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D.C. Shuts Down Iconic Maine Avenue Fish Market After Crowds Pack in Like Sardines

Social distancing this was not

A photo of the historic Maine Avenue Fish Market from 2016
A photo of the historic Maine Avenue Fish Market from 2016

Washington’s excitement for the start of blue crab season can’t be contained, even during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Crowds ignored social distancing protocols and fell into packed lines at the historic Maine Avenue Fish Market this weekend, leading the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) to temporarily close the open-air square on the Southwest Waterfront full of vendors selling brown bags of steamed crabs, shrimp, oysters, and all kinds of fish on ice.

Mayor Muriel Bowser said Sunday the market would be closed until vendors received approval from DCRA on a social distancing plan. Signs were posted urging people to maintain the mandatory six feet of space between each other, and WUSA9 reports that Captain Billy White spent $1,800 on private security to enforce the policy at his three stalls, but pictures circulated from Saturday show that expense was all for naught.

On Monday, March 30, Bower issued a “stay-at-home” order that made gathering for a non-essential purpose a punishable offense. As a food supplier, the Maine Avenue market is an essential business, but it still has to comply with business and health officials. D.C. Police told WUSA9 that the department issued parking tickets Saturday.

Jessie Taylor Seafood published — and then deleted — a Facebook post saying it planned to reopen Tuesday. In its message, the vendor said people ignored security trying to break up the crowding and its team planned to stop cooking seafood to order so people wouldn’t be stuck waiting.

Dating back to 1805, the Maine Avenue Fish Market bills itself as the oldest continuously operating open-air seafood market in the country.

As of Monday morning, the District had reported 1,002 cases of COVID-19 and 22 related deaths. More than 50,000 people in D.C. have registered for unemployment since the start of the outbreak, almost double the total from 2019. This week the city will roll out drive-thru testing.

On Friday, the mayor shared a presentation of slides providing the city with a “Situational Update” on the outbreak. A chart inside the presentation projects a months-long public health crisis, with the number of cases and the stress on hospitals peaking June 28 and not tapering off until the end of September. A more optimistic projection targets April 16 as the peak date.

The more conservative model relies on Penn Medicine data that project a segment of people continuing to flout social distancing mandates. The crowd at the fish market proves getting people to take the public health crisis seriously is still a work in progress, at least when bags of steamed crabs are present.