Coronavirus updates: Shoppers in Montgomery Co. must wear face covering starting Monday

Giant grocery store
A supermarket employee at a Giant in Alexandria, Virginai cleans a self-checkout station. (Courtesy Shannon Finney/

The latest

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.

Shoppers in Montgomery County must wear masks 

Shoppers in Montgomery County, Maryland, will need to wear cloth masks or face coverings beginning Monday when they go to grocery stores, pharmacies and large retail stores, county Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said in a news release Thursday.

Last Tuesday, two council members proposed a measure that would require employees and customers of essential businesses to wear face coverings when interacting with customers and co-workers.

The new health order also requires that retailers establish a limit on the number of customers that can be in the store at a time, and that those lining up to go in must adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Children under 2 years old or people who have difficulty breathing are not advised to wear masks.

Under the order, stores must provide employees with clean restrooms that have soap and sanitizer. And, stores must allow workers to wear masks or face coverings, and they must let employees wash their hands at least every 30 minutes.

Appropriate signage and markings to reinforce social distancing and spacing must be displayed, as well.

Those who do not follow the new order may be fined $500, and a $750 fine for each subsequent violation.

Businesses who use shared equipment, such as baskets or hand carts, are encouraged to provide sanitation equipment, such as disinfectant wipes or alcohol swabs. And, they are encouraged to install clear, physical barriers between cashiers and customers, where possible.

Md. Gov. Hogan: ‘We don’t have everything we need’

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan took questions for about a half-hour on FOX Baltimore on the state’s coronavirus response and the role of the federal government in it.

Hogan said of hospitals in Maryland, like those elsewhere in the country, “We don’t have everything we need” in terms of equipment such as ventilators, masks and gloves, but that the area has been pushed up the priority list after he pitched to the federal government that the Washington-Baltimore area is going to be a hot zone. He said the feds are “going to take their very limited resources and allocate them to the spots that are emerging as hot spots.”

Hogan said that the federal government has addressed problems in its initial coronavirus response, but not all of them. “We don’t have PPEs; we don’t have the testing that we need,” he said.

Asked whether more stringent restrictions on movements and gatherings are coming, Hogan said, “It’s hard to imagine what else we could do,” but added that when situations pop up, he would respond, citing as an example the strike teams he has created to send to nursing homes, where many outbreaks have occurred.

The governor added that he did not want to point fingers, and that “We’re all trying to work together.”

Asked why construction sites are still up and running after his latest executive order closing nonessential businesses, he replied “Construction is still essential because there are construction projects that are considered essential.”

But he said that construction sites that are not following social distancing should be reported to the local health department. He reiterated that he has given local health departments the authority to take several possible actions, up to and including shutdowns, against businesses, including construction sites, if they’re not following proper social distancing guidelines.

3 more in DC fire department, 1 in Fairfax Co., test positive

Three more members of the D.C. Fire and EMS Department have been tested positive for the coronavirus, Fire Chief Gregory Dean said in a statement Thursday afternoon. They’re home on self-quarantine, he added.

That brings the total for the department to 49. Of those, 10 have recovered and returned to duty, Dean said.

Also on Thursday, a member of the Fairfax County Fire Department tested positive, the department said in a statement. They described his symptoms as minor and said the patient hasn’t been to work since reporting feeling sick.

The department doesn’t believe the sick person was exposed on the job. They added that 17 other members are under quarantine because of exposures believed not to be related to their jobs.

12 Virginia liquor stores to close

Virginia’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority announced Thursday afternoon that they’re closing 12 ABC liquor stores in Northern Virginia in order to deal with reduced staffing levels as workers self-quarantine. The closure starts Monday and lasts until at least April 30.

“No employee will lose the opportunity to work,” the authority said in a statement. Workers will be sent to other ABC locations.

The locations that are closing are:

Another $35 million to DC hospitals

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Thursday that she has directed an additional $35 million of the District’s Contingency Cash Reserve Fund to support area hospitals. Bowser’s office said in a statement that she’s directed $129.4 million to the District’s COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.

Rules for DC grocery stores and other markets

D.C. Mayor Bowser spoke on Thursday morning about her order from late Wednesday, which set forth rules on grocery stores and farmers and fish markets in the District.

The order reclassified farmers and fish markets as nonessential, thus requiring that they submit plans for how they’ll enforce social distancing order to remain open.

Grocery stores are required to make a host of changes, including posting a sign telling customers to cover their faces with masks or other coverings such as scarves, as well as establishing one-way aisles and requiring customers to bag their own groceries if they’re able.

The police and the National Guard will inspect the markets and enforce the order, up to and including shutting them down.

