Mar 27, 2020

Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser Coronavirus Briefing Transcript March 27

DC Mayor Update March 27
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsWashington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser Coronavirus Briefing Transcript March 27

Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser held a press conference on March 27, 2020 with COVID-19 updates. Read the full transcript here.


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Muriel Bowser: (00:23)
Good morning everybody, I’m Muriel Bowser. I’m the mayor of Washington DC, and I am providing the District’s government’s briefing on our response to COVID-19. I’m joined today by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, Ward 6 council member Charles Allen, and the Chairman of the District’s Board of Elections, Michael Bennett. This morning I want to start with some very difficult news. A member of my team who worked in the Office of Legal Counsel recently tested positive for COVID- 19, and he passed away this morning. My prayers right now are with his family, his entire team, and of course we will be supporting them during this very difficult time. Last night we reported 36 new cases bringing our total positive cases to 267. As we continue to experience the severity of this tragedy, it is critical that we’re all working together to stop the spread, to stay at home. The only reason we should be leaving our homes is to buy groceries, pick up medicine, exercise alone or with our own family, or if you’ve been advised to seek medical attention or if you are performing an essential job.

Muriel Bowser: (01:48)
As this public health emergency evolves, we are continuously planning for and thinking of what life looks like in the short, medium, and longterm in our city, and one of the things we continue to plan for is our elections. I am going to ask Chairman Michael Bennett who asked us for some time to publicize the board’s plans for orderly primary election in June, and Mr. Bennett will talk more about that. The Board of Elections has a plan. They are moving forward. They are encouraging more residents to request and mail-in their ballots and to use 20 in person voting centers for the June primary and Ward 2 special election. With that, I’m going to bring up Chairman Bennett to provide more specifics about the board’s plan, and then we will be available for your questions.

Michael Bennett: (02:54)
Thank you Mayor Bowser, and my condolences and heartfelt concern for the family. My name is Michael Bennett, and the DC Board of Elections is committed to successful June 2020 elections. We have two major priorities during this unprecedented coronavirus state of emergency. One, makes sure DC voters and DC Board of Elections staff and poll workers remain safe. Number two, make sure voters have an opportunity to vote, and every vote is counted. Consistent with those two priorities, the following are highlights of a plan we have developed in coordination with the mayor and the city council for the June 2, 2020 primary election and the June 16, 2020 Ward 2 special election. The DC Board of Elections currently has a process where voters may request the board mail their ballot to them, and that ballot can be completed by the voter and returned to the DC Board of Elections and counted.

Michael Bennett: (03:59)
A ballot may be requested one, online by simply completing the form online. Two, through the DC Board of Elections voter app using your handheld, you just simply need to download the app. Three, you can write the Board of Elections and request your ballot, and D, you can just simply call the board and request your ballot. The easiest way to request your ballot is by downloading the DC Board of Election app. Once the voter’s ballot is completed, the voter need only timely drop it in the mail using the prepaid postage addressed envelope included in the ballot. If preferred, a voter can drop the ballot at a vote center I’ll talk about next. There will be lots of communications to voters over the next couple of months to ensure voters have all the information required to successfully cast their ballot. While we encourage all voters to request a ballot by mail and return that ballot by mail, if by chance that process doesn’t work for an individual voter, we will open approximately 20 vote centers across the city.

Michael Bennett: (05:06)
The plan currently calls for at least two votes centers in each ward. Fifteen of the vote centers are likely to be those early voting sites most voters are currently familiar with. We are working closely with the mayor’s administration and the council to determine the specific locations of the vote centers. Once we have determined the final votes center locations, they will be widely publicized. We want to ensure that these locations accommodate CDC safety standards and accessibility requirements. Even with that said, we still strongly urge all voters to vote using the mail-in ballot option. We plan to open the vote centers starting May 22 through June 2, Election Day for the primary election, and for the special election, June 12 through June 16, the special election day. All voters will be able to cast their vote at a vote center regardless of their precinct assignment. Further, we will ask voters who are unable to use the mail ballot process and have a need to visit a vote center to voluntarily stagger their visits probably by alphabet.

