Two weeks after the first novel coronavirus cases were reported in the Washington region, government leaders, residents and businesses are confronting a hard reality: There’s no immediate end in sight.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Thursday ordered the closure of enclosed shopping malls and entertainment venues, restricted access to Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport and prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people. He chastised residents who are not taking the situation seriously.
“Unfortunately, we are only at the beginning of this crisis,” Hogan said, citing the state’s first fatality, a Prince George’s County man. “While this is the first death in Maryland, unfortunately it will not be the last.”
Disruptions to daily life are likely to stretch at least into April, experts say, with the continued spread of the virus inevitable.
Known cases have been doubling roughly every three days, reaching at least 274 in Maryland, the District and Virginia as of Thursday evening. That’s almost certainly an undercount because of limited and delayed testing.
In recent days, patients have included first responders, medical staff and residents of senior living facilities.
The region has hit grim milestones: the first death in the D.C. suburbs, and reports of infected children. The District saw its highest single-day increase in cases Thursday, nearly doubling its total in one day. Loudoun County Public Schools said a staff member at an elementary school in Northern Virginia had tested positive for the virus.
It will take weeks to learn whether the closures of schools, restaurants and entertainment venues have kept the highly contagious virus at bay. The incubation period, which can run as long as two weeks, means confirmed patients have probably infected others who have not yet developed symptoms.
“Whatever numbers we are seeing today reflect the transmission that was occurring one to two weeks ago,” said Lucy Wilson, an infectious disease specialist and faculty member at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. “We shouldn’t be surprised by numbers continuing to increase, and we also shouldn’t discredit the effect of social distancing until we’ve given it time to take effect.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said Thursday that “it’s certainly possible” that the public health emergency and the closure of restaurants, schools and events in the nation’s capital would stretch into April.
Bowser said public health professionals want to see the spread of the virus slowed “before we know for sure if those social-distancing measures are working.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) also did not rule out the possibility of extending his order for schools and other public buildings to remain closed.
“This is such a fluid situation,” he said. “We meet every day, hour by hour.”
Meanwhile, hospitals and medical providers are trying to prepare for more patients despite limited resources.
Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, one of the few medical facilities in the region that provides drive-through coronavirus tests, said it is capping the number of patients who are tested at 60 each day because of a limited supply of personal protective equipment.
That comes a day after the Sentara Healthcare system closed three drive-through testing sites in Hampton Roads because of dwindling supplies.
New restrictions and procedures aimed at preventing people from infecting one another and overloading the health-care system are piling up.
Grocery stores in Montgomery County launched seniors-only hours in an attempt to reduce the exposure of older shoppers to infection.
Takoma Park, Md., is fencing off city-owned playgrounds.
The Metro transit system announced that it would close two stations to stave off large groups from viewing the cherry blossoms approaching peak bloom at the Tidal Basin.
Maryland’s public university system said its campuses will teach undergraduates remotely for the rest of the semester without any face-to-face instruction.
There had been 108 reported cases in Maryland as of Thursday morning — an 88 percent increase in the past 48 hours. Among the newly announced cases was a 5-year-old child from Howard County.
Michael Martirano, the superintendent of the Howard County Public School System, identified the child as a student at Elkridge Elementary School. County playgrounds and parks have shut down in response to the case.
Officials said the Prince George’s man whose death from the coronavirus was announced Wednesday evening had been Maryland’s first known case of community transmission, meaning he contracted the virus without travel overseas or exposure to a known patient or hot spot. The man was in his 60s and had underlying medical conditions.
Hogan on Thursday urged residents still congregating in large numbers to “stop treating this like a vacation or a spring break.”
He signed an executive order allowing bars, restaurants and distilleries to deliver alcohol or provide it as a carryout service while on-site consumption is prohibited, following the lead of the District, which adopted similar measures this week.
Some business owners reeled at the latest batch of restrictions.
Jorge Sactic, the owner of Chapina Bakery at the La Union mall in Langley Park, Md., said he got a call from the mall manager informing him that the complex would shut down for what Sactic said was the first time in at least 20 years.
“This is going to be devastating,” said Sactic, the president of the Langley Park Small Business Owners Association. “A lot of people are going to get hurt. . . . How are you going to pay your rent if you’re closed, by their order?”
Virginia reported 17 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the state total to 94. The new batch includes a boy from Gloucester County, in eastern Virginia, who is the state’s first known child patient.
The child is under 10 years old and is at home resting with family, the state Health Department said on its website.
In Loudoun County, Waxpool Elementary School was closed after a staffer tested positive for the virus, Superintendent Eric Williams told families and teachers. The Ashburn school had been serving as a meal pick-up site, and the district planned to deliver free meals to eligible students, Williams said.
Northam announced no additional sweeping restrictions at a Thursday news conference, despite a letter from Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) urging him to join Maryland and the District in closing restaurants and banning all public mass gatherings through mid-April.
Fairfax also called for all K-12 schools and public colleges and universities to close through the end of the semester.
Officials said Virginia would end in-person visitation at state prisons, as Maryland and the D.C. jail have already done. Northam also said Medicaid co-pays will be eliminated, prescription refill periods will be extended to 90 days and telehealth services will be beefed up.
“We want to make sure any Medicaid member who is sick can seek medical attention without worrying about how to pay for it,” said Karen Kimsey, director of the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance. She said Medicaid would cover the cost of both testing and treatment for those with coronavirus symptoms.
The deadline for paying state income taxes was pushed back from April 15 to June 1, though interest on outstanding payments will accrue in that period.
In the District, officials reported 32 new coronavirus cases, raising its total to 72. The youngest person was an 8-year-old boy. Five of the new cases were people in their 20s and seven were people in their 30s, the District said. At least four law enforcement officials working in the District have tested positive.
Bowser said the cases accentuate the need for residents to stay at home to protect first responders from exposure.
“One first responder being impacted has a ripple effect on our entire service,” Bowser said.
Officials said three D.C. firefighters who tested positive for coronavirus are recovering at home, including two announced Wednesday who were partners in an ambulance in Southeast Washington.
D.C. Fire Chief Gregory Dean said 141 employees are under self-quarantine because of exposure to those firefighters. City officials say they have been contacting patients whom those firefighters helped transport to hospitals.
The third firefighter is based at Engine 20 in Tenleytown in Northwest Washington and not linked to the other two cases. More firefighters could be quarantined as officials trace that firefighter’s contacts.
Officials said 65 D.C. jail inmates are quarantined in separate cells because they came into contact with a deputy marshal at Superior Court who tested positive for the coronavirus. Cells are being cleaned and disinfected.
At least 13 D.C. police employees are awaiting coronavirus test results, although none is under official quarantine. Some are staying home based on doctors’ advice.
Two universities in the District also reported cases of coronavirus. The president of Catholic University said he had tested positive, and Howard University reported that a faculty member and a student tested positive.
A charter school in Southeast Washington told parents in an email Wednesday evening that an elementary school student had been diagnosed with presumed covid-19. Bowser said Thursday that the result of the child’s coronavirus test is still pending.
D.C. officials said about 30 National Guard members will be deployed in the city over the next few days to help with the response to the coronavirus, including medical help, logistics, security and planning.
Christopher Rodriguez, director of the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said the District received verbal confirmation from the federal government that its request for National Guard support would be approved later Thursday. Several National Guard members have been already been at city’s emergency operations center.
Nick Anderson, Justin George, Peter Hermann, Luz Lazo, Michael E. Miller, Hannah Natanson, Darran Simon, Patricia Sullivan, Susan Svrluga and Rebecca Tan contributed to this report.