Despite COVID-19 Warnings from Officials, Reston Association Allowed Large Gatherings

Despite strong recommendations from federal, state and county officials to cancel large gatherings due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Reston Association allowed social gatherings with more than 20 people to take place at The Lake House.

The community building, which is located at 11450 Baron Cameron Avenue, is available for rent for weddings, birthday parties, and other events. Cars with license plates from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and other nearby states were spotted in the facility’s parking lot on the evening of Sunday, March 22.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam officially banned all gatherings of 10 people or more starting on Tuesday (March 24). But prior to the ban, local, state and federal officials urged people to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. In mid-March, Northam issued a public health emergency order banning more than 10 patrons in restaurants, fitness centers, and theaters. He also issued an order banning gatherings of more than 100 people on March 15.

On March 18, the Centers for Disease Control strongly urged that groups with 10 or more people not gather.

“Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities,” the CDC said. “Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies.”

When asked how many guests were in attendance, RA spokesman Mike Leone said the organization did not have any events with more than 100 people “because The Lake House can’t host a tabled event for that many people.” He also noted that after March 15 order, the facility was no longer configured for theater-style seating, which can seat up to 145 people.

After this article was published, the RA clarified that two rentals occurred within the 8-day period between March 15 and March 22. On March 14, a wedding took place with 80 guests and on March 22 a baby shower with 70 guests.

The association’s staff reached out to individuals with rental agreements to see if they were interested in canceling their events prior to Tuesday.

“At that time, federal and state government strongly urged individuals to not have social gatherings over 10 people — but there was no formal order in place mandating that. Most of the events that continued to take place at The Lake House were weddings and lifetime celebrations — as was the case this past weekend. These types of events, especially weddings and wedding-related events were planned months, and in some cases a year or more in advance, making couples elect to move forward with their once in lifetime celebration,” Leone said.

Leone said that RA took proactive measures to “socially distance staff while events were taking place” and disinfected all tables before and after events. A professional cleaning crew also came into the venue after an event to “disinfect the entire facility.”

He also noted that many individuals would have trouble rebooking elsewhere and had “already sent out invitations to guests months in advance.”

“We left it to the individual/couple to make the decision if they wish to move forward and refunds were provided to those who canceled their reservations.”

However, the RA took a stricter approach with activities, events, and services directly under its purview after the statewide ban on gatherings of more than 100 people.

The Walker Nature Center’s Nature House was closed to the public on Monday, March 16. All recreational activities and events were canceled through March 29, according to a March 10 press release.

In a March 16 letter to members, RA CEO Hank Lynch discontinued all walk-in service at RA’s headquarters due to the “need to support social distancing.” Members were directed to pay their annual fees online, call or email staff, or drop-off payments in a box at the building. The payment process has been plagued by technical issues.

Since the ban went into effect, RA says it has taken immediate steps to cancel all reservations through mid-May at The Lake House, conference center, Brown’s Chapel, the Glade Room, and picnic pavilions.

“We know this will create a hardship for some who have planned their wedding or celebration during that time period but we must comply with the Governor’s order. We will continue to monitor the coronavirus and will not continue event rentals until it is safe to do so,” Leone said.

Photo via Reston Association

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