- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2020

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Wednesday that the District will likely enter phase two of reopening on Monday if the city’s coronavirus trends continue in the right direction.

Under phase two, gatherings will be limited to 50 people, retail businesses and libraries can allow customers inside at 50% capacity, gyms and workout studios can operate with capacity limits, and playgrounds and fields can open.

Personal services such as tanning, tattoo, hair removal and nail salons will be able to open by appointment only, and places of worship can operate with an indoor capacity of no more than 100 people or 50% capacity, whichever is less.

On Wednesday, the D.C. Department of Health reported the District’s 13th of the required 14 days of sustained decrease in community spread of the virus.

The Health Department website says about 15% of new coronavirus cases are able to be contact traced, which is calculated from a seven-day rolling average; 90% is required for reopening.

“The only reason we call it a deficit [in contact tracing capacity] is because we haven’t watched it long enough. Our expectation is, if the last two days is an indicator, we will be able to meet it,” Miss Bowser said at a press conference, noting that contact tracers achieved the 90% threshold over the last two days.

Miss Bowser said she will announce Friday if she will sign an order moving the District into the next phase, which will allow restaurants to open at 50% capacity for indoor dining.

Restaurants across the region, which are now allowed to serve seated customers for the first time in months, have had to adjust their business models to keep customers safe while trying to make up lost profit.

Because their businesses were not made to operate at 50% capacity, owners are looking for structural changes in the law to make their survival more possible.

Big chains like Clyde’s can install 11,000 square feet of Plexiglas to protect customers, but Ashish Alfred says something like that is not feasible for independent restaurant owners.

“Most of us can barely afford to buy the food we are serving people let alone buy Plexiglas walls to put up,” said Mr. Alfred, owner of George’s Chophouse in Bethesda and Duck Duck Goose in Baltimore and Bethesda.

He said he is doing everything he can to keep his staff and customers safe: servers are wearing gloves and face masks, fewer tables are set up, his entire staff has been trained in how to safely operate during a pandemic, and tables and chairs are thoroughly cleaned between meals.

“Same way we wouldn’t want you to get sick from our food, we wouldn’t want you to get sick from COVID,” Mr. Alfred said, adding that he is not taking the safety aspect lightly.

With a cap at 50% capacity for indoor seating, he said his businesses will likely only scrape by for another half a year. Mr. Alfred said he can manage to have his businesses open only five days a week and he will likely have to offer a smaller menu.

Vinoda Basnayake, owner of Morris American Bar in Shaw, Castas Rum Bar in West End and Heist Lounge in Dupont Circle, said he thinks grab-and-go style service and delivery, especially for cocktails, will continue to be popular after the public health emergency is over.

He said cocktail delivery has brought in a new revenue stream for his eateries; however, it isn’t making up for lost income. He said the pandemic has been a “financially devastating situation” for the entire industry.

Mr. Basnayake, who is also the chairman of the District’s Commission on Nightlife and Culture, said he was lucky to be able to use grant and loan programs. He also noted that the D.C. Council has passed some rent protection legislation.

But he said there is more that can be done to increase cash flow for restaurant and bar owners across the city such as allowing bars to stay open one extra hour, no longer requiring personal guarantees for leases and ending dram shop laws, which makes a business liable for damage caused by patrons who become intoxicated from alcohol bought at the establishment.

Because of dram shop laws, insurance premiums insurance premiums “are close to double the national average,” Mr. Basnayake said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide