THE NEWS:

D.C. was on track to meet a critical metric on Sunday, May 24 that is required to begin a phased reopening of the city. One of the metrics to move to Phase 1 is a 14-day decrease in community spread, which data reported on Friday suggested D.C. would meet on Sunday. But DC Health announced in a Sunday press conference that the city saw a “new peak” in cases when it was reviewing data only the local agency can see, meaning it’s unclear whether we will begin Phase 1 on Friday, May 29 as anticipated. Under the recommendations of the mayor’s ReOpen DC advisory group, Phase 1 could mean restaurants reopen to outdoor seating and hair salons or barber shops reopen by appointment only, all under strict social distancing requirements. 

By way of background, DC Health calculates community spread by looking at more granular data of the positive and negative cases of COVID-19 that are publicly reported on a government website dedicated to the virus. DC Health reviews clinical records and conducts interviews by phone based on the lab reports and electronic case reports it receives to learn further information like the date of symptom onset. This date is a critical data point for understanding community spread, which DC Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt has said “appreciate[s] the disease patterns” better than raw case counts and thus is a metric for reopening. (A sustained decline in community spread is one of five metrics needed to begin phased reopening. D.C. has yet to meet another metric regarding contact tracing.)

DC Health is only accounting for cases in the community for its Phase 1 metric, not in congregate settings such as nursing homes and homeless shelters, because the latter require different strategies and “we could put in place infection-control practices to confine those cases,” Nesbitt said during a press conference on Sunday. (Amber Harding with Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless is skeptical of the rationale for excluding cases in shelters.)    

Nesbitt announced that D.C. had to reset its countdown to an 11-day decline of community spread on Sunday because the number of cases on day 13—and the director cautioned this gets pretty “nerdy”—was more than two standard deviations of the previous peak which is measured using a 5-day rolling average. On day 12 of declining community spread, D.C. saw 68 cases, and on day 13, D.C. saw 118—that is a difference of 50, which is more than what’s acceptable for DC Health based on its standardization value of 40. So DC Health reset the countdown to the day with a number of cases closest to the new peak of 118, which was day 11 when D.C. saw 120 cases. D.C. would reset to day zero if the city saw 171 cases, but that’s also subject to change if DC Health has to change its standardization value. Below is a graph released from DC Health that tries to explains all this, and note, these dates are older because the data is based on dates when patients first experience COVID-19 symptoms:   

This is all very confusing if you aren’t an epidemiologist, so reporters Sunday tried to get a better understanding of the methodology. “When you’re communicating to people, ‘Well, we’re making this decision based on a change in standard deviation. We don’t have to go back to zero. We’re just going back to day 11.’ It can become just a tad bit frustrating for folks,” said Nesbitt. The director was repeatedly asked by NBC 4’s Mark Segraves if it was scientifically possible to begin a phased reopening on May 29 as Mayor Muriel Bowser had suggested last week. Nesbitt refused to answer the question directly, saying “you tell me? If we have reset to day 11 and we are aspiring to have a 14-day trend, then what would be your conclusion?” She ultimately deferred to Bowser, who is expected to make a decision Tuesday based on public health data analyzed by DC Health. (In an interview with NBC 4 Monday morning, Bowser said she’d announce whether we move to Phase 1 on Wednesday.)

During the press conference on Sunday, Nesbitt also announced that D.C.’s positivity rate is 19 percent as of May 22. The District’s goals for its positivity rate vary for each phase of reopening: below 20 percent for Phase 1, below 15 percent for Phase 2, and below 10 percent for Phase 3. “If you have a positivity rate below 10 percent, you can avoid having any rebounds or second peaks,” she said based on epidemiologists’ understanding of the virus nowadays. Nesbitt denies ever indicating D.C. needed 5 percent or below for Phase 1, but 11 metricsreleased by the governmentthat she said D.C. was followingon April 29 say differently.  

Nesbitt also responded to the concerns about reopening given that the White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx said the D.C. region had the highest rate of positive COVID-19 tests. Nesbitt emphasized that Birx commented on the metropolitan area, not just D.C., and that surrounding counties may not be testing as many people, so that impacts the region’s positivity rate. “We have to recognize that we are mitigating risks not eliminating risks,” Nesbitt said of a phased reopening. Phase 1 will not mean D.C. returns to pre-pandemic days, she continued, and requires everyone to continue to do their part and wear face masks and practice good hygiene.—Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com)

CITY DESK LINKS, byAmanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com

  • There is no mayoral press conference on COVID-19 today, but Bowser is doing a few live interviews with local media.  

  • Data on COVID-19 was not published at 10 a.m. as it typically is, but is expected to be online later today, so readers should check the website. [EOM

  • D.C.’s contact tracers have successfully investigated 66 percent of positive cases, among cases with phone numbers and excluding those in long-term care facilities. [Twitter]

  • Woman reaches settlement with DC Housing Authority for cutting off her housing voucher after she allegedly left her abusive husband. [DCist]

  • Northeast residents feel trapped by gun violence. [Post

  • How to have a safer Memorial Day during the pandemic. [NYT

LOOSE LIPS LINKS, by Mitch Ryals (tips? mryals@washingtoncitypaper.com

  • Jack Evans hit with largest ethics fine ever, $35,000, calls it a “mistaken understanding” of the rules. [WCP]

  • “If he believes that other people believe it’s credible for someone with his responsibilities, duties, and experience to not understand the rules, fine,” says acting ethics board director Rochelle Ford. [DCist]

  • Will voters care about Evans’ ethics violations? [Post]

  • Evans is one of eight people running for the Ward 2 seat in the Democratic primary. The winner is anyone’s guess. [Post, WCP]

  • Progressive Janeese Lewis George challenges Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd. [Post]

  • Meet the challengers to Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray. [Post]

  • The deadline to request an absentee ballot is TOMORROW. [BOE]

  • At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds endorsed Patrick Kennedy in Ward 2. [Twitter]

YOUNG & HUNGRY LINKS, by Laura Hayes (tips? lhayes@washingtoncitypaper.com

  • The D.C. hospitality industry reacts to ReOpen DC’s reopening recommendations. [WCP]

  • The best Italian take-out, according to critic Tom Sietsema. [Post]

  • Which grocery chains are treating their employees well? [Eater]

ARTS LINKS, byKayla Randall (tips? krandall@washingtoncitypaper.com)

  • The Arts Club team rides along with Ivan to a London hospital on the night his life changes forever in Locke. [WCP]

  • The D.C. Preservation League wants Cleveland Park’s Uptown Theater to officially become a historic landmark. [DCist]

  • It’s time to help name them cheetah cubs, y’all. [Washingtonian]

SPORTS LINKS, byKelyn Soong (tips? ksoong@washingtoncitypaper.com)

  • Georgetown men’s basketball coach and NBA legend Patrick Ewing says he has tested positive for COVID-19. [ESPN]

  • One year ago, the Nationals had a 19-31 record and were essentially written off as a postseason contender. We all know what happened in the ensuing months. Look back on the historic season that somehow feels even more improbable with hindsight. [Federal Baseball, NBC Sports Washington]

  • The Nats’ World Series ring includes a “Baby Shark” image. [ESPN

  • The NBA wants to restart its season in late July at Disney’s ESPN complex in Orlando as a single site location for practice, games, and housing. [CNBC]

  • The NHL Players’ Association has agreed to a 24-team return to play format. The start date and location(s) still need to be determined. [Yahoo]

CITY LIGHTS, byEmma Sarappo (Love this section? Get the full newsletter here. Tips? esarappo@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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