As omicron takes center stage as the dominant coronavirus variant among the thousands of recently reported COVID-19 cases, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the city council have taken measures to further compel District residents to get vaccinated and boosted.
On Wednesday, Bowser announced that, within a matter of weeks, owners of certain public gathering spaces would be required to check the vaccination status of patrons 12 and older. Starting mid-January, entrance into bars and nightclubs, indoor meeting establishments and indoor recreation spaces would require at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
“It is the responsibility of our residents to be safe,” Bowser said. “We want to make sure that District residents get vaccinated and get boosted.”
This move follows, not only similar policy decisions in other U.S. cities, but the D.C. Council’s passage of Coronavirus Immunization of School Students and Early Childhood Workers Amendment Act which, starting March 1, mandates vaccinations for students in public, public charter, private and parochial schools.
The legislation, championed by Council member Christina Henderson (I-At large), also requires early childcare employees and other school employees to receive vaccinations annually.
“This is essentially adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of vaccinations required for schools and day care centers,” Henderson said. “This language [also] puts into law a vaccination order for childcare workers.”
D.C.’s health department says that nearly two out of three residents have been fully vaccinated. On Wednesday, the Bowser administration cited data that showed the risk of COVID-19 hospitalization increasing 15 times among those who haven’t been vaccinated.
Since the start of the school year, the District has mandated vaccinations for government employees, including public school teachers. Similar mandates followed for charter school teachers and athletes.
By the time the council started deliberating whether to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for schoolchildren, the federal government approved COVID-19 vaccinations for young people between the ages of five and 11. Not long after, schools across the city hosted vaccination clinics and ramped up campaigns to encourage vaccination among skeptical community members.
Weeks later, at the beginning of December, the number of on-campus COVID-19 cases recorded during the school year surpassed 2,000. On Dec. 20, the city’s health department reported more than 1,110 new COVID-19 cases within a day. Amid several on-campus outbreaks, numerous District public and public charter schools made the pivot to virtual learning.
D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) stopped short of implementing a systemwide move to virtual learning, despite Council Chair Phil Mendelson’s request that DCPS officials reveal plans to mitigate the sudden increase in COVID-19 cases.
On Monday, in response to the recent surge, Bowser revealed that public schools would remain closed on Jan. 3 and 4 of next year to allow students the opportunity to take rapid COVID-19 tests. However, a growing chorus of parents and community members have called for an extension of virtual learning, similar to the steps taken by Prince George’s County Public County Schools.
This followed criticism, throughout the school year and in recent weeks, that decisions made by District officials reflected don’t keep in mind the experiences of students and teachers. As previously reported by The Informer, one teacher, Steve Donkin, made such a claim.
“The mayor and chancellor clearly have no idea what’s happening in schools,” said Donkin, a science teacher and Washington Teachers’ Union building representative at Cardozo High School in Northwest.
“Students like to get close to each other,” Donkin said. “They don’t like to wear masks all day. It’s a universal experience to keep reminding students to cover their face and we get tired of it. City leaders led the public to believe that the rules would be easily enforced with fidelity. We knew from the get-go it would be impossible but they kept repeating this myth.”