News & Politics

The Week Covid Changed Washington

Restaurants were packed, bars were preparing for St. Patricks Day, and schools systems suddenly had to scramble. A look back at Washingtonian’s coverage of the pandemic’s earliest days.

Coronavirus 2020

About Coronavirus 2020

Washingtonian is keeping you up to date on the coronavirus around DC.

Italy was about to enter lockdown as the second week of March 2020 opened for business, and lots of us had started washing our hands more frequently, but how many Washingtonians could have foreseen that many people in the area were about to work from home for more than a year? We took a look back at what Washingtonian published one year ago this week, and while we can laugh a tiny bit at how little we knew about what was ahead of us—public officials were warning us against wearing face masks at the time, “Karen” was simply a name, and it might have seemed farfetched that the President would encourage his fans to storm the Capitol after he lost an election—retrospect does kind of make you wonder what the rest of 2021 has in store.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Morning headlines: More than 500 cases of the coronavirus had been discovered in the US, and Democrats pushed for a woman to be their vice-presidential nominee after Joe Biden romped on Super Tuesday the week before. 

Ted Cruz at CPAC. Photograph by Evy Mages

• The National Park Service had projected peak bloom would start March 27, so we suggested some seasonal bridal bouquets for your upcoming spring wedding.

• Handwashing was becoming a partisan issue, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll that found Republicans were taking fewer steps to prevent the spread of Covid.

• Some reporters at the Washington Post and Politico started quarantining out of an “abundance of caution” after an attendee at CPAC in National Harbor was diagnosed with the “novel” coronavirus.

• Still, there were plenty of free fitness classes you could take that week, including a “killer core” class at the U Street Vida and group runs around Reston and Georgetown.

Photograph by Andrew Beaujon.

• There was a literal dumpster fire a block from the White House.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Morning headlines: Oil prices plunged on Monday, and the S&P 500 dropped 8 percent on fears about the virus. 

• Canceled private events. Increased cleaning costs. New delivery options. DC restaurants began to brace for a difficult spring: “I think this is going to be very bad the next 45 to 60 days,” José Andrés said.

• Increasing concerns about the coronavirus didn’t slow the Washington region’s white-hot real-estate market in February: A four-bedroom mansion in McLean sold for $8.2 million.

• &pizza announced that it would throw free weddings for anyone who wanted to get hitched on Saturday, aka “Pi Day.”

• The Washington Post encouraged, but didn’t mandate, its employees to work from home, beginning on Wednesday and carrying “through the end of the month.”

• Restaurants and bars geared up for St. Patrick’s Day, with some beginning festivities on Tuesday night. An Arlington bar crawl was scheduled for Saturday from noon to 7 PM.

• The Environmental Film Festival decided to cancel its in-person showings and go virtual, and ShamrockFest said it would forgo a 2020 concert. The Cherry Blossom Festival hoped to move ahead. We updated this article over subsequent days as the postponements and cancellations began to pile up.

Photograph courtesy Snowshoe Mountain Resort.

• As air travel began to feel dangerous and spring break plans crumbled, we recommended some getaways within driving distance, including a Japanese-themed inn in the Shenandoah Valley and heated yurts in Maryland.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Morning headlines: Joe Biden became the likely Democratic nominee after wins in the Midwest. Lawmakers began to discuss a stimulus plan to counter economic damage from the coronavirus.  

Tourists on the Mall in 2019. Photograph by AlexCorv, via iStock.

• We previewed the restaurant Mercy Me, which was expected to open soon. (Some good news: It did, and it’s still in business!)

• An expert told us how to keep your hands from getting too dry, amid all that washing/ABCs-singing.

• DC’s tour guides worried about an economic catastrophe as an increasing number of normally lucrative student groups began to cancel trips to DC.

Photograph courtesy National Cherry Blossom Festival.

• The National Cherry Blossom Festival, slated to run March 20 to April 12, canceled all events until March 31, and said it was trying to “reimagine” some others. (It would eventually go virtual, while the mayor would order the National Guard to restrict access to the Tidal Basin, which was drawing huge crowds.)

