WASHINGTON — The Washington D.C. cherry blossoms peak bloom dates are just weeks away. But with the threat of coronavirus looming, will people actually come and visit the city?
All signs point to yes right now, with the peak bloom set to happen March 27 to March 30, according to the National Park Service. There are no confirmed cases in the District of Columbia as of Wednesday morning, though the city is closely monitoring the virus’s impact, according to Mayor Muriel Bowser.
“We are open for business, and we expect to welcome thousands of people to our city over the next few weeks,” Bowser announced at the festival’s kickoff event at the 1331 building in Southwest D.C. She said the city will continue to work on prevention, preparedness and response if necessary.
The key words: if necessary.
“If the situation remains the same, we feel that people are still going to come,” Diana Mayhew, president of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, told USA TODAY. It’s hard to predict tourism ahead of time, as most events are free and open to the public. But special seats for the festival’s parade are tracking if not exceeding last year’s numbers, and visits to the website are up, indicating interest. The festival – which typically sees 1.5 million people attend everywhere, 45% of which are tourists – is working closely with the city and following its lead. Of those tourists, 92% are from the U.S.
The festival is taking basic precautionary measures at this time, like preparing more hand sanitizing stations, keeping abreast of new information and serving as an information source. Mayhew recommended checking NationalCherryBlossm.org, the D.C. government’s website and following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Gregory A. O’Dell, president and CEO of Events DC, who also spoke at the festival’s kickoff event, wants visitors to feel safe.
“For those who are comfortable traveling, we want them to travel to our great city,” he said. “It is our commitment to make sure that people feel safe, secure and comfortable when they come here.”
Walking into the event, you wouldn’t think anything about the festival would be different in the nation’s capital. Guests walked through a cherry blossom-covered arch and through a hallway lined by bright, pink lights and took an elevator to the building’s terrace. They were greeted by a woman in a jumpsuit adorned with cherry blossoms and another working several giant bubble-making devices. Outside, the building’s small pool was filled with several large, floating white and pink fake blossoms.
Minister Takehiro Shimada, minister of communications and cultural affairs for the Embassy of Japan, also revealed that the official Tokyo Olympics torch will make an appearance at the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s opening ceremony. It was designed to look like a cherry blossom.
This year’s festival runs from March 20 to April 12, and includes everything from the Blossom Kite Festival to the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade and more. Grammy award-winning rapper Nelly will perform his greatest hits at Cherry Blast, and World Series champions the Washington Nationals will play the Miami Marlins at Blossoms and Baseball on April 6 at Nationals Park.
Last year, peak bloom was predicted for April 3 to 6. The blossoms ultimately reached peak bloom early on April 1.
Peak bloom date is defined as when 70% of the blossoms of the cherry trees around the city’s Tidal Basin are open, per the National Park Service.