D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Monday became the latest regional leader to suggest residents consider self-quarantine and to raise the prospect of closing schools, following the emergence of the District’s first confirmed cases of the disease caused by coronavirus over the weekend.
The District confirmed its first and second COVID-19 cases this past weekend and as a result is recommending self-quarantine for visitors of Christ Church in Georgetown and closed the School Without Walls on Monday as a precaution.
In Maryland there are five now confirmed cases, four of which are in Montgomery County, and in Virginia there are three presumptive positive cases, one of whom is in Fairfax County who state officials say poses low risk to the general public. As testing expands, experts say the local numbers are virtually certain to go up in the coming days.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has declared a state of emergency allowing him to waive any costs associated with testing for COVID-19.
At his own briefing on Maryland’s preparations Monday, Mr. Hogan urged older and ailing state residents to stay home as much as possible and announced that all out-of-state travel for state employees was being canceled.
State agencies should also notify workers that they may soon be required to work remotely, Mr. Hogan said.
Miss Bowser said local officials are facing a “fluid situation,” telling a Monday press briefing that the city is focused on “keeping D.C. residents safe and following the science.”
She urged city residents “to stay at home if they are sick, to call ahead to a health care provider if they develop symptoms of COVID-19 which include fever, cough and shortness of breath.”
Later on Monday, Miss Bowser formally directed $1 million from the city’s Contingency Cash Reserve Fund to purchase personal protective equipment and other necessary supplies and resources for first responders and front-line staff.
There are a number of major public events this spring, topped by the Cherry Blossom Festival, one of the city’s biggest annual tourist draws. Miss Bowser said Monday she expects the festival will take place as planned, although the list of national and international gatherings that have been called off is growing by the day.
Although there is no evidence of anyone who presented with symptoms traveling on public transportation, Metro officials are conducting daily cleanings, monitoring absenteeism among the workforce and increasing stocks of hospital-grade disinfectant.
The D.C. Department of Health (DOH) is urging anyone, whether they are feeling sick or healthy, who visited Christ Church on Feb. 24 or between the dates of Feb. 28 and March 3 to self-quarantine for 14 days since the last time they were at the church.
Senior Deputy Director of DOH Anjali Talwalkar said several hundreds of people had interactions with the Rev. Timothy Cole, the first confirmed case in the District, during those dates, but would not specify whether he had given communion to people.
The second confirmed case is a man who traveled from Nigeria, spent the night in the District, and then admitted himself to a hospital in Maryland where he tested positive for the virus, Miss Bowser confirmed at the press conference.
While he was in the District, he stayed in a house with three other individuals who have all since been tested for the virus and received negative results. One of the three individuals is a School Without Walls staff member.
Although officials said there was no immediate risk to staff and students, Miss Bowser decided to close certain schools on Monday to allow for a deep clean and to give school administration adequate time to communicate with families.
D.C. International School and Mundo Verde Public Charter School also announced Monday closures for deep cleaning as a precaution.
Miss Bowser pointed to the city’s Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act which requires employers to give employees, excluding restaurant and bar workers and independent contractors, sick leave, when asked about residents who might not be able to take off from work for a quarantine.
“We don’t see it as a ‘nice to’ it’s a ‘must to’ if you have been exposed you need to self quarantine,” Miss Bowser said, recognizing that there will be hardships.
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