- Teacher-led instruction at Fairfax County, Virginia, schools have been canceled for the rest of the week for necessary updates following technical glitches that led to access problems.
- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has issued an executive order requiring Marylanders to wear masks or face coverings inside grocery stores and other retailers throughout the state and on any form of public transportation.
- Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is extending an executive order closing recreation and entertainment businesses and banning large gatherings until May 8.
- D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has extended her stay-at-home order through May 15, as well as a new order on the wearing of face coverings.
- Overall deaths in D.C., Maryland and Virginia reached the highest number for the second day in a row.
- Citing overcrowding, the Calvert County Health Department is asking customers to limit trips for groceries to once every five days following a schedule based on their last name.
Fairfax Co. schools cancel online classes for the week
Amid widespread technical issues preventing students from accessing distance learning tools, Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia announced Wednesday that all teacher-led instruction has been canceled for the week in order to make necessary updates.
The school system and Blackboard 24/7, the county’s online learning provider, believe they have identified the root cause of the connectivity problems and that they involve a software issue.
“In order to work properly, staff must make necessary updates and patches to the system. On a system as large as FCPS’, these critical updates take time,” according to a letter school Superintendent Scott Brabrand sent to the school community.
Maryland order requires face masks inside all stores
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has issued an executive order requiring Marylanders to wear masks or face coverings inside grocery stores and other retailers throughout the state and on any form of public transportation.
The order also requires store employees to wear face coverings.
The order goes into effect Saturday, April 18, at 7 a.m.
In addition to public transportation, the order applies to grocery stores, convenience stores, farmers markets, restaurants and other food-service establishments, home goods stores, pharmacies, liquor stores and laundromats.
“While this order is an important step in our immediate efforts to protect public health and safety, the wearing of masks is also something that we may all have to become more accustomed to in order to safely reopen our state,” Hogan said at a news conference Wednesday.
Several Maryland counties, including Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, have already put in place rules requiring customers to wear masks inside stores.
Fairfax County asks transit riders to wear masks
Following Metro’s move, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation is asking Fairfax Connector bus riders to wear masks. These include non-medical face coverings or cloth masks. The transportation department said the use of the masks is strongly encouraged but passengers who are not wearing one will not be denied a ride.
On Tuesday, Metro released a statement 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.
Loudoun Co. senior home staff stop working over virus concerns
Loudoun County, Virginia, officials learned Tuesday that some staff members at Waltonwood, a senior living community in Ashburn, are not working their normal shifts over concerns about infecting their loved ones at home during the coronavirus pandemic.
The senior living community later clarified the numbers, saying that 23 staff members are on emergency leave and that 22 of the employees are part of the dining services team.
Waltonwood has had one death in its memory care unit due to COVID-19 and two positive cases, one resident and one worker, according to Executive Director Christopher Leinauer.
Hogan said state planning gradual recovery
Hogan’s remarks came as the state recorded more than 40 coronavirus deaths over each of the past two days, which the governor called “our deadliest 48 hours to date for the coronavirus here in Maryland.”
But Hogan said the large-scale social distancing measures he’s ordered are working to slow the spread of the virus.
“While our case numbers are still growing each day and, sadly, the number of deaths is continuing to increase, both are at much lower rates than they would have been without those actions,” Hogan said.
In addition, Hogan said it appeared the hospitalization rates for people who are seriously ill with COVID-19 “are starting to show possible signs of stabilizing.”
Given the somewhat encouraging signs, Hogan said the state is now working on a plan for what he called “the gradual roll-out of our recovery phase.”
But he cautioned: “Our numbers are still rising, and we’re still heading up that curve. So we’re not quite there yet. But we are seeing positive signs of cautious optimism.”
Hogan called on Marylanders to continue staying home, avoiding large crowds and practicing “aggressive social distancing.”
