Apr 17, 2020

Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser COVID-19 Briefing April 17

Muriel Bowser April 17
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsWashington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser COVID-19 Briefing April 17

Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser held a coronavirus briefing April 17. Read the full transcript here.


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Muriel Bowser: (00:00)
… Paul [inaudible 00:00:01]. This morning, we reported 126 new cases of COVID-19 in the district, bringing our total cases to 2,476. Sadly, we also announced to five deaths, bringing the number of lives loss in Washington D.C. to 86. So our message is clear; we continue to ask our residents to stay at home and only travel for a central business and activities, continue to practice social distancing, and if you leave your house for essential activities, wear a face covering. This week, I extended our public health emergency through Friday, May the 15th. We know today that our level of infection is lower in our city than we projected it would be today, but we still have work to do to flatten the curve, and everyone has a role to play.

Muriel Bowser: (01:07)
We are moving forward with our medical surge planning. We know that at every stage of our response and recovery, we need to be thinking about the capacity of our healthcare system to treat patients and to absorb spikes in COVID-19 cases. Today, our team is doing a walkthrough of the convention center with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They will begin set up this coming Monday, and by the first week of May, we will have 500 beds set up for low acuity care. This means these beds will be for non-ICU patients that do not require a ventilator. This for us means that we will be prepared for the worst case scenario, but our goal is to never need to use the convention center. The most appropriate place for any patient to receive care is at the hospital, and that’s why we’re making sacrifices to flatten the curve, and that’s why we need to continue working together to reduce infections and keep hospital beds open for people who need them.

Muriel Bowser: (02:26)
As we move forward with our medical surge plans, we are also moving forward with relief and recovery plans. Previously, I announced recovery programs for individuals and businesses. Today, I’m pleased to provide an update on a private effort, and I’m pleased to share that the Open Society Foundation is investing $1 million in the district to support the short term needs of our residents. Through grants to nonprofit organization, Open Society’s contribution will provide direct assistance and legal aid to undocumented immigrants, families and workers who are facing challenges obtaining employment insurance and other benefits, and families of incarcerated people. These funds will directly benefit residents in vulnerable populations, and we thank Open Society for their investment in the district. I understand that they will be making an announcement later today with more specifics.

Muriel Bowser: (03:35)
To get D.C. residents the relief that they need, we continued to be very focused on improving the process for how unemployment claims are processed. I am providing some detail about daily claims, those that have come online and over the telephone as well as the running total of claims that we have received. You will notice that since March 13th when our first businesses were impacted by mass gathering closures, later bar and restaurant closures, later essential business closures, you can see how unemployment claims have come in based on the impact of closing our economy.

Muriel Bowser: (04:28)
Since March 13, over 67,000 workers have filed claims for unemployment. In that same period of time, we have made over 78,000 payments to 29,000 individuals, totaling almost $29 million in payments. You will see that through March 13th through April 16th, we have many thousands of people that have applied on various days. The DOES, our unemployment office at DOES continues to work through those claims and to push down the amount of time it takes to process those claims. We estimate that it has taken 21 days to process claims. By adding more resources and providing more information to claimants, we are hoping to push those days down from 21 days to 14 days to process claims.

Muriel Bowser: (05:36)
We have also produced a pretty thick guidance about just about every question that we’ve heard about how to apply for unemployment, what types of unemployment are available, who qualifies, and very, very importantly, what you need to have in hand when you apply. Please go to coronavirus.dc.gov and pull up this document. It’s called “Assessing Unemployment Benefits: A Quick Guide to Applying. I’m focusing on what you need when you apply, because if you provide incomplete information it kicks you out of the regular processing and requires more adjudication. Please have all of your documents. Read through these forms. If you’ve already applied and you still have some questions in your mind and you’re trying to call, please read through this document because a lot of your questions could be answered.

Muriel Bowser: (06:40)
Having said all of that, we recognize that given the just enormity of the number of people in need and who are applying, we’ve been talking for several weeks about the impact that it’s had on our call takers. So over the course of the last several weeks, we have been able to build up our capacity for call taking. You can see by next week, we hope to have 193 people helping answer calls at DOES.

Muriel Bowser: (07:14)
So now I want to turn on to our schools. We know that many parents and educators and kids are eager to have a better sense of what learning looks like going forward, and as I’ve said before, closing our school buildings was one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve had to make during this pandemic, and for many reasons. Our young people want to go to school. They like school. They like seeing their teachers. They like learning, and they don’t understand all of this, so we know that disconnection has been difficult for them. We know that schools are a safe place, more than just learning, but access to great caring adults, nutrition, activities, social, emotional learning, all very important, so we are very, very focused on how we get back to school and we do it in a safe way.

