D.C. is lifting its mask and social distancing requirements for fully vaccinated people, effective Monday, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced at a press conference Monday.
However, masks still must be worn in public transportation and health care settings, schools (both indoors and outdoors at sporting events), homeless shelters and correctional facilities, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced at a press conference Monday.
She said businesses can still require masks, however, and encouraged businesses to ensure that their employees are masked and vaccinated.
“Fully vaccinated people only need to wear their mask or social distance in places where it is required,” Bowser said, noting that people are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their final shot.
“That said, if you are fully vaccinated, continue to take a mask with you when you leave your home. Then, respect signs at the places you are visiting. If a business posts a sign indicating that masks are required, then you must follow their request … or they could deny you entry.”
Bowser said the move to lift mask mandates aligns with updated guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week that said fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks or distance in most indoor and outdoor settings.
Also, beginning Friday at 5 a.m., D.C. is lifting most capacity restrictions. That means restaurants, places of worship, gyms, pools, libraries, weddings and special events will no longer face any capacity limits. Bars and nightclubs will still operate under a 50% capacity limit.
On June 11, all capacity limits will be eliminated, including those on large entertainment venues.
Bowser said that coronavirus cases, health care capacity and community transmission “are all moving in the right direction.”
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The city has fully or partially inoculated nearly 50% of its population, administering more than 620,000 vaccine doses. As of May 15, D.C.’s seven-day rolling average of daily deaths has swayed between one and zero since April 21.
“We continue to have confidence that those metrics are a positive indicator of where we are with the virus and the progress we have made with the vaccine,” Bowser said. “And if you’re not vaccinated or not yet fully vaccinated, we need you to continue to protect yourselves.”
While the decision to lift mask mandates reflects a sharp drop in coronavirus cases and deaths nationwide, it has caused confusion among some businesses, which — short of demanding proof of vaccination — have no way of knowing who is and isn’t vaccinated, effectively allowing everyone to ditch their masks.
At the news conference, D.C. Heath Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt cautioned that unvaccinated people should still wear masks outdoors and “should think about just wearing a mask as a way of life until you are fully vaccinated.”
But some experts worry that people who have been hesitant to get a coronavirus vaccine won’t have any incentive to do so now that masks are no longer mandatory in many places. That could jeopardize the chances of reaching herd immunity — especially considering that only less than half the country has had a single vaccine dose.
National Nurses United, the country’s largest union of registered nurses, has been among the groups that condemned the new CDC guidance, arguing “it is not based on science.”
But major retailers such as Walmart, Starbucks, Costco and CVS have already dropped their mask requirements.
Bowser — who noted that D.C. government buildings will keep mask requirements in place — did not go into detail on how businesses can enforce their mask mandates or whether they can demand proof of vaccination. The mayor only said that the city is not ordering any business to require masks and that the decision is entirely up to them.