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COVID-19 cases have overall decreased in the District. It is a sharp decrease at that. Cases had been steadily increasing since November, but things turned around in mid-January. With 282 cases reported on Friday, new daily reported cases dropped by 14.3 percent in the past week, according to the Washington Post’s tracker. DC Health’s report of the daily case rate, which lags by two days, also shows cases significantly dropping. Although, cases are way more common than they were in the summer months.

This is a nationwide trend. The vast majority of states are seeing fewer newly reported cases this week than last. It’s hard to celebrate anything when deaths related to COVID-19 are up. (Deaths generally lag behind spikes in cases.) What’s the explanation for the decrease? The New York Times suspected that the U.S. may be in the very early stages of herd immunity. 

“It is premature to suggest that we have reached any level of herd immunity by natural infection or herd immunity by inoculation or vaccination,” said DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt

Nesbitt explains the fall in cases as coming from a lack of activities that brought the rise in the first place, namely holiday travel. She also warned that coronavirus variants could hinder progress the District is seeing. 

“Although we are experiencing downward trends, unless we get to a level of a daily case rate where we have demonstrated containment, which in the District would be 10 cases per day or lower, we would be at risk for an acceleration again,” says Nesbitt. 

Nesbitt adds that District residents need to remain vigilant. Mask up. Social Distance. Avoid gatherings. Notably, most of the restrictions related to the holiday pause issued Dec. 23 were recently lifted. While libraries are still curbside and online, indoor dining returned at 25 percent capacity on Jan. 22.

There are several coronavirus variants circulating globally. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports at least 315 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant—the one first detected in the U.K.—in the United States. The reports come from 28 states, including Maryland and Virginia. Nesbitt has said that it’s not a matter of if but when her agency reports its first case. It’s possible that the variant is already in the District. South Carolina just reported the first U.S. cases of the variant first discovered in South Africa called B.1.351. Minnesota also just reported the first U.S. case caused by P.1, the variant first seen in Brazil.  

Scientists strongly suspect the B.1.1.7 variant is more contagious than past versions of SARS-CoV-2. Given this, some public health experts are now recommending that the public upgrade their simple cloth masks. They are suggesting double-masking. The idea is to wear a surgical or disposable mask under a cloth mask. When speaking on the Today show this week, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said double-masking is likely helpful. “If you have a physical covering with one layer. You put another layer on—it just makes common sense that it would likely be more effective.”    

Nesbitt was not ready to recommend double-masking just yet. “We have not made an update to our mask guidance. We will continue to review the science to indicate when we believe it is necessary to recommend to every District resident that when you leave your home, you should be wearing two masks or if you have people inside your home who are not part of your household you should do so,” she says. 

She did say medical-grade masks are more effective at blocking particles and droplets than cloth coverings, and N95 respirators are the most effective. However, D.C. guidance says these should be reserved for health care workers unless people are instructed otherwise. She says cloth coverings should be multi-layered or thicker material. They should also be properly fitted and worn correctly. Cover your nose. 

“We see those around town and it makes us cringe,” she said of face masks and respirators with valves.    

A few European countries, where the U.K. strain is more prevalent, are asking residents to upgrade to their masks. (The CDC cautioned that the B.1.1.7 variant could become the dominant strain as early as March.) In the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, some public health experts recommended wearing homemade masks before District officials had. The CDC hadn’t recommended cloth coverings in public to slow the spread of the virus until April 3. Mask-wearing, we learned, is VERY effective at reducing the spread

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

  • Daily case rate and hospitalizations related to COVID-19 are still in the red, at Phase 0/1 levels. To see today’s coronavirus cases and more information, visit our coronavirus dashboard. [EOM]
  • Capitol Police wants to make the fence permanent, after they ignored warnings of possible armed rioting and failed to stop an insurrection. Locals aren’t having any of that security theater. [NBC4
  • DC Public Schools might not open for in-person learning on Monday after teachers’ union accuses school officials of breaching the reopening contract. [Post]
  • The National Coalition for the Homeless records 14 incidents of bias-motivated violence against people experiencing homelessness in D.C. between 1999 and 2019. [Street Sense]

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