Figures released Thursday indicate the city has reached three-quarters of newly infectious people for interviews about their activities and social exposures, but 58 percent were interviewed within three days of a positive test. Speedy interviews are essential to identify people exposed to the virus before they could spread it, experts say.
According to city officials, 37 percent of newly infected people provide contact information for the people they exposed. And on average, they provided information for one person.
LaQuandra Nesbitt, the city’s top public health official, said two reasons for the lower numbers include immigrants wary of providing information to government officials and people afraid of the “stigma” of being identified as the person who spread the virus.
“They’re worried that they’ve been out socializing with friends, they’ve been to happy hour, they went to a restaurant with people outside of their household, they showed up at the fundraiser that was less than 50 people, and they don’t want people to know that they’re the potential reason there could be an outbreak in their small social circle,” she said.
Nesbitt said contact tracers do not share who might have exposed a person, only that the person has been exposed and should self-isolate while monitoring for symptoms. She said the city is working on strategies to assuage concerns, such as testimonials from people who participated in contact tracing and had their information remain private.
“Participating in an interview itself is a social good, and we know people in D.C. like to generate social good,” Nesbitt said.
In Maryland’s Anne Arundel County, which launched a robust contact tracing system in early March, health officials said Thursday that contact tracers have had greater success in reaching newly infectious residents and obtaining information.
Health Officer Nilesh Kalyanaraman said that over the past three months, contact tracers have reached 91 percent of newly infectious residents within 24 hours of a positive test.
“We set a 24-hour turnaround as a performance measure and we’re meeting it,” Kalyanaraman said.
Of those who were interviewed during that time, 60 percent provided tracers with at least one contact who might have been exposed. Kalyanaraman said contact tracers tend to receive less information when completing an interview with a person who might have been exposed, rather than someone who already has tested positive.
“The people who are positive, they will talk to you; that’s not our problem,” he said.
In D.C., Nesbitt’s comments Thursday came as Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) gave a presentation on the state of the coronavirus half a year after the city confirmed its first case.
Infections are far below the worst-case projection of 93,000 the city disclosed in April, with about 15,000 confirmed cases to date. Hospital overflow space was never used, a sign the city prevented the health-care system from being overwhelmed.
“The virus has underperformed in this city because of willingness of people to adhere to the public health guidance, so we are grateful for that,” Bowser said. “We have been able to moderately contain the spread of the virus, but it’s still circulating, it’s still out there, people are still getting the virus, and people are still dying.”
The mayor also placed the onus on the public to help the city eliminate the virus threat.
Bowser said the city is approaching $1 billion in pandemic-related costs and that it has limited capacity to offer additional relief to businesses struggling to keep their doors open.
“We know we won’t be able to locally fill all of those gaps, and that’s why having real federal stimulus and sustained federal stimulus is what our businesses need,” she said.
The seven-day rolling average of new infections in D.C. stood at 54 on Thursday. That’s up from 40 one week ago, but well below the early-May peak of about 190 daily confirmed cases. The city averages about one virus-related death each day.
In a sign of a slow return to normalcy in the nation’s capital, the Smithsonian Institution’s American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Renwick Gallery will open Friday amid the gradual reopening of the world’s largest museum complex.
The Smithsonian made the announcement Monday, saying the successful reopening two months ago of the National Zoo and the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly gave it the confidence to reopen more museums. No staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said.
The greater Washington region on Thursday reported 1,779 new coronavirus infections and 44 additional deaths. Virginia had 1,101 new cases and 36 deaths; Maryland had 631 new cases and six deaths; D.C. had 47 new cases and two deaths.
Virginia’s death toll was well above average for a third consecutive day, lifting its seven-day average number of fatalities to 30 — up from eight to start the week. The state reported a record 96 deaths Tuesday, citing a reporting backlog that included deaths that occurred over the past month.
Virginia health officials said that backlog was also a factor in higher numbers Wednesday and Thursday, when 27 of the state’s 36 daily fatalities were attributed to the backlog.
In Maryland, the test positivity rate in Baltimore dropped below 2 percent for the first time. The rolling seven-day average positivity rate statewide stood at 3.3 percent.
Across the region, the average number of new infections stood at 1,679 on Thursday. That number has increased slightly in recent days but is mostly unchanged since late August.
While the economic fallout of the pandemic continues, the Labor Department announced Thursday that residents of Maryland, D.C. and Virginia filed 20,058 new unemployment claims for the week ending Sept. 7. That’s up slightly from 19,818 such claims a week earlier.
Dana Hedgpeth and Justin Moyer contributed to this report.