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The D.C. Council has held one oversight roundtable on the District’s response to the coronavirus pandemic until now. Councilmembers have held roundtables about the pandemic’s effects on everything from schools to unemployment, but rarely about the District government’s direct response to slowing the spread of the deadly virus. They’ve often used weekly calls with Mayor Muriel Bowser’s staff as means of oversight.   

A month and a half into vaccinations, health committee chairman Vince Gray of Ward 7 held two days of public roundtables, on Friday and Monday, about the District’s greatest hope of curbing the pandemic. Frustrated residents called for a smoother vaccination rollout, while government officials pleaded for patience given the supply shortage and logistical complications. Notably, DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt wasn’t scheduled to testify on Monday due to scheduling conflicts. Here are the 3 takeaways from the roundtable discussions: 

1. Early data shows disturbing racial disparities in vaccinations. 

All the publicly available data so far suggests Black and Brown Washingtonians trail White residents in vaccinations. This morning, DC Health published vaccine data by race/ethnicity for the first time. With the caveat that the data is very incomplete, it shows more White residents getting partially and fully vaccinated. Residency data continues to show seniors who live in wealthier, Whiter wards getting vaccinated at higher rates, despite efforts to address emerging racial and economic inequities.          

During Friday’s roundtable, a MedStar Health representative said, of the people they’ve vaccinated across four D.C. sites, excluding their own employees, 60 percent are White, 27 percent are Black, 7 percent are unknown, 5 percent identified as “other race,” and 1 percent are Asian. Residents 65 and older can now visit any District hospital’s website to try and sign up for a vaccination appointment. But MedStar Health focused its outreach primarily to those who had a primary care interaction within the last two years. 

“Initially, the acceptance was low, especially amongst our staff which represents our community,” said a representative with United Medical Center, the only hospital in Southeast. “As time has gone on with education and outreach and seminars … we’ve been able to influence people to accept the vaccine.” 

While it is seeing some success in addressing vaccine hesitancy among its own community, the UMC representative says the hospital is vaccinating a significant number of people who do not live in majority-Black Wards 7 and 8. He suspects these new patients have never traveled east of the Anacostia River until they needed to get vaccinated.    

2. Residents, including some Councilmembers, are questioning the priority scheme. 

Many of the residents who testified on Friday questioned why child care workers were not prioritized alongside public school teachers and staff if they too are educators. Later that day, Bowser announced that child care workers will be able to sign up for a vaccination appointment beginning Feb. 1 at noon, as can private school staff. Still, some question the motivations behind the priority scheme. 

“Instead of equity, the mayor has shown an interest in serving the wealthy and privileged few and using the vaccine process in furthering her political agenda,” said Laura Fuchs, a DC Public Schools teacher who got her first shot because she is scheduled to return to the classroom this week. She had complicated feelings about getting the shot because people who are child care and grocery store workers, who’ve been reporting in-person for months, were prioritized after her. She wished the mayor delayed reopening schools, and put people who have been working in-person already ahead of K-12 teachers.  

Fuchs wasn’t the only one to say this. “We have survived without in-school learning … we could not survive at all without sanitation workers,” said Ambrose Lane Jr., the founder of DC’s Health Alliance Network. He advocated to prioritize sanitation workers to the current phase, Phase 1b, as opposed to the next one, Phase 1c.      

“We need transparency surrounding all of this,” said Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh of the priority scheme on Monday. “How we are proceeding—why?” She also requested a more nuanced approach if supply is scarce, perhaps prioritizing seniors with specific health conditions in addition to zip code.  

3. D.C. needs more doses. 

The District is expecting 10,975 additional doses this week, 1,500 more than the week before. However, the demand for vaccinations still outpaces the supply the city gets from the federal government. The Biden administration assured the District a 15 percent increase for the next three weeks. 

The most doses the District has ever received was in late December, when Maryland and Virginia sent us 8,000 doses each because we are vaccinating health care workers who live in their states. Cheh asked whether the District should expect more doses from Maryland and Virginia given that many of D.C.’s teachers and firefighters live in those states. Patrick Ashley, who is part of DC Health’s executive team, says it has not had additional conversations or commitments about getting more doses for those workers, but will discuss the topic with regional partners. 

Ashley says doses are allocated the following way: 30 percent to vaccinate.dc.gov appointments, 40 percent to hospitals and federally qualified health centers like Mary’s Center, 20 percent to essential workers like DC Public Schools and the Metropolitan Police Department, and 10 percent to special programs like public housing sites.

—Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com

Correction: The article inaccurately said the Council never held an oversight hearing that examines the District’s direct response to curbing the pandemic. On October 28, 2020, the health committee held an oversight hearing, where Nesbitt was the lead witness.

  • The daily case rate and hospitalizations related to COVID-19 remain in the red, at Phase 0/1 levels. To see today’s coronavirus cases and more information, visit our coronavirus dashboard. [EOM]
  • After arbitrator rules that DC Public Schools met most safety criteria to reopen, snow delays the first day of in-person learning. [Post, DCist]
  • Majority of those returning to the classroom are students of color. The wealthiest wards maximized capacity, while seats remain empty in poorer wards hit hard by COVID-19. [Post]  
  • Ward 8 urgent care center slated to open this year. [WBJ]

By Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com)

  • Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White calls for a state of emergency after three teenagers are shot in the first month of 2021. [DCist]
  • People in low-barrier shelters will start receiving the coronavirus vaccine today. [Street Sense]
  • Regional vaccine rollout gets “below an F grade.” [Post]

By Mitch Ryals (tips? mryals@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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By Emma Sarappo (tips? esarappo@washingtoncitypaper.com)

  • Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal combined for 78 points to lead the Wizards over the Brooklyn Nets, 149-146, in a wild game in which the Wizards scored six points in seven seconds to close the game. [NBC Sports Washington]
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By Kelyn Soong (tips? ksoong@washingtoncitypaper.com)