Coronavirus: As more tests become available, DC sees jump in coronavirus cases

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who chairs the National Governors Association, announces five priorities that governors are asking of the federal government to fight the coronavirus during a news conference Thursday, March 19, 2020 in Annapolis, Md. Maj. Gen. Timothy Gowen, the adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard is standing left. Karen Salmon, Maryland’s superintendent of schools, is standing right. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

The latest

  • Thirty-two new cases were reported in D.C., bringing the total to 71 cases.
  • A third D.C. Fire and EMS member has contracted COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the fire chief said Thursday.
  • A child in Gloucester County, Virginia, has contracted COVID-19, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday. There’s also been a case confirmed at an assisted-living facility in Falls Church.
  • Northam also pushed back the deadline for paying — though not for filing — Virginia taxes a month, and suspended vehicle inspection enforcement for 60 days.
  • Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday ordered all Maryland enclosed shopping malls and entertainment venues closed at 5 p.m., and that the limit on gatherings would be lowered to 10 people, the latest in a series of steps area officials have taken in response to the novel coronavirus that has swept the nation in the past few months.
  • Maryland suffered its first death from COVID-19 on Wednesday, and on Thursday morning, Hogan also announced the state’s first child to be stricken with the disease: a 5-year-old girl in Howard County.
  • President Donald Trump has asked the FDA to fast-track two drugs as possible treatments for the coronavirus. Chloroquine, a malarial drug, and remdesivir, an Ebola treatment, have shown promise in certain tests.

Metro closes two stations

Metro is closing the Smithsonian and Arlington National Cemetery stations until further notice, the transit agency announced.

The closures, which come as Metro ridership has dropped 85% amid the coronavirus crisis, take effect starting at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 19.

Trains will run through Smithsonian and Arlington Cemetery stations without stopping.

Find out how local transit agencies are modifying their service.

DC reports 32 new cases, including 3rd DC firefighter 

On Thursday night, 32 new cases were reported in D.C., bringing the total to 71. Among the new cases, 13 are patients under 40 years old, including an 8-year-old boy.

Also, a third member of the D.C. Fire and EMS department has contracted COVID-19, Fire Chief Gregory Dean said Thursday.

He said 141 members of the fire department are being monitored by the D.C. Health Department and are off-duty.

D.C. Health was notified of the first positive test Monday and is doing contact tracing of the patient, which includes contacting other fire and EMS personnel and other individuals who may have had contact with the patient.

On Wednesday night, another member of the department was reported to have tested positive.

It’s unclear how many first responders were identified as being potentially exposed to the virus.

But the firefighters union, the D.C. Fire Fighters Association, confirmed to WTOP that at least 73 firefighters are being asked to quarantine due to coronavirus concerns from the first reported case.

With ongoing community transmission, D.C. said that contract tracing is focused on positive cases associated with childcare facilities, schools and universities, health care facilities, senior care, correctional and detention centers, and facilities for the homeless.

DC police changes

Meanwhile, D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said that 15 police officers and civilian workers have been tested for the virus. Two have come back negative; 13 are awaiting results. Several members — Newsham didn’t say exactly how many — have self-quarantined because of potential exposure.

Newsham outlined other steps the department is taking:

  • He said that the department had expanded the number of matters that can be reported online. Calls for nonviolent incidents can be routed to a different unit, which can take it over the phone.
  • Some of those arrested will be released on citation instead of being held. He added that anyone arrested who seems to be showing symptoms will be taken to a hospital for screening. (Mayor Muriel Bowser said there were no plans to release any inmates.)
  • If you’re calling the police and you have COVID-19 symptoms, let them know. When officers get to your home, they may ask you to come outside to talk with them.
  • He added that the police department has signed a contract for medical personnel who will screen people who are arrested.

Officials also announced Thursday that 65 inmates in D.C. are quarantined in custody after it was determined that they came into contact with a U.S. Marshal who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Bowser said that deadlines for DMV-related matters and expiration dates for public benefits, such as SNAP and TANF, have been extended. “There is no need to go down” to the DMV or Department of Human Services, she said.

