Coronavirus in the DMV: What you need to know

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam waves as he enters the room to give updates on the Coronavirus during his press briefing inside the Patrick Henry Building in Richmond, Va., Monday, May 11, 2020. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)
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Editor’s note: This story is no longer being updated. The latest on the coronavirus outbreak in the Washington can be found on here. For information on reopening in Virginia, Maryland and D.C., please visit these pages: VIRGINIA | MARYLAND | D.C.

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The District, Maryland and Virginia have been in a near-total shutdown for months to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, but Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) are beginning to relax restrictions in parts of their states.

Northern Virginia will not begin to reopen until May 28 at the earliest — two weeks behind the rest of the state.

In Maryland, Hogan said earlier this month that the state could move to the first phase of the reopening, but some counties delayed the move.

Montgomery County, the state’s most populous county, may lift some social distancing restrictions within a week. Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks said the county is on track to be ready for a modified reopening June 1 if current trends continue.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the District could begin a phased reopening May 29, barring unexpected spikes in infections. She plans to make her final decision on Wednesday. Bowser’s announcement means the District is likely to start reopening ahead of schedule after the mayor extended her stay-at-home and business closure orders through June 8.

All three jurisdictions are looking for signs that the coronavirus “curve” — the number of infections over time — is flattening. They’ve set goals for increased testing capacity, a greater number of hospital beds and more protective equipment for front-line workers.

Despite stay-at-home orders, hundreds of new cases are still reported each day. The number of known coronavirus cases in the greater Washington region has passed 95,000, and more than 4,000 people have died of covid-19, the disease the virus causes. The newly reported cases tend to stem from confined living quarters such as nursing homes and jails or are among essential workers and those who can’t afford to miss work or are unable to telecommute.

Here are answers to frequently asked questions.

What are the current restrictions in the DMV?

Maryland and Virginia have relaxed some of the restrictions that have been in place, while the District and its suburbs remain mostly shut down.

In Virginia, some restaurants, barber shops, and hair and nail salons in areas outside Northern Virginia can reopen with limited capacity, and religious organizations are cleared to hold reduced-capacity services.

Much of Maryland has similar precautions in place, although restaurants remain closed for in-person dining. Populous areas of the state, including Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, remain closed but are contemplating reopening soon.

The District could begin a phased reopening May 29. D.C. residents and visitors are required to wear face coverings when out in public near others, with some exceptions. People who are exercising or walking do not need to wear a mask, as long as they stay six feet away from others.

A task force Bowser formed to advise her on how to reopen the capital issued a report, recommending that the first batch of reopenings include barbershops and hair salons by appointment, outdoor restaurant dining, parks, fields, golf courses, tennis courts, worship services with no more than 10 people, and curbside service for nonessential retailers.

For a look across the nation, The Washington Post also has a state-by-state review of the stay-at-home orders.

When will the region reopen?

Any reopening will be gradual, with restrictions lifted in phases.

Each jurisdiction has set goals for lower infection rates, increased testing, greater hospital capacity and much more personal protective gear. Until those goals are met, local officials say most restrictions will remain in place.

In addition to rolling back restrictions outside Northern Virginia, Northam also may adjust the stay-at-home order that expires June 10, which restricts gatherings and other social activities in the state. He announced that Virginia Beach can reopen its beaches for swimming and sunbathing on Friday, in time for Memorial Day weekend. The rest of the state’s beaches remain closed to all activities except fishing and exercise.

In Maryland, Hogan already has eased some restrictions on outdoor activities, opening public beaches and golf courses in the state. The Post’s Erin Cox reports the plan is to reopen businesses and allow certain social activities in phases.

Why are people still getting sick in the region?

Doctors and public health officials tell The Post the coronavirus is increasingly infecting people who cannot afford to miss work — such as grocery store employees, delivery drivers and construction workers. Despite the broad shutdown, there’s still communal spread.

Increased testing across the region helps explain why the daily case count continues to rise. “That is expected,” said Laurie Forlano, Virginia’s deputy commissioner of health. “Obviously we’ll detect more cases, and those cases will be counted.”

But health experts say the region is far from testing enough of the population, including those who are symptomatic and those who are not, to truly know who is infected. The District, Maryland and Virginia have been working on getting enough contact tracers in place to sketch a picture of how the coronavirus is spreading.

The District announced it had hired 130 new contact tracers as of Monday, bringing the city to the 200 needed for the first phase of reopening; the city eventually wants to grow the force to 900. Hogan said Monday that his state’s contact-tracing operation is now able to identify 1,000 patients per day. Virginia has about 300 contact tracers, and officials said they plan to hire 1,000 more in the coming weeks.

