Indoor Dining in DC to Take a “Pause” Starting Christmas Eve

Image by Mr.TinDC licensed under Creative Commons.

This post has been updated to reflect the Mayor’s Order released (13 hours after I broke this news) around 10p Friday night as well as a press conference that was held midday Monday.

Following the lead of Baltimore, Montgomery Co, Prince Georges Co., Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, Michigan, Washington, New York City and other parts of New York, Denver, and New Mexico, among other jurisdictions, the DC government announced Friday that indoor dining will take a “pause” for around 3 weeks beginning right before Christmas Eve, reopening the morning of Friday, January 15th (MLK weekend). Barred in DC broke the news earlier this morning that this closure was imminent, and Laura Hayes (then DCist / Martin Austermuhle) reported the news later in the morning that the closure would occur COB Wed Dec 23rd.

Thus, DC will be returning to the position it was May 29  – June 21 during Phase 1 where outdoor dining was only available; however due to weather it will likely feel more close to the takeout/delivery only stance from March 17-May 28. Expect many spots that weren’t open during that time frame to temporarily shutter.

Permitted Restaurant Activities

Based on clarifications made by DC, the following types of activities will be allowed at DC restaurants/bars during Dec 24-Jan 14:

  • Takeout and Delivery
  • Uncovered outdoor seating
    • can be one or more parties of max 6 that are 6 feet apart
  • All Covered (i.e., tented, canopied) outdoor seating with 0, 1, or 2 walls/side flaps
    • can be one or more parties of max 6 that are 6 feet apart
  • Covered single-party outdoor seating that is fully enclosed (or only 1 open flap/wall)
    • Only one party of 6 can be sat at a time in this type of outdoor seating,
    • includes igloos, small tents, bubbles, partioned spaces like at Le Diplomate, and greenhouses

DC is also allowing electric heaters with extension cords and has replaced the rule that streatery/parklets be closed at 32 degrees or colder with a rule that they be closed during a snow emergency (to protect restaurant furniture and patrons from snow plowing/icing activities)

The order also “strongly advise[s]” DC residents to “limit their activities to essential activites and travel,” and closes libraries and musuems, and states that non-essential businesses must telework.

According to the order, the following facts led the Mayor to this decision:

  • Surge of COVID-19 cases that will worsen “without intervention” as a result of Christmas/NYE/NYD related activties
  • COVID-19 ICU patients more than doubled from 11/16 to 12/16
  • Case rate is nearly 8x since early July
  • “Health metrics demonstrate that a number of activtiies are contributors to DC and indeed global cases, and a substantial number of cases cannot identify the source of their infections, which is expected at certain levels of community spread.”
    • in other words, DC is saying there are some cases coming from restaurants (and libraries and musuems) and there’s a lot of cases that we can’t tell where the source is. As a result imposing these restrictions can slow the spread.
  • “A pause in activity … can help stem transmission… prevent disease, save lives and prevent a crisis at our hospitals”

The time-limited nature of the “pause” in indoor dining is not unusual in the U.S. Other places that announced a pause with an end date (That could be extended) include: New Mexico (closed outdoor/indoor dining 11/16 – 11/30), Washington state (11/16 to 12/14, now extended to 1/4), Oregon (11/18-12/2 closed outdoor/indoor dining), Pennsylvania (12/12-1/4), Anne Arundel Co (12/16-1/13, now blocked by judge). On Monday, Mayor Bowser explained that she does not expect to extend the pause, calling it a “holiday pause” and it was three weeks long because DC Health recommended that interventions like this should be at least that long.

Contrary to what many people believe, contact tracing data is not reliable for showing where spread occurs; in fact it was not even really intended to accomplish that (For more details why, I urge you read this WaPo Julie Zaumer piece from last week). So people who keep asking for DC-specific data that shows cases come from indoor dining (or dining in general), they won’t get it. That being said, the press conference Monday would be infuriating for anyone hoping DC could clarify further why indoor dining was shut down. Dr. Nesbitt from DC Health did not even appear and Bowser’s answers to questions were not helpful (see below)

In addition, going against the conventional wisdom, my (admittedly unscientific) Twitter poll shows that restaurant staff/owners actually support an indoor dining shutdown at a higher rate (77% to 65%) than those not in the restaurant industry

The shutdown comes amidst Congressional negotiations to extend unemployment benefits and restore some supplement ($300/week)along with additional PPP funding; one wonders if DC would have done this without any hope of a Federal deal.

Excerpts from Monday’s  Press Conference

Reporter:  We’re reporting on these different big box stores (Wal-mart for example), we’re seeing lots of people in these stores, social distancing is not always easy…. These stores are allowed to operate and now you are asking restaurant owners to shut down for a few weeks during the heaviest time for these restaurant owners.

Bowser: Well, I don’t know it is the heaviest time for these restaurant owners. I am asking them to do it [she notes that the big box store limit was only place one day]


Reporter: Restaurant/bar owners and employees have been saying or claiming that the DOH or you have not put forth any kind of scientific evidence showing indoor dining would result in a greater number of COVID  cases or infections. Has DOH or you cited any data that these people claim have not been coming forward?

Bowser: I’m not sure what you’re refering to, but pretty consistently dining has been cited …by people who have COVID as one of the sources of activity, along with other things, but dining is pretty consistently in the top 4.

Reporter: Is this from the CDC or from DC’s own cases that you cited?

Bowser: Yes. We have a plethora of information about sources of activity. Having said that, there are other sources of activity that are essential activities including people going to their essential work, incuding people going to school, so there are a lot of sources of activity. This in no way, unless we stop everything that we are doing, that’s how we know people won’t be circulating and exposed to the virus. So we have been dialing back for several weeks, many weeks, all kinds of activity, including in restaurants where we stopped alcohol sales after certain time, and we have dialed back for a time the number of people allowed in buildings. We are very focused on, like jurisidictions around us and around the country on how to dial back even more activity. We know that this is a limited time. We are asking eveyrone to make this sacrifice so that our hospital workers won’t be overwhlemed following these holidays.

Reporter: How you landed on the January 15th date and how you will decide to extend it further?

Bowser: I don’t expect to extend the end date. So I don’t go into it with that expectation. We know and the Health Department tells us that 3 weeks is a good intervention interval and … we will start to see the impacts 3 weeks after the interventions begins…That’s why we call it a holiday pause.


Reporter: Why were musuems and libraries singled out, as compared to say Walmart and places like that?

Bowser: Wal-Mart is a food seller. I’m not going to be closing grocery stores…if you can’t see why we can’t do that…it seems pretty obvious.

Reporter: But I can also get a haircut, but I can’t enter a library. So why musuems and libraries?

Bowser: The libraries you can still use, but curbside



One response to “Indoor Dining in DC to Take a “Pause” Starting Christmas Eve”

  1. […] structures appear compliant with DC’s indoor dining pause which permits “[e]nclosed outdoor seating structures such as plastic domes or igloos that are […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: