Coronavirus: Metro asks riders to wear masks; US halts payments to WHO pending review of virus warnings

Masked mother and daughter walking in D.C.
A woman and young girl wear face masks to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus as they walk past a boarded-up store, Monday, April 13, 2020, in Washington. The District of Columbia is under a stay-home order for all residents in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The latest

  • Metro wants riders to where face masks on trains, buses and in terminals.
  • There will be a two-hour delay Wednesday for teacher-led instruction at Fairfax County elementary and middle schools.
  • President Donald Trump has directed payments to the World Health Organization to be halted, while the U.S. reviews virus warnings regarding China. Read the story.
  • The death toll from COVID-19 at the Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center, in Henrico County, Virginia, has reached 45, passing the number at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington.
  • Anne Arundel County, Maryland, has become the latest county in the region to make protective masks mandatory for shoppers and workers in retail stores.

The symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Health officials say that if you have these symptoms, you should call your doctor. Don’t just show up. Medical facilities need to get ready for you. If you don’t have a doctor and you live in D.C. or the nearby Maryland suburbs, D.C.’s mayor recommends calling the Testing Triage Center at 855-363-0333 or Mary’s Center at 844-796-2797. If you live in Virginia, call 211.


Metro requests customers to wear masks

Metro is asking riders to wear face coverings while traveling on its buses, trains, MetroAccess vehicles, as well as in rail stations, bus terminals and other facilities.

The transit agency said that this is in light of new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends that masks and cloth face coverings can be used to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Metro said that while coverings are strongly encouraged, riders who are not wearing one will not be denied transportation. Metro will not be providing face coverings, and said that riders who want to wear one should plan ahead.

 

2-hour delay Wednesday for some Fairfax Co. classes; no decision on when to reopen Md. schools

Following technical glitches that caused issues with logging in on the first day of distance learning, Fairfax County Public schools announced Tuesday night that some classes will be delayed Wednesday.

Teacher-led instruction at the middle school and elementary school levels will be delayed two hours on Wednesday to allow for teachers to activate “enhanced security upgrades,” the school system tweeted Tuesday night.

The school system said Tuesday morning that Blackboard was working on the problem. At about 12:15 p.m., a representative of the school system told WTOP they believed the problem was resolved.

Read the full story.

In Maryland, the State Board of Education held an online meeting Tuesday, but it made no decision on whether schools would reopen after April 24.

A statement issued after the meeting said that the board — in consultation with the governor’s office and the state Education and Health departments — “continues to monitor conditions and evaluate on a daily/weekly basis.”

The board agreed to waive the requirement that schools hold 180 days of instruction, as well.

The action grants a five-day waiver, making it possible for school systems to fulfill the instruction requirement with 175 days of class time.

Read the full story.

Montgomery County bill would prohibit rent increases

Montgomery County, Maryland, has introduced a measure to provide relief to renters.

The COVID-19 Renter Relief Act would prohibit landlords from increasing rent for residential tenants during and within 30 days after the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Also called Expedited Bill 18-20, Landlord-Tenant Relations — Rent Stabilization During Emergencies, it would also prohibit notices of rent increases during and within a certain time period after the emergency.

“One in 10 Americans is out of work right now. We need federal action to help many people to be able to pay their current rents, let alone an increased rent,” Council member Will Jawando, the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement Tuesday.

Jawando said that he has received reports of rent increases and late fees being added at some properties.

Read the full story.

DC employees who have to physically report to work to get extra pay

The DC Police Union confirmed Tuesday that Mayor Muriel Bowser announced in an email that she has authorized a $14 per diem for all employees who are required to come into work to do their jobs.

This applies to D.C. police and all employees who fall in the criterion.

Employees who report “Regular Pay” on their time sheet will receive an additional $14 in their paycheck for days they physically report to work, up to $140 per pay period.

Read the full story.

Violent crime, scams proliferate in DC area

D.C. is seeing an uptick in violence since the pandemic arrived in the area, but leaders are not willing to connect the increase with public health measures put into place, WTOP’s Megan Cloherty reported.

D.C. police data show both killings and assaults are more than what they were during the same time period last year.

In the last month, there have been 10 killings and 56 assaults with a dangerous weapon. In the same four-week period in 2019, there were three killings and 43 armed assaults.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on crime during the pandemic (WTOP staff)

In Virginia, Prince William County police are spreading the word about some of the schemes you should be aware of and ignore.

One such scam claims that by providing your financial information and Social Security number, you will get access to a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Please remember, there is no vaccine,” said Officer Marcia Whaley with the department’s Crime Prevention Unit.

There have also been official-sounding robocalls that say they are from the Social Security Administration telling you that there is a problem with your Social Security number.

Another scam targets Medicare recipients telling them that they are eligible to get the coronavirus tests first. That is not true.

