It's been nine months since the coronavirus pandemic changed every aspect of our lives, but there’s hope as the Pfizer vaccine approaches clearing a final hurdle before distribution.
An independent Food and Drug Administration Panel convened Thursday to examine the data from trials of the shot.
The preliminary review by the FDA found the vaccine is safe to use and has few side effects.
The advisory panel will make its recommendations by the end of the day and the FDA could grant emergency use authorization as soon as Thursday night or Friday.
The federal government has prepared 2.9 million vaccine doses to be distributed immediately after approval, which could begin rolling out over the weekend or early next week, CNBC reports.
Virginia is preparing for 480,000 doses by the end of December.
Maryland will receive 155,000 doses of the coronavirus in total with about 50,000 from Pfizer and 104,000 from Moderna, officials said. Distribution could begin next week for Pfizer’s vaccine, officials said.
D.C. is now planning for 6,825 doses of a vaccine in its first shipment, which will be given to health care workers and first responders. Less than 10% of health care workers can get the first dose from the initial allotment, so anyone who interacts with COVID-19 patients will be very first in line, officials said Thursday.
“Vaccinating health care workers first ensures we have a healthy work force to treat and care for sick people,” Nesbitt said. “It’s not just necessarily the doctors and nurses, but it also includes the techs, environmental services staff, et cetera.”
Despite the good news, the data points to a deepening crisis. D.C.'s daily case rate has soared to more than 40 per 100,000 residents, far above the phase two goal of 15.
Maryland and Virginia have more COVID-19 patients in hospitals than ever before. Case averages have been trending upward since October.
“While the latest COVID-19 vaccine news has given us a real reason for optimism, some of our darkest days are still ahead of us,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said. “The cavalry is coming, but we need to stay #MarylandStrong for a little while longer.”
As the coronavirus crisis worsens, our region’s leaders provided updates to the public on Thursday.
Virginia will have a curfew starting Monday that will require most residents to stay home between midnight and 5 a.m, the governor announced at a press conference Thursday.
The state’s cap on public gatherings will also be reduced from 25 people to 10.
Northam is expanding the state's longstanding mask requirements to include outdoor areas where social distancing isn’t possible and all indoor areas shared with others, except for households. The current mask mandate requires only that masks be worn in indoor public settings.
Maryland's governor announced financial relief for small businesses, grants for residents with diabetes and the allocation of funds to build thousands of affordable housing units.
Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order Thursday to convert $75 million in loans for small businesses affected by the pandemic into grants in order to "help keep more people on their payrolls.”
Hogan said the state would also be committing $94 million in grants to help treat Marylanders with diabetes during the pandemic.
“More than one out of every three Marylanders either has diabetes or pre-diabetes which puts them at a much greater risk,” Hogan said. “It is the number one [risk] for COVID-19.”
Maryland will be directing an additional $25 million to the construction of 2,000 affordable units in low-income housing projects, Hogan said.
“This is the largest number of units we have financed in a single year,” he said.
Another $10 million will be invested for a wide range of initiatives, law enforcement and youth services, Hogan said.
New restrictions on Prince George’s County restaurants, stores and casinos will go into effect Wednesday, Dec. 16 as COVID-19 cases surge, officials announced Thursday.
Indoor dining will be banned. Outdoor dining will be limited to 50% capacity. Curbside and takeout service will still be allowed. Casinos and stores will be limited to 25% capacity.
County Executive Angela Alsobrooks asked residents and visitors to help businesses survive.
“Please continue to patronize our restaurants,” she said at a news conference.
The restrictions will go into effect at 5 p.m. Dec. 16 and remain in place at least through Jan. 16.
Fairfax County school leaders are set to meet Thursday night in hopes of working out a plan to get more students back in classrooms.
The latest surge in COVID-19 cases delayed some of the school system's youngest students from returning last month.
The district has been looking at ways to make schools safer, including by pulling together teams, lead by staff and retirees, who will spot check school buildings and make sure federal guidelines are followed.
The leaders of several of Maryland's largest counties joined Wednesday to talk about their handling of the pandemic.
During the meeting, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich made a major announcement about new restrictions, proposing a ban on indoor dining and further capacity limits at religious institutions.
The Montgomery County Council needs to approve the proposal. Elrich aims to have it go into effect Tuesday at 5 p.m.
What the Data Shows
Cases and hospitalizations are surging throughout our region, with all-time highs being reported across several metrics.
D.C. reported 244 new coronavirus cases and an additional four lives lost on Thursday.
The District’s seven-day average is at 276, a few cases lower than its all-time high of 287 reported Wednesday.
