After a week of skyrocketing Covid cases, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced today that DC will require proof of vaccination at restaurants, gyms, entertainment facilities, and other indoor venues beginning Jan. 15. Come March, all DC students who are eligible for Covid vaccines must also receive them.
DC will join New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and a handful of other cities that have already rolled out similar policies for indoor gathering places. The news follows the emergence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which has overtaken Delta nationally as the predominant Covid virus strain. Between December 17 and 19, DC reported 3,763 new cases, the highest number by a long shot since the pandemic began.
Patrons aged 12 and older must receive at least one dose of the Covid vaccine by January 15 in order to enter restaurants, bars, nightclubs, concert venues, recreation centers, gyms, concert halls, sporting venues, meeting establishments, and other indoor venues outlined here. By Feb. 15, they must be fully vaccinated. A physical CDC vaccination card, digital copy/photo, or other verification app (such as VaxYes or CLEAR) may all be accepted. There will be no test-out option at this time. The mandate focuses on patrons, but not employees. It does not currently include places of worship, museums, grocery stores, and retail stores. More guidance, including on potential health or religious exemptions, will be issued by the end of next week.
“We’re asking businesses to do more, but we also think this is a benefit to their business,” Bowser said.
As for schools, the new vaccine mandate will apply to public, charter, private, and parochial students eligible for the vaccine beginning March 1. Students have 70 days from their date of eligibility to get the shot.
The District already requires government employees, contractors, grantees, and interns to be vaccinated. Bowser announced on Monday that the policy would be expanded to require booster shots as well with no test-out option. Adults in DC schools and childcare centers as well as health care workers are are also required to be vaccinated. Still, up until this point, Bowser has been reluctant to push a more expansive vaccine requirement for private businesses.
“I’m not sure how effective that will be on a jurisdiction by jurisdiction basis. We don’t live in bubbles, and we certainly don’t live in a bubble in this region,” Bowser said in a press conference in August.
A number of gyms, theaters, and at least 50 DC bars and restaurants have already instituted their own vax policies. That number has grown in recent days as outbreaks have led to a flurry of temporary closures.