Dave Anderson, left, and Panadda Harrington,
both of Reston, Va., walk hand-in-gloved-hand while wearing
cloth face masks as they visit the tidal basin to see the cherry
blossom trees in full bloom, Sunday, March 22, 2020, in
Washington. "We walk everyday," says Harrington, "and cabin
fever pushed us out to see the blossoms. We didn't think it
would be as crowded as usual and it's not. We would only have
been concerned about coronavirus if it had been very crowded."
(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
U.S. capital trying to keep crowds from
By Ashraf Khalil and Jacquelyn Martin
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — As signature cherry blossom trees go
through peak bloom in the nation’s capital, officials in the
District of Columbia are resorting to mass street closures to
keep large crowds away in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Public officials are publicly pleading for low turnout and
one prominent local chef has launched the #StayHomeCherryBlossomsChallenge
to make low visitation numbers into some sort of community goal.
Health officials have said limiting public gatherings and
keeping a distance of about 6 feet from others would help stop
the spread of the disease which has sickened about 300,000
The Metropolitan Police Department closed down a dozen
different streets, bridges, and traffic circles Sunday morning
trying to limit the traditional crowds who pack the area around
the Jefferson Memorial and the tree-lined Tidal Basin. The
iconic cherry blossoms reached peak bloom on Friday, March 20,
and should stay that way for about 10 days.
"It’s getting weirder and weirder," said National Park
Service spokesman Mike Litterst of his unprecedented challenge
to keep one of Washington’s crown jewels as empty as possible.
Officials are instead steering cherry blossom fans to their
live bloom cam, https://nationalmall.org/bloomcam, and virtual
video tours of the Tidal Basin. "It’s educational and it gets
you close to the blooms" said Karyn Le Blanc of the Cherry
"These are strange times," she added.
The crowds, Litterst said, have already been "a fraction of
what we would see in a normal spring." Friday’s crowd’s were
"manageable" he said, but Saturday brought a surge in visitors
that convinced authorities to take extraordinary steps.
It appeared to be working: At the Tidal Basin on Sunday,
visitors wandered in small clusters of three or four instead of
larger groups. The multiple closures caused a few loud traffic
snarls, but in some areas families with strollers enjoyed the
newly pedestrianized streets. One man walked through the area in
a white hazmat suit.
Washington mayor Muriel Bowser on Friday pleaded with both
residents and visitors to stay inside despite the sunny
forecast. Washington’s Metro system closed down a pair of
stations nearest to the Tidal Basin in the hopes of lessening
"Don’t treat this like a normal weekend, there will be more
nice days," Bowser said.
She declared a state of emergency and closed all schools
through the end of April. Health officials here say the total
number of infections in the nation’s capital now stand at 97,
with the second virus-related death announced on Sunday.
Washington’s tally doesn’t include people who may have been
infected in Washington but live in nearby northern Virginia or
D.C.-based celebrity chef and philanthropist Jose Andres took
to Twitter Sunday morning to plead for community compliance in
avoiding the Tidal Basin. Under the hashtag #StayHomeCherryBlossomsChallenge,
Andres pledged to "cook a huge Paella for thousands of
Washingtonians" next year if they kept the number down. His
followers rallied around and started posting pictures of the
cherry blossoms in their yards and neighborhood for all to
virtually enjoy online.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or
moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially
older adults and people with existing health problems, it can
cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
According to the World Health Organization, people with mild
illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe
illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
The Associated Press receives support for health and science
coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department
of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all
The Associated Press receives support for
health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical
Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely
responsible for all content.