In D.C., officials stressed the importance of caution but also of allowing economic activity to resume as the Walter E. Washington Convention Center reopened for the first time in about six months.
The facility was among the first venues in the District to shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. The closure in early March was symbolic of sweeping changes to city life ahead of other restrictions that followed.
The city now hopes the convention center will serve as an example of how key spaces in the nation’s capital can begin to reopen safely — with a new focus on virtual events while adhering to strict health and safety guidelines.
Gregory O’Dell, president and chief executive of Events D.C., which manages the convention center, said his organization has seen a significant financial blow. In May, the city opened a hospital overflow area in the convention center to prepare for a possible surge of patients, although it was never used for that purpose.
“We’ve lost substantial revenue as it relates to the existing convention business that we had,” O’Dell said. “From the city’s perspective, even more daunting, it’s been millions of dollars in economic impact that those types events actually brought to hotels and restaurants.”
O’Dell and city officials said they hope virtual and hybrid events will make up a slice of that revenue loss.
On Tuesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) was hosting a Maternal and Infant Health Summit inside the building, and while presenters will use a studio inside the building, participants who would otherwise attend in person will participate in virtual panel discussions and workshops.
The building in downtown Washington has been refitted with temperature scanners and a slew of social distancing markers.
Inside surfaces will be sprayed regularly with a disinfectant designed to target the virus. The building’s command center will use artificial intelligence to monitor those inside — alerting staff if people are gathered too closely.
“We took many precautions to make sure we try to keep people safe,” O’Dell said. “But we want it to be real-time and proactive throughout the event experience, as well.”
A report released Tuesday by the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer detailed the economic toll the pandemic has taken in recent months.
D.C. shed about 10 percent of its private sector jobs — about 57,000 positions — between February and July, a slightly higher percentage than the national average. Most of the lost D.C. jobs were in the leisure and hospitality industries, which have taken a hit as tourism declines and people avoid going out.
Hotel and food service employment in July was cut in half compared to a year earlier. The number of hotel room nights sold plunged 80 percent in the same period. Airline traffic in the Washington area plunged by more than 90 percent in May compared to a year earlier.
But the city also saw jobs gains in some sectors, such as professional, technical and management services, as well as federal government employment — unlike the nation as a whole, which saw across-the-board decreases.
D.C. officials say adequate testing will be a key factor in lifting additional restrictions, noting Tuesday that more testing kits are coming to the city.
D.C. officials said Tuesday that LabCorp, a private testing company, told the city it will increase to previous levels the number of coronavirus tests it provides after reductions in recent weeks.
Chris Geldart, acting director of the D.C. Department of Public Works, said LabCorp approached D.C. officials in early August about reducing the number of test kits it provides, citing issues with its supply chain. The city and LabCorp agreed at the time the city would receive no fewer than 8,000 kits per week, Geldart said — down from about 10,000.
“We did have a time frame where we received 8,000 kits per week from LabCorp,” Geldart said, warning that the number could dip again depending on supply. “Just this week they told us the supply chain is opening back up and they’ll be getting 10,000-plus samples per week as long as that lasts.”
John Falcicchio, Bowser’s chief of staff, said supply disruptions have been limited as the city sees steady utilization at testing sites. He also said LabCorp has improved its turnaround time for making test results available, with information usually known within three or five days — down from nearly a week earlier in the summer.
In Virginia, a spokeswoman for state Department of Health said Tuesday’s one-day spike of 96 reported deaths was the result of a roughly two-week backlog. The delays came not from local health departments, but from the health department’s central office.
The backlog “was caused by a system error that has since been addressed and will be regularly reviewed going forward,” said Maria Reppas, the department’s director of communications. “Due to the normal delay in the death certification process [before this backlog], we expect these individuals died over the past three to four weeks.”
State health Commissioner Norman Oliver said the backlog stemmed from the reporting of certain fatalities that are identified through death certificates, rather than through hospitals. Virginia’s rolling seven-day average number of daily deaths stood at eight before Tuesday’s spike.
At a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said he was pleased to see caseloads dropping in the eastern part of the state, which includes Virginia Beach. Cases there had spiked in the summer travel season, and Northam responded by imposing additional restrictions on the area.
The governor said health officials are continuing “to keep an eye on some other regions,” including Southwestern and central Virginia.
Northam also announced that more than 500,000 Virginians have downloaded the state’s Covidwise smartphone app, used for notifying residents who were potentially exposed to the coronavirus.
The greater Washington region on Tuesday reported 1,607 new infections and 106 additional deaths, led by the one-day reporting surge in Virginia. Virginia had 943 new cases, while Maryland had 599 new cases and 10 deaths, and D.C. had 65 cases and no additional deaths.
Maryland’s daily death toll was its highest since Sept. 4, ending a 10-day streak in which the number of fatalities was in single digits. New York state announced this week it removed Maryland from its list of states that require a 14-day quarantine.
The seven-day average of new infections Tuesday in D.C., Virginia and Maryland stood at 1,634, a number that has changed little since late August.
Patricia Sullivan and Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.