Coronavirus update: Northam moves to push elections back; regional cases top 10,000; Shenandoah National Park shuttered

In this April 6, 2020 photo, a sign at The Anthem music venue reads “We’ll Get Thru This” at The Wharf, which is almost completely empty because of the coronavirus outbreak in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The latest

  • Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has moved to push elections back, citing the public health crisis.
  • The total cumulative number of cases of COVID-19 in D.C., Maryland and Virginia is over 10,000 as of Wednesday morning. D.C. has had 1,440 cases; Maryland, 5,529; and Virginia, 3,645. In D.C., 27 people have died; in Maryland, 124; and in Virginia, 75. See all the available numbers, including hospitalizations and recoveries.
  • The National Park Service has closed Shenandoah National Park following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • A bipartisan group of members of Congress from D.C., Maryland and Virginia have written to the head of FEMA, pointing out how little of their last emergency request for equipment was filled and asking for more attention.
  • An elementary school staff member at a Loudoun County public school has tested positive for COVID-19.

The symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Health officials say that if you have these symptoms, you should call your doctor. Don’t just show up. Medical facilities need to get ready for you. If you don’t have a doctor and you live in D.C. or the nearby Maryland suburbs, D.C.’s mayor recommends calling Mary’s Center at 844-796-2797. If you live in Virginia, call 211.

Farmers markets declassified as ‘essential’ in D.C.; U Street grocery store closes temporarily

Under a new order from the mayor, farmers and fish markets in D.C. are no longer allowed to operate unless they get a waiver, and retail food sellers must inform customers that they need to wear a mask.

Mayor Muriel Bowser issued the order Wednesday night, and it goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, April 9.

Read the full story and the mayor’s order here.

Earlier on Wednesday, a Trader Joe’s grocery store in D.C.’s U Street corridor was temporarily closed after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

The store, at 1914 14th St. Northwest, shuttered for additional cleaning. The employee who tested positive was last in the store on April 5, according to the company.

Northam moves to push elections back

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced he is pushing the state’s June 9 congressional primary back by two weeks to June 23. As governor, he has the authority to make this move.

In addition, he is recommending local and special elections set for May 5 be pushed back to Nov. 3, the date of the general election. That move requires action by the General Assembly, which is returning to session April 22.

“We’re in the middle of a public health crisis,” Northam said. “We have wrestled with our options, and none of them are ideal, or perfect. Elections are the foundation of democracy. And voting is a fundamental right. But no one should have to choose between protecting their health or casting a ballot.”

Northam said holding in-person elections right now would put voters and elections workers at risk.

Under the governor’s plan, absentee ballots that have already been cast in local and town elections will be discarded, and voters will have an opportunity to re-cast their ballots in November, according to Virginia Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner.

The governor said his administration has distributed 1.5 million gloves and more than 430,000 N95 masks.

The market for acquiring personal protective equipment, or PPE, is “chaotic and difficult due to a lack of federal direction,” Northam said.

Northam announced on Monday his administration had inked a $27 million contract with a Virginia-based logistics company to provide personal protective equipment, or PPE, to the state’s front-line health care workers.

No Virginia hospital has run out of PPE, Northam said, but he said the several hospital CEOs that he’s spoken to “worry that they don’t have enough.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, a dozen Virginia hospitals report are experiencing difficulty in obtaining or replenishing PPE in the next three days, according to data from the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association.

In addition, Northam said the Virginia Department of Health would work to maintain more complete racial demographic data on COVID-19 patients in Virginia.

“We know that longstanding racial inequities, and things like access to health care, education and economic opportunities, lead to differences in underlying health conditions,” Northam said. “The existence of such inequities is one reason why communities of color, including African American people, are more likely to have some of the underlying health conditions that put them at a greater risk with COVID-19.”

He added: “We are seeing racial disparities in COVID cases in places like New Orleans, and New York, and we must be able to measure this here in Virginia,” Northam said.

While the health department already does collect some racial demographic data, it’s missing race and ethnicity data for 53% of cases in the state.

That’s mostly because most coronavirus tests that are ordered by patients doctors’ are performed by private labs and the patient’s race and ethnicity is not collected, said Dr. M. Norman Oliver, the state health commissioner.

Oliver said the department will be sending a letter to Virginia doctors encouraging them to include racial and ethnic information on test specimens that are sent to the department.

The data that has been collected so far shows racial disparities. Overall, about 28% of positive cases in Virginia involve African American patents, Oliver said, even though African Americans only make up about 20% of Virginia’s population.

New models show fewer people will die from COVID-19 than previously expected

With more people taking social distancing seriously, researchers predict the coming months won’t be as dire as initially feared, CNN reported.

The new modeling shows fewer people will die from coronavirus than previously expected.

Johns Hopkins University changed the trending status for the United States to “down” on Wednesday, because of changes in the five-day moving average of new cases. The data could change as more cases are reported.

On Tuesday, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle estimated about 82,000 people will die from coronavirus disease by August. On Wednesday, that estimate was lowered to 60,415.

Read the story from CNN.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said during Wednesday’s briefing that the decreased mortality is modeled on what the U.S. is doing. She stressed the importance of behavioral change.

“It shows what is possible when we do this level of mitigation,” Birx said.

Earlier Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top infectious disease expert and also a member of the task force, told Fox News that the drop in mortality can be attributed to social distancing and measures to stay-at-home and close businesses, The Hill reported.

Maryland school and health officials brief lawmakers

Maryland’s schools could be conducting distance learning again in the fall and winter, depending on the course of the coronavirus outbreak.

That’s according to Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon, who briefed lawmakers during the online meeting of the Maryland legislative joint task force on COVID-19.