Michael Bennett: (06:17)
However, any staggering scheme that we announce will be voluntary, and no voter will ever be turned away. We will be working with the administration to make sure the vote centers are cleared for use by the DC Department of Health. All the CDC guidelines for social distancing and disinfecting procedures shall be followed at each vote center. Not withstanding all that and all the precautions that we will use at each vote center to ensure voter and poll worker’s safety, we again strongly encourage each voter to request their ballot by mail. Requesting your ballot by mail is easy and mailing your ballot in is by far the safest way to vote and will be counted. Today is not too early to download the app and request your ballot. Ballots will be ready for distribution by May 1 and will be mailed to voters as requests are received thereafter. Vote early, vote by mail if at all possible, and stay safe. Thank you.

Charles Allen: (07:38)
Thank you, I’m Charles Allen, the Ward 6 council member and Chair of the council’s Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety. We have oversight of the Board of Elections. First and foremost, Ms. Mayor, very deep apologies to you and your entire team for the loss today. I also want to thank Chairman Bennett. I think that he, Alice, Terry, everybody at the Board of Elections has really a risen to the challenge here of trying to think about, how do we do two things and do them very well? One is to make sure that we have a safe election for all of our voters and all of our poll workers. And number two, how do we make sure that we’ve got a election that’s going to proceed with the integrity that we all demand and expect? And I’m confident that the plan that they’re laying out is going to do so.

Charles Allen: (08:17)
I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to make sure that we encourage every single person to request that ballot, so they can vote with a mail-in ballot. It takes advantage of a proven and effective system that we have, and so we want to greatly expand that and make sure everyone has the ability to do this, which they will through the ways that Mr. Bennett outlined in terms of how to request that ballot. And going further though to ensure that for same day voter registration and same day balloting, we still have an option to do that and want to encourage everybody, as Mr. Bennett talked about, to be able to stagger their coming to that and follow those guidelines. But we’re going to make sure that we have a election that everyone has complete confidence and integrity in, but we do so in a very safe way. And I know I, and many others, will continue to push every single person to request that ballot and to be able to vote by mail with your mail-in ballot. Thank you very much.

Speaker 2: (09:03)
Ballot. And to be able to vote by mail with your mail in ballot. Thank you very much.

Muriel Bowser: (09:07)
Questions? Yes.

Speaker 4: (09:10)
First of all, I’m so sorry to hear the news. Had you been made aware ahead of time that this staff member of yours had been sick? Had there been any concerns about him within the rest of your team? How much did you know ahead of this?

Muriel Bowser: (09:22)
I was made aware yesterday that he was in the hospital and tested positive for covid. And made aware this morning that he passed away. We do have a protocol, of course, working with the Department of Health about workplaces if we find a covid positive person. And we are engaged in that process right now to notify staff members.

Speaker 4: (09:48)
How’s your staff taking it? How were you feeling when you first got the news?

Muriel Bowser: (09:51)
It’s devastating for everybody of course. And we just are very sorry. And these are folks that are coming to work because they perform essential tasks and we’re sharing that information with them as well as the many thousands of DC government workers who are teleworking.

Speaker 5: (10:14)
Also very sorry to hear about your colleague. A couple of questions about him. When was he diagnosed, can you say? Can you identify him, just a member of your staff? And tell us a little bit about him.

Muriel Bowser: (10:26)
I don’t know exactly when he was diagnosed. I know that he went into the hospital on Wednesday. He is a more than two decade employee of DC government having worked 20 years in the Office of the Attorney General. And recently serving as the Deputy Director of the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel. His name was George Valentine.

Muriel Bowser: (10:54)

Speaker 3: (10:56)
Starting with the election changes that have been proposed today, I was wondering if the Board of Election has, are you assured and the Council assured that the Board has adequate funds that might be needed to handle an all of a sudden great influx of mail in ballots or is that going to cause a problem?

Muriel Bowser: (11:17)
I’ll ask Mr Bennett to address any budgeting considerations they’ve made, but I can assure you as is always the case with our elections, we will support the Board of Elections with their needs.

