D.C. Region Prepares to Start Re-Opening

Leaders across the Washington area reaffirmed their commitment to beginning the re-opening process over the coming week, with D.C. and Northern Virginia likely to shift towards their versions of an initial re-opening by Friday. But while more businesses may be re-opening in the region in the near future, it is increasingly clear that mandatory mask usage will be a hallmark of commercial activity for months to come.

On Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that Northern Virginia, Accomack County, and the city of Richmond would soon join the rest of the commonwealth in shifting to “phase one” of the Forward Virginia re-opening plan. Under Executive Order 61, which was suspended for the jurisdictions listed above, many non-essential businesses in the rest of the commonwealth are currently allowed to open at 50 percent of their lowest published capacity, so long as they can enforce social distancing requirements.

At the same time, Gov. Northam announced that he will be instituting a statewide face-covering requirement on Friday, at the same time the state fully shifts into phase one. Masks are currently required for employees of public-facing businesses, but beginning this weekend all patrons will need to wear them indoors as well. Masks will also be required on public transit, and when accessing state and local government services. Children under 10 and those with medical conditions that would make mask-wearing inadvisable are exempt from the order.

In the District of Columbia, Mayor Muriel Bowser said the city continues to make progress, and the city will almost certainly be able to enter their version of stage one under the ReOpen DC plan. Under the city’s plan, which is more stringent in some parts than those in Maryland and Virginia, non-essential retailers will be able to re-open for curbside service, while limited outdoor sit-down dining will also be permitted. Many facilities, including museums, pools, theatres, and gyms, will remain closed. All non-essential retailers will be limited to either a capacity of 5 patrons per 1,000 square feet of indoor space or 50 percent capacity, whichever is lower.

The mayor also introduced a city-wide mask ordinance a couple of weeks ago, when she last extended the city’s stay-at-home order. The mask ordinance largely mirrors those in Virginia and Maryland, requiring patrons to wear them on public transit, in ride share vehicles, and when inside enclosed businesses. There are also carveouts for young children and those with certain medical conditions.

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan delegated much of the re-opening responsibility to the county executives in the D.C. region, following his decision to implement a “stage one” reopening on May 15, pending local approval. Each county in Maryland could fully adopt the governor’s executive order, which implements the first stage of the state’s Roadmap to Recovery, or do a piecemeal approach.

Montgomery County, which currently remains in a stay-at-home operating status, has created a COVID-19 dashboard, featuring a series of benchmarks that County Executive Marc Elrich says the jurisdiction must hit in order to proceed to stage one. Last week, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks reaffirmed that her county remained on track to proceed to stage one beginning on June 1, which is when the latest stay-at-home order expires.

Charles County Commission Chairman Reuben Collins said his county will proceed to stage one on Friday, while the other large counties in the region – Howard, Frederick, and Anne Arundel – have each issued modified stage one orders, which allow manufacturing and some previously-closed retail activity to resume, but under more strict patron capacity requirements than Hogan’s order.

Some Maryland counties have issued more stringent mask requirements than the state requires, and Gov. Hogan also has empowered local county police and health departments to enforce these orders. Virginia’s mask ordinance, for now at least, will only be enforced by the state Department of Health. While both states allow their state health departments to shutter non-compliant businesses, Virginia’s orders currently lack any criminal enforcement component.

Download Bulletin PDF