Feb 14, 2022 - COVID

D.C. to drop indoor mask and vaccine mandate

Mayor Muriel Bowser

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

D.C. will drop its indoor vaccine and mask mandates in the coming weeks, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday.

Driving the news: The indoor vaccine mandate, required of restaurants, gyms, and concert venues, will be lifted on Feb. 15, the same day D.C. originally had required people to be fully vaccinated to meet the mandate. The city was the only place in the region to impose such a mandate.

  • The mask mandate will be lifted on March 1, but masks will still be required in some places, including schools, congregate settings, nursing facilities, childcare facilities, and libraries.

The big picture: D.C.'s decision to drop its mandates follows other major cities across the U.S. as the Omicron surge subsides.

When it comes to schools, Bowser said a decision on lifting mask mandates isn't likely to come anytime soon as vaccines aren't yet available for young children.

  • Pfizer, which is developing a vaccine for children under the age of five, last week delayed asking for FDA authorization.
  • On Feb. 26, D.C. will also close its public firehouse COVID-19 testing sites, which have been in place since 2020. Residents can still get tested at D.C.'s COVID centers and libraries.

What they're saying: “We're in a much better place now,” Bowser said Monday, noting cases are down more than 90% since the Omicron wave's height.

  • Bowser rejected the notion that the move was premature, and said that D.C. must be nimble.
  • "I don't think any of us can say here that there won't be other variants that would require us to do something different. So just like when Omicron presented itself, we adjusted our approach,” she said.

The other side: Council chair Phil Mendelson would prefer for community spread levels to drop lower before lifting mandates, spokesperson Lindsey Walton told Axios.

  • "He's not heard complaints about the vaccine mandate," she added. The office does not plan any legislative action at this time.

State of play: DC Health director LaQuandra Nesbitt urged people to get boosters, saying the shots play a role in increasing protection against variants of COVID-19 and preventing severe disease and death.

  • Yes, but: Nesbitt acknowledged that just 23% of D.C.'s eligible population has gotten a booster.

By the numbers: Cases have continued a steady decline, down 42% since the start of the month to a daily rate of 20.2 cases per 100,000 residents.

  • That's still slightly over the number of cases before the Omicron surge took off, which peaked at 288 cases in early January.
  • COVID-19 hospitalizations are also down, although well above pre-Omicron levels, more closely resembling hospitalization levels seen one year ago. As of Monday, according to DC Health data, 226 people are hospitalized and 47 are in the ICU.

Soon after D.C.'s announcement, in neighboring Montgomery County, council president Gabriel Albornoz said its indoor mask mandate is set to end Feb. 21.

  • He added that a stalled proposal for a vaccine mandate in businesses won't move forward in the county of over 1 million residents.

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