City To Close Day Care Centers and Ban Public Gatherings Over 250 & Over 10 for those at Risk
By Larry Janezich
Mayor Bowser and city officials held a press conference today to update residents on plans for mitigating the coronavirus outbreak and for continuing city operations.
On Monday, and lasting through March 31, the Department of Health will close most day care and all recreation centers. The city will also ban mass gatherings of 250 people or more and gatherings of 10 or more for people at risk – those over 60, those with chronic health conditions, and those with compromised immune systems.
There are some exceptions. The city is recruiting day care providers for the children of essential city employees and some near hospitals for the children of health care workers.
Exceptions for gatherings of 250 are restaurants with traditional seating for that number of diners, but the ban will apply to restaurant and banquet rooms. The ban also applies to theaters with seating for 250 or more but fewer than that will be ok.
Exceptions to the rule against gatherings of 10 or more at risk include the schools, workplace, healthcare facilities, and residential buildings. Senior centers will be asked to restrict activities. Related to the latter, guidance will be issued with respect to visiting care facilities.
Asked if social distancing applied to press conferences such as the one ongoing, Bowser replied that ideally a press conference would occur in the emergency operations center, but that could lead to someone infecting the response team. Her office is considering alternate ways to hold press conferences.
DC Public Libraries will close on Monday, March 16 and will reopen on Wednesday, April 1.
Testing – Doctors will decide when testing is necessary. Those with symptoms are directed to consult a doctor before visiting a healthcare facility. If the doctor thinks a test is justified a test can be done at a private lab which will share results – both positive and negative – with the doctor and the DC Department of Health. Currently, there are two major commercial labs accepting samples for testing. You do not need to go through the Department of Health for testing at a private lab.
Current guidelines for testing by the Department of Health remain in place. Patients must be referred by a doctor. Currently, the DOH testing capacity is 10 to 15 a day. The expected arrival of robotic equipment will enhance that capacity. At present, ten cases have tested positive, 49 tested negative, and 10 cases are pending. The Department of Health will track, compile, and post numbers of cases and results in the evenings.
Schools – Remote learning is being implemented Monday, March 16 through March 31, in the interest of the safety of children and staff. Students will not report to schools during that time. For those without computers or reliable Internet, hard copies of lessons can be picked up from the schools. Charter schools are advised to conform to this directive. Bowser asked parents to keep remote learning from being an opportunity for students congregating and stressed social distancing as part of the mitigation plan.
The District will provide meals to students on weekdays from Monday, March 16, through Tuesday, March 31, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Meal sites will be posted on coronavirus.dc.gov. (In Ward 6, meals will be available at Eastern High School and Jefferson Middle School.)
Essential City Services – Starting Monday, March 16, through Tuesday, March 31, the city government will operate under an agency-specific telework schedule. About 50% of the city workforce will work from home, portions of some city agencies will conduct operations with limited public interaction, and some agencies like public safety and public works agencies will be fully staffed. Normal operations will resume on Wednesday, April 1.
Emergency legislation – City Council Chair Phil Mendelson said that next Tuesday, the Counsel will pass emergency legislation which will not need Congressional approval to authorize a public health emergency for the next 45 days. The Council will work with the city’s chief financial officers to provide relief including tax deferral for businesses, relief for individuals, extension of licenses, and protection for evictions and utility disconnections.