Washington, DC, to end vaccine, mask mandates

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced Monday that the city will end its requirement for people entering businesses to show proof of vaccination starting this week and will lift its mask mandate for businesses starting on March 1.

Bowser cited a sharp decline in cases in the omicron wave as justification for the loosening of restrictions. The mayor pointed to the protection of vaccines in saying the situation had changed.

"COVID is not as deadly as it was," she said, noting people can now get vaccinated. "Getting vaccinated and boosted, we can't emphasize enough."

N95, surgical and cloth face masks. Covid-19 face mask choices, comparison and protection concept

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The vaccination requirement for people entering businesses like restaurants will end starting Tuesday. That requirement had drawn resistance from some congressional Republicans who rallied behind a neighborhood bar, The Big Board, that defied the mandate.

Masks will still be required in schools, an area of strong controversy, and some situations like public transit, Bowser said, while the broader mandate will be lifted next month.

Bowser told reporters the city had seen a "precipitous drop" in case levels, justifying the loosening.

Cases are down 90 percent and hospitalizations are down 95 percent since the peak of the omicron wave, the city said.

The move comes amid a national debate over lifting restrictions as the omicron wave descends. Several Democratic governors, in states like New York and New Jersey, have also announced the lifting of mask mandates in recent days.

The Biden administration, despite the moves by local Democratic leaders, has maintained that it is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, which recommends that people mask indoors in areas with high amounts of transmission, which is still almost all of the country.

The mayor did not give a date for when the school mask mandate might be lifted. In neighboring Virginia, the new Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, has drawn controversy for an order to make masks optional in schools, as many Republicans are pushing for.

"We continue to work with our school community," Bowser said, noting also that vaccine availability for children under five years old was delayed last week. 

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