Masks will still be required indoors.
The number of new coronavirus cases has declined sharply in the District, Virginia and Maryland over the past several weeks, as vaccinations have taken hold and spring weather lures people outside, where the virus is less likely to spread.
In all three jurisdictions, the seven-day average of new daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents has fallen into single digits, according to The Washington Post’s tracker, a sharp contrast with highs that ranged from 45 to 65 cases per 100,000 residents this winter. The number of deaths is dramatically lower as well: No new covid-19 fatalities were reported in the District from Friday to Monday, and Virginia and Maryland reported seven and 10 new deaths on Monday, respectively.
“We are fast approaching what appears to be containment of the virus in the District,” D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said at Bowser’s briefing. “A lot of people have been waiting on this day.”
At the same time, Nesbitt urged caution and stressed the importance of vaccinations, noting that many activities present a much higher risk for people who are not fully vaccinated. She said contact tracing in the city would remain a “24/7 operation” throughout the duration of the pandemic.
More than 50 percent of D.C. residents have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, according to The Post’s vaccine distribution tracker.
D.C. will codify the removal of restrictions in an official order sometime in the next seven to 10 days, Bowser said. The health department will release general guidance for businesses that will clarify mask, travel and cleaning recommendations.
The Washington Nationals and D.C. United said Monday that they had received city permission to expand capacity to 36 percent starting Friday, ahead of the full lifting of restrictions next month. And Monumental Sports & Entertainment said capacity at Capitals and Wizards games would increase from 10 percent to 25 percent as of Friday, allowing for up to 5,000 fans, with full capacity permitted as of June 11.
With vaccines now readily available, and both Virginia and Maryland allowing more capacity than D.C. at businesses and gatherings, Bowser (D) had been criticized by local business owners and lawmakers for moving too slowly.
On Friday, D.C. Council members Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) and Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) urged her to lift pandemic-related restrictions to revive a hobbled hospitality industry and “instill confidence to bring back workers and visitors and revitalize our communities.”
“Our neighbors in Maryland and Virginia have lifted restrictions to reflect the availability of vaccines while maintaining common sense orders to ensure public health,” Pinto and McDuffie wrote. “Due to these differences in restrictions, many are opting to bring their business to other jurisdictions to the detriment of District businesses and residents.”
Entertainment venues, including the 9:30 Club, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the Anthem and Lincoln Theater, also penned a letter to Bowser last week, asking her to allow them to open at 100 percent capacity by July 1 and noting that some venues need months to book their calendars.
“Unlike other industries, we cannot flip a switch to reopen,” the letter said.
Bowser had last eased restrictions May 1, increasing capacity at nonessential retail businesses from 25 to 50 percent. Restaurants were given permission to seat 10 people per table — up from six — and host live music outside in gardens, courtyards and sidewalk cafes.
Weddings, business meetings and special events were once again allowed indoors and outdoors, though special permission is needed for events with more than 250 people — and a ban on dancing at large gatherings that was included in Bowser’s order drew a fresh chorus of outrage.
Susana Castillo, Bowser’s spokeswoman, said the dancing ban is among the restrictions the mayor will lift at most venues by May 21.
Bride-to-be Margaret Appleby, 28, filed a lawsuit over the dancing ban on Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, arguing it violates her First Amendment rights to expression and association.
Appleby, of the District, is planning to get married on June 6 to Reilly Stephens, 32, a lawyer who works for the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center and is a co-counsel in the case.
They had planned to allow dancing on three small dance floors during the reception at District Winery to limit people’s exposure, according to the complaint. But they believe an all-out ban goes too far.
“In our view, it’s an entire ban on a very meaningful form of expression,” attorney Adam Schulman said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, hopefully, for Margaret to be able to dance at her wedding.”
Schulman, of the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, said the District’s ban does not appear narrowly tailored to public health, because the city allows some forms of dancing, including fitness dancing and erotic dancing. Attorneys planned to seek a preliminary injunction halting the ban, Schulman said, but will hold off to await confirmation from the city that the restriction will soon be lifted.
Castillo said the city had no immediate comment on the lawsuit.
As the city reopens, the D.C. government employees who have been working from home will come back in larger numbers, the mayor said. Starting June 7, 50 percent of the city’s executive, excepted and management service employees must be in the office for the majority of the week. By July 12, all these employees will be asked to return in person for at least some part of their week.
Bowser also said the city would begin to dismantle the never-utilized overflow hospital at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, set up about a year ago to prepare for a possible surge of covid-19 patients.
“We went into this knowing it was an insurance policy and that if we did everything we could to keep our health system robust, we wouldn’t need to use it,” Bowser said. “And we didn’t.”