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The District logged the most coronavirus cases the city has ever seen in a single day over the course of the pandemic on Monday, Jan. 11. DC Health reported 430 new cases on Tuesday.
As D.C. residents reel with the public safety emergency that was declared in the aftermath of the Capitol insurrection, they too are seeing the worst days of the public health emergency over the coronavirus pandemic. The daily case rate is the highest it’s ever been. The rate of transmission is also rising. The number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19 has been over 10 percent, or at a level where there is insufficient capacity, since mid-December. (Although, hospitals have prepared surge beds for times like these and Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration set up a field hospital at the Convention Center in the event that hospitals become overwhelmed.)
DC Health did not report as many coronavirus cases on Wednesday, at 177. The agency also reported six deaths related to COVID-19. Ages ranged between 66 and 94 years old. D.C. reported its second-highest case count in early December, at 392 cases. DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said then that the rise in infections could be attributed to Thanksgiving gatherings.
How does Nesbitt explain the rise in coronavirus cases now? Some experts have said that the Capitol insurrection could contribute to an increase. During a press conference on Wednesday, Nesbitt says it’s “a little premature” to suggest that the heinous acts of last week led to the increase in cases. “People should be mindful that many individuals who came here do not reside here,” she says. Nesbitt adds that it is possible that they had interactions with D.C. residents. However, it could be a week or two before the District sees the consequences of the insurrection. She says contact tracing so far shows a rise in nonessential travel related to holidays.
“It’s not a matter of if but when,” it comes to the District says Nesbitt of a new strain of the coronavirus first detected in the U.K. Gov. Larry Hogan confirmed the variant made it to Maryland. This could possibly complicate the District’s response to the pandemic.
Here are some observations about 2021 infections from Ryan Stahlin, a data scientist who analyzes DC Health’s granular data and publishes it on a website called dccovid.com: Cases are increasing to their highest level since May among residents over 60, testing is lower in January as compared to December, and cases among the Metropolitan Police Department have not significantly increased. Coronavirus cases among MPD is a data point of interest, seeing as officers responded to last Wednesday’s insurrection at the Capitol.
Public health experts have called the Capitol insurrection a textbook potential superspreader event. Thousands of mostly maskless Trump supporters breached the Capitol, forcing members and staff to retreat to crowded quarters for hours. Some members during lockdown refused to wear masks after colleagues offered. “This was in so many ways an extraordinarily dangerous event yesterday, not only from the security aspects but from the public health aspects, and there will be a fair amount of disease that comes from it,” Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells the Post.
In an email sent to members of Congress Sunday morning, the Office of Attending Physician said “many members of the House community” may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. He advised individuals to get tested this week as a precaution.
A House aide tells City Paper testing through the Office of Attending Physician is reported to DC Health. Another says test results come back between eight to 12 hours. The Office of Attending Physician did not respond to repeated inquiries for comment. Nesbitt says “all tests are required to be reported to us,” but notes that how cases are counted can depend on a person’s state of residence.
Separately, the spokesperson for Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton says the White House has refused to share their testing results with DC Health.
So far, three members of Congress tested positive for COVID-19: Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Brad Schneider (D-IL), and Bonnie Coleman (D-NJ). They believe they got sick during the insurrection lockdown.
It’s unclear how many lawmakers, staff members, Capitol workers, and police officers (namely Capitol Police) got infected. It is clear that whatever happens on Capitol Hill impacts the rest of the District.
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