As first reported/predicted/expected by Barred in DC Tuesday, on Wednesday December 22nd, DC finally announced the vaccine mandate many have been clamoring for since early August.
This “city-wide vaccination entry requirement,” termed VaxDC by the DC government, will require customers, visitors, and patrons (but not staff) age 12 and over to be vaccinated, starting Saturday, January 15, 2022 (full vax Tuesday, February 15th), in the following indoor establishments: indoor eating/drinking, cultural/entertainment, exercise/recreational , and event/meeting spaces. DC is the 11th major US city to announce a vaccine mandate like this one.
Details on how this will work are contained in the Mayor’s situational update and order), as well as DC Health’s guidance. In the meantime, I’ll compare DC’s new announced mandate with the other 10 cities who’ve implemented or announced one, and answer other good questions I’ve seen.
What Major US Cities Have Announced a Vaccine Mandate?
- Already Implemented: New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Honolulu, New Orleans, Chicago, Philadelphia
- Announced: Boston, Oakland, Washington DC
- Vax or Mask Mandate: Rest of NY State, Denver, Philly (for non-dining facilities)
- Many of the surrounding suburbs of these cities also have similar mandates.
Which Indoor Facilities Will Vax Proof Be Required?
- Indoor Dining/Drinking: Restaurants, taverns, bars, nightclubs, hookah/cigar bars, coffee shops, fast-food spots with seating, breweries, winery/distillery tasting rooms, food halls/courts, and other mixed-used facilitiies
- All Vax Mandate Cities Include These
- Indoor Entertainment: sporting venues, music/concert venues, live entertainment (theater) venues, movie theaters, strip clubs, bowling alleys
- All Vax Mandate Cities Appear to Include These (some only if they serve food/drink)
- Indoor Exercise/Recreation: gyms, exercise facilities, dance/yoga/pilates, other group fitness class
- Philadelphia does not have a vaccine mandate for these facilities, but because it has a mask or vax mandate, many gyms already require vaccines so patrons don’t have to wear masks.
- Indoor Event/Meeting: Hotel meeting rooms/other common rooms, banquet halls, conference centers, convention center, auditoriums, shared work facilities but only when hosting events. But not private meeting spaces in office buildings.
- Philly only requires vax mandate if food served
- Any other Place When Temporarily Doing One of the Above
- Examples: renting a church for a non-religious concert, a bookstore hosts a seated book talk
Generally (but not exclusively), DC chose places “where people will be closely congregated for a prolonged period of time.”
What About Takeout or Going to the Bathroom If Outdoor Seating?
- Not required to show vax proof if “only briefly entering” for a “quick and limited purpose” (e.g., takeout order, picking up order, making a delivery, use restroom). Will likely get more details and examples in future.
- All Vax Mandate Cities Appear To Include These Types of Exemptions.
- Honolulu and Chicago put a 10 minute time limit.
- SF/Oakland/Boston/NYC allow repair folks to come in without showing proof
- All Vax Mandate Cities Appear To Include These Types of Exemptions.
What Are Covered Businesses Required to Do?
- Prominently post signage at entrances, such as on door or window (see above for example)
- Verify vaccination.
- Expected to use best efforts, but not expected to be sleuths/detectives and do anything else to verify whether proof is real
- More Details to Come by COB Thursday, December 30th
- Biz must check proof at “the entry point or at the first point of contact between the customer and a staff member”
- Like most cities
- Seattle at least allows gyms to keep a record of vax status and not require it to be shown each time.
- Chicago allows event planners to handle verification
- CHANGE from previously reported: Businesses will be required to check adults (18+) IDs against vax proof
- Most cities require adults (or 16+) to show ID as well as verification of vax.
- Seattle doesn’t require ID even for adults saying “In our stakeholder engagement, we received feedback that ID checks are associated with trauma stemming from racist and discriminatory practices, plus can lead to distrust for many communities.”
What Can Visitors Show For Proof of Entry?
- Original CDC vax card
- Please don’t do that. No need to carry that around in case it gets lost
- Photocopy of CDC vax card
- Photo of CDC vax card
- Immunization Record Print Out from Patient Portal
- COVID-19 Verification App, such as
- DC MyIR Mobile (PDF or printout presumably, asked about during press conference)
Over 80% of you typically show a photo or some other electronic proof.
