DC launches faith-based coronavirus vaccination partnerships

D.C. isn’t planning to open a mass vaccination site yet, but the District is teaming up with faith-based partners to spread the good word on getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

As part of a pilot program, the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church will be D.C.’s first partner, and it will host two vaccination clinics for 200 preregistered residents.

D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said the goal of the pilot, rather than open a mass vaccination site in the District, is to “see if we can make it work with some limited number of faith-based institutions who have the ability to have operations supported on-site with a health care provider who has also been providing vaccinations in their clinical operations.”

A key role for the faith-based partnerships is to do outreach to their congregants as well as the community.

“So, again, focusing on those priority populations where the burden of COVID-19 has been the highest,” Nesbitt said. “These are not designed to be large, high-throughput clinics, but should be able to have a minimum of 100 or so individuals there.”

She wants communities of color to be a focus. “For many years, faith-based institutions, or churches, places of worship, have had the ability to speak to communities of color, African-American communities, Black communities, and to be able to be leaders in those communities in terms of advancing a cause or getting people to understand why their health is important,” she said.

If successful, the pilot will be expanded.

Nesbitt said limitations on how vaccines can be handled and stored, as well as how few doses the District receives and concerns over equity, mean mass vaccination sites doesn’t work for D.C.

“Our greatest limitation at this time is the amount of vaccine that we received from the federal government,” Nesbitt said, adding that there has been a 15% to 20% increase in the number of doses the District has been receiving under the Biden administration.

“However, we vaccinate citywide through a number of access points, well over 2,000 people a day in the District, when all of our sites are operational,” Nesbitt said. “So, opening up a high-throughput site that could vaccinate 4,000-5,000 people a day would just mean that we only vaccinate once or twice a day in the city.”

According to Nesbitt, the concern is for residents “who would not be able to take off that one day a week that we will be vaccinating 5,000 people in the city, essentially using all of our vaccine supply. So it’s in fact more equitable to put our vaccine supply out across the city at multiple sites.”

But once the vaccine supply increases, Nesbitt said, and D.C. is receiving tens of thousands of doses per week, it could make sense to open a mass vaccination site.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Rental assistance, unemployment upgrades

In another effort to help D.C. residents struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, the District is putting up $13 million in federal funding for two rental assistance programs developed by the Department of Housing and Community Development and the D.C. Housing Finance Agency. And housing providers can apply to the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program on behalf of their tenants.

“We know that while it’s important to invest in our rental assistance programs, it’s even more critical that we get those dollars out the door and into the community,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

“It will take a coordinated community effort to overcome the economic burdens caused by the pandemic,” Bowser added. “We look forward to working with our housing providers to quickly provide relief to tenants through these innovative programs.”

Get more information on rental assistance online.

Later Monday, Bowser announced an additional $11 million for the D.C. Department of Employment Services to hire additional staff and other system upgrades to clear a backlog of unemployment claims, reduce phone wait times and get money to residents more quickly.

“We know that as our battle against this virus continues, thousands of our residents continue to face economic hardship,” Bowser said in a news release. “By investing in our unemployment insurance program, we can improve our systems, help eligible residents enroll, and efficiently deliver these additional benefits.”

Overall, more than 171,000 unemployment claims have been filed in D.C. since the start of the pandemic last March.

The additional funding will be used to add a “chatbot” feature to the DOES website to immediately answer questions, send out robocalls and text messages to provide updates on when residents are eligible for new benefits, and provide comprehensive training to improve service.

Under coronavirus relief legislation passed by Congress late last year, some pandemic unemployment measures were extended.

D.C. is working to upgrade its systems to accommodate a number of extensions, including for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides unemployment to independent contractors and other gig workers, and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which provides additional weeks of unemployment benefits.

D.C. has upgraded its system to implement the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which boosts regular unemployment checks by an extra $300 a week, the city said.

DC coronavirus numbers

D.C. reported 101 new coronavirus cases Monday, bringing the total number of cases to 38,136.

Four additional COVID-19 deaths were reported. So far, 956 District residents have died because of the virus.

Track the District’s data online. Below are maps of cases by ward and neighborhood.

WTOP’s Jack Moore contributed to this report. 

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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