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DC coronavirus updates: DC Council passes COVID-19 relief bill with rent freeze, consumer protections

Here are the latest updates on how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting D.C.

WASHINGTON — There were more than 100 new cases reported in D.C. Tuesday, bringing the overall total in the District to 1,211. Despite the increase in new cases, no new deaths have been reported as a result of the virus. The number of D.C. deaths stands at 22.

Key Facts 

  • State of Emergency issued
  • Stay-at-home order in effect
  • Schools to continue online learning only and non-essential D.C. government workers to telework until April 27
  • No public gatherings of more than 10 people in D.C.
  • All non-essential businesses ordered to close through April 24
  • Cases connected to Christ Church in Georgetown, CPAC conference, members of D.C. Fire and EMS, DC Department of Corrections
  • D.C. Council unanimously passed its second emergency COVID-19 relief bill establishing a rent freeze and mortgage payment deferrals, an expansion of unemployment insurance


Mayor Muriel Bowser shut down the fish markets at The Wharf after crowds of people on Saturday were not practicing social distancing guidelines to stop the spread of coronavirus.

"We see a level of infection in our city that if we are not strict in our social distancing that we will see (community transmission and death increase)," Bowser said at a news conference on Monday.

The District started recording positive COVID-19 cases based on race and they've reported that 58% of the city's cases are African-Americans, 8% are Asian and 8% are white/non-hispanic.

RELATED: DC mayor closes Wharf fish markets after patrons fail to follow social distancing guidelines

Rent Freeze and Consumer Protections

D.C. Council on April 7 unanimously passed its second emergency COVID-19 relief bill, a measure that establishes a rent freeze and mortgage payment deferrals, an expansion of unemployment insurance and more. 

The COVID-19 Response Supplemental Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 contains provisions to cushion the blow of the coronavirus health crisis on D.C. residents:

  • Rents are frozen across the District, not only in rent-controlled homes;
  • Mortgage companies are required to offer payment deferrals of up to 90 days;
  • Protections against utility shutoffs are expanded to include cable and telecommunications service;
  • Debt-collection lawsuits and the seizures of cars and other property are prohibited;
  • The definition of employment, for the purposes of collecting unemployment insurance, has been expanded to include self-employment, gig workers, those seeking part-time work and others “who otherwise would not qualify”;
  • Mayor Muriel Bowser has been given the authority to extend her emergency orders for a total of 90 days, ending in mid-June;
  • Chief Financial Officer Jeff DeWitt can now borrow short-term up to $500 million to close what’s expected to be a $600 million loss of revenue due to the economic impact of the pandemic;
  • A $25 million grant program has been established for D.C. hospitals to buy equipment, hire staff and build temporary hospitals (Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said the District expects to get that money back from federal relief efforts);
  • Every voter in the June 2 primary and the Ward 2 special election on June 16 will get an application for an absentee ballot in the mail, with return postage paid.

The bill also allows for up to 54 days of good-time credits for felons in addition to providing the possibility for compassionate release for inmates over age 60 who have served at least 25 years.

Budget Trims

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced funding efforts and federal/local programs to help residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

The District needs to cut more than $600 million from this year and next year's fiscal year budget, Bowser said. Spending for the District government will mirror 2017 spending level, and includes the following money-saving measures: A freeze on hiring, salary increases and travel, Bowser said.

D.C Council members plan to discuss funding virtually at their next scheduled meeting in an effort to put the city in the best position financially to deal with the impacts of the pandemic.

Medical Surge Preps

Bowser is seeking to ramp up hospital capacity to 125 percent after she and D.C. Health professionals said they are preparing for a medical surge that could see more than 90,000 people sickened by the COVID-19 virus over the course of the next several months.

Bowser said health care experts are using the CHIME (COVID-19 Hospital Impact Model for Epidemics) model to estimate the number of cases in D.C., and what is needed to mitigate the spread of the virus.

On April 3, Bowser said the CHIME model estimates a peak number of more than 93,000 cases in the District over the next several months, with the peak reached in late June or early July.

READ MORE: DC estimates 93,000 will be infected with COVID-19; peak in July

Bowser stressed that the models help plan for the future, but medical professionals continue to monitor the virus in the real world.

As the number of people tested for coronavirus increases in D.C., Bowser has released the criteria needed to be tested at the United Medical Center.

Bowser spoke on April 2 at the UMC in Ward 8, where a drive-through testing site is open. The testing site is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to D.C. residents who are symptomatic, 65 and older, have underlying symptoms, and area health officials and first responders who work in the District.

