Coronavirus updates: Md. secures half a million COVID-19 tests; coronavirus cases top 25,000

The shipment of 500,000 COVID-19 tests from South Korea arriving at BWI Airport April 18, 2020. (Courtesy Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan)

The latest

  • The state of Maryland has acquired 500,000 new COVID-19 tests from a South Korean health care company, Gov. Larry Hogan announced.
  • Virginia is working on creating a coronavirus testing working group. Expanding testing capacity is a key part of efforts to ease public health restrictions.
  • The number of known cases across D.C., Maryland and Virginia now stands at more than 25,000, with the death toll from all three states reaching 921 on Monday.
  • President Trump criticized Hogan for procuring tests from South Korea on Monday, as the White House seeks to flip the blame on concerns over a lack of testing availability.
  • The Fairfax County Public School system reported problems with its distance learning platform. The school system says the problems are similar to glitches last week that led to the canceling of online classes.
  • D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the city is making changes in the D.C. Jail following a court ruling over the weekend that ordered stepped-up cleaning and social distancing efforts.

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. Do not 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.


‘Game-changing’: Maryland secures half a million new COVID-19 tests from South Korea

The state of Maryland has acquired 500,000 new COVID-19 tests from a South Korean health care company after weeks of complicated negotiations that were spearheaded by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and first lady Yumi Hogan.

The governor announced the acquisition — which he said cost about $9 million — at a news conference in Annapolis on Monday afternoon.

Hogan said the purchase from the company LabGenomics would significantly ramp up the state’s testing capacity.

The lack of testing “remains the most serious obstacle to safely reopening our states,” Hogan said. “Here in Maryland, we’ve been doing everything in our power to acquire more tests from the federal government. Unfortunately, we have also had to compete with every state in America in our attempts to procure tests from every domestic producer in the U.S. and from sources around the globe.”

The project to acquire the huge tranche of tests was called “Operation Enduring Friendship,” in recognition of the ties between the U.S. — and Maryland — and South Korea. Yumi Hogan is the first Korean-American first lady of any state in the U.S.

The shipment of COVID-19 tests were delivered via a Korean Air passenger plane that landed at BWI Marshall Airport. Hogan and the first lady met the plane on the tarmac Saturday.

“This weekend, we took an exponential, game-changing step forward on our large-scale testing initiative,” Hogan said.

The total number of new tests is roughly equal to the total amount of testing that has been completed by four of the top five states in terms of testing, combined. Since the first reported cases of COVID-19 in Maryland in March, about 71,000 Marylanders have been tested for the virus.

Expanded testing capacity — including the ability to run at least 10,000 tests a day — is a key part of Hogan’s plan for easing some of the social distancing measures he has ordered as governor, such as closing nonessential businesses and issuing a stay-at-home directive.

Hogan predicted the influx of new tests would help Maryland “blow past” its testing goals.

The governor plans to discuss more details of the state’s recovery plan later this week.

President Donald Trump has sought to shift blame for a lack of testing capacity across the country to governors, saying they aren’t using already available testing capacity.

Trump later took swipes at both Hogan and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, over what the president asserted was a lack of understanding over the nation’s testing deficit. An AP fact check says Trump’s comments are false.

“The governor of Maryland could have called Mike Pence, could have saved a lot of money,” Trump said, during his daily press briefing Monday evening. “I don’t think he needed to go to South Korea. I think he needed to get a little knowledge, would’ve been helpful.”

Hogan backed off from sparring with Trump, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he appreciated information coming from the White House but that he had a “pretty good understanding of what’s going on,” adding Trump was absent from a call between Pence and the nation’s governors where testing was a focus.

Parents have until Wednesday for quicker stimulus funds

As part of those CARES Act stimulus payments of up to $1,200 that are going out to Americans, some parents are eligible for an extra $500 per child.

And if they have yet to file a 2018 or 2019 tax return, the IRS says, they’ll need to share their dependent information to get it soon.

The IRS is urging those affected to check out the special non-filer tool on IRS.gov by noon on Wednesday so they can get it all in a single payment. For those who miss the deadline, the additional $500 per eligible child will “be paid in association with a return filing for tax year 2020,” according to the IRS.

Feds get guidelines for returning to work

The White House has released new guidelines on how federal offices can be reopened.

