Nov 17, 2021 - COVID
Mixed feelings as D.C. lifts mask mandate
A face mask on the ground
Photo: Peter Kneffel/picture alliance via Getty Images

The end of the mask mandate has prompted cheers from some and wariness from others.

While masks will still be required in some indoor spaces, business leaders hope that the removal of the broad mandate accelerates the return to in-person work. The District has also long hoped President Biden calls federal workers back into the office to jumpstart the city’s recovery.

  • "We remain optimistic about a return to the workplace and the lifting of the mask mandate is just another step toward revitalizing business in the downtown," said Narrean Marsden, a spokesperson for the DowntownDC Business Improvement District.

Private businesses, including restaurants and gyms, will still be able to implement their own mask mandates, as some have already with vaccine requirements.

Flashback: In May, when D.C. first dropped the mask mandate before later reinstating it, Washington City Paper reported on the toll policing the behavior of patrons had taken on restaurant workers — although some bars and restaurants told City Paper they've been supported for requiring vaccination cards at the door this summer.

Some D.C. gym owners, specifically those who’ve required their employees and members to show proof of vaccination, have been pushing for a repeal of the mask mandate.

  • “We can go into a restaurant and be with someone who’s not vaccinated … and they’re yelling and screaming and having fun and drinking,” VIDA Fitness president and founder David von Storch tells Axios.
  • The gym owner says VIDA Fitness saw memberships increase when the mask mandate was first lifted in May 2021. By the end of July, about 73% of VIDA’s pre-COVID membership base had returned, and got closer to breaking even.

Because Christmas through January is the gym industry’s busy season, von Storch says with the mask mandate lifted, he’s hopeful that his gyms will be able to at least break even by Jan. 2022.

Monumental Sports & Entertainment also said Tuesday that its employees will be required to wear masks, but fans at Capital One Arena events will not.

Yes, but: Not everyone is ripping their masks off. Dupont Circle resident Alison Farmer, 47, who has Crohn’s disease and uses immunosuppressants, is among certain high-risk people who require a third shot of a COVID-19 vaccine to retain suitable protection in order to be considered fully vaccinated.

  • While she says she feels relatively safe with her vaccine, the lifting of D.C.’s mask mandate changes little for her. “Our general rule of thumb: If we go inside, we wear masks,” she says.
  • D.C.’s vaccination numbers put her at ease, but Farmer points out that people often move in and out of the District, whether as tourists or to live or work.

“I think there’s an opportunity for more transparency and more voices in how the decisions are made,” she says of the mask mandate.

Faith Gibson Hubbard, who was recently an official with the Bowser administration and resigned to announce her run in the Ward 5 D.C. Council race, wrote on Twitter Tuesday night that vaccination must also come hand-in-hand with masks to protect vulnerable people.

  • "My 7 year old was recently vaccinated ... but my 3 year old is not," she wrote.

Additionally, the White House says it will continue to require masks on its grounds pursuant with CDC recommendations, AP reported.

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