Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is ending the city's vaccine mandate and will loosen the mask mandate at the end of this month. This is wonderful news, but the details leave plenty to be desired: The mayor is keeping in place masking requirements in a variety of settings, including all schools.
Currently, restaurant customers must show a vaccination card and driver's license and wear a mask until they are seated. Those requirements are ending: The vaccine mandate is over, effective on February 15, and the mask mandate will lapse on March 1. The big winners under the new policy are restaurants, churches, and, at long last, gyms: People will no longer be required to wear masks while they exercise.
On the other hand, the city will still require masks in all schools and child care facilities, on public transit and ride-share services, and in public libraries. The full list is below:
On March 1, masks will continue to be required at a number of locations, including schools. pic.twitter.com/c8Fwfy15sk
— Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) February 14, 2022
These two lists are arbitrary and incoherent; they do not track with the science whatsoever. They provide D.C. residents little reason to give the city's political leaders and health officials even an iota of goodwill.
There is no reason, for instance, to think that people quietly reading books in libraries are more likely to spread the virus than people singing in church or breathing heavily at the gym. On the contrary, COVID-19 is a disease that spreads much more easily when people are making full use of their mouths, throats, and lungs. Yet these kinds of activities are on the masks-not-required list. What's the rationale for requiring masks on the Metro but not in the grocery store, or within an Uber but not in the private area of a government office building?
Note as well that merely four days ago, the city recommended an indefinite liquor license suspension for Big Board, a bar and restaurant that has refused to enforce D.C.'s COVID-19 mandates. Bureaucrats said that Big Board's "continued operation places the community at risk and cannot be allowed." But very soon, all bars and restaurants will be allowed to follow Big Board's lead. So much for the community being at risk.
Worst of all is the city's treatment of schoolchildren, all of whom will still have to wear masks in the classroom. At this stage of the pandemic, the forcible masking of children is beyond justification. Young people are not at significant risk of a negative COVID-19 health outcome, regardless of their vaccination status. Those who want to continue wearing masks can do so, but students who have trouble hearing and understanding their teachers and classmates should have every opportunity to de-mask.
Think of the logic: The city is saying that adults can go to the grocery store and the gym, and then spend all night at a restaurant or bar—maskless the whole time. But kids have to spend eight hours each day wearing masks.
There's no scientific rationale behind any of this; the sad reality is that students are up against a powerful interest group—teachers unions—which has carved out an extremist position on the question of mandates. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten recently stated that she wanted to keep mask mandates until there's "no transmission in schools" whatsoever. In D.C., at least, she's getting her wish.