As cases rise, DC will ‘look to the metrics’ before making reopening changes

D.C. will not issue any rollbacks on its Phase Two reopening guidelines at this time, and will allow the science of the coronavirus to guide any decisions going forward, Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday afternoon.

As its neighboring jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia announced their decisions to scale back some of their reopening protocols, Bowser said D.C. will continue to look at its metrics first and the impact with its case load first before making any decisions.

“We are happy to see that because they are coming more in line with where we’ve been in the response to the pandemic,” Bowser said.

New testing data released before the press conference shows that there were 87 new positive cases in the District but no deaths reported. Of the new cases within the past week, the highest proportion of new cases are among adults between the ages of 25-34.

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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.

D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said the information collected by their contact tracers shows that 42% of the new positive cases are coming from people that did not participate in activities that would give high to moderate exposure.

Instead, she said, most cases are coming from small gatherings with someone who unknowingly passed along the virus.

When asked if the new data could be used by restaurant owners trying to avoid “winterizing” their venues and continue operating with only indoor dining, Nesbitt said it would be a “flawed assumption” to do so. Currently, indoor dinning services are limited to 50% capacity.

“We know that areas with decreased ventilation have increased risk for transmission,” Nesbitt said.

DCPS limited reopening plans press forward 

D.C. is pressing forward with its plans to reopen public schools for limited in-person learning through its CARE Classrooms program.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said 29 elementary schools will open on Wednesday for up to 600 students, with the goal of expanding the amount of students and schools after Thanksgiving.

Students will arrive to their school and receive a temperature and screening check from a patient care technician before continuing their online learning in a classroom setting. A DCPS staff member will be in the classroom to answer questions.

“Students will have the ability to have lunch in their classroom, and they will be scheduled recess time,” Ferebee said. “There will be afternoon and closing activities, and this is an important time for students to socialize and talk to their peers and participate in activities for social and emotional development.”

Over 400 families have enrolled in the initial start of the CARE classrooms, Ferebee said. The school system prioritized seats for elementary students who are considered the most at-risk, including students experiencing homelessness, those receiving special education service and English-language learners.

Some schools will open with up to five classrooms, Ferebee said, based on the types of partnerships and additional staff provided to address student learning. He called a bill introduced by D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman “not a smart way” to address school reopenings.

The bill would restrict DCPS from opening more than two classrooms per school during the second term unless safety requirements are met. It also requires Bowser to submit a detailed reopening plan to the D.C. Council for approval at least 21 days before opening more classes at any school.

“We believe we have done the due diligence when it comes to health and safety, and we have collaborated with our union partners along the way along with our school communities,” Ferebee said.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said the legislation was just released Thursday, and it was not included in the docket for Tuesday’s council meeting. Mendelson said it must be thoroughly vetted before it goes before the full council.

Thanksgiving, college student recommendations

Though no rollbacks were issues, Bowser and her staff laid out several recommendations for Thanksgiving.

Residents are asked to celebrate the holiday with only the people that live in their home. If someone does come over, D.C. advises that masks stay on during their visit, and everyone should be 6 feet apart when eating.

With college students returning home for Thanksgiving and staying home due to the surge of cases nationwide, Bowser said they must follow the city’s travel advisory of self-quarantining for 14 days or get tested three to five days after their return.

“Many college and universities are offering tests,” Bowser said. “We advise families to talk to their students now in how they can schedule a test before they come homes [or] isolate when they get home, and take a test three to five days after coming home and stay home until they get a negative result.”

DC police’s handling of ‘Million MAGA March’

Eight firearms were collected in arrests affiliated with Saturday’s Million MAGA March, D.C. police Chief Peter Newsham said. Seven of the eight were handguns, and one was a “rifle-style” weapon, he added.

When asked about how officers handled the crowds of people during the march and events afterwards, Newsham said he was impressed on limiting the amount of conflicts than what they did have to deal with it.

The event was largely peaceful until fights erupted overnight, with one person getting stabbed.

“It was quite remarkable,” Newsham said. “I don’t think another agency in the country would be able to handle it.”

Newsham said the department is considering to have all officers who worked the march tested for COVID-19. Several attendees did not wear a mask.

José Umaña

José Umaña is a digital editor for WTOP. He’s been working as a journalist for almost a decade, covering local news, education and sports. His work has appeared in The Prince George’s Sentinel, The Montgomery Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, PressBox and The Diamondback.

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