U.S. Capital Declares State of Emergency Amid Rising Coronavirus Cases: ‘We’re Not in a Vacuum’

The skyline of Washington, DC, including the US Capitol building, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and National Mall, is seen from the air, January 29, 2010. (Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a state of emergency Wednesday to help slow the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus that originated in China.

“We’re not in a vacuum. Our country is experiencing this and our world is experiencing this,” Bowser told reporters. “We’re asking residents, businesses, and visitors to help us flatten the curve” of the coronavirus spread.

The U.S. capital has reportedly confirmed ten cases of the virus (COVID-19), including at least six new ones that involve a congressional staffer, marking the first case on Capitol Hill.

“We have person-to-person transmission occurring in the District of Columbia as well as at least two individuals whose reasons for COVID-19 have yet to be identified,” LaQuandra Nesbitt, the D.C. health director, reportedly said.

Officials reportedly recommended postponing or canceling gatherings of 1,000 or more people in the U.S. capital  through the end of March.

The Associated Press (A.P.) noted:

Bowser declared both a state of emergency and a public health emergency. The declarations give her the authority to order medical quarantines, request federal assistance, and take steps to stem price gouging on critical supplies. The city has leased a building as a potential quarantine facility. Officials declined to disclose the location and said the facility, which will be able to house about 50 people, is not being used yet.

The announcements have massive implications for Washington’s many museums, events and performance venues. Tourists still arrived at the U.S. Capitol, but an official unauthorized to discuss the situation and speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed that tours would soon be shut down.

Officials have closed the U.S. capitol and nearby congressional buildings to the public. The closure will begin at 5:00 p.m. Thursday and last through April 1.

Only staff, lawmakers, credentialed press, and official business visitors will be allowed inside the facilities on Capitol Hill.

In a joint statement, the sergeants at Arms for the House and Senate declared:

Following the guidance of the medical community, particularly the recent recommendation of D.C. Health, and in consultation with the Office of Attending Physician, the Sergeants at Arms of the House of Representatives and Senate have issued a temporary closure of the Capitol Visitors Center to all tours.

According to A.P., an estimated half-dozen U.S. lawmakers are on a 14-day self-quarantine after being exposed to potentially infected people.

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