DC issues ‘mask advisory,’ but mandate will not return as of yet

The District is issuing a “mask advisory” that recommends residents wear masks in indoor public settings, but is stopping short of reinstating its mask mandate as the omicron variant of the coronavirus has been identified in the U.S.

DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said the advisory falls in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation that residents wear masks in indoor public settings in areas of substantial or high transmission. D.C. is currently considered to be an area of substantial transmission by the CDC’s metrics.

The CDC classifies substantial transmission as 50 cases per 100,000 people.

Thursday’s announcement fell short of introducing a new requirement, something multiple D.C. Council members requested when Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the mandate would be lifted.

Until late November, the District had one of the nation’s strictest masking requirements, but Bowser announced Nov. 19 that the city would remove the mandate and shift to risk-based guidance from DC Health for recommendations on masking.

The advisory does not alter any of the District’s current policies with regard to masks: They are still required on public transportation, inside hospitals, schools, congregate facilities and government buildings, and private businesses have final say on whether they will require their customers to wear them.

Nesbitt said issuing the advisory helped to clarify the city’s stance toward masking.

“DC Health’s recommendation is that people should wear a mask indoors regardless of their vaccination status,” Nesbitt said. “We want people to be abundantly clear about what we intend [for] them to do.”

As of Thursday, the delta variant was the dominant strain in the District, Nesbitt said. Nesbitt also said that over 96% of COVID-19 cases sequenced in D.C. test positive for delta.

While omicron has been identified as a variant of concern because of the number of mutations it possesses compared with other strains of the virus, it is not currently known how those changes will impact the virus’ transmissibility and the severity of infection. It was first detected in South Africa and has since been found in several other countries.

California had the first confirmed case of the variant in the U.S. on Wednesday.

Bowser and Nesbitt stressed the importance of residents either completing their initial round of vaccinations, or receiving boosters. The District is currently vaccinating residents 5 and older, and has made changes to some of its city-operated vaccination sites so that entire families can get their doses in one location beginning Monday, Dec. 6.

The District is making the following changes to its city-run vaccination sites beginning Monday:

  • Capitol View Library will replace Benning Library as a vaccination site;
  • Pediatric vaccines (ages 5-11) will be available at additional walk-up sites, not just school-based clinics;
  • Families can book at-home vaccination appointments for children ages 5-11;
  • Adults accompanying children at pediatric vaccination clinics can also receive their COVID-19 vaccine, including boosters.

Zeke Hartner

Zeke Hartner is a digital writer/editor who has been with WTOP since 2017. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University’s Political Science program and an avid news junkie.

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