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DC mandates masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status

Positive cases are being linked to travel, dining out and social activities, which have started to skew larger according to contact tracing results.

WASHINGTON — Masks will once again be mandatory indoors everywhere in the District starting Saturday, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Thursday. The mandate will apply to all persons over the age of two, regardless of vaccination status.  

Director of the D.C. Department of Health Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said at Thursday's press conference that daily cases have increased fivefold over the month of July and that the increase appears to be most attributable to young people between the ages of 20 and 34. Positive cases are being linked to travel, dining out and social activities, she specified, which have started to skew larger according to contact tracing results. 

According to CDC data, 51.7% of Washingtonians are fully vaccinated, however, vaccine coverage is higher in wards 3, 4 and 6 and at its lowest in wards 7 and 8. The disparities are present largely with young people between ages 12 to 15 in the District. Dr. Nesbitt said during the conference that while 15% of black youth in that category have been vaccinated with at least a dose, 51% of white youth have gotten the shot. 

Infections are also mirroring the differences in vaccination. She added that we continue to see disparities insofar as who is getting infected in the District. Black youth are currently three times more likely to get COVID-19 compared to their white counterparts, according to Dr. Nesbitt. 

Health officials encouraged masks to be worn when gathering in large groups outdoors and in scenarios where social distancing wasn't enforced. 

Bowser began relaxing COVID restrictions in the District, including mask mandates, for vaccinated persons in May, but emphasized that individual businesses had a right to continue requiring masks in their establishments. 

RELATED: CDC: Vaccinated people are recommended to wear masks indoors, again. Here are the DMV counties impacted

The new guidance follows CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky's Tuesday recommendation that even vaccinated people should return to wearing masks indoors in areas with substantial or high amounts of community transmission of COVID-19.  

Substantial transmission means there's been 50-100 cases per 100,000 over a 7-day period and high transmission means an area has seen more than 100 cases per 100,000 over a 7-day period, Walensky explained.

Loudoun, Virginia and the District were both upgraded Wednesday to "substantial" classification. The entire state of Maryland, so far, remains in the moderate range. Neither Virginia nor Maryland have issued any similar mandates. 

See the CDC's full map with transmission categorization here. 

RELATED: CDC recommends masks indoors for DC, Loudoun residents regardless of vaccination status

RELATED: Smithsonian to require all visitors to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status

Just before Mayor Bowser's announcement, the Smithsonian institution said they would again require masks for all visitors in indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status beginning Friday, July 30. Fully vaccinated visitors will not be required to wear a mask in outdoor areas at the National Zoo and the Smithsonian’s outdoor gardens. 

Bowser's mandate came down just hours before President Biden is expected to announce that millions of federal workers will need to show proof of vaccination before returning to work, or submit to regular testing and stringent social distancing, masking and travel restrictions. 

“The pandemic we have now is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Biden said during a visit Wednesday to a truck plant in Pennsylvania, where he urged the unvaccinated to “please, please, please, please” get a shot.

RELATED: Biden to launch vaccine push for millions of federal workers

RELATED: Find out what your school district is doing about masks this upcoming semester

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