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D.C. planning to require coronavirus vaccinations for city employees

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) speaks to the press after her first in-person, quarterly cabinet meeting­ on July 9. An administration official said Bowser intends to mandate coronavirus vaccination or weekly testing for city workers. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)
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A day after the governors of Virginia and Maryland announced that some state employees must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or face weekly testing, a D.C. administration official said Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) intends to impose a similar requirement on District government employees, after bringing nearly the entire city workforce back to their desks last month.

The administration is hammering out the policy with labor unions representing city workers, including the Washington Teachers Union, assistant city administrator Jay Melder said Friday during a discussion with D.C. Council members. Members of the administration have been negotiating this week over how noncompliant employees might be disciplined, among other issues.

“I think we’ve got some urgency. There’s going to be some work done over the weekend to continue progress,” Melder said.

Md., Va. governors say state workers need to show proof of covid vaccination or get tested

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Thursday announced the state was mandating 122,000 state employees to show proof of full vaccination or a weekly negative coronavirus test by Sept. 1, while Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced a similar policy for state employees who work in congregate settings.

Employees who work for D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D), who is an independent elected official, will have to show proof of vaccination against the coronavirus by Sept. 13 or get tested weekly, in a policy Racine’s office announced this week.

Some D.C. Council members said they would like to see a vaccine mandate in the District announced as soon as possible, particularly for teachers before the academic year starts.

“I’m getting emails from parents who are extremely concerned, especially if they have children under 12,” said Elissa Silverman (I-At Large). “These are parents who are starting to say, ‘We’re going to look for alternatives if we don’t know what the vaccine policy is for DCPS. . .’ I would hate for that to be the reason people are pulling their kids out of DCPS.”

D.C. reinstates indoor mask mandate

Melder also said Washington’s newly reinstated mask mandate applies to people working out in indoor gyms, even if every patron in the gym is vaccinated — rejecting a plea from the District’s fitness industry to exempt vaccinated patrons from wearing masks while they work out.

Several local gym chains, including Orangetheory Fitness, Barry’s Bootcamp and Solidcore, sent a letter this week to Bowser and health director LaQuandra Nesbitt, asking permission to hold indoor fitness classes without masks if all patrons are vaccinated.

Noting that vaccinated people seem to carry a higher load of the coronavirus if they are infected with the delta variant, Melder said the health department would not allow a fitness exemption.

“If we look at the fitness industry, we know the spread of droplets is the way we spread infection,” he said. “In fitness facilities, where you are exercising vigorously, it’s more likely that there is greater spread.”

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Some council members were dissatisfied with his answer, with Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) calling it “incredibly frustrating” that Melder would rule out a mask exemption for gyms but would not provide guidelines for conditions that would allow the reinstated mask mandate to expire.

Patrick Ashley, the head of emergency response for the city’s health department, said he could not provide specific metrics that would indicate the District is ready to let people take their masks off indoors again. “We’re seeing a significant rise in cases right now. We’re looking for that to taper off, just to start, before we look at making any additional modifications.”

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

Ashley noted that while gyms are not exempt, the mask mandate that Bowser imposed last week does allow for some exceptions. Live entertainment venues must require patrons to wear masks, but performers can go maskless, as long as they are at least six feet away from any other person, Ashley said — raising the question of just how the city’s theaters, which plan to resume productions this fall, will stage their scenes in a socially distanced manner.

D.C. reported 128 new coronavirus cases on Friday, as the infection rate continued to climb across the region. Maryland reported 890 new cases, the highest number in one day since May 1, and Virginia reported 1,845, the highest one-day total since April. Four deaths were reported in Maryland on Friday and 12 in Virginia. None were reported in D.C.

Virginia health officials also provided an update on the nuances of the pandemic at this point. As of Friday, 436 cases of the delta variant have been detected in Virginia, based on the small number of samples analyzed for variants, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Also as of Friday, the state reported 3,359 breakthrough infections so far, including 218 people who were hospitalized and 50 who died. About 98 percent of cases were among people who were not fully vaccinated, state data show.

On Friday, the University of Virginia announced it is requiring masks indoors for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, for two weeks beginning Monday. The school said it plans to reassess the policy after the two-week period is up.

Jenna Portnoy contributed to this report.

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