Muriel Bowser: (08:08)
I want to say thank you, and I know I speak for all of us, to educators who have adjusted and adjusted very quickly, families, staff, school teachers, school leaders who have been very focused on how to stay in touch with kids and how to continue to engage families. That work that you’re doing right now is going to pay dividends in the weeks, months and years ahead for these students. We all know that there’s room for improvement, but given the circumstances, I know that our educators and families have done a fantastic job in adjusting, and we’re going to keep working to make sure that we can improve their experience.

Muriel Bowser: (08:53)
Let me just say a few things, and I know the chancellor will add to this, about what we have been doing around learning at home. We as a city and as a public education system and as a nation need to continue to address the digital divide. This pandemic has put a huge spotlight on one of the great inequities in our country, not everybody being able to access information quickly and in the same way, which is why DCPS has been a focus, not just during this pandemic but during this year, on how we can get more devices in the hands of more kids. DCPS has already started distributing 16,000 devices and 5,000 hotspots. We started with high school students, and we are working now with families at our elementary and middle schools to get these devices out to them. So not only have we been focused on the devices themselves, but the internet connection that of course make them come alive.

Muriel Bowser: (10:06)
We are grateful to the D.C. Education Equity Fund, which is helping our schools get more resources to students. Already, this fund has helped purchase laptops and additional hot spots for young people who need them. So DCPS and schools will continue to distribute these 5,000 hot spots to families in the days and weeks ahead. On April 7th, the Equity Fund distributed over $1 million in grants to DCPS and charters to help make this happen, and donations to the Equity Fund have also helped purchase 180 computers for students at Luke Seymour, Washington Met, Cardoza and Ron Brown.

Muriel Bowser: (10:56)
As I have already mentioned, it’s not just the academics we’re focused on, and just as our schools are normally focused on the whole child, they continue to be focused on the whole child during this emergency. We have meal sites across the city for our children and families to access, and already more than 162,000 meals have been delivered. Additionally, this week we launched our 10 new grocery sites where families can get fresh fruits and vegetables and nuts and other non-perishable groceries. DCPS is also offering virtual workshops for families, and the next one will be on April 22nd to help children manage stress and understand what’s going on with our response to this pandemic.

Muriel Bowser: (11:54)
And, importantly, for children and families who our schools have not been able to contact, our child and family service agencies is supporting us to make sure students and families stay safe and healthy. Parents, this is for you. If you have not made contact with your child’s school since March 16th, we need to hear from you, so please make sure that you’re responding to your school or your teacher so that we can stay engaged with you and your child. So let me repeat: we need to hear from you.

Muriel Bowser: (12:31)
I want to share some updates on this current school year. I know a lot of people are very eager to make plans, as we are. I have been in conversations, and I want to thank Deputy Mayor Kihn. I know that he has been having regular conversations with school leaders, DCPS, of course, our largest LEA in the city, but also our public charter school LEAs who have been working in a very cooperative manner, and I want to thank them for their investment and time and thought to this process. Our top priority, of course, in making all school decisions is protecting the health and wellbeing of our students, our family and educators. We all are, of course, concerned about learning loss and about the social and emotional wellbeing of our young people, so we continue to keep all of that in mind as we move forward.

Muriel Bowser: (13:35)
I previously announced some changes that people have asked us about. For example, the Office of this State Superintendent is waiving the 180-day rule. The educators can tell you why that’s important. They’ve waived the community service requirement, and also the Carnegie Unit, which is a seat time requirement for high school courses …

Muriel Bowser: (14:03)
… for students that are already enrolled in those courses. The college board has also announced some changes and is offering AP exams online and DCPS is distributing devices to students in AP courses who need them. One thing of course that I know we’re all concerned about, we see over social media, and that is what this means for 12th graders, our graduating seniors, and what that means for all of their activities and events. I know that the chancellor will say some things about that too.

Muriel Bowser: (14:45)
So let me tell you about this school year and the announcements that we can make right now about this school year, and that is that for DC public schools and for our public charter schools in Washington DC, distance learning, learning at home, will continue throughout the 2019/2020 school year. We will close our school year early. DCPS will close on may the 29th and of course students, and charter schools will close on or about May 29th, depending on some scheduling things that they need to do. We are also looking ahead to the summer in the start of school next year and we will be able to say more about what’s going to happen in the summer, and the start of school next year by May the 15th. This of course includes many elements of DC government. First let me talk about the start of school. Our effort in closing for students on the 29th, we close by about three weeks and our hope would be to make up that three weeks in some way at the start of the next school year. So the chancellor and our public education team will be able to say more about that schedule and how it affects families on May the 15th. Furthermore, for summer school at the chancellor and all of the educators want me to emphasize that learning during the summer will continue. We’re not sure what form it will continue, but DCPS is planning for in-person summer school or remote summer school. Again, we will be able to say more about that on May the 15th.

