DC Mayor Bowser Gives Health Care Workers Power to ‘Modify Standards’ as COVID Spikes

Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington, D.C., has given district health care workers the ability to “adjust the standards” of care as the COVID-19 virus surges in the nation’s capital.

Bowser’s order allows health care workers to “modify administrative procedures, deadlines, and standards” through January 26.

Other cities and states have issued similar orders, allowing hospitals and health care centers to simplify protocols and prioritize patients who need immediate life-saving care.

Emergency standards for health care workers in Muriel Bowser
Mayor Muriel Bowser is allowing health care workers in Washington, D.C., to “adjust standards” of care as the spread of the coronavirus increases in the capital. Above, Bowser testifies at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on the District of Columbia State Creation Bill on Capitol Hill on March 22, 2021.
Carlos Barria/Getty Images

In early 2022, COVID-19 cases in the region rose to record levels. As of January 10, the region was reporting a seven-day average of 1,827 new cases per day. Prior to December 2020, the region’s highest seven-day average was often fewer than 100 new cases per day.

“The pressure on county hospitals and health care providers has recently increased,” the mayor wrote in her order on Tuesday declaring a limited public health emergency. “The physical capacity of the hospitals is still strong, but the emergency rooms are overburdened… causing delays for both of them [COVID-related care] and for other patients.

She continued her request, “Hospitals cannot use all their capacity for beds due to lack of staff.” “Some hospitals are having 25% of staff going on leave related to COVID and some emergency rooms are full of dozens of people waiting for a room in the same hospital.”

On December 21, 2021, the capital resumed the mask mandate for indoor spaces, which will run until at least January 31.

By the end of 2021, the capital has become the region with the highest risk of COVID-19 infection in the United States, NPR reported. Although 68.1 percent of its population was fully vaccinated, the region averaged 1,192 new cases per day in that time.

“I suspect what we’re seeing in DC is the collision of increased opportunities for transmission due to area demographics, the missed policy opportunity to prevent transmission, and the dynamics of Omicron transmission,” Dr. Neil J. Segal, assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of Maryland School of Public Health told NPR.

Nearly half of the area’s population is made up of people between the ages of 20 and 49, Segal said, the age group primarily responsible for causing new infections.

The increased incidence of DC in cases was driven by the Omicron variant, which developed the ability to bypass the immunity provided by vaccines. Despite this ability, medical professionals say that vaccines reduce symptoms of the variant and reduce a person’s infection.

Near the end of December, in nearby Maryland, hospitals and health centers associated with Regional Health University of Maryland Capital (UM Capital) declared a “hospital emergency” amid the recent surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state.

In the face of a growing number of patients in emergency rooms and a significant staff shortage, hospitals have implemented “crisis policies” to help workers treat patients effectively.

“This is not a decision we took lightly. It’s a decision that was made after exhausting all other avenues to address the issues that challenge our operations,” said Trudy Hall, MD, vice president of UM Capital and deputy chief medical officer.

“Covid-19 has created the need for health care institutions to be smart and vigilant in combating this epidemic,” Hall continued.

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