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Morning headlines: The US limited travel from Europe. The NBA suspended its season. College campuses began to send students home. Tom Hanks said he had tested positive for the virus.

Photograph by Hannah Good.

• Haim’s surprise show at Call Your Mother went off as planned Wednesday night. They covered Britney Spears and producer Rostam Batmanglij joined them for a number.

• Open houses were scheduled to take place on the upcoming weekend, including on at a good-looking two-bedroom on Lanier Place, Northwest, and another for a swanky six-bedroom manse in Arlington. So far, agents said they weren’t feeling any dip in business. One planned to offer doughnuts and coffee at his upcoming open house.

• The Washington Post advised its reporters to interview sources over the phone if possible and to stand three feet away from them if not. Politico urged employees to stay home and canceled events.

Kenneth Kellogg, The Father, and Aaron Crouch, The Son, in Blue. Photograph by Karli Cadel.

• That morning, some events were still on for the weekend, including the debut of the Kennedy Center’s much-anticipated opera Blue.

• Cancellations started to pile up. The Kennedy Center canceled all performances through the end of the month. After some indecision, Thursday night’s Caps game was called off once the NHL suspended the season around lunchtime. Major League Soccer suspended its season for 30 days. Public tours of the Capitol were suspended till the end of the month, and the Library of Congress closed till April 1. Before the day was over, the Smithsonian closed its museums and the National Zoo.

Cheese Night at the Trump Hotel. Photograph by Emma Francois.

• On the culinary front, the James Beard Awards were postponed until summer. Many dining rooms remained open, but DC-area restaurants scrambled to set up new options, including “no contact” delivery. “Cheese Night” at the Trump Hotel had continued as usual the night before, with cheeses under plastic domes and gloves available for guests to serve themselves. Still, “hotel-goers weren’t exactly flocking to the cheese,” our reporter observed.

• People on dating apps shared some of the speedbumps they’d experienced: Dates canceled due to one party self-quarantining, and wariness about people who’d traveled lately.

Narcos: Mexico

• We tried to make quarantine seem kinda fun…and recommended some pandemic viewing, just in case people were stuck at home for a couple of weeks, and suggested some outdoor spots where you could social distance. DC cocktail hero Derek Brown, meanwhile, offered stay-at-home recipes for people who tweeted him what they had on hand—oat milk and vodka, anyone?

• While Maryland closed public schools through March 27, other area school systems mostly had no updates (though that changed in subsequent days). Colleges and universities, meanwhile, began to move classes online, close residence halls, and cancel travel.

• Bridal shops told the betrothed not to worry, because dresses on order were still coming in.

• Politics and Prose said it would continue to hold events, but asked people who thought they may have been exposed to the coronavirus to stay home, and offered free shipping to anyone who felt uncomfortable coming in. Gyms and fitness studios mostly planned to stay open, too (as the days wore on, this post was, of course, updated). BYNDfit, a fitness hall in Penn Quarter, moved its planned grand opening from March 31 to April 15. Kurt Bardella declared that he had stopped going to the gym.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Morning headlines: Markets saw their biggest one-day plunge since 1987. Sick Americans found coronavirus tests difficult to find. “Compared to other places, we are in really good shape,” President Trump told reporters.

Photograph courtesy Cork Market.

• DC Public Schools announced that students would have Monday, March 16 off, and that spring break would now take place March 17-March 23. For the remainder of the month, classes would go virtual. But normal, in-person operations were expected to resume…April 1.

Coworking spaces were starting to make changes—some announced they’d close, but just for a few days. Others said they’d operate as usual, but with added precautions like increased cleaning and free hand sanitizer. Then the pandemic got real for owners of Lingua Franca “Nasty Woman” sweaters: The Wing closed all its locations, including the one in Georgetown. (It’s since reportedly flirted with bankruptcy and been purchased by a Swiss company run by a male English billionaire.)

Rose's Luxury. Photograph by Scott Suchman.
Rose’s Luxury. Photograph by Scott Suchman

• In what likely seemed like the first sign of the apocalypse to a certain subset of Washingtonians, Rose’s Luxury began taking reservations and offering takeout to prevent crowds. Georgetown fine-dining spot Reverie decided to lean into carryout-friendly offerings, too. Danny Meyer temporarily closed all his restaurants, including his DC spots Maialino Mare and Anchovy Social, which had just opened in January. And Medium Rare began to deliver free meals to homebound seniors.