Muriel Bowser: (16:49)
Further as it relates to daycare, [OSSE 00:16:53] continues to work on plans that will align with our thinking about what’s happening in the city, medically, and what’s also happening with DC public schools. We will have more to say about that on May the 15th, as we will with camps, libraries and what we’re calling learning hubs, which may be an additional opportunity for learning activity throughout the city that may be in our school buildings or some other public building that would compliment a summer learning. So again, we’ll have more to say about that on May the 15th.

Muriel Bowser: (17:41)
I think I hit everything as it relates to schools and I want to just turn, before we take questions, to Chancellor Ferebee and Deputy Mayor Kihn for any additional statements.

Chancellor Ferebee: (17:57)
Thank you, mayor. Again, I want to reiterate how inspired and pleased and grateful we are that our parents and guardians, are working collaboratively with our team to ensure that learning at home is successful for many students as possible. Can’t say enough about the work of our educators and I think about high schools, like Anacostia High School that has been really creative with engaging students on social media.

Chancellor Ferebee: (18:23)
I think about a high school teacher at Calvin Coolidge High School who’s converted his kitchen to a chemistry classroom, and there are many other examples of how our teachers are being really creative to ensure that learning continues. Our librarians have been very instrumental as well and it’s been a team effort and so again, want to thank our educators and our school leaders for providing the learning opportunities, supporting us with device distribution, for laptops, and for hotspots, and also for meal distribution.

Chancellor Ferebee: (18:58)
As well as Mayor Bowser indicated, we are prepared to provide a summer learning opportunities for students, either at home or in-person, and we’ll provide more information around who’s invited for summer experiences and what our target populations are. It’s also important to note that we’ll continue to collaborate with our high school students and their families about our graduation and course requirements.

Chancellor Ferebee: (19:25)
It’s important to know that all of our seniors and our high school students that were in good standing on March 13th on our last day of school have an opportunity now to continue to improve their grade but should anticipate a successful completion of this school year. For those students that need additional coursework or time or will remain committed to ensure that they have access to that.

Chancellor Ferebee: (19:48)
Then more importantly, we want to communicate to our seniors that we have not forgotten about you and is our full intent to recognize you and your graduations at the appropriate time. So again, I want to thank all our partners, our educators, and our families for supporting us during this time period.

Paul Kihn: (20:09)
Thank you mayor and thank you chancellor. Just a couple of things that I would add to the remarks that the mayor has offered about our public schools. Firstly, we are really proud in this city that teaching and learning has continued in the way that it has through this pandemic, and will continue now at DCPS through May 29th, and will continue at public charter schools, which of course make their own decisions about their schedules.

Paul Kihn: (20:32)
So if you’re a family at a public charter school, you’ll hear from those schools when they are intending to round out their school year. We’ve been working in an extremely collaborative way with them, so we anticipate it will be approximately the same time, but those schools of course will make their own decisions.

Paul Kihn: (20:46)
But we’re very proud that teaching and learning has continued. I want to reemphasize the mayor’s point that it is critically important that we all stay connected during this time. So families should reach out to schools and the school staff and leaders should continue their heroic efforts to continue to reach out to families to stay in touch.

Paul Kihn: (21:07)
Lastly just to comment that none of us really knows what schools will be able to do over the summer in terms of learning, and even as we consider the new school year, what are the kinds of social distancing measures that we’ll have to put in place. So we are all working together very hard and look forward to sharing additional information in May as we collect and look across the health situation in the city, and we consider what schools will look like and how we will be able to bring students back and when we’ll be able to do that. Thank you.

Muriel Bowser: (21:37)
Thank you. Okay. We’ll take a couple rounds of questions. Questions? Yes.

Mark: (21:48)
Mayor [inaudible 00:21:45], on page 12 you say, “DC child and Family Services agency is supporting our DCPS and public charter schools for contacting disengaged families.” Do you have a level of truancy in which the schools and have not been in touch with students? Is there a number attached to that?

Muriel Bowser: (22:04)
I don’t know what the number is, but there are a number of students that we want to make contact with, and we will work to do that.

Mark: (22:15)
Is it possible that there have been students that have not been in touch with their classroom or their teacher in a month?

Muriel Bowser: (22:21)
Yes, it’s possible.

