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D.C. won’t bring back masks to guard against delta variant, officials say

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), left, talks with Santo Gonzales, as she and community leaders canvass neighborhoods to urge residents to get the coronavirus vaccine on May 1.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), left, talks with Santo Gonzales, as she and community leaders canvass neighborhoods to urge residents to get the coronavirus vaccine on May 1. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
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The D.C. government doesn’t plan to bring back mask requirements, city leaders said at a meeting Friday, even as the delta variant raises concerns about unvaccinated people’s vulnerability to the coronavirus.

Some cities, most notably Los Angeles, have asked residents to put masks back on indoors because of the contagious variant.

But Kevin Donahue, the
D.C. city administrator, told District lawmakers Friday that the city has no plans to take that step.

Preetha Iyengar, a top epidemiologist in the D.C. health department, noted that the coronavirus vaccinations — now widely available for free throughout the region — protect residents against the new variant as well as older ones. “Vaccination is the key to protecting our population against the variant,” she said.

Donahue said the District is collecting data from the city’s Medicaid providers to better understand how many residents have yet to be vaccinated, especially in the wards east of the Anacostia River where vaccination rates are lowest.

Among Latino immigrants, false claims are spreading as fast as the virus

The city now has 181 workers focused on promoting the coronavirus vaccine, including through door-to-door visits in specific neighborhoods.

“There’s an extraordinary misinformation hurdle they have to overcome that makes it a very slow process of trying to talk to someone at length to educate them about the vaccines,” Donahue said. “I can’t highlight enough that at this point in the vaccine battle, there’s reasons why people have not been vaccinated yet that often have roots in misinformation. Those outreach workers . . . would spend 20 minutes with one person trying to roll back untruths.”

In the spring, the council budgeted about $4 million for incentives to promote the vaccine to people who have not already chosen to get it. To date, Donahue said, just 807 people have claimed the $51 reward for getting vaccinated at three clinics east of the Anacostia — meaning the city has spent just over $40,000 on that giveaway.

The council also discussed Stay DC, the rent-relief program funded with federal grant money that aims to pay the rent and utility bills of residents who have fallen behind on payments during the pandemic.

As of this week, the program had disbursed $34 million in rent checks and $1.5 million for utilities since late May, Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio said — far less than the roughly $130 million that D.C. must use or lose by September.

An average application takes about 45 days to process, and Falcicchio said his goal is to get that time down to about 30 days. He said the city has trained 39 new workers to process the applications, with another 11 set to start soon. They are approving about 1,000 applications each week, Falcicchio said, with the average rent check amounting to $7,300.

D.C. is giving out VISA gift cards if people get vaccinated or help others do so

Young people lag in coronavirus vaccinations. D.C. is struggling to reach holdouts.

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