A COVID-19 testing center in D.C. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

DC Health has reported zero deaths related to COVID-19 for three straight days. Cases continue to decrease. As more and more people get vaccinated, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths related to COVID-19 have all declined, according to DC Health.

This appears to be a nationwide trend. Former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb predicts a “relatively quiet summer when it comes to coronavirus spread” thanks to the “monumental achievement” in vaccination across the United States.

According to DC Health, 22 percent of D.C. residents are fully vaccinated, as of April 30. The health department has not counted every resident who’s gotten vaccinated outside the D.C. region or through a federal entity like Veterans Affairs. Meaning the number is likely higher. The CDC reports that roughly 38 percent of the local population over 18 years old in D.C. is fully vaccinated.   

While Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration is focused on getting more and more people vaccinated, DC Health is making recommendations on reopening based on the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.  

“There is not a goal of total number of vaccinations. The metric we’re looking at is decreasing case rates and then the associated hospitalizations and deaths,” DC Health’s vaccine lead, Dr. Ankoor Shah, told the Council during a conference call on Friday. “Vaccination is one component, as Mayor Muriel Bowser says, of crushing the virus. So we can crush the virus by vaccinating but also by making smart decisions in terms of mask wearing, social distancing, and activities.” 

Some jurisdictions have tied vaccination coverage to reopening. Michigan, for example, will lift all indoor capacity limits once 65 percent of the state’s residents have received their first shot. However, Mayor Bowser and her team have repeatedly said they do not plan to base their decision making on the number of residents vaccinated. 

Instead, the Bowser administration is mostly basing its decisions on the COVID-19 case rate. Mayor Bowser generally announces loosening restrictions on businesses and other institutions periodically at press conferences. Her last update was April 26. She has not offered businesses a plan for when they should expect to see more capacity limits and social distancing relaxed. 

“The best planning metric that we have for them is our case count,” said Mayor Bowser during a press conference on Monday. 

“We haven’t had a binding metric because we have seen elsewhere that it can tie the hands of jurisdictions and the importance of metrics can evolve over the course of the pandemic,” City Administrator Kevin Donahue told the Council on Friday. “We use a mixture of metrics but everything is very data oriented.” 

Reaching herd immunity was once considered to be the only way to return to some semblance of normalcy. The target threshold ranged from 70 to 80 percent. According to the New York Times, scientists and public health experts are in agreement that reaching herd immunity is unlikely given widely circulating coronavirus variants and vaccine hesitancy. But now they say that vaccinating the most vulnerable may be enough. 

DC Health, meanwhile, says the goal is to get more of the city’s metrics in the green. Right now, many metrics are in the yellow or red, signifying that we have moderate to high community spread.  

“We can still crush the virus without getting to 90 percent vaccination,” Shah told the Council. “We could get down to low community spread and containment without necessarily having as high of a vaccination coverage and then doing a good contact tracing around that.”

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

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