‘Not a choice any more’: Council member presses DC on unvaccinated

D.C. officials were asked point-blank on Friday what plans the District has for people who remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 following President Joe Biden’s mandate announcement.

That include students in D.C. Public Schools.

“I want to understand our city’s strategy regarding the unvaccinated because that’s, like, the big deal here,” At-Large D.C. Council Member Elissa Silverman said during a council call with city administrators.

She added that, “If I’m looking at the data correctly, almost all of our unvaccinated residents 12 and older are insured by Medicaid. That’s like the entire universe.”

Silverman said it seems as if D.C. needs to take a more aggressive approach on vaccinations — getting the jab into more arms.

The exchange came as parents and lawmakers have expressed frustrations with the city less than two weeks into the new school year. During Friday’s call, for one, Council member Mary Cheh described a crowded cafeteria at Wilson High School with little mask wearing or social distancing.

City officials have also been concerned about the delay in outdoor furniture deliveries and why COVID-19 vaccine clinics cannot be set up on school campuses.

Patrick Ashley, with D.C. Health, said the city has a significant outreach program going door to door.

“And as a reminder, we knock on doors until we actually get someone to talk to us. And so they’ll go back to a house four or five, six times, if necessary, multiple times of the day,” he said.

Ashley also said the District is working with Medicare providers to make sure that they’re providing vaccination education.

“But you’re right, it is a choice of theirs to make,” Ashley said. “So we’ll continue to do that education through the —”

Silverman interrupted Ashley to say: “The president is saying it’s not a choice any more.”

She argued that “the biggest threat to our city right now” is unvaccinated residents.

Ashley replied that vaccine outreach is ongoing. “I do look forward to other suggestions from you and the council members of how we can, you know, make more strides in those communities. So it is something that’s actively happening.”

Silverman also asked whether D.C. has any plans to follow Los Angeles in mandating vaccines for students 12 and older.

In August, Mayor Muriel Bowser required vaccines for all D.C. government employees, which include public school teachers. Several charter schools followed suit, but there isn’t currently such a requirement for students.

Deputy Mayor Paul Kihn said the District isn’t mandating vaccine for students now, “but we of course continue to consider and explore it.”

Asked if the city was “likely” to do it, Kihn said: “We know that it is an option for the city. We continue to look at it. But right now, it’s not our approach.”

The board of the Los Angeles Unified School District voted Thursday to require students age 12 and up to be fully vaccinated. Students who can’t show proof of vaccination won’t be permitted to have in-person learning following the end of winter break on Jan. 11 unless they have a medical or other exemption.

And President Biden’s far-reaching new federal requirements could force tens of millions of Americans to get shots. In doing so, he admonished those who haven’t rolled up their sleeves as a new obstacle amid a devastating surge in cases that is straining the nation’s health system and constricting its economy.

“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin,” Biden said from the White House State Dining Room. “And your refusal has cost all of us.”

The unvaccinated minority, he added, “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”

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.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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