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D.C. Mayor’s Maskless Gaffe Spotlights the Gray Areas of Her Own Mandate

The mayor was photographed without a mask indoors, but her office denies she violated the reimposed order

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D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, shown here at a hearing, was photographed without her mask at an indoor wedding reception over the weekend
Carlos Barria-Pool/Getty Images

On the same day D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s indoor mask mandate went into effect, a reporter photographed the politician without a mask at a wedding reception inside a hotel. Going maskless for at least a moment on Saturday, July 31, is undoubtedly a bad look for Bowser, who lobbed up a pass for conservative pundits to dunk on her. But because of the mandate’s intricacies, the gaffe doesn’t automatically put the mayor in violation of her own order. It does, however, show off how exceptions to the rule could make it maddening for the hospitality workers saddled with enforcing it.

After Washington Examiner commentary writer Tiana Lowe captured and shared a shot of Bowser sitting at a large table without her mask, the mayor’s office denied she had violated the mandate in statements released to Fox 5 and the Washington Post. The statements say Bowser was at the hotel to officiate a ceremony outdoors, where masks are not required, and insisted Bowser wore her mask during the reception inside. Bowser’s order allows people to remove their masks while actively eating and drinking, and it’s unclear if Bowser was engaged in either activity while she was photographed, though she wasn’t visibly doing so.

Bowser also drew scrutiny by throwing herself a birthday party the day before her order went into effect, creating another photo opp for her to smile and pose with comedian Dave Chappelle, among other unmasked folks. In its statement to Fox 5, Bowser’s office says that event was outdoors on a rooftop.

As anyone who’s gone out to eat this past weekend — or during previous periods of the public health crisis — could easily point out, plenty of people ditch their masks in restaurants the entire time they’re seated at the table. That presents service workers with an unenviable choice: let it go and accept their potential vulnerability to the rapidly spreading delta variant, or interrupt customers with a reminder to put theirs masks back during breaks in the meal, potentially antagonizing them or putting tips in jeopardy.


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