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Covid-19 death toll passes 1,000 in region, and Scripps National Spelling Bee is canceled

Health workers administer a coronavirus test at a drive-through testing site Tuesday in Washington. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
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The covid-19 death toll in the District, Maryland and Virginia sailed past 1,000 Tuesday, and the finals of the National Spelling Bee were canceled for the first time since World War II, as the coronavirus pandemic continued to punish life and culture in and around the nation’s capital.

In all, 102 new virus fatalities were reported.

Maryland added 71, bringing its confirmed count to 659. Virginia reported 24, increasing the death toll to 327. The District disclosed another seven dead, bringing the total to 112.

The region has now lost 1,098 people to the highly contagious virus.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee finals are the latest local tradition to fall to concerns about the virus, following the canceled National Cherry Blossom Festival, Opening Day for the World Series champion Washington Nationals, and countless school graduations, family reunions and other special events.

The Bee, normally held at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, tweeted its regrets but said “there is no clear path to . . . a new date in 2020.”

In a solemn reminder of the human toll of the pandemic, about 30 registered nurses gathered near the White House to read the names of health-care workers who have died fighting the coronavirus and demand more personal protective equipment.

“Let us remember . . . the ultimate sacrifice these nurses paid,” said Melody Jones of the National Nurses United union. “We commit ourselves to fight like hell for the living.”

The rise in local deaths was expected, with officials still waiting to see if drastic social distancing measures have halted new infections. In general, people who contract the virus can take two weeks or more to develop symptoms, and more serious complications often develop a week or two after that.

The District, Maryland and Virginia reported 1,327 new positive coronavirus test results Tuesday, bringing the regional total to nearly 27,000. Those figures are almost certainly an undercount because of delays in reporting test results and a shortage in testing kits, leaving many people with no symptoms or mild symptoms in the dark about their viral status.

Officials said they want to see two weeks of declining new infections before lifting covid-19 restrictions. Daily increases in new cases have been fairly stable for the past week.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said Tuesday that the city is having “lower levels of infection than we expected, but we continue to see growing cases.”

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Bowser reminded residents to stay at home if they feel sick, so they don’t infect others, and urged anyone who thinks they have contracted the virus to go to one of the 10 testing sites in the city. She said residents also need to wear masks at grocery stores so as not to affect store workers and others.

The city will follow a judge’s orders to make improvements at St. Elizabeths Hospital and the city jail, Bowser said. Changes will include better training at the jail for using personal protective equipment and more “entertainment options” so inmates are not crowded around one television.

Bowser said police are enforcing social distancing, and 23 businesses have been cited for opening when they were not essential. No one has been arrested, she said.

“D.C. residents and business have made tremendous sacri­fices,” she said.

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) continued sparring with President Trump over testing capacity, saying the president appeared misinformed Monday evening when he criticized the state’s purchase of 500,000 virus tests from South Korea.

“The president seemed to be a little confused yesterday in his news conference,” Hogan said on ABC’s “The View,” his third national media appearance of the morning. “I have no idea what set him off.”

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Testing shortages have stymied the country’s ability to contain the virus and throttled how quickly the economy can reopen once cases abate. Hogan said the state’s $9 million purchase was in line with Trump’s wishes for states to be “stepping up.”

Hogan renewed another criticism he’s leveled at Trump, saying the president is contradicting his own guidance when he encourages people to protest stay-at-home orders.

“It’s unhelpful,” he said on “The View,” echoing a statement by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Monday. “It doesn’t make any sense, the mixed messaging we’re getting out of the president.”

Hogan reiterated plans to release a framework this week for restarting Maryland’s economy, and said he empathizes with protesters and people who have lost paychecks amid the epidemic.

“There’s a lot of economic pain out there,” he said. “It’s twin problems happening at the same time.”

In Prince George’s County, which has been hit especially hard by the virus, “approximately 17 inmates” and 21 staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus at the Prince George’s County detention center, an official said Tuesday.

A federal lawsuit was filed against the detention center Tuesday, seeking improved conditions and the release of medically vulnerable inmates.

The number of covid-19 cases also continues to rise inside Maryland state prisons, with 39 inmates and 107 correctional officers having tested positive for the virus, officials said Tuesday. The prison system has reported one death: an inmate from the Jessup Correctional Institution, who was in his 60s and had underlying health issues.

Jessup has the highest number of cases, with 15 inmates and 16 correctional officers having tested positive. At Dorsey Run Correctional Facility, also in Jessup, four inmates and 15 correctional officers have tested positive. Ten inmates and 20 correctional officers have tested positive at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup. And one inmate and 24 correctional officers have tested positive at the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center in Baltimore.

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In Montgomery County, lawmakers introduced legislation for a $2 million appropriation to protect tenants from eviction. The funding will go toward efforts to end homelessness, including a short-term rental subsidy program, emergency eviction prevention and housing stabilization initiatives.

“In 10 days, rent is going to be due for the 130,000 renter households here in Montgomery County,” said County Council member Evan Glass (D-At Large). “And while we’re all trying to maintain our health and safety, the last thing we want anybody to worry about is being forced out of their homes.”

Lawmakers have called on Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) to expand the eligibility criteria for rental assistance programs and create a multilingual hotline within the housing stabilization unit to field questions from residents.

Hogan has issued a temporary halt on all evictions, but local tenant advocates say this has not stopped landlords from sending out threats of future evictions or “notices to vacate,” which are not legally enforceable but have caused tenants distress.

Some landlords have also tried to raise rent in recent weeks, said Matt Losak, executive director of the Montgomery Renters Alliance. In response, county lawmakers introduced the Renter Relief Act, which would prohibit rent hikes during states of emergency.

The council is set to vote on both the proposed legislation and the supplemental appropriation next week.

Erin Cox, Dana Hedgpeth, Justin Jouvenal, Marissa Lang, Dan Morse and Rebecca Tan contributed to this report.

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