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As D.C. prepares to mask up, council members ask how long it’ll last

A sign outside of a store reminds patrons to wear face masks on July 30 in D.C.’s Union Station.
A sign outside of a store reminds patrons to wear face masks on July 30 in D.C.’s Union Station. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
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Some D.C. Council members on Friday asked officials in Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s administration when the new masking mandate could safely be lifted, a day after Bowser announced masks would be required indoors Saturday to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Patrick Ashley, senior deputy director of emergency preparedness and response at the D.C. Department of Health, said health officials are closely monitoring reopening metrics that measure levels of community spread. Since the beginning of the month, both the city’s test positivity rate and daily case rate have climbed above “minimal community spread” levels.

D.C. reinstates indoor mask mandate as coronavirus cases rise

“We are looking for that sustained minimal community transmission to be carried out for some time before we’re making an adjustment,” Ashley said.

He said officials are not yet considering imposing further restrictions such as capacity limits and social distancing — though he did not rule them out in the future.

“One of the reasons we announced yesterday the reintroduction of the mask mandate was because we’re seeing those numbers start to rise,” he said. “It’s important for us to blunt that transmission early in hopes we don’t have to take additional action.”

Bowser (D) announced Thursday that she was reimposing the indoor masking mandate, a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended masking in areas with substantial or high community transmission of the virus. D.C. — along with Alexandria and Loudoun County in Virginia — are at that stage.

D.C. is seeing a rise in coronavirus cases. Here’s what you need to know.

Virus cases have been increasing in the Washington region, with the seven-day average of cases reaching 1,306 for D.C., Maryland and Virginia — lower than at the peak of the pandemic, but the highest it’s been since early May.

In Maryland, a child under the age of 10 died this week as a result of covid-19, state health officials reported on Friday.

Citing privacy concerns, Charles Gischlar, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health, said the state could not release any details about the child, including their gender or home county.

The death, which is the fourth in the 0-to-9 age group in Maryland since the pandemic began, comes as the state continues to see an increase in the number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, including those in the intensive care unit. On Friday, the state reported 526 new cases, the most it has seen in a day since early May. There are 222 people hospitalized, including 58 in intensive care, which are some of the highest numbers since June 10.

Tracking coronavirus deaths, cases and vaccinations in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

The state is also seeing a growing number of cases of the highly contagious delta variant, with 266 cases as of Tuesday.

While Virginia and Maryland leaders said this week they are not planning to require masks again, Maryland’s most populous county is considering reinstating a mask mandate if virus transmission rates increase there.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) recommended to the county council that face coverings be required indoors regardless of vaccination status if the county reaches substantial transmission of the virus. The county now is at moderate transmission, based on CDC standards.

“No one wants to go back to wearing masks, but in the absence of a 100 percent vaccination rate in the community, masking is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus and protect the health of our community,” Elrich said in a news release on Friday.

Vaxed, waxed, but definitely not relaxed: Welcome to the pandemic swerve

Virginia’s seven-day average of new cases continued increasing Friday, reaching 10.18 per 100,000. Hospitalizations in the state also rose, with the seven-day average of current covid-19 hospitalizations at 419, after a dip that began in early June.

In Virginia, the number of residents infected by the delta variant has been steadily rising, reaching 322 as of Friday, according to a state health department dashboard.

Of that group, people between the ages of 20 and 29 have the highest number of cases, at 63. There have been 49 delta variant cases in the 10 to 19 age category, and 23 cases affecting children 9 and younger.

White residents have been hit the hardest, with 160 delta variant cases. The next highest rate was among Black Virginians at 68 cases, followed by 31 among Asian or Pacific Islanders and 24 among Latinos.

Antonio Olivo contributed to this report.

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