DC fights to enforce distancing and braces for looming surge

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In this April 6, 2020, photo, Billy White, right, and his brother Sonny White, second from right, owners of Captain White Seafood City, along with their nephew Paul White, left, and Stan Kiser with Jessie Taylor Seafood, second from left, set up portable fencing in the hope to force customers to social distance at the Fish Market at The Wharf in Washington. The Fish Market was closed by city officials over the weekend after large crowds gathered. The officials said the market may be allowed to reopen if they can show a plan for safe social distancing. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – Pick-up basketball games. Crowds gathering at an outdoor fish market. Family hikes along trails in Rock Creek Park. The warmer weather is bringing violations of social distance guidelines in the nation’s capital, even as health officials predict the city could become one of the next U.S. hot spots in the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 1,200 people have tested positive, with 22 deaths, in Washington. But national and local health officials predict that the worst is yet to come.

Last week, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that models predict the virus would peak in the District of Columbia in May or June and would result in nearly 1 in 7 Washington residents infected by the end of the year and a high-end death toll over 1,000.

“We are concerned that the next wave … that D.C. could be in the second wave,” Bowser said. “We want the message to get in everybody’s head — that we see a level of infection in our city that if we aren’t strict in our social distancing, the community spread will continue and we will have more people succumb to illness and perhaps death."

Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, has repeatedly mentioned the District of Columbia as a potential looming hot spot, along with Chicago, Detroit, Colorado and Pennsylvania. Birx said national health officials have “developing concerns” about the capital, noting that Washington appears to be in the early stages of a now-familiar pattern: a steady daily rise in reported infections that precedes a massive spike that overloads local health systems.

“We are concerned about the metro area of Washington and Baltimore,” Birx said Wednesday on ABC's “Good Morning America.”

On Saturday, she said, “We’re hoping and believing that if people mitigate strongly, the work that they did over the last two weeks will blunt that curve and they won’t have the same upward slope and peak that New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and part of Rhode Island are having.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. The vast majority of people recover.