Northam (D) said he was lifting the ban on elective surgeries he imposed five weeks ago, allowing doctors, dentists and veterinarians to resume seeing patients on a non-emergency basis beginning Friday.
That ban, which applied to hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, dental offices and veterinarians amid concerns that the state’s hospitals would be overwhelmed by a surge in coronavirus cases, was originally scheduled to expire last week, but Northam extended it to May 1.
On Wednesday he confirmed that he would not extend it further, touting the decision as proof that the commercial and social restrictions he has imposed have successfully slowed the spread of the virus.
Northam said the change also was possible because of the work that state and medical officials have done to secure more capacity for treating and testing coronavirus patients. But he warned that if cases surge again, it might be necessary to reinstate restrictions.
Meanwhile, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) pleaded with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to impose safeguards when the chamber resumes its work in Washington next week to avoid risking the spread of the virus.
In his letter, Van Hollen said that recalling Senate lawmakers and staff members to Capitol Hill without precautions that maximize telework, minimize support staff, and institute temperature checks and rapid testing would undermine stay-at-home orders imposed across the District, Maryland and Virginia.
“While the Senate has critical work to do on behalf of the American people, we must be attentive to our role in controlling the spread of COVID-19 and have clear plans in place to ensure the safety of the staff and Capitol Police who support our work and care for the Capitol,” the letter states. “. . . I am ready to get back to the Capitol but you have an obligation to ensure the safety of all the staff that work there.”
McConnell’s office declined to comment beyond referring to a radio interview in which the senator said that “it’s essential for senators to carefully man our [stations] and support those folks who are out there on the front lines.”
Van Hollen called the D.C. region a “covid-19 hotspot.” The District, Maryland and Virginia on Wednesday reported 106 new deaths and 1,471 new infections — bringing their total number of coronavirus cases past 39,000 and total deaths to 1,818.
The District, which Van Hollen noted was shortchanged in a federal relief act, is scrambling to manage the pandemic — including limiting service for the Metro rail and bus lines that many Senate staffers use to commute to work.
D.C. officials said Wednesday that covid-19 restrictions and closures might need to be extended another three months under the “most stringent” scenario.
In a town hall Wednesday on reopening the city, District officials said a less stringent approach to reopening would phase in reopening in two to three months. The most stringent option would extend current closures for three months.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has declared a public health emergency through May 15. Health