Though this photo is actually in Louisville, KY, as the District’s COVID-19 transmission rate worsens, Mayor Muriel and the City Council are working to put guidelines in place to keep students safe, including mandating student vaccinations. (AP Photo)

By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. City Council have not seen eye to eye on handling the 19-month COVID-19 Pandemic. However, recent moves by the Mayor and City Council signal both are working to put guidelines in place before a possible surge of the pandemic arrives this winter.  

Bowser has shifted gears from her pre-Thanksgiving decision to lift D.C.’s indoor mask mandate, Nov. 22.  Initially, Bowser refused to budge on re-instituting an indoor mask mandate, even as City Council members wrote a letter urging her to reconsider. 

However, in early December, the D.C. Government announced a more nuanced “mask advisory” shortly after discovery of the Omicron variant by scientists in South Africa and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) classification of Omicron as a “variant of concern” on Nov. 26.

“The CDC is continuously monitoring variants and recommends that all people wear a mask indoors in public if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission. Based on D.C.’s current transmission rate of substantial community spread,” according to the District mask advisory issued on Dec. 2.  

The District’s current COVID-19 transmission rate is worsening, according to current D.C. Public Health data. The city is registering twice the number of new COVID-19 cases from a month ago. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) ranks COVID-19 caseloads across the United States in five categories: no data, low, moderate, substantial and high.  CDC recommends indoor masking for communities with substantial or high COVID-19 caseloads.   

The advisory also urges District residents to get vaccinated and get boosters for those already fully vaccinated. The City’s COVID-19 dashboard currently registers 64 percent of  Washingtonians as fully vaccinated. 

District of Columbia Public Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt, told the AFRO that no Omicron cases have yet to be in the District  as of the date of this publication, but additional pop up vaccination sites for the entire family have been added. “We want all District residents to take every precaution and get fully vaccinated,” Nesbitt said. 

City Council members are increasingly taking matters into their own hands regarding COVID-19 regulations in Public Schools.  After hearing from angry D.C. Public Schools parents since the start of the 2021 school year, the Council marked up a bill this week that would require vaccination of District students as soon as a vaccine is approved for their age group. 

The {Coronavirus Immunization of School Students and Early Childhood Workers Amendment Act of 2021 (B24-423)}, was approved 11-1 by the D.C. Council, with Ward 8 Council member Trayon White casting the sole dissenting vote.  Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray was not in session due to illness. 

The COVID-19 vaccine requirement for students would require vaccination for D.C. Public School students and licensed childcare providers in the city to be fully immunized by March 1, 2022. The mandate won’t be enforced, however, until the 2022-2023 school year.  

The requirement would extend to populations for whom the vaccine is fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Currently the FDA has extended full approval of COVID-19 vaccinations to students 16 and older,  

A final reading and vote on the bill is scheduled for the Council’s Dec. 21 meeting. 

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