WASHINGTON – D.C. Health Department officials are recommending that “nonessential mass gatherings, including conferences and conventions,” be postponed or canceled in the nation’s capital.

The recommendation – which could affect gatherings from worship services to concerts and festivals to professional sporting events – is in effect through March 31.

“Mass gatherings are defined as events where 1,000 or more people congregate in a specific location,” the city said Wednesday in a health advisory.

“We also recommend that any social, cultural, or entertainment events where large crowds are anticipated be reconsidered by the organizer.”

Officials made the announcement as Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, D, reported a ninth coronavirus victim in that state, bringing the number of people testing positive for covid-19 in Washington and neighboring Maryland and Virginia to 23 as of Wednesday morning.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R, announced Wednesday afternoon that a Montana resident in her 70s tested positive while visiting Anne Arundel County, after having close contact with confirmed case.

Also Wednesday, organizers announced that Washington’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which was to be held Sunday, would be postponed because of concerns about the virus.

“This decision was not made lightly and was done out of caution to ensure the safety and health of the thousands of attendees from the Washington area that attend the parade every year,” said a message posted to the group’s website.

Among major events that bring thousands of visitors to the nation’s capital are the National Cherry Blossom festival, which starts March 20; the annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon on March 28, which attracts as many as 25,000 runners and thousands more spectators; numerous performances at the Kennedy Center and the Anthem; and professional sporting events.

The Capitals and Wizards have games lined up in the next week at Capital One Arena. Opening Day for the World Series champion Washington Nationals is not until April, a few days after the time frame specified by D.C. officials, but the team has an exhibition game scheduled for Nationals Park on March 24.

City health officials have expanded a self-quarantine recommendation for people who visited a church at the center of three confirmed coronavirus cases, and D.C. Public Schools said it would close Monday to give teachers a chance to prepare for distance learning for students. The school system shifted a teacher training day from March 20 to March 16 to do the preparations as quickly as possible.

Northam said the latest Virginia case was a person in the Chickahominy Health District, in the area of Hanover County, just north of the capital, Richmond. Officials said the person had traveled to a country that was experiencing an outbreak.

In Washington, three cases have been reported that are connected to Christ Church, a historic Episcopal congregation. Rev. Timothy Cole, 59, the church rector, was diagnosed with the virus, as was the church organist and a member from suburban Loudoun County, Virginia.

The church emailed parishioners Wednesday to tell them that D.C. health officials have expanded the self-quarantine recommendation announced Monday, to account for days the organist was there.

In addition to people who were at the church on Feb. 24 or between Feb. 28 and March 3, those who were there from March 4 to March 6 should also self-quarantine, the email said. The email said the organist played at a March 6 funeral and attendees are also being alerted.

City officials want people to isolate at home and monitor themselves for symptoms until two weeks have passed since their last time at the church.

Cole is hospitalized and in stable condition and the church organist is at home and said to be in “good spirits” with some mild symptoms, according to officials at the church.

The city’s health department said there is still “no widespread community transmission” of the virus, according to a message from D.C. Chancellor Lewis Ferebee.

Officials in the Washington region have said those who are sick should stay home and health experts are reminding people to wash their hands thoroughly and regularly. Those with compromised immune systems are also advised to take precautions. And anyone who develops a fever, cough or shortness of breath is advised to see a doctor and get tested.

Several colleges in the region are halting in-person classes temporarily to try to stop the fast-spreading virus. In Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools are preparing to have students do distance learning in coming weeks.

The federal government, the country’s largest employer and the largest employer in the region, has told people to be prepared to work remotely full time.

Maryland businesses will have an automatic extension on state tax filings, until June 1, state Comptroller Peter Franchot said Wednesday . The federal Internal Revenue Service deadline of April 15 for income and corporate taxes remains in place.

The new positive case in the Hanover area is an older teen male who visited a country where there is “ongoing transmission” of the virus, said Caitlin Hodge, a spokeswoman with the Chickahominy Health District.

The teen, who does not attend school, returned from his trip on March 4, started having symptoms on March 8, and tested positive, Hodge said.

The Montana woman who tested positive in Maryland will not be classified as a Maryland case, Hogan said, but the state and Anne Arundel county officials will investigate whether people she came in contact with in Maryland could be at risk. The woman is currently hospitalized.

Events DC, the District’s tourism arm, said Wednesday that officials learned of two more people who have tested positive who attended this month’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference here. The new cases involve people from Ohio and Toronto. There are also three previously reported patients who came to the 18,000-person conference from New York and Los Angeles.

Indoor venues managed by Events DC – including the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, which hosted AIPAC; the DC Armory; and the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center – will undergo a deep cleaning, officials said.

At Wednesday’s news conference, Northam said steps were being taken in several agencies including schools, transportation and health to ensure Virginia is prepared to deal with the virus. He has not yet declared a state of emergency but said he is “prepared to do so.”

Virginia officials said the state’s public lab has testing supplies for 300 to 400 patients, and they anticipate soon receiving additional tests to increase that capacity to 600.

Until testing capacity increases, health department officials will give priority to people who have had contact with others with confirmed cases, who have traveled to impacted areas and who live in nursing homes. They said that anyone who has a fever, cough or difficulty breathing to call their doctor ahead of time rather than just showing up at the office to prevent the possible spread of infection. Private labs do not have to follow that criteria.

Daniel Carey, Virginia’s secretary of Health and Human Resources, said that given the limited number of tests available, it makes sense for doctors to first test patients for flu, pneumonia or bacterial infections to rule those things out.

He said there are enough tests available for anyone who meets the criteria for testing — meaning they have traveled to a hot spot, had contact with a confirmed case or lives in a nursing home.

“Who we test will change as the availably of testing increases,” Carey said.

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Vozzella reported from Richmond. The Washington Post’s Erin Cox, Luz Lazo, Justin Wm. Moyer and Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.

Video: http://www.washingtonpost.com/video/national/health-science/understanding-isolation-quarantine-and-social-distancing-in-the-coronavirus-era/2020/03/10/69a69465-b6f5-4e0e-a381-6de3f23a8e43_video.html(REF:useroa/The Washington Post)

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