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DC Rolls Back Mask, Indoor Vaccination Requirements

In Monday’s situational update, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced that DC will reverse the indoor mask and vaccination verification requirements.

As of March 1, masks will no longer be required in restaurants and bars, sports and entertainment venues, gyms and recreation centers, houses of worship, private businesses, grocery stores and pharmacies, retail establishments and in DC Government offices without direct interaction between employees and the public.

Masks will still be required in schools, childcare facilities, libraries, public transit, healthcare facilities and congregate facilities such as nursing homes, shelters, dorms and correctional facilities. Additionally, individual businesses can require masks for entry.

Vaccination Verification

Beginning Tuesday, Feb. 15 businesses in the District will no longer be required to ask patrons for verification of their vaccination status. However, check before you go; businesses can choose to keep the requirement in place, and many had it in place before it was required by the District.

“We do believe that we’ve gotten the push out of the vaccine requirement for indoor venues that we’re going to get,” Bowser said.

The requirement for students to be vaccinated was legislated by DC Council, Bowser noted, and so is unaffected by this measure. That bill requires students eligible for an FDA-approved COVID vaccine to have it in order to attend District schools. As of February 2022, the FDA has only granted full approval for vaccination in students aged 16 and older.

Bowser was asked how these changes affect restaurants such as The Big Board (421 H St. NE). The H Street burger bar was closed down Feb. 1 for health code violations and had their liquor license suspended for refusal to enforce the vaccine mandate and unmasked employees.

Bowser said that she was not fully aware of the details of the case, but she expected the process, now before the Alcohol Beverage Regulatory Administration (ABRA) “Big Board was found to violate our requirements; and, now those requirements will be changing.”

Why Now

Bowser said the city has been closely following several metrics including the level of community spread, hospitalization rate, contact tracing attempts and interviews and vaccination rates.

As of Feb. 10, the weekly case rate was 152.7 per 100,000; the daily case rate was 21. 8.

Bowser acknowledged that the spread of COVID in the District remains “above what we would like it to be” but emphasized that many are seeking a return to normalcy nearly two years into the pandemic.

“People who have been vaccinated and others want to get back to their normal lives,” Bowser said.

Bowser also emphasized the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots that are available to all DC residents.

“We have safe and effective vaccines and COVID is not as deadly,” Bowser said. “We need people to get vaccinated to save their lives and to make sure the system can accommodate whatever this virus does.”

Asked if the measures are premature, Bowser said that the District has to be nimble, for instance if another COVID variant should present. If that happens, Bowser said, the District would adjust its response.

DC Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt recommended that DC residents continue to wear masks indoors despite the removal of the requirement to slow the spread of disease.

COVID Testing Changes 

COVID testing will also be scaled back at the end of this month. Testing at the DC firehouse locations across the District will end on Feb. 26. The full service Ward COVID Centers that offer testing, masks and vaccines will remain fully operational. Libraries will continue to distribute tests.

Sarah Payne is an assignment writer for the Hill Rag. Reach her at Sarah@hillrag.com

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