What to know about updated mask guidance in DC area

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday announced new recommendations for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Probably the best known of them is the recommendation that fully vaccinated people are safe to go outside without masks if they’re not in large groups of strangers.

But there are a lot of other provisions to the new recommendations, and they’re not hard-and-fast rules. And in the past few days, states and localities have been issuing new rules. Some are more restrictive than others, and in Maryland for example, some counties, as is their right, are keeping more restrictive rules than Gov. Larry Hogan’s statewide order.

Here’s what we know so far. And remember: “Fully vaccinated” is defined as being at least two weeks removed from your final dose of the two-dose vaccines or two weeks from the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.

DC

In a late Mayor’s order released Friday night, new provisions — said to be effective immediately — gave those who have been vaccinated more flexibility in removing their masks in public spaces.

On Saturday, that order was removed from the District’s coronavirus website, and replaced with an order that — while still offering special exemptions for fully-vaccinated residents — did not go as far in loosening restrictions.

According to the updated order, fully-vaccinated individuals can:

  • Gather outdoors with members of their household, or in small, outdoor gatherings of friends and family without wearing a mask (unless in a crowded area or at a venue)
  • Visit outdoors with a small gathering of vaccinated and unvaccinated persons with whom they do not usually socialize, without wearing a mask. Social distancing is still required, and any unvaccinated people in attendance must wear masks
  • Fully vaccinated individuals can visit with small groups of fully vaccinated people indoors in a private setting without wearing a mask
  • Travel in the United States without pre-departure, post-arrival or post-return testing for COVID-19, unless they are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19

With more people preparing to return to their workplaces once fully vaccinated, employers shall provide masks to their employees and establish more stringent masks-wearing rules for their facilities. The order also says that people will still be required to wear a mask when using a taxi, ride-share vehicle or public transit in D.C.

Lastly, just in time for summer, a person in the water at the swimming pool does not have to wear a mask.

It is unclear why the mayor’s office released the Friday guidance, which had stipulations that fully-vaccinated people could enter establishments without wearing a mask. Under the updated order, fully-vaccinated residents will still have to wear a mask when in indoor common areas or inside businesses.

Previously, D.C. Health said it will follow most of the CDC’s recommendations: If you are fully vaccinated, you can now go on a run or a walk in an uncrowded outdoor place with members of your household without wearing a mask.

Small gatherings outdoors, with friends and family, can be held without masks on. It is recommended that you keep gatherings to no more than two households.

Those who are unvaccinated can also go maskless at small gatherings, unless any of the unvaccinated people attending are at high risk for a severe case of COVID-19.

For outdoor small get togethers that include unvaccinated friends and family you don’t see often, the unvaccinated people should wear masks and socially distance.

Small indoor gatherings of vaccinated people can be mask-free.

Anyone attending gatherings that include more than two households, whether vaccinated or not, should wear masks.

For vaccinated people, masks must still be worn during public events, both indoors and outdoors. This includes neighborhood gatherings, worship services and at weddings.

Even with the shots, fully vaccinated people are being told to still avoid big outdoor gatherings, especially crowded ones, as well as gatherings indoors where there is not good ventilation.

The city also released guidance about what vaccinated people should do if they have COVID-19 symptoms, are exposed to someone with it or even test positive.

D.C. Health says vaccinated people who test positive should self-isolate for 10 days after they get the results. If exposed to the virus but vaccinated, the city said, a person generally doesn’t need to quarantine themselves or be tested, as long as they do not have COVID-19 symptoms.

Virginia

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday announced that, in keeping with the new CDC guidance, people who have been fully vaccinated no longer have to wear masks outdoors when they’re alone or in small groups.

Masks are still required at large events such as concerts, sporting events and graduations, regardless of vaccination status.

Northam also revised his executive order to allow crowds of up to 1,000 people at sporting events, speeding up a change that was set to begin May 15.

“The CDC’s recommendations underscore what we have said all along — vaccinations are the way we will put this pandemic behind us and get back to normal life,” Northam said in a statement. “Our increasing vaccination rate and decreasing number of new COVID-19 cases has made it possible to ease mitigation measures in a thoughtful and measured manner. I encourage all Virginians who have not yet received the vaccine to make an appointment today.”

Maryland

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan went beyond the CDC recommendation: On Wednesday, he announced the lifting of the state’s outdoor mask mandate. He also lifted all outdoor dining restrictions, effective Saturday.

Masks will still be required for large ticketed venues, indoor businesses and public transportation, and indoor dining restrictions will remain in place for now.

Counties can go their own way on these restrictions, however, and not all of them are following the governor’s lead.

Montgomery County, for example, is keeping its current rules in place for now.

“We will follow the CDC guidelines on masking per the existing board of health order, which directs us to use the stricter of the CDC or state guidance,” County Executive Marc Elrich said Wednesday. “Despite his statement on the website, the governor’s order regarding masks does not comport with the CDC guidelines.”

Prince George’s County said in a statement Friday that it is lifting the outdoor mask mandate for most activities.

“We will follow CDC recommendations that say those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not need to wear a mask when outdoors walking, running, hiking or biking, or in small gatherings with members of their household or other fully vaccinated people,” said County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. “While this is exciting news for those fully vaccinated, we still urge caution and we encourage those who are not vaccinated, to take the vaccine and join the growing number of Prince Georgians who are Proud to be Protected from COVID-19.”

Baltimore, Howard, Charles and Calvert counties are following Hogan’s order.

Anne Arundel County on Thursday lifted its mandate on mask use in outdoor public spaces as well.


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.


WTOP’s José Umaña, Mike Murillo and Zeke Hartner contributed to this report.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

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