So, this Applies to Staff of These Establishments, Right?
DC officials deflected questions about this at the first press conference. During the DMPED Town Hall, Deputy Mayor John Falccichio stated that DC leadership was very supportive of the Biden Administration’s efforts to require larger employers to require vax or weekly testing and that they were closely monitoring the litigation-implying that DC wanted to avoid litigation and may follow with an employee mandate if the Federal requirement is upheld by the Supreme Court.
In addition, based on debates in other cities, this likely boils down to staffing-in the hospitality field for example, there is a labor shortage.
To my surprise, many other cities did not include this requirement:
Vax Required for Staff: NYC, LA (nightclubs/lounges/breweries/wineries/distilleries only), Philly, Boston, SF (deadline was 2 months later than customers)
Vax or Weekly Negative Test Required for Staff: Chicago, Honolulu, New Orleans
No Requirement: DC, LA (restaurants and non-bars no requirement), Seattle (strongly recommended), Oakland
Can I show a Negative COVID Test Result Instead?
- No. Unless you are entitled to a reasonable accommodation for medical/religious reasons (see more below)
- Most cities don’t have the negative test option (except for reasonable accommodations) except these places:
- Seattle: negative test w/in 72 hours (can’t be a self test).
- Honolulu: negative test w/in 48 hours.
- New Orleans: negative test w/in 72 hours.
- Philadelphia will allow negative tests to be accepted for 1st two weeks (1/3 – 1/17)
What Other Types of Spots DC Isn’t Subjecting to a Vax Mandate That Other Cities Are?
DC is covering most places that are covered in other spots, except:
- Applies in NYC, LA, Seattle, Honolulu, Oakland, Boston
- Doesn’t Apply in New Orleans, Philly, SF, Chicago (except in dining areas)
- Most likely doesn’t apply in DC due to potential confusion with Smithsonian, which doesn’t need to follow DC rules. May change in future.
- Government Buildings
- LA (City Hall, rec centers, service centers)
- Oakland: vax or negative test
- Outdoor stadiums/large events
- LA, Seattle, New Orleans: vax or negative test
- Shopping Malls
- LA only
- Most if not all other cities require this in mall food courts/restaurants
- Hair Salons/Barber Shops/Tattoo Shops/Massage Parlors
- LA Only
- Senior Centers
- LA & Oakland
Why is DC Requiring Vax Mandates When Vaccinated Can Still Get COVID and spread the virus?
DC is very transparent that the main purpose of these mandates is to get people vaccinated “to preserve life, health, and hospital capacity.” The Mayor’s order mentions the following:
- Less than 3% of those hospitalized in DC were fully vaccinated. Death is rare.
- Cases most rapidly increasing in 25-34 year olds, with 80% of new cases under age of 44; younger folks less vaccinated than older folks. Younger folks more likely to goto restaurants, bars, clubs, live music and sporting events
- Vaccine requirements have gotten vaccine hesitant people to get vaxxed.
- Increase in vaccine coverage will “help to reduce the amount of virus circulating”
This was reiterated in the DMPED Town Hall.
They didn’t mention this-but was implied-because vaccinated are still less likely to contract the virus, because you can’t spread the virus unless you’ve contracted it.
Some studies also have cities the shorter infectious/contagious period for fully vaxxed, as another reason why vax mandates are still a good thing. IHME at the University of Washington modeled how a vaccine mandate in Seattle would help.
Why Isn’t DC Mandating Full Vax (Instead of Partial) Immediately?
