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Late this morning, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced new restrictions on both formal and informal gatherings, as well as on restaurant operations. People can still dine indoors, but restaurants must seat fewer patrons.

“We have consistently been conservative in our approach to reopening,” Bowser said at today’s press conference. “And because of that we watched as others rolled back closer to where we’ve been.”

Beginning Wednesday, Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving, Bowser is limiting small gatherings to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. At houses of worship, gatherings are reduced from 100 to 50 people or a maximum capacity of 25 percent, whichever is smallest. Employees of non-essential businesses and non-retail businesses are “strongly encouraged” but not required to continue teleworking. And the live entertainment pilot program has been temporarily suspended.

Mirroring neighboring jurisdictions, restaurants have to limit the capacity of indoor diners to 25 percent, down from 50 percent. Restaurants also have to stop selling alcohol at 10 p.m. but can continue to operate until midnight. “We see less compliance with rules later into the evening,” Bowser said, explaining the alcohol curfew.

Restrictions on group gatherings go into effect Nov. 25. New restrictions on restaurant capacity begins on Dec. 14, as Bowser wants to give restaurants more time to adjust. 

Gyms, private trainers, and other recreation centers must suspend indoor exercise classes but can host outdoor classes for no more than 25 people. DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt says places like indoor gyms are often cited as transmission points in D.C. and across the nation. At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman is skeptical of why D.C. restricted indoor exercise in this way but not dining. 

The number of cases is as high as it was in May, when the city was under a strict stay-at-home order. The daily case rate stands at 23.9 per 100,000 people as of Nov. 21. On Monday, DC Health reported two additional deaths related to COVID-19 and 139 new positive cases, bringing the total number of people to 672 and 20,290, respectively. 

Bowser expressed skepticism of the effectiveness of a local stay-at-home order, despite the rise in positive cases and community spread, without a nationwide order. “I wouldn’t want to suggest to somebody that that is what will keep us safe without a national mandate to do the same,” she said.

D.C. joins more than two dozen states that have imposed new restrictions after cases started to surge again. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 29 states have added restrictions and two states automatically triggered interventions based on their metrics since the beginning of November. Due to a lack of federal guidance, states have restricted gatherings and businesses in different ways. It’s unclear which approach will sufficiently flatten the curve. D.C. avoided its worst-case scenario this past spring, so perhaps we can do it again.   

 —Amanda Michelle Gomez and Mitch Ryals (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com

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