DC Plans to Finally Reopen Indoor Dining 2 Days After Record COVID Death Toll


On Jan. 20, the United States recorded a record COVID-19 death toll. Cases are on their way down, but not by much.

So what better time to reopen indoor dining in Washington, D.C.?

On Thursday, District of Columbia Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that a pause on indoor dining would stop on Friday, ending a pause that began on Dec. 23. Restaurants will now be able to operate at 25 percent capacity or 250 persons, whichever is less.

The order was set to expire Jan. 15, according to the Washington City Paper, but it was extended to Jan. 22, both based on fears regarding President Biden’s inauguration and the poor trajectory of COVID cases in the city.

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“We have hit a new record in the District, with transmission at 41.22 new cases per 100,000 persons,” a statement from Bowser’s office read, according to the Washington City Paper. “Total infections in the District have risen to 31,993, and tragically 821 District residents have lost their lives due to COVID-19.”

Yet on Thursday, the metrics still remained poor, as The Washington Post pointed out.

Like most states and territories, D.C. has a tiered system of COVID-19 benchmarks that are supposed to guide city officials as to what should remain open and what should close. In Phase 1, the red tier, indoor dining is prohibited. In Phase 2, or yellow tier, indoor dining is allowed, albeit with restrictions.

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The keyword in that last paragraph is that the benchmarks are supposed to guide the District’s public health policy. In reality, the city has stayed in Phase 2 despite the fact some metrics are in Phase 1 territory. The indoor dining ban was merely part of what city officials called a “holiday pause.”

For instance, the red zone daily case rate is 15 new cases a day per 100,000 city residents, according to The Washington Post. It hasn’t been below that since November and, when Bowser announced the end to indoor dining on Thursday, it was 36.7 per 100,000. The percentage of patients with COVID-19 in the city’s hospitals was also in the red.

“We remain squarely in Phase 2,” Bowser said Thursday.

“We were taking advantage over the holiday, where we know that there could be more travel and gathering, to recommend less of that with this pause. And we extended that through the inauguration. And those things are over.”

According to New York Times data, however, not much changed during the “holiday pause.”

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When Mayor Bowser issued the order on Dec. 18, the seven-day average of cases in Washington was 250 per day. On Thursday, it was 256 per day. That’s down from a high of 322 per day on Jan. 12, but still above where it was when the pause was called for.

The transmission rate isn’t significantly lowered from when Bowser’s office extended the ban on in-person dining through Jan. 22, either, and it’s more than double the 15 per 100,000 rate that would put the city into the red.

The other reason given for extending the pause was Biden’s inauguration and the Capitol incursion on Jan. 6. There was never an adequate explanation regarding what role in-person dining might have played in fomenting the violence, however, or how Bowser was keeping people safe by not letting them eat in restaurants through Jan. 22.

So what was the reason? There was definitely speculation on Twitter:

The announcement actually came one day after the United States passed another grim milestone: 4,131 COVID-19 deaths, according to NBC News, the most in a single day. It also comes as a new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 — B.1.1.7 — is a major threat.

If there’s a public health-related explanation for this, the District of Columbia is doing a poor job enumerating it. That silence leaves many of us speculating that maybe something else happened on Jan. 20 that could have influenced the nation’s capital to stop locking its restaurants down and getting back to some semblance of normal.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture