LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the D.C. health department, said in a call with reporters Sunday that data collected over the weekend shows that the number of cases linked to community spread — calculated by the date of symptom onset and excluding cases at confined facilities such as nursing homes — increased from a low of 68 on day 12 to 118 on day 13. This jump broke a 12-day streak of declines and meant the city had to “reset” to day 11, Nesbitt said.
She declined to say whether that means the city is reconsidering lifting restrictions on Friday, deferring questions to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who is expected to announce her decision Tuesday.
The District on Sunday recorded five deaths and 144 new infections, just above the seven-day average of 141.
“We’ll have to let the graph speak for itself,” Nesbitt said.
The city had eyed May 29 as the date to gradually begin reopening following the mayor’s lengthy stay-at-home order. The stay-at-home and business closure orders were scheduled to run through June 8.
As Virginia’s gradual reopening continued, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) was slammed on social media over the weekend after he appeared without a mask and up close with visitors in Virginia Beach.
Northam has encouraged Virginians to wear masks in public and indicated on Friday that he planned to issue a mask mandate this week, although it is not clear if that would apply to outdoor public spaces, such as parks or beaches.
Northam, a physician, has also urged social distancing, specifically staying at least six feet apart from others in public.
In photos that appeared on Twitter and Facebook, Northam stands elbow-to-elbow with a group of three people as they pose for a picture at the shore. In another, he takes a selfie with one woman. In another, he appears to be on the crowded beach boardwalk.
“Physician, heal thyself,” House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) tweeted.
Northam’s office initially noted the governor was outside and was not expecting to get close to anyone, but people recognized him and wanted to take pictures.
A spokeswoman later sent an updated statement acknowledging that the governor could have been better prepared for the crowd and had a mask.
“This is an important reminder to always have face coverings in case situations change — we are all learning how to operate in this new normal, and it’s important to be prepared,” said spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky.
Northam, who allowed rules on beaches to ease Friday in time for the Memorial Day holiday, had traveled to the beach “to make sure beach rules were being enforced,” Yarmosky said.
“While he was only there a short amount of time, most people he saw were observing the rules,” Yarmosky said. “He expects a more complete assessment of the situation at the conclusion of the weekend, and will continue to be in touch with city officials as they enforce their guidelines.”
Virginia began reopening May 15 with restaurants licensed for outdoor seating allowed to resume operations with limited capacity. Barber shops and beauty salons were also allowed to reopen with some restrictions. The reopening did not include Northern Virginia counties in the Washington suburbs, Richmond and Accomack County on the Eastern Shore, which has had an outbreak related to poultry processing plants.
The state added 12 new deaths Sunday, about half of its seven-day rolling average, and 495 new infections — the lowest number in more than a month. The number of patients hospitalized also dropped to 1,351, which is the lowest since April 21.
Virginia Beach Vice Mayor James Wood, who was with Northam when the photos were taken, said the governor was “mobbed by people who were happy to see him.”
“I don’t know what you can do when people run up to you,” Wood said. “I mean, you can’t push them away.”
Wood also said the photos being circulated online misrepresent the situation on the ground. He said he was at the boardwalk from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, and he “did not see a big crowd at all.”
“I’m not at all concerned,” he added. “I saw people social distancing, I saw people following the rules. . . . There was nothing inappropriate.”
The city monitors the beach with drones and surveillance cameras, Wood said, and when crowds have been identified, either police or the city’s 100 “beach ambassadors” have been able to ask visitors to voluntarily disperse.
Virginia Beach does not require residents to wear masks in outdoor locations, Wood noted, and most beachgoers Saturday, including himself, were not wearing them.
Wood said it is “always a concern” that Virginia Beach could experience a resurgence in infections, but that the city is ready to welcome visitors who agree to observe social distancing rules. “[Constituents] frankly want more restrictions lifted,” he said. “People want to see everything open.”
In Ocean City, large crowds of visitors, many of whom were not wearing masks, descended on the boardwalk Saturday. Images and video of the boardwalk crowd sparked a social media frenzy, with many commenters comparing the scene to a huge gathering of young people in Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, who also appeared to not be following social distancing guidelines.
