Mar 31, 2020

Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser COVID-19 Update Transcript March 31

DC Mayor press briefing march 31
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsWashington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser COVID-19 Update Transcript March 31

Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser held a coronavirus update on March 31. Bowser urged people to follow stay-at-home order for the city. Read the full transcript here.

 

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Kevin: (01:26)
I wanted to provide a readout of the frontline employees and first responders who have impacted by COVID-19. As the Mayor stated, we’re going to provide an update this evening of those who went through the high volume testing site yesterday.

Kevin: (01:40)
For Fire EMS, there are 14 individuals who’ve tested positive for COVID-19, and there’s 172 individuals who are out for quarantine. For NPD, there are six individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 and there are 176 NPD personnel who are out as a result of quarantine or positive tests. For the Department of Corrections staffing, there’s one individual who’s tested positive and there’s 103 individuals who are out right now for either quarantine or isolation. And then for DOC, those within their custody, they have six individuals who’ve tested positive and there are 88 individuals who are in isolation or quarantine. And for our Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, they have no staff who’ve tested positive, but 40 that are under quarantine. And DYRS has one youth within its custody who’s tested positive, and then eight that are either implementing or isolated.

Kevin: (02:41)
And this’ll be updated tonight based on the high volume test done yesterday. Thank you.

Muriel Bowser: (02:51)
Let me make clear a point that Kevin just emphasized. When I mentioned that we will be changing our reporting times, we will begin that tomorrow. We will have a report tonight and that report will only be on first responder information, and then we will go to the entire sampling group tomorrow morning. Any questions? Yes.

Sam: (03:19)
Could you explain a little bit about enforcement, what your vision is, police officers and whoever else would be enforcing the stay-at-home now that they have at their disposal, fines and jail penalties.

Muriel Bowser: (03:32)
We don’t expect that we will have to issue any fines and jail penalties because we expect the people of the District of Columbia to comply. We do, of course have penalties at our disposal, but I don’t expect that we will have to use them. That’s certainly my hope. We have, and I just got a recording from our MPD officers who have a script that they are using on their loudspeakers. They were just out at Lincoln Park this morning with that script and it’s urging people and reminding them that they need to stay at home, but if they’re going to be out, to practice social distance.

Sam: (04:16)
So Mayor, it would be a situation like they go someplace, they’d see a crowd and that’s essentially what it means?

Muriel Bowser: (04:23)
What what means?

Sam: (04:26)
Violating the distancing law, the point of this, this whole thing.

Muriel Bowser: (04:33)
The point of the whole thing is for people to stay at home and so they will be reminded to stay at home. And if they’re outside exercising, they will be reminded of social distance requirements.

Sam: (04:44)
So you talked about basketball games one day last week. Would that be something that would cause the police to come in and say you’ve got to move on?

Muriel Bowser: (04:54)
Yes, it would. It violates the rules about exercising in groups.

Sam: (05:00)
But in an individual case, you could just say you were on your way to the store or you were … I mean I’m trying to think of a-

Muriel Bowser: (05:07)
An individual case is not playing pickup basketball.

Sam: (05:11)
Right. I understand that. But I’m trying to find out in a situation in which you could actually be arrested.

Muriel Bowser: (05:16)
As I said again Sam, the point is not to arrest anybody. The point is for people to stay at home. And we are going to make all of the guidelines available and rely on people to do what is right for themselves, their family, for nurses, doctors, first responders in our city.

Sam: (05:35)
I have a question about the DC jail. The public defender’s office and the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the city yesterday over conditions in the jail. And having looked at it, I mean a lot of it is about having cleaning materials. Are you satisfied with the current situation there?

Muriel Bowser: (05:53)
I haven’t really had a chance to review the suit, but we will address the suit. And we have posted at all of our government buildings and we’ll make sure that that’s happened at the jail too, all of the cleaning schedules. So anybody that has to go into those buildings understands the regular cleaning that’s happening at those buildings.

Sam: (06:12)
I’m talking about the people that are incarcerated. According to the lawsuit, they’re given a bar of soap when they get in there, and many times that’s all they get, even when that’s used up.

