- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 22, 2020

A long line of masked D.C. residents snaked around a coronavirus testing site exactly a week before Thanksgiving, as a steady stream of motorists zipped into the parking lot to get their noses swabbed.

For Claire Bailey, a 28-year-old D.C. resident, it was her first time getting tested at the public site at the University of the District of Columbia’s Bertie Backus Campus on South Dakota Avenue NE.

“I’m getting tested because I want to go visit my parents for Thanksgiving. They live in Richmond, so a two-hour drive south, but I want to make sure I’m negative before I go home for the holidays,” Ms. Bailey said Thursday while waiting in line.

Before visiting her parents, she said she plans to quarantine herself in her apartment until the holiday.

Another D.C. resident, Ben Hecht, was waiting for a test so he could spend Thanksgiving with his family and friends in New York City.

“We wanted to get testing done before getting together next week for Thanksgiving. And we’re going to do a totally outside Thanksgiving. So we’re not going to get inside,” Mr. Hecht said. “We’re requiring everybody to be tested. It’s my kids and their friends and close friends. But it’s really hard to get the tests.”

The 61-year-old said he had tried getting an at-home test like he had before, but that the company was only giving tests to people with symptoms and potential COVID-19 exposures.

Ms. Bailey also shared that her friend tried getting tested Wednesday at the fire station on Sherman Avenue NW, but that the site ran out of tests — an indicator of the high demand for testing ahead of the holiday season.

In the last two weeks, the District has tested more than 4,000 people each day, on average, up from the 1,500 daily test average in the beginning of October. Health data show that the District administered 40,180 tests Nov. 15-21 for a daily average of 5,740 tests. From Nov. 8-14, data show 29,806 tests given for a daily average of 4,258.

As of Saturday, at least 288,324 D.C. residents had been tested for COVID-19.

Higher testing demand comes as the District is adding Nationals Park as a public testing site and expanding hours at existing testing locations starting Monday.

The Maryland Department of Health on Saturday reported administering 51,495 COVID-19 tests that day, a record high. An average of 37,093 tests were given daily from Nov. 14 to Nov. 20, up from the previous 7-day average of 29,550 daily coronavirus tests.

“We do expect an increase in daily testing volumes as we approach the holidays,” said department spokesman Charles Gischlar. “Maryland public health officials are aware that there is an expectation that, as the holidays inch closer, testing volumes will steadily increase and have made preparations to offer COVID-19 tests to anyone who needs one, particularly those who recently traveled or attended a gathering.”

Mr. Gischlar said the health department expects to add more staff to many of its testing sites and that the state has “ample reserves” of testing supplies.

The Virginia Department of Health says it is starting to see an increased demand for testing due to a surge in cases in many communities. State health workers administered an average of 25,151 tests daily over seven days as of Nov. 19, the most recent data shows, compared to the seven-day average of 21,659 tests as of Nov. 12.

“We realize that any time individuals are away from home and interacting with others in the community outside of their immediate household, there may be a greater chance of spread of COVID-19. It is therefore critical that those traveling adhere to the general precautionary measures we have encouraged through the pandemic, which include social distancing wherever possible, wearing a mask, washing hands, and avoiding any travel if in fact symptomatic,” said department spokeswoman Erin Beard.

Local officials are imposing new coronavirus restrictions, issuing stricter travel advisories, mandating testing and urging people to nix traditional holiday customs and gatherings as the U.S. grapples with the raging pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday strongly advised against traveling for Thanksgiving, citing concerns about the coronavirus spreading due to crowding at transportation hubs and co-mingling of households. The warning came as the death toll from COVID-19 in the U.S. surpassed 250,000.

Contact tracing data for the District has shown that residents are likely getting infected with COVID-19 at home. Data also show that almost a quarter of positive coronavirus cases have been linked to social events with five or more attendees.

However, a national survey by the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that almost 2 in 5 Americans, or nearly 40%, reported they will likely attend a gathering with more than 10 people while one-third will not ask guests to wear masks.

A holiday season amid a pandemic arises the conflict between the desire to celebrate together with family and friends and the risk of spreading COVID-19 as the colder weather drives people indoors where the virus can transmit more easily, the medical center said.

“We’re going to look back at what happened during this holiday season and ask ourselves, ‘Were we part of the solution or were we part of the problem?’” said Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, chief quality and patient safety officer at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “When you’re gathered together around the table, engaged in conversation, sitting less than six feet apart with your masks down, even in a small group, that’s when the spread of this virus can really happen.”

The safest bet is for people to cancel in-person plans and to communicate virtually, he says. But if having guests over, he recommends wearing masks at all times, separating seating arrangements by household and designating a person or two to serve food. If traveling or hosting out-of-town guests, the doctor suggests staying informed about the COVID-19 rates and restrictions in both locations.

When asked about upcoming Christmas plans, Mr. Hecht said he has no idea what he is doing for that holiday.

“We’re taking one holiday at a time,” he said, while standing in line at the UDC testing site.

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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