- The Washington Times - Monday, November 23, 2020

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday new coronavirus restrictions, including reduced capacity at gatherings, religious facilities and restaurants, amid a surge of COVID-19 cases in the District.

“[A]fter a very good analysis of our data and high risk activity in our city, [we’re] prepared to make those adjustments in hopes that they will blunt the curve as we go into the winter,” Miss Bowser said at a press conference.

Starting Wednesday, outdoor gatherings will be limited to 25 people, down from 50, and indoor gatherings may not exceed 10 people.

Houses of worship must reduce capacity from 100 people to 50 people or from 50% to 25%, whichever is lower.

Gyms, private trainers, recreation centers and similar facilities must suspend all indoor group exercise classes, as well as outdoor group exercise classes that exceed 25 people.

The District’s live entertainment pilot program, which allowed certain venues to reopen with restrictions, also is temporarily suspended.

Restaurants cannot sell or allow the consumption of alcohol after 10 p.m. Indoor capacity at restaurants must be reduced from 50% to 25% on Dec. 14 to give owners “some ability to adjust their operations,” Miss Bowser said.

Additional guidance for sports and recreation will be announced at a later time, the mayor said.

Major contributors to the recent spread of the virus reportedly include travel, work, social gatherings and restaurants, all of which are “being addressed” with the new regulations, Miss Bowser said.

The tightened restrictions came the same day that changes to public coronavirus test sites went into effect, including extended hours and a new site at Nationals Park.

Additionally, virus test and co-pay costs are free in the District to those with or without health insurance, but Miss Bowser is encouraging those who are insured to show proof at public test sites.

The mayor was asked why she isn’t issuing a stay-at-home order, as she did in May.

“I wouldn’t want to suggest to somebody that that is what will keep us safe without a national mandate to do the same,” she said.

D.C. health officials on Monday reported 139 new cases, bringing the total to 20,290, and two deaths, which raised the toll to 672. The seven-day average daily case rate per 100,000 people is 23.9, which is in the “red” zone of reopening phases and has been for days.

Cases also have been on the rise in Maryland and Virginia, whose governors recently tightened restrictions on dining establishment hours of operation and business capacity.

On Monday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan launched a “Compliance Education and Enforcement Operation.”

At a news briefing, Mr. Hogan said that, under the new initiative, state troopers will be deployed to each of the state’s 23 counties “to investigate any reports of violations of state law.” They will work with local leaders, health departments, liquor boards, licensing and permit departments, as well as municipal county law enforcement agencies.

The Republican governor said that on Wednesday evening, “high visibility compliance units” made up of state police and troopers will be deployed to “popular downtown areas” to “prevent superspreading events and to assist in enforcement compliance when necessary.”

The night before Thanksgiving is “often” when college students come home and meet at bars before socializing with family members, he said.

“I cannot stress enough how reckless that behavior would be this year,” Mr. Hogan said.

As part of the operation, an emergency alert will be sent to cellphones at 5 p.m. Wednesday to remind Marylanders about coronavirus prevention and restriction enforcement measures.

Additionally, a statewide public health campaign will run public service announcements on television and radio stations.

State police will also start operating a 24/7 hotline on Monday where people can report a compliance violation by calling 833-979-2266 or emailing prevent.covid@maryland.gov.

Mr. Hogan said 57% of all complaints reported so far were related to compliance issues at restaurants, bars and retail businesses. Moreover, he said police recently made “multiple arrests” at a Cold Stone Creamery in Anne Arundel County, where some people who refused to wear masks “brutally assaulted” employees.

“These public health safety measures are only effective if they are being followed and enforced,” he said.

As of Monday, state health officials reported 1,658 new cases, raising the total to 183,797, and 14 additional deaths, bringing the total to 4,293. The seven-day average daily case positivity rate is 6.88%, which exceeds the 5% benchmark set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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