It was good while it lasted. Washington, D.C., has become the latest city to reimpose a mask mandate, even for people who are fully vaccinated.
The new policy, which Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Thursday, will require everyone over the age of two to wear a mask when at such indoor public settings as bars, restaurants, grocery stores, and gyms. The city is also recommending, but not requiring, that people wear masks in crowded outdoor settings as well—particularly people who are immunocompromised or live with someone who is.
The city is not reintroducing social distancing requirements or business capacity limits, but Bowser didn't take those measures off the table. The mayor declined to say when the mask mandate would be lifted.
D.C. is the second major city to reimpose a masking requirement regardless of vaccination status. Los Angeles County did the same two weeks ago in response to rising cases there.
On Tuesday, in response to the increase in delta-variant COVID cases, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that vaccinated Americans wear masks in certain settings.
San Francisco, per comments from Mayor London Breed, is weighing whether to reimpose a mask mandate; the city is currently encouraging the vaccinated to wear a mask indoors. New York is likewise "assessing" the new CDC guidance.
COVID-19 deaths in Los Angeles remain at their lowest level since the beginning of the pandemic. D.C. hasn't reported a COVID-19 death since July 14. Of the 271 patients in D.C.'s intensive care units, just seven are COVID-positive.
Asked about enforcement, Bowser said she expected most D.C. residents to comply and felt they wouldn't find putting a mask on a major "lift." She also said that businesses could refuse service to people who don't follow the rules. She didn't announce any proactive enforcement efforts the city would be taking.
So that's a silver lining to today's announcement. Nevertheless, telling everyone to wear masks again sends a signal to venues, offices, and other places considering whether to reopen that it's better to wait it out for a little while longer. Some individuals, meanwhile, will also stay home, either out of concern for their health or annoyance at the new requirement.
All of that will reduce the patronage at bars, restaurants, and other businesses that have reopened. Those who thought normality had returned might be forgiven for feeling a bit vexed at the new requirement.
Asked about whether people who got vaccinated as a means of returning to normal life would be mad at the new guidance, Bowser replied that she hadn't been hearing angry reactions.
"I don't hear anyone say that they're duped," the mayor said.
Rent Free is a weekly newsletter from Christian Britschgi on urbanism and the fight for less regulation, more housing, more property rights, and more freedom in America's cities.