RELATED: 150+ DC firefighters and EMS workers self-quarantining, 32 test positive for coronavirus

Coronavirus Cases

Cases in D.C. have been traced to Christ Church in Georgetown, international travel, including Europe and a cruise down the Nile River, inmates at the DC Department of Corrections and attendance at conferences such as Biogen, CPAC and CEEP.  

Stay-at-Home Order

On March 30, Bowser put in place a stay-at-home order to keep residents from leaving their homes as frequently during the coronavirus pandemic. Maryland and Virginia put stay-at-home orders in place for its residents on the same day.

"Our message remains the same: Stay home," Bowser said.

The only reasons residents can leave their homes are to go to the grocery stores, pick up medicine, exercise with their own family, are advised to seek medical attention, or if they are performing an essential job.

"In the coming weeks, we need to work together to flatten the curve," Bowser said. "If you're not well, if you have symptoms of COVID-19 -- fever, cough or shortness of breath -- we need you to call a doctor, or health care provider and we need you to stay home."

Residents who need medical treatment and are advised by their doctors to get tested should do so regardless of their immigration status, Bowser said. 

"If you don't have a doctor, you can call this number 844-726-2797," Mayor's Office on Latino Affairs Director Jackie Reyes-Yanes said.

First responders won't ask about someone's immigration status.

DC Jail

Several inmates at the D.C. detention facility tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 88 have been quarantined, Bowser said on April 1. About 45 inmates were released from the D.C. detention center on strict guidelines and discretion with the Department of Correction and the D.C. government. Also, 25 more inmates are expected to be released.

RELATED: Coronavirus cases at DOC triple in one week

RELATED: 'Very unsanitary and nasty' | Man released from DC jail because of coronavirus pandemic shares experience

Major Disaster Declaration

FEMA has granted a major disaster declaration request for D.C. following correspondence from District officials.

"The declaration authorizes the federal government to provide support to (D.C.) in the COVID-19 response, specifically on immediate threats to public health and safety, medical care and sheltering, the movement of supplies and logistics, and operations of our Emergency Operations Center, or EOC," Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency Director Chris Rodriguez said.

Bowser said on April 1 she does not believe FEMA donated any ventilators to the District yet.

RELATED: Federal emergency aid now available in DC for coronavirus relief efforts

Parking Enforcement

District operations have been adjusted until April 27, including parking enforcement. Parking restrictions during residential street sweeping (cleaning) have been suspended as are restrictions for rush-hour parking -- DPW won't be issuing tickets between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 4 pm. and 6 p.m.

"(DOT) has proactively installed signage at 20 locations across the District designating temporary restaurant pick-up/drop-off zones, and those zones are identified by 'Emergency No-Parking' signs," Rodriguez said. "Parking enforcement is in effect for (those) zones."

Tickets for expired license plates and registration stickers have also been suspended. Vehicle towing and booting has also been suspended.

Coronavirus-related Deaths

A 13-year employee of D.C. Employee Youth and Rehab Services, Kenneth Moore, died after being diagnosed with coronavirus, Bowser said April 2.

Bowser said on March 30 that a 39-year-old man with coronavirus has died.

Meanwhile, a 55-year-old man who passed away at home from coronavirus complications marked the District's fifth coronavirus death, this comes as President Donald Trump approved additional funding for D.C. to combat COVID-19. 

Credit: LinkedIn
George Valentine, a member of Bowser's staff, passed away from coronavirus.

Bowser also announced on March 27 that a member of her staff passed away following a coronavirus diagnosis.

Bowser identified the staff member as George Valentine, the Deputy Director of the Office of Legal Council. Bowser said Valentine had more than 20 years of experience in D.C. government and worked in the Office of the Attorney General before joining her team.

RELATED: 'His laugh was infectious' | Remembering DC public servant who died after contracting COVID-19

Bowser said that Valentine had come into the office as an essential employee, before being hospitalized. She said that contract tracing is underway. 

The mayor told reporters she did not believe she had contact with Valentine during the time of his diagnosis.

DC's Share Of Stimulus Relief Package

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said on March 26 that the District was awarded less money than states in the $2.2 trillion relief package that gives checks to Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

The District receives $500 million while states were awarded $1.25 billion. Bowser is calling on lawmakers to fix the $725 million inequity.

At least 25,000 people have applied for unemployment in the last week in D.C., according to District leaders. And about 30 to 40 percent of sales tax revenue was lost during the closure of businesses in the District.