Mr Bennett: (11:37)
Yes, funding has already been provided. We’re in the process now of putting together the processes that we need in order to handle the mail in ballot process. But not opening the 144 precincts provides additional funding there as well. But we’ve been working with the Council and the Mayor’s Office to make sure that we have sufficient funding. And right now we are fine with regard to funding.

Speaker 3: (12:04)
I just have one quick follow up. So in the phone call, you said that one option would be for voters if they want to request a mail in ballot they could call in. I was not able to reach anyone at the Board by phone yesterday. Of course, press might be a little different than the general public, but would you have adequate staff to handle an influx of phone calls?

Mr Bennett: (12:27)
Well, right now, phoning is not a great idea. We are actually, as far as the Mayor has shut down the government with regard to the central functions only. So we have a limited staff. We’re also in the process of setting up phone banks to be able to handle the calls. But by far the best and easiest way would be to download the app and to request the ballot that way. One of the things that we’re asking people to do is if there are persons in their neighborhood or friends or family members that are not necessarily tech savvy, that people could help one another with regard to ordering it, to requesting the ballot through the internet and through technology and the app.

Muriel Bowser: (13:15)

Speaker 6: (13:17)
Just some follow up questions about that, I’m kind of curious as to wonder why not proactively mail ballots to people instead of asking them to request it. And if you’re worried about turnout continuing to decline, especially after the low turn out in 2018. Either Mr Bennett or the Mayor.

Mr Bennett: (13:32)
The focus at this point is just for where we are right now and trying to make sure that we are able to ensure that people are safe in the voting process and that their vote counts. The process of mailing a ballot out, while it sounds pretty simple and it certainly sounded simple to me as well, there are a couple of states that actually do that. And one is the state of Washington and they all have recommended that we take two years to actually plan those processes.

Mr Bennett: (14:08)
One of the things that could happen in a situation like that is while you would think that everybody’s ballot looks the same, the answer is that’s not true. And we have over 460,000 voters in DC, registered voters, and so having to mail those out, ballots to that many voters, you would end up using a mail house to actually do that. And they would have to sort and categorize.

Mr Bennett: (14:35)
And so actually mailing ballots out to registered voters is a lot more complex process than one would think. And every jurisdiction that actually does that recommended that we take two years to actually plan the processes, and not two months. You could have one mistake and your whole election is failed. Yes, sir.

Speaker 7: (15:06)
[inaudible 00:15:06] from home or in the office. And do you know of any contacts he’s had with other staffers?

Muriel Bowser: (15:13)
Yes. He had been reporting to the office and we’re working on the contact tracing as we speak.

Speaker 7: (15:25)
[inaudible 00:15:25] Did you interact with him at all?

Muriel Bowser: (15:27)
I don’t believe that I did. Yes.

Sam: (15:33)
Mayor, I know you’ve declared a state of emergency, any word of what this means for police hazard pay? We’re hearing about that.

Muriel Bowser: (15:44)
Police hazard pay?

Sam: (15:45)
Yes. The fact that they’re working. Does that mean they’re paying hazard pay for working during this emergency?

Muriel Bowser: (15:52)
No, it does not.

Sam: (15:53)
So they do not get hazard pay?

Muriel Bowser: (15:54)
Nobody gets hazard pay.

Sam: (15:57)
And I understand that work is going on at United Medical Center in terms of constructing places for these tests, any word as to when that will take place?

Muriel Bowser: (16:09)
As we mentioned yesterday, Sam, we are working with a partner so that we can get set up there, make sure we have the right supplies and tracking system. And I’m really hopeful that we can get that open as soon as possible.

Muriel Bowser: (16:26)

Speaker 8: (16:27)
Thank you, I have two questions for Mr Valentine. Was anyone in the office under quarantine and you recommended any staff members be on the [inaudible 00:16:35] ?

Muriel Bowser: (16:34)
As I said, we literally kind of walked out here because we had a scheduled press time, the contact tracing is happening and my teams are working on that.

