D.C., White House officials begin talks on contact-tracing efforts after outbreak

Bowser (D) on Wednesday said the White House and D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt discussed contact tracing Tuesday, although it wasn’t clear what action might emerge from the talks.

“I can tell you that Dr. Nesbitt asked them about their processes. She shared with them our capabilities and how we could be supportive, as well, and I suspect that that dialogue will continue,” she said.

Bowser said Monday the city reached out to the White House last week about the outbreak but had received no response.

Asked Wednesday about the outbreak that involves more than a dozen people — including President Trump, first lady Melania Trump, several aides and journalists — Bowser said officials are “concerned about the spread of covid-19 in our city, regardless of where it happened.”

She encouraged anyone who works at the White House who thinks they might have been exposed to the virus to get tested at a city-operated testing location, a private doctor or through the White House.

“All D.C. residents should recognize that D.C. Health protects their information, and so D.C. Health will not talk about a specific White House staffer to anybody,” Bowser said.

In a phone call Wednesday with members of the D.C. Council, Nesbitt said she expects to have more discussions with White House officials about the outbreak.

“They have clarified for us what their contact-tracing process is, and our conversations will continue to be ongoing to ensure that we are getting all of the information that is necessary and the contact tracing and testing infrastructure is sufficient to capture everything that needs to be done,” she said.

During the call, Nesbitt noted that of 246 recent interviews with D.C. residents who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, 22 percent contracted it at a workplace, 13 percent while traveling, 19 percent at a restaurant and 22 percent at a social gathering.

The Rose Garden event Sept. 26 suspected of being at the center of the outbreak came as D.C.’s seven-day rolling average of new cases dropped below 40 this month, the lowest since early July. The rolling average of new cases stood at 53 on Wednesday — the highest since Sept. 17 — stemming mostly from a one-day spike Tuesday of 105 additional cases.

The 45 new D.C. cases announced Wednesday was near the city’s recent average, while the 1,014 new daily cases reported across the greater Washington region was the lowest since Sept. 28.

D.C. officials have said Tuesday’s jump could be the result of a backlog of more than 8,000 coronavirus test results the city recently received on a single day, rather than having any White House connection. Health officials said they are looking for trends in new infections but have warned against drawing conclusions after a single-day increase.

The growing spotlight on the White House outbreak has led to a rise in residents seeking coronavirus tests this week, with numbers up at the city’s free testing sites.

Local leaders and the region’s Democratic congressional delegation sent a letter Tuesday urging the White House to conduct contact tracing and take additional health precautions to halt the outbreak.

Local leaders have said there’s no indication of a wider outbreak in the region tied to the White House. Virginia Department of Health officials said Wednesday that they weren’t aware of any positive cases in the state connected to the outbreak, while Maryland health officials said they wouldn’t disclose such information.

Officials in Maryland’s Montgomery County on Wednesday urged residents who work in the White House or U.S. Capitol, or who attended the Rose Garden ceremony, to get tested for the coronavirus.

County health officer Travis Gayles said the state’s most populous jurisdiction expects to see an increase in people getting tested and “may very well see an increase in cases secondary to those exposures.”

“We do know that over the weekend, we did have a number of folks reach out to the state and to the local jurisdiction asking where they could get tested, particularly related to rapid tests,” he said during a news conference.

County Executive Marc Elrich (D) said it’s unclear how many people connected to the White House or the Rose Garden event live in Montgomery County or have traveled to the suburb since they were possible exposed to the virus.

“I don’t know how this will transpire,” he said. “Obviously a bunch of people got infected and didn’t know about it for a while . . . who knows what happens in their homes and communities.”

In Washington, the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration said Wednesday that it is investigating after the president retweeted a video that appears to depict patrons of a D.C. bar violating the city’s social distancing guidelines.

The video appears to show three D.C. police officers walking into Harry’s Pub, about one block from Trump International Hotel downtown. The officers are wearing masks, although few patrons have face coverings as they stand and applaud the officers while chanting “back the blue.”

Jared J. Powell, a spokesman for the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, said in an email Wednesday that the “matter has been assigned for investigation.” A person who answered the phone at Harry’s declined to comment, and no one responded to an email sent to the business.

In addition to the 1,014 new reported infections Wednesday, the greater Washington region recorded 19 new virus-related fatalities. Virginia had 509 new cases and 12 deaths, and Maryland had 460 new cases and six deaths, while D.C. had 45 new cases and one death.

The seven-day rolling average of new coronavirus infections across Virginia, Maryland and D.C. stood at 1,390 cases Wednesday, ticking slightly downward this week after small increases last week.

Erin Cox, Antonio Olivo and Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.

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