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D.C. Sees Surge In Coronavirus Testing Demand Amid White House Outbreak

A nurse with the Washington, D.C. Dept. of Health is shown administering a coronavirus test last month. D.C. is now seeing a spike in demand for testing.
Alex Brandon
A nurse with the Washington, D.C. Dept. of Health is shown administering a coronavirus test last month. D.C. is now seeing a spike in demand for testing.

As the scope of the White House coronavirus cluster comes into focus, D.C. residents are expressing frustration and concern about how the outbreak might affect the local community. Local government officials are reporting a surge in demand for coronavirus testing.

"It's not just about the politicians that have tested positive," D.C. resident Megan Peterman, 39, said Tuesday after she was tested at the Judiciary Square public testing site. "People work in the White House, and those people also shop at my grocery store and are out about town. It feels frankly really scary."

On Monday, John Falcicchio, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's chief of staff, said the city had performed 3,962 coronavirus tests that day, an 81% increase from the previous Monday.

"While we do not have data on what compelled people to get tested today, it would be hard to imagine that the recent news did not drive more people to do so," Falcicchio said in an emailed statement. "We will continue to monitor the demand this week and urge residents if they need a test to get a test."

Wait times were long on Tuesday morning at Judiciary Square, the District's largest public testing site. Some people said it took more than an hour to get tested. And while many said their immediate reasons forseeking a test were not related to the White House outbreak, the issue wasn't far from their minds.

Jason Qu said the line was four times longer at this testing location than he'd seen it in the past. He thought the news from the White House was likely a factor.

"I think it's put the issue of testing back on people's radar," he said.

Others in line at the public testing site had been more directly affected. A White House reporter, who wished to remain anonymous for job-related reasons, said she and her colleagues were frustrated by the lack of information and advice provided to people who work in the building about the outbreak.

"They've done nothing to take responsibility for what happened, and we're all just kind of left in the lurch, knowing we were at this super-spreader event."

Andrei, a Capitol Hill staffer who declined to give his last name because he was concerned about jeopardizing his employment, said he was frustrated that the extent of the spread of the coronavirus in Congress is not yet known.

"I work in Congress, and I have friends who I know are rightfully concerned about the lack of information about who was infected, and whether their bosses might have been," he said.

Lauren Drew, who was also waiting for a test, said her boyfriend was a member of the media and sometimes has to go to work at the White House, on Capitol Hill, or at Trump campaign rallies. The couple have attempted to quarantine for 14 days and get tested when that happens.

"I think about all the people who do have to go there for their job, the people who service the White House, and I am so worried for all of them, and so angry that they've let this get so out of hand," she said.

George Washington University epidemiologist Dr. Amanda Castel said most D.C. residents shouldn't worry about the White House outbreak. But she noted that the extent of it is still unknown.

"If people weren't practicing social distancing and wearing masks consistently, we may see that this evolves into what we would consider to be a super-spreader event."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Margaret Barthel