DC mayor's office says mask violators could be fined $1,000

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says a general mask order in the nation’s capital will be expanded to anyone venturing outside.

The newly expanded order was announced after D.C. Health Director Laquandra Nesbitt reviewed a concerning rise in the number of cases among young people, and the mayor noted that officials are concerned about the behavior exhibited in some restaurants.

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“In most cases, if you’re outside of your house, you should have a mask on. So if you’re waiting for your bus, you must have a mask on. If you’re order food at a restaurant, you must have on a mask. If you’re sitting in a cubical in an open office, you must have on a mask,” the mayor said.

The mayor said that exceptions would be made for anyone exercisiing outdoors away from people, or those who are eating or drinking. Anyone who works in a closed office that doesn't have visitors can refrain from wearing a mask.

Children under the age of 3 are also exempt from the order.

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Violations would be enforced with fines of up to $1,000. 

No one under the age of 18 would be charged with a violation.

The order will remain in effect until Oct. 9.

In addition to the mask order, the District will clamp down on restaurants and other dining establishments that fail to comply with COVID-19 guidelines.

So far, she said, two $1,000 fines were issued, and 15 other cases will be decided by Wednesday night.

Going forward, fines will be issued on the spot, the mayor said.

The rise in cases among young people is familiar – both Maryland and Virginia have already identified that trend in their cases.

According to Nesbitt, 66 percent of the COVID-19 cases they’ve confirmed in the District have been among people under 40 since July 1.

The number is in stark contrast to the cases confirmed before July 1, when only 41 percent of the cases were among people under 40.

According to Nesbitt, her office is particularly concerned with data that show most new infections aren't coming from people already in quarantine or on the contact trace list of an infected person.

The rising infections come in the midst of a heat emergency which forced several outdoor testing sites to close this week as daily temperatures reach the upper 90s.

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Washington entered phase 1 of its reopening plan on May 29 and entered phase 2 on June 22. Bowser said she doesn't believe that the city entered phase 2 too early and the plan was built with flexibility in mind. She hinted that smaller targeted closures and rollbacks may be coming.

“We've always said this — that we can dial up activity or we can dial back activity” she said. “We will spend some time looking at all levels of activity and seeing what we need to dial back.”

The mayor's office has yet to decide whether public schools will be able to allow students into school buildings on a part-time basis. Last week, they announced they were delaying the decision until July 31.

Several major area school districts, including Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia Montgomery County in Maryland, have already announced they will not be reopening school buildings and will proceed in the fall with full-time distance learning.

The move to stem the escalating infection numbers come as other aspects of public life in Washington continue to gradually reopen. The National Gallery of Art reopened this week with restrictions and the National Zoo will reopen on a limited basis starting Friday.