Washington area, the new American home of coronavirus

Despite containment measures put in place for more than a month, the Washington region is a new outbreak of coronavirus in the United States, but the increase in positive cases is not necessarily a bad sign , according to experts.

Larry Hogan, the governor of the state of Maryland, which adjoins the capital, had warned in early April that the political heart of the country would be the “next home”, because he was “two weeks behind” on New York, epicenter of the epidemic on the east coast.

Despite the closure of schools and businesses deemed non-essential, then the containment decreed at the end of March, the contaminations, hospitalizations and deaths curves continued to climb around Washington.

“We are in a densely populated area with a lot of essential workers who have to go to work and who are exposed to the virus,” Travis Gayles, chief of health services in Montgomery County, told AFP. , in Maryland, north of the capital.

Many of these essential workers – workers, supermarket workers, police, municipal officials … – are part of the black and Hispanic minorities, more affected than others by the coronavirus.

“These communities live in small apartments, it is not uncommon to have two families in a two-room apartment. When a resident is positive, the virus spreads quickly and isolation is more difficult, “said Dr. Gayles.

Diseases like hypertension or diabetes, aggravating factors of the coronavirus, and the lack of social coverage in these poor communities also increase the risks of complications.

Washington, which has more than 5300 positive cases and 264 died for 700 000 residents, identified an increase in positive cases, mostly transmissions in multi-generation homes, in two districts of the city.

Retirement homes are another concern, with the city announcing 70 deaths among residents and two among staff members. weeks.

“The beginning of a trend”

“This virus has not left town,” said Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who predicts a peak in contamination in May, on Monday.

Amanda Castel, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at George Washington University, believes the figures can be misleading.

The number of screening sites has increased and the criteria for being tested have been widened since the start of the epidemic, she told AFP.

“This means that we identify more positive cases, it's a good thing because we want to make sure that people who test positive will isolate themselves and that people who have been in contact with them are screened and quarantined if they have symptoms, “says Dr. Castel.

“We should not be alarmed by the number of positive cases but be reassured that the social distance instructions work, and that we must continue to observe them until the peak [de l’épidémie] in the Washington region “, She underlines, warning against a feeling of” fed up “in the population.

Travis Gayles says he is “optimistic” to approach the peak by observing “the beginning of a trend” with contamination figures which are stabilizing. “But we reassess the situation daily,” he warns.

However, several weeks will pass between the peak of the pandemic in the region and the decline in hospitalizations and deaths.

“A decline for 14 days in the number of cases detected will be a good indication that we are on the right trajectory,” said Amanda Castel.

While several American states have already reopened part of their economy, the governor of Virginia Ralph Northam announced on Monday a possible loosening of containment as of 15 may. Virginia also adjoins the federal capital.

An optimism not shared by its northern neighbors, in Washington and in Maryland.

The criteria of the federal government for a resumption of activity are “clear” – 14 days of decline in cases detected, vast testing capacity, sufficient hospital beds – and “if we do not check all the boxes, a reopening is premature,” warns Dr. Castel.