Washington begins gradual reopening, focusing on ‘reinventing’ public spaces

By Laura Barros

Washington DC, May 29 (efe-epa).- The capital of the United States on Friday began the first phase of reopening after weeks of “stay at home” orders to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

It unveiled a “reinvention” of its public spaces to allow restaurants and other business to share sidewalks and some streets with pedestrians and shoppers.

With more people on the streets compared to the last few weeks, Washington welcomed the decision of District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser of moving towards a gradual reopening, after the city witnessed a sustained decrease in COVID-19 infections.

In the District of Colombia, which includes Washington, at least 8,538 people have tested positive for the virus and 460 people have died, out of around 1.74 million cases and over 102,000 deaths across the US.

In a population of 705,749, the epidemic has hit the black (3,991 cases) and latino (2,272 cases) communities the hardest.

In a series of tweets, Bowser urged residents and businesses to share sidewalks and streets while maintaining social distancing, calling it “critical” to check the spread of the coronavirus.

She announced that during the first phase, restaurants could serve clients in open-air seating while maintaining physical distancing and other safety measures.

The municipal government has also reduced the speed limit for vehicles on the streets designated for buying products or the setting up of dining tables.

The order has come as a lifeline for many restaurants with authorized spaces on the streets where they can host dine-in services, as well as takeaway orders, and on Friday a few clients had begun trickling in.

One such establishment is Mezcalero, a restaurant offering Mexican cuisine, which was attending to diners on Friday with a couple of tables out front.

An employee, Mauricio Flores, told EFE that the slow return to normalcy had been accompanied by a number of rules: limited seating, sufficient space for maintaining distance between clients and stringent cleaning routines.

“We are using masks and gloves and disinfecting each time after the people leave. We are taking many more precautions now because it is a very virulent disease and transmits too easily,” said Flores, adding that during the first phase they were operating at 25 percent of their capacity, only in the patio of the establishment.

He said that during the last few weeks, the lockdown had forced them to reduce the working hours of the employees, although many of them had themselves withdrawn from work fearing the virus.

Out of the original staff of 10 waiters and five people in the kitchen, the restaurant has been reduced to using the bare minimum of employees needed to cater to takeaway orders. On Friday there were just three employees on duty during a shift normally worked by five or six people.

Chef Tatiana Mora, in-charge of the Serenata and Zumo restaurants in the La Cosecha market, told EFE that they were still only taking takeway orders but preparing to open amid uncertainty.

“We have the desire to open, and to carry out everything with the necessary safety measures and protocol,” said Mora, who added that COVID-19 had led to “evolution” among humans and stressed the need of “improvising, reinventing, working under a little less pressure and showing a lot of creativity” to deal with the situation.

A few blocks away in the Union Market, which also houses food establishments, patrons could be seen sitting on a few tables set up outdoors or waiting for their orders in queues.

The first phase of reopening has also allowed some other businesses to operate, including hairdressers, who were receiving clients only by appointment from Friday and enforcing other measures to adapt to the epidemic.

Ramona, a young Dominican who works in a Washington beauty salon, said the epidemic had been a “life-changing” experience. EFE-EPA

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