Washington D.C. Orders All Non-Essential Businesses Closed Beginning March 25, 2020

Date   Mar 25, 2020

Executive Summary: In an effort to stem the tide of increasing COVID-19 cases in the District of Columbia, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced on Tuesday March 24, 2020, that she is ordering all non-essential business within the city to close their business operations by 10:00 p.m. on March 25, 2020, and prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people in a single space at one time. This Order expands on the Mayor’s prior orders that closed restaurants, bars, theatres, gyms, spas, nightclubs, meeting halls, libraries, and senior centers, with the exception that restaurants may still offer take-out and delivery services. Under the new Order, all non-essential businesses, including retail stores and other personal service providers are required to close their businesses until April 24, 2020.

Which business are allowed to continue operations?

The Mayor’s Order strongly encourages “essential businesses” to remain open and to comply with social distancing requirements and allow teleworking where feasible. For purposes of this Order, businesses that engage in “essential” services include:

  • Healthcare and public health operations;
    • This includes hospitals, clinics, dentists, pharmacies, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, other health facilities, health care suppliers, home health care and assisted living services, mental health providers, medical marijuana dispensaries, calibrators and operators of medical equipment, or any related and/or ancillary health care services as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA). This also includes veterinary care and all health care services provided to animals
  • Essential Infrastructure (public works, utilities, and solid waste collection and removal entities);
  • Food and Household Products and Services (grocery stores, supermarkets, licensed farmers’ markets, food banks, convenience stores, liquor stores, and other establishments engaged in the retail sale, wholesale supply or distribution of food products, alcohol, any other household consumer products, laundromats, dry cleaners, laundry service providers, and medical marijuana cultivation centers);
    • Restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food are included in this category, but only for delivery, carry-out, or “grab-and-go” services. These facilities cannot permit the food provided to be eaten at the site where it is provided, nor permit food to be self-served (i.e., buffets, salad bars, etc.).
  • Social services providing the necessities of life (shelters and other social services providing necessities to economically disadvantaged or needy individuals);
  • Communications and Information Technology (newspapers, television, radio, and other media services);
  • Energy and automotive (businesses that maintain, ensure, or restore, or are otherwise involved in the electricity industry; or petroleum, natural, or propane gas stations, auto repair shops, auto supply stores, and related facilities);
  • Financial services;
  • Educational institutions, for the sole purpose of facilitating distance learning and operations;
  • Transportation and logistics (shipping or delivering groceries, food, goods, or services directly to residences, taxis, ride-sharing, and other private transportation services necessary for essential business functions, providing mail and shipping services, and bicycle sales, management, and repair businesses);
  • Construction and building trades (plumbers, pipefitters, steamfitters, electricians, boilermakers, exterminators, roofers, carpenters, bricklayers, welders, elevator mechanics, and those businesses that sell supplies and materials for commercial and/or residential buildings and homes);
  • Housing and living facilities;
  • Professional services (legal, insurance, notary public, tax preparation and accounting services, but only when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities, essential businesses, or essential government functions), and;
  • Childcare facilities providing services to children of essential employees, and in compliance with government regulations for COVID-19 responses.

Which business operations are prohibited?

Mayor Bowser’s latest Order requires that all businesses with a facility in Washington D.C., except essential businesses, temporarily ceases all business activities unless the business can operate “safely from home” (i.e., telework). Home-based businesses may continue to operate so long as the business does not involve individuals making “physical contact with other persons,” and can be carried out in compliance with social distancing requirements. Prohibited non-essential businesses include:

  • Tour guides and touring services, gyms, health clubs, spas, and massage establishments;
  • Theatres, auditoriums, and other places of large gatherings;
  • Nightclubs;
  • Hair, nail, and tanning salons and barbershops;
  • Tattoo parlors;
  • Sales not involved in essential services; retail clothing stores; and
  • Professional services not devoted to assisting essential business operations.

Individuals or entities that knowingly violate this Order are potentially subject to civil, criminal, and administrative penalties, including civil fines, and summary suspension or revocation of business licenses.

Other prohibitions and details

  • The Order prohibits “large gatherings,” defined as gatherings of 10 or more individuals in a single space at the same time. This does not include essential businesses, modes of transit or areas associated with modes of transit, and office space, hotels, or residential buildings (excluding meeting halls and similar areas).
  • Social distancing requirements include (1) maintaining at least six feet of distance from other individuals, (2) washing hands with soap and water or using hand sanitizer frequently, (3) covering coughs or sneezes, (3) regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces, and (4) avoiding hand-shakes.

Mayor Bowser’s latest Order was effective immediately, and ordered non-essential businesses cease operations by 10:00 p.m. on March 25, 2020. The Order will remain in effect through April 24, 2020, or until extended, rescinded, superseded, or amended.

If you have any questions regarding this Alert, please feel free to contact the Alert’s authors, Jacki Thompson, a partner in FordHarrison’s Washington, D.C. office, at jthompson@fordharrison.comGarrett Buttrey, an associate in FordHarrison’s Washington, D.C. office, at, or the FordHarrison attorney with whom you regularly work. Please click here for links to other mandates issued by states and major municipalities.

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