WASHINGTON (WDVM) — District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser announced plans for expanded COVID-19 testing, along with millions in funds for business relief. The announcements come as COVID-19 metrics continue rising in and around the District.
Mayor Bowser said, “People can expect that we won’t be able to maintain this level.” The mayor was speaking about the Phase Two-level that the city has been in since June 22, 2020.
On Wednesday, November 18, the District reported 156 new cases of COVID-19 and five additional deaths, bringing the death toll to 665. These numbers, in addition to the uptick seen over the past few weeks, led to updates starting November 23.
The city is expanding hours at testing sites across the city. At firehouse testing sites, hours will now be from 2:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. At testing sites at F Street, UDC, and Anacostia, hours will now be from 8:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. Additionally, the Geico parking garage at Nationals Park will be opening as a testing site on weekdays from 2:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.
People being tested will now be asked to provide their insurance information. The Mayor said this is so the city can request the insurance pay for the tests, rather than it coming out of city funds. If someone does not have insurance or forgets to bring their insurance card with them, they will not be turned away. Mayor Bowser said, “To be clear, anyone who needs this test will be able to get one for free. No one will be turned away and no one will be charged a copay.”
Right now, the District averages between 3,500 and 4,200 tests a day, according to the Director of the Department of Public Works, Christopher Geldart. Geldart said, “We anticipate that number to still increase, which is why we are doing many of the things we are doing. Extending hours and opening additional sites.”
While the Mayor said it is important to be tested, she reminded residents that it is important to be vigilant with safety practices. She said, “Getting tested doesn’t stop you from getting COVID, so you still need to do everything in your power to stop you from coming in contact with the virus.”
As the virus continues impacting local businesses, the city now has the Bridge Fund to give relief. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, said, “Those industries like hospitality and leisure, restaurants, nightlife, sports, entertainment, they employ nearly 100k people and have since been decimated by the pandemic.” Mayor Bowser added, “We announced these because we know that businesses right now are struggling and in the days ahead can be significant for them too.”
With the Bridge Fund, the city can give up to $100 million in strategic investments in the hard-hit sectors. The money will be separated as so: $35 million to restaurants, $30 million to hotels, $20 million to businesses in entertainment, and $15 million to retail.
As for COVID-19 restriction updates, the Mayor says they will be coming “soon.”