DC mayor declares state of emergency as coronavirus cases increase

D.C. is under a state of emergency and a public health emergency, a move that comes after health officials announced a jump in the number of new coronavirus cases on Wednesday.

Concerns around the outbreak have prompted a number of major event cancellations or schedule changes, and local places of worship are also adjusting how services are held.

Across D.C., Maryland and Virginia, there are now more than two dozen laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which first emerged in Wuhan, China, late last year and has now infected more than 100,000 people around the globe. The World Health Organization announced Wednesday it now considers the global outbreak a “pandemic.”

Here’s the latest around the region.

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DC mayor announces state of emergency

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Muriel Bowser said the emergency declaration is largely administrative and allows her to more easily request federal disaster, mandate medical quarantining and make price gouging illegal.

There are now 10 laboratory-confirmed cases of coronavirus in D.C., said Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, the director of D.C. Public Health — an increase of six new cases.

The new cases indicate that person-to-person transmission of coronavirus is occurring, including two individuals whose reason for having COVID-19 have yet to be identified, Nesbitt said.

The six new cases include a 59-year-old man with a travel history to a Level 3 country, a 58-year-old woman who attended a conference in D.C., a 39-year-old man with a travel history to a Level 3 country, a 24-year-old man with no known exposure, a 59-year-old woman who is a known contact of a previous exposure and a 69-year-old woman with no known exposure.

Earlier Wednesday, D.C. officials issued an advisory recommending all “nonessential mass gatherings” of 1,000 or more people be postponed or canceled through March 31, and that organizers should reconsider all events where large crowds are expected.

Speaking at the news conference, Nesbitt reiterated that the health department advisory remains only a recommendation. “This is a rapidly evolving situation,” she said.

Nesbitt added that if there is more sustained community transmission of the virus, officials may consider further measures.

Bowser emphasized during the news conference that she recommends against mass gathering during this time. Smaller gatherings, if they’re not essential, should also be reconsidered.

“We will take the step now of all the publicly permitted events, events that we permit, we’re going to pull those permits,” Bowser said.

She said that most organizers are complying with the health department’s recommendation, but she could order a closure.

“We’re constantly evaluating. It’s a fluid situation and we will come back to you if we have other information,” Bowser said.

Outbreak concerns postpone, cancel local events

Growing concern over the virus has led to a ripple effect of closures throughout the region.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival, which was set to kick off March 20, will postpone and cancel some events later this month, including an opening ceremony planned for the Warner Theatre.

Despite the earlier health department recommendation, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the parent company that owns the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals, said games scheduled for this week are still on.

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, the company said: “At the current direction of the NBA and NHL, our games will go on as scheduled and be open to spectators.”

In addition, all concerts and events being hosted at Capital One Arena are planned to go on as scheduled, the company said.

On Wednesday night, the NBA announced that it has suspended its season “until further notice” after a Utah Jazz player tested positive Wednesday for the coronavirus.

Following the recommendation, EventsDC, which manages the convention center, the Entertainment and Sports Arena and a number of other venues in the District, said it was suspending operations and services at the end of business Friday through March 31.

“We are in the process of closing right now,” Greg O’Dell, CEO and general manager of the Washington Convention Center, said during the news conference Wednesday.

All scheduled conferences and events will be canceled, an EventsDC spokeswoman confirmed.

In the meantime, EventsDC said crews will be performing “deep cleaning” of its venues. Full operations are expected to resume April 1.

Earlier Wednesday, organizers of the St. Patrick’s Parade in D.C. announced that the parade, which was set for Sunday, would be postponed indefinitely.

Also, D.C. Public Schools announced that schools would close next Monday to give staff time to prepare for possible distance learning if schools are closed due to coronavirus concerns — one of a number of school systems moving toward the possibility of online classes for possible closures.

Several universities in the D.C. area have already announced plans to cancel in-person classes and move classes entirely online.

Public worship services and parish operations will be canceled within the Episcopal Diocese of Washington for two weeks, effective Thursday.

The decision to close all 88 parishes across the diocese came around noon Wednesday, said Washington National Cathedral spokesman Kevin Eckstrom.

Following guidance from health officials to minimize mass gatherings, the diocese wanted to do its part to help stop the spread of the virus.

There will be virtual services on Facebook and YouTube or on the cathedral’s website that will allow people to come together “spiritually and emotionally,” Eckstrom said.

The diocese will reassess the situation around March 25, with the hope of reopening Sunday worship services on March 29.

The three schools around the Cathedral — the National Cathedral School, Beauvoir School and St. Albans School — entered an earlier spring break with closures this week.

Concert promotions company I.M.P. announced that starting Thursday, all events scheduled at the 9:30 Club, Lincoln Theatre and The Anthem, as well as “9:30 Club Presents” shows at U Street Music Hall, will be postponed for the remainder of March.

New cases involving visitors to the D.C. area

On Wednesday night Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that there were three more additional cases in Maryland, bringing the total to 12.

The new cases include a Montgomery County resident in his 20s who recently traveled to Spain, a Baltimore County resident in his 60s who worked at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in D.C. and a Prince George’s County resident in his 60s whose travel history is under investigation.

