said in a statement.

He added, “States across the country are temporarily closing or restricting access to DMVs. This action will preclude millions of people from applying for and receiving their REAL ID.”

The move was one of the priorities that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, the head of the National Governors Association, had been pushing the federal government for in response to the national emergency.

25,000 DC unemployment claims

At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman said Thursday that the District has received 25,000 unemployment claims since the public health emergency was issued March 13. She added that many of those who filed live in Maryland and Virginia, making the inequality of relief money “a regional issue.”

She added that the shutdown of the city’s hospitality industry has cost D.C. between 30% and 50% of its sales-tax revenue.

“It’s a difficult time for our city,” Silverman said.

Driven in large part by the coronavirus public health crisis, 3.2 million unemployment claims were filed nationwide last week, quadrupling the old record set in 1982.

More Coronavirus News

Fauci: Distancing ‘having an impact’

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told WTOP on Thursday that the steps the D.C. area is taking to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of the coronavirus are “having an impact.”

“You probably are having success and not knowing it,” said Fauci, who has become for many the face of the response to the public health crisis.

He said that if people were not staying away from bars, restaurants and other public places, and teleworking wherever possible, “You would be seeing a lot more cases.

“The critical issue is that we’ve gotta bend that curve of the acceleration of cases,” Fauci said. Otherwise, the exponential spread of the virus — where each patient infects more than one person, who then go on to more than double the rate of infection themselves — “threatens the supply of beds and equipment that one might need. This is something that always is a threat when you’re having an outbreak such as this.”

He added that private companies are stepping up in the production of testing kits over the past week.

“So even though it clearly was a slow start … we’re going to be seeing in the next days to weeks, there’ll be many, many more tests out in the market, and people should have [to wait] much less time in getting access to a test.”

Fauci also said that he saw signs that the virus would begin to diminish in the warmer weather, though the race is on to get a vaccine tested and ready for next fall and winter.

CLICK TO EXPAND: A graphic on the definition, and importance, of social distancing. (Courtesy Mayor Bowser’s Office)

Case numbers “almost invariably will go down” in the warmer weather, Fauci said, though the virus wouldn’t virtually disappear “the way SARS disappeared a few years ago.”

He said that when the next flu season begins in fall and early winter, “We need to be prepared.”

He said a vaccine is being tested and a few drugs, as well as convalescent serum, “will hopefully be effective. … These are not ready now. But the extra several months that we get in the seasonal gap, hopefully we’ll be ready with them.”

1st Loudoun Co. death

Loudoun County, Virginia, reported its first death from COVID-19.

The county health department said in a statement Thursday that a woman in her 70s died of respiratory failure as a result of the disease. She had previously tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and her “close contacts were previously investigated,” the department said.

The department said no more information about the woman is being provided.

“We are saddened by the first confirmed death of a Loudoun County resident due to COVID-19,” said Dr. David Goodfriend, director of the Loudoun County Health Department. “Our hearts go out to her loved ones.”

Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Eric Williams said in a letter to the community that a woman who worked in the school system died Wednesday night of COVID-19, and called her “someone who loved and was loved. She is someone who felt joy and sorrow. She is someone who poured her whole self into contributing to our community.”

DC’s new rules to conserve equipment

The D.C. Department of Health has issued new guidelines for health care providers to conserve personal protective equipment, such as masks, gowns and gloves.

Among the recommendations: Health care providers are being told that masks are not necessary in order to test someone for the coronavirus.

The health department also said providers can consider reusing masks and ventilators for other COVID-19 patients, using equipment past their expiration date, and assigning doctors and nurses who have already recovered from COVID-19 to work with patients who have the disease.

‘We are only at the beginning’

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement Thursday morning that “We are only at the beginning of this crisis … This battle is going to be much harder, take much longer, and be much worse than almost anyone comprehends. We have never faced anything like this ever before, and I continue to urge the people of our state to stay in place at home and stay safe.”

Hogan’s statement came as the state reported almost 160 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours. The total number of cases in Maryland now stands at 580.

Hogan also said that while the virus poses the greatest health risk to older people, “the vast majority” of Maryland cases are in their 40s.

Cases continue to skyrocket across the area. Virginia has had 460 cases, while D.C. has had 267.

In Maryland, 132 people have been kept at hospitals; 23 have been released. In Virginia, there have been 65 total hospitalizations; the D.C. Department of Health hasn’t released those numbers.

Four people have died of the virus in Maryland; 13 have died in Virginia, and three in the District.

DC inmate tests positive

Kevin Donahue, the deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said at a news conference that an inmate in Department of Corrections custody tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday.

Donahue added that 36 other inmates will be quarantined, and that because the jail is at 50% capacity there are plenty of vacant cells where inmates are given space to self-quarantine.

Donahue said D.C. police have changed their policy to make better use of what’s known as “citation in lieu of arrest.”

“And the U.S. attorney is making their decision whether to prosecute much earlier before any individuals reach the central cell block,” Donahue said.

People are still being arrested and put in the D.C. Jail if they’re charged with gun crimes, Donahue and Bowser both said, and the rates for those crimes haven’t fallen.

Alexandria pub reports positive case

A person who was in Murphy’s Irish Pub, on King Street in Old Town Alexandria, tested positive for the coronavirus. The person, who is not a resident of Alexandria, may have exposed people at the pub on the following dates:

  • March 10, between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m.
  • March 14, between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • March 15, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The Alexandria Health Department is urging people who may have been exposed to self-quarantine at home and to call its COVID-19 information line for guidance at 703-746-4988 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

WTOP’s Jack Moore, Abigail Constantino, Mike Murillo and Mitchell Miller contributed to this report.

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