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All words and photos by Dustin Renwick

Coronavirus arrived alongside the ebullience of spring in the nation’s capital. Like every other community, DC changed in ways both slight and significant.

The District recorded its first COVID-19 case on March 7 and the first death on March 20. I started biking around the city to visit all eight wards as part of a call from the DC Public Library and the Historical Society of Washington DC to create a real-time archive of these historic events. 

(Photos made with iPhone 8.)

Joan of Arc / officers

Members of the DC National Guard and Metropolitan Police patrol Meridian Hill Park each day to discourage group gatherings. Officers avoid issuing potential $5,000 fines for violating the city’s stay-at-home order. Mayor Muriel Bowser enacted the order April 1 through May 29, though a public health emergency remains in effect. 

Metro / Capitol

Metro initially shut down the Smithsonian rail station to deter crowds from visiting the cherry blossoms. The transit authority eventually locked the gates on one-fifth of its stops as ridership plunged 95 percent. 

Meanwhile, DC received less than half of the $1.25 billion guaranteed to each U.S. state in the initial economic relief bill because Congress classified the capital as a territory. District residents pay the highest federal income tax per capita in the country.

cathedral / park

Area churches have remained closed and quiet for months, but neighbors congregate at the Washington National Cathedral grounds on Sundays.

Rock Creek Park, though, fills with the noises of life as locals seek an outdoor sanctuary while gyms are closed and lines blur between work and home. 

plants / Nats

The local chapter of Extinction Rebellion, a climate change activist group, traded protest signs for trowels on April 22 — Earth Day. “Planting felt like the most positive thing we could do,” said Farzona Comnas, who helped organize a guerrilla gardening campaign in vacant lots around the city.

More than 43,000 fans should have roared with cheers at the April 2 home opener for the Nationals, reigning World Series winners. Instead, the only helmets and hustle at the stadium come from construction, deemed an “essential business.” Crews have reported dozens of COVID-19 cases at sites across the city.

AU / Martha’s Table

The NCAA canceled all collegiate sports championships, and American University, like many schools, moved its entire curriculum online. College campuses bloom with an uncommon silence in the normally joyous final weeks of the spring semester. Graduates now enter a world of economic turmoil.

As 40 million people file for unemployment across the country, community organizations and social services struggle to meet demand. Martha’s Table, a nonprofit in DC, celebrated its 40th anniversary as its food distributions quadrupled. Volunteers hand out more than 8,000 free bags of groceries each week.

Church sign

Black residents make up 46 percent of the population in the District, yet among the dead, 75 percent are black. Ward 8, in particular, bears witness to this disproportionate toll.

At least 100,000 Americans have died during the pandemic.

Dustin Renwick is a triathlete and freelance journalist. His work has appeared in places such as National Geographic, The Washington Post, and Curbed. He’s also written Beyond the Gray Leaf, the biography of a forgotten Civil War poet.

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