The afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 17, Mayor Bowser (D), DC Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt and Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA) Christopher Rodriguez spoke at the Situational Update.
The officials discussed how the District has worked to mitigate the effects of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. The team also provided updates about future directions and plans for the fall.
Bowser emphasized the big upcoming issues, including a potential second wave of COVID-19, phase three of reopening, the upcoming November general election and public school reopening in-person.
COVID-19 Testing, Community Spread
Nesbitt discussed the recent back and forth between the Trump administration and the Center for Disease Control about when a COVID-19 vaccine will be available. Nesbitt said she expects the first round of vaccines to be distributed to the patients at the highest risk in early 2021.
“We’ve had conversations internally around prioritization for the vaccine,” Nesbitt said. “I’m sure many of you now have been socialized to the concept that when vaccines are approved because they are safe and effective, initially there will be a minimal amount of doses available nationally and distributed to the states for allocation to higher priority groups. And then as production increases, more vaccines will be available to the general public.”
Nesbitt said that while compared to other states the District is doing well with contact tracing, it is still an area for improvement.
Nesbitt said the District is a “gold star” in terms of contact tracing, with an overall interview completion rate of about 75 percent, indicating that a higher proportion of contacted people are completing interviews.
“The issue is the critical need to have interviews completed in a shorter period of time, within that three day timeframe,” Nesbitt noted, “because what we don’t want is people who are close contacts of a positive cases still out in community not quarantining because they don’t know that they need to be quarantining, potentially exposing other people and those people.”
Phase Two Updates
Bowser said the entirety of phase two has not yet been completed and said there are still expansions possible in this phase before moving on to phase 3, such as allowing the DC Circulator bus service to resume national mall routes.
“We also haven’t fully engaged with waiver requests that are permitted in phase two,” Bowser said. “We will spend some time looking at additional phase two activities and waivers that are allowed in phase two over the next weeks. I will move on to say that we are seeing more downtown activity as well.”
Calling the District economic situation over the last six months due to COVID-19 “significant,” Bowser emphasized the gravity of economic losses in DC. Bowser said that the District has received more than 140,000 unemployment claims and paid out more than $1.1 billion in unemployment relief.
General Election and Protests
Bowser warned there is a possibility of increased demonstration and protest activity around the District as the date of the Nov. 3rd general election draws nearer, saying the District was continuing to plan for both heightened activities and the eventual presidential inauguration.
Rodriguez echoed the Mayors’ concerns, citing previous protests that turned violent in June.
“We saw in the late spring and early summer mass protests and demonstrations here in the District after the murder of George George Floyd, [and in] dealing with July 4th and potential for large crowds on the mall,” Rodriguez said.
Public School Reopening
District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) classes in virtual format on Aug. 31. Bowser said she is working hard to reopen schools as quickly and as safely as is possible.
The District has distributed more than 26,000 devices to community children to help ensure that students attend classes. The mayor emphasized the importance of regular attendance.
“Virtual school is mandatory school,” Bowser said. “Our children need to be registered and we need them to be logging in and attending. Our in seat attendance on September 14 was 85 percent, and that is compared to 92% this same time last year.”
Bowser said virtual school will continue through Nov. 6, when it will be reevaluated with a goal of a return to school on a hybrid virtual and in-person schedule. “We continue to focus on how we can offer in-person learning opportunities,” she said.
Sarah Payne is a History and Neuroscience student at The University of Michigan interning with HillRag. She writes for and serves as an assistant news editor for Michigan’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. You can reach her at [email protected].