The patients in Montgomery and Baltimore counties are not hospitalized. The Prince George’s County patient is hospitalized.

A woman in her 70s visiting Anne Arundel County from Montana tested positive for the virus and is now hospitalized, according to county health officials. (Hogan said the case will not count toward the total number of Maryland coronavirus cases; it will be considered a Montana case).

Anne Arundel County Health Officer Nilesh Kalyanaraman said in a news conference Wednesday that the patient contracted the virus out-of-state during travel in an area with known COVID-19 transmission.

Separately, D.C. officials announced that two people who attended the recent AIPAC conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center — one person in Ohio and one person in Toronto — have now tested positive for COVID-19.

A total of five people who attended the conference in downtown D.C. between March 1 and March 3 have now tested positive for the virus. It was previously reported that two people who attended the conference were later diagnosed with coronavirus, one in New York and one in Los Angeles.

In response to coronavirus concerns, the University of Maryland Medical System announced it was temporarily limiting visitors across its 13 hospitals and other health care facilities. Under the new policy, no one under the age of 18 is allowed to visit the hospital, including waiting areas and commons spaces. (The only exception is for the parent of a hospitalized patient.)

In addition, only one adult visitor is allowed per patient for all areas of the hospital, and any visitors who recently traveled internationally may not visit university-run medical centers for 14 days after their return to the U.S.

Gov. Hogan: ‘This situation is escalating rapidly’

Hogan said that 12 people from Maryland are aboard the Grand Princess, which is docked on the coast of California. The 12 and other U.S. citizens are in the process of being transported to military bases in Texas and Georgia for examination and to be quarantined.

Hogan said a request has been submitted to Maryland officials by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to return the Maryland residents to the state.

“We want these Marylanders to be able to come home. However, we also want to take every precaution to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our state. So we have informed the Department of Health and Human Services that they must test all 12 of these passengers for COVID-19 on the military bases before we take any steps to return them here to Maryland,” Hogan said during a news conference on Wednesday.

Those who test negative will be transported to Maryland, and anyone who tests positive will remain in quarantine in the military base, Hogan said.

Another case that touches on Maryland is that of a Montgomery County first responder, who is a resident of Prince William County in Virginia, and tested positive. This case is tied to a case at Christ Church in D.C., so Maryland is coordinating with D.C. and Virginia health departments.

“I can report to you that our state’s chief epidemiologist has cleared both the fire station and the fire crew, where the patient volunteers and has no major concerns regarding potential risk to the community,” Hogan said.

Hogan said Maryland’s health benefit exchange is establishing a special enrollment period for health insurance because of the coronavirus.

And to reduce walk-ins, foot traffic and keep crowds to a minimum, the state’s motor vehicle administration is moving to appointments-only for all transactions.

State officials also have begun preliminary discussions about potentially holding the April 28 primary election by mail, if necessary, The Associated Press reported.

“Marylanders should be taking this pandemic very seriously. All Marylanders need to understand and prepare that there may be significant disruptions to your everyday lives for a period of time,” Hogan said.

Gov. Northam: ‘We are planning for every scenario’

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Wednesday steps the commonwealth is taking to manage the response to coronavirus as new cases in the broader D.C. region increase.

During a news conference, health officials confirmed a ninth case in Virginia: a teen in the Hanover County area, north of Richmond, who had recently returned March 4 from international travel.

The teen was self-isolating at home in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance when he began showing symptoms March 8 and was tested for the virus. Health officials said the teen is at home and doing well.

Northam said he has directed state agencies, which employ more than 100,000, to update telework and paid leave policies, and encouraged private employees to do the same.

“As a doctor of over 30 years, I know that no two cases and no two patients are the same,” Northam said. “And I know you have to be flexible enough to adapt your approach as the situation warrants. We are planning for every scenario and ensuring our government agencies, our schools, our hospital and our commonwealth are prepared thoroughly and able to respond quickly.”

As governor, Northam could declare a state of emergency, which eases some regulatory actions and procurement rules. “We are prepared to do that when the time is right and when we need those extra tools,” Northam said.

Among the new cases announced by Virginia health officials earlier this week are a couple in Fairfax City who recently vacationed on an international cruise, and a man in Loudoun County who attended a D.C. church that is now at the center of a quarantine.

An official with the state’s Division of Consolidated Laboratory said state labs have “adequate testing supplies” for now, with enough testing kits for between 300-400 patients. State officials expect to expand capacity to 500-600 patients when a new shipment arrives from the CDC.

Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane told reporters any decisions about whether to close schools or move to online classes will be made by local school leaders in consultation with health department officials.

Lane said schools across Virginia are now sharing attendance data directly with state officials so they can track illnesses. In addition, state education officials are regularly offering local school districts the latest health guidance.

Fairfax County Public Schools, the largest public school system in Virginia, announced students should stay home from school Monday as teachers report for a staff development day to “prepare for the possibility of distance learning” in the event of school closures due to the coronavirus.

The growing number of coronavirus cases has caused a number of schools and universities in the D.C. area to expand their spring breaks, cancel classes and temporarily move classes online, including American University and Georgetown University.

WTOP’s Abigail Constantino, Megan Cloherty and Jason Fraley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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