DC Mask/Face Covering Rules – What Do They Require


Mayor Bowser’s order, lifting the stay-at-home order effective May 29th, made explicit that any mask guidance are mandatory: “Department of Health guidance relating to masks must be followed, as must the applicable orders of any regulatory agency for a specific activity.”

Unless you are 

  • 0-8 years old;
  • homeless; or
  • unable to wear one due to medical condition/disability (or can’t take a mask off without help)

You must wear masks/face coverings when 

At All Times

  • If you’re on a bus or train that goes through District (unless you’re in the train conductor compartment solo)
  • If you’re in a train or Metro station
  • If you’re a passenger or driver of a taxi/rideshare
  • If you are at a bar/restaurant inside or outside, while not eating or drinking
    • while ordering food
    • prior to being served,
    • after completion of meal
    • entering or leaving restaurant,
    • when going to restroom.
    • When waiting in line to enter a restaurant (way this is worded doesn’t seem directly mandatory but restaurants are required to ask you to do so)
    • Good rule of thumb: if there’s no food or drink on your table, keep your mask on.
  • If you’re working at a restaurant/bar
  • If working or a customer at a barber/hair salon
  • If you are an adult providing childcare at a daycare or other facility

Recommended only (it seems):

  • When leaving your home and entering public spaces. (says general guidance)
  • When entering a public setting, especially where social distancing is difficult to
    maintain, such as the grocery store or pharmacy (says facemask guidance)
  • When in a park “when around other people in a public space” (says park guidance)

In the Presence of Other People

  • While Engaging in Essential Business 
    • This means if you are a worker or customer of: healthcare, public works, utilities, , grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores, dry cleaners, media, banks, other essential open business, you gotta wear a mask (unless you are solo)
    • Enforced by businesses. Required to exclude those people unless exception or otherwise illegal
  • While Engaging in Minimum Basic Operations of Non-essential Businesses 
    • basically applies to workers/vendors doing minimum things to keep non-essential business going (including keeping IT working and coming in to do deliveries)

When you cannot maintain at least six feet distance from other people who you don’t live with

  • While Engaged in Essential Travel 
    • Basically anytime you travel away from home for approved reasons
  • Doing Outdoor Recreational Activities 
    • walking
    • hiking
    • running
    • dog-walking
    • biking
    • rollerblading
    • scootering
    • skateboarding
    • gardening
    • fishing

You are also urged to reserve N95 or surgical masks for health care workers/first responders, people working in proximity to vulnerable positions or in them, and people who had to wear masks before COVID-19 due to a medical condition.

The big question is what does “cannot maintain” mean for the purposes of the 6 foot rule

It’s clear that, given the Facebook/Nextdoor group and PoPville posts about joggers (and walkers and cyclists for that matter) not wearing masks in DC, there are strong opinions on how to interpret this and  not everyone agrees on what this term means.

Both the City Paper and Washingtonian published articles about masks and jogging recently. The experts cited in both articles make clear that there is very little risk when momentarily passing people when jogging or other outdoor activities, but no one definitely states what the phrase means and some of the experts seem to suggest wearing masks in situations where momentary, but frequent, encounters within 6 feet are experienced like peak times in DC.

Another section of the original Mayor’s Order may give a hint, noting in a section regarding preparing parks for reopening that “non-sustained, outdoor contact with an infected individual is far less likely to lead to spread of COVID-19 than indoor, sustained contact,” clearly expressing the official opinion regarding COVID-19 spread.  Personally, I still wear masks when every time I leave home because it’s not that uncomfortable for myself and for now I recognize that a significant amount of people feel anxiety when they encounter unmasked people even fleeting.


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