The crowds…have already been ‘a fraction of what we would see in a normal spring…’

Washington, D.C.

(Associated Press) 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 worldwide.

The Metropolitan Police Department closed down a 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 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 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 Blossom Festival.

“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 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 crowds.

“Don’t treat this like a normal weekend, there will be more nice days,” Bowser said.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press.