Pile of masks
Credit: Laura Hayes

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The mask mandate is getting lifted—again.

Most public settings will no longer be required to enforce mask wearing indoors starting Monday, Nov. 22. During a press conference with DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, Mayor Muriel Bowser said mask wearing won’t completely end, and it may return in the future. However, the mandate will coincide with a new “risk-based” system that operates off of a person’s vaccination status.

“We continue to make progress on increasing our vaccination rates,” Bowser said Tuesday, adding that “vaccines remain our most effective tool in our toolkit for ending the pandemic.”

Bowser’s plan to relax the mask mandate comes as weekly positive case rates in D.C. is at about 83 per 100,000, well above the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended target rate of 50 per week. And Montgomery County officials announced Tuesday the return of an indoor mask mandate due to rising cases.

At-Large Councilmember Robert White, who is running for mayor against Bowser, called her decision “premature.”

Here are the big takeaways for D.C.:

Mask mandates will be dropped for, among other businesses:

  • Bars and restaurants
  • Gyms and other exercise locations
  • Retail stores
  • Office buildings
  • Houses of worship

Businesses are free to maintain their mask or vaccination mandates if they wish. Masks will also be required, regardless of vaccination status for:

  • Public transportation
  • Taxi and rideshare services
  • Schools, childcare facilities, and libraries
  • “Congregate facilities” such as nursing homes, shelters, and correctional facilities

In recent days, Bowser and Nesbitt have referred to the pandemic becoming endemic. When an illness is endemic, it remains prevalent in a community but doesn’t affect day to day life as much, similar to the flu.

“When we talk about something being endemic it’s really my way of trying to stress to people that we’ve moved away from this goal of getting to zero cases,” Nesbitt said. “We may see seasonal variation, even with a vaccine. We may see lower numbers of cases in the spring and summer and increases in cases in the fall and winter. … It’s more sort of creating those expectations around those trends.”

Bowser and health officials stressed several times that everyone 5 and up should get vaccinated. They also said people in high-risk groups, in addition to recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, should get a booster shot to prolong their immunity. For those who choose to remain unvaccinated, Nesbitt had a blunt statement: “The world is not necessarily set up for the unvaccinated anymore.”

Bailey Vogt (tips? bvogt@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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