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COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the District. The city is seeing as many cases as it had in late May, when Mayor Muriel Bowser imposed a stay-at-home order. 

On Friday, DC Health reported a daily case rate of 16.8 per 100,000 people, the highest seven-day average of cases since May 26. (The daily case rate first went above 15 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday, signalling “substantial community spread.”) DC Health also reported that 90.2 percent of hospital beds are in use as of Nov. 11, meaning D.C. has insufficient capacity. According to the coronavirus dashboard, D.C. has never had an insufficient number of hospital beds during the pandemic. (Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 are holding steady—less than 5 percent of patients in D.C. hospitals are COVID-19 patients.)  

D.C. is now at Phase 0/1 levels in two key metrics after seeing a week of disturbing reports. On Wednesday, DC Health reported its highest one-day increase since May 21, at 206 new cases. With 159 new infections as of Friday, 18,666 residents have contracted COVID-19. 

While the city is not being hit as hard as, say, the Great Lakes region, D.C. is trending in the wrong direction in key coronavirus metrics. Even so, Bowser is not ready to impose new restrictions or rollback any Phase 2 activities. (Meanwhile, Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties just added restrictions on small gatherings and restaurants that are stricter than D.C’s.)

“We’re watching our metrics and our experience with the virus very closely,” Bowser said at a Thursday press conference.

She and DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt stayed on message: Wear a mask and limit the risks you are taking. Nesbitt attributed the rise in cases to people “letting their guard down,” particularly those between the ages of 25 and 40 and at gatherings of 10 people or less.  

Eight months into the pandemic people are experiencing fatigue with the guidelines. Still, the Bowser administration’s response to the recent rise in cases so far is to leave the burden of risk-taking and decision-making on the individual. In shifting responsibility from the top down to the individual, we run the risk of taking out our frustrations of navigating impossible decisions on each other, as Dr. Julia Marcus, a Harvard epidemiologist, notes in Vox.

Some D.C. lawmakers recognize the limits of individualism. In response to a frustrated resident who wants the government to roll back phased activities like indoor dining, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen said on Twitter he has supported business and small gathering restrictions but “we need more data from contact tracing to inform decisions.”    

It’s been about a month since DC Health presented contract tracing findings to the public. At the last presentation, we learned contact tracers do not ask diners who got sick to specify whether they ate indoors or outdoors. As City Paper’s Laura Hayes notes, this information could prove vital and even substantiate research that suggests lawmakers should entirely roll back indoor dining as San Francisco has.

City Paper reached out to DC Health to see if contact tracers are asking about indoor dining now, given that some councilmembers are urging them to do so, as well as to learn when the next contact tracing presentation is. “Please watch the video and transcript from the 11/12 press event,” the DC Health spokesperson replied via email. Thursday’s press conference does not answer those questions.     

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

  • Attorney General Karl Racine sues top gas retail, Capitol Petroleum Group, for alleged price gouging during the pandemic. [DCist]
  • At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman introduces legislation that would bar DC Public Schools from reopening if D.C.’s metrics are at Phase 0/1 levels and would require the mayor to submit a plan 21 days ahead of in-person learning. The teachers’ union backs the bill. Meanwhile, DCPS will open CARE classrooms at 35 elementary schools Nov. 18. [Twitter, Twitter]   
  • DCPS and the teachers’ union reach a tentative agreement about reopening schools. [Post]

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