How local health departments are enforcing new rules as restaurants open around the DC area

Diners sat outside on Friday night as some restaurants reopened in Georgetown. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

As some D.C. area restaurants start outside dining, area health officials are watching for problems that could arise as they try to keep people socially distant.

“We are concerned that we are doing something that is new,” said John Falcicchio, D.C.’s Acting deputy mayor for planning and economic development.

He mentioned that the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration along with the District Department of Transportation and the DC Health Department are doing health inspections as restaurants start outside dining.

But they’re also relying on customers to help them out.

“We are also asking residents if they do see something that doesn’t look right that they call 3-1-1,” Falcicchio said.

In D.C., restaurants that serve liquor must have customers make reservations ahead of time. This should avoid people standing in long lines waiting for tables.

“What we want to do is make sure that people are aware, because we know this can sometimes set uncomfortable situations where people have to kind of confront one another.”

Local health departments are watching this weekend as some restaurants get ready to serve outside for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic forced them to close.

In Maryland, the health department is hoping people realize that the virus has not disappeared.

“I am cautiously hopeful that people recognize that there is still a threat out there,” said Dr. Clifford Mitchell, Director of the Environmental Health Bureau for the Maryland Department of Health. Mitchell added they’ve been focusing on educating restaurant managers and customers on the steps that need to be taken as outside dining begins.

“We don’t want to return to a situation where the rate of hospitalizations or other serous illness [is] increasing since we’ve been successful in having a decrease.”

Nancy Diersen, state food and dairy consultant with the Virginia Department of Health, said the commonwealth has seen mostly positive feedback, with few issues, as restaurants opened in other areas of Virginia, and she’s hopeful that the trend will continue as Northern Virginia reopens.

“They’re so anxious to get open, that I think really by and large, they want to do the right thing,” Diersen said.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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