Two top Republican lawmakers have called for Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser to rescind her order that requires anyone aged 12 or older to present proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter many businesses in the nation’s capital.
“By requiring anyone over the age of twelve to present proof of vaccination to enter most indoor establishments in the District, students who are not vaccinated will be prohibited from eating at restaurants, meeting indoors for conferences, enjoying entertainment venues, and more,” Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), ranking member on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), the top Republican on the House Subcommittee on the Environment, wrote (pdf) in a Jan. 10 letter to Bowser, a Democrat.
“All Americans, especially our youth, should be welcomed to the District, but your sweeping mandate locks them out of their capital city.”
The lawmakers wrote that because of the rise of the Omicron coronavirus variant, vaccine requirements don’t make sense. The Omicron variant has sickened millions of Americans who have been vaccinated. They also noted that Bowser’s order contains no exceptions for people who have recovered from COVID-19. Recovery provides a measure of protection from the virus, studies show, though some experts say people who have natural immunity should still get vaccinated.
Staffers on the House panel were told by Washington Chief Financial Officer Fitzroy Lee that about 20 percent of the city’s revenue comes from sales tax collection and 25 percent comes from income tax collection.
Lee said hotel revenues were down by 33 percent and restaurant revenues were down by 25 percent compared to before the pandemic.
Comer and Norman want a briefing from Washington officials on the mandate by no later than Jan. 18.
Bowser’s press secretary didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The first-term mayor announced the vaccine mandate just before Christmas. Among the stated reasons for imposing the requirements was that the vaccines help prevent hospitalizations, and therefore, forcing residents and visitors to get vaccinated would lead to a lower number of hospitalizations.
“We do know that mandates have the ability to move people who are not vaccinated to become vaccinated, and we also know that that is a huge public health benefit,” she said, citing city data that indicates that people who aren’t vaccinated are still at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and hospitalization.
According to the District of Colombia Department of Health, the daily and weekly COVID-19 case rate continues to increase even as the hospitalization rate drops. Additionally, most patients in district hospitals don’t have COVID-19, and 14 percent of hospital capacity remains available.
Bowser acknowledged that studies and real-world data show that the Omicron variant isn’t as lethal as the Delta stain.
“That doesn’t mean it’s not disruptive, and that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a responsibility to contain it where we can,” she said.
The mandate takes effect on Jan. 15 if it isn’t withdrawn. Establishments that must verify vaccination under the mandate include restaurants, bowling alleys, and gyms.