Pile of masks
Credit: Laura Hayes

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Following the peak of the omicron surge through December and January, positive cases have continued climbing for the past month in D.C. and in the region due in part to its more transmissible subvariant, BA.2. While COVID death and hospitalization rates in the District have declined in the past two weeks, positive COVID cases have risen 142 percent. 

D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said yesterday the city won’t reinstate the indoor mask or vaccine mandates, and health officials recommend monitoring public health data to determine the level of risk they’re comfortable with. The problem, as the Washington Post points out this morning, is that D.C. is releasing much less information to the public, and at-home tests that go unreported are skewing those figures. 

Several local universities have brought back preventive measures. Howard University announced Wednesday that it’s moving some classes back online. And Philadelphia’s indoor mask mandate will go back into effect next week.

But before recent COVID case counts started ticking up in D.C., before public figures such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mayor Muriel Bowser tested positive last week, some residents and advocates for frontline and excluded workers worried another increase in COVID cases was coming.

Predictions from the Post-Omicron Trenches

As the omicron surge began to subside in February, District officials moved quickly to pull back public health measures. Bowser rescinded the vaccine requirement to enter public spaces and allowed the indoor mask mandate to expire. The end of the mask mandate in public schools soon followed, and Bowser has been pushing a return to the office in person.  

The District government has transitioned into a hybrid workplace that allows for remote work for eligible employees. But for many frontline workers and poor, largely Black and Brown residents who don’t have such options—the same people most at risk of COVID exposure, hospitalization, and death—the pandemic experience is much different.

Gilma Merino, a single parent of four, has struggled to access the same level of resources that she had pre-pandemic. Her situation is complicated with her diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa, a rare eye condition that causes gradual loss of vision, and her son’s newly diagnosed ADHD.

Merino and her kids stay in their cramped apartment whenever possible, and she and her family fear what she considers a carefree attitude around COVID from other D.C. residents. When City Paper talked with her in March, before D.C. Health data had shown a significant increase in the COVID case count, Merino was looking to the BA.2 situation abroad. She was worried about D.C. continuing to reopen without public health precautions in place.

“We think everything is back to normal,” she said then. “It is not.”

Megan Macaraeg, organizing director at Beloved Community Incubator, told City Paper in mid-March that another COVID wave would come. With delta and other variants, workers had known that caseloads were climbing well before it hit the level of public narrative, Macaraeg says. 

Sometimes the knowledge came firsthand. Other times, many of these workers took cues from their advocacy and community work. For Maria Milagro Vasquez, a member of Vendors United Food Cooperative who coordinates mutual aid efforts out of her home (think diapers distributed through her fourth-story window), her food and diaper distribution network provided some foreshadowing. Many of the residents Grupo en Acción feeds each week were telling her that their children were getting sick with COVID weeks before BA.2 was making headlines in D.C.

Persistent Disparity Despair

The COVID death disparities across race and ethnicity in the District are deeper than national rates. The cumulative age-adjusted COVID fatality rate for Blacks in D.C. is 3.6 times higher than Whites as of April 6. For LatinX residents in the District, the death rate is 4.7 times higher than White residents. (There’s no data available for cumulative age-adjusted rates in Indigenous or Asian D.C. residents.) But fatalities are not the only disparate impacts of COVID.

“We’re … evolving into a society where class is partly measured by, like, do you have to leave your house or not in order to go to work,” Judy Estey, executive director of Platform of Hope, told City Paper in February. Street vendors and domestic workers are particularly susceptible to contracting COVID and to lost wages. 

For families who receive services from the nonprofit, Estey said “there’s a real fear of COVID, because it means if they have shifts outside the home, which most of them do, and they have COVID, they can’t go to work.” 

Ambar Castillo (tips? acastillo@washingtoncitypaper.com)

  • To see today’s COVID-19 data, visit our coronavirus tracker.
  • Police rescued one of two puppies that were stolen this week. Pablo, the 10-week-old Australian shepherd, was recovered from a Northeast residence. [FOX5DC, WTOP]
  • Amtrak is trying to seize control of Union Station via eminent domain. [Post]
  • Here are some fun panda facts just in time for the 50th anniversary of giant pandas’ arrival at the National Zoo. [NBC4]
  • Saturday is Emancipation Day. Festivities include a parade at 2 p.m. and performances by CeeLo Green, Crystal Waters, and Junk Yard Band. [Axios, WAMU]

By Ambar Castillo (tips? acastillo@washingtoncitypaper.com)

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Trayon White Could Fall Short of Earning Public Funding in His Mayoral Campaign

Things could soon go from bad to worse for Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White’s mayoral […]

  • A lengthy feature examines how the loss of Black residents over the last few decades has changed D.C. and its politics. Some highlights include Mayor Bowser saying “I just don’t know who’s been bolder than we have” as she described her policies, and At-Large Councilmember Robert White calling for a “Black Lives Matter agenda” for the city. [Politico]
  • The STAY DC rent relief program has steered more than $1.3 million to a company controlled by Bowser pal and major developer Chris Donatelli, in order to pay off tenants’ back rent at a Ward 7 apartment complex. So why is the landlord moving to evict residents anyway? [DCist]
  • The Washington Teachers’ Union adds to its list of endorsements, picking Matt Frumin in Ward 3, Zachary Parker in Ward 5, Dexter Williams in the at-large race, and Erin Palmer for Council chair. [Twitter]

By Alex Koma (tips? akoma@washingtoncitypaper.com)

  • Beef Wellington makes a comeback. [Washingtonian]
  • It’s Good Friday. Here’s where to find some fish and chips. [Eater]
  • Roberto Donna has settled a lawsuit brought by former employees, and is paying down his tax debt, Tom Seitsema reports in his review of the chef’s new spot in Vienna. [Post]

By City Paper staff (tips? editor@washingtoncitypaper.com)

Gordana Geršković Zooms In on Her Surroundings

In her photographs, Gordana Geršković eschews context, elevating pure texture and color […]

Credit: Cameron Whitman

Yoga Play Meditates on the Wellness Industrial Complex With LOL Moments

The soothing voice of Harry Styles will lead you in meditation for $14.99 per month […]

  • Marta Pérez García’s bilingual exhibit at the Philips remembers the women killed by their intimate partners since the pandemic began. [Post]
  • The Amber Heard/Johnny Depp defamation trial is happening now in Fairfax several years after Heard wrote an op-ed for the Post about being a survivor of domestic violence. Though she didn’t name ex-husband Depp, his lawyers say it was “defamation by implication.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

By Sarah Marloff (tips? smarloff@washingtoncitypaper.com)

  • More than 500 local runners are set to compete at the Boston Marathon on Monday, but Bethesda resident Ben Beach, 72, will not be one of them. Beach’s record-setting streak of running in 54 consecutive Boston Marathons will end this year as he recovers from injuries sustained after a bike crash. [RunWashington]
  • The undefeated Maryland men’s lacrosse team could clinch the Big Ten regular season title with a win at home against Ohio State tomorrow. [Testudo Times]
  • It’s early in the season, but the Nats just aren’t very good. They blew an early lead in a 9-4 loss to the Pirates last night. [MASN]

By Kelyn Soong (tips? ksoong@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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