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'We immediately need to reinstate the mask mandate' | DC Board of Education president calls for requirement return as holidays approach

The DC State Board of Education president said the emergence of a new variant and recent rises in cases should lead to the district mask mandate returning.

WASHINGTON — As concerns continued to grow over the new COVID-19 omicron variant, DC State Board of Education President Zachary Parker called on Sunday for Mayor Muriel Bowser to reinstate the district's mask mandate.

This past Monday, Mayor Bowser lifted the indoor mask mandate for many public spots.

However, just days later, the World Health Organization identified omicron as a "variant of concern" after South Africa saw a surge in cases.

Health experts say the new variant could possibly be more transmissible and resistant to vaccines. 

RELATED: Canada reports 1st omicron variant COVID cases as world races to learn more

On Sunday, Parker told WUSA 9 that the latest concerns with the variant should lead to masks once again being required indoors.

"We’ve made a lot of progress as a city that we should all be proud of but now is not the time to let up," he said. "With a new variant is on the horizon, we should not only reinstate the mask mandate but do even more to ensure that we are doing everything we can to keep folks safe.”

DCPS still requires masks to be worn inside district schools.

However, Parker said many parents had spoken to him about concerns with children too young to receive the vaccine possibly getting sick.

"They have questions about what they should do in households where they maybe have an older sibling and a younger sibling," he said. "The rate of transmission when students and faculty are outside of school is a grave concern." 

DC Health records show that the daily case rate has seen a slow rise recently.

According to the department's Key Metrics Summary Table, both the district's weekly case rate and daily case rate are considered "worsening."

The recent attention on the variant led to some businesses, including the Politics & Prose local bookstore chain, to feel relieved that they kept mask requirements for customers in place.

"This is by far the busiest time of the year. We have three locations and they all become crowded as they are at any point in the year," said Co-Owner Brad Graham. "Hearing about the new variant doesn’t really change what we had already decided we were going to do. We had a sense that it’s still too uncertain of a time to be relaxing our measures.” 

Graham said the recent decision by Mayor Bowser was a surprise, however, he remained committed to keeping staff and customers safe.

"We feel now more certain than ever about our decision to keep it in effect," he said. 

Moving forward, Parker believed the solution was simple to keep the district from seeing further rises in cases. 

"We immediately need to reinstate the mask mandate," he said, adding that more vaccine education and outreach efforts should be conducted. "The lifting of the mask mandate couldn’t have come at a worse time. We are weeks before the Christmas holiday. Travel is going to increase across the city. Now, we have a new variant on the horizon.” 

RELATED: Indoor mask mandate dropped in DC despite opposition from council members

RELATED: Masks are required indoors in Montgomery County again due to COVID case rates

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