Speaker 8: (16:45)
Getting back to your conversation with the President yesterday when you said to him that he needed to fix what’s coming-

Muriel Bowser: (16:50)
I’m sorry, I can’t hear you.

Speaker 8: (16:52)
Getting back to your conversation with the President yesterday, you asked him to fix what’s coming out of the Senate Bill last night, what was his reaction to that comment?

Muriel Bowser: (17:00)
His reaction was that he was going to look into what happened. I asked him if we would be able to follow up with Secretary Mnuchin on what we saw as the fix. And he committed to looking into it. And we continue to call on him to do that. We sent a follow up letter to that question and conversation last night to the White House. We know that this is a fast moving bill and we know that working with all of the leadership at the Senate, the White House, in the House, we’re calling on them to make that fix.

Muriel Bowser: (17:45)

Speaker 9: (17:47)
[inaudible 00:17:47] as far as people in DOC’s custody, how many are still in quarantine and how many have been tested and have any more tested positive?

Muriel Bowser: (17:54)
I’ll have to get back to you with that. Kevin didn’t join us today. I haven’t been aware since the last time we spoke of any material change.

Muriel Bowser: (18:02)
Since the last time we spoke of any material change. Yes.

Speaker 10: (18:11)
[inaudible 00:18:11] I think we’re all struck by that loss for the community. On the voting, can you talk about is there any talk of extending the date for the primary, first of all, delaying the primary right now?

Muriel Bowser: (18:29)
No, I think you heard from Mr. Bennett that the board’s plan is for an on-time election, emphasizing the availability of a mail-in ballot. You heard him say that folks can request that mail-in ballot and send that ballot through the mail, as well as thinking about how we staff our vote centers. People are familiar with our vote centers. We have been using vote centers for early vote, I don’t know how many years now, maybe 10 years? 10 years, we’ve been using early vote centers. I think the board plans to expand the number of those vote centers, extend the number of days that early vote is available, and come up with a strategy to encourage people to stagger the times and days that they come to those votes centers.

Muriel Bowser: (19:23)
I’ve also offered to Chairman Bennett, and as you know in the district, our elections are conducted by an independent agency, the DC Board of Elections. And so the Chairman has asked us to be supportive with facilities, janitorial, and any of those types of support. I want to say that they will have my complete cooperation and support. I’ve directed our Office of General Services Director, Keith Anderson, to work with the Board and its executive director on making sure we can support their facilities request.

Muriel Bowser: (20:01)
I have asked the Board to make very clear what the voting centers are and make public notice of what those voting facilities are early. I know they wanted to get this information out just as soon as possible and they’re working on making sure all of the plans are practical, legal, and publicly noticed.

Speaker 10: (20:24)
Can I ask about petition gatherers? Are people still collecting petitions right now? Are we still in a petition period for candidates?

Muriel Bowser: (20:32)
Petitions, ballot access has been determined for both the primary and the ward two… No, I’m sorry, you want to come up, Director? Now you getting into the Board’s business, so let me call the Board to talk about that.

Alice Miller: (20:56)
Thank you. Just with respect to the Ward two, the Ward two petition period is over, but the challenge period ends on Monday. With that note, I am going to say that we are taking appointments only for anyone who wants to challenge over the weekend. We’ve put that information out on our website and by social media just because we’ve had an incident even within our own office, and we’re trying to make certain that we’re able to accommodate the process but still do it with the safety concerns and the public health concerns of our own staff.

Muriel Bowser: (21:27)
Alice, please introduce yourself.

Speaker 10: (21:27)
So the petition period, nobody’s gathering petitions?

Speaker 11: (21:35)
Correct. My name is Alice Miller, I’m sorry, Executive Director for the Board. No one is collecting signatures right now. That period has ended. But what we are with respect to the special election is the challenge period. And that ends on Monday.

Speaker 10: (21:48)
Incident in your office, does that mean an employee of the BOE tested positive?

Speaker 11: (21:52)
There was an employee who was exposed, yes.

Speaker 11: (21:55)
Can you say whether resolution was reached in a Ward seven challenge-

Alice Miller: (22:04)
Ward two.