Mark: (22:23)
Do you have a ballpark number-

Muriel Bowser: (22:26)
I don’t have a number.

Mark: (22:26)
Does Dr. Ferebee have one?

Chancellor Ferebee: (22:26)
Yes, don’t have a specific number. It varies by school. We are tracking communication with students and their families. We have had a number of students who decided to relocate with their family and they’re in other places right now. We also had a number of students that were impacted by family members becoming ill and other caregivers having to provide a home to those students. Again, we try to stay in contact with those families. What’s been fascinating in this time period is our students have actually been the most helpful in helping us keep up with their peers, and they’ve used a number of channels to do that, whether it’s social media, email, text, phone calls, and we continue to see more and more students be engaged. Especially with the new device distribution to schools at all levels and students have the ability to access via device and internet.

Chancellor Ferebee: (23:28)
So we continue to see those numbers increase and we’ll continue to reach out to families. But as the mayor has said today and the deputy mayor as well, it’s important that we remain in close contact and communicate regularly.

Mark: (23:41)
If I could follow up, what is the outreach, how is that outreach being done to try and find these students?

Chancellor Ferebee: (23:49)
So we call families, we reach out to relatives. Again, as I mentioned earlier, we reach out to students and ask them if they’ve seen or heard from other students. Many of our secondary schools, our middle schools, our high schools have lists of students that they have not heard from and they share that list with all of their staff members who may have had contact or may know someone that may have had contact with that particular student.

Mark: (24:16)
And do you personally have a level of truancy that you believe you that could [inaudible 00:10:24]?

Chancellor Ferebee: (24:25)
Because it shifts on a daily basis and as more students get access to devices and hotspots, we’ll have a clearer picture in the weeks ahead of what we can share in terms of student engagement. Again, we see use of technology, we also see a significant use of our learning package. We printed over 75,000 learning packets, and some of our distribution of packets. In many cases, over 90% of those packets have been picked up. So students are engaging in a number of different ways, whether it’s our online portal, our learning packets, or phone calls, or regular conversations with their teachers or their school leaders.

Mark: (25:09)
Does the closing of the schools, the three weeks early, have a fiscal impact on any school employees? I don’t know how teachers and staff are paid at schools, but just by closing three weeks early, people are going to find themselves by employer earlier or missing any paychecks because of that?

Muriel Bowser: (25:28)

Chancellor Ferebee: (25:30)
So our teachers are paid on a 12 month distribution, and so we don’t believe that this would have any impact on any of their compensation based on the May 29th date.

Mark: (25:48)
That’s the same for any other staff other than teachers? Support staff?

Chancellor Ferebee: (25:48)
That is correct and will continue in the learning at home mode until May 29th, and as we have done in the past, I anticipate that there will be continued work for staff as we prepare for the summer and the upcoming school year beyond May 29th.

Mark: (26:05)
And so I know mayor said you’re more on May 15th. It sounds like … Or can you just tell us, the three weeks that you’re closing earlier, will those be added on? Will school start, if all things get back to normal [inaudible 00:12:19], would start then next year, three weeks earlier?

Muriel Bowser: (26:23)
We can talk about that on the 15th, Mark. But we do think that we want to preserve some learning time in August, and the chancellor, and I know all the public charter school leaders will work with their teams to see how best to do that. So I don’t want to jump start that conversation. DCPS I think had planned to open on August 31st, so it would be sometime earlier in August, and we think that we’re preserving about three weeks of learning time.

Speaker 1: (26:58)
Mayor, Martin [Atromeil 00:26:59] had a question. He was having trouble dialing in. So I’m going to read it to you. A group business leaders calling themselves DC 2021 has met with the CFO, and counsel’s proposed a recovery plan that would include the break on taxes for as long as a year. Have you met with them? And what do you think about tax abatements or breaks for businesses, property owners as part of a recovery plan?

Muriel Bowser: (27:23)
So I’ll just briefly repeat that. So the question was about a group who is asking for business leaders who have been really impacted by closures, which at this stage is all businesses in the District that that are nonessential businesses. Some of them, I think, represent restaurant and hospitality, and entertainment industries, which were among the first effected in closures, large gathering closures. We have made no commitments to local relief packages.

Muriel Bowser: (28:03)
I continue to let everybody know that this, the need, is going to outpace what we can do locally. And so, we have encouraged everybody to take advantage of all local help but certainly all national help, and so we continue to do that. As I have also said, that we are completely remaking our budget and where we had many, many months to do it the first time, now we have a few weeks to do it. That, the revenues coming in will be $600 million less and again, we’ve made no commitments. The first council bill included some property tax relief, sales tax relief and it included our micro grant program for small businesses. So I’m not prepared to make any commitments for any other relief at this time.

