- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2020

The Walter E. Washington Convention Center will open Tuesday as a converted alternate care site as part of preparations for a surge of coronavirus cases in the District in late May.

“We consider this site our insurance policy,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday at a press conference. “We hope that we will never have to use it, but it is here and staffed for when we do or if we do.”

The convention center’s hospital site was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 22 days. It will treat “low-acuity” coronavirus patients — those who do not need a ventilator or a bed in an intensive care unit. It will be ready to treat 100 patients starting Tuesday.

Hall A of the convention center now houses 437 individual rooms for patients, and Hall B has space for assembling rooms, training and more beds, if needed.

Hospitals in the District usually operate at 75% capacity; since April 1, hospitals have operated at 71%, not including the surge beds. Miss Bowser said this indicates sufficient bed capacity.

A mayoral spokeswoman said the Army Corps will bill the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the cost of the convention center conversion. FEMA will pay the initial invoice to the Army Corps, then send the District a bill for the cost share balance. The total cost of the conversion is $55 million.

The convention center’s 100-square-foot hospital rooms are equipped with tablets so patients can videochat with family and friends and be entertained. Visitors will not be allowed inside the facility.

Miss Bowser on Tuesday was to have resubmitted the budget with cuts to close a $700 million shortfall. A mayoral spokesperson said she will announce the new budget on May 18 and present it to the D.C. Council the next day.

Also on Monday, Metro announced plans for increasing service but doesn’t project a return to pre-coronavirus levels of service until spring 2021.

Metro said in a press release it will begin to ramp up service this fall, when schools are to reopen for in-person learning and workers return to their businesses. At that time, all stations that were closed because of the pandemic will reopen, and all Metrobus routes will run.

Metro said it will continue to increase service as a coronavirus vaccine and treatment become widely available.

As stay-at-home orders are lifted, Metro will continue to encourage riders to only use the subway for essential reasons, saying it will take advantage of low ridership to perform maintenance.

The transit agency said this will include shutting down three to five stations at a time for a week for maintenance work. The first to be closed will be L’Enfant Plaza, Waterfront and Navy Yard stations from June 7-13. According to the press release, riders will be given weeks of notice about when stations will close.

Meanwhile, Gov. Ralph Northam said Monday that Northern Virginia will enter phase one of his reopening plan at a slower pace than the rest of the state.

Mr. Northam said the rate of positive coronavirus tests in the state and the northern region are declining, but Northern Virginia has not declined enough. About 10% of all tests in Virginia are positive; in Northern Virginia, that rate is at about 25%, Mr. Northam said at a briefing.

Northern Virginia leaders sent a letter Sunday to Mr. Northam expressing their concerns about reopening the state.

“The transition to Phase 1 in Northern Virginia should occur when our region has achieved the threshold metrics,” wrote the group, which includes Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ann Wheeler, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall and Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson.

Northern Virginia hasn’t reached any of the metrics used to determine reopening, according to health department directors.

Mr. Northam announced last week that he plans to initiate phase one of his reopening plan on May 15, which will permit retail stores and places of worship to open with up to 50% capacity.

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