The coronavirus caseload in Virginia, Maryland and the District has doubled in a week to more than 20,000 confirmed patients as of Thursday evening. The death toll reached 750 and continues to climb, as the economic standstill implemented to stem the virus’s spread wrought a new round of financial pain and worry.
An additional 177,450 people filed for unemployment assistance in the three jurisdictions last week, pushing the jobless ranks to more than 390,000 people in the four weeks since social distancing measures shut down all but essential businesses. In the District, a business group begged city leaders for immediate aid to prevent a wave of bankruptcies and permanent closures. Dozens rallied in Richmond on Thursday to pressure Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to publicly release plans for how and when to reopen commerce. And the head of Virginia’s Republican Party attacked Northam’s decision to extend business closures until May 8 without offering any plan to eventually reopen, saying “Virginians need hope.”
“Northam has spoken in platitudes about the sacrifices in Virginia, but the reality for thousands of small businesses and their employees is stress and desperation,” Jack Wilson, the state GOP chairman, said in a news release. “Begin the process of reopening Virginia now.”
Northam has said that the social distancing measures in effect — such as keeping schools closed and shutting down movie theaters, hair salons and other nonessential businesses — appear to be slowing the spread of the virus. Like Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), Northam has warned that relaxing those restrictions quickly could lead to another spike in coronavirus cases and ultimately prolong the economic downturn. As Northam put it when he announced the extended shutdown: “When people say it’s time to stop what we’re doing and go back to normal, they’re wrong.”
During a Thursday morning appearance on NBC’s “Today” show, Hogan said now “would be the worst possible time” to lift restrictions as deaths and the number of new cases and hospitalizations continue to mount.
“Everybody wants to get our economy back . . . but we also want to make sure we do it in a safe way, that we’re not just ramping things back up and endangering the lives of thousands of people,” Hogan said.
Hogan, who chairs the National Governors Association, convened a conference call Thursday among the nation’s governors, President Trump and Vice President Pence to discuss federal guidelines to reopen the U.S. economy. The White House outlined those guidelines during a Thursday evening news conference.
Hogan said that dramatically increased testing is essential to any reopening strategy. Maryland’s goal, he said, is for state labs to more than triple the state’s testing capability to 10,000 per day.
“We believe we’re going to get there in the next several weeks,” he said on “Today.” “This has been the number one stumbling block in America, the lack of availability of testing, and you really can’t get to any point where you can reopen the country until, not just in my state, but across the country, until we can do much, much larger-scale testing.”
Republican legislative leaders in Maryland this week proposed convening a panel of economists to help advise the legislature on creating its own plan to restart the economy.
“This is really just as much a plague on our economy as it is a health pandemic,” Senate Minority Whip Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Queen Anne’s) said during a Wednesday conference call involving General Assembly leaders. “Understandably, the focus has been on . . . the spread of the virus, but I just can’t emphasize enough that it’s time we start looking forward and start talking about economic recovery.”
Hogan has announced that he will roll out a plan next week to reopen the state, but the plan would not be implemented until the state has widespread testing, an army of contract workers, fully ramped up hospital capacity and dramatically more personal protective equipment.
Even as leaders start to offer road maps to an economic reopening, there’s no sign they intend to start lifting restrictions. The pandemic has not slowed enough in the District, Maryland and Virginia, where 67 additional deaths were reported across the three jurisdictions Thursday.
There were 459 coronavirus-
related deaths in Maryland as of Thursday morning, a jump of 46 from Wednesday. The state is now counting probable deaths, which officials say refer to patients whose death certificates list covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, as the cause of death but whose samples have not been subjected to confirmatory laboratory testing. The Washington Post is including both confirmed and probable deaths in its tally for Maryland.
There were 10,791 coronavirus cases reported in Maryland on Thursday, up 753 from Wednesday. The District added 153 confirmed cases, bringing its total to 2,354, while Virginia added 393, bringing its total to 6,919, according to The Post’s tally.
Eight additional deaths were reported in the District, bringing its total to 81, and 13 were reported in Virginia, for a total of 210.
The death toll includes Michael Miller, 60, who helped to manage the Ride On bus fleet for Montgomery County. He was the local government’s first employee to die of covid-19.
Also on Thursday, Bowser urged city residents not to let the epidemic impede democracy or an accurate count in the U.S. Census. City officials encouraged the public to complete census forms online and to request mail-in ballots.
In a news conference, Bowser highlighted what she called the District’s “fight for equality,” after it was designated a territory and received less coronavirus relief money in a federal aid package. To address this shortfall, she said, city residents should complete the census.
“Our emergency funding is directly tied to the census,” she said. “It is especially important to D.C. residents to complete the census this year.”
Andrew Trueblood, the director of the D.C. Office of Planning, said census results are used in formulas determining how much federal relief funding the city receives. The census response rate in the city was at about 46 percent, he said, a number that lagged the national response rate and needed to increase. Residents can complete forms online, by phone or by mail.
“Now is as important a time to complete the census as any,” he said. “You don’t have to leave your house.”
Michael F. Bennett, chair of the D.C. Board of Elections, said that while there will be at least two voting centers open in each ward for the June 2 primary, he encouraged all voters to request mail-in ballots. Fifteen thousand requests had already been received, he said, calling the number “a pretty good start” in a city with 460,000 registered voters.
“We’re really very focused on making sure you can vote safely,” he said. “Please do everything by mail.”
While public officials continued to push compliance with stay-at-home orders, others pushed back. In Richmond’s Capitol Square, about 50 people gathered around midday to protest restrictions that Northam imposed since the novel coronavirus descended on Virginia. It was a much smaller version of a demonstration staged a day earlier in Lansing, Mich., where thousands of drivers created a traffic jam intended to pressure Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) to ease restrictions there.
As in Michigan, some of those who gathered in Richmond were supporters of President Trump, who has been eager to lift restrictions and has incorrectly said he has “total authority” to reopen the states.
Ruth Golden, a 61-year-old protester from Fredericksburg, said that there should have been quarantines early on for the most vulnerable people but that everyone else should have been left to live normal lives.
“We didn’t do this for flu,” she said. “What is the difference?”
Rachel Chason, Dana Hedgpeth, Justin Wm. Moyer, Gregory S. Schneider, Rebecca Tan, Steve Thompson and Laura Vozella contributed to this report.
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