After 24 Hours, DC Backtracks on Removing Indoor Mask Mandate for Fully Vaccinated

As first reported by Barred in DC (Patreon here), Mayor Bowser quietly issued a new mask mandate order on Friday (PDF was saved at 5:44pm and posted sometime later), removing nearly all mask mandates-including indoors-for fully vaccinated (2 weeks following final shot in series) DC residents, visitors, and workers. However, a backlash ensued due to the abrupt guidance following when I broke the news, and the order was revised to clarify issues, and reissued around 7p tonight (first reported by Washington City Paper). The new order essentially still eliminates the mask mandate for fully vaccinated persons outdoors, but no longer does the order lift the mask mandate for fully vaccinated indoors. Instead, the order just refers to DC Health guidance that exists and will be forthcoming.

The public link was taken down from the coronavirus.dc.gov (though the link above still works)

This new order significantly loosens mask requirements as compared to the DC Health mask guidance that was revised due to CDC’s new mask guidance of earlier this week. This mask order makes sense in some areas but there are more questions raised than answers, and many problematic (potentially disastrous) aspects with respect to indoor masking. (The order seems similar to the rule the Florida Surgeon General issued on Thursday)

Specifically, the new order issued Saturday contains the following mask rules:

Fully vaccinated people (unless exhibiting COVID symptoms or have COVID) are not required to wear a mask when

  • Gathering indoors with a small group of fully vaccinated people in a private setting as specified in DC Health guidance
  • Gathering indoors with unvaccinated people from one household (unless those people are or live with high-risk people)
  • Gathering or conducting activities outdoors (walking, running, biking) with members of their household except in crowded settings or venues
  • Attending small, outdoor gatherings of friends and family except in crowded settings or venues
  • Visiting outdoors with small gathering of vaccinated & unvaccinated persons that are not people you usually socialize with
  • Passing through a common area of apartments/condos/co-ops for a fleeting time
  • Inside a business, office building or other establishment open to members of the public unless establishment has more stringent rules

Fully vaccinated people must wear a mask when

  • Gathering or conducting activities outdoors in crowded settings or venues
  • Driving or riding taxi/rideshare/public transit
  • DC Health Guidance says so indoors

People who are not fully vaccinated are not required to wear a mask when

  • Leaving residence when not likely to come into contact with another person, such as not being within six feet of another person for more than a fleeting time including when visiting outdoors with small gathering of vaccinated persons

People who are not fully vaccinated must wear a mask when

  • Leaving residence when likely to come into contact with another person-such as being within six feet of another person
  • Driving or riding taxi/rideshare/public transit
  • DC Health Guidance says so indoors

All people are not required to wear a mask when

  • A resident or guest in private home/apartment
  • Actually eating, drinking, or legally smoking
  • Engaging in vigorous outdoor exercise and maintaining social distance of at least 6 feet from others
  • In water in swimming pool
  • In enclosed private office
  • Unable to do to medical condition/disability
  • 0-2 years old
  • giving a speech if no ones is within 6 feet
  • deaf/hard of hearing person needs to read lips of speaker
  • equipment required for job precludes mask
  • Asked for legal facial recognition
  • Services that require access to face, mouth, or head, including without limitation, dental care, shaving, and facial treatment

The order also explicitly acknowledges that establishments can decide to admit, register, or employ only fully vaccinated people only (i.e., vaccine passport). It says that (which is based on Federal law) must provide exceptions for those medically unable to be vaccinated…and religious accommodations to those who forbid them from being vaccinated. But those people still have to be masked. The order mentions that businesses can donate or provide incentives to fully vaccinated people.

My thoughts on Friday’s Order

This is not about Saturday’s order.

Good

  • DC essentially adopted the CDC’s mask guidance for fully vaccinated persons outdoors by removing most restrictions for outdoor activities.
  • Providing some guidance on rules for requiring vaccinations for entry to a business or employment
  • Possibly creating some incentives for vaccinations, in theory

Bad

  • Going completely against CDC guidance which says “Take precautions in indoor public settings like wearing a well-fitted mask(because the vaccination status of others is unknown) by lifting requirements for masking indoors for fully vaccinated
    • Putting onus, without any proper guidance or development regarding vaccine passports/verification, on businesses to verify vaccination status. THis will be be a nightmare. Businesses will likely keep the status quo to avoid doing this, but then will no longer have the government default rule which will undoubtedly cause issues with customers
  • People who are not fully vaccinated will be able to not mask up and spread the virus to others vulnerable because there’s no way to tell who’s vaccinated or not
  • Not explicitly allowing unvaccinated persons in one household to not mask up when gathering with vaccinated people as explicit in CDC guidance
  • No relation to boosting economy if that was intention-Instead of increasing capacity, hours, providing bar seating, appearing to eliminate indoor mask mandates seems to skip a lot of steps that are less risky and cause less potential for bad encounters with staff and employees.
  • Given DC’s very cautious nature during reopening particularly since November 2020, this is a total 180 which will cause immediate anxiety to people and businesses without any warning.
  • This was quietly released on the DC website without any fanfare, press release, or tweet, without any explanation, just 2 days after DC Health published guidance (which was referred to by the Mayor in a press release) which was significantly more narrow. Businesses and people don’t know what to do. ABRA regulations and other DC Health guidance on masks are still on the website. Are there mask rules at outdoor restaurants? What about indoor restaurants?

I hope the Mayor and DC Health modify this order ASAP. [They did]

I asked Neil Sehgal, Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management at University of Maryland his thoughts. This is what he had to say via Twitter:

This feels counterproductive for two reasons: 1) the burden for enforcement (or verification of vaccination) falls on businesses, creating an adversarial relationship with customers at a time when they them most, and 20 today only 1 in 3 DC residents is fully vaccinated. I understand the want to return to a sense of normalcy, certainly. And, I am sympathetic to arguments that the CDC guidance is too restrictive for vaccinated persons. But, some of the 2/3 of DC residents who get vaccinated today won’t reach full immunity until the middle of June. Exposing unvaccinated residents to additional risk, especially given the inequities in vaccine distribution we’ve seen in DC, seems unnecessary. Even if relaxing indoor-mandates for the vaccinated is consistent with science, it isn’t consistent with where we are right now in DC.

Zeynep Tufekci also weighed in saying, “I agree. I think indoor mandates should be more blanket because selective enforcement is difficult and unwise, but that should be made clearer so that it’s understood why that’s not about vaccine efficacy.” She linked to her The Atlantic piece where this is discussed.

Here’s CDC’s guidance to show where this succeeds and fails

4 thoughts on “After 24 Hours, DC Backtracks on Removing Indoor Mask Mandate for Fully Vaccinated

  1. Pingback: DC Revises Mask Rules Following CDC Guidance. What’s Required Now? | Barred in DC

  2. Pingback: Week in Review – 5/2/21 – 17° Cork by Northwest

  3. Pingback: The State of COVID-19 in D.C.: Getting Better, but Bowser’s New Guidelines Might Not Help | Mike the Mad Biologist

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