Bowser kicked off a citywide canvassing effort at Lamond Recreation Center, where she slipped on a white “Take the shot, DC” shirt and matching mask, and knocked on doors in the Takoma neighborhood to encourage people to get vaccinated.
Elsewhere in the city, business owners were reading the mayor’s mask order dated April 30 and trying to determine how it would affect their livelihoods and safety.
“We are very confused as to what we can do and what we can’t do,” Mark Bucher, co-founder of Medium Rare, a restaurant with locations in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. “That can be a case of the right hand not talking to the left hand, but it isn’t easy for us to distill the tea leaves.”
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated people do not have to wear masks outdoors when exercising or dining at outdoor restaurants.
Days later, the District issued guidance expanding on federal health officials’ relaxation of restrictions, saying fully vaccinated people could go maskless in small outdoor gatherings as long as none of the participants were at high risk for contracting a severe case of the coronavirus. The four-page document made no mention of new rules for businesses.
However, early Saturday, the mayor’s spokeswoman sent a Washington Post reporter a link to a new mayoral order, dated Friday, that made significant changes to the city’s mask mandate.
The earlier order said businesses could eject anyone who did not wear a mask unless the person was fully vaccinated and said businesses could ask to see a vaccination card to determine whether they had to go maskless. The order also did not appear to align with guidance from the health department that recommends continued masking in indoor public settings.
Asked Saturday morning for clarification on whether businesses could request proof of vaccination from patrons who want to go unmasked, Bowser seemed unaware of the change. “I think that the law is pretty clear that folks can ask about vaccination,” Bowser told reporters. “If they are a public-serving facility, however, then they have to be open to the public. The mask mandate applies to private businesses.”
Hours later, the mayor’s spokeswoman, Susana Castillo, said the order was removed from the District website.
By 6:45 p.m. Saturday, an updated order on the city’s website reiterated the CDC rules and said simply that “businesses and other institutions are authorized to request to see someone’s vaccine card or other adequate proof of vaccination, consistent with any applicable federal or local law.”
The Saturday evening order no longer included language that said businesses, offices and other public establishments should post signs saying people cannot enter unless they’re wearing masks or are fully vaccinated as the previous order did. The new order also didn’t include language about having businesses eject people who weren’t wearing masks if they weren’t fully vaccinated or otherwise exempt.
Before the new order, several business owners expressed their displeasure and desire for clarification.
John Solomon, owner of Solly’s Tavern on U Street, said he wishes the mayor would have waited a few more weeks before contemplating a big change.
“I don’t understand the hurry, and I don’t like having to put myself and my staff in a positions where we have to explain and enforce it,” Solomon said. “The tighter we keep things and the more direct we keep the language, the better it is for all.”
Ian Hilton, owner of American Ice Company and several other D.C. bars and restaurants, tweeted: “My read tells me you can have stricter ‘house rules’ but of course that will lead to more confrontations between staff and customers. Should have focused on increasing capacity rather than drawing the battle lines between the vaxxed and unvaxxed. A further divided world awaits.”
A frustrated Pie Shop DC responded with a request for better relations with businesses.
“And again no actual guidance, only a laundry list of contradictory and nonsensical finable offenses . . . Who is the appointed liaison between real life business operators and the mayors office? Has anyone involved in this process operated a business in The District?” the shop’s account tweeted.
As of April 23, nearly 34 percent of District residents had received at least one shot and 20 percent were fully vaccinated, according to city data.
For months, Bowser and public health officials said they did not have enough vaccine to keep pace with the flood of residents and people who work in the city who wanted to be vaccinated. But the start of walk-up vaccinations signaled that the city has reached a point were supplies can keep up with and even exceed the demand.
The District deployed hundreds of volunteers Saturday in three two-hour shifts to knock on doors and let people know how and where to be vaccinated.
Media trailed Bowser, clipboard in hand, as she walked the streets with Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt, creating a stir in the quiet neighborhood on a cloudless morning.
A vaccinated D’Anthony White praised the effort.
“How do you say no to the mayor?” he said. “I was making biscuits and I was like what is happening? A total surprise.”
Of all the people Bowser approached, only a handful said they were not vaccinated, including Rachel Madison, 30, who took a selfie with the mayor on her front porch.
“I’m kind of one of those folks waiting to see how it all transpires,” she said, despite her job in billing at the health-care provider One Medical.
The temporary pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine made her question the safety of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, too. But after chatting with Bowser, Madison, who has a D.C. statehood sign in her front yard, said she is seriously considering getting the shot.
“I would never have guessed in a million years that Mayor Bowser would step to my front door,” she said.
Emily Davies, Julie Zauzmer and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.