Since the whole point is to incentivize vaccinations, DC wants people to have some time to comply and get their vaccination series. They also want to give time for businesses to prepare
Quickest/Longest Lead Time from Announcement to Implementation
- New Orleans: 4 days (8/12 to 8/16)
- SF: 8 days (8/12 to 8/20)
- NYC: 13 days (8/3 to 8/16, enforcement started 9/13)
- Chicago: 13 days (12/21 to 1/3)
- Honolulu: 14 days (8/30 to 9/13)
- Philly: 20 days (12/13 to 1/3, vax 1/17)
- DC: 24 days (12/22 to 1/15)
- Boston: 26 days (12/20 to 1/15)
- LA: 32 days (10/6 to 11/8, enforcement started 11/29)
- Seattle: 40 days (9/16 to 10/25)
- Oakland: 41 days (12/22 to 2/1)
Several cities had a lag time between partial vax and full vax requirement for 12+:
- New Orleans: 5.5 months (8/16 to 2/1)
- NYC: 4 months (8/16 to 12/27)
- DC: 30 days (1/15 to 2/15)
- Boston: 30 days (1/15 to 2/15)
- Honolulu, Chicago, Oakland, Philly, SF, Seattle went straight to full vax as requirement, though as you can see above, there was still a lag time between announcement and requirement for most
What About Booster Shots?
The CDC has not changed the definition of fully vaccinated yet, so it remains J&J (1 shot), and Moderna/Pfizer (2 shots). The mayoral order explicitly delegates to Department of Health to add booster shots to the requirement in the future; I expect they will do this once CDC announces a change to definition and/or other cities follow suit.
No cities with a vax mandate have required boosters yet for entry into these establishments.
What About Ages Under 12?
The VaxDC requirement only applies to those age 12 and over (a grace period will be implemented for those who recently turn 12), who have all been eligible to be vaxxed since May 2021. Those age 5-11 were only authorized in early November 2021 and will not be required to show vax proof. The mayor’s order doesn’t mention them, so a new order will need to be issued in future if wish to add.
Cities including age 5-11:
- NYC: partial 12/14, full 1/29
- New Orleans: partial 1/3, full 2/1 (same as 12+)
- Philly: partial 1/3, full 2/3
- Boston: partial 3/1, full 5/1
- Chicago: full 1/3 (same as 12+)
- LA, SF, Seattle, Honolulu, Oakland, DC: 5-11 no requirement yet
Why Are Churches Excluded?
NBC4 Mark Segraves tried to get a straight answer on this during last week’s press conference, with DC officials just mentioning case spreads not being that much in churches but they sort of danced around it. Churches are often places where people congregate closely for lengthy periods of time, so one might expect them to be included. But DC has already lost at least lawsuit challenging capacity restrictions on churches, and given the Supreme Court’s rulings on this in the past year, no other city appears to be require churches to have a vaccine mandate. Under the current Supreme Court makeup, this would likely only be upheld if the requirement applied to every single business open to the public, including grocery stores and other retail.
Who Will Enforce This on Businesses?
Businesses will be required to check proof of vaccination. DC said a bunch of agencies, can take action against these places that don’t post signs and don’t check for vax proof, including $1000 fines and suspended licenses. But after what I expect to be a lengthy education period (at least a week or two), I will expect ABRA to enforce bars/restaurants (warnings to start), and DOH to enforce everywhere else.
Will you still be required to wear a mask in these places?
Yes, at least until January 31st, unless the Mayor shortens/extends the mask order. Of course it doesn’t apply when not eating or drinking in restaurants and ABRA only requires biz to enforce upon entry.
- Masks and Vax Required: SF (except gyms), Honolulu, LA, Boston, Oakland, Chicago
- Vax Required, Masks Not Required: NYC, New Orleans, Philly
What About Medical/Religious Accommodations?
DC exempts those who are medically exempt or unable to take vaccine out of a sincerely held religious belief. These patrons will be allowed to enter but only if they provide a negative PCR or antigen test within the last 24 hours and provide documentation (note from medical provider or attestation that they have a sincerely held religious belief). As Dept of Health noted, there are very few medical reasons why someone shouldn’t be vaccinated.
Cities are all over the place on this:
- NYC doesn’t apparently allow religious exemptions.
- LA allows negative test accommodations but only if no outdoor space is available.
- SF allows a business without outdoor space to accommodate by simply telling customer about nearby place that has outdoor space.
- But most will accommodate religious/medical exemptions by allowing a negative test instead.
Why Doesn’t DC Create an App like NYC To Verify Vaccinations?
