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D.C. adds tougher coronavirus restrictions as infection rates continue to rise

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said Nov. 23 that private indoor gatherings will be capped at 10 people, with outdoor gatherings limited to 25 in Washington, D.C. (Video: Mayor Muriel E. Bowser)
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D.C. tightened restrictions Monday to confront rising coronavirus cases, a move that follows similar actions in neighboring jurisdictions and puts the entire Washington region under more strict pandemic protocols.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced a ban on indoor gatherings of more than 10 people — including Thanksgiving dinners, since the order takes effect Wednesday — and outdoor groups of more than 25 people. The restrictions come as caseloads have spiked across the greater Washington region, where the seven-day average number of cases Monday hit a record for the 20th consecutive day.

Bowser’s order will ban live entertainment and indoor exercise classes, although gyms can stay open. John Falcicchio, chief of staff for the mayor, said entertainment venues that already have booked performances can arrange with the mayor’s office on a case-by-case basis for the show to go on.

Houses of worship can have up to 50 people, down from 100, although sanctuaries can’t be at more than 50 percent capacity.

D.C.’s coronavirus numbers are rising. Here’s what you need to know.

The mayor’s order requires restaurants to close at midnight and to stop serving alcohol after 10 p.m. Bowser said inspectors have found that compliance with coronavirus rules tends to decline into the night.

Capacity for indoor dining will drop from 50 percent to 25 percent beginning Dec. 14. Bowser said the three-week delay will give businesses time to prepare, while Falcicchio said it would also give the mayor’s office time to explain the rules to businesses, including that an outdoor tent with a roof and walls still counts as “indoor dining.”

“We hope to help and guide Washingtonians to limit our exposure . . . until we get to the other side where the vaccine will be widely available,” Bowser said.

D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said her department has conducted polls to better understand some residents’ hesitation to use a vaccine. She said the city plans to work with community groups such as churches to educate the public about the benefits of vaccines.

Nesbitt also said the District’s ­contact-tracing app available to iPhone and Android users is working. Last week, more than 200 people who tested positive for the virus had the app turned on, and the Health Department gave each a code, letting them anonymously notify people who could have been exposed.

Despite the city’s new restrictions, residents are unlikely to face consequences if they break rules to host a large Thanksgiving dinner. Falcicchio said Monday that throughout the pandemic, the city has cited only businesses, not individuals.

The new D.C. restrictions come after Virginia and Maryland — as well as several of Maryland’s most populous jurisdictions — reimposed restrictions this month as caseloads have increased.

On Friday, an order from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) began to require bars and restaurants to close at 10 p.m. for indoor service and reduced the capacity allowed in retail stores, religious facilities, fitness centers, personal service facilities and bowling alleys to 50 percent. On the same day, Prince George’s County imposed a weekend curfew at National Harbor for unaccompanied minors.

With cases up, Washington region steps up coronavirus restrictions and enforcement

Hogan on Monday announced targeted enforcement of coronavirus restrictions in bars and restaurants this week, part of an effort to curb the pandemic’s spread by cracking down on ­places he says are flouting the rules.

“The more seriously we take it, the faster we’re going to get it under control,” he said at an Annapolis news conference.

The governor said additional state troopers will be assigned to every county in an “all-hands-on-deck” operation designed to prevent what he called superspreader events and to educate the public about existing restrictions.

The operation ramps up to traditional drunken-driving patrols conducted the night before Thanksgiving, when younger residents returning home from college often flock to bars and restaurants. “High visibility compliance units” will be posted in downtown areas often crowded on Thanksgiving eve, including in Silver Spring in Montgomery County and Fells Point in Baltimore.

“We can’t let a few bad actors spoil it for all the others who have been doing such a good job,” Hogan said.

Emergency alerts will be sent to every cellphone in the state at 5 p.m. Wednesday, reminding residents of the restrictions and to abide by them. The only time the Hogan administration used the statewide alert system was in March, when residents were instructed to stay home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Increased state enforcement will also target banquet halls, nightclubs and other venues that host gatherings.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. (D) joined Hogan on Monday and pleaded that people take the restrictions seriously.

“These rules are in place to save lives. If you are found violating them, you will be held accountable,” he said. “Please, for the love God, please, wear your mask. The end of this pandemic is coming, and that should motivate all of us to save lives along the way.”

The week began in Maryland with another populous suburban county reimposing restrictions on social gatherings Monday, when Howard County announced groups will be capped at 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors, including weddings and sporting events.

Religious organizations, retail shops, indoor theaters and outdoor entertainment venues are not subject to the cap, which is stricter than statewide rules.

“At this point there is widespread community transmission of covid-19, and every individual action we take is vital to controlling and limiting the further spread of this virus,” Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (D) said in a statement. “The alarms are sounding, and if you haven’t already, rethink any plans to host or attend a large gathering with family and friends.”

D.C., Maryland and Virginia on Monday reported 5,039 new ­cases. That lifted the rolling ­seven-day average of infections in the region to 4,824 — the 20th consecutive daily record.

Coronavirus cases and metrics in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

Virginia reported a record number of coronavirus infections Monday, with 3,242 new cases lifting the state’s seven-day average to a high of 2,343. Virginia also reported four fatalities.

The state’s jump in numbers was, in part, because of delays in reporting as the Virginia Health Department’s computer system was shut down for upgrades.

Maryland reported 1,658 new infections and 14 deaths, while D.C. reported 139 new cases and two deaths. Across Maryland, Virginia and D.C., the seven-day average number of people hospitalized with coronavirus-related illnesses stood Monday at 2,805 — up from 1,655 at the start of November.

In Arlington County, almost half of people infected with the virus early this month said they might have been exposed at work, the county Health Department reported Monday.

About one-third of the 539 people diagnosed with covid-19 said they came into contact with someone who already had the disease, mostly at home, contact tracers found. But 48 percent of those diagnosed between Nov. 3 and 16 said they had gone to work, 38 percent said they had gone to restaurants, 17 percent had traveled outside the region, and 12 percent had attended a large gathering such as a wedding, funeral or party.

The Health Department said it is not clear whether those sites were definitive sources of infection.

Patricia Sullivan and Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.