Bowser, DC officials address confusion over mask guidance; launch new portal for vaccine records

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declined to address confusion Monday over the latest mask mandate to come out of her office over the weekend.

The updated order, initially released Friday night and then updated Saturday, left some business owners trying to figure out what to do next.

Asked at a Monday news conference whether vaccinated residents can go into businesses without a mask, and why her mandate changed, the mayor admitted there was an “error” out of her office but otherwise punted the questions.

“OK. I’m gonna tell everybody go to the mayor’s order to read it for themselves. That’s number one,” Bowser said. “Number two, there was an error out of my office. That’s just plain and simple. And so what is correct was posted on Saturday.”

The full text of Bowser’s updated order is online.

She told one reporter she’d “have the Public Health Department go through the order” with them.

Patrick Ashley, senior deputy director for DC Health, said on a conference call Monday that the District’s guidance documents for various industries, including the restaurant industry, was still being updated to come in line with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

For example, the D.C. order says that people who are not vaccinated should wear a mask if they will be less than 6 feet from another person, striking the phrase “for more than a fleeting time.” Ashley said the phrase would be reinserted: “It might have just been an administrative correction.”
He added that people dining outdoors should continue to wear masks until they’re seated at their table.

Ashley said “We do allow” businesses to ask to see someone’s vaccination card, and to refuse service to an unmasked person who doesn’t provide it. The mayor’s order also says that businesses can make stronger rules on mask wearing than those set forth in the order if they choose.

Though some rules have been relaxed, restrictions on what residents can do remain.

“So we don’t have standing room at events that’s permitted,” Bowser said. “We have allowed venues — it could be restaurants, it could be hotel rooms, it could be meeting rooms — to have 25% capacity.”

“So actually, on May 1, we turned on those activities for our venue operators, for hotels, conference rooms, convention center. So now, they can now have events.”

Physical distance limits remain as well, which means dancing is a no-go.

Bowser said it wasn’t just her sense of certain activities presenting a greater danger of spreading the virus, “it’s a public health sentiment that we are still maintaining physical distance.”

“And at venues where there’s other activity that adds risk for the spread of COVID, like alcohol consumption, it’s even more significant that people maintain social distancing,” she said.

“We were able to relax another guideline in that regard where we had, before May 1, a limit of six people per table — it’s now 10 people per table. So we want to let people know they can host events, and they can host them safely. And now’s the time to look at some of those hotel venues who have capacity.”

D.C. is still keeping an eye on transmission metrics and achieving herd immunity.

Friday’s initial, incorrect new COVID-19 mask-wearing guidelines were released without an announcement. Twitter account Barred in DC was the first to share news of the guidelines.

They stated that fully vaccinated residents could enter establishments without wearing a mask. The order also gave business owners the authority to require proof of vaccination.

But by Saturday evening, the new guidelines were removed from the D.C. government website and replaced with more restrictive guidelines, which stipulate that fully vaccinated residents will still have to wear a mask when in indoor common areas or inside businesses.

“The instructions aren’t clear. The messaging isn’t clear,” said Mark Bucher, co-founder of D.C. restaurant Medium Rare.

58% of DC police vaccinated

Acting D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee said Monday that over 58% of the department “is fully vaccinated and we continue to push forward so please: get vaccinated, get vaccinated, get vaccinated.”

“That’s not bad,” Contee said. “We want to see more people vaccinated, obviously.”

He added that some may be getting vaccinated in their home in the states, where they live, and “they’re not required to report that.”

“So the number may be a little higher than what are reported, but we know for certain that we have 58%. And I’m just going to keep continue on encouraging the members of the Metropolitan Police Department to be fully vaccinated.”

As for offering incentives for members of his department to get fully vaccinated, Contee said: “Yeah, I want them to be healthy and safe. That’s the incentive. I want them to be healthy and safe.”

On Friday, a DC Fire and EMS spokesman told WTOP that 723 out of roughly 2,100 employees (around 34%) are currently declining the vaccine. Around 190 members are still considering getting their first dose. The rest have received at least one dose.

DC Council to vote on extending health emergency

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson said lawmakers will vote on extending Bowser’s health emergency authority — which currently expires at the end of May — to July 15.

Mendelson warned that it was “possible” the council doesn’t end up voting on it Tuesday, “because there’s some work going on with regard to some of the provisions in the bill.”

But, he said, the vote will come in two weeks otherwise.

Whether or not this is the last time the mayor’s authority gets extended, Mendelson said, “I think we’re getting close. But I don’t know that I would say this is the last time.”

“The effect is that it continues to give the mayor authority to reopen or, if necessary, and I hope this doesn’t happen, to roll back, dial back the openings,” Mendelson said.

“But as you know, we are not in this city fully open. I have to say that I support where the mayor has been on this, because following the public health experts is important. And I think we’ve seen that the city has done better than other jurisdictions in the country, which have seen a substantial spike in cases from time to time.”

New portal for vaccine records

DC Health launched a new online vaccine record portal Monday: myir.dc.gov.

It gives D.C. residents free access to their official vaccination records. At the site, residents can view and print copies of their — and their dependents’ — vaccination records at any time.

The records provided by the portal will be accepted by places that require proof of immunization.

There is a registration process and “a 2-step verification process to match the registration information to locate an exact match in the immunization registry.”

Some people have said they haven’t seen their vaccination records on the app, and Ashley said Monday that could be because they haven’t been transmitted yet. It’s also possible, he added, that patients or their providers may have put in a wrong address or phone number. He recommended using the app’s chat function to get assistance.

WTOP’s Valerie Bonk and Rick Massimo 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.


Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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