Politicians representing the Georgetown neighborhood call for augmented resources and better support for Washington, D.C. hospitals amid the COVID-19 global pandemic.
The D.C. Department of Health announced the first COVID-19 related death March 20. Seventy-one coronavirus patients have tested positive in the District as of Thursday evening. The D.C. government has taken precautions in line with the rest of the nation to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing mandates and expanded food access. Colleges in the city, including Georgetown University, have also transitioned to online learning.
D.C. government officials have worked hard to provide resources to residents during the pandemic but should increase services in the Georgetown neighborhood, according to Advisory Neighborhood 2E Commissioner Kishan Putta, who represents the Georgetown neighborhood and is currently running to represent Ward 2 on the D.C. Council.
“They set up food centers at schools and rec centers across the city; however, I was disappointed that there is not one in Ward 2,” Putta said in an interview with The Hoya. “I have been pushing for Ward 2 to have one because there are a lot of children who live with their relatives who live in the Ward 2 area. There’s a lot of need. Maybe not as much as others, but we should have a food center as well.”
Additionally, city officials should provide more grant and loan options to keep small businesses afloat during closures, according to Putta.
“For the small business community they do have some loans that they’ve rolled out, but I think they could do more,” Putta said. “I think that we should provide grants especially for the smallest businesses, so they can continue to pay their employees.”
This week, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced new social distancing precautions, including the D.C. government functioning with modified operating status with many government officials working remotely until April 27, according to a March 20 press release. Bowser also extended the prohibition on mass gatherings until April 25 and the D.C. public schools distance learning protocol until April 24.
The D.C. Council also unanimously passed an emergency COVID-19 response bill March 17. Among its measures, the bill establishes extended unemployment compensation to those out of work because of the pandemic, limits on price gouging and stockpiling, prohibitions for utilities shut off because of non-payment and allows virtual council meetings. The bill, which became law once signed by Bowser, will remain in effect for 90 days.
The D.C. government has additionally set up a website to provide residents with access to information on recovery, data about COVID-19 in D.C., meal sites and health care providers.
Though the District has effectively promoted social distancing measures, government officials must mount a greater effort to aid hospital preparedness, according to ANC 2E Commissioner Matias Burdman (COL ’21), who represents Georgetown. (Full disclosure: Burdman previously served on the editorial board of The Hoya.)
“The worst of the pandemic is still to come and as of now, no measures have been taken to increase the number of hospital beds in the District. This is despite the fact that a report by Harvard/ProPublica has found that, with the current number of beds, even in the best of cases DC’s hospitals will be overwhelmed,” Burdman wrote in an email to The Hoya. “As of now, their research shows that in the worst case scenario, DC has less than a fourth of the hospital beds that will be needed during the epidemic.”
Around the nation and the District, residents are upset about lack of access to COVID-19 testing as hospitals have too few tests and the wealthy and famous have been prioritized. Currently, D.C. hospitals including Medstar Georgetown University Hospital and The George Washington University Hospital are administering tests. Five hundred and seventy-three people have been tested in the District as of March 19. D.C. doctors do not think they have enough tests to effectively combat COVID-19, according to WAMU.
COVID-19 testing is available with limitations at local hospitals, but the District government must take rapid action to increase accessibility, according to Burdman.
“I believe expanding it is crucial to fighting the epidemic. Maryland, for instance, has announced plans to quickly ramp up testing across the state,” Burdman wrote. “I believe the DC Council could follow their model and take action to improve testing across the city.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is the kind of emergency scenario in which the government should support its people, according to Putta.
“This is the reason we pay taxes,” Putta said. “This is the reason why we put money aside for a rainy day. We’re in a rainy day now.”