Bowser said the stores would enforce the order themselves. Grocery store workers were not required under the order to wear masks. Bowser said stores would check on the wellness of their workers, using a screening that could involve questions about whether they’re sick or have been in contact with anyone who has.

Bowser said there was “no interest” in shutting down grocery stores, and that if there are any incidents of “gross negligence,” the District will deal with them “on a case-by-case basis.”

The crackdown on fresh-food markets ostensibly began with the shutdown of the fish market at The Wharf development in Southwest D.C. Despite earlier reports of a deal to reopen, the market remains shut.

“They, too, have to submit a plan that demonstrates that they can operate safely,” Bowser said. “There are still things” they need to do, she added.

Bowser’s order also clarifies that tennis and golf are not permitted recreational activities, and that community gardens are allowed.

Geldart also said the District has 306 hotel rooms, spread across three hotels, for homeless people who need to be isolated due to COVID-19 symptoms.

Casting an eye at the hopeful signs coming from New York of a possibly flattening curve, the mayor said, “We think that we’re in a later wave of rising infections and hospitalizations … we still see our numbers increase.” She added that only about half the testing slots at the United Medical Center on Tuesday were filled.

The next phase of the coronavirus fight

When will life return to normal? That’s not easy to say.

In an online press briefing Thursday, Caitlin Rivers, an assistant professor in Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering and a contributor to a recent report billed as a “roadmap to reopening” the country to business as usual, said four conditions have to be met before “We can start to lift some of the social distancing measures that we are all observing and start to regain some of our normalcy.”

The first is a decline in the number of new cases every day for two weeks, and while numbers in some areas are starting to go down, “We haven’t really found the edges of our outbreak yet,” she said.

As for when the number of coronavirus cases in the region will peak, Rivers said it may still be too early to tell.

“We know that any intervention you can take today will probably not be visible in the data for two to three weeks, maybe even four weeks,” Rivers said.

Hotline in DC for those in need of food

D.C. is setting up a hotline for delivery of food and grocery items to people who can’t leave their houses, such as those in quarantine, Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a briefing Thursday morning.

The mayor called the hotline “a new opportunity, a life-line really, to make sure people have what they need.” It’ll start Monday, she said.

Chris Geldart, the acting director of D.C.’s Department of Public Works, said the hotline was for “those folks who cannot get to a place to get food or essential items that need the delivery” and who “do not have somebody else that can get groceries for them in their household.”

Bowser said the hotline would be paid for with local money, and would be considered part of the District’s emergency response, for which they’d request reimbursement from the federal government.

Bowser added that the District is working with Martha’s Table and DC Central Kitchen to distribute free groceries at a rotating roster of D.C. public schools where students are already getting school lunches. That program will also begin Monday.

More Coronavirus News

Alsobrooks: Impact on African Americans is no surprise

When Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks found out that COVID-19 disproportionately affected people with pre-existing health problems, she knew her county would be hit hard.

She knew her residents were afflicted with diabetes, kidney disease, lung disease and high blood pressure. That, combined with poverty and a lack of access to good healthcare, prompted her fear that many residents would become sick and a number would die.

“Our first reaction was, oh my God, that is us,” Alsobrooks said of her majority African American community.

Out of the 33 Prince George’s County residents who have died due to complications from COVID-19, nearly half have been African-American. The majority who have gotten sick in Prince George’s County have been African American.

“It is not just a data point that people who are black, brown and impoverished suffer disproportionately with health crises; it is a reality,” she said, adding that she pushed hard to get a temporary testing center erected at FedEx Field since she knew many residents did not have a primary care doctor.

Alsobrooks pleaded with the business community and developers to focus on adding more resources in Prince George’s County once the coronavirus pandemic eases, such as better access to grocery stores, restaurants, fresh foods and healthcare.

“We hope when the virus leaves, we never do business as usual ever again,” Alsobrooks said. “When we rebuild, we will rebuild together the businesses who have lost revenue and the employees who have lost jobs. But we ask, after we are finished supporting the business community we then hope that they will continue to support us.”

Bowser: Virus puts ‘spotlight’ on racial inequities

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser echoed Alsobrooks’ sentiments in her briefing Thursday. Twenty of the District’s 32 COVID-19 deaths were African American patients, and the mayor called racial inequities in healthcare “a question that has plagued African Americans for decades if not centuries.”

Inequality in healthcare, housing, education and more have led to “a plethora of underlying conditions that this virus is attacking,” she said, adding that the coronavirus has put “a spotlight” on these conditions, and pointing up the need to “change the trajectory of African American health in our country.

WTOP’s Abigail Constantino, Matt Small and Matt Delaney contributed to this report.