Hogan said the plan to ultimately ease some of the social distancing measures he’s put in place is based on four building blocks:
- Increasing the number of available tests. Hogan said the goal is to run 10,000 tests per day, which would more than triple current capacity.
- Increasing the surge capacity of hospitals, by adding 6,000 hospital beds.
- Ramping up the supply of personal protective equipment and other supplies. Hogan said the state is expecting a shipment of 4.5 million N95 masks and 250 additional ventilators by next week.
- Building a robust contact tracing operation. Hogan said the state plans to quadruple the current contact tracing workforce — to at least 1,000 dedicated contact tracers — who investigate disease outbreaks by tracking down those infected and their contacts.
Hogan said he would provide more details on the recovery plan next week, but that it would be “well thought out, gradual and safe.”
“Everyone wants to get back to normal — I want to get back to normal, everyone here does — we want to make people feel like they’re going get some of their lives back as quickly as we can,” Hogan said. “We want to get our economy back; we want people to get back to work, but we want to do so in a safe and smart way.”
Montgomery Co. small business grant program offers $10K checks ‘immediately’
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said at a briefing on Wednesday that a $20 million grant program for small businesses is now taking applications. “The goal of the grants is to make sure that businesses can reopen. It’s not just to pay someone’s bills and then they close their business.”
The county grants to businesses are limited to $75,000, and he said the process was designed to get money into the hands of businesses fast so they could pay their workers. “If [the application is] complete, people will get [up to] $10,000 checks immediately.” If the application is for a larger grant, the rest will come after state officials review the application.
He added that he’s seen “a good uptick in the number of businesses” working through the federal Payroll Protection Act, “which I think is the best program the feds have.”
Elrich also said that $5 million was being made available for nonprofits to assist people in what he called “vulnerable groups,” who can’t get regular federal or state aid, such as homeless people and the undocumented, whom Elrich called “the big hole in this recovery plan,” seeing as how they “contribute to [the economy] 365 days a year” but they’re not eligible for unemployment benefits.
In the same briefing, Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said that it was too soon to tell when life would return to normal after the worst of the coronavirus pandemic had passed.
While some models say that the peak for cases in Montgomery County could be this weekend, “We don’t know that for sure, and we’re not counting on that,” he said.
He also cautioned that a peak in cases and deaths from COVID-19 is just that – a peak: “That doesn’t mean we hit that and then we don’t have any more cases from there.” And when the peak in cases, and the surge in hospitalizations, is over, he said, “It is going to take continued and sustained practices” over “weeks and months” to return life to normal.
Elrich added that the broad measures had to be taken because of the lack of widespread testing. “We’re acting broadly because … since we don’t know who has it, we have to act as if everyone has it. I don’t want to get into presidential politics, but – it’s taken longer than it should.”
Virginia extends order closing recreation and entertainment businesses, banning large gatherings
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday he is extending an executive order closing recreation and entertainment businesses and banning large gatherings until May 8.
The original order was set to expire next week.
Northam had hinted earlier this week that an extension was coming after models of the virus’ spread projected new cases would hold steady over the next few weeks.
“We will continue to monitor health data in the meantime to determine what needs to happen after May 8,” he said. The governor added: “Things are not going back exactly how they were before. We’ll work together on creating a new normal.”
Separately, Northam’s stay-at-home order remains in effect until June 10. Speaking to reporters, Northam said, at this point, he doesn’t intend to extend that order, and it could be rescinded earlier than that, but any decision he makes will be based on data.
Northam also announced that Virginia will use $70 million from the federal CARES Act to support child care for essential workers with children under age 12. The money will be used in four ways:
- Direct, flexible cash assistance to centers that are still open.
- Schools will be prepared to open as emergency child care centers where they are needed.
- Eliminate copayments until June for parents who get federal child-care subsidies.
- Make more money available for centers that accept federal subsidies but have had to close.
The closure of Virginia’s K-12 schools affects 1.2 million children, and many child-care centers have closed their doors because of social distancing, even though they’re still important for essential workers.
