Coronavirus update: DC reports 3rd death as region surpasses 1,000 COVID-19 cases

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan discusses the state’s coronavirus response efforts Mach 19. Karen Salmon, Maryland’s superintendent of schools, is standing right. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

The latest

  • People who went to Murphy’s Irish Pub in Alexandria on March 10, March 14 and March 15 are asked to self-quarantine because they may have been exposed to coronavirus.
  • A 10th D.C. Fire and EMS member tested positive for COVID-19, the department said.
  • At least six WMATA employees also have tested positive, the agency said.
  • D.C. reported a third COVID-19-related death, a 75-year-old woman with underlying medical conditions. As of Wednesday, 231 people have tested positive in D.C., an increase of 48 new positive cases and a new highest single-day increase.
  • The Senate late Wednesday passed an unparalleled $2.2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Under the package, D.C. is grouped with U.S. territories that will receive less than states, and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is asking Senate leaders that D.C. be treated as a state for the purposes of the Coronavirus Relief Fund.
  • Maryland schools will stay closed through at least April 24, officials announced Wednesday.
  • The number of COVID-19 cases across Maryland, D.C. and Virginia has continued to climb, totaling more than 1,000 cases as of Wednesday night. Each jurisdiction recorded its largest single-day increase in positive cases over the past 24 hours.
  • D.C. residents received an emergency alert on their mobile phones and wireless devices Wednesday night about the closing of nonessential businesses.

Maryland, Virginia report jump in positive COVID-19 cases

Cases of COVID-19 in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, surpassed 1,000 Wednesday, after D.C reported 48 new cases. It is a new highest single-day increase in the District since Tuesday.

In Maryland, health officials on Wednesday reported a total of 423 positive COVID-19 cases in the state — an increase of 74 cases from the day before. That’s the biggest one-day jump in cases in the state.

While the data shows the virus continues to pose the greatest health risks to older patients, more than half of the state’s cases — 217 — involve patients between the ages of 20 and 54, Hogan said Wednesday, citing health department data. He said the “vast majority” of Marylanders infected with the coronavirus are in their 40s.

Nearly half of the state’s confirmed cases are in Montgomery County (127 cases) and Prince George’s County (76 cases).

Four people in Maryland have died from the illness, including two men in Prince George’s County, a man in Baltimore County and a woman in Montgomery County.

All of the patients who died had underlying health conditions, officials said.

On Wednesday, Virginia also recorded a big jump in cases. There are now 391 cases in the state  — an increase of 101 cases in 24 hours. That’s the biggest day-to-day increase in the state and the entire D.C. region since the first cases appeared earlier this month.

In Virginia, 59 people — about 15% of the state’s total positive cases — have been hospitalized. Virginia has also reported the highest number of deaths in the region — 12. Five people have died in the past day, including two elderly residents of the Canterbury Health Care Rehab Center, in Henrico County.

On Wednesday, D.C. reported a total of 231 positive cases, an increase of 48 news cases that surpasses Tuesday’s 46. Wednesday’s new cases include an 8-week-old baby and 19 other patients under the age of 40, among others.

Three D.C. residents diagnosed with COVID-19 have died.

D.C.

D.C. alerts residents about businesses closings

D.C. residents were alerted Wednesday night on their mobile phones and wireless devices about the closing of nonessential businesses.

Those businesses — which include clothing and furniture stores, hair salons and barbershops, among others — are set to close at 10 p.m. Construction work in the District would not be interrupted by the nonessential business closures.

“Construction work that can meet the social distancing guidelines can continue,” D.C. Mayor Bowser said.

Metered parking will still be enforced in the District and will continue for the time being, but Bowser said that there is a conversation about what restrictions should and should not be adjusted during the city’s response to the pandemic.

“I’m going to ask the team to do a review this week of anything that we can and should roll back,” Bowser said. “We are not ticketing for rush-hour restrictions or street sweeping … I think you will find we have had some more ‘lax enforcement,’ but we still need to keep the roadways safe.

Bowser said the District’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency issued the alert.

The alert read, in part: “You have a critical role to play in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in DC. Effective at 10 p.m. tonight (Wednesday, March 25), the District of Columbia will close all non-essential businesses through Friday, April 24. We are depending on you — be a good neighbor, STAY HOME.”

Bowser stressed that the closing of non-essential businesses did not mean a curfew would be put in place for residents out walking in the city. Still, police could be called to disperse groups of people if they are deemed to be too large for healthy social distancing.

Efforts to boost publicly available Wi-Fi hot spots in D.C. — especially in Wards 7 and 8 — are also underway, according to Bowser.

