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D.C. Diners Must Wear Masks Inside Again Starting Saturday

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s new mask order will cover all indoor establishments across the city

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.

With the latest D.C. Department of Health data for July pointing to “moderate transmission” of COVID-19 across the city, Mayor Muriel Bowser is mandating that all people over age 2 must wear a mask indoors — regardless of their vaccination status — starting this weekend.

The new order, effective Saturday, July 31, at 5 a.m., comes two days after The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also revised its guidance on face coverings. The agency now recommends that some fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors if they live in areas with significant or high spread.

“We want people to still be able to patronize our restaurants, to eat indoors if they choose, and there is an obvious exception to wearing a mask if you are actively eating or drinking,” says director of the D.C. Department of Health Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, during a press conference on Thursday.

Nesbitt cited a five-fold increase in July so far in D.C.’s daily COVID-19 case rate as the delta variant spreads across the city.

Large outdoor venues like Audi Field and Nationals Park will not fall under the mask-wearing mandate, notes Bowser. Earlier this week, the Wharf’s 6,000-person Anthem announced a surprise comeback show with comedian Dave Chappelle for Friday, July 30, that already came with a mask requirement.

D.C. diners have been free to go mask-less inside restaurants since Friday, May 21, when pre-pandemic norms kicked in across the city. The about-face order may generate fear amongst restaurant owners that diners may not want to move backwards and take on and off their masks between sips and bites. The mayor’s announcement on Thursday does not affect social distancing or capacity limits.

NYC hitmaker Danny Meyer made his own requirement on Thursday that all employees and indoor customers at his full-service restaurants, which locally include Navy Yard’s Italian restaurant Mailiano Mare and its rooftop bar Anchovy Social, will be required to show vaccination proof starting September 7. His announcement didn’t cover an indoor mask mandate, however.

Bowser adds she “doesn’t know” how long D.C.’s new mask-wearing mandate will last.

When asked about mask enforcement and tattletaling to Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), Bowser says she’s “not expecting that but that is certainly an avenue that is available to people in alcohol-selling establishments.”

As of Thursday, over 60-percent of the city is currently fully vaccinated.

The mayor’s office is buttering up youngsters — a prime demographic leading the spread — with incentives to get the shot, like $51 Visa gift cards, free Airpods, and the chance to win iPads and $25,000 college scholarships.

Virus rates are particularly on the rise in kids age 5 to 14 and young adults from 20 to 34, notes Nesbitt, citing traveling, big social group activities, and dining out as cause for spikes in those segments.