Over the past two weeks, DC has seen a slight rise in coronavirus cases and spread. While some of this could be attributed to quarantine fatigue or the change in weather, its synchronous timing with the infamous Rose Garden superspreader event raises some questions about the cause. Questions that, so far, DC officials have failed to answer.
The most recent example occurred at a press conference Wednesday. When asked whether any White House-related cases were being included in the city’s count, DC Department of Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt responded “if we were to have any cases related to that, they would be classified as a workplace .” When pressed on if there were any cases included, she responded, “any other questions?”
D.C. officials decline to say whether the 374 positive cases from the first week of October that they are providing contract tracing data for includes White House cases.
.@ABC7Sam: White house incidents included in these numbers?
DC Health Director: Any other questions?
— Amanda Michelle Gómez 🇲🇽🇵🇭 (@amanduhgomez) October 14, 2020
That comment inspired ridicule online, but to be fair, there’s nothing easy about accounting for a Covid outbreak in a part of DC that the local government has no say over. As we previously reported, DC’s status as a municipality encompassing federal lands creates a public health nightmare scenario. The White House handles contact tracing (or lack thereof) for the individuals it tests for Covid, and Mayor Bowser has had to plead with the Trump administration for cooperation.
It’s possible individuals connected to the White House are being tested at DC sites or at DC doctor’s offices, and are therefore a part of the city’s overall case count. But as soon as news of the Rose Garden event spread, DC officials have maintained that they wouldn’t talk “about specific White House cases.”
The city says it’s a matter of confidentiality. According to DC Health, the department “does not release identifying information or details of case or cluster investigations,” apparently because this would be a breach of right to privacy protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. In other words, DC Health doesn’t identify when there are clusters at specific workplaces in the city.
That’s an expansive reading of HIPAA, and an extremely generous policy toward a place of business that hosted another rally on Saturday and has shown little appetite for even basic precautions like masks—and many of whose employees interact with the rest of the District daily.