The D.C. region has surpassed 500,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases Sunday.
The troubling landmark comes as the region prepares both for a coming surge in cases during the holiday season and for the first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, which was recently approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration.
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The first shipments of the vaccine headed Sunday from Michigan to 145 distribution centers across the U.S.
About 3 million doses of the vaccine are expected to be sent out. Health care workers and nursing home residents are expected to receive the first shots in the initial weeks of distribution.
The shipments of the Pfizer vaccine represent the biggest vaccination effort in American history as coronavirus infections top 16 million and the death toll runs just shy of 300,000 nationwide.
Vaccines will be given to 24 Maryland hospitals as early as next week, including Adventist Healthcare Shady Grove Medical Center, The Johns Hopkins Hospital and University of Maryland Medical Center. Six D.C. hospitals including Howard University and Children’s National are also in line to get boxes containing nearly 1,000 shots.
“Every hospital in the state will receive vaccines as part of the initial 155,000 doses we have been allocated, and we expect to continue to receive allocations on a weekly basis,” a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health said.
Adventist HealthCare is slated to receive about 2,000 doses next week, said Dr. Andrew Catanzaro, Chief of Infectious Disease at Adventist HealthCare.
The University of Maryland Medical System recently received the freezers needed to keep the Pfizer vaccine cold. The hospital said it will do a dry run of its vaccine program on Monday.
“There is no room for failure here,” said Gary Tuggle, Deputy Incident Commander for COVID-19 response at the University of Maryland Medical System. “At the end of the day, if we have vaccine left in vials sitting in refrigerators and not in arms of people, then we will have failed.”
Local hospitals say some of their vaccine safety measures include staggering vaccines across units to keep all hospital units functioning in case of side effects.
They’ll also have a system for workers to report adverse reactions and keep tabs on how things are going.
Virginia has not released a list of hospitals that will get the first doses. The Inova health system told News4 they expect a shipment next week and will vaccinate eligible employees.
Furthermore, federal veterans’ hospitals in D.C., Baltimore and Richmond will get the first round of vaccines. Just how many doses will be available is unknown, but these are some of the largest Veterans Affairs hospitals in the nation, with dozens of deaths from the virus among patients.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn told the public that the vaccine was safe but will take time to roll out. He urged people to continue taking precautions against the virus.
“We remind the public to remain vigilant as inoculation will take time. Wear a mask, wash your hands and remain socially distant when possible,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Steve Hahn said.
Two more school districts are scaling back in-person learning.
Fairfax County Public Schools are notifying parents that many children will return to all-virtual instruction.
Group 3 students, including some English Language Learners and special education students, will return to online learning on Monday. The goal is to bring students back after winter break, officials said.
Fauquier County Public Schools also announced all students will return to a fully virtual learning model on Monday. Online learning will continue, until winter break.
At this point, hybrid learning may resume in January, when the second term begins.
What the Data Shows
The D.C. region now has more than 500,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to data released Sunday. Nearly 1,000 lives have been lost to the virus.
In D.C., an additional 231 cases and two deaths were reported. Among the including the lives lost was that of a 103 year old, one of the oldest victims of COVID-19 in the District.
Maryland recorded 2,638 new cases and 17 lives lost. Virginia had 2,522 new cases and one additional death.
On a bright note, seven-day rolling averages in the region are decreasing slightly. D.C.'s average has decreased for three days in a row. D.C.'s case average is currently at 248, Maryland's dropped by one case to 2,803, and Virginia's rate dropped by 50 cases to 2,934.
The seven-day averages, however, are still very high. More than 1,750 additional cases are being diagnosed in our region every day compared to the beginning of December.
Hospitalizations are the highest they've ever been in Virginia. A total of 1,796 Virginians were in the hospital with COVID-19 on Sunday, following a week-long streak of ever-increasing record highs.
In D.C. 230 people are hospitalized with coronavirus. Hospital capacity in the District is now in the red zone, with 91.3% of hospital beds occupied.
Maryland has actually shown a two-day decrease in daily hospitalizations. After reaching a peak of 1,729 on Friday, hospitalizations are down to 1,679 on Sunday.
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.: D.C. expects to receive its first 6,825 doses after Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is cleared by the Food and Drug Administration and distributed, D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt and Mayor Muriel Bowser said Thursday at a press conference.
It's "impossible to lay out an exact timeline, but the rollout will happen in phases in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance.
The very first vaccines will go to health care workers and first responders who come into contact with COVID-19 patients. The stages of vaccination are Phase 1A for about 85,000 health care workers and first responders, then Phase 1B for more than 310,000 essential workers and at-risk residents. During Phase 2, the vaccine will first become available to the general public.
Local Coronavirus Headlines
- A rapid antigen test might seem like a great idea when you're in a hurry and don't have time to wait a few days for results, but those tests are really designed for people with COVID-19 symptoms and in asymptomatic patients can deliver false positive results.
- News4 has obtained a list of two dozen Maryland hospitals expected to receive the first shipment of Pfizer vaccines once it receives emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
- 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.
- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced measures to boost the number of available health care workers and plan for more hospital beds.
- 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.
- 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.