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Bowser says D.C. is ‘back on track’ for gradual reopening; Va. reports record number of new cases

People take advantage of the warm weather to walk, jog and bike through Rock Creek Park on Monday.
People take advantage of the warm weather to walk, jog and bike through Rock Creek Park on Monday. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said Monday that the city is “back on track” to move toward a gradual reopening after seeing a slight spike in new cases over the weekend. Meanwhile, Virginia reported a record number of new cases — mostly in the Washington suburbs — but the area’s leaders said they are planning for a transition to Phase 1 of reopening starting at the end of the week.

Bowser said she would wait until Wednesday to decide whether to move to Phase 1 of the city’s reopening on Friday. She said she wants to see 14 days of declining community spread — calculated by the date of symptom onset and excluding cases at confined facilities such as nursing homes — before she makes a decision.

The city “reset” to day 11 of declines following an increase over the weekend. Bowser said officials again saw a decline in cases Monday, which put the District at day 12 on the downward trend.

“We lost some progress over the weekend,” Bowser told NBC4 Washington on Monday. “We’re continuing to ask people to stay at home, to wash their hands, to avoid large gatherings — try not to go to go to parties or barbecues and continue to social distance. What we know is that this virus is still circulating in our region.”

The D.C. Health Department reported Monday that there were 115 new positive cases, bringing the city’s total to 8,225. The District also reported eight deaths related to covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, all among residents in their 60s, 70s and 80s.

Bowser said the city remains on track to have the contact tracers and testing needed to meet its goals in those categories. She had previously planned to make an announcement Tuesday on the timing of the reopening and what it would include.

Virginia reported 1,483 new cases Monday — which topped the previous high of 1,229 new cases on May 21. The bulk of the new cases were in Northern Virginia, with Fairfax County reporting 493; Prince William County reporting 234; and Loudoun County reporting 226 new cases.

Still, Northern Virginia leaders sent a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Monday asking that the region be included when the rest of the state moves to Phase 2 of its reopening, provided that data supports it.

The letter also says each of the jurisdictions “have been making preparations to support a transition into Phase 1 at midnight on May 28th.”

Northern Virginia was not included in the state’s gradual reopening that began May 15, with restaurants licensed for outdoor seating allowed to resume operations with limited capacity. Barber shops and beauty salons were also allowed to reopen with some restrictions. The city of Richmond and Accomack County on the Eastern Shore, which has had an outbreak related to poultry-processing plants, also were not included.

Officials said then that the region, along with the District and Maryland suburbs, had not met critical benchmarks.

However, Monday’s letter to Northam included an assessment from the health directors in the city of Alexandria and Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties saying that four of six criteria had been met, including 14 days of declines in the percentage of positive tests and hospitalizations, increased testing and hospital bed capacity. The health officials said goals for contact tracing and personal protective equipment have not yet been met.

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Virginia reported 37 new deaths Monday, bringing its total to 1,208. The state has 37,727 reported cases of the virus. In explaining the spike in cases Monday, the state health department said in a statement that it performed maintenance on its reporting system Sunday, so data reported during that time was added to Monday’s total.

Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Northam, noted that there have also been high levels of testing in the past two days, with more than 10,000 tests reported Sunday and more than 14,000 tests reported Monday.

Maryland reported 839 new cases Monday, bringing its total to 47,152. Hospitalizations continued to decline in the state, with 1,279 people reported hospitalized — a drop of more than 25 percent since April 30.

Maryland reported 25 new deaths Monday, raising its total to 2,302 — 562 of which were in Montgomery County and 497 in Prince George’s County.

The holiday weekend was not without its bumps — including Northam being criticized on social media for not wearing a mask when he mingled with visitors in Virginia Beach and images of a crowded Ocean City boardwalk. Many visitors appeared not to be wearing masks, and little social distancing was apparent.

But there was also kindness and patience among beachgoers this weekend, said Jackie Inman Burns, who owns a bookstore in Bethany Beach, Del. Burns, who opened Bethany Beach Books for appointments Thursday, said customers all brought their masks or were willing to wear ones provided by the store. They paid attention to markers intended to help them keep six feet from one another and were considerate of staff and of each other, she said.

Known coronavirus deaths and cases in D.C., Md., and Va.

“Seeing humans being nice to each other — that’s the good thing that has come out of this,” Burns said.

Retail and restaurants in Delaware will be able to reopen June 1, at 30 percent capacity, according to Gov. John Carney’s reopening plan. Carney (D) said he would be closely watching to see how this weekend went at the Delaware beaches as he looks ahead to the rest of the summer.

Alex Heidenberger, who owns Mango’s and Heidaway, two restaurants just off the boardwalk, said that over four days, he did the amount of business he would do in one during a typical Memorial Day weekend. But he said customers and business owners alike generally did a good job of trying to adhere to the rules, including wearing masks and keeping their distance.

“Everyone is really committed to getting to the next step,” he said.

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In the District, Bowser said officials are closely watching the rate of people who test positive for the coronavirus in the city and its suburbs, which Deborah Birx, the lead coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said Friday was one of the highest in the country. Bowser said additional testing sites will open this week and testing for asymptomatic residents will be expanded.

On Monday, the Alexandria Health Department set up two all-day testing sites to try to encourage people. Natalie Talis, a health department official, said the city’s goal was to test 3,000 people in one day. By 11:30 a.m., about 600 people had been tested. By 5:30 p.m., officials said they had tested nearly 3,000 people and were on track to hit their goal.

Talis said that the line for walk-up tests at the Landmark Mall and Cora Kelly School were short, but that the line for drive-through tests at the mall was sometimes long enough that health department staff running the event gave drivers timed-entrance slips to come back later in the day. The school site was for walk-up testing only.

“We want to make sure we’re reaching the most vulnerable populations,” Talis said. “We’re trying to pull out all the stops. If people need testing, it’s here, today. … You don’t need appointments. Some people might feel more comfortable in a situation like this.”

Antonio Olivo contributed to this report.

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