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Coronavirus upends This Town’s spring rituals as cancellations mount

Cherry blossoms signal spring (and tourists) in Washington, but this year will be a little different.
Cherry blossoms signal spring (and tourists) in Washington, but this year will be a little different. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The coronavirus pandemic is jeopardizing several annual Washington spring traditions, leaving both tourists and insiders in limbo.

The Cherry Blossom Festival, which brings droves of tourists to the city each year, will call off some of its events, including the opening ceremony on March 21 and the Blossom Kite Festival a week later, organizers announced late Wednesday afternoon.

The D.C. Health Department is recommending that event planners cancel or postpone “non-essential mass gatherings, including conferences and conventions” where “1,000 or more people congregate in a specific location,” Mayor Muriel Bowser told denizens of This Town on Wednesday.

“We also recommend that any social, cultural, or entertainment events where large crowds are anticipated be reconsidered by the organizer,” the mayor tweeted.

The recommendation is in effect through March 31.

Consequently, the Washington Nationals are postponing their March 23 gala that, last year, raised more than $1 million for the team’s Dream Foundation.

However, the team is still scheduled to unveil its World Series championship banner at the April 2 home opener against the New York Mets and as of Wednesday afternoon had yet to make a decision about its March 24 exhibition matchup.

“We are aware of the recommendations issued today by the D.C. Department of Health,” according to a Nationals spokesperson. “We are in contact with [Major League Baseball] and the City regarding our Exhibition Game on March 24. No decision has been made at this time. As decisions are made, we will notify all impacted parties.”

While MLB is hoping to avoid having teams play in empty stadiums and is considering having them play in spring training facilities or cities less affected by the virus, according to The Wall Street Journal, the National Basketball Association is telling teams to prepare for the possibility of playing without fans. 

Meanwhile, the April 25 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner is still on for now, though organizers are figuring out how the pandemic will affect their plans.

“We have not changed our plans, but are monitoring the situation,” said Executive Director Steven Thomma on Wednesday.

The dinner, often (affectionately?) referred to as “Nerd Prom,” will be hosted by Saturday Night Live veteran Kenan Thompson and feature comedian Hasan Minhaj, who hosted the dinner in 2017.