Va. to enforce 10-person limit in some businesses, as DC area sees jump in coronavirus cases

Pharmacist Evelyn Kim, wears a mask and gloves at the CVS pharmacy at Target in the Tenleytown area of Washington, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

As testing for the novel coronavirus ramps up, the number of cases in Maryland and Virginia took dramatic leaps on Tuesday morning, as the virus continued to spread through the country and change the pace of life in the area.

Maryland’s coronavirus case count jumped from 37 to 57 on Tuesday, as Virginia’s went from 45 to 67. A second Virginian died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, on Monday.

In D.C., where the number of cases increased to 31 Tuesday, American University reported that a student had tested positive for coronavirus; Howard University noted that a guest who attended a March 7 dinner on campus had tested positive; and Gonzaga College High School’s president tested positive after he had run a fever starting last Friday.

On Tuesday, Alexandria Health Department is investigating three new positive cases of COVID-19. One patient was tested in New York but gave an Alexandria address. Another patient recently traveled internationally. And another patient came in close contact with a confirmed case in D.C.

D.C. Fire and EMS said it was notified on Monday that one its staff tested positive for COVID-19. The city’s health department is undertaking contact testing that will include next steps for self-quarantine for other fire and EMS staff and members of the community.

Also, a Metro Transit Police officer who lives in Prince George’s County, Maryland, but is based in Springfield, Virginia, tested positive for the virus.


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The Maryland political landscape changed Tuesday as well, when Gov. Larry Hogan announced the postponement of the April 28 presidential primary and switched the special U.S. House election to succeed Elijah Cummings to mail-only.

If you do have to go out, and you rely on public transportation, be sure to check the schedules before you go, as Metro is only running every 12 minutes, and MARC and VRE have announced cutbacks as well.

If you’re driving, be aware that reversible roads will be in rush-hour mode, even with fewer drivers, as will toll lanes — though the prices are much lower than usual. Parking rules in D.C. remain on a weekday timetable, though street sweeping restrictions do not apply.

Maryland

Rising coronavirus cases, test kit shortage

The Maryland coronavirus cases jumped more than 50% as Monday turned to Tuesday, and Hogan said at a news conference that the number is likely “much, much higher.”

Speaking in Annapolis, the governor said the state is still grappling with a shortage of test kits, and as more people are tested, the numbers are rising.

“And the fact that we’ve now got community spread, but those numbers are likely to be much, much higher,” Hogan said.

Regarding the lack of testing kits, Hogan said governors across the U.S. are frustrated.

“We don’t have enough test kits. Neither does any other state. And no, the federal government does not have an answer,” he said.

When testing does ramp up, Maryland plans to repurpose its vehicle emission inspection locations — which Hogan ordered closed — into drive-through coronavirus testing centers across the state.

But Hogan cautioned against reading too much into that development: “Ramping up the drive-throughs is a relatively easy part; we can do that,” he said. “But we don’t want to do it if we can’t get the lab capability because we’re just giving false hope and creating chaos and crisis.”

Hogan also attributed the jump in cases to “community spread” of the virus, meaning people are now acquiring the virus from other infected people in Maryland as opposed to through international travel.

“The next time you see a report, it will continue to speed up at probably faster rates than what we saw this morning,” Hogan said.

A spokesman for the governor later tweeted that, as it stands now, 68% of COVID-19 cases in Maryland came through community transmission.

National Guard

Hogan, who activated the National Guard last week, said 2,200 members have now been been put to work, including three units of medical professionals. For now, members of the National Guard are helping transport stockpiles of medical equipment, Hogan said.

“These are citizen soldiers who’ve stepped up to help the community,” he said.

He acknowledged the sight of uniformed personnel “may look a little intimidating,” but he added: “Look, we’re running a crisis in the middle of a state of emergency and you’re going to see people in uniform; you’re going to see an increased increased police presence; and you’re going to see National Guard airmen and soldiers, who are going to be across the state and they’re all here to help.”

Medical tents?

Don’t be alarmed to see tents popping up in the parking lots of local emergency room as hospitals attempt to keep potential coronavirus cases separate from the rest of the population seeking emergency care.

WTOP’s news partner NBC Washington had aerial video of the tents erected outside Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring on Monday evening, showing two tents close together near the patient drop-off area.

NBC Washington reported that six hospitals in Montgomery County alone are planning to do this as the number of cases continues to grow.

The tents, provided by Montgomery County Fire and Rescue, are used for triage.

“It creates an opportunity to increase the volume and ability to be able to screen and test individuals that have symptoms concerning for COVID-19,” Dr. Travis Gayles, the chief of Public Health Services for Montgomery County, told NBC Washington.

Cashless tolling

Hogan also announced that all tolling in Maryland would be cashless. Drivers can drive through toll booths and will be sent a bill.

REAL ID

Hogan also said he sent a letter to President Trump requesting that the deadline for states to become REAL ID-compliant be moved.

Virginia

Arlington opens drive-thru sample collection site

Arlington County and the Virginia Hospital Center are partnering to open a drive-thru coronavirus sample collection site.

The sample collection center at 1429 N. Quincy St. will open Wednesday at 9 a.m. and will remain open on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Self-quarantine for those over 65

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said at a news conference Tuesday morning that another 48 tests are pending in the state laboratory in Richmond, and more at private labs around the state.