Speaker 2: (29:08)
Muriel, we have Six reporters on the phone.

Muriel Bowser: (29:10)

Speaker 2: (29:10)
So first up is Perry Stein from The Washington Post.

Muriel Bowser: (29:13)
Yep, go ahead Perry. Perry?

Perry Stein: (29:17)
Hi. Thank you so much for … Yes, can you hear me?

Muriel Bowser: (29:20)
I can, thank you.

Perry Stein: (29:23)
Thank you so much for taking my question. Can you talk about, you mentioned preserving three weeks of learning time. How much of the ending the school year early, has to do with teacher contracts, given that teachers are paid for 10 months a year. Can you talk about how much flexibility you have to start and end school when you want and if you’re expecting to have to pay teachers more?

Muriel Bowser: (29:47)
I’ll turn to chancellor Ferebee.

Chancellor Ferebee: (29:50)
Thank you mayor, thank you Perry. We have been in close conversation with president Davis or the Washington teacher’s union and the Washington teacher’s union understands that there is a need for flexibility as we’re responding to this health crisis. And there has been a survey of their membership that president Davis has shared with me and there appears to be a willingness to start the school year potentially earlier. There’s a willingness to close this school year early to preserve learning time and we’ll continue to have further conversation of what that means for this summer and a potential early start to the 2021 school year.

Perry Stein: (30:36)
Thank you. And mayor Bowser, can you talk a little bit about what your plans are for the homeless population? We know San Francisco has talked about housing homeless, high risk and non high risk homeless people in hotels. Is that something that you are considering?

Muriel Bowser: (30:55)
Perry, we gave a very full briefing on vulnerable populations in the district on Wednesday, including our homeless population and I’m going to ask Chris Geldart to talk to you a little bit about all of the things that we have done with our homeless population, including using some hotels for priority groups in our homeless shelters. Chris?

Chris Geldart: (31:27)
Thank you mayor. We have taken very much consideration into what we’re doing with our homeless population. We have five hotels in the city that we are using to … We have removed the most vulnerable of our homeless population from the homeless shelters themselves, so that we can protect that population as best we can in individual rooms. And then, we have been removing folks when they start to show symptoms or may become symptomatic. We’re removing them from the population of the homeless shelters as well, so that we can get them tested to see if they are positive, and if they are, through their convalescence they can stay in a hotel room until they are better, just as everybody else would at home. And then, when they are better we can move them back into the population, so that we have rooms for other folks to convalescence. So that’s been our strategy, it’s been working well. We had as of yesterday, 76 members from our homeless shelters that had tested positive, and many of them have convalesced and returned to our shelters and we’re going to continue to do that process.

Mark: (32:40)
Can I follow up just on the hotels, have you released the names and the locations of the hotels? And do you think that that habit … or have you released those name, those locations-

Chris Geldart: (32:49)
I don’t believe we’ve released those.

Mark: (32:50)
Do you you think that’s something that the public has a right to know, if a hotel in their neighborhood is being used as quarantine location?

Chris Geldart: (32:59)
Everybody is staying inside right now, Mark. And that’s what we want everybody to do. And-

Mark: (33:05)
I know like for instance in one hotel, there’s a constant presence of fire trucks and ambulances outside that has neighbors asking what’s going on. And when they call the hotel, all they’re told is the hotel is closed.

Chris Geldart: (33:19)
Sure. And I can’t speak to what the hotel are telling anybody, but I can tell you that we’re trying to take care of our people in the best way that we can. We’re allowing them to have, we’re affording the population to have a place to convalesce and not get others sick if they are positive and we’ll continue to do that.

Speaker 2: (33:37)

Muriel Bowser: (33:40)
Perry, go ahead.

Perry Stein: (33:43)
I think, when I … last time I spoke to some people, you said the effectiveness of remote learning would play into the decisions that you make, that that was in addition to obviously health guidelines. How did the effectiveness of remote learning play into the decision to close this school year or end the school year early?

Muriel Bowser: (34:02)
I’ll turn to the chancellor and Paul.

Chancellor Ferebee: (34:05)
Thank you again Perry. And so, as we were assessing the response from students and families, we believe that we’re on the right course and we should continue learning at home in the current mode that we’re in through May 29th. As we were thinking about the 2021 school year and the need to provide additional in-person learning time for students. As Mary indicated earlier, we believe that preserving some time from June and potentially utilizing that time in August, would be the best approach to provide the optimal learning experience for students in preparation for student success for the ’20 and ’21 school year.