Where can I get tested for covid-19?

New testing sites are popping up across the region. Most — but not all — sites require a doctor’s note and scheduled appointment. Clinicians are prioritizing front-line workers and adults who are 65 or older.

Local officials have repeatedly stated reopening the region will depend on how fast they can expand testing capacities in the coming weeks. Health experts say the region still needs to test far more of the population to get a clear picture of who has the virus.

Here’s an updating list of testing sites in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

Can I travel for work? Can I travel out of state?

Certain jobs are listed as essential, and those people are still allowed to travel for work. The definition of essential differs slightly in all three jurisdictions. Read more here.

Some Americans are concerned about heading to work as states reopen businesses to restart the economy. Here are common questions and answers regarding an employee’s rights when returning to work.

There are no restrictions on interstate travel in or out of the District, Maryland or Virginia. However, officials recommend those traveling in from out-of-state locations self-quarantine for 14 days.

Can I go to church, the mosque or synagogue?

Religious institutions in the southern and western parts of Virginia have been cleared to resume indoor services for groups larger than 10. The Post’s Michelle Boorstein reported on the dramatic changes one Baptist church made to hold services on Sunday.

Houses of worship in Maryland are allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity — unless local governments deem it unsafe. The Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Boorstein reported many religious leaders in the area were hesitant to open up their doors again.

The District allows residents to travel to places of worship, but most services have been canceled because of the limitations on gatherings in the region.

A coalition of religious leaders, business owners and Maryland state lawmakers are suing the state government over the governor’s stay-at-home orders. In the lawsuit, the group argues Hogan violated the constitutional rights of individuals to gather to worship or engage in free speech.

Commuters at a Metro station in New Carrollton, Md., on April 15. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

Is public transportation open? Are there any restrictions?

Metro is now requiring riders to wear masks while on a bus or train. The transit agency has reduced service after “significant” drops in ridership due to regional stay-at-home orders and advised passengers to use Metro only if no other option is available.

Metro officials don’t plan for service to return to pre-pandemic levels until spring of next year, The Post’s Justin George reported. The transit agency plans to continue the current reduced-service schedule until the start of the school year.

Metrobus operates from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. During the week, buses arrive on a Sunday schedule, and over the weekend, they arrive every 30 minutes. All customers should enter and exit the bus at the rear door, except those using mobility devices or who require bus kneeling. Fares are waived during this time.

The D.C. Streetcar operates Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for essential trips only. Passengers are encouraged to allow extra travel time, as D.C. Streetcars will arrive approximately every 20 minutes.

In Prince George’s County, residents are required to cover their faces on the county’s bus system.

Amtrak has reduced its service between Washington and Boston by as much as 35 percent, The Post’s Luz Lazo reported. All passengers on Amtrak trains and in stations are required to wear masks. The rail company will restore some service on June 1, with the return of Acela, the premier passenger trains that run through the Northeast Corridor.

When will schools open? What about colleges and universities?

Schools in Virginia, Maryland and the District are closed for the rest of the academic year, but remote learning is underway.

In the District, instruction will end in late May, instead of June 19. Some charter schools say they will remain open into June. Private schools are following their own schedules, though most are expected to remain closed through the academic year.

The public school system says it will offer summer school, though it is still unclear if that will be done in person, remotely, or a combination of the two.

Maryland officials say masks, temperature checks and shortened weeks could become the norm when students return to in-person instruction, The Post’s Donna St. George reports.

Schools in Montgomery County and Fairfax County have grappled with the complications related to transitioning to full-time online learning.

Most jurisdictions are offering free meals to students and all children, and the federal government is allowing school districts to distribute meals “to a parent or guardian to take home to their children,” The Post’s Hannah Natanson reports. Here is a list of places to pick up breakfast and lunch in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

Local colleges and universities have cleared their campuses, too, but are now facing questions about how to fill classrooms in the fall. Hundreds of colleges and universities have pushed back admission decision deadlines to June 1 and offered extensions, especially for out-of-state students.

As schools prepare for next semester, leaders are considering a few different options — including extending virtual classes, bringing students back to campus for in-person classes, or a hybrid model in which students do both. Final decisions may not come for weeks.

Officials at George Washington University said they will make a decision about next semester by June 15, though university President Thomas J. LeBlanc warned he may extend that deadline as it approaches. Jay A. Perman, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, which includes U-Md. and 14 other public universities and education centers, said he is “reasonably optimistic” campuses will reopen by September.

What’s the situation at local nursing homes?

As of late April, at least 255 nursing homes in the greater Washington region reported coronavirus cases.

