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On March 24, 2020, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser issued Mayor's Order 2020-053: Closure of Non-Essential Businesses and Prohibition on Large Gatherings During Public Health Emergency for the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), effective March 25, 2020, at 10 p.m. ET and running through April 24, 2020.1

In general, the Mayor's Order requires the temporary closure of non-essential businesses and prohibits the gathering of 10 or more people.  

The purpose of the Mayor's Order is to "significantly slow the spread of COVID-19, reduce COVID-19 virus infections, COVID-19 illness, and death caused by COVID-19 and its complications, and protect the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of Washington, DC, other individuals located in Washington, DC, and those who ordinarily work here."

Closure of non-essential businesses

The Mayor's Order directs the temporary closure of "non-essential businesses," which are defined as: (1) tour guides and touring services; (2) gyms, health clubs, spas, and massage establishments; (3) theatres, auditoriums, and other places of large gatherings; (4) nightclubs; (5) hair, nail, and tanning salons and barbershops; (6) tattoo parlors; (7) sales not involved in essential services; (8) retail clothing stores; and (9) professional services not devoted to assisting essential business operations.

The Mayor's Order does not specifically describe what constitutes "sales not involved in essential services" or "professional services not devoted to assisting essential business operations." But these categories appear to include businesses that support non-essential businesses.

The Order also clarifies that all businesses, including non-essential businesses, may continue telework operations, and home-based businesses may continue to operate—to the extent such businesses do not involve individuals making physical contact with other persons and can be carried out in compliance with the District's Social Distancing Requirements. 

Essential businesses may continue operations

The Mayor's Order encourages essential businesses to remain open. Under the Order, "Essential Businesses" are defined as:

  • Healthcare and Public Health Operations
  • Essential Infrastructure (including public works, such as roads, sidewalks, street lighting, and government facilities, as well as utilities such as electric, gas, water and wastewater, and drainage infrastructure)
  • Food and Household Products and Services (grocery stores, food banks, convenience stores, liquor stores, laundromats, dry cleaners, and medical marijuana cultivation centers)
  • Social Services Providing the Necessities of Life
  • Communications and Information Technology (newspapers, television, radio, and other media services)
  • Energy and Automotive (gas stations, auto repair, auto supply stores)
  • Financial Services (banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions)
  • Educational Institutions (but only for the purpose of continuing distance learning)
  • Transportation and Logistics (taxi, ride-sharing companies, etc.)
  • Construction and Building Trades
  • Housing and Living Facilities
  • Professional Services (legal, insurance, notary public, tax preparation and accounting, but only to the extent to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities, essential businesses, or essential governmental functions)
  • Childcare Facilities (such facilities are instructed to prioritize the children of essential employees)

In continuing operations, these essential businesses are required to comply with the District's social distancing requirements, including separating staff and maintaining a separation of at least 6 feet among and between employees and members of the public.

Essential businesses are also encouraged to take reasonable steps to allow employees to work remotely and to deliver their services or work to customers by telephone, video, internet, or other remote means.

Like Maryland, the District of Columbia Order permits construction activities and work to continue. Further, professional services firms (such as law firms or accountants) may continue to operate, provided that they are assisting essential businesses or essential governmental functions.

Prohibition on mass gatherings

The Mayor's Order also prohibits "Large Gatherings," which are defined as events likely to bring together 10 or more people at the same time in a single room or other confined space. Large gatherings further include events of 10 or more people in outdoor spaces that (i) are enclosed by a fence, physical barrier, or other structure and (ii) where people are present and they are within six (6) feet of one another for an extended period.

Modified operations of certain DC government agencies

Although not specifically set forth in the Order, Mayor Bowser also announced by press conference certain modifications in the operations of three District government agencies: the Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV"), the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs ("DCRA"), and the Department of Transportation ("DDOT"). All of these agencies have regular interaction with the public. All in-person customer service centers at these agencies will be closed effective March 25.

The DMV will remain operational with employees working remote and most services available online. All driver's license and vehicle registration expirations, suspensions and revocations will be paused until the DMV returns to full operating capacity, which is expected on April 28.

The DCRA will remain operational, but the in-person Permit, Business License, Residential Center, and Home Owner Center will be unavailable to the general public beginning March 25. In-person operations are set to resume on April 27.  Certain services will be available online.

DDOT's in-person services at its Public Space Regulation Division are unavailable to the public effective March 25. As an alternative, residents can use DDOT's online public space permitting service to apply for and renew public space permits.

DC's Social Distancing Requirements

 The Mayor's Order reiterates the District's Social Distancing Requirements, which include:

  • Maintaining at least 6 feet of distance from other individuals
  • Washing hands
  • Covering coughs or sneezes
  • Regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces
  • Not shaking hands.


Any individual or entity that knowingly violates the Mayor's Order may receive a fine, be suspended from operating, or have its business license revoked, along with other civil, criminal, and administrative penalties authorized by DC law.


1. Order 2020-053 supersedes Mayor's Order 2020-051 dated March 20, 2020 concerning the COVID-19 emergency.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.