D.C. eases travel restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving while urging caution during holidays

A policy change in D.C. will make it less burdensome for residents to travel or host guests from afar, a reversal in messaging even as Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) encourages residents to spend Thanksgiving only with members of their household.

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The rules announced Thursday largely do away with the city’s mandatory two-week quarantine for travelers, which has been in place since July. The change came as the greater Washington region set another record for its average number of new daily infections, fueled by increases in Virginia and Maryland.

D.C.’s rules previously said anyone who has been in a “high-risk” state — those with an average of more than 10 new daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents — must stay home for two weeks upon entering or returning to D.C.

As case rates rose nationwide, the quarantine order came to apply to visitors from 42 states, which include about 90 percent of the U.S. population.

Bowser said Thursday that visitors from outside the city won’t need to quarantine if they get a negative coronavirus test before traveling and get tested again in the city within three to five days of arriving. The city will provide free tests to visitors at public testing sites.

[Coronavirus caseload sets record in Virginia as infections jump across D.C. region]

The testing requirement generally won’t be enforced — there will be no checks at points of entry — although Bowser said places such as hotels, universities and employers could lawfully require visitors to provide proof of a negative test.

Bowser said she is continuing to urge families not to host Thanksgiving visitors, but she added, “We also know that people are going to come here.”

The city essentially decided to give up on its quarantine mandate out of a belief that it wasn’t being followed, the mayor said.

D.C. residents who visit a high-risk state will be required to quarantine upon their return home until they get a negative test, but the city is abandoning its two-week quarantine requirement.

The rule change is timed to make Thanksgiving travel easier, even though Bowser late last month strongly discouraged visiting family or hosting out-of-town relatives for the holiday.

“Make sure what should be a fun holiday gathering doesn’t turn into a tragedy for your family,” she said.

The seven-day rolling average of new coronavirus infections Thursday in D.C., Maryland and Virginia stood at 2,315 — a record high for the region since the start of the pandemic. While D.C. and Maryland remain below their peak, Virginia has registered record numbers in recent days, with the largest increases coming in rural Southwest Virginia.

Maryland reported 1,198 new coronavirus infections Thursday, the most in a single day since July 25, when 1,288 new cases were reported. The rolling seven-day average of new infections in the state stood Thursday 940 — the most since Maryland hit that same number July 31.

[Coronavirus cases and metrics in D.C., Maryland and Virginia]

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) sounded the alarm about the increase Thursday while urging residents to remain vigilant as the state braces for a fall surge of the virus.

Hogan said the state has boosted testing and contact tracing efforts while preparing for the next phase of the pandemic. He said the state has 6,000 beds available — including an overflow field hospital at the Baltimore Convention Center — to deal with any surge in hospitalizations.

“It’s just that simple,” Hogan said. “It’s not that hard. Just wear the damn mask.”

In the past week, Maryland has seen a 17 percent increase in hospitalizations, while its coronavirus test positivity rate of 4.21 percent is the highest since June.

For months, Hogan has pushed toward reopening the state. Two weeks ago, he eased restrictions for outdoor sporting and entertainment venues, allowing 10 percent capacity at FedEx Field in Prince George’s County and M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

As the state’s economy slowly recovers, Hogan has said he does not want to reimpose the restrictions of earlier this spring.

Leaders in several counties are weighing how to respond to the surge in cases.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) issued an executive order Wednesday limiting gatherings to 25 people or fewer and limiting the capacity of restaurants and shops to 25 percent. If approved next week, the county would become the first locality in the Washington region to reimpose significant restrictions on social and commercial activity.

[Montgomery County considers limiting dining, shopping again as coronavirus caseloads surge]

In Anne Arundel County, which has seen an average of one death a day over the past month, the Board of Education voted this week to delay reopening schools until January. Some students had been scheduled to return to school buildings under a hybrid schedule on Nov. 16.

“It’s real. The predictions were accurate,” Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) tweeted Thursday. “The fall COVID surge is happening.”

The University of Maryland’s campus in College Park will switch to online learning “with very few exceptions” after Thanksgiving break as cases rise across the region, university president Darryll J. Pines said Thursday. The school will offer campuswide testing before the break, which begins Nov. 25.

“Like many of you, I wish for a return to normalcy for our university, including the full resumption of in-person classes and extracurricular activities. Yet this virus continues to demand vigilance, patience and perseverance,” he said in a statement.

In Virginia, the seven-day average of new cases Thursday was 1,288, down slightly from a record of 1,324 two days earlier.

Julian Walker, a spokesman for the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association in Glen Allen, which includes many large hospitals and health-care providers as members, said the state has about 7,000 beds available for covid patients if Virginia sees a surge in cases.

“We had a spike in Virginia’s hospitalizations in late April and early May and then another in late June and early July, but then the numbers trended down,” Walker said. “The numbers are going back up to a high point like we saw in April and May.”

[This rural Virginia community thought it could escape the pandemic. Now, it has among the highest number of new cases in the state.]

Still, he said Virginia’s health-care system hasn’t been overwhelmed by a surge in cases as several other states have.

“We’re fortunate in that respect,” Walker said. “There’s significant capacity. We’ve planned to be ready for this.”

The greater Washington region Thursday recorded 2,645 additional cases and 24 deaths. Virginia added 1,366 cases and 11 deaths, Maryland added 1,198 cases and 10 deaths, and D.C. added 81 cases and three deaths.

Lauren Lumpkin contributed to this report.

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a person wearing a mask: D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks during a news conference earlier during the pandemic.


© Alex Brandon/AP
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks during a news conference earlier during the pandemic.

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