Mayor asks Senate to treat D.C. as a state in distribution of relief funds

Bowser asked Senate leaders to treat D.C. like a state for the purpose of the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

Language in the aid package, before it was passed by the Senate Wednesday night, had D.C. sharing a $3 billion pot with five U.S. territories, giving the District a direct payment of $500 million, while states — even those with a population smaller than D.C. — would receive $1.25 billion each, Bowser and members of the D.C. Council said in a letter to Sens. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer.

Bowser said the city has received limited support from the federal government in the fight against COVID-19.

In a “teletownhall” hosted Wednesday afternoon, Bowser said the city has directed $53 million to the COVID-19 response in the District.

“This includes $15 million that went through today to purchase ventilators, more personal protective equipment, testing supplies, medical supplies and other necessary equipment,” Bowser said. “We continue to call on the White House for procurement support.”

As it stands now, the District has 78 intensive-care beds and 260 ventilators. That’s enough for now, but “I’m told we will need more, and lives will depend on it,” Bowser said.

Bowser said she would like to see some direction from the federal government, so that the states and the District are not competing with each other for resources.

“We continue to call on the federal government to prioritize procurement, production and distribution,” of medical supplies, ventilators and personal protective equipment,” she said.

And, she called on cities and states to work together to address resource issues.


More Coronavirus News


D.C. waives wait time, job-seeking requirement to file for unemployment

D.C. officials also report a spike in unemployment claims. There have been 21,000 new claims for unemployment through Tuesday.

Some of the usual requirements for unemployment have been waived for the duration of the crisis: the need to wait seven days since being fired before filing and the requirement of people claiming unemployment to be seeking a job.

Bowser asked residents to be sure to apply online using a laptop or desktop computer, and not a mobile device, if possible. The District also contracted with a new call center to provide support for those trying to make claims by phone.

D.C. wants to ramp up testing with more drive-thru sites

Bowser said the District will also dramatically ramp up its testing of coronavirus.

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, the director of D.C.’s Department of Health, said the continued rise in positive cases is partly because labs are finally processing tests more efficiently. Some of the tests, for example, can come from samples taken up to a week earlier from patients who were showing mild symptoms of the virus.

She also reminded residents that they should not insist upon being tested if they have symptoms similar to cold and flu that they normally would manage at home without seeing a doctor.

Nesbitt said the current priority for testing is for hospitalized patients, health care workers and first responders with symptoms, and patients in long-term care facilities.

Bowser plans on citywide drive-thru coronavirus testing, similar to a site that opened at Children’s National Hospital earlier this week.

The George Washington University Hospital will provide a walk-up testing site later this week that will allow patients with a doctor’s order to receive a test.

MedStar Health will provide telemedicine appointments to all District residents. During the online appointment, doctors will decide if a patient’s symptoms warrants COVID-19 testing.

Sibley Hospital will also offer testing in the coming weeks.

D.C. public health lab has also ramped up its testing capacity. The lab will now use robotic equipment and more efficient tests that will allow 500 tests a day, and the results would be delivered between 24 to 48 hours.

Bowser also said that while efforts to increase the availability of testing in D.C. are underway, there are no plans for mass-testing.

“We need to conserve all protective gear and testing kits for people who need to be tested,” Bowser said. “There will be a larger city-supported location in the coming days — probably next week we’ll know for sure — at United Medical Center.”

D.C. Attorney General tackles price gouging

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine joined 33 of his counterparts across the country, including in Maryland and Virginia, asking companies, such as Amazon, Ebay, Craigslist, Walmart and Facebook to crack down on merchants who are price gouging during a time of crisis. You can report suspected price gouging in D.C. here.

MARYLAND

Maryland schools to stay closed through most of April

Public schools in Maryland will remain closed for an additional four weeks — through most of April — officials announced at a news conference Wednesday.

It’s the latest step to curb the spread of the spiraling coronavirus pandemic.

Under the plan announced Wednesday by State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon, schools will remain closed through at least April 24 and administrators will continue working on plans for distance learning.

Maryland students had been set to return to classrooms Monday following an emergency two-week closure issued earlier this month.

“We do not make this decision lightly,” Salmon said. “However, with the challenges facing our state and our country, we have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of our school communities and the communities at large.”

Salmon said she and the State Board of Education are continuing to evaluate when students will actually return to classrooms.

“While it is too early to definitively say exactly when schools will reopen, we will continue to reassess the situation as we move forward,” she said.

The school announcement came during a news conference with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, at which he recapped all of the steps he’s taken as governor to stop the spread of the disease. The governor has already banned gatherings of 10 people or more and closed theaters, gyms, salons and other nonessential businesses in the state.

