Jan 20, 2022 - COVID

D.C. region sees sharp decline in COVID cases

Data: N.Y. Times. Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The dramatic upswing in COVID-19 cases that briefly made our region the epicenter of the Omicron surge is now rapidly abating.

Why it matters: Omicron’s quick spread forced leaders to ramp up testing and sidelined employees across governments and businesses, derailing public life and leading to an increase in deaths.

  • New positive cases are down 52% in the District, from a Jan. 4 peak of 288 cases per 100,000 residents, according to D.C. data.
  • In neighboring Montgomery County, Maryland, officials said they may be weeks away from low case rates if the current downward trend continues.
  • In Arlington County, cases declined last week or the first time in four weeks, in line with the rest of the region.

What’s next: Leaders say they have learned from the latest surge, after Omicron sent the region scrambling for self-test kits and new protocols to handle the spread of the virus in schools.

  • “It’s certainly our intent to not operate as if Omicron will be the last variant,” Earl Stoddard, a top pandemic response official in Montgomery County said during a virtual news briefing.
  • The county has ordered over 2.1 million rapid self-test kits to distribute at libraries. But officials said yesterday its latest shipment of 196,000 kits was delayed by about a week due to the supplier fielding an onslaught of demand from the federal government and other customers, such as the District, which began its distribution of kits before Montgomery County.
  • Starting Friday, the county will tap into its stockpile of 4 million N95 masks to hand them out alongside test kits.

Given the need for continued testing and stubbornly low vaccination rates in lower-income and Black communities, the District announced this week it will open eight new COVID-19 centers.

  • The new centers were spurred not due to overwhelming demand like earlier in the pandemic, but to make testing and vaccination opportunities more ubiquitous.
  • “We want to have a more permanent location,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said on Tuesday at the opening of a center in Ward 7, as opposed to shifting pop-up clinics that can confuse residents.

Yes, but: Long-term planning for an ever-shifting virus has its challenges.

  • “I don’t want to stockpile enough tests for a million people, only to discover that the next variant has figured out to not be detected by it,” Montgomery County executive Marc Elrich told reporters yesterday.
  • He said planning ahead will be a balancing act. Stoddard said it’s likely restrictions such as the mask mandate — and a proposed proof-of-vaccination requirement to enter restaurants — would be relaxed and revived as conditions require.

“We obviously will quickly move to restock and resupply, and make sure we have an on-hand capability to respond more rapidly than we did with the Omicron variant,” Stoddard said.


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