Coronavirus updates: Hogan, Northam, Bowser coordinating response; extended school closures in Md., DC

The latest

  • Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser spoke in a conference call Friday to discuss coordinating virus response efforts.
  • Public schools in Maryland will stay closed through May 15 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the state’s top education official announced Friday.
  • D.C. public school buildings and public charter schools will stay closed for the rest of the school year, and students will continue virtual classes through May 29.
  • The number of new confirmed cases in D.C., Maryland and Virginia increased by 1,516 — the highest number this week — amid an increase in Maryland and Virginia. There have been a total of 21,539 in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, and 742 deaths.

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.

Maryland, Virginia, DC coordinating virus response

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser spoke in a conference call Friday to discuss coordinating virus response efforts, The Associated Press reported.

Hogan said he and his counterparts have frequently spoken over the past month, and their staff are in daily contact.

“We understand that while each area is unique that there are certainly things that we have to do together as a region,” Hogan said.

Northam said that Virginia and its neighbors share some of the same challenges, and “we will do everything that we can to be in coordination and be consistent so we’ll be as straightforward as possible for everybody in this region.”

Read the full article from The Associated Press.

Schools in Maryland closed through May 15

Public schools in Maryland will remain closed through May 15 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the state’s top education official announced Friday.

Karen Salmon, the state superintendent of education, said she made the decision after extensive talks with the state board of education and public health experts.

“With regards to the remainder of the school year and the summer, we will use this time to examine every option, and continue to develop a long-term plan for recovery,” Salmon said of the extension of the school closure.

She appeared at a news conference Friday with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

Under a previous order from Salmon, schools were ordered closed through at least April 27.

Salmon said she has spoken with local school system superintendents over the past week and said administrators have “started to develop plans for additional digital learning and the recovery of any lost instructional time in the form of expanding summer school programs.”

She added, “State and local school officials are preparing for a number of scenarios depending on when our educators and students would be able to re-enter school buildings.”

Plans for “continuity of learning” and how school systems will monitor and assess student performance as they continue distance learning will be reviewed by the state board, Salmon said.

Maryland’s announcement came the same day D.C. announced schools would be closed for the rest of the academic year. Last month, Virginia ordered schools closed through the rest of the academic year with distance learning measures in place.

Salmon said she was in favor of an “incremental” approach in terms of deciding when to reopen schools, and noted that the traditional school year goes through June 15.

“I feel that this is one of those decisions that we need to make incrementally to see where we are in another month,” Salmon said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen, and I certainly don’t want to dash the hopes of many children and parents that there might be some other ways to do public school going forward.”

The Maryland State Education Association issued a statement applauding Salmon’s announcement extending the school closure.

“This is the right decision for the safety and health of our students, educators and state. Educators will continue to do our best for our students as together we navigate the challenges of crisis distance learning,” said the group’s president, Cheryl Bost, in the statement.

Montgomery County schools Superintendent Jack R. Smith said in a statement that while it is sad and frustrating that students and staff won’t be able to be together in schools to learn and work together in person, “We believe that this was the right decision for the health and safety of our students and community.”

Smith said messages will be sent to the school community addressing questions about issues, such as the continuation of online learning and graduation.

Montgomery Co. schools Superintendent Jack Smith on the extension of school closure

Prince George’s County schools CEO Monica Goldson said that the extension of the closure was “understandable” given the continued rise of COVID-19 cases statewide. Prince George’s County has the most positive cases in the state, nearing 3,000 as of Friday night.

“While there is no replacement for learning inside a classroom setting, we will do our best to keep our students moving forward and focused on the learning process,” Goldson said in a statement.

To address many questions about the next steps, Prince George’s County Public Schools will hold telephone town hall meetings from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on April 21 (for students), April 23 (for employees) and April 29 (for family and community). Dial-in information will be provided as dates approach.

Maryland’s ‘deadliest week’; plans for recovery

Hogan held his news conference at the end of what he called the “deadliest week” in the region for the coronavirus.

There were 316 coronavirus deaths in D.C., Maryland and Virginia over the course of the week — 190 in Maryland alone — according to a review of state health department data.

Maryland’s case numbers are growing each day and the deaths are increasing, but Hogan said he sees improvement thanks to “early and aggressive actions, and the extraordinary sacrifices of Marylanders.”

In addition, Hogan said the number of Marylanders who have recovered from the virus rose 22% this week — to 736 — and testing, overall, has ramped up.

“We are beginning to see some hopeful and encouraging signs, which have allowed us to begin laying the groundwork to reopen, to rebuild and to recover as soon as it is safe to do so,” Hogan said.

The governor said he planned to introduce the “Maryland Strong Roadmap to Recovery” in more detail next week.

A group of protesters under the name “ReOpen Maryland” that opposes the restrictions put in place by Hogan to fight the virus plans to rally in Annapolis this weekend. The group said it is concerned by “mass shutdowns and school closures.”