Virginia’s first lady, Pam Northam, said that parents who need to work in essential jobs should go to vachildcare.org or call 866-KIDS-TLC to find out where they can get child care. She also said care providers can go to childcareva.com to find out more details about the new support.
Responding to the sharp rise in reported deaths in Virginia on Wednesday, State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said that day-to-day lags and jumps in death numbers are because, “We don’t know about someone’s death in the moment that it happens.” Oliver said not all the deaths reported on a particular day happened over the previous 24 hours, and it sometimes takes time for health department disease investigators who compile the data to put it in the system.
Oliver added that of 6,500 cases of COVID-19 statewide, only 3,904 have racial data attached. Of those, African-Americans comprise 30% of the cases and 35% of the deaths.
DC mayor extends stay-at-home order through May 15; issues new rules for masks
In D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser extended a stay-at-home order, issued last month to slow the spread of the coronavirus, through the middle of May.
In addition, nonessential businesses, such as gyms, hair salons and clothing stores, as well as the District’s public schools, will also be closed through at least May 15, Bowser said during a news conference Wednesday.
“We know we will need until at least May 15 to flatten the curve,” Bowser said.
Bowser said an announcement with more details on schools would come Friday.
The previous public health emergency and the host of social distancing measures announced by the mayor over the past month and a half were previously set to expire April 24.
The May 15 date is a “check-in point,” Bowser told reporters. “I don’t know that we’ll be open on May 15 … If we need to extend it beyond that, we certainly will.”
Under a bill passed by the D.C. Council last week, Bowser has the authority to extend the public health emergency through mid-June.
Bowser also issued new order requiring the use of masks by hotel workers and visitors, people riding taxis and ride-hailing services and by customers and workers at food sellers across the District. Last week, the District began requiring grocery store customers to wear masks.
The mayor’s order also directs the Department of Health Care Finance to reach out to residents with underlying health conditions to determine whether they have coronavirus symptoms and provide health information and help accessing care.
DC focus on vulnerable populations
Bowser focused much of her news briefing Wednesday on what she called the “most vulnerable” District residents, including those in D.C. custody, those in long-term care facilities, those experiencing homelessness and those who might be at risk for domestic violence.
For the first time Wednesday, D.C. Health officials began releasing detailed breakdowns of cases and deaths involving members of vulnerable groups.
The D.C. jail recorded its first COVID-19 death earlier this week. Fifty-six Department of Corrections residents have tested positive for coronavirus. Thirty-two have recovered. Eighteen DOC personnel have tested positive.
In an effort to stem the spread, D.C. said cells are being cleaned at least once a day.
Bowser also said D.C. police are making fewer arrests per day, down from an average of 94 to 29 last week.
For those in long-term care facilities, Bowser said, “Nursing homes have been a focus of this pandemic.” She added that staff have been told to observe residents in long-term facilities for symptoms every four hours.
Across 11 long-term care facilities in the District, 78 patients and 30 employees have tested positive for the coronavirus. There have been nine nursing home deaths in the District so far, authorities said.
According to the data posted Wednesday, 76 people in the city’s homeless shelters have tested positive for the virus and four people have died.
“We know that homeless shelters pose a significant risk,” Bowser said. “We are exploring every option to make them safer.”
At St. Elizabeths Hospital, 28 patients and 47 staff members have tested positive. Four patients have died.
DC doctor says false negatives are possible but rare
Some patients are testing negative for the coronavirus even though they have it, and a D.C. doctor says it’s unavoidable but exceedingly rare.
“We’ve done hundreds of tests now, and we’ve seen a couple of negatives that when retested were positive,” said Dr. Gary Simon, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at The George Washington University’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
And while they do occur, “statistically, you’ll always see a false negative in any type of population. It’s impossible to say it’s 100%.”
