Under any other circumstances, a shutdown of DC would sound like a small-government advocate’s dream. In the midst of a pandemic, though, it’s a nightmare for its residents and a blow to the morale of the nation. While governors have begun unlocking their states and started the process of allowing for public economic revival, the city’s Department of Health director will not allow the capital to reopen — for at least two months, and perhaps even three:
During an hourlong virtual town hall, Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the D.C. Department of Health, walked through a slide show on what she called a “most-stringent” and “less stringent” plan.
Under the most-stringent plan, which would be a worst-case scenario, D.C. would not be able to reopen for at least another three months, Nesbitt said.
Under the least-stringent plan, which would be a best-case scenario, the city would do a phased reopening, but that also would not begin for at least two months.
Why will DC take this long to follow suit? Washington DC mayor Muriel Bowser told CNN’s John Berman on Tuesday that the city is merely following the federal guidelines set by Trump and his COVID-19 team. The city has to see a 14-day decline in cases to start Phase 1, and that hasn’t happened yet:
“Former first lady Michelle Obama is going to do a robocall for us today to vulnerable populations in Washington, D.C., to ask them to pay attention to symptoms,” says Mayor @MurielBowser.https://t.co/hRXO1SAsON pic.twitter.com/Tf3GVXx63X
— New Day (@NewDay) April 28, 2020
Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) this week contradicted President Trump on the city’s progress in fighting the spread of the virus, saying she believed infections have not yet peaked in D.C.
“We’re looking at all of the information coming in from our scientists and medical experts,” Bowser told CNN’s “New Day” Tuesday. “And even looking to the guidelines put out by the White House corona[virus] task force would suggest that we have to have 14 days of declines in cases in our jurisdiction.”
The same day that Bowser made this argument, The Hill notes, Trump had cited DC as one of the hot spots that had recently seen improvement.
Reported cases still are rising, at least as tracked by Bing in its app. Note, however, that the rate of increase of confirmed cases is quite a bit faster than that of deaths. That’s due in part to deaths being a lagging indicator, but also to increased testing capabilities in DC and other parts of the US. We’re getting closer to a real denominator in testing, which means that the slope will continue upward for a while even if the spread has largely slowed. We aren’t seeing an apples-to-apples comparison yet on infection rates.
Even if this showed an accelerating spread, though, do health officials think it will take another two months for those lines to drop in the other direction as a best-case scenario? Even governors who are still gun-shy about ending their shelter-in-place orders are hedging their extensions and only going two weeks out, as Tim Walz announced today in Minnesota:
A statewide stay-at-home order will remain in place for at least another two weeks in Minnesota, as state health officials try to thread the needle between protecting the public from the COVID-19 pandemic and allowing businesses and the economy to resume.
Gov. Tim Walz was set in a 2 p.m. briefing on Thursday to announce the extension of the current stay-at-home order, which otherwise expires Monday, but with new flexibility allowing some retailers to reopen with curbside pickup or delivery for customers. …
The Minnesota Department of Health on Thursday reported another 492 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the total of known Minnesota cases to 5,136. Twenty-four more deaths were reported, with 343 fatalities so far. As of Wednesday, nearly 80% of all deaths have been among residents in nursing homes or assisted living facilities.
The need to get back to work exists in DC, too, and perhaps even more so due to its higher profile. The goal posts have moved in the capital, it seems, from “let’s take a pause until we resupply the hospitals” to “let’s hide out until the virus goes away.” The virus will never just “go away,” however, and we will have to find ways to live with it for some period of time until a vaccine is found — if it can be found at all. We need to protect the most vulnerable but also get those less vulnerable to start engaging in commerce again, and DC is no exception to that.
One has to assume that Trump will have something to say today about this recommendation. Those people whose businesses are collapsing in the Beltway might cheer him on if he does.