USA: More Tests, Mandatory Masks, and Another Vaccine Mandate: the District of Columbia Steps Up Its Battle Plan

As reported via the Lex Blog Network

On Monday, December 20, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a “situational update,” declaring a state of emergency due to the “Winter 2022 Surge” in COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta and Omicron variants. The District will combat the current rise in COVID-19 cases with a six-pronged approach outlined in an action plan (the “Plan”) published by the Mayor’s Office and implemented under Mayor’s Order 2021-147 (the “Order”).  The Plan includes expanding free testing programs, a new indoor mask mandate, and a vaccine mandate for city employees and contractors.

Expanded Testing

The District has been operating a program called “Test Yourself DC,” which provides free PCR testing kits for use at home. On December 20, 2021, nine new pick-up/drop-off sites were added to the program, making a total of 36 locations available. The Test Yourself locations are in addition to the eight public testing sites staffed by health professionals administering free PCR COVID-19 tests. Further, the program will be expanded to include “Test Yourself Express,” which will offer free at-home rapid antigen COVID-19 testing kits at eight DC public libraries. District residents who provide proof of residency will be permitted to get two free rapid tests per day and must report their results via an online portal.

Mask Mandate

As of December 21, 2021, masks must be worn within indoor public settings, reinstating an order originally instituted on July 29, 2021 and later partially lifted. With limited exceptions, such as during active eating or drinking, or when alone in an enclosed office inside a business facility, the mandate is virtually universal, covering just about any type of facility other than a private residence. It will remain in effect until at least January 31, 2022.

Vaccine Mandate

The Order strengthens the District’s vaccine mandate applicable to public employers by removing the “test-out” option. Under the Order, covered public employees and contractors must be vaccinated, and will be required to get booster shots. Private employers remain “strongly encouraged” to require vaccination of staff and visitors and to have “robust procedures for verifying documentation of such vaccination.”

Schools to Delay Reopening for COVID-19 Testing

While not directly related to employers, a short delay in DC schools post-holiday reopening may nonetheless affect employers whose employees have school-age children.  Under the Mayor’s Plan, District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”) and public charter schools will receive 100,000 “Test Yourself Express” rapid antigen tests to be distributed to staff and families prior to their return to school following the year-end recess. The DCPS Winter Break will be extended by two days to allow families to collect and use the tests. The Plan cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s emerging “Test to Stay” guidance, which encourages in-person instruction over school closures.

Public Appeal

The Plan concludes with an appeal to the public encouraging participation in “layered mitigation strategies,” starting with vaccination for everyone aged five or older. Everyone is asked to stay home and get tested when they feel sick, and to isolate if they test positive for COVID-19. Mask wearing indoors, required in public settings, is also encouraged in private settings, and people are asked to reconsider social events where risk of transmission is elevated.

We will continue to monitor developments regarding the District’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies throughout the winter season.