D.C. will again require masks indoors — even for people who are fully vaccinated — amid a troubling rise in COVID-19 cases and new information on the spread of the delta variant.
Additionally, District officials are working to create a vaccination requirement for D.C. government employees.
Masks will be required indoors in D.C. for all people over 2 starting at 5 a.m. Saturday, July 31, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced at a news conference Thursday.
“We will continue to do what is necessary to keep D.C. safe,” the mayor said.
Inside restaurants, masks will be required whenever someone is not eating. Masks will be required inside offices, restaurants, places of worship and gyms. Businesses can refuse service to customers violating the mask requirement.
People are encouraged to wear masks outdoors in large settings. Masks will not be required at large outdoor events such as baseball games.
Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt cited a five-fold increase in July thus far in D.C.’s daily COVID-19 case rate. Virus rates have particularly increased for children age 5 to 14, young adults age 20 to 34 and African Americans.
Many new cases have been linked to travel, dining out and social activities in large groups, Nesbitt said.
Discussions are underway on how to require or encourage District employees to get vaccinated against the virus. The mayor spoke on Wednesday with labor leaders. About 52% of D.C. government workers report being fully vaccinated.
President Joe Biden is expected to announce Thursday that millions of federal workers must show proof they’ve received a coronavirus vaccine or submit to regular testing and stringent social distancing, masking and travel restrictions. An individual familiar with the president's plans emphasized that the new guidance is not a vaccine mandate for federal employees and that those who decide not to get vaccinated aren’t at risk of being fired.
By law, the mayor could require eligible students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to return to school. For now, though, she said she wants to avoid that in favor of public pressure and incentive campaigns, including offers of gift cards and scholarships.
Bowser and local health officials announced the changes in D.C. a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention flagged “substantial” community transmission in the District and recommended masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.
The CDC’s color-coded system designates jurisdictions as having low (blue), moderate (yellow), substantial (orange) or high (red) community transmission. Masks are recommended indoors — even for people who are fully vaccinated — for places with substantial or high transmission.
The mayor indicated she’s not ruling out additional restrictions if new case numbers do not drop. She would not say how long the mask requirements will remain in effect. We expect to see more details when an official mayor’s order is issued.
Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story.