Bowser said reports of a positive coronavirus test of an elementary school student at the Rocketship Rise Academy were “misinformation,” and that the student and their family were awaiting test results.

A statement from the school’s interim executive director had said a student had tested positive. “D.C. Health will take the lead on outreach to any students and/or staff who may be at risk due to contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case,” principal Corey Lewis wrote in a letter to parents.

More Coronavirus News

New cases in Virginia

A child in Gloucester County, Virginia, has tested positive for COVID-19 and is recovering at home, Gov. Ralph Northam said at a news conference on Thursday.

Virginia has a total of 94 cases; two patients have died. State epidemiologist Lilian Peake said there were “distinct clusters” of cases in the state, adding, “We are at a level where we’re seeing local transmission.”

On Thursday, the number of cases in Virginia rose from 77 to 94.

“We are all going to have to make sacrifices and changes to our daily lives,” Northam said.

Northam said Virginia’s application for a disaster declaration from the Small Business Administration has been accepted, and that while Virginians still had to file income tax returns by May 1, they would have an extra month to pay.

He also ordered the Virginia State Police to suspend vehicle inspection enforcement for 60 days.

A total of 1,293 people in Virginia have been tested for COVID-19, according to Virginia Department of Health figures. Peake said the state lab now has the capacity to conduct 1,000 additional tests. In addition, Virginia is developing its own test kits so it doesn’t have to rely on the CDC for chemical reagents and other supplies, which are currently back-ordered.

One case in Virginia is a staff member at Waxpool Elementary in Loudoun County, the county announced.

COVID-19 case in Fairfax Co. assisted-living facility

The Fairfax County Health Department announced Thursday that a resident of The Kensington, an assisted-living and memory-care facility in the city of Falls Church, tested positive.

The patient, a man, had symptoms on March 14 and was tested March 16.

The Health Department has been “providing infection control guidance” since the testing started.

Peake, the Virginia health department official, said her office sent a team of epidemiologists and infection-control experts to work with the facility to identify people who may have been exposed, and to provide instructions for how to isolate and quarantine residents.

A nursing home in Washington state was the site of the first U.S. death from coronavirus last month, which later spiraled into a major outbreak.

No waiting for Va. unemployment benefits

“We also know that this situation has economic impacts, and we are preparing for those consequences to our workers and our employers,” Northam said.

As of Wednesday, about 10,000 Virginians had filed unemployment claims, Northam said.

The state is allowing people who are out of work to file for unemployment immediately instead of waiting a week.

Aubrey Layne, Virginia’s secretary of finance, said the health crisis is also expected to have a significant financial impact on the state budget.

“Anyone that would tell you that they know exactly where this is going to end up is just not being credible, because it’s a fluid situation,” Layne told reporters. “Things are changing rapidly.”

Warning against overseas travel

The State Department on Thursday issued a new alert urging Americans not to travel abroad under any circumstances, and to return home if they are already abroad unless they plan to remain overseas.

FDA asked to fast-track possible antiviral drug

The Food and Drug Administration is looking to fast-track an anti-malaria drug for treatment of coronavirus, President Donald Trump announced during a White House coronavirus task force news conference.

The drug chloroquine, which had also been previously approved to treat arthritis, has shown “encouraging early results,” Trump said.

That said, “I don’t want to speculate about a timeline” as for when people might be able to use the drug, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said.

Trump and Hahn described several approaches under testing, such as chloroquine; remdesivir, an experimental antiviral that’s being tried in at least five separate experiments; and possibly antibodies culled from the blood of COVID-19 patients after they recover. But no new and imminent treatment was announced.

Chloroquine is widely available now and could be used off-label, but Hahn said officials want a formal study to get good information on safety and effectiveness.

The first clinical trials of a possible coronavirus vaccine began early this week, but the development process for a vaccine could take several months to a year.