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said he did not want to diminish safety concerns but said that some of the images shared Saturday did not accurately depict conditions on the boardwalk and that it looked more crowded than it was.
“It’s obviously challenging, because we have a lot of people who want to be out together, but when you’re on the boardwalk, you will see that people are not really up on each other,” he said Sunday. “People are trying to keep their distance, they’re not walking into each other, and they’re being courteous.”
Meehan said the city continues to monitor the crowds and insist that visitors follow social distancing guidelines. He said that “it would be nice” if more people on the boardwalk would wear masks but that visitors are wearing masks when they go inside stores and buildings.
“It’s all about compliance and getting people to take responsibility and be courteous. And so far, that’s what we’re seeing,” he said.
Live-stream Ocean City boardwalk webcams Sunday showed fewer visitors to the popular tourist destination, perhaps due in part to inclement weather.
A spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan (R) did not respond to a question about whether Maryland would consider tightening any restrictions on boardwalks and beaches.
Maryland added 34 new deaths and 818 new cases Sunday. The seven-day average in new fatalities has been on a gradual decline for nearly two weeks, though the corresponding figure for new infections has been increasing. After a spike in cases on May 19, the state began posting a rolling seven-day average of more than 1,000 new infections — the highest numbers since the start of the outbreak. More than half of the new cases Sunday were in the D.C. suburbs, with Montgomery and Prince George’s counties adding 223 and 197 new cases, respectively. The number of covid-19 patients hospitalized in Maryland — a key metric for reopening on both the state and local levels — dropped for the ninth consecutive day to 1,290, the lowest since mid-April.
Maryland also began Phase 1 of its reopening on May 15, but several of its most populous counties, including Montgomery and Prince George’s, remain shut down because their leaders said there were still too many cases of the virus to reduce restrictions. In much of the rest of the state, however, retail stores have reopened with safety guidelines in place. State parks, beaches and golf courses have also reopened. Churches can hold services if they don’t exceed a 10-person capacity.
Sunday saw at least one church in the region hold full indoor services in defiance of local rules after President Trump’s comment Friday that he would “override the governors” in any state that did not deem churches “essential” and allow them to host in-person services during Memorial Day weekend. But the president took no legal action to compel states to allow churches to open, nor was it clear that he could do so.
A church in Anne Arundel County defied a ban on indoor worship services with more than 10 attendees. Chesapeake Christian Fellowship, a nondenominational church in Davidsonville, hosted three 45-minute services and said it would allow up to 120 attendees at each service.
The church announced rules: No children under 11 were allowed; worshipers had to sit six feet apart and were required to wear masks; and every person’s temperature was checked at the door. No one could use church-owned Bibles or drink from the water fountains, and only two people at a time could use the restroom. Staff and volunteers were to let people in and then dismiss them again at a distance from each other. Pews were to be cleaned between each service.
Still, all the protocols did not meet county rules. The Rev. James “Pat” Packett spoke in his sermon at the 11 a.m. service of Trump’s “executive order” and made it clear he believed that it carried the force of law. “Sadly, our county executive has refused to recognize those orders of the president,” Packett said.
Trump issued no such executive order.
“We who are Christians, I believe, have been unfairly discriminated against by governmental mandates that have abrogated or tried to abrogate our First Amendment rights,” Packett said, though the orders in Maryland and in all states apply equally to houses of worship of any faith.
County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) said the health department had been trying to reach the church’s leaders to discuss the risks.
“We’re not going to arrest people for going to church,” Pittman said, but he wanted to make sure the pastor knew that the church risked lawsuits from its members or others if new cases of the virus can be traced to the services.
“When they willfully neglect to follow the health rules and the consequences are illness and death, they’re going to have some issues with people who decide to file lawsuits against them,” he said.
He noted that Anne Arundel County has a team of more than 100 contact tracers who could establish a link from these services to new coronavirus cases. “There’s a strong possibility, whether it’s a church or any other institution that violates the order and spreads the virus, it will be known,” he said.
Pittman said he has spoken with many clergy members about the restrictions that allow only 10 people inside a church building at a time and has received approving letters from dozens more pastors who support the restrictions. “This is an unusual case where the pastor has decided that the president’s statement authorizes him to hold services,” Pittman said about Packett. “The president does not have that authority in our state.”