A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Darrow Montgomery

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson called the mayor’s bluff—saying if she cancels weekly conference calls on the government’s response to COVID-19, her team will have to testify weekly at longer, public-facing hearings. Mayor Muriel Bowser backed down, withdrawing her request to replace the calls with monthly breakfasts. Conference calls resumed on Friday. 

Though Bowser and her team appeared to ask the Council for some improvements to the calls that occasionally got dragged out or heated. In an email to his colleagues ahead of Friday’s call, Mendelson asked his colleagues to be more disciplined on the call. (Someone privy to the conversations forwarded the email to City Paper.) He said that the executive spends considerable staff time to prepare for calls, and asked that members limit questions to COVID-19 and keep them under five minutes. 

Mendelson also asked that “members refrain from statements or argumentative follow up so as to preserve time for others.” It’s true that moments became rather tense between the executive and Council, most notably between DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt and Councilmembers Elissa Silverman (At-Large) and Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5). Nesbitt eventually stopped attending the conference calls.    

When asked if he thinks these moments played a role in the mayor’s request, Mendelson told LL: “Do we cease dialogue between two branches because sometimes a question is not asked in a diplomatic way? So my answer is that that’s part of the balance of power between the branches.”

It may be tempting to chalk this up to politics as usual. Consider it another spar between the mayor and chairman. But the content of these calls is important. Sometimes these calls can be regurgitations of previous press conferences. Other times these calls can unveil new information. 

The latest call helped bring more clarity on vaccine walk-up sites (where no appointments are needed) and reopening businesses. Here are the highlights from the call:

What is happening with D.C.’s walk-up sites for seniors and Ward 7 and 8 residents

DC Health’s Patrick Ashley told the Council the agency is looking to make an announcement regarding the expansion of these vaccine sites, including more locations and eligibility, in the “coming weeks.” The agency is evaluating demand at these sites, along with citywide supply, to inform decisions. “We have seen some seniors take advantage of that, but not an overwhelming amount,” Ashley added. (Note, walk-ins are now welcomed at the vaccine site at Greenbelt Metro station. D.C. residents can get vaccinated at the Maryland site.)

What metrics is the Bowser administration using to reopen?

City Administrator Kevin Donahue said that the Bowser administration uses data and science to inform reopening. However, the administration wouldn’t use a “formulaic” approach when deciding whether to further lift coronavirus restrictions. For example, he wouldn’t say DC Health has to see X metric met for X activity to happen. “There is some amount of art to this and understanding what the public is doing in reaction to our guidance,” added Ashley. “And so when we look at things like mask wearing and social distancing and individuals that are out in the community and how they’re behaving—all of those factors go into how we decide.” 

The mayor’s chief of staff, John Falcicchio, added that the public should expect more on reopening come May 1. Officials are currently reviewing guidance around restaurants and live entertainment, Falcicchio added. This includes how many people can be seated at one table. 

What’s the latest mask guidance, namely masking outside?   

The last order was issued over the summer. The position of DC Health has not changed, said Ashley. In terms of outdoor masking, the order says “Persons leaving their residences shall wear a mask when they are likely to come into contact with another person, such as being within six feet of another person for more than a fleeting time” and “Persons who are operating or a passenger in a taxi or a vehicle that is part of a Transportation Network Company, or who are a passenger on or operator of any form of public transit in the District, including a bus, subway, streetcar, shuttle bus or van, or school bus, must wear a mask at all such times.”

Could people who got their first shot out-of-state get their second shot in D.C.? 

D.C. residents are getting vaccinated out of the city. Ashley said some residents have gotten vaccinated outside the U.S. He said those who have gotten their first shot in Maryland and Virginia should get their second one there too, but DC Health would “accommodate” those who traveled elsewhere.    

Will DC Public Schools make after-school child care available?

According to Donahue, DCPS is planning to activate after-school care options. The agency is working out the details. The goal is that there is after-school care everyday after school.

When will officials end the lockdown at D.C. Jail? 

The Post reported residents of D.C. Jail are confined to their cells 23 hours a day. Donahue said the “medical stay” program was put in place early in the pandemic, when the jail was seeing multiple outbreaks. He said the Department of Corrections saw 207 positive cases over two months. After the agency implemented the program, there were 58 cases over 10 months, only 10 of which were exposed in the community, added Donahue. “We had a crisis and COVID is still with us,” he said. 

Donahue cited a court order for why the jail is effectively under a lockdown. “It’s very prescriptive as to social distancing,” he said. Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen said the order does not require residents to be confined to their cells all day. Donahue acknowledged the order does not, but that the court monitor observed violations whenever residents left their cells. “We want to ease medical stay,” said Donahue. “We will do so as soon as we can without violating the court order interpretation.”

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

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