DC rolls back indoor vaccination and masking requirements, prompting response from University
Students and faculty offer mixed reactions to the district’s decision
Mayor Muriel Bowser announced in a Feb. 14 press conference that D.C. would begin to scale back existing indoor mask and vaccine requirements.
American University said in an email to the community on Feb. 15 that its current guidelines would remain in place for the time being.
“Our combination of testing, vaccine requirement, contact tracing, and masking has been important to the well-being of our community,” Vice President of Undergraduate Enrollment, Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence Fanta Aw wrote. “We will continue to evaluate our measures as the situation evolves.”
For the district, the vaccine requirement for indoor venues ended Feb. 15, and the mask requirement for certain indoor locations will expire on March 1. Private businesses are permitted to keep their mask requirements.
Masks will still be required in schools, childcare facilities, libraries, congregate facilities such as dorms, medical facilities, public transit, rideshare vehicles and certain D.C. government facilities.
The mayor justified the changes with the 90 percent reduction in cases since the height of the Omicron wave in January and the 95 percent fall in hospitalizations.
The changes will usher in one of the first periods in the past two years without a mask mandate in place in the district. In the summer of 2021, the city briefly lifted indoor mask mandates from the end of May to the end of July, and then did so again in the late fall.
While Bowser said private businesses may elect to continue requiring proof of vaccination and masks, AU senior Olivia Loibner, who works at Woodley Park restaurant Open City said she believes a city mandate is necessary to ensure restaurants verify vaccinations.
“I don’t think there’s a single restaurant in D.C. today that is still asking to see people’s vaccination cards because they’re scared they’re going to lose business,” she said.
Loibner estimated that even with the mask mandate in place, at least a quarter of patrons violated the masking rules at some point during their visit. She said that she had observed similar disregard for masking with students at the University, calling it “frustrating” and “disappointing.”
Cases at the University have been on the rise as district cases fall.
Christian Damiana, the advisory neighborhood commissioner for 3D07 and School of Public Affairs senior, expressed dissatisfaction with Bowser’s decision to relax masking protocols and stop requiring proof of vaccination.
“I think that this was a rash, uninformed decision. It’s very clear that the mayor did it for political reasons,” he said, suggesting that the mayor could have been bowing to pressure from the public to lift mask and vaccine mandates.
He said he supported D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau’s emergency measure to reinstate the vaccine requirement. Nadeau withdrew the measure on Feb. 18 when it became clear that she did not have the necessary votes for the bill to pass.
Melissa Hawkins, the director of undergraduate programs in the Department of Health Studies, expressed support for Bowser’s approach. She said it made sense to her to loosen restrictions because the mayor has a track record of listening to science and because cases were dropping in the district.
“I think this is a compromise to acknowledge that this pandemic continues to evolve,” she said, explaining that although public pressure may have played a role in the decision, it was still supported by the numbers.
Nevertheless, Hawkins called the University’s decision to uphold its mask mandate “prudent” given the high concentration of people on campus and said she believed that students, faculty and staff would be in favor of any measures taken to protect the community’s health.