– At a press conference
Thursday, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser addressed Washington DC’s current state of affairs with COVID-19 and presented her recommendations for potential social gatherings during upcoming July 4 celebrations.
Her initial statement set the tone for discouragement of any social gatherings away from the home:
“We want to send a message to enjoy the Fourth of July, to celebrate according to our guidance, and to do it at home. Our strong recommendation is that DC residents celebrate the Fourth of July at home or near their home in small gatherings.”
Referring to the celebration planned by the White House, she stated:
“We hope that the crowds that come in non-pandemic years won’t materialize this year.”
“Large gatherings are still a high risk activity.”
The mayor went on to address current coronavirus infection data in the DC area.
“Today we reported 31 new cases, and as long as there’s no cure or no vaccine, we remain concerned about any new case reports…. We still have to contain the virus.”
Part of DC’s plan for containment involves increased testing of the DC population. While encouraging her citizens to come in for testing, Mayor Bowser showed a graphic indicating that the number of tests for covid has “dramatically increased” from 1534 tests for the week ending June 5, to 5985 in the week ending June 12, and to 5384 for the week ending June 19.
It should be noted that these figures refer to numbers of tests performed, not positive cases.
Also in her presentation, she added graphics of hospitalizations over time and deaths over time, not noting that the quantities of both continued to show consistent decrease. Instead, she spoke of concern for “rebounding cases” in light of reopening efforts.
“You’ve asked me here, are you concerned about it as we go through reopening, and the answer is a resounding yes. We see what’s happening around the country. I’m told that yesterday, in fact, was the highest number of new daily cases in the United States since our response to the pandemic began.”
Currently, Washington DC is in Phase 2 of their Reopen DC plans
. Among other limited allowances, Phase 2 calls for “outdoor large gatherings (eg, parades)” to permit “up to 50 people, with safeguards and physical distancing.”
Exceptions to phase rules require applications for exception and an in-depth review and planning process. According to Christopher Rodriguez
, Director of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, theaters, sports teams, and other nonessential business entities are allowed to apply for waivers to phase restrictions.
Such businesses, he stated:
“[H]ave to provide to us very detailed plans on how they will adhere to public health guidelines in their facilities and to conduct certain business-essential activities.
Those plans go through a very rigorous and thorough review by the DC Department of Health and by Emergency Management, and then we talk to those applicants about changes that we need to see in order for them to continue or to restart essential business activities.”
Dr. LaQuandra S. Nesbitt, Director of the District of Columbia Department of Health, spoke at the press conference of recent daily reports of 30-40 positive cases, remarking:
“Those cases are not connected, so that causes us some concern, but we have had a slower phase reopening. We have not allowed activities such as bars and other nightlife activities that higher, uh, carry a higher risk of transmission when you still have moderate community transmission in your community.
“So some of the states that have had accelerated or exponential growth have had a faster reopening and have had higher rates of community transmission at the time that they were reopening, and so we want to continue to be cautious….”
“We want to emphasize that just because activities are available does not mean that you should participate in them. People should be extremely judicious in choosing their activities, especially people who are our high-risk groups.”
With regards to upcoming Fourth of July celebrations and other social activities, Mayor Bowser expressed agreement with this approach:
“Wear a mask. Keep a six-foot distance from others. And choose, continue to choose, your activities wisely. And, as I think about what that means for me, that just because something is open, doesn’t mean that I have to go. Just because there are going to be fireworks downtown, doesn’t mean I have to go. If I’m invited someplace, and I can’t be sure that my host is following all of, um, safe practices or I don’t know who’s going to be there, I don’t have to go there either.”
In light of the current stated Phase 2 restrictions on outdoor gathering, the Mayor’s concerns about possible increase in positive cases in the presence of reopening efforts, and her statement that outdoor gatherings are “a high risk activity,” one might think that she would have attempted to limit protests and riots in Washington, DC.
Instead, the Mayor appears to hold a different viewpoint when it comes to recent anti-police and Black Lives Matter protests in the DC area, however, remarking at the conference:
“People can protest anywhere in the District of Columbia peacefully.”
On June 8, Mayor Bowser tweeted
a video of herself appearing at Black Lives Matter Plaza in front of a large crowd of shoulder-to-shoulder protestors, addressing the presence of National Guard troops in DC at the time. In the video she can be seen pointing out the mask wearing in the crowd but not making mention of physical distancing, or lack thereof.
Bowser made another documented appearance at another protest June 3. Video shows
her walking within the crowds and surrounded closely by spectators and reporters.
The Mayor has made it quite clear that she shows favor to the Black Lives Matter movement, given her notable renaming
of a section of 16th street in front of the White House as Black Lives Matter Plaza and her commissioning
of a Black Lives Matter mural, also on 16th street.
It appears also that she demonstrates this favor by protecting the protesters’ ability to gather in large masses absent physical distancing, even as she calls for families to stay home to celebrate our nation’s birthday.
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