DC Plans to Ramp Up Contact Tracing as Virus Spreads at Facilities in the Region

Here’s where we are Wednesday in the fight against coronavirus in the D.C. area

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The leaders of Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia continue to focus on more testing, personal protective equipment and other protections for essential workers as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise in the region, notably in living facilities.

As of Wednesday morning, 38,547 cases of coronavirus had been diagnosed. D.C. had reported 4,106 cases, Maryland had 20,013 and Virginia had 14,328 confirmed cases.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also announced plans to deploy hundreds of contact tracers, who will get in contact with anyone with a confirmed case, ask who they've been in contact with and instruct those exposed to self-quarantine for two weeks.

The first step is to scale up from 65 contact tracers to about 200, Bowser said. Eventually, up to 900 people could be employed full and part-time doing this work. The jobs are temporary, with 13-month appointments, and pay for investigators starts at just above $51,000 annually.

Contact tracing is essential to ferreting out cases in the community, especially when stay-at-home orders eventually get scaled back, officials say.

Maryland Doles Out Grants for PPE Production

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday announced $1.6 million in grants were awarded to companies pivoting to or expanding their efforts to produce personal protective equipment, including face shield, N-95 masks and respirator parts.

The incentive program is expected to give out $5 million in response to growing demand for equipment for medical and front line workers at high risk of getting exposed to coronavirus, the state said in a press release.

Nursing Homes, Jails and Other Facilities Face Concerning Outbreaks

Currently, leaders are dealing with cases spreading rapidly through institutions that house and employ many people, including nursing homes and jails. More than 100 inmates in D.C. jails were diagnosed with the virus.

More than half of coronavirus-related deaths in Maryland have occurred in congregated living facilities such as nursing homes and group homes, News4 reported. Moving forward, te state will release data specifically about infections at such facilities.

Despite calls from families and the public, Virginia has not announced plans to make data on the names of nursing homes facing outbreaks available.

The District will also roll out a mobile testing lab that can process results in 15 minutes or less. It will focus on long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.

D.C. is rolling out a mobile testing lab that will give rapid coronavirus tests to people at long-term care facilities. News4's Mark Segraves reports.

Quick testing will also be made available at other institutions where coronavirus could spread rapidly, such as the D.C. jail and homeless shelters.

Bowser on Tuesday also announced priority testing is now available for “critical infrastructure workers” who have been exposed to someone diagnosed with the virus.

People who fall into this category, even if they have no symptoms, include “grocery store workers, essential government employees and other workers who continue to report to work in the District.”

Before the expansion, it appears not enough people were getting tested. D.C.'s public health lab has the capacity to conduct 500 tests a day but was only averaging 79 tests.

"We're really trying to get to the workforce, that critical workforce that needs to know if they're positive or negative," said Dr. Jennifer Smith, director of the D.C. Department of Forensic Science.

Bowser reminds residents that testing is available with an appointment for free. You can contact this number for an appointment: 855-363-0333.

Coronavirus Cases in DC, Maryland and Virginia

COVID-19 cases by population in D.C. and by county in Maryland and Virginia

Source: DC, MD and VA Health Departments
Credit: Anisa Holmes / NBC Washington

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