The framework from Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought and acting Office of Personnel Management Director Michael Rigas is similar to the national guidelines released last week.

Per those guidelines, certain “gating criteria” would need to be met — in each of the three phases outlined — before a state’s economy could resume normally.

Agency officials will have to consider a given state or region’s situation, in addition to such factors as school closures and mass transit availability.

Read more details from Federal News Network.

Virginia forming COVID-19 testing group

Virginia is forming a COVID-19 testing work group that will address the commonwealth’s capacity.

During a briefing Monday afternoon, Gov. Ralph Northam said Virginia’s testing ability has been steadily increasing, as more hospital, university and private labs ramp up their capabilities.

The work group will focus on expanding test sites and criteria; on increasing test volume and timeliness; and addressing factors that limit testing (such as supplies and containers).

“Testing isn’t just about the test itself,” Northam said.

Monday saw the commonwealth’s number of confirmed cases increase to 8,990 and the death toll hit 300.

“Hopefully these numbers are trending down but we certainly haven’t reached our peak,” Northam said.

The governor noted that there have to be at least 14 straight days of decreasing numbers — based on last week’s recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House — before any public-health restrictions can be eased.

Yet a recent tweet from President Trump to “liberate Virginia” led to what Northam called “mixed messages” and protests that endanger the public and, in particular, health care workers.

“I am just as anxious as anybody else out there to ease these restrictions … but I really don’t need people protesting to encourage me to open up our economy any sooner than we can do safely and responsibly,” Northam said.

DC to temporarily extend sidewalks near grocery stores to improve social distancing

The District plans to temporarily extend sidewalks around grocery stores and other essential businesses so pedestrians can better practice social distancing, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday.

“While staying at home is a crucial part of flattening the curve during the COVID-19 pandemic, we do recognize residents need to make trips to essential businesses like grocery stores, and sometimes existing sidewalk space makes social distancing a challenge,” Bowser said in a statement Monday afternoon. “This tactic will allow for better social distancing as we all work together to flatten the curve.”

The District Department of Transportation is still identifying locations where the sidewalks will be extended. The department will take suggestions from Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners and representatives from business improvement districts and residents.

Health guidelines from the CDC say people should stay at least 6 feet away from others as much as possible.

DC plans changes at jail after court ruling

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the city is making changes in the D.C. Jail following a court ruling over the weekend that ordered stepped-up cleaning and social distancing efforts.

The court ruling Sunday was based on an independent inspection report that found inmates used “dirty and soiled rags” to clean spaces and that inmates were deterred from reporting illness due to the resulting isolation.

“Some fixes can be made more quickly than others,” Bowser said during a news conference Monday. She said a team from the CDC also visited the jail and made recommendations.

Among the changes are updated training on the use of personal protective equipment, daily showers for people in isolation and more entertainment options to reduce crowding around TVs.

Bowser said she’s putting Clinton Lacey, the director of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, in charge of a team responsible for making changes at the Department of Corrections, DYRS and St. Elizabeths Hospital.

One inmate at the D.C. Jail has died from COVID-19 complications.

Overall, 82 inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus and nearly 850 inmates are being quarantined because of their potential exposure to the virus, according to figures released by the D.C. Department of Health.

Among DOC personnel, there have been 26 confirmed coronavirus cases and another 134 personnel are not working because they’re being quarantined due to potential exposure of the virus.

“Staffing is a challenge at the D.C. Jail,” said Kevin Donahue, the deputy mayor for public safety. Overall, the number of DOC personnel out due to sickness or quarantine is more than a quarter of the workforce, he said. “That puts pressure on the jail,” he added.

At the news conference, Bowser also offered condolences relating to two recent coronavirus deaths. Dr. Zoao Makumbi, school psychologist at Charles Houston Elementary School, in Northeast D.C., has died of COVID-19, Bowser also announced at the news conference.

The grandmother of Council Member Trayon White, of Ward 8, has also died of the disease, the mayor said.

D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham also provided an update on his department’s coronavirus response efforts.

Newsham said the department is increasing its presence at D.C. parks and other outdoor locations where they received reports that people weren’t practicing social distancing, including Lincoln Park, Meridian Hill Park and at the Wharf.

