Nov 22, 2021 - COVID

D.C. lifts mask mandate as cases tick upward

Face mask on the ground

Photo: Sven Hoppe/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

D.C.’s mask mandate was lifted Monday morning as residents head into a holiday week.

Why it matters: The D.C. area is in a much different position than it was last Thanksgiving, but the threat still lingers. In recent weeks, COVID-19 cases around the region have begun to tick upward consistent with national trends.

  • CDC’s COVID-19 metrics put D.C. at substantial transmission, which is defined as more than 50 new cases per 100,000 people over 7 days, similar to the rest of the region.

Driving the news: Mayor Muriel Bowser has not been swayed by calls from the majority of D.C Council members to reverse her decision to drop the indoor mask mandate. They’ve argued it sends the wrong public health message just before the holidays.

  • Meanwhile, Montgomery County reinstated its own mandate this weekend after experiencing seven consecutive days of substantial COVID-19 transmission, consistent with CDC metrics.

Yes, but: DC Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said last week at a briefing that nearly 100% of all D.C.’s COVID-19 related hospitalizations have been among unvaccinated people, showing the effectiveness of vaccination.

  • Lifting the mask mandate coincides with D.C. officials’ shifting pandemic approach towards weighing individual risk as well as treating COVID-19 as endemic — meaning it remains within the community, much like the flu, but we employ strategies such as vaccination to protect people from serious illness.

The intrigue: While the Bowser administration has published color-coded metrics online for over a year to signal when restrictions can be loosened or tightened, Bowser’s decisions have rarely been linked to those metrics, the Washington Post reports.

When asked last week at a briefing about whether there are specific metrics that would re-trigger the mask mandate, Bowser didn’t offer any, saying instead that DC Health will monitor the pandemic and public health strategies may change as cases or hospitalizations change.

What’s next: More people can get COVID-19 shots this week — including second doses of the pediatric Pfizer vaccine and booster shots.

  • The CDC has recommended that all adults over the age of 18 who are six months out from their last COVID-19 shot receive a booster; Bowser has echoed those recommendations. Children ages 5-11 can receive their first or second dose of the pediatric Pfizer vaccine.

Here’s where children can get their first and second vaccine doses in D.C.

Change in COVID-19 <span style="background:#432371; padding:2px 5px;border-radius:5px;color:white;">cases</span> per 100k people in the last two weeks
Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

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