Speaker 11: (22:07)
There’s also one in Ward Seven that’s what I-

Alice Miller: (22:09)
We haven’t completed… The ballot has not yet been determined. The petition period is over.

Speaker 11: (22:14)
Right. I understand that, but I’m saying if there’s a challenge of the petitions, are you able to under these new circumstances have a hearing or how do you work that?

Alice Miller: (22:22)
Yeah, we’re having all of our hearings virtually.

Speaker 11: (22:24)

Alice Miller: (22:27)
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Speaker 10: (22:29)
Can I just ask about Initiative 81? What is the status of that? Is that on hold right now?

Speaker 12: (22:37)
I’m sorry, would you repeat your question?

Speaker 10: (22:38)
Initiative 81, the decriminalization of mushrooms.

Speaker 12: (22:44)
They have asked, let me move this up a little bit. They’ve asked that we not issue the final petition to them yet, and so we have not. When we do issue the petition to them, then they’ll have the full time period to gather signatures.

Speaker 10: (23:01)
That would not be for June… I mean I’m just wondering, their concern, and you know, that they very much want to go to online petition. Is anything like that be considered given now this circumstances that we’re under?

Speaker 12: (23:14)
No, not at this point, but that initiative would not be on the June ballot or election anyway. It would be November, the general election.

Speaker 10: (23:28)
And then for the mayor and the council, is there any consideration of placing that on the ballot, through you guys doing that?

Phil Mendelson: (23:41)
The issue is, I’m Phil Mendelson, Chair of the council. The issue has not come up and I would not say that we’re looking for legislative action to put it on the ballot.

Muriel Bowser: (23:53)
Let me also just mention one thing, that our team has worked to modify some of our agreements with our contract security guards, who protect DC public schools, and we are redeploying those resources and other school personnel resources involved with security to our public parks to enforce my order that there are no large gatherings over 10 and no group exercise like soccer, basketball and other group sports, which are prohibited in the District of Columbia during the public health emergency. Yes.

Speaker 13: (24:39)
I was reading this thing that the mayor of Boston has prohibited all but emergency construction in Boston. What’s the situation here in DC? Is there any consideration on something like that?

Muriel Bowser: (24:52)
Certainly we are enforcing all of our social distancing requirements as it relates to construction, including large gatherings and proper spacing. We continue to have our DCRA inspectors be able to inspect that. We’ll take a few more questions.

Speaker 10: (25:16)
Mayor Bowser, you’ve been very candid about finances, the stressful finances. I’m just wondering, are you at the point yet where you’ve had discussions about the possibility of layoffs of government employees, furloughs and the possibility of violating one of the seven deadly sins associated with the control board?

Muriel Bowser: (25:35)
Absolutely not. We have no intent of doing that, and we are certainly looking at all of our government operations right now for cost containment. It doesn’t involve any employee furloughs, but we think that there are some things that we can do, especially since we have most of our team teleworking, that can help conserve costs. We’re doing that right now.

Speaker 14: (26:04)
Just kind of curious about the medical surge a little bit. Curious as to what the district is doing over the weekend and the next week to prepare for that? Follow up question to that too is that are there enough beds, ventilators, PPE, and how’s the ramping effort going? And the last part of that, are there enough doctors, nurses and staff and are any places turning away patients? There’s a lot of questions all at once.

Muriel Bowser: (26:28)
There was a lot of questions. So you ask about the medical surge, and let me say a little bit about, and really then when the next time that Dr. Nesbitt is with us, she can talk about that with some expertise. But what we are all preparing for in cities, in jurisdictions across the United States, is that time in your jurisdiction when the amount of community spread and infection is causing more people to require hospitalization. And we’re all using pretty sophisticated…

Muriel Bowser: (27:03)
[inaudible 00:00:27:00], and we’re all using pretty sophisticated models to put inputs in, to get our best guess of when that’s going to happen and what the level of impact on our system will be. So I can assure you that we are doing that type of planning in DC government. We are looking for, I don’t think any city situated like ours will have those number of beds regularly in use in their hospital system. So as we have discussed previously, we’re looking for capacity that’s already in the hospital buildings, and we’re looking for capacity that we can stand up on a temporary basis. We’re undergoing that type of planning right now. We will have the assistance of the Army Corps of Engineers, as I explained, were with us last week to talk about some of that planning.

