D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) urged protest attendees to self-isolate or to get tests depending on their exposure.
“While I saw some people with masks last night, others didn't,” Bowser said during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “While I saw some people social distancing, others were right on top of each other. We don’t want to compound this deadly virus and the impact that it’s had on our community.”
The two elected leaders’ comments came as the last D.C. suburbs prepared to gradually reopen their economies Monday, marking the end of a nearly two-month shutdown to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Montgomery and Prince George’s counties will allow retail businesses to offer curbside pickup and restaurants to begin outdoor seating, following similar moves in the District and Northern Virginia on Friday.
After spending much of the spring under stay-at-home orders, D.C.-area residents over the weekend began dining out again, taking their dogs to reopened parks and booking appointments for long-overdue haircuts.
Local officials say they are confident that hospitals are well-equipped to deal with an inevitable rise in cases as people begin to mingle again.
The return to normalcy is a ways away, with the rollback of other closures, including movie theaters and swimming pools, dependent on the continued decline of the virus’s spread.
The District, Maryland and Virginia on Sunday morning reported a combined 1,843 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 32 fatalities — the lowest number of new deaths since early April.
New fatality reports tend to dip on weekends. Sunday’s decline was fueled by just five deaths reported in Virginia, four in the District and 23 in Maryland — also the lowest since early April.
Maryland and the District on Sunday also reported the fewest number of people hospitalized with covid-19 since mid-April. Hospitalizations have been stable in Virginia for weeks.
The region's gradual reopening is not a return to a pre-pandemic fall, but instead to the early days of mandatory social distancing. Businesses are operating under strict hygiene and social distancing rules, with patrons required to cover their faces while inside businesses and on public transportation.
Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) allowed parts of their states to reopen in mid-May, but exempted the D.C. suburbs because of their high levels of infection.
Now, hundreds of businesses are preparing to resume operations.
Employees and managers at Brooklyn’s Deli in Potomac, Md., where bagels and corned beef and omelets are staples on the menu, have spent a week planning how to reopen safely with proper cleaning and protective equipment.
Brooklyn’s kept going during the shutdown with carryout, curbside and delivery service, but even so, business dropped more than 60 percent, an owner said. The deli is preparing to seat customers again beginning at 8 a.m. Monday, with tables spaced farther apart and thoroughly sanitized between customers, although there was some trepidation.
“You’ve got to think about it hard,” said Ibrahim Karama, one of the owners. “It’s people’s lives we’re talking about. You can get money again, but people’s lives you can’t get back.”
Montgomery, with a population of 1 million, has the most covid-19 deaths in the state.
Gaithersburg hairstylist Bobbie Smith said her phone starting blowing up as soon as Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) announced the reopening.
“People say to me, ‘I want to feel some kind of normalcy,’ ” said Smith, whose has two weeks of appointments booked, starting with five on Monday.
But it will not be business as usual at her three-employee salon. There will be no blow drying, and both stylists and customers will be required to wear masks. The decision to reopen was particularly hard for Smith because her husband has a compromised immune system, placing him at greater risk for complications from the coronavirus.
“You have to make a living or you lose your businesses and the consequences that follow that, or you take the chance,” Smith said. “It’s a difficult decision, but we have to do it. We can’t stay closed forever.”
Business owners are making similar calculations in neighboring Prince George’s County, home to 909,000. The county has Maryland’s highest number of infections.
Nonessential retail stores in the county can open for curbside pickup, manufacturing plants can operate with social distancing measures in place, and barbershops and hair salons may serve customers by appointment.
Restaurants may open with outside seating only. No more than six people can sit at a table, and tables must be six feet apart. No more than 50 people total are allowed, and all employees must wear face masks.
Debby Portillo, co-owner of the small 2Fifty Texas BBQ smokehouse in Riverdale Park, said the toll of the virus concerned her, but she decided to open with outdoor seating after weeks of offering next-day pickup for the shop’s slow-cooked barbecue. As a precautionary measure, the smokehouse hired an employee devoted to disinfecting outdoor tables that can seat about 24 with social distancing measures.
“I have customers who think the pandemic is over tomorrow — they are tired of the masks, they are tired of the grab-and-go, and it’s understandable. But we can’t put our guard down,” Portillo said. “I cannot risk my staff’s health.”
Some businesses cannot operate under new restrictions. Franklins, a brewpub in downtown Hyattsville, does not have outdoor seating and is instead trying to serve customers in a nearby city-owned parking lot. If city officials sign off, Franklins could set up tables and serve customers in the lot.
“There are some people we have not seen in the last three months, and we miss them,” general manager Marc Heckrotte said. “We would love to be able to get open, but once again we’d rather this be slow; we’d rather this be measured; we’d rather anything to be safe than to open our doors and find ourselves back in this situation in two or three months. That would be awful.”
Erin Cox and Donna St. George contributed to this report