D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and her administration leaders, as well as other District institutions, have taken steps to deal with the coronavirus should it come to the city.
Bowser held a news conference Tuesday on the virus at the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest, joined by Fire and EMS Chief Gregory Dean, Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham; Dr. LaQuandra S. Nesbitt, director of the D.C. Department of Health; D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency Director Christopher Rodriguez and Jenifer Smith, director of the D.C. Department of Forensic Services.
Bowser said keeping District residents and government workers healthy has become her priority.
“There are no District residents who have contracted the coronavirus,” the mayor said. “I am calling for District residents to use common sense to stop the spread of germs.”
On Feb. 27, Bowser directed leaders of District government agencies to keep an eye on developments related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Since its detection late last year in Wuhan, China, the disease has killed at least 3,000 people worldwide as of March 1, according to BNO News.
The D.C. Department of Health said the virus presently exists in 37 countries, including the U.S. The first known U.S. death from the disease occurred over the weekend in Washington state, and officials confirm that eight others have died since.
Nesbitt said those who may think they are suffering from the disease “should seek health care.”
“There is no treatment for coronavirus and there is no vaccine,” she said. “I am asking District residents to practice community and personal hygiene to stop the spread of the disease.”
Rodriquez said that his department has been put on enhanced watch because of the virus, saying that his agency will practice prevention and preparedness should it show up in the District. Dean said his agency’s first responders are ready to respond to the disease whether on a personal or communal level.
D.C. City Administrator Rashad Young said the city will be prepared for a quarantine situation if it has to take place.
Nesbitt refuted the stigma that since the coronavirus started in China that Asians are primarily the ones affected and spreading it.
“I am going to speak openly about this,” Nesbitt said. “There is no ancestry linked to who gets coronavirus. We are preparing materials to let people know this.”
Nesbitt said six District residents have been tested regarding the virus. She said the risk remains low for District residents.
Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), who chairs the Committee on Health, expressed skepticism about Nesbitt’s approach to the coronavirus.
“As part of my oversight of the Department of Health, I have had numerous questions regarding the District’s response to potential threats of the coronavirus including how to conduct tests and prepare Ward 7 and other District residents for any health risks associated with the spread of this deadly virus,” Gray said. “We are learning more every day and are working to ensure the District’s readiness to respond effectively, while keeping residents informed.”
District universities such as Howard, George Washington, Georgetown, Catholic and American have also communicated to its faculty, staff and students about the disease. Howard University, for example, sent out a memo to its community on Feb. 28, saying it continues to monitor the development of the disease.
“This is a rapidly changing situation, appropriate resources are being allocated at the university to continue to monitor, develop and execute plans to maintain the safety and well-being of our community,” said the memo authored by Anthony K. Wutoh, the university’s provost and chief academic officer.
Metro, the Washington area’s transit agency, created a pandemic task force to deal with coronavirus, according to a Feb. 27 report by WJLA-TV (Channel 7).
“Metro has been focused on preparedness,” Theresa Impastato, the agency’s chief safety officer, said during a Metro board meeting on Feb. 27. “The task force has met weekly since its activation and continues to meet. Metro’s current cleaning protocols include disinfecting of equipment and facilities on a regular basis.”
Impastato said Metro has also increased inventory of critical supplies such as hospital-grade cleaning products and personal protective property like masks and gloves.
MedStar Health, with operations in the city, has its plans on its website regarding the coronavirus.
“MedStar Health clinicians are prepared to accurately screen for risk of COVID-19 and respond immediately to prevent further spread,” MedStar Health said. “We are following the guidance of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention so that patients affected by COVID-19 will be able to get the care they need while protecting the health and safety of our associates and the community at large. The health of our patients, physicians, staff and visitors is our top priority.”