D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and other city leaders laid out on Tuesday the city's plans to monitor and respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak that has sickened thousands around the world.
Bowser authorized $500,000 from the District's reserve fund to buy supplies for first responders and front-line staff who could come in contact with the virus.
Additionally, when someone calls 911, call-takers now will ask additional questions to try to identify someone who might have the virus.
No cases have been diagnosed in D.C., Maryland or Virginia as of Tuesday afternoon, and the risk remains low, D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra S. Nesbitt said.
Under an emergency plan activated Monday, the D.C. Department of Health is coordinating with the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency in planning for any potential future impacts from the virus, Bowser said.
"We are always worst-case-scenario planning," Bowser said.
DC's Plan: Monitor, Prepare, Respond
At a press conference Tuesday, city leaders detailed moves to get more equipment, set up testing labs and educate the public.
D.C.'s own forensic science labs now have the capability to test for coronavirus, officials say. This week, officials can test about 25 cases a day. Next week, the lab is expected to be capable of performing 80 tests a day, according to department director Dr. Jenifer Smith.
Only those who meet the diagnostic criteria — who are sick and may have been exposed to COVID-19 — will be tested, Nesbitt said.
Firefighters have been equipped with some N95 respirators, the mask approved by the CDC to prevent disease spread.
The city has directed agencies to form working groups dedicated to specific issues that could arise if infection began to spread in the area, including for quarantines and isolations; finance, supplies and logistics; schools and public facilities and special or at-risk populations, including homeless or incarcerated individuals.
The working groups aren't just limited to D.C. government employees. Nonprofits, federal agencies and relevant industry professionals could also be added.
D.C. is currently under an enhanced watch and preparing emergency responses. But at this point, there are no plans to close schools, isolate individuals or change plans for major events.
"It's our job to prepare for when we do. And that is when the health agency and homeland security will advise us on the next stages of action," Bowser said.
Sustained community transmission, or lots of person-to-person viral spread, would be a sign to city leaders that more serious steps need to be taken, officials said.
Cherry Blossom Festival Sees Impact
The coronavirus has had some impact on the National Cherry Blossom Festival that will attract scores of people to D.C. this spring.
Two school groups from Japan that were scheduled to perform in the parade canceled plans to travel to D.C. Also, some Japanese executives are choosing not to come, the president of the festival, Diana Mayhew, said Tuesday.
However, ticket sales have been strong and are even outpacing previous years' sales, Mayhew said.
Organizers are monitoring the situation daily and taking direction from District officials.
What DC Residents Need to Know
With no vaccine and no treatment available, great personal and community hygiene are the best ways to protect your family and community, Nesbitt said.
The most important thing residents can do now is to take common-sense steps to stop the spread of germs, including frequent hand washing, sanitizing surfaces and coughing into a tissue, your elbow or your shoulder.
Anyone who has a reason to think they were exposed and is suffering symptoms should call ahead to their healthcare provider. This is critically important to the city's plan to contain any cases that could come to the area, Nesbitt says.
The mayor spoke against creating a stigma against people based on where they're from.
"The coronavirus does not recognize race, nationality or ethnicity," she said. "While the virus started in China, it does not mean anyone with Chinese ancestry is more vulnerable to or likely to spread the virus."