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D.C. Reopening Plan Gets Mixed Reviews from Residents, Businesses

The DC ReOpen Advisory Group recently made recommendations to the Bowser administration on how the District should come back from its dormant economic and social activity amid the coronavirus pandemic and those ideas were met with mixed feelings among residents and business owners.

Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Wednesday that the District will enter Phase 1 of its reopening plan on May 29, based on health metrics showing the city’s progress in fighting the virus.

Wanda Henderson, the owner of Wanda’s on 7th salon and barbershop in the Shaw neighborhood in Northwest, doesn’t support opening the District for business while the virus remains active.

“I am going to [open on May 29] but I don’t think the city is ready,” Henderson said of the mayor’s actions and the group’s recommendations. “This is too soon, for safety reasons. The city’s economy is very important and people need their jobs and businesses need to operate to stay viable but the focus should be on health because people are dying from this virus.”

The group, chaired by District residents Susan Rice, who served as United Nations ambassador and national security adviser under President Obama, and Michael Chertoff, a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under President George H.W. Bush, oversaw the writing of the report that included its phases for reopening the District.

The first phase limits participant activities to 10 people and restaurants can offer outdoor seating for customers but will be required to institute strict cleaning standards. Barbershops and beauty shops can reopen under the first phase but appointments are required and less than a hand full of people are to be in the shops at one time.

For the second phase, up to 50 people can congregate and some sporting events can take place with no spectators. Theaters and museums can reopen with a limited capacity of visitors and businesses such as gyms can take in customers, with limits. Telework will be encouraged for workers and office capacities will be at 25 percent. Restaurants will be allowed to have customers dine inside but customer names and contact information will be compiled for health reasons.

Bars and nightclubs will be able to open under the third phase and office capacity will be increased to 50 percent. Public gatherings up to 250 people will be legal.

The fourth and final phase will begin once a vaccine emerges, at which point nearly all restrictions will be lifted.

“We will not be able to get back to life as we enjoyed it in February,” Bowser said. “But we are incrementally adding activities back in our lives, which we all miss and we are eager to get back to.”

Bowser knows all 50 states have opened up partially but has consistently said the District will abide by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for reopening and won’t follow the lead of other jurisdictions.

The mayor refuted arguments that requiring face coverings and social distancing in public places violates civil rights, citing evidence from health experts who endorse the practices and asserting that, as the District’s leader, she has the obligation to protect residents.

Bowser’s power to bring the District back to economic life doesn’t bother Henderson, though she questions the timing and the process.

“I wish the process was thought out more,” she said. “The focus in this city has got to be to keep people healthy.”

The Rev. Andre Towner, an associate pastor at the Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ in Ward 8, said he supports the recommendations, especially when it comes to places of worship and gradually easing the limits on the numbers of attendees for in-person services.

“I am happy to see that the mayor’s plan for reopening is tied to the infection rate,” he said. “Public health is the priority. The majority of our members are elderly and we want to be cautious with them. They are prime targets for the coronavirus. As for our virtual services, they are going well and until there is a vaccine, this is the responsible way to go.”

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