DC to reimpose indoor mask mandate after COVID infections rise
Washington, D.C., will reimpose an indoor mask mandate and expand a vaccine mandate for city employees, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced Monday.
The mask requirement for indoor public spaces will take effect on Tuesday and remain in place through January 31 as a way to try to blunt a feared surge on COVID-19 infections that could overwhelm the city’s health systems.
It comes a little over a month after Bowser lifted the city’s mask requirement, citing increasing vaccination rates, relatively low hospitalizations and a desire to move toward individual risk management.
But then the omicron variant began spreading rapidly across the country, and about two weeks later Bowser issued a mask “advisory” for indoor spaces. The advisory was not legally binding, but was meant to reflect the growing unease about the virus.
Coronavirus cases have been surging to record highs in recent days, and Bowser last week said reimposing the mandate was being considered. When asked on Monday, Bowser did not point to any specific metrics that would result in the mandate being extended past Jan. 31, or what would cause it to be reimposed after it gets lifted again.
On Thursday, DC Health reported a record 508 cases in a day. That record was broken the next day, with 844 new cases. The seven-day average of new hospitalizations has grown from 87 on Dec. 1 to 169 on Friday. Still, COVID-19 patients represent only about 4.5 percent of total hospitalizations, so hospitals are not at capacity.
Unlike other major cities along the East Coast, Bowser said there are no plans to require vaccinations for indoor activities.
However, all D.C. government employees and contractors will now be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19, with a booster shot, and will no longer have the option to test out of the mandate.
Bowser also extended the winter break for D.C. Public School students by two days, meaning schools will be closed Jan. 3 and 4.
Bowser said the closures are to give students and staff members time to pick up rapid tests from schools, which will only be available on those days. The city will distribute about 100,000 tests across all public schools and public charter schools, and families can pick up tests at any school.
Testing will be encouraged but not required.
Updated 4:12 p.m.