D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Wednesday that indoor venues like restaurants, bars and gyms will be required to verify patrons 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Enforcement goes into effect Jan. 15 at 6 a.m. Proof of a second dose will be required starting Feb. 15.
Some establishments — like grocery stores, museums and places of worship — are exempt.
Additionally, officials said the mayor’s order is not an employer mandate, but a vaccine requirement for those visiting the establishments.
Officials said more guidance is forthcoming and will be posted online.
Bowser’s announcement comes as the D.C. region is experiencing a spike in coronavirus cases leading up to the holidays. Patrick Ashley, with DC Health, said the city hasn’t seen a spike in hospitalizations despite the uptick in cases.
“We are seeing almost double the cases being of individuals that are 25 to 34 years old. So those are individuals that we do think are the most active in the community, especially in social settings,” Ashley said.
The rising daily case rate, combined with the expected winter surge as people gather indoors and the transmissibility of the Omicron variant all contributed to the mayor’s decision to announce the mandate on businesses she said she’d been considering all week.
“We all have a responsibility to keep our community safe, and we all have to respond to this virus as it presents. And it is true, that we’re asking our businesses to do more, but we also think that this is a benefit to their business,” she said.
Health officials say COVID-19 vaccines offer the best protection from severe disease, hospitalization and death.
Acceptable forms of proof of vaccination in D.C. include a CDC-issued vaccination card, an immunization print out from the patient portal of a person’s vaccine or health care provider or through a COVID-19 verification app like VaxYes or CLEAR.
“We had to shut down because we didn’t know a lot about the virus. And we knew it was very dangerous. And we didn’t have effective pharmaceutical interventions. But now we do,” Bowser said during the Wednesday briefing.
“If you are a resident who has not yet been vaccinated and you want to continue enjoying these activities, now’s the time to get vaccinated.”
Businesses will also be required to post signs informing patrons that proof of vaccination is required.
Bowser said the announcement was made Wednesday to give businesses time to prepare.
Asked about spotting fake vaccine cards, Bowser said the city is “not asking our businesses to be sleuths or detectives, we are asking them to use their best efforts to make sure their patrons are complying.”
The mayor reinstated the indoor mask mandate for the District earlier in the week and declared a state of emergency amid surging COVID cases.
D.C. joins a growing list of cities that require proof of coronavirus vaccination.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s order will go into effect Jan. 3. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced Monday that the city will require proof of vaccination for workers and customers at many indoor businesses beginning in mid-January. New York and San Francisco already require it.
In addition to the new mandates, D.C. has also ordered 5 million more rapid antigen tests, for a total of 6 million, in an effort to meet testing needs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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