March 19 Newsletter
This week marked the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a pandemic, and DC declaring a public health emergency. While we need to remain vigilant to curb the virus -- wearing our masks, keeping our social distance, etc. -- there’s a lot of new information and new protocols being put in place that have raised many questions. If you’re like me, reading dense information has gotten, well, more difficult in the last year. For upcoming weeks, I’m going to put our newsletter in a question and answer format to make it scannable and easy to read.
Topics I’ll cover this week: vaccine distribution; how Biden’s Rescue Package helps DC workers, residents, and businesses; and when should I file taxes? Next week I’ll Q & A more on unemployment insurance, rental assistance, and public schools, so send me questions you have.
Questions on Vaccine Distribution
I’m not in a group eligible for the vaccine. Should I sign up on DC’s new pre-registration system?
All residents 18 years of age and older are encouraged to register, even if you are not in a vaccine eligible group yet. You can register two ways: go online at vaccinate.dc.gov or call 855-363-0333. This system allows you to register once and then we will notify you by your preferred method (email, phone, text) when you can book an appointment. If you or your child/grandchild is 16 or 17 years of age, you can register with Children’s National Medical Center here.
I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback on the new system, and the launch and appointment scheduling seem to be going well. The online site is only in English right now, and DC Health has said it will be translated into Spanish and Amharic in the next week.
Since mid-January, I had been advocating for us to switch to a registration approach because I felt it was less chaotic and allowed us to better distribute vaccines based on health risk and equity. I want to thank DC Health and the Office of the Chief Technology Officer for getting this new system up and running. Please reach out to me if you have any problems with the site.
The Washington Post (New York Times, Bloomberg News, etc.) vaccine tracker puts DC at the bottom of states in vaccine usage. I read we’re only using 68.2 percent! What’s going on?
The numbers are misleading! First, and let me be very clear about this, we are turning vaccine allocations into shots in the arm as fast as we can, and we are wasting very little vaccine.
The vaccine trackers use allocation data from the Centers for Disease Control, which includes federal agency distribution to the Veterans Administration and Department of Defense, etc. These vaccines are added to our state total, but we don’t actually receive them or have any say in how they are used. To get all 4th grade math about it, DC Health provides the numerator of how many vaccines turned into jabs in arms but the vaccine trackers still use the CDC distribution numbers including federal agencies for the denominator. I’ve asked DC Health for their denominator; I am still awaiting the answer. BUT DC Health has released wastage statistics that show only 225 doses have been unused.
I’ve lost track. Who is eligible for the vaccine in DC?
As you can see, DC Health expanded vaccine eligibility this week to more workers in essential societal functions, such as mass transit and the courts. I think our North Star guiding vaccine prioritization needs to remain focused on who is at the most health risk, and this expansion has raised concerns for me. I asked DC Health to estimate how many people would be eligible in this new tier, and I have not been able to get an answer yet. I remain concerned that less than 60 percent of our residents 65 and older have been vaccinated, and a majority of those with qualifying medical conditions have not been vaccinated yet. These are residents who are most at risk of dying or being hospitalized if they are infected with the virus.
Also, DC residents who work in an essential job in another jurisdiction, according to DC Health, are not included in these tiers. The logic is that they will be eligible in the jurisdiction they work in, but that is very confusing.
The graphic above outlined the expanded tier. That is in addition to tiers 1A and 1B, which are outlined below:
Are all DC seniors 65 and older now vaccinated?
No. According to data, about six in 10 DC seniors are fully vaccinated. I think this is an important data point to track, because we know that COVID-19 has been deadliest for this group of residents. If you are interested in data, I highly recommend dccovid.com, a site that does a great job visualizing data from DC Health put together by DC resident Ryan Stahlin. Here is a chart on senior vaccinations from the site.
As you can see, we still have a major disparity by ward and by race on who is getting the vaccine in our city. I want to applaud the DC Housing Authority for its mobile clinic program with Johns Hopkins/Sibley Hospital which has vaccinated many seniors in its communities, especially in wards 5, 6, 7 & 8. We need to do more of this!
Why are so many non-residents getting vaccinated by DC?
Tier 1A, the first group vaccinated, included health-care workers, like nurses, those who work in clinics, and our own Fire and Emergency Management Services. DC Health estimated this group to comprise 80,000 workers, in which THREE out of FOUR are non-DC residents. This very much skewed our numbers.
Contrast that to the past week: More than 90 percent of vaccine appointments are going to DC residents. The chart below shows what is known as the seven day average of doses over the course of vaccine distribution. Blue colors represent non-DC residents and green colors DC residents. As you can see, the chart has flipped to doses overwhelmingly going to residents.
Following CDC guidance, we delivered those first doses to hospitals and health care clinics, which vaccinated their workers. The logic here, again, is that nurses, doctors, and those caring for COVID patients were most at risk. Some of you have said, “Well, let Virginia or Maryland vaccinate them!” but that is not what the CDC advised as the most efficient way to reduce harm.
Bottom Line: We need more DC residents working in our hospitals and other living-wage jobs in health care! That’s why my Labor Committee funded a Healthcare Workforce Partnership, which is being implemented right now. The Partnership will provide guidance to the District, particularly to the Workforce Investment Council about creating pipelines to these jobs for our own residents! Remember, we are building TWO NEW HOSPITALS! The ultimate purpose of the Partnership is to increase the number of District residents employed in the healthcare industry and to meet the staffing needs of employers like hospitals, managed care organizations, private insurers, and other healthcare providers.
