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DC to lift most coronavirus restrictions on May 21

DC to lift most coronavirus restrictions on May 21
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The District of Columbia will lift most capacity and other coronavirus restrictions on businesses May 21, Mayor Muriel BowserMuriel BowserDC to offer gift cards to those getting first COVID-19 shot White House to host large outdoor gathering for July 4 DC board votes to lift last COVID-19 restrictions on bars, restaurants MORE (D) announced Monday, following numerous pleas for clarity from local businesses and residents.

Capacity limits for bars, nightclubs, large sports arenas and entertainment venues will be increased to 50 percent on that date and then lifted June 11. Masks will still be required indoors.

Bowser said health metrics have been continuing to improve. The District's seven-day average of new daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents is 6.6, an improvement from the upward of 40 cases seen over the winter.

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As vaccinations have increased and cases have declined, local business owners have been calling on Bowser to loosen what they called unnecessarily stringent restrictions. 

Indoor dining has been capped at 25 percent capacity, and Bowser just recently allowed multipurpose venues to open at 50 percent, as of May 1. Nonessential retail was increased to 50 percent capacity, and restaurants were given permission to seat 10 people per table — up from six — and host live music outside in gardens, courtyards and sidewalk cafes.

Weddings, conferences and other special events were allowed to operate indoors and outdoors, but only up to 250 people.

A recent order that banned guests at weddings from standing or dancing drew national attention and mockery; that will be lifted on May 21.

Neighboring jurisdictions have been much quicker to loosen restrictions, raising economic concerns. Bowser said she had been monitoring case rates and felt now was the best time to act. 

"I give all credit to D.C. residents and businesses who have followed the public health advice, and they have even outperformed where we thought we'd be on this date, and that's how we can get closer to reopening, because of the precipitous fall of our case rate," Bowser said during a press briefing.

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Bowser emphasized that indoor mask requirements will not be lifted. 

LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the District's Department of Health, said the city is fast approaching the point where the virus is contained, and community spread rate is under five per 100,000 people.

"But in the ensuing weeks, we need to continue to need to remain vigilant. There are risks inherent with certain activities, and while we are going to move to the next phase of our next response we still want people to be cautious," Nesbitt said. "The more that you want to do without a mask, the more we need people to continue to be vaccinated."