Lastly, there people who have been claiming to be collecting donations for federal or local disaster workers.

“Do your homework when it comes to donations,” Whaley said.  “Don’t let anyone rush you into making any kind of donation. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card or by wiring money, don’t do it.”

Beware of scams during the pandemic (WTOP staff)

Trump reverses course on power to ‘reopen’ states amid virus

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he’s open to some states “reopening” before federal social distancing guidelines expire at the end of month, as he appeared to back off his claim of absolute authority to decide when the time was right to act, The Associated Press reported.

“The governors are responsible,” Trump said Tuesday. “They have to take charge.”

Still, he insisted, “The governors will be very, very respectful of the presidency.”

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been preparing federal guidelines for states looking to resume normal operations. They were expected to be unveiled later this week.

Read the full story from The Associated Press.

1st Va. inmate dies of COVID-19

The Virginia Department of Corrections said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that an inmate at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland has died of COVID-19.

The woman was 49 years old and had asthma and Hepatitis-C, the department said. She was admitted to the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center April 4 and tested positive for the coronavirus that day.

She was serving a nine-year sentence for manufacturing methamphetamine, delivery of drugs to prison and larceny and was scheduled to be released in 2023, the department said.

The Department of Corrections has about 30,000 inmates and 12,000 workers, and of those, 44 inmates and 32 workers have active cases of COVID-19, the department said.

Maryland’s first inmate to die of COVID-19 passed away on Saturday; D.C.’s first inmate death was reported Monday.

Face coverings to be required in Anne Arundel, Charles Co.  stores

Anne Arundel County, Maryland, has become the latest county in the region to make protective masks mandatory for shoppers and workers in retail stores.

The county announced the decision by Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman on Tuesday morning; it goes into effect Wednesday. Gov. Larry Hogan earlier this month gave local health departments the authority to issue such orders.

The order also requires that the stores provide face coverings to workers who ask for them, restrict their capacity to half of normal and other measures.

“Our most effective tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is for each of us to act as though we are carriers of the virus, because we could be,” said County Executive Steuart Pittman in a statement, adding that he fully supported the decision.

On Tuesday afternoon, Charles County issued a similar order, requiring everyone to wear face coverings in grocery stores, pharmacies and retail establishments, as well as public transportation.

D.C., Montgomery County and Prince George’s County have already issued similar orders.

Deadliest day yet in DC, Md.

D.C. recorded 103 new coronavirus cases Tuesday morning, bringing its total to 2,058. The District also saw its single deadliest day, according to the new data: The number of COVID-19-related deaths jumped by 15, reaching a total of 67 deaths.

CLICK TO EXPAND: COVID-19 deaths in Maryland by county April 14, 2020. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)

Maryland on Tuesday morning also reported a new daily high in deaths – 40, for a total of 302. Nine of those deaths happened in Prince George’s County, which leads the state with 72. Maryland also reported 536 new cases – the smallest number in a week – for a total of 9,472 and four more recoveries for a total of 607.

Six of the new deaths in D.C. involved people under age 65, including two men in their 30s.

Of the 15 new deaths in the District, all but two were African Americans. Overall, African Americans make up 76% of all the coronavirus deaths recorded in D.C.

In Maryland, where racial data lags the raw numbers by a day, 120 African Americans have died, the health department reported; 93 white people and 10 Asian Americans.

A decline in Va. deaths

Virginia on Tuesday morning reported 424 new cases of COVID-19 in the past day, for a statewide total of 6,171, and five more deaths, for a total of 154. It’s the third straight day that Virginia has reported fewer deaths than the day before, and five is the least deaths in a day since April 6.

CLICK TO EXPAND: Total and new COVID-19 cases in Maryland as of April 14, 2020. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)

The Virginia Department of Health also reported that roughly a quarter of the commonwealth’s ventilators are in use – 709 of the total of 2,838.

The health department said 43 African Americans had died of COVID-19 in the commonwealth, and 74 white people. Some of these were recategorized from “unknown.”

Virginia reported that 721 confirmed COVID-19 patients had been discharged from hospitals. It’s the first time they’ve reported those numbers.

Bowser: Coronavirus cases in DC may peak in May

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, whose city is facing the same coronavirus challenges as other metropolitan areas, told WTOP that the city’s people and businesses are doing a “fantastic job helping us contain the virus.”

“We’re hopeful that our worst-case scenario projections won’t be realized,” said Bowser. “Which means we’ll see lower levels of inspection or hospitalization and possibly see our peak happen in mid- to late May, rather than late June.”

The mayor said she thinks efforts to close nonessential businesses, “especially in the nation’s capital region,” have helped drive down the level of coronavirus cases.

“This virus knows no borders — people who live in Maryland work in the District and same for Virginia. So it is really important that everybody in the region is staying at home only doing essential work, essential activities.”

