On Thursday, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt announced that masks will be required indoors for everyone older than 2 years of age regardless of vaccination status.
The mandate was driven by five-fold increase in the District’s COVID-19 case rates, an increase that Nesbitt said was driven largely by youth aged 5 to 14 and those aged 20 to 34.
District case rates have risen from 1.5 cases per 100,000 in early July to peak with a daily rate over 8 per 100,000.
Nesbitt said that while there is still a handful of cases every week in residents aged 65 and older, there are “essentially no” racial and ethnic disparities in that age group. However, over the past few weeks black youth aged 5 to 14 were three times more likely to be infected with COVID than their white counterparts, Nesbitt said.
14 percent of black youth 12 to 15 have had at least one dose of the vaccine; among white youth coverage is 51 percent.
There is significant disparity in ward-level vaccination rates as of July 19, with majority-black Wards 7 and 8 at 36 and 31 percent respectively for those 12 and older. Nesbitt said that a lot of the gap in coverage throughout the District is attributable to youth, with vaccination rates climbing to 45 percent in ward 7 and 42 percent in ward 8 for those aged 30 and older.
The pandemic is beginning to skew younger in the District, as it has nationally, Nesbitt said. “I want people to be mindful that young people can get COVID-19, children can get COVID-19;,and children can be hospitalised for COVID-19,” Nesbitt said, “so it is not considered to be acceptable for us to take our foot off the gas because the pandemic is now skewing to the younger population.”
However, Nesbitt stopped short of mandating the vaccine for District school children, saying she would give parents and families a chance to get educated and for the incentive programs to work. She clarified that while is legally in her power to make the COVID-19 vaccine a requirement for school attendance, as with other immunizations, DC Health is not yet movign to do so. In response to a question from NBC’s Mark Segraves, she said that it is not the wait for the full approval of the vaccine by the FDA that is causing that hesitation.
In response to the need to get more young people vaccinated, Bowser introduced a series of incentives targeted at the younger population. The $51 Visa Card giveaway has been extended to youth aged 12 and older, and there will be a giveaway of Air Pods for those receiving the vaccine for the first time. All vaccinated youth can enter a draw to win an iPad, a $25,000 college scholarship, and other prizes. The District has also established a micro grant program so that schools can establish their own incentive programs.