DC to require COVID-19 vaccine or regular testing for city employees

DC to require COVID-19 vaccine or regular testing for city employees
© Reuters/Pool

Washington, D.C., will require its more than 36,000 city employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo regular testing, Mayor Muriel BowserMuriel BowserBowser declares October 2021 'LGBTQ History Month' in DC DC Council member plans to challenge Bowser for mayor Lobbying world MORE (D) announced Tuesday. 

The requirement applies to all employees, contractors, interns and grantees, including D.C. Public Schools teachers and staff, Bowser said during a press briefing. Current employees will have until Sept. 19 to get fully vaccinated.

Employees can apply for exemptions, including medical or religious exceptions. Those with exemptions will still have to get weekly COVID-19 tests or potentially face “adverse employment actions,” the mayor said.

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But officials said the policy isn't a mandate as current employees who do not have a vaccination or exemption can stay employed if they provide weekly negative COVID-19 test results. 

“There is an opportunity, working with our employees and their unions to be able to boost our vaccine numbers much higher than they are now I believe without getting to the point where we have to impose a mandate as a condition of employment on everyone,” D.C. City Administrator Kevin Donahue said at the briefing. 

Out of 59 percent of city workers who have voluntarily reported their vaccination status, 54 percent said they are fully vaccinated. The number aligns with the city’s estimate that 55 percent of all of its residents are fully vaccinated. 

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Still, Donahue said the city remained open to adjusting its vaccine policy if necessary. 

“If we conclude based on our experience that what we have in place now is not sufficient for keeping our residents safe, then we'll engage with the unions, we’ll engage employees about what adjustments to make to our policies,” he said. 

COVID-19 tests will be available at locations where a “meaningful number” of D.C. employees work, including schools, police stations, fire stations and some larger municipal buildings. 

D.C. brought back its indoor mask mandate for all residents older than 2 years old last month after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its recommendations for fully vaccinated people in high-risk areas to wear masks.

The CDC’s new guidance applies to D.C., which continues to see substantial COVID-19 transmission as of Sunday.

The nation's capital has seen a seven-day average of 125 new COVID-19 cases per day — more than double the average from two weeks prior, according to data from The New York Times

Both Maryland and Virginia announced plans to require state employees to get vaccinated or to undergo regular testing last week.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said in a statement that state workers will be required to prove their vaccination status by Sept. 1 or be tested for COVID-19 every week. 

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) similarly announced that state employees who work in congregate settings need to verify their vaccination by the same date or be subject to “strict face covering requirements” and testing.