Death tolls continues rise
The number of coronavirus deaths in the D.C. region continued a grim climb upward Wednesday, with the overall number of deaths in the District, Maryland and Virginia reaching its highest daily death toll for the second day in a row.
On Wednesday, 93 new deaths were reported in the region, up from 60 deaths reported Tuesday. A total of 616 people in the D.C. region have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
Maryland health officials listed 47 new deaths from the coronavirus Wednesday — the highest in the region. However, the count now includes “probable” deaths from the coronavirus. A probable death means the person’s death certificate lists COVID-19 as the cause of death, but it has not yet been confirmed by a laboratory test, Kata Hall, a spokeswoman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, said on Twitter.
A total of 349 people have died in Maryland, with the highest number in Prince George’s County, which has reported 76 total deaths from COVID-19.
Virginia, which also saw a big jump in the death toll, reported 41 new deaths — up from five on Tuesday. Overall, 195 people in Virginia have died from the coronavirus.
In the Richmond area, a long-term care facility has become the scene of one of the deadliest coronavirus outbreaks in the country. The coronavirus outbreak at the Canterbury Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center has claimed 45 lives as of Tuesday.
In D.C., the number of deaths grew more slowly, increasing by five. A total of 72 people in the District have died. On Tuesday, the District saw its highest daily death count when the number of deaths jumped by 15.
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Number of new cases slows
Overall, the number of coronavirus cases across the D.C. region has climbed to 18,729. However, the total number of new coronavirus case reported by Maryland, D.C. and Virginia appears to have slowed, based on the data. The number of new cases reported across the region stood at 1,028 Wednesday, the lowest number in more than a week.
Maryland reported 560 new coronavirus infections, and the total number of cases in the state reached 10,032. The state said 607 people have recovered from their infections.
In D.C., health officials tallied up 139 new cases and a total of 2,197 coronavirus cases. In D.C., 530 people have recovered.
Speaking at a news conference Wednesday, Bowser said the number of current infections in D.C is less than what they had anticipated, crediting D.C. residents and businesses for flattening the curve.
“We do projections in terms of what we expect to see in terms of the number of people who will be infected … and we are starting to see that the number of cases that we estimated and the number of cases that we are confirming are below what we were projecting,” said D.C. Health Diretor LaQuandra Nesbitt. “We are seeing the benefit of the social distancing measures we put in place.”
Nesbitt said the fact that the number of overall infections is below the initial projections is encouraging, but she cautioned, “We have to be able to see persistent declines in the number of new cases for a two-week period of time.”
In Virginia, which reported 329 new cases, the overall number of coronavirus infections now sits at 6,500.
According to a notice on the Virginia Department of Health website, health officials are now counting people who have been confirmed to have the coronavirus through lab tests, as well as though who are symptomatic and have a known exposure to a confirmed positive cases.
Virginia does not report recoveries.
Loudoun County Sheriff’s deputy tests positive
In Loudoun County, Virginia, authorities said a sheriff’s deputy who works in the county jail has tested positive for the coronavirus. It’s the second known case of a sheriff’s deputy in Loudoun County.
The deputy tested positive for the virus over the weekend, according to a statement from the sheriff’s office. The deputy, who worked at the Loudoun Adult Detention Center, was last at work on April 7 and was assigned to what authorities called a contained control room. The deputy had no physical contact with inmates and limited contact with five other staff members, who were all outfitted with personal protective gear. The five other staff members have self-quarantined as a precaution but, so far, none of them have tested positive.
“It is unclear where the deputy contracted the virus, but there is no indication that the virus is a result of any contact within the Adult Detention Center,” the statement said.
There have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 involving any other staff member or inmate within the facility, according to authorities.
Calvert County asks residents to follow schedule based on last name for grocery trips
Citing overcrowding in grocery and convenience stores, the Calvert County Health Department is asking customers to “voluntarily limit trips for groceries to once every five days” on a schedule based on their last name.
WTOP’s Abigail Constantino and Zeke Hartner contributed to this report.