WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Washington, D.C. is set to begin its first phase of reopening on Friday after experiencing a “sustained decline” in cases of the novel coronavirus over 14 days, the U.S. capital’s mayor said on Wednesday.
The announcement paves the way for non-essential retailers, salons and barbershops to reopen and for restaurants to serve seated customers, with restrictions.
“We know people are nervous … This is a scary virus and they should be nervous,” Mayor Muriel Bowser told reporters, adding that people should continue to social distance, practice good hygiene and get tested if they need to.
Bowser first instituted the stay-at-home order on March 30.
The federal district has faced questions about the methodology it was using for reopening. A graph shared on Twitter that the district said showed a 14-day decline indicated several spikes, but not 14 consecutive days of decreasing cases.
“We talked for some time about following the numbers of cases, reported laboratory results, and DC Health recommended that a better metric to follow was community spread,” Bowser said.
So far, the U.S. capital has reported more than 8,400 cases and 445 deaths related to the virus.
In a White House briefing last week, Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said the Washington area – Washington, D.C. and neighboring Maryland and Virginia – was reporting the largest percentage of positive coronavirus tests in the country.
President Donald Trump has been pressing states to reopen businesses that had been shuttered in a bid to curb the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment has surged nationwide as a result, with many fearing the job losses will be permanent.
Maryland and Virginia have moved to open parts of their states, though they have done so more slowly in suburbs surrounding the capital than in more rural areas.
States have used a variety of criteria to reopen. Public health experts have warned reopening businesses could lead to a new spike in coronavirus cases.
(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Tom Brown)