DC Council members urge Bowser to drop COVID testing option for school workers

Several D.C. Council members want Mayor Muriel Bowser to remove the COVID-testing option for government employees who don’t get a COVID-19 vaccination — including anyone who has regular contact with kids in a school setting.

Earlier this month, Bowser said all D.C. government employees — including D.C. Public Schools teachers and staff — have until Sept. 19 to be fully vaccinated or submit to a weekly COVID-19 test. D.C. charter schools also announced a similar requirement.

But now that the Pfizer vaccine has received full Food and Drug Administration approval, council member Christina Henderson and seven other council members say the testing option should be eliminated, with an available exception for medical or religious reasons.

“We applaud your decision to roll out a vaccine or test mandate earlier this month, but we must now ask that you go further,” the group’s letter to the mayor says. “Ensuring all the adults around students and children, especially those who are ineligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, are fully vaccinated against the virus adds another layer of protection for these young people.”

Council members Charles Allen, Janeese Lewis George, Anita Bonds, Elissa Silverman, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh and Brooke Pinto co-signed the letter, which comes as COVID-19 cases rise across the D.C. region.

WTOP has contacted Bowser’s office to ask whether she is considering the proposal.

In a statement, Washington Teachers’ Union President Jacqueline Lyons said she believes the testing option should remain.

“I personally believe that everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated should do so, and I am continuing to urge all WTU members to get vaccinated, particularly now that the Pfizer vaccine has received full FDA approval,” Lyons said. “That being said, I think the most fair and equitable approach to a mandate is to continue to require either vaccination or weekly testing, which allows employees to opt out if they feel the need to that.”

Citing the need to avoid outbreaks in schools and the recent slew of vaccine mandates that followed Monday’s FDA approval, Henderson told WTOP she believes it’s time for the District to take action.

“We would not be an outlier to move in that direction,” Henderson told WTOP. “There are a number of school districts and cities and states who were waiting for the FDA to make this announcement. And now that it’s here, it’s time for us to step up to the plate.”

Henderson told WTOP on Tuesday that she hasn’t had a direct conversation with Bowser about the preference to eliminate the testing option, but she has discussed it with D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee and the deputy mayor for health and human services.

“One of the ways that we can [keep kids safe in schools] is to ensure that all the adults around them are vaccinated,” Henderson said. “One of the concerns that I had, and I feel like some of my colleagues are, is that the vaccinate-or-test weekly option was too much of an out. We know that you can test negative on Monday, and still be already infected and spreading the virus.”

In a Twitter thread, Henderson wrote that Bowser amending her order “will allow for swift implementation, so that the already established September 19 deadline can be met.”

Henderson said an amendment to the executive order relating to D.C. employees would make it similar to Bowser’s guidance for health care workers. An Aug. 16 announcement called for all health care workers to receive at least one dose of a vaccine by Sept. 30.

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of DC Health, said at a news briefing detailing the requirement for health workers that there wouldn’t be an option for weekly testing, and that the District wouldn’t establish that type of requirement “at a city level.”

The first day of school in D.C. is Monday.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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