Tuesday marked the beginning of a new reality around D.C. and Maryland: It was the first full day of business restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
You can still eat and drink at bars and restaurants, but you can’t dine in — delivery, carryout and grab-and-go are the options. Movie theaters, athletic clubs and some other large businesses are closed altogether. And gatherings of over 50 people are banned as well.
How long these restrictions last will have a lot to do with how long this nationwide health crisis lasts.
But, for too many businesses, there’s concern that they won’t be around when it’s all over, and those fears have led to some stunning preemptive moves.
(At least one large business — Marriott — began laying off hotel employees as well on Tuesday.)
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Tom Johnson, managing partner of The Hill Restaurant Group, had said they would defy D.C.’s new restrictions before later relenting. Now, he believes the chances of closing for good are pretty high: “I don’t know if there’s any coming back from it,” he said.
Johnson told WTOP he would prefer to be forced to close altogether, as it would open the possibility to some sort of assistance. And he was skeptical that the new restrictions would be helpful.
“You still got the Metro open. You got the buses running,” he said. “They got to come in the same way. They got to touch the doorknob.”
Chef Jose Andres has closed restaurants in D.C. and New York, but is mindful of his staffers’ situation.
“All restaurant employees will be provided with paid leave and current health benefits for at least the first two weeks,” he said in an online statement. In addition, many of his restaurants have been converted into “community kitchens” serving lower-priced carry-out meals.
Meanwhile, some restaurants are looking at a new way to keep the money flowing: gift card purchases. The Adams Morgan Partnership Business Improvement District, for instance, is encouraging the purchase of what they call “Restaurant Bonds.”
And the D.C. Council approved an emergency coronavirus bill Tuesday that includes a range of measures aimed at supporting workers affected by COVID-19 closures.
The legislation extends unemployment benefits to those out of work because of the coronavirus, and creates a small business grant program for self-employed people and independent contractors who don’t qualify for unemployment.
The measure also prohibits price gouging, evictions and utility shut-offs.
With D.C. restaurants and bars shifting to takeout and delivery only, pickup and delivery of closed alcohol containers from restaurants is now allowed as long as customers order food as well.
Mayor Muriel Bowser said Tuesday that D.C. businesses can apply for disaster assistance loans as well from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The low-interest loans of up to $2 million “may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that cannot be paid,” said a statement from the District.
Also in D.C. on Tuesday: The Kennedy Center announced that all public performances and events are now canceled through May 10. It’s an extension of its original cancellation through March. Some events might be rescheduled, they said. Ticketholders have several options, including refunds or exchanging for tickets to another event.
In Virginia, however, dining in remains an option. Gov. Ralph Northam issued an emergency order Tuesday evening limiting groups inside restaurants, gyms and theaters to 10 people, but he stopped short of ordering businesses to close.
Though there is no Virginia-wide order closing bars and restaurants, similar to the ones in Maryland and D.C., officials in Arlington County are pleading with bars and restaurants to close their dining rooms and offer takeout and delivery service only.
The county, on its own, does not have the legal authority to shutter dine-in service, Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey told WTOP Tuesday morning. She said she has contacted Northam’s office as well as statewide lawmakers seeking measures similar to what D.C. and Maryland have rolled out.
“We have just got to slow down the spread of this disease,” Garvey said.
She said it’s important that bars and restaurants take action now.
“It is St. Patrick’s Day; I’ve got my green on,” she said. “And, traditionally, it’s a time for everybody to get together … in bars and have a great time and a great community feeling. We cannot do that today. We cannot.”
Garvey said some businesses in Arlington are voluntarily shutting down, but she said she is “praying” that Northam issues a statewide order closing dine-in service at restaurants and bars.
“It’s one of the frustrations sometimes of being in local government: I know what we need to do. We’ve got to do it, but we don’t have the authority to do it,” Garvey said. “And that’s very upsetting.”
She added: “It’s not a drill; it’s not a movie; this is real. And it’s here and it’s now, and we have got to take steps now to slow it down.”
WTOP’s Jack Moore, Alejandro Alvarez, Rick Massimo, Melissa Howell and Max Smith contributed to this report.