Chancellor Ferebee: (34:48)
We continue to get information from parents and assess learning at home, as shared earlier. We’ve seen overwhelming response to our parent university, which includes a number of strategies from how to manage stress, how to manage the schedule of learning at home, and then also technology troubleshooting. And so, we’ll continue to be responsive to what families are sharing with us in terms of what they need for learning at home and then we’ll continue to be nimble appropriately.

Speaker 2: (35:21)
Mayor, next up is Sophie Kaplan from The Washington Times.

Muriel Bowser: (35:21)
Yes Sophie, go ahead.

Sophie Kaplan: (35:24)
Hi, good morning, thanks for taking my questions. Just to hop off of Perry’s question, I was just wondering if you’re able to speak a little bit about the assessment of distance learning and how it will impact the children’s learnings in the upcoming school year.

Chancellor Ferebee: (35:42)
So we continue to, as I said earlier, gather feedback from families and students on their experience for distance learning to provide enhancements or add additional content and materials that students are requesting. We are continuing to be clear around grading practices and our expectation for student engagement. We’re also currently exploring some type of assessment that we would administer to get a better understanding of student mastery and learning throughout this time period where students are learning at home. And we would use that information to inform our efforts over the summer and our efforts throughout the 20/21 school year.

Sophie Kaplan: (36:28)
Okay. And then my last question is, you mentioned mayor that the district will have to make $600 million in budget cuts. I was wondering if you have given additional … I’m sure you’ve given this out, but if you’re willing to share with us what areas you’re thinking about making cuts to?

Muriel Bowser: (36:46)
We are knee deep in that, I’m sure you can imagine that we have … My attention now is pretty much 100% COVID response. We have a very able budget team however, that are working on a number of scenarios for me and I don’t have anything to share at this point. There was a question asked either yesterday or the day before about if we would be able to do budget engagement, like we have done for the last five years and our timeframes are so short. I’m not sure how much public input or budget engagement we will be able to do and I will have more conversations with the council about how they will conduct their hearing, so that the public has an opportunity to weigh in.

Speaker 2: (37:48)
The next mayor is Alex from CNN.

Muriel Bowser: (37:52)
Alex, go ahead.

Alex Marquardt: (37:53)
I’m in your browser. This is Alex Marquardt, can you hear me?

Muriel Bowser: (37:55)
I can.

Alex Marquardt: (37:57)
Thank you so much for taking my question. You had mentioned yesterday that you weren’t really ready to talk about reopening plans. I wanted to ask if you were on the call with the governors and the president yesterday and what your impressions were of the White House’s and the president’s plans to reopen the country, and what pressure you might be feeling as the seat of the federal governments are perhaps reopened faster?

Muriel Bowser: (38:25)
My office was on the call. I was on another call at the time and we have … I did have a chance to listen to all of the president’s remarks in his press conference and a lot of the questions that were asked as well. Our DOH team has also done a preliminary review of the plan and we feel like it is a good framework and inline with what our thinking was about how to get through these phases, but I think it’s, at this stage, it provides the public also with that information. I’m going to have Dr. Nesbitt talk a little bit more about that. I think what remains a concern is, how do we get the type of testing and the amount of testing that will be needed to demonstrate how our communities get through all of these stages.

Muriel Bowser: (39:29)
We feel the same pressure that we felt yesterday, the day before that and the day before that. Making sure that our city, county, state of Washington DC is prepared for medical surge, that we’re flattening the curve, that we’re focusing on protecting vulnerable populations, and we have a plan to get our city and our economy back open and people back to work. So we feel the same amount of pressure to do that. Next week, I will be talking about an advisory group of people that we are pulling together and in a lot of different sectors, to talk about how we reopen the city. And I think that it is also good … This group is … will consider is, how we open up the economy, get people back to work, get businesses back to work, but also what opportunities does recovery give us and how we open our city. How we do things, not only the way they were, but better than the way they were. How do we use recovery to invest in disproportionately impacted communities?

Muriel Bowser: (40:50)
For example, how do we use what we have learned in this pandemic response to make education equity an imperative for how we move forward in that recovery. So there are a lot of things like that, that will be discussed and I look forward to talking about that a little bit more next week. But I would like to turn to Dr. Nesbitt now, to give … because she and her team have spent some time with the president’s presentation and talk about that. But before I do that, the one thing that I want to mention that came through in his presentation to your point Alex, is that he continues, his plan continues to focus on telework as a good thing. And so, I’m also hoping that means, and we’ll have some more direct conversations with OPM, that they intend to maintain the federal government’s telework policy in the National Capital Region, that is going to continue to allow us to flatten the curve.

