(Adds quotes, background)
By Makini Brice
WASHINGTON, May 13 (Reuters) - The District of Columbia, seat of the U.S. federal government, extended its stay-at-home order through June 8, the mayor said on Wednesday.
The stay-at-home order, intended to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, had been scheduled to end on May 15.
Mayor Muriel Bowser left open the possibility that the U.S. capital could reopen sooner, telling reporters that if it hit certain metrics including a declining number of cases over 14 days and sustained low transmission rate, she could move to open sooner.
Washington has reported 6,584 cases of the coronavirus and 350 deaths so far. Though Bowser said the data reflected some encouraging signs, she said, “We are not there yet.”
The announcement came as the White House pushes for states to reopen businesses while public health experts urge caution. Top U.S. infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci testified in the Senate on Tuesday his concerns that ending lockdowns could lead to uncontrollable outbreaks.
Both Maryland and Virginia, neighboring states where many workers in the U.S. federal government live, have moved to reopen some businesses in parts of their states, but the suburbs immediately surrounding Washington have remained largely closed.
Government is considered an essential service, with many workers are currently working from home.
“We know that government is essential and the work of the government is essential, especially our lawmakers. What I have encouraged the federal government to do is to keep as many people on tele-work as possible,” Bowser said.
Senators returned to Washington earlier this month after six weeks at home. The congressional physician has advised lawmakers to wear masks, stay six feet (two meters) apart and limit the number of staff on Capitol Hill.
The House of Representatives, which has been mostly shuttered since March, will return on Friday to vote on a coronavirus relief package. (Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Bernadette Baum and Cynthia Osterman)