Newsham said officers haven’t made any arrests over people not practicing social distancing.

Overall, crime is down, Newsham said. In the past 30 days, violent crime has dropped by about 3% and property crimes have fallen by 39%, he said. Gun crimes are “mostly unchanged,” Newsham said, adding “We continue to see members of our community use firearms to settle disputes.”

Regarding the police force, itself, a total of 82 police officers have tested positive for the virus, according to D.C. data. Two officers have been hospitalized. One officer is in critical condition, Newsham said. The other officer is doing better, he added.

DC cases below predictions, hospitalizations still expected to peak in June

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the D.C. Department of Health, said “We are trending below where we expected to be” in cases and hospitalizations, but that the peak of hospitalizations is still expected in mid-June.

Nesbitt expected “the peak of new cases in late May, the peak in hospitalizations happening in late June, and the peak in deaths later than that.” The District had been expecting to need 1,000 additional beds around April 15, but now that projected need has been pushed to the middle of May.

There are currently 402 coronavirus patients hospitalized in the District, Nesbitt said. Of those, 120 are in intensive care and 69 are on ventilators.

She added that hospitals in the District are at about 70% to 75% capacity, adding that there was no need yet to “step down patients” into alternative sites such as the Convention Center.

Bowser said the Convention Center capacity was intended for people with “low acuity,” but that “We hope it won’t ever be needed. But it will be there” if a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations happens.

Regarding the predictions, Bowser cautioned, “These are models; they’re moving targets, and we update these models each and every day. … We are not out of the woods,” she said, but “We are continuing to flatten the curve in the District.”

25,000 cases across DC, Maryland and Virginia

The number of known coronavirus cases across D.C., Maryland and Virginia now stands at more than 25,000.

The number of cases increased by 1,441 on Monday. Maryland reported the highest number of new cases in the region — 854 — which is also the highest number of cases reported in the state in nearly two weeks. Virginia reported 453 new cases, which is down slightly from the past few days. D.C. reported 134 cases, which is also down slightly from the number of cases reported over the weekend.

The death toll from the virus stood at 921 on Monday. There were a total of 62 new deaths reported over the last 24 hours.

Maryland has reported 516 deaths, the highest in the region. In addition, the state lists another 66 probable COVID-19 deaths, which are deaths attributed to the coronavirus that have yet to be confirmed by lab tests.

Virginia has reported 300 deaths, including 23 deaths Monday Of those, nearly half — 11 deaths — were recorded in Fairfax County.

D.C. has reported 105 deaths — including nine more on Monday.

Across all three jurisdictions, there are stark racial differences in coronavirus cases and fatalities. In D.C., the disparate impact is the most severe.

All told, public health authorities in the region say more than 1,500 have recovered from the coronavirus — 917 people in Maryland and 630 in D.C.

The Virginia Department of Health does not report recoveries. However, more than 1,300 people who were once hospitalized with COVID-19 have been discharged, according to data maintained by the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association.


More Coronavirus News


Virginia ramps up testing in state prisons

The Virginia Department of Corrections says it plans to “dramatically” ramp up testing of inmates at state prisons, including all inmates who exhibit symptoms, as well as some asymptomatic inmates.

The department said testing people who don’t show symptoms is part of a strategy called prevalence testing.

“This enables us to monitor and treat positive cases sooner, rather than after symptoms develop,” the department said in a news release. Point prevalence testing has been done at Harrisonburg CCAP and Haynesville Correctional Center, and will be done this week at Deerfield Correctional Center.

The Virginia Department of Health is sending staff to DOC facilities beginning Monday to help with the expanded testing.

The department said it has ordered additional tests from Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Virginia and the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services.

So far, 434 offenders have been tested for COVID-19. Of them, 116 offenders have tested positive. In addition, 50 staff members have active COVID-19 cases.

Given the increase in testing, the department said it expects the number of known cases to climb.

“Getting ahead of cases by testing offenders who aren’t showing symptoms will likely cause the VADOC offender case numbers to increase significantly, just as in the community, where an increase in testing results in more positives,” the statement said. “This increase in testing will give the VADOC a better picture of what is happening at each of Virginia’s correctional facilities and will allow us to reduce the spread of the virus.”

WTOP’s Alejandro Alvarez and Jack Pointer contributed to this report.

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