Earlier in the day, the mayor said the city’s coronavirus death toll was a sobering reminder “that this pandemic has forever changed families and communities.” She declared Wednesday a citywide day of remembrance, calling on houses of worship to honor the memories of residents who died.
“Even when the pandemic ends, for many, the pain and loss will still be there,” Bowser said.
Ward 8, which includes some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods and has a majority-Black population, has recorded the most deaths. Across the District, Black residents account for 75 percent of virus-related deaths despite being 46 percent of the population. More than half of victims were older than 70, although 26 people between ages 20 and 39 have died. Among the dead, 25 were homeless.
Bowser also ordered flags on city property to fly at half-staff through this week to remember the 500,000 people nationwide who have lost their lives.
The District reported its first case of the coronavirus on March 7. Since then, nearly 40,000 people, or about 6 in every 100 residents, have tested positive. Virus-related deaths have declined steadily in the wake of a post-holiday surge, but on Wednesday, three new deaths — two in Ward 4 and one in Ward 5 — brought the city’s toll to 1,001.
Two of these latest victims were Black and one was Latino. They were in their 60s and 70s.
The city released guidance more than 10 months ago saying its most severe estimate of deaths from the pandemic would be more than 1,000. Months before the vaccine will probably be readily available to all residents, however, the toll is expected to keep climbing past the benchmark, experts say.
“These beautiful souls who passed were grandparents, parents, siblings, cousins, neighbors, classmates, colleagues, friends and loved ones,” Bowser said. “Today, we pray for the lives lost and send our love to every person and family impacted by this virus and commit ourselves to continuing to work together.”
Maryland and Virginia each have reported more than 7,500 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Deaths in Virginia have been spiking in recent days because of a lag in processing death certificates, state health officials said, but case numbers have continued to trend downward.
Despite the death toll milestone in the District, caseloads across the Washington region have continued to fall, and more residents are receiving the vaccine.
In light of the falling infections, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Wednesday lifted some restrictions on mass gatherings, marking one of the area’s most significant moves toward reopening since a winter surge in cases. Among other changes, Northam expanded the number of people who can gather outdoors from 10 to 25 and allowed outdoor entertainment venues to operate at 30 percent capacity.
“We do not want to risk our progress by easing restrictions too quickly,” Northam said, noting that more people are getting vaccinated and variants of the virus are spreading. “We’re at a dangerous but very hopeful moment, hoping we can spread vaccinations faster than the variants. And I believe that we can.”
Starting Monday, alcohol in the state can be sold until midnight, beyond the current deadline of 10 p.m. Northam also removed a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew but encouraged residents to return home at that hour.
Outdoor entertainment venues can operate at 30 percent capacity with a cap of 1,000 people, expanding from the current limit of 250 people. If trends continue, Northam said, the state plans to remove the 1,000-person cap for outdoor venues by April.
“We know that the spread of covid cases occurs when people are in close proximity indoors where the ventilation is not as good,” he said. “With the weather starting to break, we really encourage people to get outdoors.”
By April, Northam predicted, about half the state’s population will be vaccinated or have some immunity in the form of antibodies that protect them from the virus. Almost 1.2 million residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine as the state’s allotment of doses is increasing, according to Washington Post tracking.
“We’re in a more hopeful place right now,” Northam said.
In Montgomery County, Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction, officials said they probably will expand vaccine eligibility at county-run clinics to residents 65 and older and include certain groups of essential workers within two weeks. While Maryland authorized those in priority group 1C to sign up for vaccinations weeks ago, Montgomery has opted to more stringently stick to prioritization guidelines, reserving its limited supply of the vaccine for health-care workers and those at least 75 years old.
The county’s next phase of vaccine distribution will include transit workers, child-care workers and grocery workers, said head of emergency management Earl Stoddard. Collectively, however, these groups represent about 190,000 residents.
“Just because you’re in this grouping doesn’t mean that there will be a vaccination available for you on the first day,” Stoddard said at news briefing. “We just want to set that expectation up.”
Montgomery County Health Officer Travis Gayles said that while it’s too early to lift major restrictions in the county, officials are expanding surveillance of contagious coronavirus variants to strategize for how to approach reopening safely.
Compared with last summer, Stoddard said the county expects to take a more “regimented” approach to lifting restrictions, which will involve easing fewer rules at a time but doing so more frequently, such as in two-week increments. That strategy will allow the county to more meticulously monitor changes in case rates and identify activities that might be contributing to infections, he said.
“When you put a lot of things together, you’re not able to assess which activity needs more attention,” Stoddard added.