Hogan said he understands people’s frustration.

“I want to get our economy back and get things open up as quickly as possible, just as much as anybody does,” he said. “But we’re also going to have to do that in a safe manner.”

Hogan pointed to the White House recovery guidelines, which don’t recommend easing social distancing measures until new cases have declined for at least 14 days.

“Our numbers are all going up,” Hogan said. “So, no matter who you talk to, now is not the time to open things up. But, look, I understand people’s right to protest, and I understand their frustration because I’m just as frustrated as they are.”

Separately, an order Hogan issued earlier this week requiring the use of masks or other face coverings for customers inside stores and on public transportation goes into effect Saturday at 7 a.m.

“This isn’t just about your rights or protecting yourself; it’s about protecting your neighbors,” Hogan said of the need to wear masks. “The best science that we have shows that people might not know that they’re carriers of the virus, and through no fault of their own, they could infect other people. And spreading this disease infringes on your neighbors’ rights.”

More Coronavirus News

Md. congressional delegation: Get funds to hospitals most in need

Maryland’s entire congressional delegation is calling on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to direct future emergency funding to the state’s hospitals and health care providers that need it most.

The lawmakers this week sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, urging him to direct funding to hospitals so they can get COVID-19 testing supplies, personal protective equipment and other medical supplies.

The letter doesn’t mention specific hospitals, but notes that the Baltimore-Washington corridor has been declared an emergency hot spot by federal officials.

“The quality and effectiveness of our response and our ability to prevent further spread of the virus will be largely dependent on our ability to ensure that health care providers have the resources they need,” the letter states.

The lawmakers cite funding that comes from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund.

They say it is “disappointing” that the formula HHS used to disburse earlier funding didn’t take into account expenses related to the coronavirus that health care facilities have been dealing with.

“We urge you to ensure that this important factor is considered in future disbursements,” the lawmakers said.

The letter is signed by all of Maryland’s House and Senate members.

Warner: Pandemic could leave 50 million without health insurance

The economic fallout from the pandemic could sharply increase the number of Americans without health insurance, possibly close to 50 million, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said Friday.

Warner noted that 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment, and that many people who lose their jobs can also lose their health insurance.

Though he said it’s unclear exactly how many will ultimately be without health insurance, he noted in a conference call with reporters that about 27 million were uninsured before the coronavirus crisis.

“We’re looking at literally tens of millions of additional Americans — we could get up to 50 million-plus without health insurance,” Warner said.

Warner and Democratic lawmakers are calling for expanded health care coverage in future legislation related to the coronavirus.

The proposals include strengthening Medicaid, reopening the marketplace of the Affordable Care Act, and providing COGRA assistance to individuals with employer-sponsored plans.

Warner and three dozen senators have sent a letter to congressional leaders urging the reforms.

Northam reacts to White House plan

Responding to the release of the White House plan laying out broad guidelines for a three-phase approach to reopen the economy and relax social distancing measures, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Friday the plan is “consistent with everything we in Virginia are doing,” calling it a gradual, phased approach “based on science and data.”

He noted, however, that one of the benchmarks for reaching even the first phase of easing social distancing restrictions requires coronavirus cases to be on a downward trend for 14 days.

“We have not met that criteria,” Northam said. “We are still seeing more cases each day, not fewer, so we are not there yet.”

When asked by a reporter to a respond to a tweet from President Donald Trump reading, in part, “LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” appearing to challenge the state’s social distancing measures, Northam responded: “I do not have time to involve myself in Twitter wars. I will continue to make sure I do everything I can to keep Virginians safe and save lives.”

Northam also announced a handful of new measures aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities, including expanding testing.

The governor said efforts are underway to ensure that all people moving into long-term care facilities are tested for COVID-19 before entry, to reduce the risk of bringing the disease in with them.

In addition, he said the state is working to make sure that, in the case of an outbreak, all residents and staff can be tested, not just those experiencing symptoms or with known contacts.

“The health of people living and working in our nursing homes and long-term care facilities remains a concern and a priority,” Northam said.

Earlier this month, state officials launched a task force aimed at curbing COVID-19 in nursing homes. An outbreak at a rehabilitation center in the Richmond area has claimed more than 40 lives, becoming one of the deadliest nursing home outbreaks in the country.

DC Public Schools closed for rest of school year

Earlier Friday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that public schools and public charter schools in the District will remain closed for the rest of the school year, and virtual classes will continue through May 29 — three weeks earlier than the regular school year was set to end.

“Our hope would be to make up those weeks at the start of the next school year,” Bowser said.

She said one option would be to open schools earlier in August to make up for the three weeks lost this year.

“Our top priority, of course, in making our school decisions is protecting the health and well-being of our students, our families and educators,” Bowser said.

She added that summer school would continue — possibly as remote learning — and said school officials would provide a further update on May 15.

