The State of COVID-19 in D.C.: How Do We Make It Better?

It’s not noticeably worse this week, but it’s not getting any better either–and right now, things are awful. The entire city and all wards, including the ‘low prevalence bastions’ of Ward 2 and 3, are now well above the German rollback threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 per week (0.05% in the second column below):


Ward one-week prevalence one-week % pos. two-week prevalence two-week % pos.
1 0.261% 4.0% 0.502% 4.3%
2 0.186% 1.6% 0.350% 2.2%
3 0.161% 3.4% 0.299% 3.4%
4 0.354% 6.3% 0.710% 7.0%
5 0.324% 5.3% 0.681% 6.1%
6 0.290% 3.6% 0.645% 4.4%
7 0.310% 6.9% 0.598% 7.1%
8 0.345% 6.3% 0.662% 6.7%
D.C. total 0.287% 3.9% 0.570% 4.5%

The ‘good place’, which is one new case per 100,000 people per day, would be 0.007% in column two and 0.014% in column four–we’re not even close to that. Most wards stayed roughly the same, though the hardest hit wards had the highest percent positive rates–and they are too high–so who knows how they’re actually doing. There were 33 COVID-19 related deaths this week, which is more deaths than all of the traffic fatalities in 2019 (27). Meanwhile, R(t), using recent data, is around 1.0, meaning we won’t be seeing any significant drops anytime soon.

Looking at the last week, D.C. has had 2,060 cases. If D.C. were at the upper boundary of the next phase, which is too high anyway, D.C. would have around 740 cases per week. At the lower boundary, D.C. would have around 270 cases per week. The good place of one daily new case per 100,000 people would be around fifty cases per week. While this seems insurmountable, we did this before, once we factor in the massive underreporting during the April/May peak.

If we could lower R(t) to 0.8, meaning that the number of daily new cases would drop by twenty percent every five days (1 – 0.8), we could chop the daily new cases by two-thirds to three-quarters in a month. Add on two additional weeks, we lower the prevalence by about 5/6ths, bringing D.C. down to around 340 new cases per week. Not great, but surely far better than where we are now.

We desperately need to get R(t) below 1.0, but it’s not clear what policies the city can adopt. Actually, that’s incorrect. It’s unclear what additional policies the city is willing to adopt. We need more restrictions, and that, for now, includes closing in-person learning, as well as everything that isn’t essential. Hopefully, the lack of an inauguration and the closing off of part of the city to prevent further insurrection will help, but that’s obviously not a long-term solution.

The good news, such as it is, is that we still could be only around six weeks away from returning to near normal-ish (and eight weeks to normal-ish), even though we intentionally remain six or eight weeks away from safely returning to normal-ish because we’re unwilling to do what it takes to make that happen.

Anger isn’t the appropriate emotion, rage is.

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