Muriel Bowser: (06:21)
As I said, I can’t really comment on the lawsuit right now, Sam. We will review it and refer it to our legal teams. Yes.

Mark: (06:27)
Mayor Bowser, in other states we are hearing about police officers pulling over people from out-of-state and asking them why they’re there. Do you foresee that happening here in the city where DC police officers will pull over people say from New York and ask them why they’re in the city?

Muriel Bowser: (06:45)
We don’t expect that to happen. We certainly know that our borders are fluid, especially in the National Capital Region. There are people who live in Maryland that do essential work in DC and vice versa, so people are crossing our borders. We want to call everybody’s attention, however, to all the essential things; food, medicine, going to an essential job or essential travel that you have to do. We have notified everybody in DC government, wherever they are in the region, I have employees that live all around this region, to make sure that they have with them an ID that shows that they work for DC government, and they can demonstrate that they’re on their way to essential work.

Mark: (07:29)
If I could follow up. Has anyone or any non-essential business in the city continued to operate that you’re aware of, that has been fined?

Muriel Bowser: (07:41)
Not that I’m aware of. We do have the ability to fine. We also have the ability to revoke a business license for any business that is knowingly violating the order. Yes.

Finnit: (07:57)
Mayor Bowser, you mentioned how you’re not planning on just giving out fines willy nilly to enforce a stay-at-home order, but is the city government doing anything different on going about it, enforcing it? Are police changing patrols? Are other people in DC government hitting the streets to make sure people are staying at home or practicing social distancing?

Muriel Bowser: (08:15)
As you know, Finnit, we started that process last week in … Well actually we started it longer than that, to enforce social distancing around the tidal basin where we’re using the Metropolitan Police Department and the National Guard. We also changed the contract that we have with our school safety officers so that they could be deployed to parks and playgrounds and recreation spots where we saw people distancing. We’ve used the police tape in some cases to indicate that the park or playground is closed. We’ve also, the police, since last week, have been encouraging people not to play pickup games all across the city. So all of those things continue to happen.

Finnit: (09:10)
And does the city have any evidence that undocumented people aren’t seeking care or that might be an issue going forward with coronavirus?

Muriel Bowser: (09:16)
We always want to make it clear to people that immigration status doesn’t matter when calling on the government for resources, especially medical resources.

Finnit: (09:30)
But have you had any evidence that people aren’t seeking that medical care?

Muriel Bowser: (09:33)
We don’t want to have that evidence Finnit, so that’s the point. We gave part of our briefing yesterday in Spanish to make clear to people to recognize what their symptoms are and call their medical providers.

Finnit: (09:52)
You also mentioned yesterday that as of now you’re expecting a peak in medical surge in early May. Does that mean that residents should expect all these restrictions to continue into May?

Muriel Bowser: (10:04)
Actually what I said is that we would be providing a briefing on our expected surge later in the week. All of my orders are in place through April the 24th, which coincides with the approved emergency that I’m operating under. It is likely that we’ll seek an extension of the public health emergency in the coming weeks.

Finnit: (10:27)
And can we get racial data on the Coronavirus cases? We’re seeing other jurisdictions start for release or push for that.

Muriel Bowser: (10:33)
I told you what we are releasing; age groups, gender and ward. Yes.

Speaker 7: (10:39)
The Public Defender Service has submitted a motion to release all sentenced misdemeanants in the DC jail. Do you think any or most or some misdemeanants serving sentences should be released?

Muriel Bowser: (10:50)
I’m really not sure about that, what they filed, and I would have to review it to make further comment.

Speaker 7: (10:56)
Just as a general policy, do you think misdemeanants serving sentences should be released from the jail?

Muriel Bowser: (11:01)
I can’t say that categorically. No, I can’t say that. Yes.

Speaker 8: (11:11)
On Coronavirus units, do you anticipate to include hospitalizations in that data?

Muriel Bowser: (11:14)
Can I confirm with you what what we have related to hospitalizations?

Speaker 8: (11:18)
Sure. And for the number of people who have recovered, the 121, are those folks still being advised to self-quarantine? What is the protocol there?

Muriel Bowser: (11:27)
I’ll have to have Dr. Nesbit confirm that with you as well. Yeah. Let me get to someone who hasn’t asked a question. Yes.

