International Regulatory Enforcement (PHIRE)

Details on Washington, D.C. COVID-19 Closure of Non-Essential Businesses Order

March 27, 2020

Robert Silvers & Patricia Liverpool

On March 24, 2020, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser issued an order requiring the closure of non-essential businesses and prohibiting gatherings of ten or more individuals (“Order”).  The Order, issued as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, went into effect at 10:00 pm on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 and will continue through April 24, 2020, unless further extended.

Closure of Non-Essential Businesses

The Order mandates the closure of all non-essential businesses in the District but authorizes the continuation of minimum basic operations, such as activities necessary to ensure security, to process employee payroll or benefits, to facilitate remote work, and to clean facilities.
Essential businesses are strongly encouraged to remain open and are defined as those businesses delivering products or services in the following industries:

  • Healthcare and Public Health Operations

  • Essential Infrastructure (including public works, utilities, and waste collection)

  • Food and Household Products and Services (facilities preparing food can only provide delivery, carry out, or “grab and go” services)

  • Social Services Providing the Necessities of Life (including organizations providing food, shelter, and social services)

  • Communications and Information Technology

  • Energy and Automotive

  • Financial Services

  • Educational Institutions (limited to facilitating distance learning or modifying facilities to provide support for addressing COVID-19)

  • Transportation and Logistics (transportation providers must only provide services necessary for essential businesses or governmental functions)

  • Construction and Building Trades

  • Housing and Living Facilities

  • Professional Services (limited to services necessary in aiding essential businesses or governmental functions and in assisting compliance with legally mandated activities)

  • Childcare Facilities (facilities must prioritize services for the children of essential employees)

Non-essential businesses include:

  • Tour Guides and Touring Services

  • Gyms, Health Clubs, Spas, and Massage Establishments

  • Theaters, Auditoriums, and Other Places of Large Gatherings

  • Nightclubs

  • Hair, Nail, and Tanning Salons

  • Barbershops

  • Tattoo Parlors

  • Sales Not Involved in Essential Services

  • Retail Clothing Stores

  • Professional Services Not Assisting Essential Businesses

To the extent practicable, essential businesses must adhere to social distancing practices, which include off-setting shift hours or days and maintaining a distance of at least six feet between employees and the public.  Further social distancing requirements include:

  • Washing hands with soap or water for 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer frequently,

  • Covering coughs or sneezes with a tissue or elbow,

  • Disinfecting high-touch surfaces, and

  • Avoiding shaking hands with others.

Any person suspected or confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 or any infectious disease may not conduct essential business.  Moreover, essential businesses must take “reasonable steps” to allow employees to work remotely and deliver services through remote means to the greatest extent possible.
Essential Government Functions

The Order directs that essential government functions continue.  These include services provided by the federal government, the D.C. government, or their contractors that are necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of the public.  D.C. courts are instructed to determine services needed to execute essential functions.

Large Gatherings

The Order prohibits all large gatherings, defined as any event likely to encourage ten or more persons to assemble in a single, confined space at the same time.  Some exceptions exist:

  • Essential businesses and groups performing essential government functions,

  • Gatherings on federal government property within the District,

  • Spaces where individuals are in transit or waiting for transit, and

  • Office spaces, hotels (except conferences), or residential buildings.


Individuals and entities violating the Order are subject to civil, criminal, and administrative penalties authorized by law.

The Mayor may grant exemptions to businesses not covered by the definition of essential business but which believe they ought to be able to continue operations.  Employers can obtain further information regarding exemptions by visiting https://hsema.dc.gov/service/dc-homeland-security-emergency-management-agency-waiver-process-exemption-business-closure.

Further Information and Resources

Further information on the District’s response to COVID-19 can be found by visiting https://coronavirus.dc.gov/.

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