The DC Mask Mandate – FAQ – Why, Compared, Possible Metrics

Image by Mr.TinDC licensed under Creative Commons.

Update: On Tuesday, November 16th, DC announced that the indoor mask mandate would end effective Monday, November 22nd, due to data showing that almost no fully vaccinated people have died or have been hospitalized due to breakthrough infections, even since Delta began being the predominant strain.

Masks still will be requiredw

  • Private businesses who require masks
  • Public transportation (required by CDC/Federal law)
  • Rideshare vehicles
  • Inside schools and childcare facilities (consistent with CDC guidance which actually does recommend universal masking indoors in childcare facilities and K-12)
  • Inside libraries
  • Congregate facilities (e.g nursing homes, shelters, dorms, correctional facilities)
  • At DC Government facilities where there’s direct interaction between employees and the public
  • In Federal Executive Branch buildings in DC (based on Federal guidance, not DC law) except when in private office
  • Unlike in May 2021 when mask mandate was originally removed, DC does not appear to be mandating masks in healthcare settings but it was highly likely that all or nearly all healthcare providers and hospitals will continue to require them.

On July 29th, Mayor Bowser re-instituted a mask mandate in DC effective July 31st which required residents and visitors of DC to follow DC Health guidance mandating masking in indoor public settings, including grocery stores, restaurants/bars, places of worship, gyms, office buildings (except when alone in an enclosed office), libraries, indoor entertainment venues, and common areas of apartment/condo buildings. Because this is a frequent topic of debate on the Barred in DC Twitter feed, and Axios reporter Chelsea Cirruzzo covered local rules, I thought I’d do a quick FAQ of the mask mandate, including what prompted DC to reinstate the indoor aspect of the mask mandate, what’s CDC’s role here, what other states/large cities have mask mandates, and potential metrics. Based on what I’ve been told, I expect DC to announce metrics soon, likely this upcoming week, but it’s still interesting to see what else people have been doing. Note: Mask mandates referred to here aren’t referring to government building mask mandates or K-12 public schools-there are way more places that have those mandates still.


This is an easy one-it’s mentioned in both the Mayor’s order and DC Health guidance: because on July 27th, CDC issued updated guidance recommending that even fully vaccinated people should “wear a mask indoors in public if they are in an area of substantial or high transmision.” This threshold is met either when the county has had 50 or more total new cases per 100,000 people in the past 7 days or when test positivity rate is 8% or higher. Because DC has around 700,000 people, the case translates to roughly 50 cases/day, 350 in a 7 day period-and except for 2 weekend days in mid October (due to lack of reporting those 2 days), DC has had been at the level since July 26th, peaking at at a case rate of 269/100,000 on September 18-19th. Right now the rate has leveled off at around 80-90 since October 18th. DC hasn’t really even come close using the alternative positivity rate metric-peaking during that time period at 5% in mid August and currently around 1.3-1.4%.


Kind of but not exactly. The July 27th guidance is directed to you and me because CDC wanted to tell people – “hey you still might get a breakthrough infection and it’s more likely when there are more cases so we recommend you mask up indoors.” Less discussed was a complementary guidance released the same day to public health practitioners (as well as schools, businesses, and institutions). In that guidance, the CDC says that when an area meets the community transmission level metric referenced above, “CDC recommends community leaders encourage vaccination and universal masking in indoor public spaces…” There’s nothing in the guidance that recommends that jurisdictions impose mask mandates. But DC, like other places, have generally followed CDC’s recommendations and translated these to become mandates during the pandemic (CDC’s recommendation that fully vaxxed need not mask in May led to the DC mask order being lifted with no restrictions in June), so it was not that suprising for them to keep it. For a more detailed discussion (with links to scientific articles) about why places have a mask mandate, the St. Louis county mask mandate order has a thorough discussion.


  • Prince George’s County
  • Baltimore City

Montgomery County reimposed a mandate in summer but lifted it recently because they had went under the 50 case rate for 7 days.


If you haven’t left DC recently, you might think that aside from rural areas and red states, most of the country still has an indoor mask mandate. You would be wrong.

Only six states (plus DC and Puerto Rico) have them:

  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon (outdoors too)
  • Washington State

Of course that doesn’t tell whole story-cities and counties can issue mask orders too. Still, only roughly 1/3 of the the 50 largest cities (ranked by metro area) in the US are covered by a current indoor mask mandates:

  • Los Angeles
  • Chicago
  • Dallas (sort of-requires biz to have policies requiring masks but doesn’t actually require residents to wear masks directly)
  • DC
  • Philadelphia
  • Baltimore
  • Boston
  • San Francisco
  • Oakland
  • Seattle
  • St. Louis
  • Portland
  • Charlotte
  • Las Vegas
  • Sacramento
  • Columbus
  • San Jose
  • Raleigh

Atlanta, Memphis, and New Orleans recently lifted their mask mandates after cases improved.

Notable omissions: New York City, Detroit, Minneapolis, San Diego, Denver.


No. Because CDC’s mask guidance to fully vaccinated individuals was pretty basic/simple (mask in indoor public settings when cases/positivity reach a certain threshhold), jurisdictions who imposed mandates have different nuances compared to DC.

Notable differences include:

  • Philadelphia: no masks required in businesses that have vaccine mandates and have a reasonable procedure for confirming status of staff/customers/others. Exemption doesn’t apply to essential biz like grocery stores, pharmacies, health care providers.
  • Washington State: no masks required for fully vaccinated staff who work in areas not open to public
  • SF/Oakland: no mask required for fully vaxxed offices, gyms, and fitness centers, employee commuter vehicles, religious gatherings, and indoor college classes or other organized gatherings (fewer than 100 ppl). Still applies to restaurants/bars
  • Chicago: no masks required for staff working in places not open to public if there’s 6 feet distance between staff and they have static work locations (like cubicles)
  • Boston: no masks required at businesses not open to general public


No, most do not. Those who have announced metrics mostly base it on the CDC threshold where masking is recommended for fully vaxxed and keeping it under that line for 1, 2 (most common), 3, or even 4 weeks. Only the Bay Area factors in vax rate/eligibility timeframes explicitly. Those with metrics include the following:

  • Nevada: county removed from mandate after 2 consecutive weeks (checked each Tuesday) below 50 case rate/8% positivity. Mandate back on if 2 consecutive weeks above threshhold
  • Bay Area: 3 consecutive weeks below 50 case rate/8% positivity + low/stable hospitalization + either 80% total population fully vaxxed or early January 2022, 8 weeks after 5-11 vax authorized
  • Chicago: not formally announced, but suggested 2 consecutive weeks below 50 case rate/8% positivity
  • Baltimore: not formally announced, but suggested 2 consecutive weeks below 50 case rate/8% positivity
  • Sacramento: Below 35 case rate for 7 days
  • Atlanta (just removed): over course of 10 days, city cases average below 75, hospitalizations average below 200, positivity rate under 5%
  • Charlotte: 7 day average positivity rate below 5% for 7 consecutive days
  • Columbus: 4 consecutive weeks below 50 case rate/8% positivity
  • Raleigh: cases under 50 case rate for 7 days
  • Memphis (just removed): cases under 50 case rate
  • Montgomery County (just removed): cases under 50 case rate for 7 days. Will be reinstated if cases above 50 case rate for 7 days. Also will end once entire population is 85% fully vaxxed
  • Federal agencies Government wide guidance: Masks no longer required in area if cases under 50 case rate/8% positivity rate for 2 consecutive weeks.


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