Speaker 9: (11:37)
You mentioned the high volume testing. When did that start? Was it really yesterday that started properly and are you expecting a surgeon positive identifications given the increase in testings?

Muriel Bowser: (11:48)
I don’t know. Yesterday was the first day we had it for our first responders at Fire, for DOC, and for NPD. So there were I think almost 80 people tested and I think that we will have their test results today.

Speaker 9: (12:08)
Is that about the daily average of the high volume for the first responders? About 80 a day?

Muriel Bowser: (12:12)
I don’t know because I don’t know how many will be referred. They’re being referred by their providers. Yes.

Martin: (12:21)
So Governor Hogan mentioned yesterday that his stay-at-home order, I mean he didn’t issue any sort of travel ban, but he encouraged Marylanders not to leave the state. Also, if they’re coming in from other states to self-quarantine. Is that the same in DC? Or how about a DC resident who has to, for an emergency reason, go visit a parent across state lines, and they have to come back. Would they self-quarantine? Should they? What’s the guidance there?

Muriel Bowser: (12:41)
I think that anybody who is visiting a high incident area, which is a lot of areas in the United States right now, should follow that self-quarantining guidelines. Absolutely. Yes.

Speaker 11: (12:55)
Can you give us a view into your thinking about issuing the order? What was the tipping point?

Muriel Bowser: (13:00)
I’m sorry?

Speaker 11: (13:00)
What was the tipping point for issuing the order to stay home? Can you give us a view-

Muriel Bowser: (13:04)
As I’ve mentioned over several weeks, we’ve already closed down the city for many weeks and we’ve always wanted to be in lock step with the region. So the regional message is the same. Yes.

Mark: (13:18)
Mayor, in Maryland, Maryland National Capital Park and Planning is actually taken down basketball hoops to prevent games from going on. Has Parks and Recreation here done the same?

Muriel Bowser: (13:33)
I think we’ve had some instances of that, yes.

Mark: (13:37)
Is it typically where they’re gathering, or are you hearing from different places where they’re gathering and then you’re choosing places to take the hoops down?

Muriel Bowser: (13:46)
I don’t know if they’ve taken all the hoops down. I expect a yes, or especially in areas that you can’t shut down the park or you can’t lock it or you can’t cut it off. So that’s another way to prevent the pickup games. Yes.

Speaker 12: (14:02)
Are you aware if they’re been any positive cases in homeless shelters and seeing a report out of Harriet Tubman?

Muriel Bowser: (14:11)
Yes.

Speaker 12: (14:12)
So is it just the one?

Muriel Bowser: (14:17)
Let me have confirmation about the locations. But let me just say more generally, if we have a resident of a homeless shelter test positive, that resident is quarantined. Any close contacts follow the Department of Health guidelines. There’s a cleaning protocol also put in place.

Mark: (14:39)
On some of the supplies, does the District have or are you getting the sterilization kits for the N95 masks? And then also what about the expedited testing kits that show the results much faster. Do you have [inaudible 00:14:59]?

Muriel Bowser: (14:56)
I think we have one on order, and we will catch up today. I know the announcement about the sanitizing machine was made yesterday and we’ll follow up with our FEMA contacts today. Yes.

Martin: (15:17)
Could be for you or the Deputy Mayor. What was the script that you said that police officers are using in the live speakers? And is it going to be across the city for every officer or is it just select places?

Muriel Bowser: (15:26)
I will be confirming that with the Chief today and my expectation is that there’s a general script that’s used. Let’s see if I can play it. And they’ll tweak it as well. Give me a minute.

Martin: (15:46)
They said they used it this morning in Lincoln Heights.

Recording: (15:47)
Attention everyone. We are currently in a public health 00:15:54] emergency. [inaudible 00:15:59]. We encourage you to use proper social distancing. [inaudible 00:16:07] put you all at risk. [inaudible 00:16:16]. Thank you for your cooperation.

Mark: (16:21)
Mayor Bowser, can you tell us if you’re receiving calls, social media or anything about people being confused about the stay-at-home order, the differences between the three states or just the difference between what it was like a couple of days ago and the difference starting tomorrow?

