In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced the first beaches in the state will be open for swimming and sunbathing on Friday, just in time for Memorial Day weekend and welcome news to the merchants who urged the governor to let them compete with newly reopened beachfront businesses in North Carolina and Maryland.
The incremental step follows signs the pandemic’s toll might be slightly easing in the District, Maryland and Virginia.
The three jurisdictions collectively counted 45 new deaths on Monday, the lowest number since mid-April. They also reported a downward trend in new infections: The seven-day rolling average of new cases, a statistical measurement of the trend, now has dropped to 1,906 a day, down from a peak of 2,100 daily cases in early May.
While most of the beaches in Virginia will remain open only for fishing and exercise, as they have throughout the crisis, “beach ambassadors” will enforce social distancing requirements at Virginia Beach’s beaches, and no group sports, alcohol, tents or large groups will be allowed.
“Clean teams” will sanitize high-touch surfaces and educate guests about social distancing rules.
Northam encouraged other beach communities in Virginia to come up with their own plans to reopen. But he warned that any steps toward reopening could be reversed if beachgoers don’t follow social distancing guidelines.
“If people swarm the beaches . . . I will not hesitate to reinstate Phase One restrictions or even close the beaches outright if necessary,” Northam said. “You must be responsible.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Monday said his state’s contact tracing operation is now able to identify 1,000 patients per day. In the absence of a vaccine, public health experts say expanded contact tracing is one of the most effective tools for limiting the virus’s spread. Also starting Monday, workers in hard-hit Prince George’s County have access to the state’s new dashboard for tracking novel coronavirus patients and their interactions.
Prince George’s, the D.C. suburb home to the largest share of Maryland’s coronavirus cases, reported Monday that the number of hospitalized patients declined last week, from an average of 244 to 208. Local leaders harshly criticized Hogan on Sunday for not sending enough resources to the jurisdiction, a characterization the governor called inaccurate. Leading state Democrats, who hold super majorities in the legislature, have questioned whether Maryland has sufficient testing capacity to begin reopening.
In an acknowledgment of the sometimes thin resources available, a top Virginia health official announced Monday it would conduct a patient lottery to distribute its limited doses of the experimental drug remdesivir, which has shown some promise as a coronavirus treatment.
“It’s an important medication, and it’s an extremely scarce resource,” said Norman Oliver, the state health commissioner. “Everyone’s name goes into that hat.”
Virginia has received 5,160 doses so far. Maryland has received 6,760 doses, which are being distributed to hospitals in proportion to the number of coronavirus patients being treated at each facility — mostly in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said.
The District also has ramped up its contact tracing operation, with 130 new hires as of this week. That brings the city to the 200 contact tracers needed for the first phase of reopening; the city eventually wants to grow the force to 900. Bowser last week extended the city’s stay-at-home order, nonessential business closures and mass gathering ban through June 8 but suggested she might lift the restrictions earlier.
But both the city and its surrounding populous suburbs have yet to log a sustained-enough decline in key metrics for officials to consider reopening.
Residents in the Washington metro area have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. While the region makes up 35 percent of the population of the District, Maryland and Virginia, it accounts for 60 percent of the average daily infections.
The higher caseload has prompted leaders in the city and its suburbs to keep social distancing measures in place longer than outlying areas of Maryland and Virginia that partially reopened for commerce this weekend.
Monday also marked the first day all Metro riders were required to wear masks on the system.
Not only did transit workers request the change, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld has said, but customers indicated they would be more likely to use public transit again if passengers were required to cover their faces.
While the nation’s capital has met some criteria necessary to reopen — including a hospital capacity below 80 percent and an ability to test certain high-risk groups — officials also want to see a two-week decline in what Bowser calls the “community spread” of the virus. City officials calculate that by examining when patients first experienced covid-19 symptoms and excluding cases in nursing homes and other institutions where people are not likely to spread the infection outside their facilities.
The city does not publicly release its calculation of “community spread,” but Bowser said Monday that it has been on the decline and the city needs six more days of that decline for it to reopen.
Virginia reported 752 new coronavirus infections and five new deaths Monday, four of them in Northern Virginia. Statewide, 1,014 people have died of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus and 31,140 have been confirmed sick.
Virginia also has detected its first case of the inflammatory syndrome that has afflicted some children who have covid-19, said Oliver, the state’s health commissioner. He said the case involved someone younger than 18 but did not have further details Monday.
Regardless of Northam’s decision to keep restrictions in place in Northern Virginia, some businesses that had voluntarily shuttered for weeks there decided now was the time to reopen, as permitted under state guidelines.
Lights flickered on Monday throughout Tysons Corner Center, a sprawling mall in Fairfax County.
“We had our safety measures in place so we decided it was time to reopen,” said Barbara Noe, store manager at the mall’s newly reopened L.L. Bean. “Plus, the state had planned on opening around now so it made sense.”
In Maryland, one local leader who had opted out of Hogan’s reopening plan was building out his own plans for when to reopen. Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) announced an advisory panel to help him decide.
Maryland reported 958 new infections and 31 new deaths on Monday, including seven in Prince George’s County and five in Montgomery County. Statewide, 39,762 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 2,023 people have died of it.
The outbreak among inmates in the Maryland prison system expanded to more than 100 confirmed cases and five deaths, state corrections officials said Monday. The fifth inmate to die was a man in his 60s who had been serving time at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup, officials said. He had been transferred to a hospital recently.
Earlier, inmates from Dorsey Run Correctional Facility, Roxbury Correctional Institution and Jessup Correctional Institution had died of covid-19.
Citing privacy laws, officials have not identified the inmates.
Rebecca Tan, Dan Morse, Ovetta Wiggins and Emily Davies contributed to this report.