Washington region braces for increase in virus cases after Thanksgiving travel

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) on Monday said she expects a rise in coronavirus cases in the coming weeks, underscoring concerns about holiday travel as leaders across the Washington region lobby the federal government for additional financial relief.


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The District reported 371 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, its highest total in a single day since the start of the pandemic. The city’s daily case rate per 100,000 people, calculated on a seven-day rolling basis, reached 27 in recent days — a number not seen since May.

While it could be weeks before the region sees the effect of Thanksgiving travel, Bowser on Monday pointed to a nationwide jump in cases that is still being felt in the nation’s capital. She reminded residents to adhere to city travel guidelines, which call on those who visit a “high risk” state to limit activities for 14 days when returning to the city. Residents and visitors can also get tested within three to five days of arriving and self-monitor for symptoms until receiving a negative test result.

[D.C. eases travel restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving while urging caution during holidays]

“We expect that we’re going to have more cases,” Bowser said. “We’re also in a good position to do a lot of testing. We have a very robust testing program, which we feel strongly will help us identify and isolate people who have been infected by covid.”

The seven-day average of new daily infections across the greater Washington region on Monday was 4,662, down slightly from a high of 4,989 recorded on Thanksgiving Day.

The region on Monday recorded 3,920 new cases and 20 deaths. Maryland added 1,923 cases and 16 deaths; Virginia had 1,893 ­cases and four deaths; and D.C. recorded 104 cases and no additional deaths.

Neil J. Sehgal, an assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of Maryland, said it could be weeks before spikes in cases are seen that stem from Thanksgiving travel. Health experts had long cautioned residents to avoid traveling over the traditionally busy period — and also to avoid in-home gatherings.

“With the public attitude we saw towards travel over Thanksgiving, it’s very hard to think we won’t see an impact,” Sehgal said. “Cases will undoubtedly increase in the D.C. region.”

Maryland health officials said Monday that a child died Sunday of the coronavirus, becoming the pandemic’s youngest victim in the state. Officials didn’t release the child’s age, saying only that the victim was 9 or younger. No other information was available about the child or the nature of the death.

As caseloads continue to jump, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Monday wrote to President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, saying the state’s top priority is another round of stimulus funding to help battle the virus.

[Coronavirus cases and metrics in D.C., Maryland and Virginia]

Hogan, who has advocated for more federal funding since spring, told the transition team that small businesses, as well as state and local governments, need money soon. Many state and local governments, which are unable to carry a budget deficit, face significant shortfalls as tax revenue declines and costs rise for the public health response to the pandemic.

“States are already fighting an uphill battle to rebuild our economies and maintain services in education, health care, emergency operations and public safety,” Hogan wrote. “Without federal assistance, we could be forced to consider furloughs and job cuts, halts to construction, reductions in government services, and other measures that will cause an increase in unemployment and further delay the economic recovery.”

Hogan’s request comes as officials across the region make similar pleas for additional federal relief. Attorneys general from D.C., Maryland and Virginia on Monday joined 40 others to ask Congress for an extension to Cares Act funding, which otherwise would expire at the end of the year.

In Virginia, spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said the administration of Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has “repeatedly pushed for more stimulus funding” and is working closely with the Biden administration and the state’s congressional delegation to secure it.

John Falcicchio, chief of staff for Bowser, said the District has been in touch with Biden’s transition team to discuss additional aid but had not yet made a formal request.

[D.C. launches $100 million grant program for hard-hit businesses]

Tensions over measures to combat the virus rose in D.C. over the weekend when the city shut down SolidCore fitness studio locations.

Anne Mahlum, chief executive of the business, had told Bowser in a recent letter that SolidCore would remain open despite new city restrictions that ban indoor exercise classes. Mahlum previously argued that her studios have not been the source of new cases, saying they reopened in June with distancing requirements and extensive cleaning procedures.

After a weekend visit from city inspectors, she wrote on Monday in an email to The Washington Post that “we were told we would be fined $1,000 a day for each location, we have eight in D.C., and if we refused to shut down that we were at risk of losing our business license.”

Mahlum praised Bowser for measures intended to protect city residents and said her studio is working with the administration to “come to a resolution around the operation of group fitness.”

“We are sympathetic with any business owner, including the folks at SolidCore, who this virus is affecting,” Bowser said Monday. “But we have rules, and we have the enforcement mechanisms to make sure they’re followed.”

While caseloads continue to rise, the number of D.C. police officers not working after testing positive for the virus also surged during November — climbing from 32 on Nov. 16 to 64 on Friday. Bowser didn’t link the spike to any particular event, saying the rise mirrors the increased number of infections observed across the region.

Police officials did not respond to questions Monday about whether any officers who worked the Nov. 14 rally that drew supporters of President Trump were among those who have tested positive.

Discussing the eventual distribution of a coronavirus vaccine, D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said Monday that based on early estimates from the federal government determined by population, the city would receive about 8,000 doses of the vaccine in its initial shipment — one-tenth of what it needs to cover local health-care workers.

“It’s critically important to us that we receive sufficient doses of vaccine to vaccinate our workforce and not just our population,” Nesbitt said, emphasizing that the figure was not final. “Seventy-five percent of health-care workers in the District are residents of Maryland and Virginia.”

Bowser on Monday also announced a $10 million fund for housing stabilization grants to aid residents and affordable-housing providers who have struggled to keep up with rent payments because of the virus. The new grants, funded through the Cares Act, will cover delinquent rent accrued from April 1.

The grants will cover up to $2,000, with the city contributing 80 percent on the condition that housing providers forgive the remaining 20 percent, as well as any unpaid fees.

Applications for the grants open Tuesday and will be assessed on a rolling basis before they close Dec. 11.

Erin Cox, Peter Hermann and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.

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Muriel Bowser posing for the camera: D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) speaks during a news conference earlier this month in Washington.

© Susan Walsh/AP
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) speaks during a news conference earlier this month in Washington.

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