WASHINGTON — Washington, D.C., is emerging from its pandemic quarantine.
With COVID-19 numbers dropping, officials in the nation's capital have announced a reopening timeline that would see all indoor capacity limits eliminated by early June, but with mask requirements still in place.
Mayor Muriel Bowser unveiled a two-stage plan on Monday, with capacity restrictions on most indoor activities lifting on May 21, with the exception of bars, nightclubs and entertainment venues. Those final categories would see their capacity limits removed by June 11.
The two dates represent a pair of major crossroads moments for Washington, both for the daily lives of its residents and for its hospitality-heavy economy, driven by tourism and conventions.
"We are quickly and enthusiastically approaching containment level of the virus in our jurisdiction," said Health Department Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt. "But in the ensuing weeks, we continue to need to remain vigilant."
Virus metrics show daily case rates are down to levels not seen since last summer. Nesbitt said contract tracing for new virus cases "would remain a 24/7 operation."
As of May 10, Bowser said more than 200,000 D.C. residents had been fully vaccinated. She also announced that the overflow field hospital that took over Washington's convention center last year would be dismantled.
"I'm grateful we never had to use it," Bowser said.
The D.C. government will be bringing its work-from-home employees back to their offices in stages. Bowser said that by July 12, all D.C. government employees will be working at least part time from the office.
The May 21 shift will lift all capacity restrictions on restaurants, gyms, schools, offices and houses of worship. Bowser said she expected to approve a waiver request from Monumental Sports, owners of the Capitals and Wizards, to immediately increase attendance capacity from 10% to 25% for potential playoff games. The Capitals are solidly in the NHL playoffs, while the Wizards are fighting for the final spot in the NBA's Eastern Conference play-in tournament.
Bowser has generally proceeded more cautiously on easing restrictions than her neighbors in Virginia and Maryland. In many cases, the surrounding counties in southern Maryland and northern Virginia that comprise the capital region have chosen to stay closer to Bowser's conservative line.
Bowser on Monday said she has "worked, I think, very cooperatively over the last 15 months" with Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. "The states of Maryland and Virginia are bigger than this region, obviously, so they need to do some different things that impact their whole state, where we've been very focused on the capital region."