Saturday, May 15, 2021


D.C. to join Northern Virginia in reopening Friday; Maryland suburbs to wait

The District of Columbia will join Northern Virginia suburbs Friday in taking tentative steps toward ending their prolonged economic shutdown, the start of a gradual reopening of the coronavirus-battered Washington region.



Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Repubican, also will ease statewide restrictions to allow for outdoor dining and youth day camps this summer, but the leaders of populous Maryland suburbs that border the District's say they plan to remain shutdown for now.

For the first time in nearly two months, Washingtonians will be able to dine at a restaurant (outside seating only), get a haircut and shop curbside from stores deemed nonessential. Indoor worship services will be capped at 10 people, and gyms, pools and day camps will still be shuttered.

Most people who have been working from home should continue to do so. 

District Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, said she decided to lift the capital's stay-at-home order Friday because covid-19 hospitalizations have stabilized in the city and the spread of the virus is declining, even as the rate of positive tests in the region remains higher than many states.

"In my mind, I call it stay-at-home light," said Bowser of the relaxed restrictions. "It means the stay-at-home order has been lifted, and some activities have been added back to what we can do, but they are minimal."

Public health experts caution that the danger has yet to pass from the highly contagious novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 95,000 and killed more than 4,000 in the District, Maryland and Virginia. A rush to pre-pandemic life could fuel another wave of infections, they warn, and trigger another round of restrictive measures. 

The first phase of recovery in the District will include the reopening of parks, fields and tennis courts, barbershops by appointment, nonessential retailers for delivery and curbside service. Residents will still be required to maintain six feet of distance from others and to wear masks while inside most businesses. Playgrounds and nail salons are among entities still closed, and gatherings of 10 or more are still banned.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, who launched a phase one reopening in other parts of the state May 15, is allowing Northern Virginia localities to start reopening Friday as well. 

In Maryland, Hogan also began reopening May 15, but left it up to individual cities and counties whether to opt in. On Wednesday, he said he would further relax restrictions as of 5 p.m. Friday, with outdoor pools, day camps and outdoor dining allowed to resume under strict social distancing rules. Hogan cited declines in the rate of residents testing positive for coronavirus, and the state hitting its goal of 10,000 test per day, among his reasons for easing the shutdown. 

"While we are moving to safely reopen the economy and put more people back to work, we want to continue to strongly stress the need to follow CDC guidelines," he said. "The fight against this virus is by no means over."

Leaders of Montgomery and Prince George's counties - which have more residents, and more infections and deaths, than any other part of the state - so far have held off from easing the shutdown. 

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, a Democrat, said he may take steps toward reopening next week, and Prince George's leaders have said their numbers are trending in a positive direction and the county may also be ready in early June. 

As of Wednesday, only two of the Montgomery's nine metrics had reached the desired 14 days of consecutive declines, but county health officer Travis Gayles said the rest are on their way. The rate of patients testing positive for coronavirus had decreased from a high of over 30 percent in early May to below 15 percent, he said. New infections and hospitalizations have also been declining. 

One of the county's metrics - the rate at which acute care beds are being used - has only declined one day out of the last 14, but Gayles said the county is adding hospital beds. 

"I never said we were totally in lockstep," Elrich said, speaking of regional leaders. "We're focusing on doing what's right . . . Be calm, it'll all work out in the end."

Although officials have touted the importance of regional coordination in the pandemic response, reopening decisions have largely been made independently, with each locality emphasizing different benchmarks to lift restrictions and focusing on different areas to reopen.

Maryland, for example, did not include outdoor dining in its first phase of recovery, while Virginia and the District did. 

Maryland and Virginia also have softer restrictions on outdoors recreation than the District. Summer camps will be virtual for the first phase of the District's recovery, Bowser said last week, but Maryland and Virginia will allow day camps to operate with no more than 10 gathered in groups, and children wearing masks.

Maryland pools can operate at 25 percent capacity, with social distancing measures, while Virginia pools are open only for lap swimming and Bowser says the District's public pools are unlikely to reopen this summer. 

Bowser said she focused phase one recovery plans on businesses that are most needed after two months of a local shutdown, but where person-to-person contact can be minimized. For example, barbers can reopen for appointments so long as their stations are spaced six feet apart and customers cannot wait inside for service. But nail care, waxing and eyebrow threading is still prohibited.

In Virginia, Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Arlington counties, and Alexandria, places of worship will be able to hold indoor services at 50 percent capacity, instead of the 10-person limit currently in place in Northern Virginia. Restaurants and taverns can offer outdoor service at half-capacity, and campgrounds and state parks will reopen.

On Wednesday, District area businesses were deciding whether to be among the first to reopen.

Dave Nicholas, a managing partner at Alexandria Restaurant Partners, which oversees eight restaurants including Vola's Dockside Grill in Old Town, said he plans to allow about one-third capacity at each restaurant. 

At Vola's, just 40 of the 110 patio seats will be available. Employees will have their temperature checked several times a day, while patrons will be required to cover their faces while using the restrooms and will eventually have a QR code for menus. 

"We're not in a rush, gonna take things cautiously and slowly. Safety is going to be first. We're thinking if we get to 30 percent of our normal volume in months to come that will be good," Nicholas said.

Andy Shallal, founder of the chain Busboys and Poets, has rehired a fifth of his staff and held a training in new procedures Wednesday to prepare for resuming dine-in service.


District restaurant owners can apply to extend seating into sidewalks or streets for limited periods of time. But Can Yurdagul, who owns Sushi Capitol, said he is wary of serving sushi outdoors in hot weather, and will remain closed for now. 

"It's survival mode right now," he said. "This is not the time to be financially motivated. It is the time to be health motivated." 

Sheila Weaver, a barber at Wrenn's Barber shop in the Navy Yard, spent Wednesday morning texting her regulars, trying to gauge their level of interest in getting a haircut under the new rules. 

"I have to see what my customers want because they are the ones who are paying me," she said. "But I am definitely concerned. I don't want to be thirsty and pull down my mask to drink water and kill everybody in the shop."

Angela Sitilides, the owner of the boutique cosmetic store Bellacara in Alexandria, Virginia, has offered only curbside pickup for the last two months, but will welcome up to five customers inside at a time starting Friday. 

She and her three employees spray all of her products with alcohol each hour, and she has placed samples in single-sized packaging and installed a sink to ensure patrons can wash their hands if they wish. 

"It's gonna be about trust," Sitilides said. "It's gonna be about knowing that we've done everything we need to do to make sure that their shopping environment feels safe."

Religious leaders, meanwhile, are weighing whether to resume in-person worship. 

Northern Virginia's Catholic churches can resume in-person services starting this weekend, the Catholic Diocese of Arlington said, but each parish can make its own decision and must require churchgoers to wear masks. 

In the District, full worship services will be impractical for most churches, with crowd size so limited. 

Leaders in some denominations, including United Methodist churches in the District and its Maryland suburbs and the Episcopal church in the District, said they are not ready to reopen yet, regardless of the government's rules.

There are now 97,078 coronavirus cases and 4,118 deaths in Maryland, the District and Virginia, after the three jurisdictions reported more than 1,700 new cases and 109 fatalities Wednesday. 




Published : May 28, 2020

By : The Washington Post · Fenit Nirappil, Emily Davies, Ovetta Wiggins · NATIONAL, BUSINESS, HEALTH