Washington, DC declares public emergency over new COVID-19 surge

Washington, DC declares public emergency over new COVID-19 surge
Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser

Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announced today that indoor mask mandate in the city will be reimposed starting tomorrow, December 21.

Citing a ‘surge’ in the number of new COVID-19 cases, the US capital administration has declared a public health emergency, and, in addition to reinstating mandatory indoor mask requirement, ordered all city employees to get both COVID-19 vaccination jabs and the booster shots as well.

The indoor mask mandate was originally imposed in Washington, DC in July but was lifted on November 22 – just days before the World Health Organization (WHO) designated Omicron strain of the COVID-19 virus a variant of concern.

All city employees, contractors, and grant recipients are now mandated to get fully vaccinated, as well as receive a booster shot, Bowser also announced. She did not name a specific deadline. The measure may well be the first time a US city has mandated boosters, as well as ruled out an option to remain unvaccinated while being subject to weekly tests.

Bowser also said the district was dramatically expanding testing, including providing a rapid antigen test for every student, teacher, and staff member in DC public schools. Schools will remain closed on January 3 and 4 so everyone can pick up their test and return “safely,” she added.

“It is critical that all eligible people are getting vaccinated and boosted,” the mayor said.

Fewer than 1% of the COVID-19 infections in Washington, DC have been attributed to the new Omicron strain so far, but the authorities expect that number to rise, said Dr. Anjali Talwalkar, of the DC Department of Health. She added that hospitalizations are “holding steady” at 5% of cases, which she attributed to vaccines. 

President Joe Biden is expected to announce new nationwide restrictions on Tuesday. The White House has warned unvaccinated Americans that they are “looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm.”

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