First, there may be a misconception. Although NYC started using the Excelsior Pass (which generates a QR code/pass) very early and also has a NYC COVID Safe App which just contains a photo of your CDC card and photo ID, NYC doesn’t require the use of one of the apps. Bsed on what I’ve heard from a current bartender in NYC and my brother who moved from there recently, only half of patrons use one of these apps; the rest just show a photo of their CDC card or a paper version.
DC doesn’t seem to be that interested in creating an app given a large chunk of residents (1/4 to 1/3 by some estimates) got vaccinated outside DC so DC would be unable to verify the vaccinations of those who got vaxxed elsewhere-the MyIr Mobile (not an app but a web-based portal) does serve this purpose. DC recommends a couple apps (see above).
Unlike Europe, which has fewer political and social hurdles in allowing governments to keep track who all in the entire country/EU have been vaccinated, the CDC does not keep track of who has been vaccinated (they have state of residence, age, and race info). I’m not sure if there are any laws that would prevent them from doing that originally, but it would have been a complicated/expensive undertaking (unlikely to be implemented in time) and they may have been concerned that some lawmakers / citizens would threaten budget/be spooked from getting vaccinated if there was a national database
What is the current DC vaccination coverage in DC?
According to CDC data, 95% of DC residents 12+ have at least one shot, 76% fully vaxxed. However, this data likely overstates the number with one shot (lot of boosters counted as first shot since people were vaxxed in different sites/states than first shots) and understates full vax (lot of 2nd shots were counted as 1st shots), so I would estimate actually over 4 out of 5 DC residents 12 and over are fully vaccinated.
Isn’t this policy inequitable or racist?
Although this question seems to be frequently posed in bad faith by people who have never really cared about social justice, there are some people who genuinely believe this. Many who believe that a vaccination requirement is racist cite the personal experiences and the many articles in the media discussing the deserved distrust by many in the Black community to public health and medical professionals, as well as issues with unequal access. According to many of these people, the data is indicative of this mistrust and access issues: DC Health data (as of 12/22) says only 46.6% of Black DC residents over the age of 12 are fully vaxxed (54.4% at least partially).
However, DC racial vaccination data is limited: 1) many vaccinations, particularly early on, were missing demographic/race data, 2) people who got vaccinated elsewhere outside DC likely are not included in these stats. So people who fall into either groups are considered unvaccinated according to the statistics.
Given that the same data shows that 48.2% of White DC residents over the age of 12 are fully vaxxed (59.2% at least partially), makes it even clearer the data limitations. It would be impossible for these stats to be reconciled with the full DC stats (76% full, 95% partial) without recognizing the limitations in the data.
A potentially better way to show the difference (and a difference does remain) is to compare the White % to Black % (by dividing the percentages), which shows White full vax % is 3.4% higher and partial/full vax is 8.8% higher. However, some may argue that earlier vaccinations and out of DC vaccinations included disproportionately more White people so this may understate the disparity.
Another data point: CDC data nationally shows that Black people make up 10% of people who have received at least one dose and 11% of those recently vaccinated, compared to 12% of the population. White people make up a smaller share of people who have received at least one dose (58%) and people who have recently received a vaccination (50%) compared to their share of the total population (61%).
When does a Vaccine Mandate Disappear/Come Back?
The mayor’s order is indefinite. I would expect this mandate to stay in place as long as the WHO declares a pandemic.
Many cities have set an extendable time limit of 6 months. Chicago said this mandate stays until city is “through this Omicron-driven surge and the risk of overwhelming hospital capacity has passed.”
Will this work?
Depends on what the goal is (or what you think the goal should be).
DC’s stated goal is to increase vaccinations. It’s hard to say whether people who are unvaxxed in DC are frequently patronizing bars and restaurants and other covered biz. Many of those unvaxxed folks may try to show fake vax cards. I do think that might be overblown so I could see that there could be some number of people getting vaxxed due to these entry requirements. Perhaps this may be more likely for the 12-17 aged folks.
I don’t necessarily think this will make bars and restaurants any “safer” – vaxxed people still get infected and contagious, though less likely to do so, so perhaps this argument has some merit. Still, with people showing fake vax cards, may be difficult.