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt: (41:54)
Thank you Madam mayor. One of the things that I want to make sure that people understand and they focus on, is that while the plan has-

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt: (42:03)
… three phases, phase one does not begin immediately for every jurisdiction in the country. And some of the conversations that we’ve had, and we’ve had for several weeks and we were able to emphasize earlier this week, is that in order to enter even into phase one, a community must be experiencing a decline in new cases observed over a two week period. And so we want to make sure all of our residents in the district really have an appreciation of the criteria that we’re going to be looking for in order to even shift into that phase one of beginning to open or relax our social distancing measures or the community mitigation strategies or however you think about it, what it means to reopen. And so as people look at the plan to reopen and make their decisions about what it means and how it’s a good framework, being very mindful of those gated criteria that have to be in place.

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt: (43:07)
We’ve talked a lot about our models for medical surge and being able to meet the demands on our healthcare system. Another one of the gated criteria is that our health system has to be operating not in a crisis mode as one of those gated criteria. So we have to be able to have our healthcare system, our healthcare delivery system, and our hospitals being able to provide healthcare to everyone without having to operate in a crisis. And we even interpret that to mean that these medical supply chains, personal protective equipment, have to be adequate, that everyone has all of the personal protective equipment that they need across our healthcare ecosystem to care for patients, especially our vulnerable populations in our longterm care facilities, our home health aides, all of those groups of people safely so that we can reduce the transmission across those environments, not just in our hospitals.

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt: (44:06)
So when we talk about this gated criteria to even begin to move into phase one, we want to make sure that people fully have an appreciation for what those decision points will be. And I want to emphasize even further with the mayor as mentioned, when we talk about testing, is the testing to make sure people have current infection. It’s also the testing that has been on a lot of people’s minds about an availability of the antibody testing. We’re still understanding what it means to be immune from infection or re-infection, but we do want to make sure that that availability of antibody testing is here in the District and as Dr. Smith mentioned earlier this week, we’re putting our processes in place to be able to have that in early May.

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt: (44:52)
So we’ll talk a lot more about the critical decision points as the mayor has mentioned about reopening and what that looks like operationally in the District. But as you look at the plan, I just really appreciate that that needing to see a persistent decline in new cases for two weeks is something we’ve talked about in the District. It’s widely accepted in the public health community and it is reflected in this framework that was released yesterday as a gated criteria for beginning to move into phase one.

Speaker 3: (45:24)
And so next we’ll go to Alex.

Muriel Bowser: (45:31)
Thanks Alex.

Speaker 3: (45:33)
All right, Amanda from the city paper.

Muriel Bowser: (45:37)
Go ahead Amanda.

Amanda: (45:40)
Hi. Thank you for taking my call. Two questions, the first is about Saint Elizabeth. Patients are suing the hospital for putting them at risk for COVID-19 and not isolating those who have symptoms. Can you respond to this lawsuit and are you confident that Saint Elizabeth can handle the pandemic with its staff alone or do you think they need additional support?

Muriel Bowser: (46:02)
I haven’t seen a lawsuit and I can’t comment on it. And I will refer to our discussion on Wednesday where we talked about all of our vulnerable populations and our concern, not just us but nationally for people who are living in congregate settings and people who have complex medical histories. And some of our residents at Saint Elizabeth fall into those categories, so we’re very, very concerned about how we contain virus and that they are following all of the CDC recommended protocols. We also mentioned that we’ve had a team from the CDC this week working with DOH at a number of our congregate care facilities. Their expertise is in elder care facilities, but they’re also lending their expertise to us in reviewing protocols at Saint Elizabeth’s. They’ve also agreed to review our written protocols as it relates to DC jails. So we’re appreciative of that consultative help to ensure that we’re doing everything according to the best practices that we’re learning around our country about what we need to do in congregate care settings.

Amanda: (47:30)
And my second question, I thank you for that response mayor. My second question, so a coalition of renters want DC to cancel rent and mortgage payments city wide. Some council members want a rent repayment program in the next emergency package. I’m wondering what further relief do you think DC she should give tenants right now? What are you thinking about?

Muriel Bowser: (47:52)
We’re very focused on making sure people get cash in their hands and we’ve heard from a number of people that they’re starting to get that IRS payment that was in the CARES Act. We know that more and more people, as you have seen from our earlier report are getting their unemployment payments in hand. The council has already acted on how to make sure that there are no rent increases or penalties and fees associated with it and called attention to the mortgage deferral programs that continue to be available. So we’re very focused on how people get cash in their hands. I’m not familiar with the proposals that you just mentioned.