Salmon told lawmakers that she’d continue to work on distance learning as a strategy for the state’s school systems. “We’re not sure that this is going to be something that we’re not going to revisit in the fall or in the winter,” she said, referring to the coronavirus.

Salmon also said families would be given as much notice as possible should the State Board of Education decide to keep schools closed past April 24.

In the same meeting, State Health Secretary Robert Neall told lawmakers that the state currently has 1,178 ventilators available, and that he’s ordered twice that amount.

He also said the state is working with the University of Maryland School of Medicine to ramp up testing so that up to 20,000 tests a day could be done. “That will get us into the ballgame of widespread testing to better handle this,” said Neall.

D.C. reports 229 new coronavirus cases

The District reported 229 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, bringing the total to 1,440.

Among the new positive cases are eight additional D.C. first responders who have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to D.C Fire Chief Gregory Dean. All told, a total of 46 first responders have tested positive.

There were also five additional deaths: a 52-year-old man, a 61-year-old woman, a 68-year-old woman, a 79-year-old woman and a 97-year-old woman.

The total number of deaths in D.C. stands at 27.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser spoke Wednesday at a news conference about the impact of coronavirus on the black community.

“We know that across the country, African Americans disproportionately suffer from some of the underlying conditions that make COVID-19 so dangerous, and, of course, it’s not just about looking at the data after the fact, it’s doing everything we can to keep people safe, save lives and mitigate the spread of the virus,” Bowser said.

Observing the numbers in D.C.

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of D.C. Health, said at a news conference Wednesday that, given the geographic proximity of D.C., Virginia and Maryland, the number of coronavirus hospitalizations are not easy to discern.

“So what you are observing is you have states that can easily provide you very clean numbers of the number of people who are in the hospital and that be … indicative of the number of people who are their cases in their state who are hospitalized,” Nesbitt said.

“That would not be fact for us here in the District. So, I could easily report to you the number of people who are hospitalized every day in the District, you cannot make that equal to the number of cases that we have in the District who are hospitalized.”

What ‘recovered’ from coronavirus means

D.C. and Maryland have been reporting the number of patients who they say have recovered from COVID-19. These are patients who have been released from isolation because they have not had a fever for three days without the use of medicine; they show improvements in other symptoms, such as cough; and it has been at least seven days total since the onset of symptoms. Test results must be final before ending isolation.

The CDC said that the above recommendations will prevent most but may not prevent all instances of secondary spread, and the risk of transmission after recovery is likely substantially less.

Of 5,529 who have tested positive in Maryland, 365 have been released from isolation, and in D.C., of the 1,440 who have tested positive, 361 have been released from isolation.

Virginia currently does not report how many people they say have recovered.

Lawmakers to FEMA: DC area needs medical supplies now to fight coronavirus

A dozen members of Congress from D.C., Virginia and Maryland on Wednesday called on FEMA to immediately increase the amount of emergency medical supplies allotted to the region to deal with the spread of coronavirus.

The lawmakers, in a letter to FEMA administrator Peter Gaynor, pointed out that the region could soon face a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases.

Read the full story.

New high in Md. cases

The number of COVID-19 cases jumped by 1,158 in Maryland overnight, its biggest jump ever. Gov. Larry Hogan said on Wednesday that a surge in infections was only one of the reasons.

“This is also due to our ongoing efforts to ramp up testing in Maryland, with more private labs coming onboard and the expansion of commercial lab capacity,” Hogan said via Twitter.

He said that there was also a threefold increase in tests reported since Tuesday. He added that “more than 30% of the new cases reported today are for testing that was completed in March.”

D.C.’s new numbers also represent a one-day high in new cases.

When will cases surge?

Montgomery County’s top doctor says there’s a new timeline for when he expects cases in Maryland to surge.

Originally forecast to begin in late May or early June, the surge now is expected to begin within a few weeks — in late April or early May, according to Montgomery County’s Chief Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles.

Speaking on Wednesday during a conference call meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Gayles said hospitals and health systems region-wide are accelerating preparations.

“Many of our health departments are proactively working to have things in place, anticipating that could start as early as seven to 10 days into the future and extend to the end of the month and early May,” Gayles said.

Examining the way confirmed cases are coming in, Gayles predicts Maryland may likely experience the first surge that would then move down into the District followed by Northern Virginia.

Last week, District officials plans for a medical surge in D.C. that used models showing a peak in serious cases requiring hospitalizations in late June or early July.

More Coronavirus News

Va. AG Herring seeks to lengthen suspension of utility shutoffs

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has asked the State Corporation Commission to extend the suspension of utility shutoffs in the commonwealth until at least June 10, the current end date of Gov. Ralph Northam’s state of emergency.

Right now, they’re suspended until mid-May.

“During the immediate time of this emergency, the public interest requires that basic needs such as power, heat, and water go uninterrupted for all customers,” Herring said in a statement.

He’s also asking for reconnections for those who lost service before the suspension, as well as a suspension of late-payment fees.

A loosening of guidelines for workers?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering changing its guidelines for self-isolation to make it easier for those who have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus to return to work if they are without symptoms.

People who are exposed to someone infected would be allowed back on the job if they have no symptoms, test their temperature twice a day and wear a face mask.

Read the full story from The Associated Press.

LCPS staff member tests positive for COVID-19

A second staff member at Liberty Elementary School in Loudoun County has tested positive for COVID-19, the school said Wednesday.

In a letter to the school community, Liberty Elementary superintendent Eric Williams said the staff member last worked in the building on March 11, which was the last day the LCPS school buildings were open.

Williams said the person is self-isolating while they recover.

WTOP’s Alejandro Alvarez, Kristi King, Kate Ryan and Zeke Hartner contributed to this report.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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."

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at, part of Government Executive Media Group.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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