Questions on New Lifestyle Protocols
I’ve been vaccinated. What can I do that’s permissible according to DC Health?
You still need to wear your mask in public! Why? We need to stay vigilant, and frankly, not create confusion that mask orders have been lifted and risk spikes in transmission, as we are seeing in states that have done so.
BUT, if you’re vaccinated, you can socialize without masks with others who have been vaccinated, and to a small extent, with those who haven’t! Here’s a graphic to help you visualize the rules of engagement.
Can I go to a Nats game? What else is open?
PROFESSIONAL SPORTS: For Nationals Opening Day April 1 and two weeks thereafter, Mayor Bower has approved up to 5,000 fans in attendance. DC United will be allowed to host up to 2,000 fans per match at Audi Field. The Mayor will revisit these capacity rules in mid-April. Good luck with tickets!
RESTAURANTS: Beginning March 22, indoor dining at restaurants is allowed at 25 percent of capacity or up to 250 people. Alcohol can continue to be sold until midnight, which is mandatory closure time. Tables must be six feet apart with up to six people per table with no standing at bar areas.
LIVE ENTERTAINMENT: DC will resume reviewing and approving live entertainment waivers. Movie theaters may open with no more than 25 people (or 25 percent capacity, whichever is less) in an auditorium.
OUTDOOR GATHERINGS: May now include up to 50 people, safely distanced. For private indoor gatherings, the limit is 10 people.
INDOOR FITNESS: May resume with up to 10 people, and outdoor fitness classes may host up to 50 people. Gyms may host 25 percent capacity or up to 250 people, whichever is lower, with six feet physical distancing.
I have gotten numerous inquiries about our indoor public swimming pools, including asking for more lap lanes to be made available and whether or not we will be opening outdoor pools this summer. You know I love our pools! I have asked the administration about outdoor/indoor pool capacity and will let you know what I find out!
What about high school sports?
As of March 15, some high school sports may resume, and field permits will be issued for spring seasons. For more guidance, click here. This is something I’ve been pushing for, and I want to give a shout out to Wilson Senior High School student Eddie McKenna for being a very vigilant advocate! Outside activities are much lower risk, and we should be allowing more of them. So another thank you to DC Health for loosening these restrictions.
Questions on Federal Relief and Money for Unemployed Workers
How does President Biden’s American Rescue Plan help me and help DC? Did DC get our fair share this time around?
This time around, The District of Columbia got its fair share of economic stimulus. Here are some details:
- $2.2 billion total in DC money, making up for our being shorted $750 million by Congress last year.
- $1,400 stimulus payments per person for more than 358,100 adults and 176,300 children. This is 71 percent of all adults and 84 percent of all children in DC.
- Up to $1600 per child through the child tax credit to families of 94,000 children, lifting 8,000 out of poverty.
- Nearly $1,000 through the Earned Income Tax Credit to 33,000 childless workers, including many in frontline jobs.
- More than $391.8 million in relief for K-12 schools.
- $25 billion for restaurants which will be used to close the gap between revenues before and after the pandemic.
- $5 billion for venues like theaters and music halls that have been forced to close due to the pandemic.
- $7.25 billion for loans under the Paycheck Protection Program.
- $30 billion for mass transit systems across the country. If the same formula from December’s $900 million stimulus bill is used, transit agencies in the Washington region — including Metro, MARC and VRE — will get a combined $1.4 billion.
I am collecting Unemployment Insurance or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. What do I need to do to extend my benefits?
Both Unemployment Insurance (UI) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) have been extended through September. This includes an extra $300 payment, similar to the $300 and $600 additional boosts that came earlier this year and last year.
Every time the feds adjust payments and extend programs, we need to make adjustments to our system with its decades-old code. Word from the Department of Employment Services is that modifications will take two to three weeks.
If you receive PUA, you will not be required to request extensions -- you should simply continue to file your weekly certifications.
If you are currently on UI and have not yet exhausted your 26 weeks, you will be required to apply for PEUC, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, when you exhaust your 26 weeks.
If you have exhausted Extended Benefits and are eligible for the PEUC extension, you don’t need to reapply for PEUC. The system should automatically transfer you to PEUC. If you are not seeing this automatic transfer, you should contact DOES at 202-724-7000. More on this topic next week.
Questions on Taxes
Should I file my taxes or wait? Has the deadline to file changed?
The IRS just announced it is extending the filing deadline until May 17, and I suspect that DC will follow suit. Stay tuned!
If you’ve received unemployment compensation in 2020, you might consider waiting to file. I want to make sure ALL UI/PUA claimants know that the first $10,200 in benefits will be exempt from federal and DC taxes; unemployment benefits are already exempt from income taxes in Virginia and for some Maryland workers, and I am hoping to provide the same exemption in the District. More to come soon!
Important Upcoming Dates:
DC Statehood hearing in Congress - March 22, 11 a.m. Watch on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s webpage.
Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Robert Contee as MPD Chief of Police - March 25, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Watch here.
Sign up for DC Department of Parks and Rec summer camps - March 22. Click here for more info.