Dec 20, 2021 - Health

D.C. reinstates indoor mask mandate as COVID cases surge

Data: CDC; Chart: Axios Visuals

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a state of emergency on Monday and announced a number of new policies aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19, including the reinstatement of the city's indoor mask mandate and a booster requirement for D.C. government employees.

Driving the news: The recent case surge comes amid the rise of the Omicron variant and as COVID tests are harder to find—all while many D.C.-area residents prepare to gather with family and friends for the holiday season.

What's happening: Bowser made the announcement in a Monday press conference, saying "we have to respond to what’s happening in our city and what’s happening in our nation.” The new measures include:

Masks: The indoor mask mandate will go into effect today and last until Jan. 31.

Testing: Bowser also announced an expansion of D.C.'s COVID testing.

  • Nine new Test Yourself DC sites will be added. These sites provide free PCR tests.
  • DC Health is also launching Test Yourself Express on Wednesday, which will provide free rapid tests. The District ordered 1 million rapid tests kits to keep up with demand.

Vaccines: D.C. will now require all city employees, contractors, interns, and grantees to be fully vaccinated with a booster. There will be no test-out option.

  • Vaccines and boosters, D.C. officials stressed, continue to be the best form of COVID protection.

Schools: D.C. public schools and public charters will now be closed for instruction on Jan. 3 and 4, which would've been the first two days back from winter break, so that students and staff can pick up free rapid tests.

  • A negative test is not required for students to return to school following winter break.
  • Four DCPS schools have moved to virtual learning through the end of the year as a result of COVID outbreaks.

By the numbers: D.C. had two record-breaking days last week with the number of new COVID cases reported exceeding the worst of the Jan. 2021 surge.

The bottom line: The winter surge is pushing D.C. to go back to some early pandemic safety measures in an effort to avoid packed hospitals and a jump in COVID-related deaths.

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