Jan 13, 2022 - COVID

The DMV's varying pandemic responses

llustration of covid cell with three speech bubbles.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

As Omicron rages through the DMV, we continue to see drastic variations in COVID response from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

Why it matters: The Washington region is interconnected in how we live, work, and play, but varying approaches from local officials have created a hodgepodge of pandemic rules.

  • In Maryland, counties including Anne Arundel, Frederick, Montgomery, and Prince George’s, implemented their own mask mandates. But at some points in the pandemic, mandates were dropped and revived in a whiplash manner. 
  • Virginia lifted its statewide mask mandate in May and never looked back, and counties are powerless to override Richmond. 
  • In many ways, D.C. has led the region in strict protocols, testing all students before a return from winter break, widely distributing rapid self-test kits, and announcing an indoor vaccine mandate that will take effect Saturday morning, a policy being matched by Montgomery County.

Flashback: But the lack of regional cooperation was no better showcased than on Nov. 16 when D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser lifted the city’s mask mandate and bordering Montgomery County, Maryland said it would reinstate its own mandate.

  • “I don’t actually know what they’re doing,” Bowser told a reporter at a press conference then about Montgomery County’s decision.

State of play: More disagreements are likely with incoming Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Youngkin’s handling of the pandemic will be the first test of how his decisions stack up against local Democratic leaders in the region. 

The commonwealth’s next governor has already shared plans to support legal challenges against vaccine mandates, making it unlikely northern Virginia would join the District and Montgomery County in mandates for indoor establishments.

  • He takes office on Saturday from Democrat Ralph Northam, who on Monday declared a 30-day state of emergency in response to the state’s overwhelmed hospitals.
  • The governor’s action gives hospitals the ability to add beds, recognize out-of-state licenses, expand the number of workers who can give vaccines, and increase the use of telehealth tools.
  • Northam didn’t say whether Youngkin agrees with the new executive order, WTOP reported.

Hospitals pleaded with the District government last week to declare a public health emergency, a step Bowser took on Tuesday. She set a limited public health emergency to run until Jan. 26, citing a rise in COVID-19 cases, hospital visits, and medical staff shortages. 

  • Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan was first out-of-the-gate here with an emergency declaration last week, and he mobilized 1,000 National Guard troops to assist in the Omicron surge. 

By the numbers: Virginia, Maryland, and the District all have set records for the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

  • Virginia reported over 16,000 new COVID cases on Tuesday and has 3,988 patients in the hospital.
  • Maryland reported 9,600 new cases and has 3,462 patients in the hospital. 
  • D.C. set a record for hospitalizations on Tuesday, before dropping ten patients to 726 now.

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