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Any day now, Mayor Muriel Bowser is expected to announce new coronavirus restrictions. The clampdown is inevitable.
As of Friday, two coronavirus metrics are in the red: the daily case rate, which was 23.81 cases per 100,000 people as of Nov. 18, and the transmission rate, which was 1.35 as of Nov. 8. DC Health also reported two more deaths related to COVID-19, a 64 year old and 73 year old, and 130 new positive cases, bringing the total numbers of people to 669 and 19,808 people, respectively.
A sign that closures are coming came Thursday, when the Smithsonian Institution announced all its museums and the National Zoo will yet again close come Monday, Nov. 23 in light of rising cases regionally. The news left a feeling of deja vu. “Today is March 11,” tweeted one resident.
The Smithsonian was among the first institutions to close back in March. Bowser first declared a public health emergency over the coronavirus on March 11, and the next day the Smithsonian announced it would shut down its facilities. (It did not start reopening until July.)
Then all the mayoral orders started coming down. On Friday, March 13, D.C. announced a ban on certain mass gatherings of 250 or more and announced remote work for specific government agencies along with distance learning for DC Public Schools. And on Sunday, March 15, D.C. started to restrict restaurants and nightclubs. Three deaths and 495 cases into the pandemic, Bowser issued a stay-at-home order on March 30.
Given that cases are currently at the rate they were in May, when the city was under lockdown, Bowser says we should expect restrictions “soon.”
“We want interventions that we think give us the chance to drive our numbers down as we go into winter,” said Bowser during a press conference on Wednesday. “So our business owners or social gatherings, people can expect that we won’t be able to maintain this level.”
In a post presser on Wednesday, Bowser’s chief of staff John Falcicchio told reporters DC Health is looking at everything, from reducing capacity of indoor dining to reducing the size of permissible crowds. Under Phase 2, restaurants are allowed to seat at 50 percent capacity indoors (and stay open until midnight) and crowds of less than 50 are allowed to gather. D.C. never entered Phase 3.
“We have to wait for the recommendation of the health folks,” Falcicchio said. “And when they have that ready, we’ll roll that out.”
It’s unclear what the Bowser administration is considering. Absent federal guidance, states and municipalities are taking a number of actions to flatten the curve, from requiring businesses with liquor licenses to close at 10 p.m. to limiting social gatherings to individual households. California, for example, just barred most nonessential activity outside the household from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. in most counties.
Some epidemiologists are unsure about the curfews. “It seems like it’s spreading all over, but I’ve seen no evidence it helps anything,” Tara Smith, a public health professor at Kent State University, told Vox. “I’ve not seen a single public health person recommend this as an intervention. I’m mystified at their popularity.” They point to the United Kingdom, which reissued a stay-at-home order after a curfew failed to bring cases down.
The difference between March and now is that a vaccine is in sight. Public health experts also know more about the coronavirus itself. “For one thing, we’ve learned that ventilation is key to reducing transmission and that outdoor air diffuses virus particles,” writes Dr. Leana Wen, emergency physician and former Health Commissioner for the City of Baltimore, in the Post. “Closing outdoor spaces such as parks and beaches, as was done earlier in the pandemic, will only drive people indoors and increase infection.”
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