Coronavirus: 2nd death in Fairfax County in Va.; member of DC Mayor Bowser’s staff dies

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who chairs the National Governors Association, talks about initiatives and funding Maryland is making available to help small businesses and employees hurt by the coronavirus’ impact on the economy during a news conference in Annapolis, Md., on Monday, March 23, 2020. Hogan also discussed plans to ask the federal government for more direct financial aid to the states in a conference call Monday with the White House. Kelly Schulz, the secretary of the Maryland Department of Commerce is standing left, and Tiffany Robinson, secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, is standing right. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

The latest

  • New cases of the novel coronavirus: In Maryland, an employee at a Montgomery County, Maryland, liquor and wine store has tested positive, as well as two workers in the Prince George’s County public school system. Staff and residents at three Montgomery County nursing homes have tested positive. And, four members of Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service have tested positive. D.C. reported 37 new cases Friday night.
  • The District also said a second person in D.C. Department of Corrections custody has tested positive.
  • The Fairfax County Health Department in Virginia said that a man in his 60s who tested positive for COVID-19 has died. It’s the county’s second coronavirus-related death. The man acquired the virus through travel. In Prince William County, a man in his 70s with chronic medical conditions became the county’s first death from COVID-19.
  • President Donald Trump issued an order that seeks to force General Motors to produce ventilators for coronavirus patients under the Defense Production Act.
  • D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced on Friday that a member of her office of legal counsel has died of the new coronavirus.
  • The number of cases of COVID-19 in Maryland went up to 774 Friday, an increase of 190 since Thursday. It’s the fourth day in a row that Maryland has seen a record one-day increase; five Marylanders have died of the disease. The latest death was an Anne Arundel County man who was in his 80s.
  • Virginia stands at 604 cases and 14 deaths, while D.C. has 304 cases and three deaths.
  • Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said at a briefing that states are “bidding against each other” for protective equipment for health care providers and that a national response was needed,
  • Virginia Finance Secretary Aubrey Layne said that his preliminary reading of the coronavirus relief bill indicated that Virginia was in line for $3.3 billion in aid to the state and to cities and towns.
  • The D.C. Board of Elections is encouraging residents to request mail ballots for the June 2 primary and the June 16 special election in Ward 2, calling it the safest choice in light of the social distancing measures provoked by the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Maryland’s governor told WTOP that the COVID-19 crisis is still “ratcheting up,” and that the steps being taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus are “disrupting people’s lives,” but he’s confident they’re “going to save lives as well.”

New cases in the area

Patients testing positive for the coronavirus in D.C., Maryland and Virginia have more than doubled since the start of the week. The total number of positive cases reported was 650 on Monday, and by Friday it had reached more than 1,600 total cases.

On Friday night, D.C. reported 37 new cases, bringing the city’s total to 304.

Several residents and staff have tested positive for the coronavirus at three Montgomery County, Maryland, nursing homes.

At Brighton Gardens on Tuckerman Lane in Bethesda, three residents — two men in their 80s and a man in his 60s — are currently hospitalized.

At Fox Chase Rehab and Nursing in Silver Spring, a staff member is self-quarantining after testing positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. A news release from Montgomery County said no residents have manifested signs of illness, and relevant staff members have been asked to self-quarantine.

A staff member at Fairland Center on Fairland Road in Silver Spring has tested positive. The employee is self-quarantining.

Four members of Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service tested positive. Their infections did not originate at work, a county news release said. To date, 19 members of the department have been quarantined.

In Prince George’s County, Maryland, two workers at the public school system tested positive, schools CEO Dr. Monica Goldson said in a statement Friday.

They work at Charles H. Flowers High School and High Point High School, Goldson said, adding, “I know that you join me in extending well-wishes and prayers to the employees.”

An employee at the Hampden Lane Liquor and Wine Store Bethesda, Maryland, tested positive for the coronavirus. The employee had not been feeling well and was sent home on Wednesday.

Anyone who was at the store on 4920 Hampden Lane on March 23 or March 24 should monitor their temperature and watch for respiratory symptoms, health officials said.

Liquor stores are classified as essential services in Maryland, which remain open.

The store is temporarily closed for disinfection and staff who have come in contact with the infected employee have been asked to self-quarantine.

Bowser: Staffer has died of COVID-19

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that a member of her staff has died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, on Friday morning.

George Valentine, of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of Legal Counsel, has died of COVID-19. (Courtesy Mayor Bowser’s Office)

Bowser identified him as George Valentine, the deputy director of the Office of Legal Counsel.

Valentine had spent more than two decades in the Office of Attorney General before moving to the mayor’s office, Bowser said at a briefing Friday. She didn’t know when he was diagnosed, but he went into a hospital on Wednesday, Bowser said.

“It’s devastating for everybody of course, and we’re very sorry,” Bowser said.

Later, on Twitter, Bowser said, “George Valentine epitomized what it is to be a dedicated public servant,” while Police Chief Peter Newsham called him a “brilliant legal mind, tireless public servant and friend.”

