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No one appears to be happy with the new coronavirus restrictions. Some people believe the restrictions do not go far enough given that cases are as high as they were when the city shut down. And some businesses still reeling from the shutdown in the spring do not understand why the new restrictions are actually necessary.
“They are hitting me over the head saying ‘Hey, you say you all wanna help but here you are doing x, y, and z,’” said Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie of restaurants during a Council-executive call last week.
McDuffie asked for data that backs Mayor Muriel Bowser’s decision to stop on-site alcohol sales after 10 p.m. and reduce indoor dining to 25 percent capacity. DC Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt says the mayor considered the following information in making her recommendations: local epidemiology data on which populations and areas are being impacted; exposure data from contact tracing interviews; established public health literature; and shared epidemiology data from across the country. Nesbitt added that data gathered from health inspectors helped to inform the 10 p.m. liquor curfew.
“We wanted to make sure that it’s clear that we are starting to dial back instead of just closing it down,” added John Falcicchio, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and Bowser’s chief of staff, on the call. “I want to thank DC Health for working with us in order to make sure that we can dial this back instead of closing it down and do it in a way that actually does help us slow down new cases. We know that we have some work to do to explain this to everybody. We know that also the numbers allow us to do a dial back now but later we may have to go back to these same operators and tell them we will have to shut down.”
Gyms, meanwhile, do not understand why officials are letting indoor dining continue, where people are sometimes maskless, but not indoor group exercise. Solidcore only closed after a visit from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, according to WUSA9. The boutique fitness studio is still asking the mayor to reconsider her decision.
In the call, At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman argued Solidcore’s decision to not immediately adhere to the new mayoral order is more of a reason why DC Health should release outbreak data. (Solidcore believes they are not a source of community spread.) “Because it builds the trust and confidence of business owners, of the public, that there is a reason why we are making this decision and that they need to comply,” she said. But Nesbitt did not provide the data.
“This is a case where we took the science, we made the best decision possible, and are happy to try to communicate the logic of it and the rationale. But not everyone is going to agree with it or see that it is fair. But we do hope that they comply with it nonetheless,” said interim City Administrator Kevin Donahue.
It’s unclear how the new restaurant restrictions that were announced last week impact the outdoor bubbles, tents, and other ways restaurants made dining outside possible this winter. Experts point out that these experiences effectively create indoor dining outdoors. Indoor dining is a higher risk activity because of how the virus spreads (it can be airborne).
These igloo-like structures, for example, might reduce transmission between dinner parties but not between patrons sitting in the same bubble. “If there’s no airflow and it’s such a small enclosed space, the risk of transmission from you and someone else in that igloo is extremely high,” Dr. Michael Knight, a professor of medicine at George Washington University, tells DCist. Diners aren’t the only ones going into these bubbles. Restaurant workers have to go inside to serve food. Everyone is required to wear a mask. And the restaurants say they are disinfecting the bubbles and other indoor spaces.
The Bowser administration gave businesses until Dec. 14 to adhere to the 25 percent capacity rule for indoor dining because of all the ways restaurants have winterized. This buys the executive time to explain the rules. Officials also hope that giving businesses more time allows them to save jobs. The executive is hosting a webinar about what constitutes outdoor dining this afternoon at 4 p.m. (Register here.)
City Paper wants to know what you miss and how you’ll know things are back to normal. Is it when you can see your grandmother? Or when you can return to the 9:30 Club? Be as detailed or vague as you’d like! Write us by replying to this newsletter or email me directly, and we will share with readers in a later newsletter.
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