But it remains unclear when businesses and schools may reopen.

“Nobody wants to get back open more than I do, to get our kids back in learning environments. But we don’t want to see a rebound in infection, which would lose all of the gains we’ve made over the last month,” said Bowser.

Bowser said the city has been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to acquire needed supplies.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser talks with WTOP's Bruce Alan.

WTOP poll: Americans weary of virus coverage, plan to get out

Americans are getting weary of coronavirus crisis-related news and are planning out-of-home activities, according to a new WTOP poll.

The number of Americans checking the news several times a day for coronavirus updates has gone down significantly from last week and despite ongoing stay-at-home orders, more people are planning to get out of the house, according to a WTOP national poll conducted by Heart+Mind Strategies.

The number of those checking for COVID-19 updates multiple times a day is down 9 points from last week to 33%. Daily news consumption stands at 73%, down 5 points.


More Coronavirus News


“I think we’re seeing increasing fatigue people have on just the amount of news that’s being generated by this situation,” said Erin Norman, senior solutions consultant with the polling firm.
In the poll’s fourth week, the number of Americans who believe coronavirus is a real threat dropped for the first time — down 4 points, to 79%.

Given the number of deaths associated with the novel coronavirus, Norman said while she does not believe people are questioning the severity of the disease, she does believe those in more remote areas of the country are less likely to consider the coronavirus a “real threat.”

“I do think that it becomes an issue of a personal threat. We see some geographic breaks where the number of people who believe it’s a real threat in New England and the Mid-Atlantic census region, which is New York [which has the most coronavirus cases in the country], New Jersey, Pennsylvania, are significantly more likely to believe it’s a real threat,” Norman said.

This week’s latest poll found a significant uptick in the number of people planning out-of-home activities: One-in-five are planning personal travel, up 8%.

A similar number, 22%, plan to dine out in the next two weeks, which is up 6% over last week.

Read the full story.

DC area better than average at staying home

Widespread stay-at-home orders are not being followed by many Americans, but people in the D.C.-area are doing a better job than most.

Many Americans are moving around and taking trips out of town despite widespread stay-at-home orders, according to data gathered by researchers at the University of Maryland.

According to an interactive analytics tool assembled at the university, only 35% of people nationwide are staying at home.

Locally, the analytics tool shows that 49% of people in D.C. are currently staying home, among the highest share of residents for any state. That number is 39% in Maryland and 34% in Virginia.

“We define staying at home as a person who has not made any trips more than 1 mile away from their house,” said project leader Lei Zhang.

The average American has taken two such trips since the lockdown began, for work purposes or otherwise, with 23% of those being “out of county,” researchers determined.

“Our goal is to not only produce new and compelling data, but to truly inform and support decision-makers,” said Zhang.

According to the research, the largest increase in the percentage of people staying at home during the week after a statewide order was in New Jersey (13%), New York (11%), Illinois (11%), California (11%) and Michigan (10%).

Read the full story.

Md. high court issues order related to juveniles in custody

In an effort to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus, the Maryland Court of Appeals — the state’s highest court — issued an order Monday that aims to guide circuit courts acting as juvenile courts across the state during the pandemic.

Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Ellen Barbera said lower court justices need to make the right call and not put kids behind bars if doing so would lead to “serious health risks” to those kids, other inmates, staff and the community at-large.

If a juvenile tests positive or shows symptoms, Barbera said that should be taken into consideration.

The chief judge said judges need to look into whether the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services has come up with a viable option other than to detain or confine juveniles outside of the usual system.

Loudoun County flag to be lowered to half-staff every Monday

Loudoun County, Virginia’s, Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall ordered the county flag lowered to half-staff at county facilities every Monday in honor of residents who have died of COVID-19 and in recognition of essential workers responding to the pandemic.

Loudoun County flag
Loudoun County, Virginia, flags will be lowered to half-staff every Monday. (Courtesy Loudoun County)

The flags will be lowered from dusk to dawn until further notice.

“I hope that all of us to remember there are people behind the numbers that we see in the reports of COVID-19 deaths in Loudoun County,” said Randall, who said the tribute is a “small gesture” to let the community know they are not alone and to recognize the impact of the public health emergency

As of Tuesday, there are 344 positive cases in Loudoun County. The Loudoun Times-Mirror reported Monday that five people have died from COVID-19, including a public school teacher in her 70s.

Members of the board of supervisors held a ceremony to mark the tribute on Tuesday, which was followed by a moment of silence.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan, Megan Cloherty, Alejandro Alvarez, Jack Moore and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She has a master’s degree in interactive journalism from American University and a master’s degree in English Literature from The George Washington University.

Matt Small

Matt joined WTOP News at the start of 2020, after contributing to Washington’s top news outlet as an Associated Press journalist for nearly 18 years.

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