He ordered the Department of Motor Vehicles to close, and urged Virginians older than 65 to self-quarantine. He also waived the one-week waiting requirement for workers who lose their jobs due to the virus to receive benefits.

He also said that “everyone who needs food assistance will be able to get it.”

He added, “Our state agencies, our food banks, faith-based groups and other nutrition-based organizations are working hard to coordinate food services.”

Northam referred to the new federal guidelines that discourage the gathering of more than 10 people in one place, saying, “We understand that the 10-person standard will have an impact on a number of businesses across our society. It means that all restaurants, malls, fitness centers and theaters must significantly reduce their capacity in compliance.”

He did not, however, order them closed, as Hogan and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser have done in their jurisdictions.

“A lot of restaurants will have more than 10 people in them,” Northam said. “That’s just the way they operate. And if that’s the case, we’re not mandating that they close.”

However on Tuesday afternoon, Northam issued an order allowing enforcement of a ban on large gatherings in Virginia, which gives law enforcement the ability to enforce a 10-person limit in restaurants, fitness centers and theaters. The order is effective immediately and violation could lead to revocation of permits and other charges.

University of Virginia moves to online classes for the spring semester

The University of Virginia announced that all classes will remain online throughout the spring semester, and no classes will be held on campus.

Commencement activities have been canceled. The school is developing alternatives to mark the occasion.

Counties respond to the outbreak

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved the declaration of a local state of emergency in order to better handle its response to the coronavirus.

In Fairfax County, home to about 1.15 million people, 10 have tested positive for coronavirus.

In the discussion of the measure, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said the declaration “does not allow the county executive to do anything that’s inconsistent with state law or orders that the governor has put out. I just want to be clear on ordering a store to be closed, that’s not something the county would be doing.”

The county’s attorney, Elizabeth Teare, said the declaration serves as a foundational document “for additional actions, if any, that the board may wish to take in regards to this emergency going forward.”

McKay noted that the primary reason for the declaration is that it allows the county to apply for state and federal assistance when funding becomes available.

Supervisor John Foust, of the Dranesville district, said “it sends a message to the community that this is an emergency situation. I think this will help in that regard.”

McKay reminded the county of its preparation for emergencies.

“We will do everything we can to get through this. We are in a better position than about anywhere else in the world to get through this because of our talented staff and community,” McKay said.

Neighboring Prince William County approved a similar declaration Monday. Northam declared a state of emergency in Virginia on March 12.

Elsewhere, such as in Loudoun County, officials are temporarily closing county departments to the public while they work out social distancing measures. The county said that the closures would last a day or two, and they’re also suspending the use of their public conference rooms.

The latest coronavirus-related death in Virginia

“It is a sad day in our community as we learn that a local resident has died from COVID-19,” said Peninsula Health Department Acting Director Dr. Steve Julian of the second Virginia death, a man from the Newport News area.

Northam said that he is deeply saddened to hear about the latest death.

“It’s important that we all look out for each other during this difficult time for our commonwealth and our country,” Northam said in a statement.

This is the second death in the Newport News area from COVID-19. Virginia reported its first coronavirus-related death on Saturday. The first victim was a man also in his 70s.

As of 11:20 a.m. Tuesday, there are 67 positive coronavirus cases in Virginia.

DC

D.C. Council passes emergency benefits package

The D.C. Council unanimously passed an emergency bill to provide relief for small businesses and workers.

The bill extends unemployment insurance; issues grants to nonprofits and independent contractors; prohibits stockpiling; allows people to refill prescriptions before the due date; prohibits evictions and utility shutoff; and extends the state of emergency in D.C. to 45 days.

National Shrine closes

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception announced on Tuesday that it would close to the public until further notice.

“This was a difficult decision because we know that the faithful rely on Mary’s Shrine for the peace and solace that is found in this sacred place,” Monsignor Walter R. Rossi, rector of the National Shrine, said in a statement. “Still, we also recognize that we must listen to scientific and medical experts and do our part to help prevent the spread of this virus.”

The basilica had suspended public mass and confession last Friday, but had remained open for private prayer. They said in the statement that it was the first time in nearly 100 years they had closed for a reason other than the weather.

The basilica will livestream its Sunday noon masses on its website.

Local homeless shelters face challenges

Homeless shelters around the area are facing challenges of their own as concerns around
the spread of coronavirus continue.

Proactive measures, such as washing hands to ensure proper hygiene, have been a challenge in the homeless community, one of the most vulnerable populations.

“They typically have compromised immune systems and often times already have chronic health issues,” said Joseph Mettimano, president of the nonprofit Central Union Mission in D.C.

Mettimano said their focus is mainly around preventive work, because coronavirus in a shelter would spread quickly.

“We’ve gone the extra step of taking folks’ body temperature during check-in, and if somebody is showing signs of fever and other symptoms, we are sending them to get medical attention.”

In addition to ensuring the health of those in need, access to hand sanitizer has also been a challenge. Central Union Mission is now asking the public to assist in any way, whether through financial donations or hygiene products.

They’re also urging city leaders to plan for the possibility of the coronavirus showing up within the homeless community.

“The city needs to be prepared to take those folks in, in order to quarantine them. There is no such thing as quarantining within a homeless shelter,” Mettimano said.

If you do see someone on the street who could possibly be ill, contact EMS or local officials to get them help.

WTOP’s Abigail Constantino, Megan Cloherty, Melissa Howell, Jack Moore, Will Vitka and Dan Friedell contributed to this report.

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