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D.C. never saw its worst-case scenario. The Bowser administration prepared to be hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, setting up a hospital within the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Over the course of the pandemic, officials expected to see 93,000 coronavirus infections—that’s 1 in 7 residents. The city never used its surge hospital, and D.C. has seen just under 15,000 positive cases so far.
In a press conference on Thursday, the mayor and her team credit flattening the curve to stay-at-home orders, along with the mask mandate, quarantine hotels, and robust testing (197,726 residents have been tested to date, and it takes 2.2 days on average for results). D.C. is doing better in daily cases per 100,000 than, say, Houston, but not as well as New York City, underscoring the point that the city can still further contain the virus.
Obstacles remain. A big one: contact tracing. D.C. has the manpower to investigate all cases and those cases’ close contacts, but is struggling to thoroughly investigate how the virus spreads. DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt reports that 58.9 percent of positive cases completed an interview within three days, and 37.3 percent of those cases provided contact information for individuals they may have exposed. Nesbitt believes immigrants are afraid of law enforcement and residents writ large are wary of stigma.
“They don’t want people to know that they’re the potential reason there could be an outbreak in their small social circle,” Nesbitt said. But contact tracers do not share who might have exposed a person when making calls.
So will D.C. be entering Phase 3 anytime soon? (Phase 3 allows for larger crowds.) Mayor Bowser did not directly respond to a reporter’s question about this, instead saying the focus is getting people back to work and school. She added that just because businesses open, does not mean customers will feel safe returning. In a previous press conference, Nesbitt said it is also up to residents to get D.C. to the next phase of recovery by being selective about their activities. (Counterpoint: there are limits to individualism.)
“Not all of the activities that we envisioned that could open in Phase 2 have in fact opened in Phase 2,” said Bowser. “We know that there will be additional Phase 2 activities turned on and we have not fully engaged with waiver requests admitted in Phase 2.”
According to NBC4’s Mark Segraves, the mayor is considering allowing in-door swimming pools. Her office is also reviewing waivers, some of them related to live performances. And the mayor has said during multiple press conferences that she wants small groups of students to return to in-person learning. Phase 2 was supposed to include a hybrid of in-person and remote learning, but an increase in community cases and a rise in transmission over the summer prompted delay. Now, the hold up is more related to logistical concerns, per the mayor.
The executive is also changing the way it presents the city’s coronavirus tracker, so the public can better understand how D.C. is faring. Notably, DC Health is retiring its graph on community spread, after it was the subject of confusion. (Some see the city’s management of the graph as suspect rather than confusing.) For those following along, expect the dashboard on the coronavirus website to update next week. Nesbitt assures us that laymen will more easily understand the new tracking system. It’ll be color-coded and everything.
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- As of Sept. 18, D.C. reported no additional deaths related to COVID-19 but 62 new positive cases. The total number of infections is 14,852. [EOM]
- Three weeks into the school year, and 4,500 fewer students are enrolled in D.C. schools this year as compared to last. [DCist]
- Data shows small businesses in majority-Black neighborhoods waited 10 days longer on average for PPP loans than those in majority-White neighborhoods. [Brookings]
- Donations for D.C. mutual aid groups are decreasing, despite continued need among residents for their services. [DCist]
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