WASHINGTON — D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Tuesday that while there have been no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus yet in the District, her government has started “worst-case scenario planning” for an outbreak.
The nation’s capital is dealing with the possibility of major challenges to its tourism industry, with the National Cherry Blossom Festival due to start on March 20.
Though 92% of attendees at the festival are from the D.C. region, Bowser expects some people could face sponsors to have challenges traveling to the city due to travel restrictions caused by the virus. There are no travel restrictions in the United States so far.
“If people are restricted from traveling out of their country or to the United States, it will have an impact on our tourism season,” Bowser said at a news conference Tuesday.
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Nearly 24 million people visited D.C. in 2018, spending almost $8 billion, according to Destination DC, a private, nonprofit destination marketing firm.
Bowser said that D.C. still wants to welcome people because tourism is a big part of its economy. She and other officials advised Destination DC and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to give guidance to tourists who encounter health challenges during their stay.
The U.S. already expected to see a decline in Chinese tourists due to the coronavirus as travel restrictions have been imposed on that nation. This will likely impact the D.C. area as China is the District’s largest overseas market, according to Julie Marshall, spokeswoman for Destination DC.
Dr. Laquandra Nesbitt, director of D.C.’s Health Department, said that if there is a confirmed case in the District, officials would be concerned if “the contact tracing (a detailed interview to figure out how they contracted the virus) is unable to identify a known exposure” because that would mean that “community spread” has occurred.
Bowser said that on Monday, she authorized the use of $500,000 from the District’s contingency cash reserve fund to order protective equipment and other supplies for first responders.
Bowser also directed the D.C. Department of Health and D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Services to coordinate the District’s emergency response plan to any outbreak.
As of now, the mayor said that she did not anticipate any changes to the way the District’s primary elections will be conducted on June 2.
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