Muriel Bowser: (16:38)
I think that on social, some of the biggest questions I’ve seen are what exercise is allowable. That’s been one. We’ve been pinged by some of our employees, like can they come to work? Can they travel? What does it mean for them? Especially folks that don’t live in DC. So those are some of the ones that we’ve heard. And then I’ve gotten people say, why don’t you want to throw people in jail?

Sam: (17:09)
What do you think of that?

Muriel Bowser: (17:11)
I answer, Sam, at length.

Mark: (17:15)
Can I ask you about the DYRS numbers? Is that Hope Village?

Muriel Bowser: (17:18)
No. DYRS is New Beginnings and WSC.

Mark: (17:23)
And so you had been asked about Hope a few days, and said you were going to send inspectors over there.

Muriel Bowser: (17:28)
We did.

Mark: (17:28)
Yeah. Can you tell us-

Muriel Bowser: (17:29)
Kevin.

Mark: (17:30)
Thank you very much.

Kevin: (17:34)
Hope village is a halfway house run as a contract overseen by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, that houses about 200 adult individuals, DC residents who are transitioning from incarceration back into the community.

Kevin: (17:50)
There were allegations made last week notably about a lack of basic supplies around soap, sanitizer, and the condition of the facility. The city has an independent office called the Corrections Information Council, or called CIC, that has the jurisdiction authorities to do unprompted inspections of those facilities. They did that and found that they were adequate supplies. In some cases, perhaps even more than adequate supplies around toiletries, around cleaning supplies, and they were able to do that site inspection to have their inspectors view it, photograph it, and be able to report out on it as an independent assessment of conditions there.

Muriel Bowser: (18:35)
Okay, a few more. Yes, Martin.

Martin: (18:38)
I know part of this involves National Park Service because of the federal lands, but there’s been cause from some people to close down more roads or kind of expand sidewalks into roadways to give people space to ride bikes and walk because it’s a form of acceptable recreational activity. Any thought to that? Have you asked NPS to consider closing Beach Drive on a more permanent basis for the emergency?

Muriel Bowser: (19:01)
I have not. We have established a regular call with them a week, and we’ll continue to evaluate their properties. Yes.

Finnit: (19:11)
What’s the latest at St. Elizabeth’s?

Muriel Bowser: (19:14)
In terms of what?

Finnit: (19:17)
Do you know how many people have tested positive? Is there anyone under quarantine?

Muriel Bowser: (19:22)
Okay. Can I get back to you with that number? Yes sir.

Speaker 7: (19:25)
I’ve heard people who apply for unemployment benefits trying to adhere the advice to answer honestly. When asked about the searching for work requirement, but they also get told from claims approvers to say yes, they’re looking for work. And they get emails from the government saying the same thing. So there’s conflicting advice. I’m wondering if you could clarify what people are supposed to answer.

Muriel Bowser: (19:52)
Yes. I asked the DOES Director to issue clarification, so I want to just turn to her advice, Director Morris Hughes, and we can provide you with all of the statements that she has made to be perfectly clear.

Muriel Bowser: (20:09)
And let me say a little bit more about that because I think that you recognize that we made some changes to actually help people get benefits sooner, but those changes required a change to how our system works and the computer system, we’ve been working to get those changes made in the system. We’re hopeful that that will happen sooner rather than later. We think maybe by the end of the week, but by the beginning of the week to have those questions related to searching for work and wait period changed in the system. And we think that will prevent any confusing messages generated automatically by the system.

Mark: (20:52)
Mayor Bowser, Obviously, first responders [inaudible 00:00:20:59]. Are you making any plans to try to find the necessary supplies just for residents who are unable to find hand sanitizer or disinfectant or even toilet paper?

Muriel Bowser: (21:11)
We always are focused on the kind of supply of food and goods. You heard us talk at the beginning of our response about making sure that grocery stores or essential businesses, those businesses providing essential household items are also essential businesses. And we’re relying on that chain. And we’re grateful for all of those workers who are showing up, who are loading trucks, stocking shelves, manning and women-ing cash registers, who are showing up to work to make sure that that vital supply is available.