Maryland had 3,202 new cases – the state’s second highest 24-hour case increase – and 49 deaths.
Maryland’s seven-day average is at 2,922, breaking a new record. Hospitalizations are also at an all-time high of 1,720 Marylanders.
Virginia recorded 2,780 new cases and 54 additional deaths Thursday. The seven-day average surged to a record-breaking 2,850 – that’s more than 1,000 cases higher than last week.
Vaccination Plans in DC, Maryland, Virginia
- Virginia: The Virginia Department of Health estimates there are up to 500,000 health care workers and long-term care facility residents in the state who are among top-priority for vaccines. The state announced Friday that 480,000 doses of vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna could arrive by the end of December.
“We will focus initially on the groups that have been most at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 infections and those whose work puts them at greatest risk of contracting COVID-19 infections," Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver said.
- Maryland: Maryland will focus its initial COVID-19 vaccinations on hospital-based health care workers, residents of nursing homes and first responders.
The state is expected to receive 155,000 initial doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and distribution could begin as early as next week for the Pfizer vaccine and later this month for the Moderna vaccine. That initial figure includes 50,700 Pfizer doses and 104,300 Moderna doses.
- Washington, D.C.: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Operation Warp Speed are planning to give 8,000 doses to D.C. in an initial distribution once a vaccine is available, D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said Monday. That’s just one-tenth of the estimated 80,000 doses needed to cover health workers, she said.
The 8,000 figure includes 6,800 Pfizer doses, WTOP reported.
Health care workers and first responders will top D.C.’s list for who will get a COVID-19 vaccination once it’s available, Nesbitt said.
Local Coronavirus Headlines
- Health officials in Virginia say they'll likely have to scale back on contact tracing because coronavirus transmission levels are rising so high.
- Maryland will focus its initial COVID-19 vaccinations on hospital-based health care workers, residents of nursing homes and first responders in the first phase expected to arrive as soon as next week, state officials said Tuesday.
- If federal regulators authorize two COVID-19 vaccine candidates, Virginia expects to receive enough doses by the year's end to begin inoculating nearly all of its health care workers and long-term care facility residents, officials said Friday.
- Help is available for thousands of D.C. residents who have fallen behind on rent payments.
- D.C. Public Schools is preparing for an ambitious pilot program in which it will regularly test some students and staff for the coronavirus.
- The initial wave of vaccines likely won’t come close to covering all health care workers in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
- Despite rising COVID-19 cases in the D.C. region, thousands of Northern Virginia students returned to the classroom Tuesday and began hybrid learning.
- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced measures on Tuesday to boost the number of available health care workers and plan for more hospital beds.
- Thousands of Northern Virginia students returned to classrooms in Loudoun and Prince William counties to begin hybrid learning.
- Some Fairfax County students have returned to all-virtual learning amid a rise in coronavirus cases.
- COVID-19 numbers continue to paint a dire picture for Black Americans, and there is an ongoing effort in the Black community to increase testing.
- Officials reversed a decision to cancel the annual Wreaths Across America event at Arlington National Cemetery. The event, held in December, will happen after all.
- Maryland released a new contact tracing app, and has reduced indoor operations for bars and restaurants from 75% to 50% in response to rising coronavirus cases and increased hospitalizations.
- Virginia planned to announce new coronavirus restrictions on Thursday.
- Montgomery County's executive has proposed suspending indoor dining, tighter capacity limits at religious institutions and other new restrictions that would take effect 5 p.m. Tuesday, if approved by the county council.
- Maryland tightened restrictions on businesses, bars and restaurants.
- All Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo closed because of rising COVID-19 cases, officials announced.
- Hours before some Fairfax County students were set to return to in-person learning, the school district said that they needed to delay the plan.
- Courts throughout Maryland partially shut down due to the pandemic.
- Virginia announced new measures to fight COVID-19 as cases of the virus have spiked across the country.
- Prince George's County tightened restrictions and required masks to be worn outdoors.
- Montgomery County reduced capacity limits at many businesses, including for indoor dining, to 25%. The county previously stopped giving waivers for alcohol sales after 10 p.m.
- D.C.'s mayor extended the city's coronavirus state of emergency to last through the end of the year.
How to Stay Safe
There are ways to lower your risk of catching coronavirus. Here are guidelines from the CDC:
- Wear a snug-fitting mask that covers your nose and mouth.
- Avoid being indoors with people who are not members of your household. The more people you are in contact with, the more likely you are to be exposed to COVID-19. If you are indoors with people you don’t live with, stay at least six feet apart and keep your mask on.
- Wash your hands often, especially after you have been in a public place.