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More than 4,000 coronavirus cases in Washington region with peak still weeks away

Apr 02. 2020
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By The Washington Post · Antonio Olivo, Peter Hermann, Fenit Nirappil, Gregory S. Schneider · NATIONAL, HEALTH 

The number of novel coronavirus cases in the Washington region climbed past 4,000 Wednesday, as officials in Virginia projected that the peak of the covid-19 crisis is still at least several weeks away.

"I want Virginians to prepare themselves for the long haul," said Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, adding that the state has been reviewing computer models to determine when the outbreak might reach its most severe stage, before leveling off. "We currently expect that will be sometime between late April and late May."

The tally of cases in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia climbed to 4,062, according to a Washington Post analysis. The total number of fatalities reported through 8:40 p.m. Wednesday was 82.

With the region eerily quiet in most places as residents abided by "stay-at-home" orders put into effect by Northam, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, and District Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, tensions heightened among public employees and health-care workers who are seeing the fast-spreading virus carve deeper into their ranks.

In the District, union leaders representing nurses and corrections officers accused Bowser's administration of not doing enough to protect those workers from being infected. 

The District of Columbia Nurses Association, which represents 2,000 health-care workers in the nation's capital, said the city's health department refused to test hospital staff who treated covid-19 patients who have died at United Medical Center and St. Elizabeths Hospital, the District's public psychiatric hospital. Both facilities are in Southeast Washington.

"If an inordinate number of clinicians become ill in the District, it will result in a tremendous strain on D.C. hospitals to deliver care during this crisis, and we don't want that to occur in the nation's capital," Edward Smith, the union's executive director, said in a news release.

The union representing corrections officers at the District jail said the six inmates who have tested positive so far have not been properly quarantined. A corrections officer has also tested positive.

Sgt. Jannease Johnson, a member of the union's executive board, said the city's jail has "the absolute worst conditions I have ever experienced."

"We are afraid to be in here," Johnson said.

During a Wednesday media briefing, Bowser said all hospitals in the city are now testing their personnel. She said officials haven't gotten any reports of the jail not being properly cleaned.

"But that, I will assure you, is our expectation," the mayor said. "We will confirm with jail staff that we are following every safety and health protocol with the cleaning of the jail, that we're following every protocol if we have a confirmed case."

Both Virginia and Maryland again reported single-day records for the number of new cases, a pattern that has extended over most of the past 10 days, with the exception of Monday.

Virginia had test results showing 234 new cases, for a total of 1,486. Maryland said it had 325, bringing its total to 1,986, according to The Post's tally. The District - which is now reporting test results in the mornings - reported 91 cases, for a total of 590 known cases. 

Two more District firefighters have tested positive for the coronavirus, the fire department said Wednesday, bringing the number of firefighters with the virus to 21. Twelve District police officers, and one civilian member of the department, have also tested positive.

District Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said 80 of the District's patients have been hospitalized, about 14 percent. Nesbitt said those who have been hospitalized trend older, with an average age of 59, even though half of the District's patients are 40 or younger. About a quarter of the patients - 142 - have recovered so far.

The surge in cases has been expected, as testing capacity grows. The number of cases also does not show a current snapshot in time because it takes around a week to process many test results, and infected people may take as long as two weeks to develop symptoms.

But the escalating death toll illustrates concerns among health experts that the region is heading into the darkest period of the crisis. 

Virginia reported six new deaths Wednesday, with three in Fairfax County. Maryland reported 11 additional deaths, four of them in Montgomery County.

The District said it has two new covid-19 fatalities. One of them was a 71-year-old woman who died Tuesday inside her home in Southeast Washington - the fourth covid-19 victim in the city who wasn't tested or hospitalized before their death.

Though District officials want residents to stay at home as much as possible, "any individual who is demonstrating a sign or symptom of covid-19, or not in their usual state of health, should call their health care provider and get advice as to what should be done," Nesbitt said.

As the death toll mounts, the identities of some of the victims are becoming public: A military veteran who worked with his wife at an arts center in the Maryland suburbs. A longtime youth mentor from outside Richmond. 

Hogan tweeted that he'd lost a "good friend, fellow Marylander and all-around great guy" in Jerry Manley, a retired Prince George's County police detective who was an advocate for the Special Olympics.

Wednesday also marked the first day of April, when rent and other bills were due as the crisis continued to tighten its grip on the region's economy. With several thousand residents laid-off after the closure of dine-in restaurants, gyms, hair salons and other "nonessential" businesses, area officials worked to provide assistance.

Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, a Democrat, announced the launch of a public-private relief fund to help small businesses. 

The Prince George's County Council approved $10 million in funding from the county's Economic Development Corporation in its virtual meeting, and $5 million in relief funding will come from local banks and private groups.

"These resources will be critical to help sustain our business and nonprofit communities as we weather this storm," Alsobrooks said in a statement. "Coronavirus will not have the final say, and we will continue leveraging all of our resources and partnerships to ensure we can make it through this unprecedented crisis together."

Applications will open April 13. Small businesses will be able to apply for loans of up to $100,000 and grant funding of up to $10,000.

The Economic Development Corporation will host a webinar Thursday at 9 a.m. to update the business community on the relief fund and other resources. District officials said they received about 6,000 applications for grants from a $25 million local business relief fund by the Wednesday deadline.

Bowser said she will "probably" make an announcement in the next two weeks on whether District school closures would continue past April 24. 

"It will all be driven by our ability to show in the city that we have decreasing infection in our city," the mayor said in a call with community leaders.


Virginia has shut down in-person classes for the rest of the academic school year, while Maryland's school closures also extend through April 24.

In Virginia, Northam emphasized the need for residents to follow the stay-at-home order he issued on Monday, acknowledging that it will cause short-term hardship but saying it's necessary to keep the coronavirus from spreading at a greater rate.

"The sooner we can put this crisis behind us the sooner our lives will return to normal and the sooner our economy will rebound," he said, adding that "I want Virginians to be realistic in their expectations. You need to know the truth, no sugarcoating."

The governor said the state received its third shipment of personal protective equipment (PPE) from the national stockpile on Wednesday, including face shields, gowns and masks.

"But we need more," he said. "We continue to work all available options," including putting pressure on companies located in the state to help produce the protective gear.

Northam said he will decide Friday where to build temporary hospital facilities to care for virus patients. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has identified several possible sites.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and 24 other Democratic senators sent a letter to Senate leaders urging them to allocate a greater portion of the recently approved $2 trillion federal stimulus package to the District.

The letter, addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., says the District deserves at least the minimum $1.25 billion guaranteed to each state. In its current form, the relief package treats the District like a U.S. territory, cutting its share by about $700 million.

"Regardless of one's views on D.C. Statehood, it is shameful and unprecedented to change the District's treatment in a bill to provide support for emergency response," the letter says. "Controlling the spread of covid-19 is a shared priority of all the states, and drastically underfunding an urban area that is closely connected to its surrounding states and the Northeast Corridor is shortsighted and inexcusable."




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