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The number of new coronavirus infections across the greater Washington region jumped to a two-month high Wednesday as D.C.’s top health official said small social gatherings are helping to fuel the virus’s spread.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases across Virginia, Maryland and the District stood at 1,801 — the highest since the average hit 1,916 cases Aug. 13. The increase has coincided with cooler temperatures and an outbreak at the White House, although local health officials say any connection to a late-
September Rose Garden event is unclear.

Among patients who contracted the novel coronavirus in D.C. in the first week of October, nearly a quarter had attended a social gathering of at least five people in the two weeks before they got sick, city Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said Wednesday. One out of 5 had eaten at a restaurant.

Nesbitt provided some of the most detailed information yet on what contact tracers have learned about the sources of coronavirus infection in the nation’s capital.

She said about 17 percent of patients had recently traveled outside the Washington area before testing positive for the virus, and nearly 22 percent reported going to work. The most common type of work for those who tested positive was in the health-care industry.

Nesbitt said work, travel, restaurant dining and socializing are the four most concerning types of activities that health officials are noticing, but she added that almost half of the 374 patients in the sample reported doing none of those four activities.

That doesn’t mean half the patients stayed home, she said. They might have shopped at a grocery store, met in person with one or two friends, worshiped in church, worked out at the gym or gotten a manicure.

About 6 percent of patients reported worshiping at a faith activity, and 6 percent also reported a “personal care” activity such as a haircut. Nesbitt said both of those numbers were higher in early October than at any other point during the pandemic.

Contact tracers do not ask those who visited restaurants whether they ate indoors or outdoors, she said, but they do ask details about the social gatherings that patients attended. Nesbitt said about half the gatherings included five to 10 people, while 20 percent had more than 20 attendees.

Health officials in Maryland and Virginia have also said small social gatherings are helping to fuel an increase in the virus’s spread. Experts have cautioned for weeks that colder weather could boost infections as outdoor activities become less appealing and people gather indoors.

Virginia’s rolling seven-day average of new infections jumped to 1,131 on Wednesday — the state’s highest since Aug. 9 — while Maryland’s average of 608 cases was that state’s highest average since Sept. 18.

The average daily caseload in Northern Virginia, which stands at 269 cases, peaked Wednesday at its highest level since mid-June. In Maryland, the rate of infection is mostly steady in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, although Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties have seen an uptick in cases.

D.C.’s average daily caseload has hovered at an elevated rate for about a week, standing at 62 on Wednesday — up from 36 to start the month.

Nesbitt declined to say how many of the city’s recent cases are linked to the White House outbreak but said any White House employee who might be included in the data would be among the 21 percent who reported going to their workplace. The D.C. numbers include only city residents.

In Maryland, state officials said an employee at the Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) in Prince George’s County died of the coronavirus, and four other workers in the department’s Largo branch office have tested positive.

Whitney Nichels, a Maryland MVA spokeswoman, said the agency was notified of the first case Oct. 5. Officials were also told about the most recent case of an employee testing positive Oct. 10.

“We are deeply saddened to share that one of those employees has since passed away,” Nichels said in a statement. “We have been in contact with that team member’s family, and grief counselors are being arranged for staff at the Largo branch office as we get through this tragedy together as an MDOT MVA family.”

Nichels said the branch office, which assists the public with driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations, has been cleaned and disinfected twice in the past two weeks, once Oct. 5 and again Tuesday.

The state confirmed the death and the additional coronavirus cases after the union representing state workers made the outbreak public. Union officials said the administration of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) did not notify workers of the positive cases and failed to protect them. Nichels said contact-tracing is underway and that employees who had interactions with the infected co-workers are in quarantine.

“My heart goes out to our members who are dealing with this crisis,” Mildred Womble, the AFSCME MVA local president and Council 3 executive vice president, said in a statement. “This was all preventable if management had taken the safety of their employees seriously.”

Walter Powell, who works as a customer agent and serves as shop steward, said he has been in quarantine because he was in contact with a worker who tested positive.

Powell said he found out about the death of his colleague on Facebook and notified his manager.

“We service the public,” he said. “How many people have been in contact with [the agent who died] and the other workers?”

The Largo branch has 76 employees, Nichels said, which means nearly 7 percent of the staff has contracted the virus in recent weeks.

The greater Washington region Wednesday reported 1,444 additional coronavirus cases and 20 deaths. Virginia added 805 cases and nine deaths, Maryland added 575 cases and 10 deaths, and the District added 64 cases and one death.

While caseloads have risen across the region this month, the rolling seven-day average death toll has held steady at about 20 daily virus-related fatalities.