- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Local officials struggled again Wednesday to get ahead of the rolling coronavirus crisis, with new cases reported, schools, entertainment venues and other groups curtailing or canceling activities, and the fate of the District’s signature Cherry Blossom Festival now in serious question.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser Wednesday officially declared a public health emergency in the District as the city’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 10. The administrative action will give her the authority to request federal disaster assistance, mandate quarantine measures, implement a curfew and target price gouging.

The District’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade will be postponed, and this weekend’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon, which winds through the city’s streets, was called off. On Capitol Hill, the tours popular with visiting tourists have been suspended, while the Episcopal Diocese said it was suspending worship services at the Washington National Cathedral and other churches in the Washington area for at least two weeks.

Mayor Bowser said that city officials will re-evaluate the fate of the Cherry Blossom Festival after March 31, but a number of subsidiary events — including the popular kite festival — have been scrubbed.

“The health and safety of the performers, guests, volunteers and festival staff is our priority,” said festival President and CEO Diana Mayhew in a statement. “We have been working closely with the city government, WHO and [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] as well as our partners to determine the best course of action.”

The University of Virginia, Gallaudet University, Georgetown University and George Washington University, joined American University and University System of Maryland, in suspending all in-person classes and urging students to go home.

In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that the Commonwealth now has a total of nine positive cases of the COVID-19. Mr. Northam said he is not yet prepared to enact a state of emergency, which he called an administrative tool, but was ready to do so if necessary.

State officials said the preparations include planning for remote work options for state employees and “distance learning” options for schools. Nursing homes are also being urged to rethink their visitor screening and patient monitoring policies, the Associated Press reported.

“We are planning for every scenario and ensuring that our government agencies, our schools, our hospitals and our Commonwealth are prepared thoroughly and able to respond quickly,” said Mr. Northam, who is himself a medical doctor.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that a Montana resident living in Anne Arundel County tested positive for COVID-19. However, the state’s count of confirmed cases is still at eight because the Anne Arundel case is technically a part of Montana’s count.

Mr. Hogan unveiled a number of new precautionary steps, including a special enrollment period for health insurance, restrictions on prison visits, and preliminary steps that could change the state’s scheduled April 28 primary to a mail-in ballot.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said this week the council will meet soon to ensure that Mayor Bowser has “all the authority she needs to go forward.”

The city’s Department of Health recommended Wednesday canceling or postponing mass gatherings of over 1,000 people through March 31, but the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals will continue with their game schedules as planned.

Bookers for the Anthem, the Lincoln Theater and the 9:30 Club called off performances last night in response to the city’s appeal, and said shows would only begin again April 1.

Events D.C. will suspend its operations on Friday through March 31, after two more individuals who attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference at the city’s convention center tested positive for coronavirus.

The District’s public school system said it was moving up a professional development day originally scheduled on March 20 to Monday to give teachers time to make accommodations for the possibility of online classes. School Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said they are preparing to provide healthy meals to families who might need them should there be more permanent closures in the future.

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

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