D.C. Joins New York, Chicago and San Francisco With Indoor Proof-of-Vaccination Mandate

The District of Columbia announced new COVID-19 mandates requiring proof of vaccination to enter indoor spaces after the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly across the nation.

Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Wednesday residents over 12-years-old must provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccine starting in mid-January if they want to enter places like restaurants, gyms, bars or nightclubs.

People must have at least one shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine by mid-January and be fully vaccinated after a month. People getting the Johnson and Johnson vaccine must have their vaccination card by the mid-January deadline.

The new indoor vaccination mandate was made just two days after Bowser reinstated the use of indoor masks. "I don't make any of these types of decisions lightly," she told reporters.

D.C. joined other cities by implementing new COVID-19 mandates. New York City, San Francisco and Chicago all announced similar rules after a spike in COVID-19 cases ahead of the holidays.

The new mandates were put into place after concerns about the rapidly spreading Omicron variant causing an increase in COVID-19 infections. The government said 73 percent of new infections in the country have been from the Omicron variant.

So far, D.C. has reported 25 cases of the Omicron variant.

COVID-19 Vaccination Card
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced December 22, 2021, residents over 12-years-old must provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccine starting in mid-January if they want to enter places like restaurants, gyms, bars or nightclubs. In this Dec. 24, 2020, file photo, a COVID-19 vaccination record card is shown at Seton Medical Center in Daly City, California. Jeff Chiu/AP Photo

The rising infection wave around the country has been reflected in Washington and the communities in northern Virginia and southern Maryland. Last week, Washington reported record-breaking infection numbers on two consecutive days. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Trayon White, a member of the D.C. Council, have both reported testing positive in recent days.

Much about Omicron remains unknown, like whether it causes more or less severe illness. Scientists say Omicron spreads more easily than other coronavirus strains. Early studies suggest the vaccinated will need a booster shot for the best chance at preventing an Omicron infection, but even without the extra dose, vaccination still should offer strong protection against severe illness and death.

"We know it's only a matter of time," said Patrick Ashley of the D.C. health department. "There's a lot of COVID in the community and it's understandable to be anxious."

Ashley said local data showed unvaccinated people are seven times more likely to be infected and 15 times more likely to be hospitalized. He urged residents to get the booster shot as well.

"It's not enough just to get your two shots," Ashley said.

The wave of public anxiety had led to long lines outside several testing facilities and a renewed debate on whether school buildings should open next year when winter break ends. The January return date for most students has already been pushed back by two days to allow for the preparation and delivery of thousands of rapid tests.

All D.C. students—whether in public, private or charter schools—must be fully vaccinated by March 1. That means two shots for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

"We are doing anything in our power to keep schools open" said Bowser, adding that it may have been a mistake in hindsight to keep the school buildings shut for the entire 2020-2021 school year.

Bowser acknowledged the emotional toll of a second COVID winter surge, but pointed to a distinction between now and a year ago.

"We know very well that it is not 2020 because of the vaccine," she said. "We have a safe and effective vaccine that is available. The vaccines are working and they're working well to keep people out of the hospital and keep people from dying from COVID-19."

She said crises such as the pandemic are "the exact time when the government needs to make some decisions for the whole society."

Churches, grocery stores and outdoor stadiums are exempt from the vaccine requirement, and Bowser said fast-food restaurants may also be exempted when more detailed guidance is issued this week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Washington DC Mask Mandate
A woman wears a mask as she works behind a counter at a restaurant in Chinatown December 21, 2021, in Washington, DC. District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser reinstated the city’s indoor mask mandate at 6am on Tuesday and announced a vaccination mandate for government employees after COVID case numbers have surged to a new high. Alex Wong/Getty Images