Bowser said her office was following the advice of health officials, and was engaged in process of notifying staff members who may have been in contact with him recently. As far as she knew, she herself hadn’t been in contact with him.

DC unemployment continues to skyrocket

According to Drake Hagner, a senior staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia that helps low-income residents, claims for unemployment insurance have surpassed 27,000 in D.C., and it is only March. The number is around 10,000 claims shy of 2019’s total.

“We’re seeing catastrophic job loss and layoffs at this time,” she said.

Many people are having a difficult time applying because so many people are seeking assistance, Hagner said.

And to add to the challenges, D.C.’s website for unemployment insurance doesn’t work on mobile platforms, leaving some people without home computers waiting for hours on the phone to apply.

There is some confusion over requirements, as well.

To clarify, Hagner said unemployment is not only open to people who were laid off, it is also open to people who saw their hours reduced dramatically because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And because of what has been happening with the outbreak, those who qualify will receive compensation for their first week of unemployment — something that did not happen before.

Also, a job search requirement has been waived for the time being.

Hagner said to qualify most people need to have been in a job for at least 15 months.

“We don’t want people who are getting unemployment because they are under self-quarantine to be looking for work, we want people staying home.”

Northam: States ‘bidding against each other’

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said at a briefing on Friday that the state still doesn’t have enough protective equipment or testing to face the coronavirus crisis, and said that it would take “several weeks” to get back on track.

He said the state was dealing with a disruption of the supply chain in Asia, and said again, “Our country needs a national solution.”

Without that, he said, “We’re bidding against each other. We’re bidding against our own hospital systems.”

Northam added that he, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser have asked for a federal coronavirus testing site for the entire region, given the federal workers in agencies “that must continue to operate.”

He praised the “corporate citizens” who have stepped up to donate and make equipment for medical providers, such as the Department of Corrections, which has made thousands of face guards. He added that all states are finding such resources, “but it really has to be solved at the national level.”

Northam said that the Army Corps of Engineers was scouting out sites for alternative and temporary hospitals in the area. He also mentioned again the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps, which he said had seen 650 new volunteers in the past two days.

Northam also said that while most COVID-19 patients in Virginia were people in their 50s and 60s, 93 of the 604 cases — 16% — were in their 20s.

The governor said that planned pay raises for state workers, teachers and state police are being looked at “on a day-to-day basis.” He added that, “We’ll make decisions between now and the reconvene session” on April 27. Finance Secretary Aubrey Layne said that the bills authorize the raises dependent on state revenues.

Layne: $3.3 billion for Virginia in relief bill

Finance Secretary Aubrey Layne also said that his preliminary reading of the coronavirus relief bill, which passed the U.S. House Friday afternoon and is headed to Trump’s desk, suggested that Virginia will get $3.3 billion from the federal government.

He said $1.8 billion would go directly to the state, and $1.5 billion to localities. Cities and towns with more than 500,000 people will be able to apply for more money directly, Layne said. He added that the money was intended strictly for directly addressing the coronavirus crisis, and can’t be used to write down losses of revenues.

Northam: ‘Stay at home’

While Northam has repeatedly urged Virginians to stay home, he hasn’t issued a formal stay-at-home order. Asked why, he replied, “We’re talking semantics here. … All the states are giving the same direction, and that is to stay at home.”

Hogan: Steps are ‘going to save lives’

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan talked with WTOP’s Bruce Alan Friday morning about the steps being taken to slow the coronavirus outbreak in the area.

“Our cases in the Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland area have quadrupled in the past week. This crisis is ratcheting up,” Hogan said.

He said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has delivered some supplies to area hospitals, but that they are still crucially short on personal protective equipment and ventilators.

“We are getting some backup and assistance from the federal government, but we’re pushing for more,” Hogan said.

Hogan said the plan to turn vehicle emission testing centers into coronavirus testing centers is underway; he said the stations are ready to open but that they’re still getting all of the tests and protocols in order to ensure that they aren’t overloaded with patients seeking testing.

He added that the closure of child care centers, which begins at the end of the day Friday for all but nonessential workers, was just as crucial as closing the schools.

“Childcare is just as dangerous as schools from the transmission of the virus,” Hogan said.

More Coronavirus News

That said, Hogan said it won’t be known for a few weeks whether the steps the government is taking are working.

“We’ve been very aggressive,” Hogan said. “We’re not going to stop it, but [we] hope we can bend that curve downward … I know it’s disrupting people’s lives, but I know it’s going to save lives as well,” he said.

Bowser: Trump to ‘look into’ DC categorization

Mayor Muriel Bowser said that she had spoken with Trump about the fact that D.C. was categorized as a territory, rather than a state, in the coronavirus relief bill that passed the Senate on Wednesday. The categorization means that D.C. will get about $500 million, while states, even those with fewer residents than the District, will get at least $1.25 billion.

“He was going to look into what happened,” Bowser said. “We continue to call on him to do that.”

Major disaster declaration for Maryland

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Thursday that federal emergency aid has been made available for Maryland.

“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.

WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this report.

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Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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