Speaker 16: (27:57)
Ventilators and PPE, at this point, I know the city, you’re allocated 15 million to purchase more ventilators, but at this point do you have enough ventilators and PPD?

Muriel Bowser: (28:06)
As I mentioned we have, we think what we need in terms of PPE to satisfy DC government, but we continue to procure it to be able to support our medical system. And I don’t think any of us would ever feel like we have enough. And the same goes for ventilators.

Speaker 17: (28:26)
People on listservs and whatnot are asking, is it okay to go out for a walk? Can I take my dog for a walk, can husband and wife go for a walk? People who are sheltering in place, I know you don’t want them playing soccer in the fields, but how far, how extreme does this get?

Muriel Bowser: (28:42)
We say that you can go outside for exercise with your own family. And we want you to think about any trip that you make outside of your door. To buy groceries, to pick up medicine, to exercise with your family, to seek medical attention, or to go to your essential work.

Speaker 17: (29:04)
Back to Mr. Valentine. Does that give you any more pause to consider stiffening going to a mandatory shelter in place now that somebody so close to you has passed away?

Muriel Bowser: (29:16)
Everybody in the District of Columbia is close to me, and it is a precious life. And we are doing all that’s in our power to protect precious life, and that includes putting out orders that have stopped commercial activity in the District of Columbia, and standing up mechanisms to enforce those orders.

Speaker 15: (29:51)
[inaudible 00:29:51] and what’s stopping the discussion [inaudible 00:29:55]?

Muriel Bowser: (29:55)
What is what?

Speaker 15: (29:55)
What do you discuss with them when you are, what’s the most important?

Muriel Bowser: (29:58)
We last had a meeting, just the three of us, I think at the early part of this week, and we all had a meeting with the president yesterday, with other governors. And we’re obviously talking about regional response.

Muriel Bowser: (30:14)

Speaker 18: (30:19)
[inaudible 00:30:19] about testing time turnaround for the District’s lab, the public health lab and also for the commercial labs. Have there been any delays in that, in the turnaround times?

Muriel Bowser: (30:31)
I think Dr. Nesbit has already talked to you about what we see in the number of days is taking the private labs. I think three or four days. It’s taken our lab 24 to 48 hours. We’re going to procure some additional equipment for our lab, which I think will also speed up testing. I’m not going to remember the exact right now, but we will have also more equipment for our lab.

Muriel Bowser: (30:58)
Thank you everybody.

Speaker 19: (30:59)
To help solve the problems in the community.

Speaker 20: (31:21)
I’m doing my dream each and every day.

Speaker 19: (31:25)
It’s a great time to be MPD.

Speaker 21: (31:31)
Julia was always a voracious reader. She carried two novels on an airplane because she’d read one on a three, four hour ride. And at some point I began to notice that she would read a page and couldn’t remember what she had just read, and she has to go back and read it again.

Speaker 22: (31:50)
I don’t remember much these days after I read. But Les does for me and I love it.

Speaker 23: (32:07)
What if the places where we love to spend time never existed? What if those designers who built and curated the spaces that we love never made them? Would our outlook of a city be the same?

Speaker 23: (32:21)
This Passport Destination episode focuses on a few designers, and a museum who see the use of architecture and interior design as a curated experience that communicates thoughts and culture, but mostly how it impacts our lives.

Martin Moeller: (32:39)
National Building Museum was established in 1980 by an act of Congress as a private nonprofit educational institution dedicated to the building arts and sciences, and we occupy a historic building built as the Pension Bureau offices, and we opened to the public in 1985. Our mission at the nNational Building Museum is to inspire curiosity in the world that we design and build. We’re not just a museum of architecture. We do look at other aspects of the design and building industries. We look at the impact of the design environment on people’s lives. We talk about how people live and work and play in buildings, and also how they can have an impact on-

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