DC Council extends Bowser’s coronavirus health emergency authority

The D.C. Council on Tuesday extended Mayor Muriel Bowser’s health emergency authority until the end of the year, more than six months after she first declared the emergency to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

The council’s declaration, which passed unanimously, extends the mayor’s authority until Dec. 31.

The District has been under a public health emergency since March 11, when the city had just 10 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

As of Tuesday, D.C. reported 15,021 cases and 621 deaths.

Under the emergency order, Bowser has increased authority to seek federal aid and mandate public safety rules.

The D.C. Council has already extended Bowser’s health emergency authority multiple times, most recently in July.

Other items in the emergency resolutions approved by the D.C. Council include allowing the District to borrowing money, as well as flexibility in how money from arts and humanities funding is spent, specifically on rent or mortgage expenses.

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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.

Council Member Robert White, who voted in favor of the extension, raised concerns about the challenges D.C. has faced in obtaining supplies.

“Procurement has proven to be a challenge during these times — for the entire nation, with federal, state and local governments scrambling to obtain the supplies and equipment we need to care for our communities,” White said.

He specifically cited people “seeking to profit from the chaos” and warned of price-gouging as well as people who sell low-quality goods.

“I intend to examine the emergency procurement reporting requirements that we created in March to ensure the council is receiving the correct data points and identify other methods to limit the District’s risk and exposure,” White said.

The council’s moves come as the District has been asking residents for more contact-tracing cooperation as it continues to clamp down on the spread of the virus.

Currently, contact tracers are interviewing only 67% of positive cases within three days.

“It’s really important, if we want to make progress on our contact-tracing metrics, that people answer our call,” said D.C.’s health director, Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, at a news conference Monday. “It will help us contain the virus.”

She added that anyone the contact tracing task force contacts will remain anonymous. Residents who are contacted will not be asked about their immigration status, their Social Security number or any other critical information related to bank account details or credit card numbers.

Nesbitt said it is “critically important that you answer the phone.”

Outside of D.C., the U.S. surpassed a grim milestone Tuesday: more than 200,000 coronavirus deaths nationally.

“It is completely unfathomable that we’ve reached this point,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins public health researcher.

It’s the highest confirmed death toll from the virus of any country in the world.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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.

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