Former and current employees at Maryland nursing homes tell The Post their facilities are struggling with shortages of staff, testing and personal protective equipment. Maryland regulators already have announced fines for one nursing home.

Hogan has ordered universal testing for nursing home residents and employees, making Maryland one of the first states to do so.

The federal government issued guidelines in April requiring nursing homes to update patients’ families regularly on coronavirus cases in their facilities.

Maryland health officials publish a list online of every nursing home reporting an outbreak. According to the most recent state data, long-term care facilities in Maryland have accounted for more than 7,500 of the state’s coronavirus infections and more than 950 covid-19-related deaths among residents and staff.

The District occasionally provides a list of nursing homes with outbreaks in the mayor’s daily briefing.

Virginia reports the aggregate total of outbreaks at nursing homes across the state but does not list specific long-term care facilities.

Scott Cook, the manager of Buddy’s Crabs & Ribs in downtown Annapolis, waits for business on April 24. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

What businesses are open? When will other stores reopen?

In Virginia, restaurants already licensed for outdoor seating can open at half-capacity with social distancing requirements, while barber shops and hair and nail salons can open for appointments and with strict guidelines. Nonessential retail stores can open with limits on the number of customers allowed in the store. Employees are required to wear face masks, and customers are strongly encouraged to wear them.

While religious organizations can hold services, gatherings must be at 50 percent capacity and are subject to other safety requirements. Movie theaters, concert venues, amusement parks, bowling alleys and indoor gyms remain closed.

In Maryland, many similar precautions are in place, although restaurants remain closed for in-person dining. Hogan replaced a statewide stay-at-home order with a “safer at home” policy that relaxes some restrictions.

The new policy allows some nonessential retailers to reopen, including clothing and shoe stores, pet groomers, animal adoption shelters, carwashes, art galleries and bookstores. But they must remain at 50 percent capacity or less, employees must wear masks, and other social distancing restrictions must be observed.

The changes do not apply to Northern Virginia or the Maryland suburbs.

Owners of small businesses in the area can find out how to apply for a federal loan through the Paycheck Protection Program here.

How can I apply for local unemployment benefits?

Nearly 1.4 million residents of the District, Maryland and Virginia have filed jobless claims in the past 10 weeks — more than 11 percent of the region’s population age 16 and older.

There are several pockets of severe job losses across the region, but the pandemic’s economic effects are widespread, reaching into every jurisdiction and crossing socioeconomic lines, an analysis by The Post’s John D. Harden shows.

While poorer communities have generally been affected the most, the analysis shows that many higher-income neighborhoods also are struggling.

The Post’s personal finance columnist, Michelle Singletary, shared her guidance about eligibility and how to apply for unemployment benefits.

What do I need to know about grocery shopping?

Supermarkets, convenience stores and restaurants have all adapted to meet the changing demands, now that people in the Washington region are stocking up.

Face masks are required at grocery stores in the District and Maryland, while face coverings are recommended in Virginia but not mandated. Officials recommend shoppers wash their hands before and immediately after shopping for groceries and bring their own disinfectant wipes if planning to use a shopping cart.

Stores are offering older shoppers dedicated hours, usually early in the mornings, so they can shop without crowds. The District has extended sidewalks near some grocery stores to allow for social distancing.

Farmers markers in the region are still open, but vendors often require advance orders for curbside pickup. Farmers report more people are signing up for community-supported agriculture, or CSA, preorders, and some already have waitlists for new members. Restaurants are selling staples, such as milk and eggs, alongside prepared takeout fare.

For more on how grocery shopping has changed in the region, read here.

If you have questions about how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the U.S. food supply, read Laura Reiley’s reporting on the meat industry’s national supply chain.

Can I go for a run? What else can I do outside?

The District, Maryland and Virginia’s stay-at-home orders allowed for walking, biking, dog walking, hiking and running outside, as long as people remain six feet away from those outside their household. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people build exercise into their routines during the outbreak to keep physically and mentally healthy.

A person is allowed to walk, bike or run through a park or trail, but all three jurisdictions caution against sitting or congregating in parks or public fields.

Maryland has relaxed some restrictions on outdoor activities. Public beaches are open for exercise. Family members from one household can go camping, fishing and hunting, as well. Virginia has allowed beaches in Virginia Beach to reopen for sunbathing and swimming, but the rest of the beaches in the state remain closed to all activities except exercise and fishing.

How can I help?

People can donate blood, give to a local or national nonprofit, support local bars and restaurants or help an older adult with groceries.

Find ways to support organizations in the D.C. region, such as D.C. Central Kitchen or Martha’s Table, by going here.

Perry Stein and Lauren Lumpkin contributed to this report.

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