Washington Mayor Declares State of Emergency, Reinstates Mask Mandate

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Reporter
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.
December 21, 2021 Updated: December 21, 2021

Washington’s mayor has declared a state of emergency over COVID-19.

Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, on Monday also reinstated an indoor mask mandate and announced a stricter COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers.

Bowser said she imposed the restrictions because of the emergence of the Omicron variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.

The CCP virus causes COVID-19.

Omicron is now the dominant variant of the virus in the United States. Early data indicates it’s more transmissible than earlier strains but causes a lower percentage of severe cases.

“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,” Bowser told reporters during a press conference.

COVID-19 cases have been rising in the district in recent weeks. The 7-day case rate was 300 per 100,000 population, up from 83 the month prior. Cases among vaccinated persons have increased recently, though cases among the unvaccinated have increased much more.

“Our case rates for the unvaccinated are about seven times higher than the case rate for fully vaccinated, which the definition of fully vaccinated is two doses. So they are still faring much better in terms of rates of infection, and that’s something that we continue to monitor. When we also look at hospitalization data, hospitalization rates are five times more likely in the unvaccinated than the vaccinated, so vaccines are still the tool. It is critical if you’re age five and over, get vaccinated now,” Dr. Anjali Talwalker, an interim senior deputy director at the department, told reporters.

She also encouraged all those who from gotten a vaccine to get a booster; data on Omicron signals the primary vaccination provides little to no protection against infection against the variant.

The hospitalization percentage in the district, on the other hand, has dropped over the past month. Like most areas around the country, the bulk of hospital beds in the nation’s capital are taken by patients who don’t have COVID-19. As of Dec. 16, the last day data are available for, just 129 of the 2,222 patients had the disease.

Bowser said on MSNBC the rising caseload prompted the fresh restrictions.

“In the last week or so in the district we`ve seen our case numbers go up substantially in the hundreds of cases per day and that`s a significant number for us,” she said.

The state of emergency enables the city government to take certain actions, Bowser said. The mask mandate started at 6 a.m. on Dec. 21 and will be in place until Jan. 31, 2022. The expanded vaccine mandate removes a testing opt-out and forces workers to get a booster shot in addition to a primary regimen.

Washington is also introducing testing and vaccination centers to make it easier for residents to get tested and vaccinated and is adding to the locations where people can pick up at-home tests.

The District of Columbia Health Department ordered over 1 million rapid antigen tests and will be providing them for free at various places. Residents can get up to two kits per day. Enough tests are being distributed to schools for every student and staff member so they can test before returning to school after winter break.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.