Health officials urge attendees of White House event to get tested for coronavirus

D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt and health officers from nine other counties and cities across the Washington region sent a letter Thursday to “community members” asking anyone who worked in the White House in the past two weeks to get tested. In addition, it asked that people be tested who attended the Rose Garden event or who had close contact with someone who did.

The letter contains contact information for local health departments.

“As an additional reminder, if you are identified as a contact, having a negative test does not limit the time period within which you are required to quarantine,” the leaders wrote, citing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommend a 14-day quarantine.

The letter was distributed to people and organizations in each health department’s network, which in D.C. included Advisory Neighborhood Commission members, the D.C. Council and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, city officials said.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said Wednesday that Nesbitt had spoken with the White House about contact-tracing efforts after the mayor sent a letter to the Trump administration seeking cooperation on tracking the outbreak. Nesbitt and the White House began talks on contact tracing in the region shortly afterward.

The Thursday letter from health officials came on the same day the Washington region recorded its sixth-highest daily infection tally since the start of the pandemic, fueled by a one-day reporting issue in Virginia. The state reported 1,844 cases — its second-highest ever — but health officials noted that 689 of those cases should have been included in Wednesday’s tally.

Still, the spike sent the rolling seven-day average caseload in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. to 1,591 cases — the highest since Sept. 19, when the average stood at 1,611.

The new infections lifted the region’s total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to 300,725 — a confirmed case for 1 in every 50 residents of the area. The death toll in the region stands at 7,941.

Prince George’s County officials Thursday cited a stubbornly high number of new cases and an uptick in its coronavirus test positivity rate in deciding to stay at the second phase of recovery. The past week has brought 739 new cases in Prince George’s — which leads the state in infections during the pandemic — compared with 614 in more populous Montgomery County.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said in a news conference that the county’s test positivity rate increased to 4.2 percent last week from 3.5 percent the previous week. She said the county won’t follow Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision, announced last week, to allow visitations in some nursing homes and to increase the number of children allowed in day care facilities.

“Our numbers continue to show that Phase 2 is exactly where Prince George’s needs to be right now,” said George Askew, the county’s deputy chief for health and human services.

Gina Ford, a spokeswoman for Alsobrooks, said the county has decided to allow 250 people for home games at 80,000-person capacity FedEx Field, where no fans previously were allowed because of the pandemic.

A scheduled public appearance with Hogan (R) was postponed Thursday to avoid possible exposure to the coronavirus.

The event was meant to celebrate the Associated Builders and Contractors of Greater Baltimore, an organization that has helped expand a state apprenticeship program Hogan has championed. Mike Henderson, the group’s president, said the child of a staffer at his organization had potentially been exposed to the virus.

He postponed the event out of an abundance of caution — even after the child tested negative.

“We felt like it was the right thing to do,” Henderson said.

Hogan, like most public officials, has dramatically curtailed his public appearances since the pandemic began and instituted mask and symptom screenings for the events he does attend. The governor and first lady Yumi Hogan are tested weekly for the virus using a lab-based polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test that is considered the most sensitive and definitive test for the coronavirus. Neither have tested positive, his staff said.

The governor, 64, is a cancer survivor who has said he considers himself a part of the population that is vulnerable to the virus.

In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said Thursday that he is allocating $220 million in federal coronavirus aid to help public schools handle their response to the pandemic.

The money will be divided among the state’s 135 school districts to pay for testing supplies, personal protective gear, sanitizing, long-distance learning efforts and other expenses.

“Students, teachers, principals and parents are going to great lengths to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic amid a new school year, and we must do everything we can to support them,” Northam said in a statement.

The money will be drawn from about $1.3 billion in federal Cares Act funding that remains from about $3.1 billion sent to the state earlier this year. It will be distributed based on enrollment, at a rate of $175 per pupil or a minimum of $100,000 for each school division, the governor’s office said.

The spending supplements $238.6 million in Cares Act funding that Virginia’s public K-12 schools received in May. The state’s colleges and universities also received $343.9 million in May, while an additional $66.8 million in federal Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funding was split between K-12 schools and higher-education institutions.

Northam’s decision to send the money to public schools comes as the General Assembly is working to finish changes to the state budget in response to the pandemic during a special legislative session.

The House of Delegates and state Senate adopted spending plans that call for $200 million in Cares Act money for K-12 schools as they combat the virus. Northam has clashed with lawmakers over spending priorities, warning in a letter Wednesday that he would not sign a budget that restricts his ability to manage Virginia’s virus response efforts.

The greater Washington region recorded 2,673 new infections and 33 additional virus-related fatalities. In addition to Virginia’s one-day caseload spike of 1,844 infections, the state also recorded 25 deaths, while Maryland had 761 new cases and six deaths, and D.C. had 68 new cases and two deaths.

The pandemic continued to take an economic toll Thursday, when the Labor Department said the number of unemployment claims filed by residents of D.C., Maryland and Virginia hit 24,327 last week, up from 20,546 a week earlier.

In Maryland, part of the increase comes from what state Labor Department spokeswoman Fallon E. Pearre called “the impact of major layoff events related to schools.”

Bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teachers and staff members who lost jobs are applying for benefits for the first time. Separately, about 10,000 people in the state had been on unemployment for 26 weeks and had to newly apply for extended benefits programs.

Maryland officials also announced efforts Thursday to combat eviction proceedings, saying the state will use money recovered from misdeeds during the subprime mortgage crisis to help low-income families.

Maryland Legal Services Corp., the state’s largest civil legal aid group, will get $11.7 million to help with legal fees, enough to cover cases for tens of thousands of residents facing eviction, a group spokesman said. Most of the money was recovered in lawsuits over unlawful conduct during the 2008 financial crisis.

Dana Hedgpeth and Antonio Olivo contributed to this report.

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