Even as Virginia's governor looks to scale back business closures and stay-at-home orders next week and Ocean City, Maryland, plans to reopen beaches to locals, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says she will hold the line on restrictions until the District has seen two weeks of slowing coronavirus case numbers.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday that officials are closely tracking the data. On Wednesday, city officials announced the confirmed case number grew to 5,461.
Bowser is looking for two weeks of declines, which is in line with the federal government's recommendations. "Until then, we have our stay-in-place order in place in Washington, D.C.," she said.
Executive orders for residents to stay home and nonessential businesses to close are set to be in effect until May 15, but Bowser said at a press conference Wednesday that there is no set date to begin reopening.
D.C.'s lucrative tourism and hospitality industries have suffered, Bowser said at the press conference. About 60% of restaurants remain open, doing less than 20% of typical sales. As travelers stay home, travel spending in D.C. declined $1.7 billion, officials said.
Bowser also acknowledged "people are getting antsy" after several weeks of social distancing and business closures, but said that the capital region isn't ready to reopen.
Leaders of D.C., Maryland and Virginia said they have worked together to plan for the capital region's reopening, but the commonwealth appears to be moving more quickly. Gov. Ralph Northam has said will begin phase 1 of Virginia's plan to reopen next Friday, May 15.
"I don't know where Virginia is going to land next week," Bowser told CNN. "What's important to us in Washington, D.C., is the National Capital Region. It would not be good for Virginia nor the entire region if all the D.C. residents and Marylanders flocked to Virginia."
Bowser said that while Virginia is a large state with varying needs across regions, she warned cases could spike and the regional economy wouldn't really recover if the capital region reopened hastily.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has similarly taken a cautious stance, saying the state would reopen in a "safe, gradual" way when the numbers show positive signs. Ocean City, Maryland, plans to reopen its popular beach, but just so local residents can use it for exercise.
And while D.C., Maryland and Virginia combined are still reporting hundreds of new cases daily, there are signs that leaders' are achieving the goal of flattening the curve -- or slowing down the number of new infections.
It looks like the growth rate for new cases has been decreasing. Lately, it's been under 6% which would suggest the curve flattening. But the slow start on testing could also play a role.
Another metric health officials look to is the doubling rate, which shows how many days it will take for the number of diagnosed coronavirus cases in an area to double. D.C.'s cases are expected to double over 24 days, much longer than Maryland and Virginia. This, too, may indicate a flattening curve.
DC Expects Smithsonians to Reopen, Events to Resume in Phases
Mayor Muriel Bowser said at a press conference Wednesday that she and D.C.'s tourism officials are planning for the city to return as one of the country’s top destinations.
Bowser said that District officials are in close communication with the Smithsonian and are considering a phased reopening of its 17 museums. Some, like the open-air National Zoo, might be able to reopen sooner than others.
D.C.’s travel and tourism industries are important to the local economy and city government revenues. In 2019, more than 22 million travelers visited the District, spending $8.2 billion. This year, the industry’s revenues have plummeted by more than 70%, according to Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC. Ferguson said that tourism dollars will be vital to D.C.’s economic recovery in the wake of the epidemic.
Destination DC and other industry leaders will focus their marketing efforts on the roughly 50 million Americans who live within 200 miles of the District. Free attractions like the Smithsonian museums will give D.C. a competitive advantage as a domestic travel destination once people feel comfortable traveling again, Ferguson said. He added that the majority of Americans surveyed want to get out of the house and travel again.
Conferences are also a major part of the city’s travel industry. However, mass gatherings are impossible right now and 22 conferences planned for 2020 have been canceled, representing a loss of $163 million.
“We may never see normal operations again,” said Gregory O’Dell, president and CEO of Events DC. He later clarified that this was not a statement of doom but of opportunity.
Technological advances spurred by COVID-19 could help the conference industry as it recovers.