Pile of masks
Credit: Laura Hayes

Fully vaccinated people can privately gather in- or outdoors with family, friends, or acquaintances maskless, even if some in the group are not inoculated, according to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s new D.C. mask order. But in crowded or organized public settings, fully vaccinated people should mask up. 

The order is consistent with guidance DC Health released last week on masking. The change comes because the order says businesses and other institutions can request to see someone’s vaccine card or other proof of vaccination, and they can even require vaccination as a condition of entry or employment. 

Some businesses are interested in requiring vaccination as a condition of entry, but only if Bowser relaxes coronavirus restrictions. Bill Duggan of Madam’s Organ says he is submitting a waiver on behalf of his business because there’s no way he can reopen and make money under the current rules for bars and live entertainment. Others in the music industry recently wrote Bowser, requesting that she increase capacity at venues to 75 percent if everyone is vaccinated and masked. Bowser has not shared her own views on vaccine mandates, but her health director has weighed in on the request from Madam’s Organ.  

“There are a couple of fault lines that should not be crossed in terms of saying that if this bar only opens to fully vaccinated people, it can open with dancing, full capacity, and no mask,” DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said on April 26. “We are not at the place yet where that type of thing is advisable.”

The order issued Saturday is a revision of one that was quietly released Friday night. The original order went further than DC Health guidance, allowing fully vaccinated people to go inside businesses maskless (unless the business has stricter rules than the city) and requiring businesses to post signs that say people cannot enter unless they have a mask on or are fully vaccinated. Despite having a vaccine event on Saturday, where she debuted 11 walk-up sites, Bowser did not formally announce her sweeping mask order. Instead, Bowser’s team sent press a link that morning. The last time Bowser had issued a mask mandate was over the summer. 

The original order, first spotted by blogger Barred in DC, had business owners and workers confused, if not outright pissed, that they would have to enforce the government’s mask mandate when roughly one-fifth of D.C. residents are fully vaccinated. Workers lamented the lack of notice, which some view as a trend during the pandemic.          

“I don’t think it’s right to put people in the position where the workforce might be unsafe for the benefit of an economic reopening,” Michael Haresign of Homestead told Young and Hungry. “We have to make sure people have the opportunity to be fully vaccinated.” 

The revised order dropped the new requirements for businesses. Although, the order left the door open for future changes, saying “Individuals, employers, and other institutions shall follow DC Health Guidance relating to the wearing of masks, as such guidance may be updated from time to time to adjust for changing conditions as regards to the spread of the virus and new information.” 

At a press conference on Monday, Bowser said the release of the mask order Friday night was an “error … plain and simple.” She would not explain the revised order when a reporter asked her to and instead asked the public to read the order for themselves.   

The revised order also relaxes restrictions around testing and isolating for fully vaccinated people. (Someone is fully vaccinated two weeks after their final shot of the vaccine.) Fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. without having to test for COVID-19, unless they experience symptoms. Fully vaccinated residents or visitors also no longer have to self-quarantine after traveling to D.C. If a fully vaccinated person is traveling internationally, they no longer have to test or self-quarantine beforehand, but must get tested for COVID-19 three to five days after they return. However, people should test or self-quarantine if a country requires this before traveling there. 

Fully vaccinated people also no longer need to test or isolate if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19, unless they are symptomatic or live in a group setting, the order says. They also are exempt from routine testing requirements for screening purposes, unless they experience symptoms or an organization requires this in spite of vaccination status.  

Those who aren’t fully vaccinated should continue to wear a mask if they are likely to come into contact with another person. Everyone, vaccinated or not, should continue to wear a mask in public transportation, taxis, and ride shares. There are some exceptions for not wearing a mask that apply to everyone, like someone is eating, drinking, smoking or exercising. 

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

This post has been updated to include the mayor’s comments at a Monday press conference.

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