DC Reinstates Mask Mandate, Schools to Close for Self-Test Pickup

The indoor mask mandate in D.C. will go back into effect Tuesday and remain in place at least through January, Mayor Muriel Bowser said

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Washington, D.C., will reinstate its indoor mask mandate, and all D.C. Public Schools will close for two days in January so that families can pick up self-test kits. 

Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a new public health emergency on Monday and announced new measures to fight the spread of COVID-19, as daily case rates soar higher than they have throughout the entire pandemic. 

The indoor mask mandate will go back into effect Tuesday, Dec. 21 at 6 a.m. and remain at least through Jan. 31, the mayor said at a news conference. Masks will be required in places including gyms, restaurants, stores and offices.

Bowser said she understands many residents’ fatigue with COVID safety precautions. 

“I think we’re all tired of it. I’m tired of it too. But we have to respond to what’s happening in our city and what’s happening in our nation," she said.

D.C. lifted its mask mandate less than a month ago, on Nov. 22. 

D.C. Public Schools will adopt a “test to stay” COVID-19 policy through which students, teachers and staff members will test themselves for the virus. DCPS will make 100,000 home rapid tests available.

Classes will be cancelled on Jan. 3 and Jan. 4 so families can pick up tests at schools and use them before returning to class on Jan. 5.

The mayor of D.C. will reinstate the indoor mask mandate and institute a vaccine and booster mandate for District government employees.

“Every school will receive enough rapid tests for every student, teacher and staff member,” Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said.

Self-tests for everyone in schools will be “highly encouraged,” Ferebee said. 

“The expectation will be that all families will participate, but it’s not a requirement,” he said.

The mayor also will institute a vaccine mandate for D.C. government employees, to include booster shots. There no longer will be a test-out option.

D.C. residents will be able to pick up free self-test kits at one public library in each ward. Go here to see the list of pickup sites. Proof of residency will be required. The District has plans to add self-testing sites and eight sites where people can get tested and vaccinated.

DC Health officials tallied 844 positive cases of the virus for Thursday, the latest day for which data was available. A week earlier, only about 125 people tested positive on a single day. 

The entire D.C. area is seeing an uptick in COVID cases, as the omicron variant and previous variants of the virus spread. 

Source: CoVariants
Amy O’Kruk/NBC

In remarks Friday, Bowser hinted at the possible return of the District’s indoor mask mandate, saying all options were on the table to prevent illnesses and deaths.

"As we have always said through this pandemic … as it evolves, we evolve," she said.

More than 71,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in D.C. since the start of the pandemic, and 1,206 D.C. residents have died. 

Data shows that unvaccinated people are more likely to become severely ill due to COVID-19. The mayor urged all eligible residents to protect themselves with the shots. 

“Our hospitals are going to fill with people who are not vaccinated. So get vaccinated and get boosted,” she said.

Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story.

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