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D.C. lifts mask mandate Monday for fully vaccinated people

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D).
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). (Andrew Harnik/AP)

D.C.’s broad mask order, which has required residents for months to wear masks almost every time they leave their ­houses, will no longer apply to fully vaccinated people, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced Monday.

Vaccinated or not, all residents still must wear masks on public transit, in schools (even outdoors on the playground), in medical offices and hospitals, and inside any business that chooses to require masks.

But Bowser’s order Monday means people who have waited two weeks past their final dose of coronavirus vaccine now have the ability to exercise, socialize, shop and worship maskless for the first time in months.

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“Take a mask with you when you leave your home, then also respect signs at the places you are visiting,” Bowser said. “If a business posts a sign indicating that masks are required, then you must follow their request . . . or they could deny you entry.”

The District will keep mandating masks for all workers and guests in its own government buildings until further notice, she said.

The governors of Virginia and Maryland lifted the masking mandate in their states last week following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said Americans who are fully vaccinated can go without masks or social distancing in many cases, even when they are indoors or in large groups.

The newfound freedom has left some in the city’s small business community grappling with how to proceed.

“I’ve been wanting to take the mask off for so long, but it’s just so sudden,” said Sarah Thompson, who owns the Queen’s English restaurant with her husband.

Thompson met with her staff last week to discuss restaurant regulations when the CDC rolled back its masking guidance. Though her staff have all received the vaccine, they decided to keep face coverings on even if D.C. changed its restrictions. Their guests, they said, should continue to do the same until more people are vaccinated.

But Thompson said some pandemic-era public habits have begun to slip. Two weeks ago, a server who she called her “biggest rule follower,” ran food without gloves. Soon enough, the staff all started running food gloveless.

“There’s going to be an adjustment period,” she said. “It will take a while, but slowly I think it will be up to individuals to decide.”

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Andy Shallal, who owns Busboys and Poets, similarly plans to keep his employees masked and predicts they will be common in restaurants long after the pandemic ends.

“I have a feeling that masks will become part of the restaurant environment,” he said. “I know it sounds gross, but someone can sneeze on your salad and you’ll get sick. It’s just an additional cautious measure.”

Shallal said he is comfortable allowing customers to shed their masks indoors, though he will probably wait until the weekend at the earliest to put that policy into effect.

“At some point, I imagine we have to go maskless, and therefore if this is the time that the health department decided, then I’m all for it,” he said. “I have to trust the science.”

Other jurisdictions in the area that had kept their mask mandates and other restrictions in place began making plans to lift them as coronavirus cases continued on their downward trend.

Montgomery County plans to move to its second phase of reopening Tuesday, increasing capacity at businesses and allowing residents who are fully vaccinated to go without masks indoors.

The shift, which is expected to be approved by the County Council during its Tuesday meeting, was triggered because 60 percent of residents have received at least one shot of the coronavirus vaccine.

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Montgomery County’s guidance, which it notes is in line with CDC recommendations, would remove the requirement to wear a face covering when outdoors and make it so that masks are not required indoors for people who are fully vaccinated. Those who are not fully vaccinated must continue to wear masks.

After the County Council approves the measure, Montgomery businesses — including restaurants and retail stores — will move to 75 percent capacity, and there will be no size limits on outdoor gatherings. The limit for indoor gatherings will increase to 250.

Convention and banquet facilities will still be limited to 50 percent.

Council President Tom Hucker (D-District 5) tweeted that lawmakers had not been expecting to reach the 60 percent milestone until Tuesday.

“But hey — we have a county full of overachievers!” Hucker added.

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The Washington suburb was among the jurisdictions — along with Prince George’s and Baltimore City — whose leaders said it would move more slowly when Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced that he was lifting the indoor mask mandate in Maryland as of May 15.

In Baltimore, Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa said Monday that the city will maintain its mask mandate for indoor locations until 65 percent of its adult population has had a least one dose of a vaccine.

A little more than 40 percent of the adults in the city have received an initial shot, city officials said.

Dzirasa said the city plans to use more mobile units and pop-up clinics for vaccinations to ensure equitable access to doses throughout the city.

“In order for us to get to that 65 percent quicker, folks need to get vaccinated,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D) said.

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Meanwhile, D.C. is going ahead with lifting capacity restrictions on most businesses in the city beginning Friday. Capacity limitations for private gatherings will also end on that date, according to a mayor’s order Monday — though it’s still recommended that participants who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask and socially distance indoors and in most outdoor settings, according to D.C. Health guidance.

“If you’re not fully vaccinated, you should think about just wearing a mask as a way of life until you’re fully vaccinated,” Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said.

She also said she would encourage businesses and churches that host unvaccinated people in company with vaccinated people to continue requiring masks in their facilities, to protect the unvaccinated guests from anyone who might spread the virus to them.

Nesbitt said Monday that unvaccinated people should still wear masks in crowded outdoor spaces — unless they’re at a small gathering outdoors involving members of one household.

But some capacity limitations will stay in place until mid-June. Nightclubs, multiuse facilities, cigar bars and hookah lounges can operate at 50 percent capacity starting Friday but must wait until June 11 before resuming full operation.

Large entertainment venues, such as stadiums, must apply for waivers to increase their capacities until they can open fully June 11, the order says.

Rachel Chason and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.

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