Some DC parents say they and their unvaccinated children were not taken into account when Mayor Muriel Bowser lifted the city’s indoor mask mandate.
To celebrate that her 6-year-old son has been fully vaccinated against coronavirus, DC parent Leilah Mooney Joseph has planned what she called a “Ferris Buellers day off.”
He will go to the grocery store, a shoe store, a toy store and then eat outside at a restaurant. Mooney Joseph plans to meet those requests, but all of the businesses they stop at will be in Montgomery County, Maryland, she said.
Although the couple will both be fully vaccinated, Mooney Joseph, who is pregnant and has an unvaccinated 3-year-old, feels more confident knowing that masks are needed indoors in Montgomery County.
Seven days in a row of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers a “significant” community transfer prompted the county to reintroduce its indoor mask mandate.
In DC, meanwhile, masks indoors are no longer required.
“Especially with the holiday season on the way, our ability to shop or take our kids to do some of the holiday activities that take place in different places in the city, [removing the indoor mask mandate] threw a wrench at all that, ”said Mooney Joseph, a resident of Ward 4.
Mayor Muriel Bowser’s decision to no longer require masks in most indoor spaces, with exceptions for some places like schools, public transportation and health care, has left some DC parents anxious as the holiday approaches.
In email and phone conversations, eight DC parents told the WTOP that the move to turn away from masks indoors is premature and fails to take into account families whose children under 5 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
Children under the age of 5 make up about 6.4% of DC’s population, according to US Census data.
Bowser’s office did not respond to the WTOP’s request for comment on any of the community’s criticisms at the time this story was published.
Earlier this month, Bowser said that changing the mask guide “does not mean that … everyone should stop wearing their mask, but it does mean we change the government’s response to giving you this risk-based information and recommending stratification strategies such as the best way to protect yourself and society. “
Health authorities maintain that the best way to protect young children is to surround them with fully vaccinated people, and to have children become seriously ill with coronavirus. But parents are still worried.
DC is experiencing “significant” community transmission, according to the CDC, which advises people to wear masks indoors in areas with “significant” or “high” community transmission, regardless of vaccination status.
Bowser’s decision has been criticized by several members of the DC Council, who sent her a letter last week asking her to reconsider, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s best expert in infectious diseases, said last week on NPR’s “Morning Edition” that mask removal requirements add an element of risk.
Most recently, the DC State Board of Education issued a statement criticizing the decision, noting “the end of the mandate in large parts of the public sphere, but maintaining it in schools and childcare settings does not provide adequate protection for children.”
Zachary Parker, chairman of the board, which also runs for the Ward 5 DC council seat, told the WTOP that parents across the city’s eight departments have expressed frustration over the decision and would rather have the indoor mask mandate removed either after winter or when vaccines are available to all children.
“Parents with young children under 5 have told how terrified they are of what it means, how this is likely to limit their ability to engage as a family and benefit from resources throughout the city, knowing that this is likely to provide free rein for people and likely increase the spread of the virus, “Parker said.
It’s the fear of ward 4 parent Alexandra Simbana, who got coronavirus in May 2020, was hospitalized for nine days and is still experiencing some residual symptoms.
Simbana, who was initially optimistic that she and her children would be able to have more social gatherings this winter, is now thinking of other thoughts due to the change in the city’s mask requirements.
“When Dr. Fauci does not even think it’s a good idea, you know what you are doing is irresponsible,” Simbana said.
“And instead, this administration’s tactic is just to dig in and try to change reality. The thing is, every family looks at this information religiously. We all make our own judgment.”
Section 1 parent Becky Reina, whose 8- and 10-year-olds have received their first vaccine doses, said Bowser’s decision does not allow ample time for children to be fully vaccinated. The CDC says people are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series.
With many children recently eligible, she said, there has not been enough time.
“Any exposure you have outside of school, COVID can find its way to schools,” Reina said. “Parents have given up so much in this pandemic, children have given up so much. It feels a bit like a stomach-churning for the mask mandate to be dropped right now.”
Some DC companies said they plan to continue asking customers to wear masks, and Bowser warned last week that it is not time to completely do away with masks. But for some parents like Mooney Joseph, there is too much uncertainty.
“Kids are home at night and on the weekends with their parents, and not everyone is in a position where they can choose not to take their kids with them when they go to the grocery store,” Mooney Joseph said.
“When you remove these public health measures and really leave it to the individual, you’re just putting the burden on parents who’ve already been through the toughest 18 months.”