D.C., Maryland and Virginia pass 2,000 covid-19 deaths; disclose most infections in one day
The covid-19 death toll in the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland climbed past 2,000 on Friday, and all three jurisdictions recorded their highest single-day increases in new infections.
The Washington region entered May with doses of good and bad news in key indicators that will help leaders decide whether to extend or lift restrictions set to expire in the coming weeks.
First, the bad news: the District and its bordering states added 3,120 known coronavirus cases - by far the most in one day when public health officials are looking for sustained declines.
Some more encouraging news: That spike also coincides with big jumps in testing, a sign the region may have a better understanding of the virus's toll.
The District received more than 1,000 test results in one day for the first time, and added more than 300 cases to bring its tally of known infections to 4,662.
"We have not hit our peak," said District Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, in an interview with NBC Washington. "While other places in the country may have hit their peaks and may be loosening restrictions, we have to stay focused on how to contain the virus."
Virginia also reported single-day highs in test results received and new infections recorded, with more than 1,000 of 14,800 tested confirmed as carrying the virus. Virginia has been among the worst in the nation at testing, but officials say they are taking steps to ramp up.
Maryland added a state record 1,730 new infections after receiving the results of more than 6,600 tests - its fourth-highest daily test tally so far.
Other key indicators have trended in the right direction.
Maryland reported 52 new covid-19 deaths on Friday, Virginia disclosed 26 and District added seven. Daily increases in deaths have been level over the last week, meaning the capital region hasn't seen an exponential rise in deaths like the one that overwhelmed the New York metropolitan region.
Most of the new Maryland deaths involved people living in long-term care facilities. Montgomery County and Prince George's County accounted for 15 and 13 of those nursing home deaths, respectively, with 10 fatalities reported at facilities elsewhere.
Data also suggests Washington-area hospitals have not been overwhelmed.
The number of covid-19 patients currently hospitalized in Maryland fell for the first time since the state started reporting these numbers. A total of 4,718 patients have required hospitalization in the state, 1,668 of whom still remain in the hospital.
In Virginia, daily hospital admissions have hovered just under 100 for the last four days. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, earlier this week announced he would lift bans on elective surgeries and non-emergency medical visits, a sign the health care system is equipped to treat patients with and without the virus.
The District does not publish daily covid-19 hospitalization figures, but announced earlier this week that the increase in admissions had slowed. The city continues to have beds available in intensive care.
In both Virginia and Maryland, officials are confront coronavirus outbreaks tied to Eastern Shore poultry plants. So far, 279 poultry workers in Maryland have tested positive for covid-19, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said Friday, accounting for 17 additional cases since hepublicly raised alarm about potential food chain disruptions two days ago.
Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began plant-by-plant visits Friday.
The outbreak has made rural Wicomico County, home to poultry giant Perdue Farms, one of Maryland's most concerning hotspots. As of Friday, the county had the fourth-highest per capita caseload in the state, up from the fifth-highest the day before. Wicomico's coronavirus caseload doubled from roughly 220 cases last Friday to 425 a week later.
"This remains a rapidly evolving situation," Hogan said
He announced a second public testing site will open in Caroline County, home to poultry workers who commute to two affected plants in Delaware. It joins a test site that just opened at Perdue Stadium in Salisbury.
Salisbury is also the terminus of a statewide "Reopen Maryland" protest planned for Saturday, when people frustrated by prolonged social distancing measures plan to drive from Frederick to the Eastern Shore to increase pressure on Hogan to lift the restrictions.
The group wants to reverse the economic standstill created to slow down the spread of the virus, as well as reopen schools and churches. Organizers say the measures are overly broad and socially destructive. Public polling across the nation shows broad support for stay-at-home measures despite the vocal protests.
In Virginia, the governor's nonessential business closure is set to expire next Friday. Northam said his administration would announce Monday if some businesses can reopen with restrictions. He also said he anticipates schools reopening next academic year.
In the District, officials announced a new testing site designed to respond to the disproportionate impact of coronavirus among African Americans and residents of the poorest parts of the city.
Howard University Hospital on Tuesday plans to open a testing site intended to serve residents, even if they have no risk factors or symptoms, said Hugh Mighty, dean of Howard University College of Medicine and vice president of clinical affairs. Wards 7 and 8 are home to 30 percent of District residents with the virus and 35 percent of those who succumbed to covid-19.
"We need to screen everybody," Mighty said. "You want to know the negative as well as you want to know the positive. Unless we blanket the whole region with screening, we're not going to know what we're dealing with in terms of who is positive."
Howard wants to test 100 in its first week at a Benning Road clinic and eventually double that capacity.
District officials also said Friday that hundreds applied for new contact tracing jobs in the first day they were posted, part of the city's preparations to reopen the nation's capital.
Contact tracers are responsible for interviewing coronavirus patients to identify where they may have contracted the virus or exposed others, a crucial way to contain the spread of coronavirus and prevent future infections.
Officials said city wants 200 tracers trained and ready to go by mid-May, and plans to hire 900 in all.
"It's a critical operation necessary to contain the spread of covid-19, so we want to do our best to prevent hospitalization and death," said Ventris Gibson, director of the District's Department of Human Resources.