Nov 12, 2021 - COVID

Where to wear a mask in the D.C. region

Illustration of a pattern of covid masks.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

D.C.’s COVID-19 surge that started at the end of the summer has been steadily declining since mid-September, according to DC Health data.

  • Hospitalizations in D.C. are roughly a third of what they were during the first COVID-19 surge last spring, showing welcome signs that the region is heading in a positive direction.

But, with the CDC still considering D.C. to have substantial transmission, pandemic mitigation efforts, including mask wearing, are still important — and those efforts may look different depending on where you are in the DMV.

Driving the news: At a recent D.C. Council hearing, DC Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt hinted that D.C.’s mask mandate is unlikely to end anytime soon — nor would she give any exceptions to fitness studios as owners have repeatedly requested.

  • “When I feel that the District is in a good enough place, we have enough of our vulnerable residents, including our children 5-11, who have a degree of personal protection, then I’ll make the recommendation to the mayor to remove the mask mandate,” Nesbitt said.

Flashback: D.C. reinstated its indoor mask mandate this summer, requiring all people, regardless of vaccination status, to mask up in indoor public places and public transportation.

Beyond D.C., mask rules vary:

Maryland requires face masks in schools, public transportation, and in health care settings, but local jurisdictions can have their own rules.

Montgomery Co. dropped its local indoor mask mandate on Oct. 28 once the CDC designated the county as having “moderate” transmission instead of “substantial” for seven consecutive days.

  • Since then, however, the county has flipped between substantial and moderate transmission and officials say the mandate will be reinstated if the county experiences seven consecutive days of substantial transmission, WTOP reported.

Prince George’s County expanded its mask mandate on Oct. 1 to include all public indoor settings.

  • Like Montgomery Co., Prince George’s County tells Axios it will revise the mandate if the county drops to moderate transmission for seven consecutive days.

Virginia as a whole does not have an indoor mask mandate for public places, although employees must continue to mask up within schools.

Arlington and Fairfax counties both recommend, but do not require, face masks in indoor public places, mirroring the CDC recommendation that people wear masks in indoor settings when in areas of substantial-to-high transmission.

Be smart: Neil Sehgal, assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of Maryland, says hanging on to masks indoors is reasonable in a region where most surrounding counties and the District have substantial community transmission — and in D.C. where roughly 6 in 10 people are fully vaccinated.

  • Sehgal adds, however, that data-driven mask policies, such as in Montgomery County where the mask policy is dependent upon CDC data, may give people a better sense of where the off-ramp in the pandemic is.

What they’re saying: “Do what you can to encourage other people to get vaccinated,” Sehgal says. Until more people are vaccinated, “if you want to slow transmission … we have to rely on things like face masks.”


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