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Small groups should return to D.C. public schools this month, mayor says

Members with the D.C. Department of Health administer coronavirus tests in August.
Members with the D.C. Department of Health administer coronavirus tests in August. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The District’s public schools started classes online this semester, when officials said instruction would remain virtual-only until at least November.

On Wednesday, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) modified the plan, suggesting she “would expect” to resume limited in-person instruction this month for small groups of public school students, at least at a few schools.

“I think DCPS can do it, and I think DCPS should do it,” Bowser said Wednesday when asked whether public schools should follow charter schools in returning small groups to classrooms.

She said she directed Paul Kihn, deputy mayor for education, to assess the successes and struggles of charter and private schools that have resumed some in-person instruction to glean lessons for the public school system. She noted the public school system is far larger than any charter network that has resumed in-person ­classes.

Charters begin offering in-person learning for small groups

“I don’t think we have any health data to suggest that we can’t do small groups,” she said, noting that bringing back full classes or grades would not be possible at least until November. “We believe that in-person learning is preferred to virtual learning. We also have to do it in a safe way.”

Joe Weedon, a spokesman for the Washington Teachers’ Union, said Wednesday that the organization would like to have more conversations with the Bowser administration before any students return to the classroom. He said the union hasn’t seen satisfactory guidelines for student and teacher safety protocols for in-person learning.

Elizabeth Davis, president of the union, has said there are teachers who are comfortable returning to classrooms and she is working on identifying them.

D.C. public health officials on Wednesday also unveiled details of a coronavirus tracking program created by Apple and Google for use across the greater Washington region.

Residents of D.C., Virginia and Maryland can sign up for the program via an app or a setting on their iPhone or Android device, likely beginning later this month. Once enrolled, their phone will keep track of other phones enrolled in the program that pass within a few feet of them.

If someone alerts the program that they have tested positive for the coronavirus, anyone who came near that person while using the service will receive a notification indicating they came into contact with someone who could have been infectious.

“We’re very excited,” especially about the possibility for tracking people who may have moved between the three jurisdictions while infectious, D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said.

D.C. officials noted the companies will record the phones that were near a person enrolled in the program but will not keep a log of specific location data to protect privacy.

A new app offers Virginians the chance to show the country how to contain coronavirus cases. Will they blow it?

The new app comes more than a month after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced the rollout of the Covidwise app, which made the state the first to use pandemic technology from Apple and Google. That free app — which state health officials say is less effective outside Virginia — is also available in the Apple and Android app stores.

As city officials seek to limit the spread of the virus, Bowser said some struggling residents will soon begin to receive additional financial assistance. Bowser announced late Tuesday that D.C. was approved for federal coronavirus aid that would give unemployed workers an additional $300 per week.

D.C. was among the last jurisdictions to apply for the funds, which were made available in an order from President Trump that pulls $44 billion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Bowser to seek supplemental U.S. unemployment funds

In a statement, Bowser said she expects eligible recipients will start receiving payments by the first week of October. To be eligible, residents must receive at least $100 a week in unemployment compensation and certify they are jobless or partially unemployed because of disruptions caused by the pandemic.

The mayor also urged federal lawmakers to restore a $600 per week unemployment benefit that was available earlier in the summer, but she said the lower amount announced this week will help families hurting amid the pandemic.

“We know workers continue to struggle during this pandemic, and we are committed to providing them with the maximum benefit they deserve so they can care for themselves and their families,” Bowser said in a statement.

D.C. was approved for three weeks of payments, with future approval granted on a weekly basis through Dec. 27, or when FEMA funding is exhausted. More than 140,000 people have filed compensation claims in the District this year.

Also this week, the state of New York added Maryland to its list of states that require visitors to quarantine for 14 days upon entering. The quarantine applies to states with an infection rate above 10 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day rolling average or those with a test positivity rate of 10 percent or higher over that time.

Delaware, Ohio and West Virginia also were added to New York’s list. Virginia is already included, while D.C. is not on the list.

Coronavirus cases and metrics in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

The greater Washington region added 1,243 known coronavirus cases and 24 deaths on Wednesday. Virginia recorded 882 cases and 11 deaths, Maryland had 336 cases and nine deaths, while D.C. had 25 cases and four deaths.

The number of infections in the region has held relatively steady for more than two weeks, with a seven-day average standing at 1,616 on Wednesday. The death toll in D.C. was the highest in a single day since July 9, even though the city’s seven-day average of cases dropped to 44 — its lowest level since July 10.

Coronavirus news in D.C., Virginia and Maryland

The latest: More than two years into the pandemic, covid cases in the D.C. region are rising again, , while liberal Montgomery County asks who deserves credit for its robust covid response. Meanwhile, Black funeral directors still face a daunting amount of deaths from covid and the omicron wave has had an unequal toll in the DMV.

At-home tests: Here’s how to use at-home covid tests, where to find them and how they differ from PCR tests.

Mapping the spread: Tens of thousands have died in the local region and nationwide cases number in the hundreds of thousands.

Omicron: Remaining covid restrictions in the D.C.-area, plus a breakdown of variant symptoms and mask recommendations.

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