“You meet people who lost their job,” said April Taylor, who has been running the giveaway since last March. “You meet people who don’t have child care, so they may lose a job. Last week we had a family who had covid. What happens when you catch covid and your children are 9, 5 and 7? What do you do?”
As Taylor spoke, the greater Washington region was approaching a once-unfathomable milestone, which it reached Monday:
Health officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia have reported more than 1 million coronavirus infections since last March: 577,174 in Virginia, 382,702 in Maryland and 40,684 in the District.
That means 6 in every 100 residents of the three jurisdictions have tested positive in the past year, slightly lower than the national rate of eight infections per 100 people.
While D.C. had the higher per capita case rate in the region at the start of the pandemic, it now has the lowest cumulative case rate among the three jurisdictions, followed by Maryland and Virginia, respectively. Within the Washington metro area, Prince William County, Va., and Prince George’s County, Md., have the highest case rates: 8.6 and 8 cases per 100 residents, respectively.
The rates reflect the number of tests that come back positive and are likely to be an underrepresentation of the virus’s true burden on the Washington region, given the early shortages of test kits, testing fatigue and the ability of the virus to spread through asymptomatic carriers.
When the three jurisdictions hit 100,000 cases at the end of May, early victims of the virus said the toll was hard to conceive. “That number is overwhelming to me,” Capt. Larry Lofland, a D.C. firefighter, said at the time. Nine months later, the figure has multiplied tenfold.
Nearly half of those new infections were reported in just two months — December and January, when holiday celebrations and other in-person gatherings sent community transmission skyrocketing.
As of Monday, more than 17,500 of those infected had died.
Standing in the overcast morning, clad in a tan raincoat, orange gloves and a ball cap, Taylor said her program is now giving away 1,000 boxes of food per event, up from 200 to 500 boxes earlier in the pandemic.
“When you see these people and you talk to them, it’s going to make you cry,” she said. “It’s gotten worse. Look at the lines.”
Throughout the pandemic, the virus has spread disproportionately through communities of color. Across the three jurisdictions, Black residents account for 28 percent of coronavirus cases where race is known, compared with 25 percent of the population. Latino residents represent 20 percent of cases but just 10 percent of the population. The disparities in the death rates are even wider.
Widespread layoffs and business closures have hit communities of color hard as well.
“You can see what’s out here,” Taylor said. “You see Black and Brown people. What covid has done for people that are Black and Brown, it has now become something that’s between life and death. . . . It’s going to change America.”
At 10 a.m. she strode into a driveway where volunteers staffed tents stocked with goods that they would load into the vehicles that came through.
“We ready?” she called out. “Let’s go! Let’s go! Game time!”
Grace Guzman, 32, who lives in the Fair Lakes area of Fairfax County, sat at the wheel of her white minivan with her sister, Barbara Guzman, and two of her sister’s children. The sisters live with their mother and Barbara’s four children, all of whom are under the age of 6, including one with a disability.
Grace Guzman, who works as an activity facilitator at a community center, said her hours have been drastically cut.
“It’s kind of hard financial-wise just to get groceries, paying bills,” she said. “Everything’s a little harder than it was before. . . . We’ve kind of been struggling.”
They were in line hoping for food, diapers and coats for the children.
“It’s something that we were not prepared for,” Barbara said.
Grace Guzman added: “We’re putting fear into children as well. So the kids are like, ‘I’m scared to go to school. I’m scared that I’m going to come in contact with someone that has covid. I don’t ever want to go back to school.’ ”
At the walk-up table, people left with armloads of food, children’s clothing and toiletries. Most of those in line didn’t speak English as a first language. Members of one family said they planned to send some of the goods to relatives in need in Honduras.
“What I see is a lot of death, a lot of sadness, a lot of grief,” volunteer Michelle Collier, a government contractor, said of the pandemic’s impact. “Everything that’s happening around the pandemic is what’s damaging.”
Standing in pink rain boots and a yellow safety vest, she lamented a breakdown in communication created by the pandemic.
“You can’t even yell to your next-door neighbor’s house anymore. You can’t have barbecues anymore. You don’t know what’s going on with people,” she said. “It’s just the most isolating type of disease that we could ever have imagined. It’s heartbreaking.”
In Mount Rainier, Md., Jodi Beder hasn’t played her cello for her neighbors in more than a month.
She started playing last March, when the pandemic struck, sitting in a straight-backed chair on her porch on 34th Street with her copper-colored cello. People gathered on the sidewalk and across the street to hear her play Bach or Randy Newman or old klezmer pieces.
Her fans became so numerous that she had to ask them to stop coming because they were not socially distancing. Her husband started to stream her shows on Facebook.
“I played every day until early June,” Beder said Saturday. “I think I took two days off.”
As the weather got colder, Beder moved indoors, to the back of her house with the windows open, and invited neighbors to her yard. With the onset of winter, she switched to streaming only.
“At the very beginning, people, including me, were in such a traumatized state. People were just sort of stunned and very afraid and very isolated,” she said. “People had nowhere to go, nothing to do and were terrified. Life was unreal.”
The virus’s toll steadily rose.
“If somebody was sick, I played for them,” said Beder, who works as a book copy editor. “Or somebody told me that their sister was sick or something, I would dedicate it to them.”
She said she did that 20 or 30 times.
In November, one of Beder’s cousins died of the virus. So did a neighbor’s daughter, who was in her 30s.
As caseloads trend downward and vaccinations increase, she said she does not know if she will resume playing.
“For me, it’s run its course, for what it was,” she said.