“I do want to notify you all that last evening, we did receive notification from the CDC that two of the variants that have been of concern in the U.S. have been detected in D.C. residents,” D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said during a Thursday news conference.
“We are still gaining more information. The two variants that have been detected are the ones that are more commonly circulating in the U.K. and South Africa,” Nesbitt said.
According to Nesbitt, there are four cases: three for the variant first found in the U.K. and one for the variant found in South Africa. She added that they’re still gathering more information on the cases themselves, and didn’t say whether the cases were due to travel or community spread.
“Now, to put this contextually, you have to remember that every positive test is not sequenced to be detected for variants. Only a sampling of cases are sequenced for variants,” Nesbitt said, saying she wanted to reassure people.
She added that the arrival of the variants in the District “is not surprising to D.C. Health,” given the city’s porous borders and the fact that they’ve been seen in Maryland and Virginia, “but just another opportunity to remind us to be very cautious about our behavior and our patterns here in the National Capital Region.”
And she once again urged residents to be vigilant in the fight against the spread of coronavirus, including regularly wearing face masks, keeping physical distance of at least 6 feet, and limiting activities with people outside of your immediate household.
Nesbitt also urged residents to answer the call when D.C.’s contract tracing team rings.
“This is extremely important in our ability to be able to quickly diagnose, have people be isolated and quarantine when they are diagnosed with COVID-19 or are a close contact,” Nesbitt said. “So please answer the call from the D.C. COVID-19 team.”
DC getting more vaccine doses
D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency Director Chris Rodriguez offered some good news during Thursday’s news conference: The District is getting more vaccine doses.
“Next week’s vaccine allotment is up approximately 50% from two weeks ago,” Rodriguez said. “And, at this pace, we do expect to have approximately 40% of our seniors vaccinated by the end of this week, and about 70% of seniors vaccinated by the end of this month.”
The District is also working with supermarket chain Giant Food to help distribute doses.
“Of course, as we’ve mentioned throughout these press conferences recently, since the vaccine was made available, our supply continues to be our greatest barrier to getting more people vaccinated here in D.C.,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez also mentioned the letter D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan sent to federal officials on Wednesday, calling on the U.S. government to “directly supply and distribute COVID-19 vaccinations to essential federal workers” in the region.
The request would cover employees and contractors of the executive branch, the legislative branch, the judicial branch, as well as independent agencies such as the U.S. Postal Service, the Federal Reserve and Metro.
Updates to vaccine portals announced
Nesbitt said Thursday that the District will continue to improve residents’ experience at their online vaccine registration portal, as well as the call center at 855-363-0333.
“We continue to make incremental improvements to that system, including today, where we were able to make an enhancement that allowed for a set aside of appointments that would be accessible only through the call center, compared to appointments that would be accessible via the online portal,” she said.
D.C. officials have been asked about the ability to allow a separation of the registration and the appointment scheduling process. Nesbitt said the District is “on target to have that process begin in early March.”
She emphasized that it is not a waitlist.
“Our process will continue to apply an equity lens and that when individuals register using a combination of criteria, including their qualifying eligibility phase, their geography or ZIP code in which they live based on that ZIP codes priority in the city, and when they register, will be used to determine when they are eligible for a vaccine appointment,” Nesbitt said.
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