Bowser has ordered all non-essential businesses in the District, including personal services, like salons, barbershops, etc., to close effective March 25, to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus in the District. Cases have topped more than 1,000 across D.C., Maryland and Virginia. 

“As we continue working to blunt the curve, my message to the community is simple: Be a good neighbor, stay at home," Bowser said.

The mayor's order is in effect through April 24.

RELATED: DC police restrict access to Tidal Basin cherry blossom trees

Officials also announced new child care options that were launched to help service healthcare workers. The District has partnered with three providers to provide care for children up to age 12, so healthcare workers can focus on work ahead of them, officials said.

Enforcement

Bowser asked the Metropolitan Police Department to work with D.C. National Guard to restrict access to Tidal Basin as people were not social distancing there.

"We love our cherry blossoms," Bowser said, urging folks to enjoy them online. "We will again enjoy them next year."

There is also increased monitoring and enforcement of public parks, which are all are closed and locked up, Bowser said. She said they continue to see people doing group exercises, like basketball, etc. and not practicing social distancing.

RELATED: When and how DC plans to enforce its coronavirus stay-at-home order

DC Distance Learning

Bowser also announced a $1 million distance learning fund, to provide internet access and digital devices for students during the coronavirus outbreak. Tuesday was the first day of distance learning at D.C. Public Schools, after an adjusted spring break. 

Testing abilities for D.C. labs has increased, public health officials said March 25. On March 7, D.C. public health labs were able to run about 15 tests per day. On March 25, the labs announced they are able to now do around 150 a day, with numbers expected to rise thanks to more equipment and investment.

Schools are required to continue online learning only in the District until April 27.

Small Business/Economic Assistance

Non-essential government workers in D.C. are also required to telework until April 27. 

The District continues to provide assistance for small businesses and those filing for unemployment. As of March 20, 11,844 people have filed for unemployment in D.C. Bowser said the seven-day waiting period for benefits will be eliminated, and you no longer have to provide proof of trying to find another job in this time frame.

A direct local relief program was also announced as a $25M recovery fund, funded with local dollars. Applications for the program and further details are to be announced sometime next week in an effort to provide short term financial assistance to nonprofits, independent contractors and small businesses.

RELATED: Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart tests positive for coronavirus

The D.C. Council approved a "COVID-29 Response Emergency Amendment Act of 2020," which provides several measures that will assist residents, businesses, and organizations during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Emergency Act will do the following:

  • Extends employment protections under D.C. Family Medical Leave Act.
  • Extends the March 31 real property tax for hotels to June 30, 2020 and allows other businesses to defer February and March sales taxes to July 20, 2020.
  • Creates small business grant program, including grants to non-profits and independent contractors (if they do not qualify for Unemployment Insurance).
  • Allows for pick up or delivery of beer and wine (in a sealed container) to be consumed in the home from a restaurant if ordered with food.
  • Extends time for filing of biennial corporate filing.
  • Expands authorities for the Mayor under the Public Emergency Act.
  • Provides DISB flexibility for health insurance and matters regulated by DISB.
  • Extends public benefit programs such as Alliance, TANF, and SNAP.
  • Limits price gouging and stockpiling.
  • Prohibits utility companies from shutting off service.
  • Prohibits eviction of residential and non-residential tenants.
  • Prohibits housing providers from charging a late fee during emergency.
  • Allows for prescription drug refills before end of waiting period.
  • Extends licenses and registration deadlines (DMV, professional licenses, etc.).
  • Homeless Services Reform Act contingency provisions.
  • Extends Tenant Opportunity to Purchase OPA deadline and prohibit landlords from charging late fees.
  • Allows Department of Corrections discretion for awarding additional good time credits for those sentenced for misdemeanors, consistent with public safety.
  • Provides DCPS Summer school calendar flexibility.
  • Clarifies schools’ attendance reporting during emergency.
  • Allows ANCs to meet less than 9 times per year and may do so remotely.
  • Suspends meetings of other boards and commissions.
  • Extends FOIA deadlines.
  • Allows flexibility of the Open Meetings Act when remotely meeting.
  • Extends Budget Submission Requirements to a May 6, 2020 deadline.
  • Allows for Council to meet virtually.

What precautions should you take?

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are unavailable.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

RELATED: Coronavirus: Here are the symptoms

Check the status of the virus in your state with your state health department's websites by tapping below:

RELATED: VA coronavirus updates: Here are details on every positive case

RELATED: Maryland coronavirus updates: Here are details on every positive case

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