Washington Mayor Issues Order Requiring Shoppers at Grocery Stores to Wear Masks

April 9, 2020 Updated: April 9, 2020

Washington’s mayor issued an executive order mandating people shopping at grocery stores and other stores selling food must wear masks, the latest in a sharp reversal in public policy guidance on masks.

Recently said to have little effect on the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, or novel coronavirus, masks are now advised, and a growing number of counties and cities are requiring they be worn in certain settings.

Shoppers in the nation’s capital are now ordered to stay at least six feet away from people they don’t live with and will be blocked from entering stores if they are showing any symptoms of the new virus, which causes a potentially deadly disease called COVID-19. They’re also required to wear masks. Employees at grocery stores are not required to wear face coverings.

Grocery stores and individuals themselves will enforce the new policy (pdf), Mayor Muriel Bowser told reporters on Thursday.

“What we know is that our folks who are doing essential work, including our grocery store workers, are on the front line of the response to this pandemic. And all of us who want to continue to rely on the supply of food need to do everything in our power to keep them safe,” she said.

Bowser advised people not to take daily trips to grocery stores.

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A woman walks her dogs across a nearly empty Connecticut Avenue in Washington on April 9, 2020. (Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images)

Her executive order also placed new rules on farmers markets, requiring them to have a waiver to operate and, if operating, implement social distancing measures and only sell food, soap, hand sanitizer, and masks. Grocery stores are also advised to require people only travel “one-way” down aisles, provide hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes at all entrances and exits, and encourage people to bag their own groceries.

Washington, which has 1,523 confirmed cases and 32 deaths, isn’t the only area to mandate masks be worn.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti this week ordered all workers at businesses designated as essential to cover their mouths. The executive order also applies to people visiting those businesses. Violators are being threatened with fines, time in prison, or both.

Miami officials on Wednesday issued an order requiring everyone inside not only grocery stores, but pharmacies and convenience stores, wear masks or other face coverings.

Delivery workers and workers on construction sites must also don the material.

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti displays putting on a protective face mask during his daily news conference in Los Angeles on April 1, 2020. (Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti via AP)

Similar orders are in place in other areas of Florida and lawmakers in Montgomery County, Maryland, just outside Washington, were introducing regulations that would require coverings be worn by workers in essential businesses by April 16 and all customers in the businesses by April 23.

“Workers at grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores and other essential businesses are putting their lives at risk to keep us all fed and cared for during this emergency,” said council member Hans Riemer in a statement. “We must do everything we can to protect them. Combined with keeping our distance, staying home as much as possible, and washing our hands, wearing a mask helps protect both the wearer and those around them.”

Federal guidance on masks is currently advisory. The Centers Disease Control and Prevention last week began advising people to wear masks when leaving home and in places where they’re unable to maintain proper social distancing, like grocery stores.

The agency previously only recommended masks for sick people and frontline workers like doctors and police officers. Recent studies showing people infected with the CCP virus who aren’t showing symptoms can still transmit the illness prompted the change.

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