Washington, DC, will lift its indoor mask mandate for most locations from Nov. 22, Mayor Muriel bowserMuriel BowserGreene gave permission to join the ‘patriot wing’ of the DC prison to visit accused Jan. 6 Bowser running for third term as DC Mayor Equilibrium / Sustainability – Presented by Southern Company – How Biofuels from Mars be able to transport people MORE (D) announced Tuesday.
The mandate for masks in most indoor locations, which was one of the strictest remaining in the country, has been in place since July, when the delta variant of the coronavirus began to spread rapidly across the United States.
“This does not mean that… everyone should stop wearing their mask, but it does mean that we are moving the government’s response to provide you with this risk-based information and recommend stratification strategies as the best way to protect yourself and society,” he said. Bowser during a press conference.
Masks will still be required in schools and in public transportation, as well as in town halls and DC government facilities with public-facing roles, Bowser said. Private companies will also be free to insert their own mandates.
Bowser said vaccines work to prevent serious illness and hospitalization, and DC residents will be able to assess their own risks and make their own decisions about wearing masks.
City officials did not say whether there were any specific measurements that led to the decision to lift the mask mandate, saying only that the vaccination effort has been a success. Officials also did not provide a direct answer as to whether the mandate should ever be reinstated.
The DC department of health director LaQuandra Nesbitt said the agency is tracking changes to the virus and will keep the public informed if changes in mitigation strategies are needed.
Neighboring Montgomery County, Maryland, which has a higher vaccination rate than DC, recently revoked its mandate for indoor masking, based on case metrics and a lower level of community transfer. But the levels rose almost instantly, which in turn triggered the mandate.
The number of cases in DC has been on a plateau for at least a week, remaining at about 80-90 cases per week for every 100,000 inhabitants. But Bowser said vaccinations keep these infections relatively mild, meaning those vaccinated will not be hospitalized.
“Despite the increase we are seeing in breakthrough infections … we have not seen an increase in the number or proportion of fully vaccinated people admitted,” Nesbitt said. “Nearly 100 percent of COVID-19-related hospitalizations have occurred in unvaccinated individuals.”
Nesbitt said DC is moving toward seeing COVID-19 as endemic, where it’s more like the flu; a virus that exists but with a risk that is controlled and that people live with every day.
The city is changing its public reporting and tracking so people can better understand their own risks and societal risks as well as the long-term strategy for COVID-19, Nesbitt said. This means that some of the dashboards will change to better reflect that point of view.
For example, test capacity and test treatment times have not changed in months, so it is not helpful to get people to “fix” it, Nesbitt said. The idea is to help the public separate the polls that are important and influence city policies from those that are not.
Nesbitt said it is also more helpful at this point to report the percentage of new cases admitted, rather than the percentage of all admissions that have COVID-19. It can help people better assess their own individual risk.
The public largely does not track the daily details of how the city handles the flu, and Nesbitt said she wants to start moving in that direction with COVID-19.
Bowser acknowledged that cases in DC are likely to increase over the winter, as they are in other parts of the country. But vaccinations help and will keep admissions low, she said.
Updated at 13:20