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D.C. officials knock on doors to reach seniors amid push for vaccine equity

Ramona Cohen, 76, waits in line for the coronavirus vaccine Jan. 15 at the pharmacy of a Giant grocery store in D.C. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)

D.C. officials have a new tactic in their push to vaccinate residents in neighborhoods hit hardest by the coronavirus, while officials across the Washington region on Thursday continued to manage the ongoing fallout from the pandemic.

Ensuring that the limited supply of vaccine doses is being distributed equitably among residents has been a key focus for elected officials across the region. Fairfax County is offering free transportation to vaccination sites for some residents who live farther away. Montgomery County is prioritizing residents from Zip codes with high infection rates.

The District on Thursday announced its newest method to reach residents: knocking on their front doors.

Staff from Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s office went door to door in Ward 8, home to some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, while offering to sign up seniors for vaccine appointments. Door-knocking is the city’s latest attempt to improve vaccination rates in lower-income neighborhoods, which have fallen far behind the numbers in wealthier areas.

Bowser (D) said staff members from the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs and Mayor’s Office of Community Relations and Services — with team members calling themselves “senior vaccine buddies” — are visiting neighborhoods to offer information on how to sign up for shots. The offices also will contact seniors they already know who could need help getting appointments, such as those who have registered for help removing snow from sidewalks.

D.C. releases early data on vaccine recipients amid push for equitable distribution

D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said she had Ward 8 in mind when she decided weeks ago to qualify residents 65 and older for vaccines, rather than starting with those over 75, as some states did. Life expectancy in Ward 8 is 72 — and just 68 in some neighborhoods — Nesbitt said, compared to 89 in more affluent neighborhoods elsewhere in the city.

“If we would have begun vaccinating individuals at 75 years of age or older, we would have missed the opportunity to have an impact in the neighborhoods with the highest burdens of disease,” she said.

Elsewhere in the city, Capitol Police officials said Thursday that they had procured enough vaccine doses to inoculate all department personnel.

Nearly 40 Capitol Police employees have tested positive for the virus in the weeks after thousands of maskless rioters attacked the building Jan. 6. Union representatives said most who tested positive were among the 1,400 sworn personnel on duty that day.

Acting Capitol Police chief Yogananda Pittman said in a statement Thursday that the agency “expects delivery of the vaccines to occur shortly.”

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

D.C., Maryland and Virginia reported 4,779 new coronavirus infections Thursday, continuing a steady downward trend from a post-holiday peak of more than 8,000 new cases daily. Covid-related deaths remained elevated, with a seven-day daily average of 84.

In Maryland, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties led the state in new infections, with 343 and 282 cases, respectively. In Virginia, Fairfax and Loudoun counties reported 230 and 224 infections.

According to state data, Maryland has administered first vaccine doses to 486,106 people. The state is in Phase 1C of its vaccination plan, which includes residents 65 and older, but because far more people are eligible for vaccination than the number of doses available, some localities, such as Montgomery, are restricting county clinics to those 75 and older.

The state is opening mass vaccination sites Friday at Six Flags America in Prince George’s County and at the Baltimore Convention Center.

At the Six Flags location, appointments first will be allocated to Prince George’s residents who have preregistered, then will be opened to residents in other jurisdictions, state officials said. At the Baltimore location, eligible Marylanders can submit an online request for a vaccine appointment, but because of high volume, “wait times between submitting a request form and receiving an invitation to schedule could be significant,” officials warned.

Virginia has administered first vaccine doses to about 775,000 residents, or 9 percent of its population. The state is vaccinating those in priority groups 1A and 1B, which includes people 65 and older and those with underlying medical conditions.

Virginia’s largest school systems vow to reopen classrooms for all by March

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said Thursday that the academic school year should stretch into the summer to make up for learning losses incurred during online classes amid the pandemic.

“We want to extend our classrooms this summer to allow our children to catch up so that everybody can be ready in the fall,” Northam said in a live-streamed video interview with The Washington Post.

Most major school systems in Virginia have been shuttered for the majority of students since March. Studies show that nearly a year of remote learning has drastically widened the equity gap in academic achievement nationwide, and is driving a large spike in failing grades — especially in Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia’s largest school system.

An administrative official said Northam will give more details on his push for summer school at a Friday news conference, adding that the governor will “be calling on localities to offer in-person instructional opportunities over the summer,” while urging Virginia school systems to prioritize sending students back into classrooms.

Erin Cox and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.

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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