D.C. extends public health emergency until end of 2020

The District has extended its public health emergency to the end of the year, and is urging people who attended recent White House events to get tested for COVID-19.

The D.C. Health Department, with nine other local agencies, released Thursday an open letter calling on people who attended the Supreme Court announcement in the Rose Garden in late September or have worked in the White House over the past two weeks to take coronavirus precautions.

“Given the growing numbers of positive COVID cases reported from staff working in and near the White House, people who attended the event hosted by the White House on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, and our preliminary understanding that there has been limited contact tracing performed to date, there may be other staff and residents at risk for exposure to COVID positive individuals,” the letter says, recommending individuals get tested and contact their local health departments for instruction about possibly isolating themselves.

Several people who attended the White House Rose Garden ceremony later tested positive, prompting conjectures that the event was a “super-spreader event.”

Last week, President Trump and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the coronavirus. Mr. Trump was sent to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a few days, where he received an experimental antibody cocktail treatment and anti-viral drugs. On Monday evening, the president left the hospital. Since then, a number of White House staffers have also tested positive for the disease including top advisers Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller, and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

The open letter says that people identified as close contacts but test negative must still quarantine themselves for 14 days from the date of exposure.

Along with the District, health officers from the city of Alexandria and Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Charles, Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties signed the letter.

D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt earlier this week reached an official at the White House medical office to discuss the outbreak response after multiple contact attempts, WTOP reported.

Following reports of positive cases, White House deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern on Wednesday described the in-house contact tracing process to reporters.

“We look back 48 hours to find people who may have been within 6 feet [of an infected person] for at least 15 minutes. And the purpose is to mitigate further transmission of the virus, correct? It’s not to go back and identify patients zero. I understand that people are very curious about that. I’m curious, too,” Mr. Morgenstern said, according to The Associated Press. “It’s sort of an unknowable question as to where it entered the environment.”

For months, the White House has flouted D.C. virus regulations by hosting gatherings that have exceeded the 50-person limit and where many participants didn’t wear face coverings. Regulations for the District don’t apply on federal property.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Wednesday extended the city’s public health emergency until Dec. 31, saying that while coronavirus transmission is at reduced levels, infection rates in Virginia and Maryland are higher.

“Due to our porous borders, the regional situation affects the necessity to continue the state of emergency,” the mayor’s order says.

As of Thursday, the District reported 15,765 COVID-19 infections and 634 deaths. In Maryland, COVID-19 has sickened 129,425 residents and killed 3,835. In Virginia, health department data show that 155,535 residents have tested positive for the virus and 3,328 have died.

Although the District is staying in phase two of reopening, city officials are easing restrictions, allowing recreation centers to open back up next week and for some students to return to school in November.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan last week approved all child care centers across the state to operate at full capacity. However, Montgomery County officials this week said the county is not moving to phase three of child care programs due to a “continued high percentage of new cases in the zero to 19-year-old age group.”

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who tested positive for coronavirus at the end of September, lifted restrictions in the eastern region of the state, allowing localities in Hampton Roads to join the rest of the commonwealth in phase three of reopening last month. The governor, who is isolating at home, said Monday that he developed some mild coldlike symptoms last weekend but is feeling good.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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