Metro Weekly

DC to temporarily end indoor dining at 10 p.m. on Dec. 23

Latest restrictions on bars and restaurants were prompted by higher number of new COVID-19 cases

An indoor dining establishment – Photo: Favour Otunji, via Unsplash.

The District of Columbia will temporarily suspend indoor dining beginning on Wednesday, Dec. 23 at 10 p.m. 

The District’s decision is based on the criteria it set forth for determining whether the city needs to loosen or tighten restrictions in an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Recently, the number of daily COVID-19 infections in the District has hovered around a seven-day-average of about 35 new cases per 100,000 people — a concerning number for health experts.

Even though the virus’s transmission rate and test positivity rate would generally be acceptable enough to allow the City to remain in “Phase Two” of reopening, the number of new daily cases suggests to some that the city might need to return to “Phase One,” in which bars and restaurants were not permitted to offer indoor dining options but could offer takeout options.

Additionally, due to colder weather, many bars and restaurants — even those with outdoor seating — will likely experience a drop in business, even if they have a full menu, as customers are unlikely to want to be outside, even if a business has been able to install space heaters through winterization grants provided by the city.

The city’s Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration has reminded business owners in a tweet that it has issued guidance declaring that street eateries and “parklets,” or places where the sidewalk has been extended into the street to provide additional space, “shall not be used during inclement weather and/or when the outdoor temperature reaches 32ºF degrees or lower.”

A city official with knowledge of the mayor’s coming “pause” next Wednesday told the DCist/WAMU that the city will impose other restrictions in order to discourage communal gatherings. Neighboring jurisdictions Montgomery County and Prince George’s County have already implemented their own temporary bans on indoor dining.

According to the Washington City Paper, city officials plan to reopen indoor dining in a limited capacity in January, although it remains unclear how long the temporary ban on indoor dining will last, and will likely be dependent on infection rates and whether the number of daily cases has begun to subside.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance earlier this month noting that restaurant dining, especially in cases where face mask use is inconsistent or social distancing is not as easily practiced, can be considered a “high-risk scenario.”

Related: D.C. Mayor now accepting applications for $35 million Restaurant Bridge Fund

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser previously introduced additional restrictions in recent weeks, limiting the number of indoor gathering sizes to parties of 10, and outdoor gatherings to 25 people. She also banned alcohol sales after 10 p.m. and reduced the capacity at dining or drinking establishments to 25% beginning on Dec. 14.

The city has launched the Bridge Fund, a $100 million initiative, paid for by money received from the federal government as part of the CARES Act, which is intended to provide financial relief to small businesses in the hotel, restaurant, retail, and entertainment industries.

Restaurants whose food sales comprised more than 25% of their business last year are eligible to apply for grants through the Restaurant Bridge Fund, which is currently accepting applications. Establishments for which food comprised less than 25% of all sales are eligible for grants through the Entertainment Bridge Fund, which will begin accepting application on Dec. 21.

This is a developing story.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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