D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Thursday that masks will again be required indoors in the District, regardless of vaccination status.
The new mask order takes effect Saturday at 5 a.m.
DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said the District — like much of the country — has seen an increase in the amount of community spread of COVID-19, with a weekly case rate of 58.15 per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate of 3.6%. Infections among vaccinated people, known as “breakthrough” cases, have constituted less than 1% of infections in recent months.
As with earlier mask mandates, masks can be removed while eating or drinking inside a restaurant, but will otherwise be required at all times.
“The vaccines are working as they were expected to do,” Nesbitt said. “They continue to prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death.”
D.C. Council member Mary Cheh said vaccinated residents may be frustrated by the return of the mask mandate, but reminded people not to take it out on those enforcing the rules laid down by the city.
It is likely going to be very frustrating for vaccinated residents to return to wearing a mask full time while indoors, but there’s no excuse for taking that frustration out on restaurant workers.
Let’s leave the previously reported small business harassment in the past. https://t.co/uIxIC1VRMM
— Mary M. Cheh (@marycheh) July 29, 2021
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he agreed with the mayor’s decision to bring back the mask mandate.
“I have absolutely no issue with the Mayor asking residents to wear masks indoors. The Public Health experts say this is a good idea, and will reduce the spread of the virus,” Mendelson said in a statement. “It’s easy enough to wear a mask, even if one is vaccinated, as I am.”
Outdoor venues, such as Nationals Park and Audi Field, will not fall under the new mandate, but Dr. Nesbitt said the District highly recommends people wear masks when attending large events.
In compliance with the mayor’s mask mandate, fans at Nationals Park will have to wear face coverings when in indoor sections of the stadium regardless of their vaccination status starting Friday, a Washington Nationals spokesperson said Thursday. This includes, but is not limited to: restaurants, retail stores, bathrooms, stairwells and fully-enclosed suites unless eating or drinking.
Bowser said it is her administration’s hope that the mask mandate will be enough to stamp out the resurgence of the virus without the need for further restrictive measures.
“We know this virus is going to be around, and we’re going to still have to function in the world,” Bowser said. “The kids are going to have to go to school, people are going to have to go to work, D.C. government services are going to have to be delivered. And that that is how we go into the coming weeks.”
Nesbitt said the latest wave of the virus has been impacting young people in the District in greater numbers than previous waves.
“In particular, we are seeing a higher number of cases and a higher proportion of our cases occurring in 5- to 14-year-olds and the 20- to 34-year-old populations here in the District of Columbia,” Nesbitt said.
While some of the racial disparities in infection rates have diminished in the adult populations, they are still present in younger people, she said.
“When we look at our younger people, 5- to 14-year-olds in particular, Black youth are three times more likely to be infected with COVID over the past couple of weeks than their white counterparts,” Nesbitt said.
In an effort to get more residents in the 12-to-17 age range vaccinated, D.C. is rolling out new incentives targeted specifically at that age group.
Vaccination sites at Brookland, Sousa and Johnson Middle Schools will soon open vaccine sites that will only vaccinate D.C. youth.
“Additionally, the first 400 kids to get vaccinated at each site will have the option to forego their gift card and receive a set of free AirPods,” Bowser said.
These sites will operate four days a week between Aug. 7 and Sept. 30.
The District is still operating free COVID-19 testing sites, and residents can pick up take-home test kits at these sites. A list of sites offering walk-up around D.C. can be found on the District’s coronavirus dashboard.
Masks will be required in all D.C. Public Schools, but the District is not requiring students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before attending school in person.
“It is extremely important for all of us — for our children — to be back in school, learning in person,” Nesbitt said. “This fall, it’s a tremendous priority for our education partners, as well as public health, because we know the benefits that accrue to a child’s social and emotional development when they are able to attend school in-person, receive support from adults inside and outside of their household, as well as engage and interact with their peers.”
Students will still need to be up-to-date on their regular immunizations before school begins on Aug. 30. A portal at vaccinate.dc.gov will go live on Monday, Aug. 2, that will help families figure out which vaccinations their children require as well as schedule an appointment to receive them, Bowser said. Appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine can also be made on this portal.
Nesbitt said while initial guidance advised against receiving other vaccines within two weeks of getting vaccinated against COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has since said that there is no evidence that doing so has any adverse effects.
As an added incentive to get students vaccinated, there will be weekly drawings for two $25,000 college scholarships. The drawings will be held and the winning students’ families will be contacted, but they will only be eligible to receive the prize if they are vaccinated. Additionally, eight iPads will be given away each week in similar drawings.
The Washington Teachers’ Union said on Twitter it was glad to see the Bowser administration moving forward with more concrete back-to-school plans, but that additional protections needed to be enacted.
“The current DCPS proposal only provides social distancing ‘when space is available,’ including during lunch periods when students will be unmasked,” the union said in a Tweet. “Protections must be in place so that students are not required to quarantine from exposure and forced back into distance learning.”
D.C. government employees
Mayor Bowser said the District as of now will not require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to work, though they are strongly recommended to do so.
“I think everybody should get vaccinated … including D.C. government employees,” Bowser said. “And I want to work with their their leaders — their labor leaders and their managers — to figure out how we can do it in the best way that our our employees have access.”
The mayor said her office is working with labor partners to create a vaccination requirement in the future.
As of Wednesday evening, around 52% of D.C. government employees had self-reported that they are fully vaccinated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.