Deborah Birx, lead coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said Friday that Maryland, Virginia and the District lead the country in the percentage of positive test results for the virus and despite their quarantine measures have not seen the decline in infections seen in other states.
Birx said she has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to work with officials in the District — as well as in Chicago and Los Angeles, which are similarly not seeing declines — “to really understand where these new cases are coming from and what do we need to do to prevent them in the future.”
She said 42 states now have a positive test rate under 10 percent on a rolling, seven-day average but that Maryland, Virginia and the District have not seen their rates drop. The D.C. region, which includes Northern Virginia and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland, has the highest rate of positive coronavirus tests among the country’s metro areas, she said.
“This is so you can all make your decisions about going outside and social distancing,” she told reporters in the White House briefing room. “You can see the top three states are Maryland, the District and Virginia.”
A spokeswoman for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) did not dispute Birx’s assessment, saying the numbers highlight how Northern Virginia has been hit harder by the virus than the rest of the state.
As of May 18, Virginia reported that 14.7 percent of all tests statewide were coming back positive on a seven-day moving average. For Northern Virginia that figure was 24.6 percent, while it was just 10 percent for the rest of the state, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
“As Governor Northam has made clear, Northern Virginia and the greater Washington area face unique challenges—that’s why Northern Virginia localities remain under a Stay at Home order,” Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in a text message.
Northam authorized most of Virginia to begin reopening last Friday, but excluded three areas that had asked to remain under tighter restrictions because of persistently high numbers of infections and deaths: Northern Virginia, the city of Richmond and Accomack County on the Eastern Shore, where poultry processing factories have been a hot spot for the coronavirus. The stricter shutdown remains in effect until at least May 28 in those places.
A spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Birx’s comments don’t come as a surprise, given that Hogan has repeatedly said the D.C. metro region had the potential to become the nation’s next hot spot.
“The governor said early on that the capital region would be a hots pot for covid-19, and the D.C. metro counties have been a substantial focus of our public health response, receiving the most testing and most new hospital surge capacity,” Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci said.
Based on the numbers of hospitalizations and available ICU beds, Hogan announced a partial reopening of the state on May 15, permitting houses of worship and certain businesses, including barbershops, art galleries and car washes to reopen their doors. The governor left it up to local officials to decide whether they were ready to reopen, allowing them to opt out of implementing his plan.
The state’s largest and hardest-hit jurisdictions — Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, both bordering the District — opted out. About 60 percent of Maryland residents live in areas that have not fully implemented Hogan’s reopening plans, but local leaders have indicated they are moving closer toward lifting more restrictions.
Officials in the administration of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) did not immediately respond to requests for comment.