D.C. officials plan to lift the District's indoor mask mandate for public spaces next week, saying residents must learn to live with the coronavirus because it's expected to permanently circulate within the community, as the flu does.
The mask mandate will end on Monday, Nov. 22, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Tuesday.
Masks will still be required in businesses or other settings that choose to enforce a mask mandate, in addition to:
- On public transit and in rideshare vehicles
- Inside schools, child care facilities and libraries
- In facilities including nursing homes, shelters, dorms and jails
- At D.C. government facilities where employees and the public interact
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Masks will be required in these sites regardless of vaccination status.
“I want to be very clear: This does not mean that people should stop, that everyone needs to stop, wearing their mask. But it does mean that we're shifting the government's response,” Bowser said.
Bowser said it’s a step in shifting to a different sort of public health message: COVID-19 is here to stay, but the vaccine offers good protection, so families and individuals must assess their own risks.
"We are learning to live with COVID," DC Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said.
Guidance for different risk levels is expected to be shared in detail on coronavirus.dc.gov within a few days.
"Instead of following a blanket mandate, residents, visitors, and workers will be advised to follow risk-based guidance from DC Health that accounts for current health metrics and a person’s vaccination status," officials said in a press release.
The city is planning for the coronavirus to become endemic, which means it will continue to circulate in the population at low levels, as the flu does, Nesbitt said.
"We want to be able to help people understand sort of the long term strategies for monitoring infectious disease that we extract will likely be endemic, always present in our community sort of the same way that influenza is," Nesbitt said. “We're not completely back to how our behavior was pre-COVID."
D.C. is in the third wave of COVID-19 infections that began in mid-June. The wave peaked in mid-September, then declined and has now plateaued, Nesbitt said.
There's not a specific threshold at which the mask mandate would return, but it is possible if COVID-19 trends point the wrong way, Bowser said.
D.C. will also make some changes to how it reports COVID-19 data, including clearing up the confusion over differences in how D.C. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report case numbers.
COVID-19 diagnoses have declined in October and in November this far. On Monday, the District reported an average of 65 cases a day over the previous week.
D.C.’s daily case rate is currently rated moderate under the District's definition.
According to CDC data, the weekly case rate is 81.05 per 100,000 residents, which is rated as substantial transmission.
The substantial spread rating means the CDC advises everyone to wear masks when in public indoors.
Daily average case numbers surged from the single-digits in July to over 200 by the final half of September.
An indoor mask mandate was reinstated in July as officials warned about the spread of the delta COVID-19 variant.
D.C. has required city workers and child care and school workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they have a valid exemption.
Bowser indicated earlier this week that D.C. is moving to a new phase in the fight against COVID-19.
“What you’ll hear discussed across the nation is, we’re moving from a pandemic to an endemic,” the mayor said. “[…] I anticipate that’s where we’ll be moving too. Rather than the government telling you what you need to do to keep safe, you will evaluate risk and act accordingly.”
DC Firefighters Face Termination for Defying Vaccine Mandate
Bowser also announced Tuesday that seven firefighters face termination for refusing to get vaccinated. They are the first D.C. employees to face discipline for not complying with the vaccine requirement. Their medical licenses were suspended.
The president of the D.C. firefighters’ union said he is working to ensure that each of the firefighters who faces termination gets due process, which he said includes a trial board process that can take months. In the mean time, they will be suspended without pay.
About 300 firefighters submitted requests to waive the vaccine requirement for religious reasons. They will not be disciplined while the requests are pending.
Thousands of health care workers also potentially face losing their licenses. Many have received notices of non-compliance. Some have replied that they got vaccinated outside D.C., or that they retired. Licenses will be suspended once officials go over all replies.
The mayor said the District’s next logical step is to require that all D.C. government workers get vaccinated. About 84% had already done so as of Tuesday; the rest have a weekly testing option. Bowser said she’s looking to remove that option.
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