Companies that might get bailouts

Trump also said Thursday that the government should take an equity stake in companies that need bailouts because of the devastating effects of the coronavirus on the U.S. economy.

Trump told a briefing he has executive authority to curb the impact on businesses. “There’s a lot of executive power,” he said. “If we don’t have to use it, that would be a good thing, not a bad thing.”

Such a move would be an extraordinary reach by government into the private sector.

He said he’d specifically target companies that did stock buybacks, rather than investing in infrastructure. Trump also said he’d back restrictions on executive bonuses and future buybacks from companies receiving federal support.

Catholic University president, Howard University faculty, student test positive 

John Garvey, the president of the Catholic University of America in Northeast D.C., has tested positive for COVID-19, he confirmed in a message to the school community. His wife, Jeanne Garvey, is being tested Thursday.

John Garvey will be continuing his quarantine, which started March 13. He said he no longer had any symptoms, but was concerned that he could still be carrying the virus.

“This news may be concerning to many on campus,” Garvey said. “We have been taking every precaution to stop the spread of COVID-19 in its tracks, including moving all classes online, shutting down our residence halls for the semester, canceling all athletics games and practices, and giving broad permissions for employees to work from home.”

Howard University said that a member of its faculty has tested positive, as well as a student. The student tested positive after returning home. The cases are unrelated.

The school also announced that it will move to online and remote instruction starting on March 23.

On Wednesday, Howard University noted that a guest who attended a March 7 dinner on campus had tested positive.

Hogan orders malls, entertainment venues closed

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday ordered the closure of all enclosed shopping malls and entertainment venues, starting at 5 p.m.

“I know that the actions that we’ve been taking may seem extreme and they seem frightening,” Hogan said at a news conference. “As I said before, they are also absolutely necessary to save lives of thousands of Marylanders and hundreds of thousands of Americans.”

He added that the Maryland Department of Transportation will immediately restrict access to the terminal at BWI Marshall Airport to ticketed passengers and airport employees with badges only. Exceptions will be made for visitors that are visiting disabled passengers.

“We need all levels of government to get through this crisis,” Hogan said. “This fight against this global pandemic is a race against time and we must take action now.”

He added, “Despite all of our repeated warnings for weeks, and in spite of the rapid escalation of this crisis across our state, the nation and the world, some people are treating this like a vacation or a spring break with parties, cookouts and large gatherings. Let me be very clear — if you are engaged in this, you are in violation of state law and you are endangering the lives of your fellow Marylanders.”

Hogan spoke after the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Maryland rose 88% in 48 hours.

The state is also encouraging certain businesses to stay open, such as those essential to ensure a reliable food supply chain.

Jaimie Mertz’s Red Bandana Bakery in Bethesda remains open because it is a food source.

“We’ve seen people definitely afraid to come out, but we’ve seen people try and support because it’s an especially big part of their community, wanting this business to survive,” Mertz said.

Other businesses encouraged to remain open are grocery stores, food and meat processing plants, pet food manufacturers, farms and farmers markets and those in the seafood industry, such as crabbers and watermen.

“Unfortunately, we are only at the beginning of this crisis,” Hogan said. “This is truly one of the most daunting challenges our state has ever faced.”

Hospital surge

Hogan announced that 900 more hospital beds will be made available immediately, and another 1,400 by early April, as part of a hospital-surge plan.

Other requests and orders from the governor:

  • He lowered the limit on the size of gatherings to 10;
  • He ordered that trucks hauling supplies related to the public health emergency are allowed to exceed legal weight limits by 15%;
  • He urged residents to use transit for essential travel only;
  • He asked the University of Maryland to finish the spring semester online;
  • He allowed delivery and carryout sales or alcohol by restaurants, bars and distilleries;
  • He relaunched the Maryland Unites initiative, “to connect Marylanders with resources, and highlight stories of generosity and compassion amid the crisis.”

WTOP’s Abigail Constantino, Teta Alim, Jack Moore, Megan Cloherty and Matt Delaney, as well as The Associated Press, contributed to this report.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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