New coronavirus infections across the greater Washington region hit an 11-week high Wednesday, mirroring a rise seen across large swaths of the country as the pandemic’s spread worsens ahead of the cold winter months.
The rolling seven-day average of new infections across D.C., Virginia and Maryland stands at 1,949 cases, the most since the average reached 2,001 new cases on Aug. 9. Health experts said adherence to health precautions will limit further spread, but warned that residents might want to reconsider travel during the busy holiday season.
Despite the rise, caseloads in the capital region are far below those in many other states. Virginia is recording 14 new daily cases per 100,000 residents, a number that drops to 12 in Maryland and 10 in D.C. — about half the national average of 22.
By comparison, the state with the lowest rate is Vermont, at three new cases per 100,000 residents, while new daily infections have surged to 104 per 100,000 in North Dakota and South Dakota — more than 10 times the rate as the nation’s capital.
[Places in the U.S. with highest daily reported cases per capita]
Health experts said Wednesday that while the Washington region’s number of infections might rise further, they don’t expect large spikes like those in other parts of the country — assuming residents continue to follow standard guidelines of wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and not traveling for nonessential reasons.
Costi Sifri, director of hospital epidemiology at UVA Health in Charlottesville, said “virus fatigue” has started to set in, with some people opting out of precautions they took earlier in the pandemic. Cold weather is another factor, prompting residents to spend more time indoors and in closer proximity, creating an ideal environmental for the virus to spread.
“We are starting to see an uptick in the DMV of cases,” Sifri said. “But we’re fortunate that we’re one of a handful of states — Maryland, D.C. and Virginia — that are not seeing surges.”
[Coronavirus cases and metrics in D.C., Maryland and Virginia]
He credited the region’s success with the widespread following of health guidelines, which he said were accompanied by less political tension than in other parts of the country.
Sifri said that as Halloween and Thanksgiving approach, actions taken now will help to determine how the virus is spreading as the December holidays and New Year’s get closer. Combating any virus is generally more difficult during the fall and winter months, he said, and the coronavirus is no exception.
“If we don’t do things well now, it could lead to a very bad holiday season,” he said.
In Virginia, Sifri said rural parts of the state continue to see a rise in infections, a shift from more densely populated areas hit early in the pandemic.
Virginia Department of Health data shows Northern Virginia saw its average number of new daily cases rise Wednesday to 271 — the highest in that region since mid-June. But much of the state’s rise is coming from increases in rural Southwest Virginia, which reported a record 354 average daily cases Wednesday, despite having far fewer people and less access to health care than the Washington suburbs.
[This rural Virginia community thought it could escape the pandemic. Now, it has among the highest number of new cases in the state.]
Health officials have said contact tracing data shows much of the spread is originating from small social and family gatherings.
“The virus is like electricity. It finds the path of least resistance,” Sifri said, “If there’s a letdown of behaviors, it’s going to find a way.”
D.C.’s seven-day average Wednesday stood at 68 cases, doubling since the start of October but well below numbers recorded in April and May. Maryland is averaging 741 cases, up from 530 on Oct. 1, with upticks in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
Montgomery County officials on Wednesday continued to sound the alarm on rising infections but stopped short of announcing new restrictions on social or commercial activities.
The number of new daily cases in the county hit 11.9 per 100,000 residents, the highest since mid-June. Test positivity has also risen despite expanded testing, suggesting that transmission rates are on the climb, said county health officer Travis Gayles.
The seven-day average of new cases in Montgomery has exceeded 100 for the past four days, up from 60 to 80 in recent months. While cases became more prevalent among young residents over the summer, officials now are seeing test positivity rates increase for people above age 40.
Contact-tracing data suggests the virus is spreading at family gatherings, houses of worship and among employees unable to work remotely from home, officials said.
In light of Halloween this weekend, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) urged residents not to trick-or-treat, and instead engage in activities online.
“The only way we can deal with this is through our own actions,” he said.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said state health officials are monitoring increases in hospitalizations and the coronavirus test positivity rate, which has risen to nearly 3.4 percent statewide and is above 5 percent in three jurisdictions.
“Only the people of Maryland have the power to slow the spread, prevent the surge, and keep Maryland open for business,” he said in a Twitter message.
Regional health officials Wednesday announced a new tool to help local governments share information about coronavirus contact tracing data.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments said the platform would help contract tracers reach residents of D.C., Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia who are exposed to the coronavirus across state and city lines.
[D.C. region’s coronavirus caseload hits two-month high; officials say small gatherings are fueling rise]
Officials said the tool, operated by the Silver Spring-based nonprofit Association of Public Health Laboratories, is the first multistate covid-19 data exchange platform developed nationwide. APHL is planning to expand the system to other states, officials said.
“While our jurisdictions have been regularly sharing information throughout the pandemic, this new platform will take our partnership to the next level as we continue to work together to stop the spread of covid-19,” D.C. State Epidemiologist John Davies-Cole said in a statement.
The greater Washington region on Wednesday recorded 2,096 new coronavirus cases and 23 additional deaths. Virginia added 1,345 cases and 16 deaths, Maryland added 684 cases and seven deaths, and D.C. added 67 cases and no deaths.
Justin Wm. Moyer contributed to this report.