Muriel Bowser: (21:50)
What the District is doing is obviously procuring for our needs, for our medical needs, and for our first responders and frontline workers. We’re also, as Jay mentioned, creating a stockpile that we can support our medical providers, and we’re working, searching the entire globe to find those items. But we are asking our residents to use judiciously, not hoard, not go out every single day, to take care of their household items at all the commercial markets and stores. Yes.

Speaker 12: (22:29)
What’s the guidance on homemade masks? I know just civilians going around for essential business, and people want to be wearing masks. They can’t purchase it, or they shouldn’t be purchasing it. I wonder what the guidance is around-

Muriel Bowser: (22:45)
Let us check what the CDC is saying about homemade items and we’ll post it on our website. Yes.

Speaker 13: (22:52)
What’s the situation with the SNAP program, food stamps? A lot of state governments have been appealing to USDA for blanket waivers or greater autonomy to expand the roles, to cut down paperwork, to deal with the increased need for food assistance with food stamps. What’s the situation with that?

Muriel Bowser: (23:13)
I don’t think that we have anything different to report on SNAP. One question has become, early on we extended any recertification deadlines for people who are getting public benefits, and the one question that I’ll make sure that we confirm is that people who are newly applying, what all the procedures are for them as well. But please go to our website coronavirus.dc.gov, or just dc.gov, and look under public benefits, and that will explain to everyone what they need to do. Whether they’ve been automatically recertified, or whether they’re applying for the first time.

Speaker 13: (23:54)
It’s already done the automatic renewals so people don’t have to-

Muriel Bowser: (23:56)
We’ve already done that. We did that early on. Yes.

Speaker 15: (24:01)
Mayor Bowser, normally we would be in the budget season. Of course, we’re in a public health emergency. Had you been talking with the DC council in terms of when you possibly may present a budget?

Muriel Bowser: (24:17)
In the emergency that the council passed several weeks ago, we extended the submission timeline for the DC budget. I think the new date is May the 6th. And we’ll be ready here.

Mark: (24:33)
Mayor Bowser, what are you seeing as far as DC employees, the essential personnel who still have to go to work, calling out, not showing up? Do you have any data, any numbers? Has that become a problem at all?

Muriel Bowser: (24:46)
We’re certainly trying to manage that Mark. Early on we put in an extraordinary way, more than 50% of our folks on telework. And since that modified operations was announced … Somebody remind me of the date. On March the 16th, we’ve added other people to teleworking. Most notably, we took all of our DMV operations virtual, so now there is no in-person DMV service. And we took all DC operations virtual. And in a number of other agencies, after the first week we realized that more employees could be teleworking.

Mark: (25:31)
How about employment services? Have you had any problem there.

Muriel Bowser: (25:34)
We are certainly working to keep everybody at work in employment services.

Finnit: (25:39)
Mayor Bowser, the Department of Health often highlights racial disparities with infectious diseases and other health problems. Why not with Coronavirus?

Muriel Bowser: (25:47)
As I said, Finnit, we’re trying to get out as much accurate data as fast as possible, and our reporting can evolve throughout the process, but this is where we are. Yes.

Speaker 7: (25:59)
Just real quick, following up on what Mark was asking about. With Mr. Valentine’s passing, you had mentioned last week that there’s going to be contact tracing. Has that been done? Is there a sense that there was a threat to anybody else that was essential in the government that worked around him?

Muriel Bowser: (26:13)
I mentioned yesterday that five employees are self-quarantining. Yes sir.

Speaker 16: (26:25)
For those of us who need to use computers to apply for unemployment, because all the places we can go shit down. How do we go about getting an application?

Muriel Bowser: (26:34)
I need you to call employment services and we will get you a phone number.

Speaker 16: (26:39)
Thank you.

Muriel Bowser: (26:40)
Yes. Okay. Last question.

Speaker 17: (26:43)
I’m wondering about, DC for the last several years has had a spike in rats, the rat population, which has been attributed to the growth in restaurants, economic activity? A, are the pest control people working? And B, what’s going to happen with that now that there’s no restaurants? Are we all going to head for people’s houses. I guess the question is the pest control people working.

Muriel Bowser: (27:03)
The pest patrol people are essential. Yes, they are working. Thank you everybody.

Muriel Bowser: (27:10)
(silence)