Amid large protests, fears about another spike in coronavirus cases and struggles to meet contact tracing goals, the District entered Phase 2 of its reopening plan this week.
While many across the District have embraced these changes, some local health professionals and organizers continue to exercise caution, advising residents to remain vigilant and embrace testing, the wearing of protective masks and social distancing.
“We’re not educated on the preventative measures, risks and symptoms,” said Tamara Coln, a community engagement lead for Ready Responders, a national provider of in-home medical care, which now includes testing for COVID-19, the potentially deadly respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
At the height of the pandemic, Ready Responders solidified its presence in Montgomery County, Maryland senior homes and homeless shelters. In recent weeks, Coln and her colleagues have collaborated with District organizers to set up workshops in communities where residents can learn about COVID-19 prevention and schedule a visit from a medical professional who’ll test them in the comfort of their home.
One partnership that’s currently in the works involves the Cure the Streets contingent patrolling Washington Highlands in Southeast.
Despite the incremental success and a desire among the asymptomatic to take a COVID-19 test, Coln said she anticipates having to combat an increasingly lackadaisical attitude among some people caught up in the news cycle and not focused on the pandemic.
“You hear people say it’s not really a problem, and with the different direction the news has gone in, it’s not being drilled into your head,” Coln said. “Now you have to search for the numbers and you don’t know how it affects your particular community. People don’t know if the people close to them are being directly affected.”
As of Monday, indoor dining and commerce within non-essential businesses have been allowed at 50 percent, while houses of worship can function with no more than 100 congregants. Parks, libraries and gyms have also reopened with similar restrictions, all as a sign of what some described as a long-awaited quasi-return to normalcy.
Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced the implementation of Phase 2 last week as city officials marked the 15th consecutive day of a decline in coronavirus cases. Those figures have since been challenged by those concerned about the contact tracing rate standing at nearly 70 percentage points lower than what had been intended.
Additionally, as people continue to protest police brutality and tear down symbols of white supremacy, sometimes without protective face covering, public health officials express fear that coronavirus cases will once again rise. Thus has been the case in Florida where a spike in COVID-19 infections had been reported last weekend.
As of June 22, more than 10,000 people in the District have contracted the coronavirus, and 535 have died. Despite the incremental openings, Bowser, falling in line with National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, said that safety wouldn’t be guaranteed until after the production of a coronavirus vaccine.
Since D.C. entered a public health state of emergency, the D.C. Department of Health, in conjunction with government and private partners, has launched testing sites at local hospitals, clinics and other places for the symptomatic and asymptomatic alike. Fire stations have also joined the list as walk-in hubs for coronavirus testing.
However, not even the influx of testing sites has laid to rest confusion about who can get tested. Even so, some residents such as Patrice Lancaster insist that District officials find a means to boost coronavirus testing, and gather a more accurate account of the pandemic’s local impact.
In recent weeks, Lancaster, a community organizer and consultant, has fostered connections with Coln and community organizations to increase COVID-19 testing.
Now, it’s time for the D.C. government to step in, she said.
“A certain element should be added [to the District’s reopening], and that element should be testing,” Lancaster told The Informer. “A certain percentage of the population should be getting tested to make the data more valuable to those that are trying to flatten the curve.
“I don’t know if that’s a benchmark in Phase Two,” she added. “The number of COVID-19 cases has gone up, and that might have been alleviated if people were proactive in the testing.”