Bowser (D) said that she was “very proud” to attend the celebration in Wilmington and that the trip “absolutely” qualified as “essential travel” — which is exempted from the mayor’s quarantine order — because she was conducting government business on the road.
“I do a lot of things to advance the interests of the District of Columbia. Some of them are formal and some of them are informal, but all of them are necessary,” she said.
It remained unclear Tuesday whether the mayor was tested for the coronavirus after returning from her trip and before appearing in public, which her office advises for people who have come into the city from a high-risk state.
Bowser and members of her staff, including Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio, conversed in Wilmington with Biden strategist Symone Sanders, along with watching the outdoor speeches by Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris. Bowser posted a photo of herself celebrating while wearing a mask — like everyone around her — and a “We are D.C.” scarf.
“We congratulated [Biden] team members that we saw,” Bowser said Tuesday when reporters asked about the purpose and nature of the government business she conducted on the trip. “I congratulated the people that I saw. I had, recently, conversations with the transition team itself.”
She said that the D.C. government will need to coordinate upcoming events with Biden’s staff. “Building a relationship with the new team is going to be important for all of us,” she said.
The trip triggered immediate criticism from conservative media: Fox News’s headline, for example, was “DC mayor disregarded own COVID restrictions to attend Biden victory speech, defends ‘essential travel.’ ”
After NBC4 reporter Mark Segraves tweeted Bowser’s photograph at the celebration, a flood of residents and others responded, most of them accusing the mayor of following different coronavirus safety protocols than what she preaches for residents.
“I cancelled Passover seders and haven’t seen my friends and family in months,” reporter Jon Steingart responded.
WAMU reporter Martin Austermuhle posted that Bowser’s description of her trip “might be stretching the definition of ‘essential’ just a touch/whole lot.”
Until last week, Bowser’s mayoral order on interstate travel would have required anyone who visited Delaware (and other states with more than 10 new daily coronavirus cases on average per 100,000 residents) to quarantine at home for two weeks upon returning to the District, except those whose travel was for essential purposes.
Last week, however, Bowser replaced that order with a new one that went into effect Monday, after her trip. The new order got rid of the two-week, post-vacation quarantine that she had instituted in July. In its place, she ordered that people who wish to visit the District from high-risk states get a negative coronavirus test first (though the city will not check or enforce that requirement); residents who travel should quarantine at home — except for essential activities — until they get a negative test, generally at least three days after their trip.
Despite easing the restrictions on travel just before Thanksgiving, Bowser said her strong recommendation remains that residents should not travel and should instead have Thanksgiving dinner for only their own household, with other relatives visiting by Zoom.
After her Saturday trip, Bowser appeared in public at news conferences on Monday and Tuesday.
Asked whether she was tested after the trip, she said, “I am regularly tested, and I’m tested according to my levels of exposure in doing my job. And I will continue to get tested according to that.” A spokeswoman for the mayor said she would be tested this week.
Zac Hoffman, executive vice president of the D.C. Bar and Restaurant Workers Alliance, said Tuesday that District workers who are adhering to the city’s coronavirus restrictions look to the mayor as an example. When he saw the reaction to Bowser’s photo online, he said that he wished she would provide more information about her trip to avoid muddling her message on coronavirus safety.
“D.C. is doing well with covid regulations. We keep each other safe. It’d be good to see some positive reinforcement from our leadership to say: ‘We did this, but here’s why we did it and how we did it safely,’ ” he said.
Bowser spokeswoman LaToya Foster said the mayor’s trip to Delaware was brief, departing and returning late in the day on Saturday. The mayoral order issued Nov. 6 does not mention an exemption for out-of-state trips that last less than a day, though Maryland and Virginia are exempt from the order.
Delaware’s average case rate per 100,000 residents is currently 24 new cases daily, while the District’s is 14, the result of a rise in cases locally which began in early October.