The long-term school closures — students and teachers were first sent home in the middle of March — are part of an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“Closing our school buildings was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make during this pandemic,” Bowser said.

The shift to distance learning has been challenging for District schools and has exposed the “digital divide” because not all students and their families have access to computers and internet service, she added.

“This pandemic has put a huge spotlight on one of the huge inequities in our country,” Bowser said.

Over the past few weeks, DCPS has started distributing 16,000 devices and 5,000 “hot spot” devices that provide wireless internet access, starting with high school students.

DC Convention Center being prepped as ‘worst-case scenario’ field hospital

As part of D.C.’s “medical surge” planning to add capacity to the city’s health system and make sure hospitals are not overtaxed if hospitalizations spike, Bowser said 500 hospital beds are being set up at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

District officials will complete a walk-through of the convention center with members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers later Friday, Bowser said.

Bowser said the extra beds would be for non-ICU patients who do not needs ventilators.

“This means that we will be prepared for the worst-case scenario, but our goal is that we will never need to use the convention center,” Bowser said.

Overall, Bowser said the pace of new cases the District is seeing is running below projections.

“Our level of infection is lower than we predicted it would be today,” but she stressed social distancing was still necessary to “flatten the curve.”

DC reacts to White House recovery plan

Bowser called the White House recovery plan a “good framework” and in line with what District officials have been considering.

She cautioned that there are more steps needed, though, specifically with testing.

“I think what remains a concern is how do we get the type of testing and the amount of testing that will be needed to demonstrate how our communities get through all of these, all of these stages,” Bowser said.

“Next week, I will be talking about an advisory group of people that we are pulling together and alone or in a lot of different sectors to talk about how we reopen the city,” she said.

D.C. Director of Health Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt also warned that the process would not be immediate.

“One of the things that I want to make sure that people understand and they focus on is that while the plan has three phases, Phase One does not begin immediately for every jurisdiction in the country,” Nesbitt said.

She said that in order to enter even into Phase One, a community must be experiencing a decline in new cases observed over a two-week period.

“And so we want to make sure all of our residents in the District really have an appreciation of the criteria that we’re going to be looking for, in order to even shift into that Phase One of beginning to open or relax our social distancing measures,” Nesbitt said.

Another benchmark in the guidelines deal with a community’s health system.

“We have to be able to … to provide health care to everyone without having to operate as in a crisis,” Nesbitt said.

Virginia sees big drop in jail population

In Virginia, Northam said the jail population in the state has declined by 17%, and the number of people ordered held in jails on misdemeanor charges has dropped by 67%.

A release from the governor’s office said the dramatic decreases in local and regional jail populations follows guidance issued by the governor calling local criminal justice officials to modify sentences, issue summons instead of arrest warrants, and cut back on the number of low-risk offenders being held without bail in jails.

As of April 7, the jail population was 24,000, a 17% drop from March 1.

Earlier this month, Northam proposed giving the Department of Corrections the authority to release state prison inmates who have a year or less left on their sentences and who aren’t a threat to public safety.

The move requires approval by the General Assembly in Virginia, and just under 2,000 inmates would be eligible.

New cases continue upward climb

Overall, the number of recorded coronavirus cases in D.C., Maryland and Virginia increased to more than 21,500 on Friday.

The number of new cases increased by more than 1,500 cases to 21,539 recorded cases, according to the latest tally from local health departments.

The number of new cases regionwide was the highest number since April 8, when nearly 1,700 new cases were recorded.

Virginia reported a record-high number of new coronavirus cases — 602 new cases.

Maryland’s confirmed caseload increased by 788 — the biggest single-day increase since April 8.

Cases in D.C. increased by 126.

D.C. Fire and EMS reported Friday that six more members of the department tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the department’s total to 74. But the department said that of the 74, 33 have been released from quarantine and returned to full duty.

The daily jump in cases comes as both Virginia and Maryland ramped up coronavirus testing. Virginia reported a total of 2,553 tests, its highest number in nearly a week.

Maryland reported 3,166 new cases, its highest number since April 8. Hogan has said increasing testing capacity — running at least 10,000 tests a day — is one of the requirements to begin gradually easing some of the social distancing measures he has ordered to slow the spread of the virus.

For the fourth-straight day, the region recorded at least 60 deaths attributed to COVID-19, with 61 reported Friday. The deadliest day, so far, was April 15 when 93 deaths were reported.

Overall, 742 people with coronavirus in D.C., Maryland and Virginia have died: 231 in Virginia, 86 in D.C. and 425 in Maryland.

In addition, in Maryland, another 69 people are suspected to have died from coronavirus, but health officials are still waiting on lab confirmation.

WTOP’s Abigail Constantino, Kate Ryan, Mitchell Miller, Zeke Hartner and Rob Woodfork contributed to this report. 

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2020 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up