DC set to loosen some COVID restrictions, allow walk-up vaccinations

D.C. is loosening some COVID-19 restrictions on businesses such as retail, restaurants, entertainment venues and gyms starting May 1, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced at a news conference Monday.

Also, starting this Saturday, 11 high-capacity vaccination sites in the city that had previously required appointments will accept to walk-ups. Wednesday, April 28, will be the last day that residents can preregister for vaccine appointments through vaccinate.dc.gov. (Pharmacies and other vaccine providers will continue running their own scheduling systems.)

Bowser also said that D.C. Public Schools has partnered with DC United to host high school graduation ceremonies at Audi Field from June 19-24.

The mayor noted that 237,000 residents have now been partially or fully vaccinated, with rates for coronavirus transmission, daily cases and test positivity all trending downward.

“We continue to be out of the red in all of the community spread categories, so that’s good news,” Bowser said.

That’s also welcome news for local businesses, which will see a number of Phase 2 restrictions eased on Saturday. Among the changes:

  • Indoor capacity for non-essential retail will increase from 25% to 50%, or 250 people, whichever is fewer.
  • Entertainment venues can reopen and operate at 25% capacity, up to 500 attendees, all of whom must be seated.
  • Movie theaters can operate at 25% capacity.
  • Restaurants can now seat 10 diners per table (up from six).
  • Live music will be allowed outdoors at summer gardens, courtyard dining and sidewalk cafes operated by restaurants.
  • Restaurant customers sitting outside no longer need to buy food to purchase alcohol.
  • Gyms and fitness centers can operate at 50% capacity, with no more than 250 people allowed.
  • Public and private pools can reopen with safety measures in place; outdoor splash pads can open at full capacity.
  • Places of worship can operate at 40% capacity, including clergy and staff.

The Smithsonian network of museums had previously announced that several museums and the National Zoo will reopen on a staggered schedule over several weeks during the month of May. The National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, will reopen on May 5. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery will reopen on May 14. The National Museum of American History, National Museum of the American Indian and the National Zoo will reopen on May 21.

All Smithsonian facilities will required timed entry passes to limit the crowds; the passes are free and available from the Smithsonian website.

As of Monday, Washington’s daily infection rate has dropped to 14 cases per 100,000, the lowest number since last fall. But Bowser still preached caution, saying residents needed to remain patient as the vaccination program continued.

Bowser said that approximately 237,000 residents had received at least one vaccine dose, out of about 500,000 adults in the District of Columbia.

City Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt acknowledged that vaccine reluctance remained an issue, but called on residents to encourage skeptical friends and relatives to take the step.

“It’s time for people to start having talks with their friends and say, ‘Hey, we’re not hanging out with you unless you get vaccinated,’” Nesbitt said.

Bowser reminded residents that everyone 16 and older is now eligible for a vaccine, and that on Saturday, the city will host its Day of Action, with volunteers canvassing neighborhoods to encourage residents to schedule their appointments.

As for when the city might resume administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, whose distribution had been paused due to concerns over rare blood clots, Nesbitt said the city is waiting on final clinical and implementation guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the pause “has not impacted our ability to continue to offer a vaccine to everyone who wants one given the amounts of Moderna and Pfizer [the city has],” she said at the news conference.

Nesbitt added that while experts have expressed concerns about people not returning for their second vaccinations in the two-shot series, she said that over 85% of D.C. residents are going back for their second shots — which is at or above the national rate.

Bowser said “we can expect another dial-up” in loosening restrictions, possibly for July 4, but it depends on how vaccinations go. The mayor also cautioned that she couldn’t predict when everything might reopen at full capacity.

“The way we get open and to crush the virus is to get people vaccinated.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Anna Gawel

Anna Gawel joined WTOP in 2020 and works in both the radio and digital departments. Anna Gawel has spent much of her career as the managing editor of The Washington Diplomat, which has been the flagship publication of D.C.’s diplomatic community for over 25 years.

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