- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2020

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is winning high marks for battling the coronavirus, just as the District stands ready to achieve a win in its longstanding fight — a vote on statehood in the House.

Miss Bowser said Thursday that the District, which had been a coronavirus hot spot, has reduced its infection rate to levels last seen in March.

“We don’t want to see any rebound in cases, so all of the things we have done up to this point to be so careful, we have to recommit ourselves to doing those things,” she said at a press conference. “As we slowly turn on more activity in our city, wear a mask, keep 6-foot distance from others and continue to choose your activities wisely.”

The D.C. Department of Health (DOH) reported just over 30 new coronavirus cases as of Thursday. Just two months ago, the Health Department reported more than 200 new cases daily.

Still, Miss Bowser and Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt urged residents to exercise caution as more activities become available as the District reopens its economy.

“As I think about what that means for me, that just because something is open, doesn’t mean I have to go; just because there are going to be fireworks downtown, doesn’t mean I have to go; if I am invited some place and I can’t be sure that my host is following safe practices or I don’t know who’s going to be there, I don’t’ have to go there either,” Miss Bowser said.

Dr. Nesbitt said that some states reopened at an accelerated rate and now are seeing a second wave of infections via community spread, but that’s not the case in the District.

“Those [30 new] cases are not connected so that causes us some concern, but we have had a slower phased reopening and we have not allowed activity such as bars and other nightlife activities that carry a higher risk of transmission when you still have moderate community transmission in your community,” Dr. Nesbitt said.

Miss Bowser said the rise in cases of other places does make her feel anxious, but she feels good about the planning and preparation her administration has done to allow for a slow reopening.

“It makes me feel very proud of D.C. residents and D.C. business who’ve stuck together and have followed guidance strictly and we quite frankly didn’t know how strictly our region would adhere to guidance issued by the health department,” Miss Bowser said, in reference to the District no longer being a hotspot.

Lawrence Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University, said the District has been one of the more “prudent” jurisdictions in its fight against COVID-19 and applauded the mayor’s approach to reopening. But he added that he worries when he sees a lot of people walking around Georgetown without masks.

“My main worry is when students, government, and businesses return in the fall,” Mr. Gostin said in an email to The Washington Times. “I have deep concerns of a major resurgence of cases in DC, perhaps well beyond the levels that DC Health is able to cope with. We could see a train wreck in DC in the Fall if we are not vigilant.”

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he thinks Miss Bowser is doing a good job leading through the public health emergency, resisting pressure from the president and coordinating efforts with our neighboring jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia.

“Even though we are going into our fourth month, I think it’s still important that the branches of the government are working together,” Mr. Mendelson said, after declining to comment further on how he thinks the mayor could have done things differently. “While the council still needs to do oversight, it’s not ordinary times where it’s fine for us to be thinking more about our oversight and thinking about our cooperation and collaboration.”

John Falcicchio, the mayor’s chief of staff and interim deputy mayor of planning and economic development, said Miss Bowser has moved the District forward in a measured and deliberate way, and the city has followed her leadership.

The majority of businesses have been in compliance with the health guidelines, and when some are found to be out of compliance, they quickly resolve any issues.

“The other thing that is kind of interesting, we have had other leaders who have had to deal with the pandemic across the country, obviously, but I think the mayor is the one who has had to deal with the pandemic, the demonstrations and the Trump White House and that actually is what makes her leadership unique in this moment,” Mr. Falcicchio said.

Miss Bowser made D.C. statehood a topic of national conversation after the city was shortchanged $750 million in the Senate’s coronavirus relief bill and after President Trump brought in hundreds of members of the National Guard from other states to respond to D.C. protests without a formal request from the mayor.

On Friday, the Democrat-controlled House will vote on, and likely pass, a bill that would grant statehood to the District for the first time in history.

Mr. Trump has threatened to veto the legislation, even though it will likely die in the Republican-led Senate.

• Sophie Kaplan can be reached at skaplan@washingtontimes.com.

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