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The number of recorded coronavirus cases in the Washington region continued to spike Sunday, with Maryland and Virginia announcing the largest single-day increases, additional deaths reported and fresh warnings to stop mass gatherings, including visits to see the Tidal Basin’s cherry blossoms.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) emphasized the likely long duration of the pandemic and suggested schools may need to be closed for an extended period.

“It is clear from talking daily to our public health officials that covid-19 is going to be with us for a long time — months, not weeks,” Northam said in a briefing.

In the nation’s capital, D.C. officials announced further restrictions to limit public access to the Tidal Basin, including barring pedestrian and bicycle traffic near the basin and deploying police and D.C. National Guard to enforce a restricted access zone. Police had closed streets in the area as large crowds gathered to view the flowers in peak bloom.

“This virus is no joke,” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said in a CNN appearance earlier Sunday. “Gathering in big crowds in the Tidal Basin makes us all unsafe in D.C., Virginia and Maryland. So, stay at home and view the cherry blossoms this year, virtually.”

A spokesman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said the governor would announce “additional actions” Monday morning to try to slow infection rates.

Efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus are already affecting public transit in the region. Starting Tuesday, Metro will require all Metrobus riders to board using the buses’ rear doors, making rides essentially free, according to a letter to employees, which also outlined a reduced service schedule.

Families are already feeling the pain as they lose their jobs or are furloughed after the coronavirus crisis forced many businesses to shut down. (The Washington Post)

Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said he is hoping to provide riders with reduced but steady service after a week of drastic cutbacks and sudden shifts that left some people stranded.

The overall tally of known covid-19 cases for the region rose to 586 on Sunday. There were 221 known cases in Virginia, 245 in Maryland and 120 in the District, in addition to eight related deaths.

Maryland health officials reported the death of a Montgomery County woman in her 40s, the youngest person in the state to die of the virus and the first woman. The woman, who suffered from underlying medical conditions, was the third person to die in Maryland and the first covid-19 death in Montgomery County. She died unexpectedly, and an autopsy found that she had the virus.

D.C. officials announced the death of a 65-year-old woman, the second linked to covid-19 in the city. The woman died Saturday evening after she was admitted to a hospital with underlying health conditions, city officials said.

In Virginia, where schools are shut down for two weeks, Northam said he will consult with state education officials Monday and expects to issue further guidance about the length of the closure.

Northam declined to put a specific timeline on the crisis. Asked about persistent rumors that the state is considering a more restrictive lockdown of businesses and shelter-in-place orders for residents, Northam said: “We have a lot of options on the table.”

Said Northam: “I will assess what is going on in Virginia on a daily basis and make those decisions.”

Northam also called on hospitals and doctor’s offices to reschedule elective surgeries, and renewed his calls for residents to take the threat seriously by staying home, not going into crowds or holding gatherings.

“I also know that some people are not listening,” he said. “And I want you to know, you are putting every single one of us in Virginia at risk.”

If restaurants violate the ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, Northam said, localities need to shut them down.

“To our colleges and universities: no more fraternity parties,” he said. “And for everyone, social distancing does not mean congregating on a crowded beach. This is not a holiday. This is not a vacation.”

Virginia state epidemiologist Lilian Peake said one spot of good news was the increase in testing capacity and reporting from private labs, which she said contributed to the spike in Sunday’s number of new cases.

Defense Department officials announced the death of a ­Virginia-based contractor, the agency’s first from the virus. The contractor, a man in his 60s in Fairfax County, died Saturday while hospitalized. He worked inside the department’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency in Crystal City — the same agency where a U.S. Marine who was Virginia’s first known coronavirus patient works.

“Our condolences go out to his family, friends and co-workers and we thank the medical professionals who worked to save his life in the face of this virus,” the Defense Department said in a news release Sunday.

The man’s colleagues have been teleworking, according to officials, and the office at 12th and South Clark streets in Crystal City where he worked has been cleaned in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Also in Virginia, a worker at Fairfax County’s Merrifield Center for social services tested positive, county officials said Sunday. Nine other workers who were in contact with the employee have been asked to stay home and self-monitor for symptoms until April 2, Health Department officials said.

In a letter to workers at the county Community Services Board, which operates inside the Merrifield facility, Fairfax officials said the worker did not have contact with anyone at the Emergency Services unit, where a county psychiatrist resigned Friday over what he called inadequate measures to guard against infection.

“In our investigation, we have identified a small number of staff and clients who were at risk of exposure to COVID-19 while the infected person was ill,” the letter said. “The Health Department has contacted those individuals.”

In the District, a total of seven firefighters have tested positive for the coronavirus, the department said Sunday.

The department, which employs 2,044 firefighters across 33 stations, is screening its workers for signs and symptoms of illness when they arrive at work each day, including taking their temperatures. As of Saturday, 138 firefighters were in self-quarantine.

And, to make sure residents have clean water to properly wash their hands and clean, D.C. Water said Sunday that it will restore service to any disconnected resident upon request.

A spokesman said the utility has several hundred disconnected accounts, though not all are residential or occupied homes. The utility days earlier had halted disconnections for nonpayment.

“We intend to take every possible action to help District residents get through this difficult time,” Chief Executive David L. Gadis said in a news release. “I am fully committed to doing our part to help everyone have abundant access to clean water.”

Customers who need service restored should email restore@
or call 202-354-3750 starting at 8 a.m. Monday, the release said. Residents need to ensure all water fixtures are turned off during restoration.

Antonio Olivo, Hannah Natanson, Justin George, Steve Thompson, Ovetta Wiggins and Rebecca Tan contributed to this report.