June 20, 2020 at 11:56 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Bowser approves ‘Phase 2’ reopening, easing coronavirus restrictions
Phase 2 reopening, gay news, Washington Blade
Mayor Bowser’s new order eases more restrictions effective Monday, June 22. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced on Friday that she has issued an order effective on Monday, June 22, putting in place the city’s Phase 2 reopening guidelines that further ease restrictions on public gatherings and the operation of restaurants, bars, gyms, museums, and other businesses considered nonessential.

The mayor’s Phase 2 order takes effect a little over three weeks after she issued a Phase 1 reopening set of guidelines on May 29, which lifted an earlier stay at home order that required all city residents and visitors to remain at home or at a place of lodging except for reasons considered urgent such as a doctor’s visit, the purchase of essential supplies like food and medicine, and to be tested for the coronavirus at special testing sites.

The Phase 1 requirements kept in place an earlier requirement that prohibited gatherings of more than 10 individuals. Under the Phase 2 order, the 10-person gathering ban is repealed and replaced with prohibition of “mass gatherings” of over 50 people.

Under the Phase 2 order, retail businesses considered nonessential, which were forced to close under a previous mayoral order, may now reopen to customers for indoor shopping at 50 percent of the normal occupancy of customers before the coronavirus restrictions were put in place. Social distancing requirements at such retail businesses must still be followed under the Phase 2 order.

In a development that is expected to be welcomed by the city’s LGBTQ restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, the Phase 2 order allows restaurants as well as bars and nightclubs that have been approved to serve food to reopen indoor service on a limited basis. Similar to the retail business restrictions, restaurants, bars and nightclubs that serve food may only admit customers up to 50 percent of their maximum capacity as required under their certificate of occupancy.

In addition, all indoor dining and drinking customers must be seated, place orders and be served at tables, with the tables at least six feet apart and no more than six people allowed at a table. “Bar seating is prohibited if any bartender is working at that bar,” the new order states.

“Restaurants and other licensed food establishments are encouraged to use a reservation system, preferably online or by telephone, to avoid crowding and queuing nearby,” the order says.

The Phase 2 order says the eased restrictions for restaurants and bars and nightclubs that serve food put in place by Mayor Bowser in May under the Phase 1 order will remain in place under Phase 2. They include allowed the opening of restaurants for outdoor seating only, including on roof decks and outdoor patios and for pickup and delivery carryout service.

Bars and nightclubs that do not serve food are still prohibited from opening under the Phase 2 order.

David Perruzza, owner of the LGBTQ sports bar Pitcher’s and its adjoining bar catering to lesbians called League of Her Own, said the two clubs, which serve food, will now offer indoor dining service during the days they are open from Thursday through Sunday. Perruzza said reservations for dining are taken at the door.

Like other LGBTQ and bars and clubs in general, Perruzza has said he is struggling to survive financially with many expenses such as insurance and rent continuing during the months the clubs were forced to close and later allowed to reopen on a limited basis. Many club owners, including Perruzza, have said their operating expenses exceed their income under the current limited operations under Phase 1 and now Phase 2 of the city’s reopening process.

“I’m losing money now but I hope to God that maybe we can just pay the bills,” Perruzza said on Friday.

Unlike under Phase 1, many more types of businesses and facilities will be allowed to open or expand their operations under Phase 2.

“Fitness establishments such as gyms, health clubs, yoga, dance and workout studios, including those in hotels, apartments, condominiums, and cooperatives, may open with capacity limits of five (5) persons per one thousand (1,000) square feet,” the Phase 2 order says. But the order says these establishments must operate in accordance with the D.C. Department of Health’s guidance, including implementation of strong safeguards regarding the frequent cleaning of equipment and other safeguards.

However, hot tubs, saunas, and steam rooms at gyms, in freestanding facilities, or in apartment buildings must remain closed under the Phase 2 order. Also remaining closed under Phase 2 are hookah bars, cigar bars, and “any other business operating pursuant to an exemption from the anti-smoking laws of the District of Columbia,” the Phase 2 order states.

The Phase 2 order says that other recreational facilities such as recreation centers, bowling alleys, climbing gyms, squash or racquet clubs, skating rinks, and skateboard parks may now reopen with not more than 50 people per room or 50 percent of normal capacity set by their certificate of occupancy.

Also allowed to reopen under Phase 2 are museums and the National Zoo provided that they too adhere to certain restrictions, including a ban on guided tours where participants are unlikely to be able to adhere to social distancing. No more than 50 people are allowed to be in the same exhibit room, auditorium or other facility within the museum or zoo, the order says.

A complete list of establishments that may reopen under the Phase 2 order and the restrictions placed on them can be viewed at coronavirus.dc.phasetwo.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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