Nation's capital aims to start reopening May 29

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A man wears a face mask to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus on his forehead as he walks past a closed store in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, Thursday, May 21, 2020. The District of Columbia is under a stay-home order for all residents in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON – After weeks of insisting the Washington, D.C., area is not ready to end its pandemic-induced lockdown, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser now says the numbers are pointing to the start of a gradual reopening process at the end of the month.

Bowser on Thursday penciled in Friday, May 29 as a potential start date for phase 1 of the District of Columbia’s proposed three-phase reopening plan. That includes restaurants allowing outdoor patio seating, non-essential businesses offering curbside pickup and hair salons and barbers operating by appointment at limited capacity.

Bowser emphasized the gradual nature of the process and warned residents not to expect the lives they had in February to return in full any time soon.

“Let’s be clear on what this is and what this isn’t,” Bowser said. “This is not an on-off switch.”

Bowser had previously set the nation’s capital on a timeline that would have it beginning to reopen on June 8 at the earliest. That’s later than most jurisdictions around the country and a stark contrast to the sense of urgency to reopen coming from the White House.

“The mayor’s more conservative approach … is the right way to go,” said Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington DC’s non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives.

Although there have been one or two small protests to reopen DC faster, Norton said, “there was not an overwhelming desire on the part of District of Columbia residents to open up.”

The number of newly identified infections has fluctuated from day to day. But Bowser and Health Department Chief Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt say they put more faith in indicators that track the exact onset of symptoms as a better metric for determining the state of community transmission. Those numbers, they said, have been trending positive for 11 days now. If that trend continues through the weekend, Bowser said she would probably revise her current executive stay-home order, which is currently set to expire June 8.