Speaker 3: (48:45)
And then [inaudible 00:48:46].

Mark: (48:45)
Mayor, do you have any updated information on the grant program to nonessential businesses? The last we heard was 6700 applications, $25 million set aside. Do you have any information as to whether or not the payments have gone out to any of these people and what the average payment was?

Muriel Bowser: (49:05)
Payments have not gone out. I don’t have before me all of our vital statistics as it relates to that and how many people, businesses, will qualify, but we can get you that.

Mark: (49:22)
Just a couple of quick questions. One, have you made a decision on public swimming pools?

Muriel Bowser: (49:26)
No. That will fall into our summer update.

Mark: (49:29)
So May 15th we’ll find out if pools will be open. And then can you talk about, I think it was the FDA announced today that DC has been approved for SNAP recipients to shop online. Do you know how that works?

Muriel Bowser: (49:45)
Let me ask Chris to talk about that.

Chris Geldart: (49:48)
Sure. So that is a new benefit that’s available is to use the SNAP benefits to buy groceries online. The details of that, I’m sure we can get to you Mark on how that works. We just were notified that it’s available for us to do that. We just got the notification we can do that. So we can get that information out to you, but it is available for folks to use.

Mark: (50:11)
So do you now notify… Do you know how many recipients?

Chris Geldart: (50:14)
I do not. We’ll have to get that information to you.

Mark: (50:14)
So do you now affirmatively reach out to them to let them know that this is available to them?

Chris Geldart: (50:21)
I know that that’s in the process of the Department of Human Services is reaching out to those that have those benefits to ensure that they know that they can do that with the process on how to do it.

Muriel Bowser: (50:31)
Which is a very good thing. And I know that that’s something that has been in the works for a number of weeks. So we’re very, very pleased. And in case it hasn’t been clear, we have been concerned about food and food supply and how people in vulnerable communities get food. And from our first closures of DCPS, making sure that there are meal sites available to our Department of Aging and Community Living, switching their congregate meal sites to home delivery so vulnerable seniors wouldn’t have to come out for food, to adding a grocery pickup at our meal sites, to working with our home bound with a delivery line. We have been very, very concerned about food because we know when people can take care of their food needs that the housing needs and everything else continue and persist. But this is one thing that we’ve worked very hard to make sure food needs are being addressed.

Mark: (51:39)
And then just one last question for Dr. Nesbitt. You’ve been giving daily, we appreciated it, the ICU, the ventilator numbers. The other day you gave a graph that showed where the patients were in which hospitals and it kind of made me wonder are the ventilators equally distributed because it’s clear that the patients are not equally distributed. So I’m wondering if and I don’t have the chart in front of me. I can’t remember which… Wasserman Hospital Center had the vast majority of patients. Do they also have the vast majority of ventilators? Are those distributed according to patients?

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt: (52:15)
Of patients who are on ventilators or the actual physical ventilator?

Mark: (52:18)
I mean if you look at the data that you gave us, you had X number of ventilators.

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt: (52:24)
Right. So I want to I want to be clear on the question. Is the question the number of patients who are on a ventilator or the actual number of physical ventilators?

Mark: (52:34)
I’m wondering if the ventilators, the total number of ventilators you have in the city are equally distributed amongst the hospitals proportionate to the number of COVID patients they have because we see that…

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt: (52:48)
So it’s an equitable process, not a quality process. Right? So if you think about it from the perspective that all the hospitals are different sizes, so they have different numbers of beds and because they have different numbers of beds, they’re going to have different numbers of patients and the patients will have different level of need at this point. So none of the hospitals have fully implemented their surge plans as was evidenced in the slides that the mayor showed earlier today. So right now a lot of the hospitals are able to take care of their patients who have intensive care unit and ventilator needs in their current infrastructure. So the number of ventilators in the city has not shifted remarkably from the number of ventilators and how they are distributed across our healthcare system.

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt: (53:45)
So you have four trauma centers in the city, MedStar Washington Hospital Center, George Washington University Hospital, Howard University Hospital, and Children’s National. So those hospitals tend to have a larger intensive care unit with more ventilators in them. And by virtue of that, the distribution of patients who may be on a ventilator will likely be larger at this point in those facilities. As we activate the medical surge plan, you will likely see a more, as you describe it, equal distribution of ventilator patients across all hospitals. But you’ll have to keep in mind that Washington Hospital Center has 700 beds and the next largest hospital next to it has around 480 well, 900 beds in the next hospital, next to it has like 480.

Muriel Bowser: (54:46)
Okay. Thank you everybody.

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