• The DC government announced people most at risk could request a deferral for jury duty service.

• DC canceled St. Patrick’s Day bar crawls.

• Catholic Masses were canceled. Weddings and funerals would continue, but only with immediate family allowed, the Archdiocese of Washington announced. Catholic schools closed for two weeks.

• The National Gallery of Art closed through April 4, delaying exhibitions on Lynda Benglis and baroque art in Genoa. The Philips Collection closed, too.

Don’t Miss Another Big Story—Get Our Weekend Newsletter

Our most popular stories of the week, sent every Saturday.

Or, see all of our newsletters. By signing up, you agree to our terms.

• Airbnb said it wouldn’t charge people who had to cancel reservations.

• As people ransacked Costco and Giant for toilet paper, Cork Wine Bar & Market unveiled a timely promotion: Buy a bottle of wine and get a free roll. “If I could do hand sanitizer, I would,” owner Diane Gross told us, “but nobody has it.”

• Coronavirus novelty shirts began to appear. (One of the authors of this post still wears their “Don’t Cough on Me” shirt.)

• UDC President Ronald Mason Jr. suggested students and faculty use the Wakanda salute rather than shake hands. And Robert Allbritton told us he was “sticking to CDC guidelines and only consuming beverages that are at least 60% alcohol.”

• Alli McGill tweeted that she’d run errands for anyone who had to self-quarantine. Soon her email inbox was full.

• Wedding planners began to confront the messes of cancellations.

• Metro had been pondering service changes since Thursday; on Friday it said trains would run every 12 minutes and weekday buses would operate on a Saturday schedule.

• The Trump administration’s hostility toward telework was only one challenge that faced federal agencies as they looked into working from home.

• Capitol Hill game shop Labyrinth reported that people were stocking up on jigsaw puzzles.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Morning headlines: The White House said President Trump had tested negative for coronavirus 12 hours after saying no test was necessary. Among concerns about coronavirus price-gouging, the New York Times introduced the world to a man who sold bottles of hand sanitizer for $70. And guidance from the Centers for Disease Control said people should avoid gatherings of 50 or more.  

Some of the action on Saturday. Photograph by Evy Mages

• Despite pretty much everything else shutting down, revelers flocked to DC bars and restaurants on Saturday. Le Diplomate, Old Ebbitt Grill, and Kith/Kin were booked solid; Queen’s English posted a photo of its crowded dining room, saying “we’re having a blast”; and lines at spots like Sauf Haus Bier Hall and Wet Dog extended past their doors. “Nothing stops this city from partying,” a DJ told us.

• José Andrés closed all his Washington-area restaurants and announced plans to turn some of them into “community kitchens.”

• Following criticism about Saturday’s gatherings, the DC government announced new restrictions on dining and entertainment: No bar seating, no standing, and capacity would be limited to 250 people. Nightclubs were effectively closed. Hook Hall in Park View transformed into an assistance center for hospitality industry workers, offering meals and supplies. It partnered with the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington to raise money for furloughed workers. Enough restaurants announced temporary closures or that they’d offer delivery only that we compiled a list.

Photograph courtesy Republic Restorative.

• Ivy City distillery Republic Restoratives began to make its own hand sanitizer to give away with booze, calling it hand cleaner because it wasn’t sure if the FDA would approve. “We’re like, ‘Fuck it, this needs to happen,’” owner Pia Carusone said.

• Maryland closed casinos and racetracks. DC postponed civil and criminal trials.

Photograph by Evy Mages

• The “Spa by Ivanka Trump” in the Trump Hotel announced free green or gold nail polish to anyone who booked a massage or facial before St. Patrick’s Day.

Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 as a staff writer, and became a senior editor in 2014. She oversees the magazine’s real estate and home design coverage, and writes long-form feature stories. She was a 2020 Livingston Award finalist for her two-part investigation into a wrongful conviction stemming from a murder in rural Virginia.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.