New Rules for Food Sellers; Farmer’s Markets Need Waiver

Mayor's Order Strikes Farmer's Markets As Essential Business

Eastern Market is pictured April 7, with pylons at 6 feet intervals after re-opening with COVID-19 protocols in place. A. Lightman

District Farmer’s Markets are no longer qualified as essential business. They are now required to get a waiver showing that they have a social distancing protocol approved by the District government in order to continue operations.

Mayor Muriel Bowser made the changes in a Mayor’s Order issued Wednesday, saying it is necessary to protect the District’s food supply chain and the District’s frontline food workers during the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency.

The order is effective as of 12:01 a.m. Thursday, April 9.

The order comes in the wake of the Sunday closure of the Fish Market after photos of crowds gathered together went viral on social media. While vendors said they had attempted to implement social distancing measures, including placing tape to indicate 6-foot distances in lines and hiring security personnel, many visitors to the market continued to violate social distancing recommendations.

Last weekend, residents shared photos of other markets, including Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market. At a Friday press conference, Mayor Bowser said that the District Food Policy Team was conducting a review of all markets.

The subsequent order also effects grocery stores, requiring that social distancing protocols be implemented at all indoor food markets, such as supermarkets, grocery stores, food halls and convenience stores.


Some grocers have already implemented aspects of the protocol. As of Wednesday morning, the Eastern Market Trader Joe’s had already installed plastic shields and given masks and gloves to cashiers, who were spaced at distance on registers. Cashiers were refusing reusable bags. For much of the past month, the store has been admitting only 50 customers at a time, and had indicated appropriate social distance in line with tape markers on the floor.

For other locations, such as Eastern Market –which will be affected by both parts of the order– some directives may be harder to implement.

Farmer’s Market No Longer Essential

The order removes farmer’s markets from the list of essential businesses, indicating that no farmers’ market may operate unless issued a waiver. To get one, a market manager must submit a plan to the District food policy team outlining how they will operate and enforce social distancing protocols, and that plan must be approved.

Plans must include a limit on people in the market and a prohibitions on pets. Operations should be limited to grab and go items and should only include food or sanitizing items, but not crafts, flowers or non-edible items. Products should be placed behind a barrier, and on-site food preparation must be eliminated.

Customers social-distance in line outside Trader Joes March 26, 2020.

Grocery Stores

Grocery stores must limit the number of customers entering the business, and mark lines at six-foot increments. Where possible, one-way paths should be created and marked and hand-sanitizer or wipes should be offered. Reusable bags will be declined, and customers will be asked to do their own bagging.

Food retailers must also post signage instructing customers to

  • wear a mask or face covering
  • avoid entering if they are sick
  • stay six feet away from other people not in their own household
  • sneeze into a tissue or sleeve
  • avoid unnecessary physical contact
  • shop only with members of their househol
  • and to encourage delivery or online shopping, providing info on how to dos.

Food sellers are also ordered to check employees for symptoms before shifts and ask them to stop working if symptoms develop. Employees are to be separated from one another by at least six feet, and by April 20, plastic deviders are to be installed at registers that serve more than 50 customers a day. Those employees in public-facing roles should be provided with gloves and masks.

Related: How to Make a No-Sew Face Mask

Rooftops and Courtyards Permitted to Open

The Order also includes several amendments to previous Orders, including removing tennis and golf as allowable recreational activities and clarifying that community gardens are open to the public. Rooftop or courtyard spaces have been struck from the order if they are used with members of one’s own household and with social distancing.

For more information on the District’s response, visit See the full text of the order at