On Good Friday, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s daily news conference took on a religious tone, as she reminded residents to stay home over the holiday weekend.
Bowser invited two pastors, a priest, an imam and a rabbi to speak about the coronavirus crisis, in the context of Easter this weekend, Passover this week and Ramadan later this month.
“Sunday, from my home, I will celebrate Easter,” Bowser said, before a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.” “Many of our traditions are on hold this year, but our faith is not.”
Rev. Thomas Bowen, the director of the mayor’s Office of Religious Affairs, said the District has not faced the challenge that some states have of convincing churches not to gather in large groups during the crisis.
The first case in the District was an Episcopal priest, which Bowen said helped clergy here take social distancing seriously from the start. He said he did not know of any church planning to hold Easter services this Sunday that would break Bowser’s rule banning gatherings of more than nine people, but encouraged citizens to report any congregation that is still gathering.
While some states have religious exemptions in their stay-at-home orders, the District does not.
To underscore how the virus has touched clergy in the city, the news conference was held at Gonzaga College High School, whose president came down with the virus in mid-March. He was there Friday, fully recovered.
“On this Good Friday,” he said, it is health-care workers who are “living out what it means in Christian tradition to accompany someone who is carrying a heavy cross.”
Bowser also spoke about the painful loss of two police sergeants in the past week, and about the process of reopening farmers markets. The Oxon Hill market got a waiver and is open today; the leaders of the Maine Avenue Fish Market had a call with the city this morning and another coming up this afternoon about opening while having customers practice social distancing.
Bowser had earlier opposed that idea, saying it might attract crowds. Friday, she said she is looking into it.
The city has asked the National Park Service if a road in Rock Creek Park that is normally closed to cars on weekends can be closed every day and extended in length, and is looking at closing roads in Anacostia Park and Fort Dupont Park as well.
As for the toll the virus is taking on the city’s finances, D.C. officials say they are preparing to cut more than $600 million from the budget the mayor will submit in early May, but have not specified what areas they are trying to cut. The chairman of the D.C. Council has said it is unlikely the city can launch new programs.