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 officials cautioned that opening nonessential businesses before May 25 probably would result in a second peak of infections.
D.C. officials said they would push employers to keep telework policies in place as long as possible, while bars and nightclubs are likely to be the businesses shuttered the longest. But other institutions could reopen with strict internal social distancing measures.
In the meantime, the city said it had found an additional $8 million in relief funds for local businesses and should be able to give money to every eligible applicant.
More than 7,600 entities have applied, and John Falcicchio, acting deputy mayor for business and economic development, said the “great majority” will be funded.
The original $25 million earmarked by the D.C. Council has grown with infusions of $4 million from the city’s tourism and entertainment arm, Events D.C.; $1 million from a local housing agency; and $3 million from federal relief funds.
Bowser also said the city would use $1.5 million in federal affordable housing funds to help up to 400 low-income households pay rent for at least six months. Applications for those funds will be available May 11.
The District started posting jobs for an expansion of the city’s coronavirus contact tracing division, among the necessary conditions to reopen life in the nation’s capital.
“We know this virus is going to be with us and people will get infected,” Bowser said. “But how we identify them, isolate them, reach their contacts and quarantine them will determine how successful we are in reopening.”
Concerns continued over the area’s chicken and meat processing plants. Hogan (R) and Northam said teams of officials from the states and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had arrived at the plants on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia to address outbreaks of the coronavirus.
Having a healthy supply of meat for public consumption “depends on workers who are healthy and who are safe,” Northam said. “It is imperative that we continue to support their health and well being.”
He said he expressed those concerns Wednesday in a call with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and added that he expects all workers in the plants to be tested and to receive care if they need it. Those workers are overwhelmingly people of color, he said, and many are recent immigrants.
Accomack County, where many of Virginia’s chicken processing plants are located, has reported 229 coronavirus cases, Northam said, “so time is of the essence.”
A group of 11 Democratic state delegates and senators also petitioned Northam on Wednesday to disclose more information about the location of positive coronavirus cases around the state, saying other locales — such as Maryland — release data by Zip code.
In response, Northam said Virginia would adopt that practice as well, as soon as the state could reconfigure its information systems. Virginia has cited patient privacy as a reason to limit the amount of information released about cases of infection, but the lawmakers — led by Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) — argued that more data would help the public understand the spread of the disease.
Hogan said Wednesday that all Maryland nursing home residents and employees will now be tested regardless of whether they are showing symptoms. Virginia has been testing all nursing home facilities that ask for it or that have had outbreaks for the past two weeks.
Hogan’s executive order comes a day after Maryland released data showing that about half of the state’s coronavirus deaths were tied to nursing homes.
About 50 Maryland delegates urged Hogan to issue sweeping orders to help renters and homeowners who are struggling to pay their bills, including prohibiting rent increases and late fees and temporarily canceling rent and mortgage payments for those affected by the coronavirus.
Del. Jheanelle Wilkins (D-Montgomery), who initiated the letter, said “bold actions” are needed to help Maryland residents “keep the roof over their heads.”
Hogan signed an executive order earlier this month that temporarily prohibits evictions and repossessions and stops the initiation of residential and commercial foreclosures. Hogan’s spokesman, Michael Ricci, said the governor’s office appreciated the ideas from the legislators.
“We continue to explore ways to help Marylanders get back on their feet as we plan for the recovery,” Ricci wrote in a statement.
Confirmed coronavirus cases continued to grow across the region on Wednesday. The District reported 112 new cases, bringing its total to 4,110. It also reported 15 new deaths, the highest single-day total in a week.
African American residents continue to account for a disproportionate number of deaths in the District, making up 80 percent of the 206 fatalities reported in a city that is 45 percent black.
Virginia also reported a jump in deaths Wednesday, with 29 new fatalities bringing the state’s total to 527. The state added 622 new cases for a total of 14,986.
Maryland reported 62 new deaths Wednesday, bringing the total in the state to 1,085. There were 117 new hospitalizations reported across Maryland, the lowest figure since April 15.
Maryland added 737 cases Wednesday, bringing its total to 20,865.
Rachel Chason, Antonio Olivo and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.