Mayor Muriel E. Bowser will extend the District’s indoor mask requirement until the end of February, she announced Wednesday, rather than allowing the mandate to expire at the end of the month.
Like many leaders, Bowser has shifted her mask rules as the pandemic has gone on. Her decision in November to rescind her legal requirement that D.C. residents and visitors wear masks in all public indoor spaces — a rule which had been consistently in place since the advent of the delta variant in late July — drew criticism from most members of the D.C. Council and many residents.
That opposition only deepened when the omicron variant came to light; Bowser’s health department issued an “advisory” in early December asking residents to voluntarily wear masks. Later that month, when D.C.'s daily cases began to set records — eventually reaching a case rate that soared to the highest in the nation as omicron battered the city — the mayor brought the mandate back.
She also imposed new restrictions, including a vaccine requirement for patrons of restaurants, gyms and certain other establishments that took effect Jan. 15.
When Bowser restored the mask mandate in December, she said it would expire at the end of January. Case rates have greatly improved since that time — down from a peak weekly rate of more than 2,200 new cases for every 100,000 residents, to a rate Wednesday of 379 new cases weekly per 100,000, according to city data.
Still, even that rate represents significantly more community spread of the virus than D.C. had experienced at any other point in the pandemic before omicron.
In mid-January, Bowser had declared a limited public health emergency, allowing hospitals to change their practices to address a surge in people seeking care, especially as people with mild coronavirus symptoms sought treatment or tests at emergency rooms. The emergency had been set to expire Tuesday.
“Although the surge of infections relating to the omicron variant appears to be abating, the stress on hospitals and medical providers and facilities continues,” the mayor’s order read. “Hospitalizations and deaths lag infections, so the District is facing increases in hospitalized patients with COVID-19, increased ventilator use by persons with COVID-19, and more deaths than the District experienced at the beginning of January.”