“This crisis is really just beginning,” Hogan said. “We don’t yet know how bad it’s going to get or how long it’s going to last.”

Asked how long the closures would remain in place, Hogan said: “I’m a hopeful guy, and I would certainly love to have this thing all resolved as quickly as possible, but … we can’t predict what this virus is going to do. And I think you can’t put a time frame on saving people’s lives. We’re going to make decisions based on the scientists and the facts.”

In response to the extended closure, public schools in Montgomery County will begin laptop distribution on Thursday, March 26. It also announced changes to the school calendar and more details of its plan for distance learning.

Prince George’s County Public Schools is asking families to complete a survey about technology access by Friday, March 27. Anne Arundel County schools are offering some e-learning opportunities during the closures.

Schools in D.C. are also closed through April 24, with students completing coursework through distance learning until then. Earlier this week, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that public schools in his state would remain closed for the remainder of the school year, with distance learning taking place.

VIRGINIA

Northam: Virginia needs millions of masks, gloves

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday he is issuing an executive order directing hospitals in the state to postpone all elective procedures in a bid to free up the number of hospital beds and limit the use of medical equipment.

Many hospitals have already voluntarily delayed elective procedures.

Northam said there is a critical need for personal protective equipment, or PPE, at Virginia hospitals. He said hospitals treating intensive care patients typically run through 10,000 pieces of PPE — masks, gowns and gloves — a day.

Northam said Virginia still needs millions of pieces of equipment, having placed its second order with the National Stockpile of equipment maintained by the federal government.

He called for more coordination from the feds.

“Because states are literally competing for supplies, the price that we are seeing from some private vendors has jumped,” Northam said.

The governor also said his administration is in talks with the Army Corps of Engineers about field hospital sites if existing capacity is overrun. The discussions are in the early stage and the extra sites are not needed yet, Northam said.

Saying the commonwealth was in an “all hands on deck” situation at medical facilities, Northam also made an appeal for health professionals to volunteer their services.

The Virginia Reserve Medical Corps has already signed up more than 1,500 volunteers in the past month, and they’re still looking for more currently and previously licensed professionals, Northam said. You can sign up online.

Northam responds to Liberty University decision

During the news conference, Northam quoted the Bible while asking Liberty University, a Christian institution, to reconsider its decision to reopen its campus in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have heard too many mixed messages around the country about COVID-19, and this is yet another example,” Northam said of Liberty President Jerry Falwell’s decision to bring students and faculty back to its campus in Lynchburg.

“As we are told in First Corinthians, it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. … That means respecting the duty that Liberty University has to its students, its staff, the Lynchburg community … and our commonwealth.”

He suggested Falwell look to the example of other Virginia universities and “please reconsider his message.”

The verse 1 Corinthians 4:2 reads, “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.”

Northam also announced that the state would be expanding and increasing SNAP benefits on Wednesday night, in the hopes that people would be able to take larger but fewer trips to the grocery store.

Metro cancels multiple Northern Virginia bus routes

Metro canceled more service on Wednesday — this time, with no warning to riders.

A number of Northern Virginia bus routes suddenly stopped running Wednesday morning in Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County.

They include Routes 10A, 10N, 22A, 22C and 22F to the Pentagon, the 5A to Dulles International Airport, and some routes serving Fair Oaks, Dunn Loring, Annandale and Seven Corners.

Metro has trimmed back service severely in response to the coronavirus pandemic, including closing more than a dozen Metro stations.

3 new urgent care clinics in Va. taking samples

Fairfax County, Virginia, is opening three Inova Urgent Care respiratory illness clinic locations Wednesday to help check the spread of coronavirus. At the clinics, samples will be collected vehicle-side, with prospective patients remaining in their car.

You need to get in touch with your doctor before showing up at one of the locations.

Marine stationed at Pentagon tests positive for COVID-19; Alexandria pub reports positive case

A U.S. Marine stationed at the Pentagon tested positive for COVID-19 on March 24. He was last at the Pentagon on March 13 and is currently in isolation at home.

A person who was in Murphy’s Irish Pub on King Street in Old Town Alexandria tested positive for the coronavirus. The person, who is not a resident of Alexandria, may have exposed people at the pub on the following dates:

  • March 10, between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m.
  • March 14, between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • March 15, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The Alexandria Health Department is urging people who may have been exposed to self-quarantine at home and to call its COVID-19 information line for guidance at 703-746-4988 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

WTOP’s Abigail Constantino, Kate Ryan, Zeke Hartner, Will Vitka, Max Smith, Michelle Basch and Dan Friedell contributed to this report. 

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