Feb 15, 2022 - COVID

D.C. residents recalculate risk as mask and vaccine mandate ends

A vaccine mandate sign

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

The end of D.C.’s mask and vaccine mandates means that some residents, particularly parents of children under the age of five, and those who are immunocompromised, are re-calculating risk as some D.C. council members criticize the move.

What they’re saying: NoMa resident Tory Cross, 28, is furious. Cross is disabled and high-risk, and says she has only left her house since the Omicron surge to hang out in parks and to go to doctor’s appointments. She wants to return to running errands or going to church, but the end of the mandates complicates things.

  • “The mask mandates are rescinded even in pharmacies, a place where disabled and immunocompromised people often must go to get the meds that keep us alive, and where people who are sick go to pick up their medications!” she wrote to Axios. She adds that the yo-yo effect of mandates is confusing and puts people like her, as well as unvaccinated children, at unnecessary risk.

Lesley Thomas, 29, who lives in Ward 4 with her parents who she says are immunocompromised, is concerned and frustrated. She says keeping the mask and vaccine mandates is common sense to keep case counts down.

  • “I think it would’ve been smarter to keep both mandates up through the winter and revisit lifting them for spring,” she told Axios. To protect herself and her family, Thomas rarely goes out to eat.

Some parents of young children are feeling particularly torn. While masks will still be required in schools, there's still no date on when children under the age of 5 can get their shots.

Deanwood mom Amanda Peterson Beadle, 34, who has a two-year-old, says the vaccine mandate that went into place last month made her feel safer going out to eat with friends. But now, with her daughter unable to get vaccinated, she is hitting the brakes on certain outings. Lifting the mask mandate, but not the vaccine mandate would’ve made more sense, she says.

  • “I’m not willing to roll the dice on something I don’t have to do that’ll risk getting my daughter sick,” she says.

Ward 3 resident Quentin Colón Roosevelt, 17, also felt safer seeing live music with the vaccine mandates, but is now, too, rethinking the concert he wants to attend on Saturday.

  • Going forward, he says he will visit businesses on a case-by-case basis, asking key questions to decide risk: are masks or vaccinates still required? How many people are inside?

The other side: D.C.’s vaccine mandate has been politicized in recent months, particularly after The Big Board, an H Street restaurant, was closed by DC Health for failing to comply with the vaccine and mask mandate. The restaurant’s defiance became a rallying point for conservative lawmakers and commentators, and last week a lawyer for the restaurant told D.C.’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration's ABC Board that the owner could not "morally" comply with the vaccine mandate.

  • As of Monday night, ABRA ruled that The Big Board's liquor license would remain indefinitely suspended — but only while all orders requiring masks and vaccines are in effect.

Be smart: D.C. is not yet out of the woods, says Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health epidemiologist David Dowdy. Case rates are lower than they were before Omicron but still remain close to where they were during last winter’s surge.

  • Dowdy says mask and vaccine mandates reduce the risk of spreading contagion when people gather together.
  • How do we make pharmacies, for example, as safe as possible for immunocompromised people, he asks. That could mean requiring vaccines and masks to reduce their risk of coming into contact with a contagious person.

Yes, but: Dowdy notes that policymaking in this area is tough, as individuals differ on what the metric should be to relax restrictions.

  • In more recent pandemic policy decisions, D.C. officials have pointed to case numbers in their decision-making, but not outlined specific numbers or metrics they are pinning policy to.
  • Meanwhile, the decision follows other cities and states lifting their own mandates.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Washington D.C..


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Washington D.C. stories

No stories could be found

Washington D.C.postcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Washington D.C..


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more