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Bowser, District Officials Irked by Feds’ Coronavirus Funding

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has made constant appeals for federal assistance, all while the city has spent more than $60 million in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

All 50 states have been allocated at least $1.25 billion for emergency efforts, but the nation’s capital’s allocation was slightly more than one-third other jurisdictions U.S. senators classified as U.S. territories.

“The very idea of being treated like a territory is wrong and outrageous. We pay more taxes and have a larger population than several states and we’re treated like states by federal programs,” Bowser said March 25, hours after the Senate approved the $2.2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus package.

“It’s unconscionable giving D.C. the least funding,” she continued. “With the Council, I sent a letter to Senate leadership asking them to right this wrong. We’re going to keep working and doing what we need to do locally. We’re asking the White House to step up procurement of medical supplies.”

By Sunday night, the District had reported more than 400 coronavirus cases, 10 resulting in death. George Valentine, deputy director of Bowser’s legal counsel office, counted among recent casualties. This week, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency Director Christopher Rodriguez confirmed that the District’s request for a major disaster declaration had been approved with access to resources to soon follow.

Since her declaring a public health state of emergency for the District on March 11, the mayor has remained resolute in reminding residents and businesses to limit movement and activity, going as far as closing nonessential businesses and limiting public gatherings to 10 people.

With the shuttering of nonessential businesses and the delay of property and sales tax written into emergency council legislation, the District is projected to lose $500 million in revenue by June, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) told reporters last week. In anticipation of the next round of coronavirus relief funds, Bowser said she has been in talks with Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. She also revealed her intentions to contact Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California 12th District).

Since early March, an increasing number of District residents and nonessential workers, particularly those who worked in venues that hosted social gatherings, have been relegated to their homes – some now without a job or means of income. Early on, Events DC canceled public events scheduled to take place at the Washington Convention Center in Northwest and the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast as well as both the D.C. Armory and R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center located in Southeast.

Requests for comment from Events DC were not immediately answered.

Additionally, tourists have had to forgo junkets to the Smithsonian Institutes, the annual Cherry Blossom Festival and other attractions that occur on the National Mall or along the Tidal Basin.

In the housing and rental sector, landlords with mortgages who are dependent on tenant payments said they’re concerned about feeling the pinch, despite the availability of microgrants and other safety measures available to business owners and self-employed District residents.

Dianah Shaw, a property manager and real estate broker for almost 20 years, says she’s been in discussions with renters, homebuyers and sellers who express uncertainty similar to that felt by many among D.C.’s small business owners. Even with reserves on hand, she said she hopes tenants are prepared to make payments at least for the month of April.

“I haven’t put out a notice to my tenants yet about their position and ability to pay rent,” she said. “We are all overwhelmed with the notices from the government, food industry, grocers, retailers, banks, vendors and creditors, just to name a few. But most tenants communicate and let me know if something is wrong.”

“My gut feeling is as they haven’t reached out to me, they’ll be good for this month. In terms of my buyers and sellers, most buyers are standing still [because] they don’t know what the future holds. Same thing with sellers. There’s not much activity.”

Even as Congress has immersed in coronavirus relief discussions, the Food and Drug Administration loosened regulations around the types of suitable equipment for coronavirus testing. D.C. Department of Forensic Science [DFS] Director Dr. Jenifer Smith said such changes would eventually allow for the completion of 500 daily samples, compared to 10 per day allowed just one month ago.

Within the next few days, DFS will work in conjunction with United Medical Center in Southeast to provide drive-thru and walk-through testing for people who fit the following criteria and have a referral from their health care provider: hospitalized patients and health care workers, patients in long-term care facilities over the age of 65 and with underlying conditions, first responders and critical infrastructure workers showing coronavirus symptoms and people showing mild symptoms.

Similar accommodations have been put in place at Children’s National Medical Center in Northwest for youth and young adults under the age 22 who exhibit coronavirus symptoms or have been exposed to family members with underlying conditions.

George Washington Hospital, Sibley Hospital, MedStar and the Kaiser Permanente Capitol Hill Medical Center have similar plans in the works. District health officials said that collection and testing of specimen, a process requiring 24 to 48 hours, will be conducted by their lab partner Quest Diagnostics.

In response to concerns about the limited access to coronavirus testing, Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said restrictions have set to quell residents’ fervor for testing. For her and other public health officials, keeping hospitals and other medical facilities as safe as possible counts as a major priority, especially since the pandemic is expected to worsen before it gets better.

“Given we had not had support from the federal government, we created a District site in partnership with a local health system sourcing supplies in partnership with the Department of Forensic Science,” she said. “We may utilize other federal assets that would have been available to us but in a different capacity. We’re working as quickly as we can but we need to source some additional supplies.”

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