Birx said 42 states now have a less than 10 percent positive-test rate on a rolling seven-day average, below the averages in Maryland, Virginia and the District.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) have said that the vast majority of infections in their states are in the densely populated suburbs closest to the District, and Virginia’s positivity rate outside of Northern Virginia does meet the 10 percent benchmark.
Both governors began easing some shutdown restrictions in their states last week but exempted the D.C. suburbs or allowed local leaders to opt out, citing the higher concentration of cases there.
Leaders of the District and the Maryland counties of Montgomery and Prince George’s have said their numbers are moving in the right direction, however, and announced that the Phase 1 reopening underway in farther-out parts of Maryland and Virginia could begin in the District and its suburbs by late May or early June.
In Northern Virginia, the shutdown remains in place at least through Thursday. Northam has said he does not want to allow individual counties to ease restrictions until the whole region is ready.
“As Governor Northam has made clear, Northern Virginia and the greater Washington area face unique challenges — that’s why Northern Virginia localities remain under a Stay at Home order,” Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said via text message. “Our administration continues to focus on expanding testing and tracing capacity in these hard-hit localities, including free community testing for underinsured or otherwise vulnerable communities.”
As of May 18, Virginia reported that 14.7 percent of all tests statewide were coming back positive on a seven-day moving average. For Northern Virginia, though, that seven-day average was 24.6 percent; it was 10 percent for the remainder of the state, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Northam said residents of Northern Virginia, Richmond and Accomack County on the Eastern Shore — all of which were exempted from the Phase 1 reopening because of their high caseloads — should not travel outside their regions during the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
“Those three areas are still under the stay-at-home order. Unless it’s essential, they need to be out, we don’t expect people to be traveling,” he said.
Maryland’s cumulative positivity rate was 19.77 percent as of Friday afternoon, according to state data. Despite expanded testing in recent days, the weekly positivity rate had dropped only to 18.2 percent as of Friday.
In hard-hit Prince George’s County, which has the highest number of cases in the state, the weekly positivity rate last week was 28 percent, down from 41 percent on April 19, County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks said Thursday.
A spokesman for Hogan said the decision to begin reopening Maryland was based on the “key metrics” for the state’s recovery — current hospitalizations and ICU bed use, which are “now at four-week lows.”
“The governor said early on that the Capital Region would be a hotspot for covid-19, and the DC metro counties have been a substantial focus of our public health response,” Mike Ricci said in an email.
About 60 percent of Maryland residents live in parts of the state that have not fully implemented Hogan’s reopening plans.
In the District, the cumulative positivity rate is now at 18 percent and has been on a gradual decline since late April, when it was at 21 percent. For tests conducted more recently, city data shows a lower share of positive results: 15 percent for the month of May and 11 percent over the past week.
City officials originally listed a cumulative positivity rate below 10 percent among their reopening metrics. But they no longer highlight that benchmark, focusing instead on community spread of the virus and noting that a large proportion of D.C. cases are in nursing homes and other institutional settings.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who will announce Tuesday whether she will ease restrictions slightly at the end of next week, laid out summer plans Friday that include the closure of public swimming pools and the modification of summer camps and a city-sponsored jobs program to avoid in-person contact.
The Summer Youth Employment Program will be almost entirely virtual, with teenagers and young adults working remote jobs — such as tech support or teaching children to read — and practicing job skills through more than 200 hours of online training through the D.C. Department of Employment Services.
In lieu of summer camps, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation will give out supplies for up to 5,000 children to participate in activities such as cooking, art projects and science experiments.
If the city reaches Phase 2 of its reopening plan this summer — meaning only localized transmission of the virus is taking place — then the department could offer in-person camps for small groups of children at 27 locations, officials said.
Parks director Delano Hunter said the modified camps would have “a heavy outdoor emphasis on socially distant activities and games.”
D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee announced virtual graduations for all city high schools and virtual summer school from June 22 to July 24. In August, if the city has reached Phase 2, the school system will offer a “bridge program,” an optional two weeks of school for the District’s 11,5000 rising third-, sixth- and ninth-graders.
The need for caution was underscored by the daily reporting of new coronavirus cases in the region: Virginia reported 37 deaths on Friday, the highest number in 10 days. It also counted 813 new infections, including 32 in Arlington, 37 in Alexandria and 154 in Fairfax County.
The District counted 105 new infections and six new deaths, bringing the total number of victims who have died of the virus to 418.
Maryland recorded 48 deaths, including 12 in Montgomery County and 11 were in neighboring Prince George’s. The state also added 893 new infections.
Baltimore County, which lifted some social distancing restrictions on Friday morning, added 35 new cases — the lowest number since mid-April.
In total, 87,267 people in the two states and the District have contracted the virus and 3,761 people have died.
In Maryland and Virginia, legislators and business people expressed different opinions Friday about what next steps are warranted.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and two union leaders separately urged Northam to mandate mask-wearing as a public safety measure. Northam, a physician, has encouraged Virginians to wear face coverings in public, but he has not required them to do so.
In a letter to the governor, Stoney wrote that at least one Richmond grocery store noticed far fewer customers wearing masks once parts of Virginia started opening up, despite the fact that Richmond has not eased its shutdown restrictions.
“As the nation’s only doctor governor, I know that you understand that this is not the time for us to let down our guard, which is why I am continuing to encourage you to make it a requirement that Virginians must wear a mask or face covering while in a public space or visiting businesses,” Stoney (D) wrote.
Both the District and Maryland require people to wear masks while in public spaces indoors and on public transportation.
“We’re asking the governor to mandate the wearing of face masks consistent with CDC recommendations,” said Stoney spokesman Jim Nolan. The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,” which could include inside businesses as well as outdoor areas, such as on a crowded sidewalk.
Two union leaders asked Northam to require Virginians to wear masks inside businesses for the protection of essential workers employed there.
In Maryland, a bipartisan group of state senators asked Hogan to issue an executive order to protect small-business owners from potential liability from lawsuits if they follow safety protocols. A spokesman for Hogan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Senate Small Business Job Caucus, an ad hoc group created after the tense debate over increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, wants the state to use money it received from the federal government to help provide grants and loans to businesses with 50 or fewer employees.
Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George’s), a caucus member and small business owner, said liability was a top discussion during the caucus meetings. “I think there are a lot of people very nervous about reopening, worried about defending themselves if they do get sued.” The letter was signed by 10 state senators.
Erin Cox, Rebecca Tan, Laura Vozzella, Fenit Nirappil, Dana Hedgpeth and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.