The announcement by Northam (D) that schools must close statewide came hours after three Northern Virginia public school systems — Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church — said they would remain closed until mid-April, with some distance learning planned. Fairfax County, which has Virginia’s largest school system, said it would be closed until mid-April as well.
As of Friday afternoon, the number of reported cases of the novel coronavirus in the D.C. region hovered around 59, according to a Washington Post analysis. Reported cases nearly doubled overnight in Virginia to 30.
Maryland has reported 18 cases, and the District has reported 11, although their official tallies have shifted slightly from those numbers because of the locations where some patients live or were tested.
With the Trump administration facing bipartisan criticism over the availability of U.S. testing, the government on Friday announced steps to address the problem, saying it would partner with the private sector to set up drive-through testing sites.
The urgency of the issue was on display throughout the greater Washington region.
In Annapolis, the Maryland General Assembly gave initial approval to a bill that gives Gov. Larry Hogan (R) the authority to reduce the cost of testing for the virus.
D.C. health officials said private labs will be required to share their results with the city government. Officials said they’ve only been able to test up to 15 kits a day at the city’s public lab — below the 80-test daily capacity they predicted last week — while they wait for robotic equipment to speed up processing of test samples.
Hospital doctors and administrators in Virginia who met with Northam, himself a pediatrician, said they could use the state’s help to obtain more testing kits and supplies.
Rhodes Ritenour, vice president for external and regulatory affairs for Bon Secours Health System, said he hoped the state could “ramp up” telemedicine, which is medical consultations online.
Ritenour said that doctors in states that haven’t been hard-hit might have the capacity to assess Virginia patients via telemedicine but cannot do so now if they’re not licensed to practice in Virginia. Without the federal government easing regulations, he wondered whether neighboring states could form a sort of compact to allow it.
He also suggested that medical supplies could be similarly shared among states.
“We’ve been working on it for a number of years actually,” Northam said in a gathering with reporters afterward, referring to telemedicine and the expanded broadband that such a service would require in some parts of the state. “But I think this is a good example of why telehealth and access to broadband for all Virginia is so important.”
Maryland lawmakers, meanwhile, fast-tracked legislation to lift their state’s restrictions on telemedicine. Hogan said that the state is trying to “ramp up and catch up” and that he doubts the country can expand testing enough to meet demand.
Hogan, who chairs the National Governors Association, also said he is bracing for “surges” in emergency rooms and hospitals that could exceed existing capacity.
“Frankly, at some point soon, we’re not going to be into testing as much because the hospitals will be overwhelmed and unable to do the tests,” he said in an interview with MSNBC.
The new Virginia cases reported Monday included five in rural James City County, population 67,000.
Thomas Franck, the director of the Peninsula Health District in central Virginia, said the cases there — plus two that were reported Thursday — constitute “a community outbreak of covid-19.”
Four of the new cases are contacts of the two earlier cases, Franck said in a news release. The fifth case involved a man whose means of exposure is still unknown.
“The fact that one of these cases has an unknown exposure is concerning and is suspicious for community spread,” Franck said.
Another of the new Virginia cases is in Prince William County. A woman in her 60s fell ill after returning from one of the countries heavily affected by covid-19, health officials said.
The woman, who had limited contact with others before she developed symptoms, tested positive late Thursday and was hospitalized Friday in stable condition.
Concerns over the pandemic continued to disrupt daily life in the D.C. region.
Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) raised the possibility of adjourning the 90-day legislative session early for the first time since the Civil War.
The State House is already closed to visitors and public witnesses as lawmakers race to finish work on hundreds of bills.
Ferguson said the decision will be made on a “day by day” basis.
District Judge Patricia Mitchell issued an order stopping all evictions for 15 days in Montgomery County, Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction. County Council member Will Jawando (D-At Large), who worked with the county’s sheriff to recommend the order, said it will help struggling tenants keep a roof over their heads as the state takes dramatic steps to curtail the spread of the virus.
In the District, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum said it would close as of Saturday through at least March 29. The National Archives said it was closing its research rooms and presidential libraries because of the virus, also effective Saturday, until further notice.
The National Park Service said national parks remain open.
D.C. officials adopted emergency rules Friday banning gatherings of 250 or more people, which Hogan had done in Maryland a day earlier. They said such gatherings may include no more than 10 people from populations deemed at-risk, including those over 60 and people with chronic medical conditions and compromised immune systems.
The ban does not apply to schools, workplaces, residential buildings and health-care facilities. Officials also urged the cancellation of senior citizen activities and gatherings.
Bowser announced the closure of the District’s public library system as of Monday. The system has more than two dozen branches, which in addition to serving the public are a valued oasis for residents without Internet access, including the homeless.
Late Thursday night, Montgomery County said its public libraries would close as well.
The District’s Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, which was scheduled for April 4, has been canceled, organizers said. Virginia’s Prince William County canceled all public events and meetings, closing senior centers, community centers and county-owned fitness centers until further notice.
Meanwhile, residents stocked up on supplies, filling their shopping carts with cases of bleach, paper towels, food and alcohol at a Costco off South Dakota Avenue in the District’s Northeast.
The store was so crowded that would-be customers were temporarily denied entry.
A few helpful people pointed out likely parking spaces to wandering motorists.
One woman blamed President Trump for the situation.
Another blamed the devil. Another blamed fear of the unknown.
Vozzella reported from Richmond. Fenit Nirappil, Antonio Olivo, Michael E. Ruane, Justin George, Erin Cox and Rebecca Tan contributed to this report.