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Mask Mandate Back Tuesday as DC Moves to Slow Spread

With COVID Cases on the rise, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced a new COVID-19 action plan Monday, Dec. 20. The plan includes a re-imposition of the mask mandate, starting 6 a.m. Tues, Dec. 20 and lasting until at least 6 a.m. Jan. 31.

The plan includes a new declaration of a state of emergency school closures for testing after the new year and a requirement that DC Government employees be fully vaccinated and boosted against the COVID-19 virus.

Asked if she regrets dropping mask mandate, Bowser said “I don’t regret evolving with the virus. As conditions warrant, we change our reaction to the virus, and we’re changing it again.”

DC Health officials said that the Omicron variant accounts for less that 1 percent of cases in the region, compared to national rates of 3 percent. However, they cautioned, cases of Omnicron are expected to increase in the coming weeks.

Anjuli Alwalker, Chief Scientific Officer for DC Health said it could in fact be higher even now. “Our sequencing data lags a little behind our case data because it takes a little more time to sequence the genome than it does to sequence the virus,” she said.

Case rates are four times higher than they were a month ago; although hospitalizations hold steady at 5 percent.

As with Delta, the key to fighting the Omicron variant is for people to get fully vaccinated, Mayor Bowser said. The incidence of cases in unvaccinated DC residents is 7 times higher than in those who are fully vaccinated, and unvaccinated people are five times more likely to require hospitalization.

Schools will be closed Jan. 3 and 4 to allow families to collect and test students for COVID prior to a return from the winter break, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced Monday at a situational update.

Staff and families at DC Public schools can collect test kits from their school during those times. The tests are highly encouraged, said DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee, but not required.

DC Health is also expanding the availability of PCR tests to include nine more sites. There are currently testing sites at eight firehouses and 27 Test Yourself DC pick-up and drop-off sites.

The Test Yourself Express program provides up to two free at-home rapid Antigen COVID-19 tests. Beginning Wednesday, Dec. 22 at noon, the rapid antigen COVID-19 tests will be available at eight DC Public Libraries Monday to Saturday. District residents will be able to access a maximum of two kits per day.

  New Test-Yourself sites announced Dec. 20. Courtesy: EOM

Those tests allow users swab themselves and return samples for testing. Use of the at-home kits can help avoid line-ups at testing sites, and DC Health officials said they are processed in the same lab and in about the same time frame, currently about 1.5 days turnaround.

DC Health has also ordered 1,050,000 rapid antigen tests. Of those tests, 42,000 are currently on-hand and 200,000 Antigen tests are in transit to the District; the rest are expected to arrive over the next 3 to 4 weeks.

After using a rapid at-home test, residents should report their results to DC Health at coronavirus.dc.gov/overthecounter.

The Mayor said a new DC Government vaccine mandate has also been put in place to compel all employees, contractors, interns, and grantees of DC Government to not only be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but also to have a booster, although no date for compliance has yet been set.

The Mayor said she would declare an emergency in order to facilitate procurement of needed items. For instance, the order would help the District allocate additional funding to laboratories, to allow for ramped-up test sequencing needed to track the Omicron variant of the COVID virus.

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