Home Coronavirus Arlington County Ditches Sidewalk COVID-19 Physical Distancing Ordinance After Efforts to Enforce...

Arlington County Ditches Sidewalk COVID-19 Physical Distancing Ordinance After Efforts to Enforce It Were “met with defiance, confrontation, and hostility”

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This is not great news, but it’s also not surprising, for anyone who ventured into popular nightlife/restaurant areas of Arlington County – on the weekends in particular. The fact is, just as Gov. Northam said at his press conference Tuesday, a lot of combating the COVID-19 pandemic really comes down to individual choices about whether to act responsibly – wear masks, social distance, etc. – or not. Unfortunately, as the Arlington County press release notes, “Arlington police have determined that it is impractical to cite hundreds of violators a night,” given that “efforts to spread out long lines of patrons…have been met with defiance, confrontation, and hostility.” Ugh.

Arlington County to Let Sidewalk Physical Distancing Ordinance Lapse

The Arlington County Board has voted to allow the Emergency Sidewalk Distancing Ordinance it adopted on July 31 to lapse on September 29. The ordinance requires pedestrians on posted sidewalks and streets to maintain at least six feet of physical distance from others and prohibits groups of more than three people from congregating on streets and sidewalks posted with the restrictions. A majority of the Board said the ordinance has proved ineffective.

“Arlington police have determined that it is impractical to cite hundreds of violators a night,” Board Member Christian Dorsey said at the Board’s September 15 Recessed Meeting. “They have prioritized encouraging compliance and have not issued a single citation. I don’t see any reason to continue having something on the books that clearly doesn’t work.”

The Board voted 4 to 1 to not make the Emergency Ordinance Permanent, with Board Members Katie Cristol, Matt de Ferranti, and Takis Karantonis joining Dorsey in voting against making the Emergency Ordinance permanent, and Board Chair Libby Garvey voting in favor.

“The Board passed the Emergency Ordinance because we felt we needed more ways to encourage people to practice safe distancing and to protect public safety,” Garvey said.  “I  believe the ordinance had an effect and has encouraged compliance in areas of the County where crowds gather in and around bars and restaurants. I hope what compliance it brought continues even after the ordinance lapses.”

The Board enacted the Emergency Ordinance to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Arlington by keeping large groups of people from gathering, without appropriate distancing, on public sidewalks and streets. Violators could face a fine of up to $100. The Manager emphasized that the County has been focusing on education, working both with patrons and restaurant staff to encourage compliance. Despite posted warnings and education efforts, however,  compliance has remained spotty at best, and enforcement proved challenging. The County will continue to explore other measures to help combat the spread of the virus.

To read the staff report, scroll to Item No. 48 on the agenda for the September Recessed Meeting.