DC not ready for Phase Two despite coronavirus progress; contact tracing ramps up

D.C. is making headway on at least one metric it needs to see in order to start Phase Two reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic, officials said Wednesday.

There has been a nine-day decrease in community spread. A sustained 14-day decrease is one of the metrics that needs to be hit to move toward Phase Two of reopening.

But Mayor Muriel Bowser maintained Wednesday that the earliest the District could move into Phase Two is still more than a week away.

“As Dr. Nesbitt explained on Friday, the earliest we expect to move into Phase Two will be June the 19th,” she said. “We will be monitoring data very closely, and we believe in the coming days we will also have a sense of the impacts about moving into Phase One, and what impact that has had on our experience with the virus.”

D.C. also unveiled a new coronavirus data dashboard online. It tracks the metrics it needs to hit to reach a potential Phase Two reopening.

Data on the city’s ability to contact trace new cases is set to go live Thursday, D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said. As does data on the ability to trace close contacts.

“That’s because we’re in the process of switching to a new data system that our contact tracers use that give us our status as to where we are in meeting that metric,” Nesbitt said.

Officials also urged people to talk to their health care providers and get tested — especially if they’ve participated in any of the recent demonstrations in the District in the wake of George Floyd’s police-custody death.


DC contact tracing

The District is increasing the ranks of its contact tracers.

Bowser said the Department of Health had a contact tracing team of about 65. It has since been built up to 200, with more to come.

“We are going to add an additional 100 D.C. government employees who will be detailed to the trace force by June 15,” Bowser said.

She added that there is also a reserve group that could be brought into the task force.

“We also continue to be able to tap into a group of applicants who have applied for the trace force that we can flex up our team as our experience with the virus dictates,” Bowser said.

Contact tracing itself is a process of identifying individuals who are COVID-19 positive, investigating their cases and then contact tracing individuals, Nesbitt said.

“What we describe as case investigation is really a detailed interview that is usually done over the phone with residents who are confirmed positive with COVID-19. And that allows us the opportunity to identify all of their close contacts,” she said.

“The contact tracing process is what happens after that, where we notify, interview and conduct what’s called ‘public health monitoring’ in individuals who are the contacts of the original case and were exposed to the virus.”

Nesbitt said they collect information that’s required to be reported by strict government laws, and explained what residents can expect if the health department calls and someone has tested positive for COVID-19.

“We collect some demographic information in this use, things such as the race and ethnicity of the individual if that has not previously been reported to us,” she said. “We also like to confirm age or date of birth, as it may have been documented by the original tester or health care provider.”

“We also want to know how the person is feeling overall, so we can get a sense if the individual was with symptoms or without symptoms when they were tested. And, if they were without symptoms when they were tested, if they’ve developed symptoms now, and it’s critically important for us to be able to put together a picture of who’s developed COVID-19 in the District of Columbia.”

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

They also ask about risk factors, such as if they are in high-risk professions where contact with individuals will be highest, or if they live or work in congregate settings. Other things people should expect to be asked is about their recent movements.

Nesbitt said there are certain things D.C. Health will never ask about: immigration status, a person’s Social Security number, their financial information or credit card numbers.

Disease investigator Malachi Stewart, who previously focused on tracking the spread of STDs and tuberculosis, said community help is vital to halt the spread of coronavirus.

“The most important aspect of that is really the participation of the community that tested positive,” Stewart said.

“Those initial case investigations where people are giving us the information, where they’re willing to recall some of their activities within the period of interest that we’re looking for, that has been the most important thing.”

Stewart acknowledged that the calls can feel weird or frightening. “We acknowledge that … we are sometimes contacting people when they’re really afraid. And they don’t always have resources,” he said.

“A lot of times, we are sensitive to the idea that we have to address, first, the need before we can ask anything of you, but I just wanted to encourage people that will be contacted, people who are potential exposures, to participate as much as possible, because it’s that participation that allows us to continue to achieve success and really see the curve be flattened.”

DC coronavirus numbers

D.C. reported 63 new coronavirus cases Wednesday. The total now stands at 9,537.

In addition, four more District residents have died from the disease, bringing the total dead to 499.

Below are maps for cases by ward, neighborhood and community spread.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. 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.

