The State of COVID-19 in D.C.: Will D.C. Engage in Magical Thinking and Backslide (Again)

Another week of improvement for D.C. The entire city and all wards, including the ‘low prevalence bastions’ of Ward 2 and 3, are still well above the German rollback threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 per week–which also is the threshold the CDC suggests schools for all grades can reopen (0.05% in the second column below):

Ward one-week prevalence one-week % pos. two-week prevalence two-week % pos.
1 0.067% 2.0% 0.156% 1.9%
2 0.069% 2.2% 0.163% 2.3%
3 0.066% 2.6% 0.118% 1.9%
4 0.119% 4.1% 0.258% 4.0%
5 0.145% 4.5% 0.323% 4.3%
6 0.099% 2.9% 0.209% 2.5%
7 0.145% 6.1% 0.299% 5.2%
8 0.123% 3.9% 0.283% 3.9%
D.C. total 0.102% 2.8% 0.225% 2.7%

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–and we’re still nowhere near that. Wards 1, 2, 4, 5, and 8 had sizeable decreases, while Ward 3 increased in prevalence, albeit from of very low starting point. The data for Ward 4, 5, 7, and 8 should be taken with a grain of salt, as the percent positive rates are high in those wards. We’re also seeing a continuing decline in COVID-19 related deaths: this week we had ‘only’ sixteen deaths, equivalent to around eight months of traffic fatalities in D.C. in 2019. R(t) appears to be bouncing around 0.85, which means (roughly) that if we have 100 new cases today, we will have around 85 daily new cases five days from now.

The real question now is whether the D.C. government will, once again, engage in magical thinking and loosen restrictions further. What has been frustrating throughout the entire pandemic is the magical belief that new daily cases will drop on their own after the policies that led new daily cases to decrease are ended. I’m hoping that D.C. Mayor Bowser will use the CDC guidelines as an excuse to not relax restrictions for the next month or so (and, if not, the D.C. Council, for once, needs to do its fucking job and challenge her): if D.C. were to do that, we would be below the CDC prevalence threshold for school reopening, with some room to spare.

This, of course, assumes we will keep R(t) below one, something we shouldn’t take as a given. As the weather gets nicer (this week’s weather in the 50s could murder us), we’ll see more inter-household contact, and cases might rise again. That’s before any of the new variants arrive. Like I said last week though, I’m afraid the city will use any good news as an excuse to loosen the restrictions, which have been successful so far.

Again, the good news is that we still could be only around six weeks away from returning to normal-ish, even though we intentionally remain six 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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