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D.C. Diners Must Mask Up Again Starting This Week

Mayor Muriel Bowser reinstates D.C.’s indoor mask mandate on Tuesday, December 21

Paper sign in a window reading “Masks are required. Thank you.” with an image of a disposable paper mask. Akerri/Shutterstock
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

In response to a record-shattering surge in new COVID-19 infections across D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser will reinstate an indoor mask mandate just one month after removing it.

Restaurants and bars will require customers and staff to wear face coverings again starting Tuesday, December 21, at 6 a.m., Bowser announced during a press conference on Monday. Diners must wear a mask at all times indoors, except when eating and drinking, regardless of vaccination status.

The latest mask-wearing mandate will remain in effect for at least six weeks, through Monday, January 31, amid rising fears around the highly transmissible omicron variant. D.C. last lifted its nearly four-month mask requirement during the week of Thanksgiving, just as Montgomery County put theirs back on.

D.C.’s reinstated order to mask up comes days after DC Health reported consecutive days of concerning infection rates, prompting Bowser to declare a state of emergency and ramp up access to testing. There were 844 new COVID-19 cases reported on Friday, blowing past D.C.’s previous one-day record of 508 new cases on Thursday.

In response to the jarring spike, a running list of restaurants are opting to pause indoor dining entirely through the holidays or longer. Chef Erik Bruner-Yang chose to pivot to takeout entirely at his flagship H Street restaurant Maketto through 2021 “out of an abundance of caution to our staff and guests.” Fast-casual neighbor Pow Pow is doing the same. In Mt. Pleasant, Spanish wine bar Nido has halted indoor dining and wine tastings indefinitely and cocktail bar O.K.P.B. is entirely closed until Tuesday, December 28.

Over in Shaw, Puerto Rican restaurant Qui Qui took indoor dining off the table this week:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 67 percent of D.C.’s population is vaccinated, and 24 percent is boosted. D.C. government employees will now be required to get fully vaccinated, Bowser added on Monday. Any restaurant or private business can continue to implement its own vaccine mandate.

As part of DC Health’s “test yourself” program, eight D.C. public libraries will distribute rapid antigen test kits to D.C. residents in all wards starting Wednesday, December 22.

As new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to climb across the nation, D.C.’s health system is faring relatively well. COVID-19 patients average around 5 percent of total hospitalizations, per DC Health.