Hundreds of protesters gather at the intersection of 16th and U streets before a march to the White House on May 29, the District’s first protest over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier that week. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Protesters chant at the foot of a U.S. Treasury building at Lafayette Park on May 29, following the arrest of a man for attempting to jump the temporary security barricades blocking access to Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House’s north lawn. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Graffiti is seen on a U.S. Treasury annex at Lafayette Park during a protest over the killing of George Floyd on May 29. On the city’s first day of demonstrations, tensions soared between protesters and U.S. Secret Service: Bottles were thrown and metal barricades north of the White House were repeatedly pushed over, while officers charged into the crowd and arrested a man who attempted to climb over their temporary perimeter. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Protesters gather along the reflecting pool at the U.S. Capitol building for a second day of protests May 30. For the next week, D.C. would be crisscrossed with marches between the Capitol and White House, some organized in advance and others on the fly. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Protesters confront U.S. Secret Service and Park Police officers at the western end of a closed Lafayette Park after pushing over barricades May 30. Secret Service ultimately deployed pepper spray while pushing the crowd back to 17th Street, marking the first significant escalation in clashes near the White House. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A formation of U.S. Secret Service wearing riot gear and wielding wooden batons is seen guarding the approach to the White House during a protest May 30. A police charge including pepper spray was met with water bottles and eggs from protesters, staining riot shields with yellow splatter. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
U.S. Park Police and Secret Service are seen inside a fortified Lafayette Park on May 30 after clashes with police along 17th Street. Lafayette Park, a public area popular with tourists, would be closed for over a week with an overwhelming security presence as the federal government brought in military police to supplement law enforcement. An armored Bearcat vehicle is seen parked near the equestrian statue. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
An SUV is engulfed in flames at the intersection of I Street and Connecticut Avenue during a bout of vandalism and looting late May 30, spreading to a nearby tree and construction equipment along the sidewalk. D.C. police used stun grenades to clear the intersection of protesters before firefighters moved in and prevented the fire from extending to a nearby office building. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A fire rages on H Street in front of Lafayette Park on the evening of May 31 as protesters pull tree branches and drag debris to build a towering inferno, including metal barricades. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
“We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.” — Malcolm X, 1965. Pictured: A burning dumpster outside Lafayette Park on May 30. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
The headquarters of the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest conglomerate of trade unions, saw its lobby broken into and firebombed as protests devolved into widespread vandalism and looting throughout downtown D.C. on the night of May 31. Though contained by sprinklers, the fire resulted in over $1 million in damages. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
As protesters dug in outside Lafayette Park following days of violent clashes with police, donation-driven mutual aid networks were established to provide free food, water, medical supplies and pepper spray remedies. One such organization, Freedom Fighters DC, rose to prominence through the work of volunteers. The supplies pictured on June 1 were collected in under a day. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Protesters paint anti-police messages behind a destroyed lawn mower inside a maintenance building on the northern periphery of Lafayette Park on June 1, a night after it was ransacked and burned during violent clashes with Secret Service and U.S. Park Police guarding the White House. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
After abruptly and aggressively clearing the intersection of H and 16th street of protesters on the afternoon of June 1, various law enforcement agencies, including police from neighboring Arlington County, Virginia, formed a cordon to the north of St. John’s church ahead of a visit there by President Donald Trump. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A protester holds a wooden cross outside St. John’s Episcopal Church on June 2, a day following a sudden and violent police operation to clear protesters from the area with tear gas and rubber pellets. Protesters turned out in greater numbers with many citing fury over the level of force police had used a day prior. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Members of the D.C. National Guard watch as protesters peacefully march down Pennsylvania Avenue on June 2, with the Trump International Hotel visible center left. After days of looting and clashes with police, protests thereafter remained largely peaceful, owing to a large security presence and a palpable effort among protesters to police their own. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Hundreds of protesters hold a “die-in” in remembrance of George Floyd at the Peace Monument beneath the U.S. Capitol building’s west front June 2 after an impromptu march from the White House. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Federal prison bureau officers load a riot gun with rubber pellets as protesters peacefully gather near the intersection of I and 16th streets June 3. The Bureau of Prisons later confirmed it had sent tactical units from Texas prisons to reinforce security around the White House complex. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Utah National Guard soldiers form part of a riot line north of the White House on June 3, coming face-to-face with protesters questioning their presence outside of federal land following the unexplained expansion of the White House’s security perimeter. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
On the tenth consecutive day of protests over the killing of George Floyd, protesters hold another “die-in” in the slain Minnesota man’s honor at the newly christened Black Lives Matter Plaza on June 7. Two days prior, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser employed city staff and local artists in the writing of “Black Lives Matter” in yellow paint for two blocks of 16th Street north of the White House. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Hundreds of protesters hold a “die-in” for George Floyd on June 7. For almost two weeks after Floyd’s death triggered a nationwide wave of demonstrations, Lafayette Park and the adjacent areas of H and 16th streets became the focal point for thousands in the nation’s capital protesting police violence and racial injustice. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A protester joins a march down New York Avenue on June 7. While some protests around Floyd’s death in the nation’s capital were organized in advance, many were organized on the spot at Black Lives Matter Plaza, which effectively became the city’s protest hub. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A mosaic of protest artwork is seen on the boarded-up AFL-CIO headquarters, days after its lobby was damaged in a fire during a night of vandalism. Blocks of fencing and wooden boards on businesses essentially acted as blank canvasses for activists and street artists who quickly made the space of 16th street near the White House their own. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Hundreds of signs, posters, pieces of artwork, banners and makeshift memorials line the eight-foot fence along the northern periphery of Lafayette Park on June 8. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
The Lafayette fence and mosaics on nearby wooden boards are examples of protesters repurposing a space as a makeshift museum to document and record their own struggles, frustrations, demands and despair. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A man paints a mural on a boarded-up business along lower 16th Street on June 8. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
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