Several D.C. Council members argued the city should reserve appointments for seniors in the city’s less affluent and majority-Black wards, worried that White seniors with better access to computers and information were taking a disproportionate number of slots.
When council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) brought up the idea, saying appointments for residents of Black neighborhoods hit hardest by the virus would help “flatten the curve,” Nesbitt responded: “I cannot comprehend the question. I don’t know what it means to reserve vaccines for people who live in neighborhoods where the risk is higher.”
Nesbitt, who is Black, blasted the idea that poor or Black residents are less capable of using the phone and online systems to register for appointments, saying such speculation would be “pejorative” to people like her parents and grandfather, none of whom have more than a high school education but are able to sign up.
Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who also is Black, countered that the communities hardest hit by the virus should get priority.
“I’ve had 140 people die in Ward 5. Ward 3 has had 42 people die,” he shouted toward the end of the call, referring to the wards’ respective death tolls from the pandemic. “140 to 42! We should have some sort of system that prioritizes the people who are actually dying.”
But with 85,000 health-care workers and 86,000 seniors eligible for vaccines — and just 8,300 doses arriving in the city this week — Nesbitt said the priority should be giving a vaccine quickly to anyone who will take it.
“When you see folks who live in higher-income neighborhoods go to lower-income neighborhoods to get the vaccine, it’s not a failure of the Department of Health,” she said. “Some of that has to do with how people of color are ready to accept the vaccine.”
McDuffie said his constituents are eager to get vaccinated, but have had trouble getting appointments. He said one woman told him she was the only Black person in a line of about 80 people at a Ward 5 site, while those in front of her and behind said they drove from Ward 3, which includes some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods.
Nesbitt said health officials selected pharmacies and health clinics in Wards 5, 7 and 8 — the city’s poorest — that can administer more doses per day than those elsewhere, but she refused to deny a vaccine to any resident at any site based on their address.
Council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large) suggested the city mail a postcard to every senior about registering for vaccinations. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) asked Nesbitt to provide lawmakers with the Zip codes of those who claimed the first batch of appointments. She said she was busy addressing the health crisis, adding, “Some of the things that are interesting to you all aren’t necessarily helpful to me.”
District health officials doubled the number of people taking calls this week to help seniors sign up for vaccines and say more appointments could open up this week. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said Wednesday that the city is opening up appointments as it receives doses of the vaccine from the federal government.
“In one sense, that’s a good thing, but it also demonstrates the scarcity of the vaccine,” Bowser said during a news conference.
Nesbitt said the city might have enough information about its next allotment from the federal government to open more appointments as soon as Thursday. Going forward, she said, she hopes to make each week’s batch of appointments available on Thursday.
Since the District and parts of Virginia began vaccinating seniors Monday, demand for the vaccine has been outstripping what’s available across the Washington region.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Tuesday that demand for vaccines is “far outpacing” supply. He said between 15,000 and 16,000 vaccine doses have been administered each day recently in Maryland, while the state has been receiving about 10,000 doses a day.
“We have to make sure we have those second doses or we’re in big trouble,” Hogan said, while calling on the federal government to boost Maryland’s allotment. “I don’t want to lie to people, ‘Oh, we’re going to open up the floodgates.’ Right now, we don’t have enough for the front-line health-care workers and the people who live in long-term health facilities.”
In the District, more than 26,000 doses had been administered as of Monday. City health officials update those numbers weekly, but not all vaccinators have fully reported data to the Health Department.
Nesbitt sent an administrative order to vaccinators Friday requiring them to submit data within 24 hours of administering doses. Since that order, Nesbitt said she has seen a “remarkable improvement” in reporting.
Bowser has urged residents not to go to a vaccine site without an appointment and asked residents to register at vaccinate.dc.gov or by calling 855-363-0333. The long lines at some sites this week were a result of people showing up without appointments, including some who mistakenly believed that simply typing their information into a city website meant they had registered for a shot, Nesbitt said.
The rollout also continued elsewhere in the region. Virginia health officials have administered 216,257 doses, according to the state’s most recent data. The state has fully vaccinated 22,985 people with the first and second doses of the vaccine, while Maryland has administered 164,907 first doses and 12,704 people have also received the second dose.
Both states have significantly more people hospitalized with the coronavirus than when the virus pummeled the region in the spring.
In Virginia, 3,209 people are hospitalized, which is more than double the number during the earlier peak in May. The number of people hospitalized in the state has jumped 10 percent in the past week.
In Maryland, the number hospitalized — 1,929 people — is also higher than in May, according to tracking by The Washington Post, and represents a 4 percent rise from last week.
Virus-related hospitalizations in D.C. stood Wednesday at 293, which is below the peak of the spring but a jump of 11 percent from last week. The city set a record Wednesday for its average daily rate of infections, reporting 44 new cases per 100,000 residents.
“We are seeing very high levels of cases and hospitalizations. It is very tragic because it means a lot of people are dying and more will be dying soon,” said Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Sharfstein said medical officials have developed a better understanding of how to treat coronavirus patients, leading to lower mortality rates than earlier in the pandemic. He said the length of the current surge in cases will depend on multiple factors, including the ability of people to abide by restrictions, the spread of more rapidly transmissible variants and how quickly the vaccine is rolled out.
Bob Atlas, president of the Maryland Hospital Association, said that in addition to the 1,929 coronavirus patients being treated in Maryland’s hospitals, there were 5,552 non-coronavirus patients in the system. He said about 90 percent of the state’s staffed hospital beds are full.
“We will have about 900 staffed beds that are not occupied, so we have capacity,” Atlas said. “Obviously, it is a strain.”
He said hospitals are not currently overwhelmed in the state and will do what they can to create additional capacity, if needed. But he said Maryland has more beds than available staff, which means staffing continues to be the largest concern, as has been the case since the start of the pandemic.
“The problem of late has been this is a national problem,” he said of staffing shortages. “The supply is limited.”
In Maryland’s Anne Arundel County, where the first case in the region of the highly contagious variant of the coronavirus was detected, County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) announced Wednesday that an executive order limiting capacity at restaurants and retail businesses to 25 percent capacity will be extended indefinitely.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said Wednesday that she does not see any case for reopening indoor dining, which has been closed in the Washington suburb since Dec. 16. She said she was hoping a decline in cases would allow for dining indoors because “our restaurants are really hurting.”
D.C., Maryland and Virginia on Wednesday reported 7,291 new coronavirus cases and 118 deaths. D.C. added 177 new cases and six deaths, Maryland added 2,516 cases and 37 deaths, while Virginia added 4,598 cases and 75 deaths.