A new team of inspectors will begin work this weekend to search for businesses flouting pandemic safety protocols as the Washington region’s caseload on Friday hit its second-highest level in weeks.
In Prince George’s County, which has the region’s highest caseload since the start of the pandemic, inspectors this weekend will begin seeking out businesses violating measures meant to slow the virus’s spread.
County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said a team of more than 70 inspectors will visit restaurants, retail establishments and businesses across the county to ensure they are adhering to mask and social distancing requirements.
Businesses found to be violating protocols will have “a short period of time to come into compliance.” If they are not complying on a second visit, they will be fined $1,000, Alsobrooks said in a news release. They will be shut down if noncompliant on a third visit.
Prince George’s has seen increases in its infection rate and number of new cases in recent weeks, Alsobrooks said, although she noted that test positivity rates and the number of people hospitalized due to covid-19 have continued to trend downward.
“We have seen a slight increase in certain data points, so we are taking this opportunity to remind everyone of the importance of continuing to be vigilant with these safety protocols and to help ensure our businesses are adhering to them as well, so we don’t have to endure another shutdown,” she said.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) took similar action earlier this week, ordering about 500 inspectors to make unannounced visits to restaurants and retail establishments, and then revoking their licenses if workers aren’t wearing masks or customers are allowed to congregate in tight spaces.
The statewide action will mainly be focused in the tourist-heavy Hampton Roads area, where some younger patrons inside restaurant bars and at parties have not been wearing masks, Northam said.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said his state continues to see positive trends while also monitoring recent caseload increases.
Hogan, who chairs the National Governors Association, said Friday that masks should be mandated in states across the country, calling them “the most effective thing” to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“If everyone were wearing masks when they’re in public or in contact, the virus cannot spread,” Hogan said during an interview on “Good Morning America” when asked whether he supports a national mask mandate. “And it would be the most effective thing.”
The remarks came after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a fellow Republican and close ally of President Trump, prohibited local officials from mandating mask-wearing in public. Kemp has sued the city of Atlanta to block it from enforcing such a requirement.
“It’s worked very effectively in our state,” Hogan said of restrictions imposed under the state’s reopening strategy. Marylanders, he said, “are social distancing, they are wearing masks, and that’s the way to get the economy back on track. It’s like ‘no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service.’ And people feel safer, and they feel more able to go out and get back to their normal lives and spend money in the economy, which we desperately need as well.”
Hogan, who sharply criticized Trump’s handling of the pandemic in his upcoming memoir, said the president is “his own worst enemy” for dismissing the advice of those around him and “just tweeting something that makes no sense.” He suggested Trump heed the advice of people like Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday described Hogan’s criticism of Trump’s response to the pandemic as “revisionist history,” arguing that the governor often praised the president for the work being done.
Hogan disagreed with McEnany’s characterization.
“When the president’s doing a good job, I say so, and when they’re falling short and they’re not doing something that the governors desperately need, I’m the one that’s out there pushing for it,” Hogan said.
As the pandemic continues to take an economic toll, a group of Virginia interfaith leaders on Friday sounded the alarm over a mounting “tsunami of evictions,” urging Northam to order a new moratorium on those legal proceedings after one implemented by the Virginia Supreme Court expired last month.
During a virtual news conference, the VOICE interfaith coalition said a $50 million rent and mortgage relief program launched by the governor has had little impact, while some general district court judges appear to be ignoring a request by Northam to delay evictions until July 20.
“We’re hearing the stories of heartaches . . . that are happening to our neighbors,” said Keith Savage, a co-chair of VOICE, while calling on Northam to halt evictions at least through the end of August. Savage is also a pastor at First Baptist Church in Manassas.
The group argued that many renters are not aware of the state’s Rent and Mortgage Relief Program, which Northam established with federal money under the Cares Act. On Tuesday, Northam said the program already has helped 310 families, with another 591 being approved for relief.
Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said the governor continues to urge general district court judges to postpone eviction proceedings, but an executive order requiring such protections might cause legal issues that “would hinder the expediency needed to help Virginians.”
Yarmosky said the governor recently allocated another $50 million toward the state’s rent relief program and the administration is lobbying Congress for additional rent assistance and mortgage relief.
Meanwhile, Virginia housing advocates say several judges have allowed evictions to proceed for renters who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, despite a state law passed in April that continues protections for that group until 90 days after a state of emergency ends.
The Cares Act requires landlords of federally subsidized buildings and those with federally backed mortgage loans to wait until Aug. 26 before moving to evict tenants who have missed rent payments. Some renters have “self-evicted,” concerned about what an eviction would do to their credit, while others who are undocumented have done so out of fear of showing up to court, VOICE leaders said.
Winnie Dickerson, a Shenandoah Valley-area renter who lost her job as a substance abuse counselor, said she has been receiving threatening letters from her landlord.
“I have two children,” said Dickerson, noting that many renters facing eviction are African Americans like her who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. “I feel like we’ve been overlooked.”
Virginia, Maryland and the District reported 1,748 new coronavirus cases and 21 additional deaths on Friday. That brings the number of cases in the region to 162,919, with the death toll standing at 5,949.
The District reported 39 new cases and three deaths. Maryland added 707 cases and 12 deaths while Virginia reported 1,002 new cases and six additional fatalities.
Virginia’s Hampton Roads region accounted for nearly half of the state’s Friday caseload and more than one-quarter of cases across Virginia, Maryland and the District.
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