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Proof of COVID vaccination is now required to enter DC restaurants, bars, nightclubs, gyms and more

Some businesses are exempt, as well as those who have religious or medical reasons. They'll instead have to present a negative test taken within the past 24 hours.

WASHINGTON — As of Saturday at 6 a.m., certain D.C. establishments must make sure their patrons who are 12 and older have at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. Come Feb. 15, all patrons will need to have two doses.

Those who have religious convictions or medical conditions which prevent them from getting vaccinated are exempt and can instead provide a negative COVID test taken within the past 24 hours. They are free to self-attest that this is the case. Mayor Bowser stated this in a Jan. 6 press conference.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser made the initial announcement during a Dec. 22 press conference around noon, where vaccines and the addition of booster shots were emphasized as residents' best form of protection.

"We know very well that it’s not 2020 because of the vaccine. We have a safe and effective vaccine available, Bowser said, adding that the city locked down in 2020 because vaccines weren't available.

The proof of vaccination requirement includes restaurants, bars and nightclubs, as well as "exercise establishments, indoor cultural and entertainment centers, indoor event and meeting establishments."

Grocery stores, churches and museums so far are exempt from the new mandate.

When questioned as to why those locales were not included, Bowser said that officials who studied the virus' spread and determined the mandate covers places of the most concern, where there is the highest risk level.

"We all have a responsibility to keep our community safe and we all have a responsibility to respond to this virus as it presents," the mayor said.

HOW TO SHOW PROOF OF VACCINATION

Officials also specified that the new rules do not constitute an employer mandate - the requirement currently only applies to patrons. 

Individuals can show a physical vaccine card, their immunization records or use a COVID verification app - sometimes referred to as a "vaccine passport" - such as VaxYes or CLEAR to display their status. 

The mayor has also not established any testing alternative to the mandate at this time.

"It is true that we're asking our businesses to do more, but we also think that this is a benefit to their business," Bowser said. 

OMICRON IN DC

So far, according to a representative from the DC Department of Health, only 25 cases of the COVID-19 omicron variant have been identified in the District. 

Currently, the city is seeing double the cases in the 25 to 35-year-old age group according to DC Health Senior Deputy Director Patrick Ashley, who encouraged residents to consider limiting gatherings and to be sure to wear masks. He said that older age groups were not seeing as notable of a rise in case counts.

He also shared more statistics showcasing how critical getting a booster shot is, citing the statistic that fully vaccinated people with boosters are 2.5 times less likely to get infected with COVID-19 than people who have only had their two-shot regimen. He added that they are 10 times less likely than the unvaccinated to get infected and 20 times less likely to die from the disease. 

On Monday, the mayor brought back the city's mask mandate, which was reinstated on Tuesday morning. She also declared a state of emergency.

RELATED: Indoor mask mandate returns in DC as Mayor Bowser declares state of emergency

"I don't regret evolving with the virus," she said. "As conditions warranted, we've changed our interventions and we're changing them again."

ACCESS TO COVID TESTS IN DC

The District is also expanding testing centers and now offers free COVID-19 rapid antigen testing kits to residents. 

The initiative is part of a new "Test Yourself Express" program. Each day D.C. residents can pick up two free at-home rapid antigen tests at eight District libraries. Proof of District residency is required to get a test.

RELATED: These 8 DC libraries are getting at-home rapid COVID testing kits

D.C. government employees are required to get a COVID-19 vaccination and booster shot. Employees will no longer have the option of partaking in frequent testing instead of getting vaccinated, Bowser said.  

DC SCHOOLS AND VIRTUAL LEARNING

While some school districts in the region have returned to virtual learning to stop the spread, Bowser extended winter break across DC Public Schools through Jan. 5 so that students, teachers and staff would have enough time to take a rapid test before returning to class. 

The mayor says 100,000 Test Yourself Express rapid antigen tests would be distributed to DCPS and DC Public charter schools.  

RELATED: LIST: Schools returning to distance learning as COVID case counts rise

RELATED: Some DC-area colleges requiring COVID boosters for students for spring semester

Listen to the full press conference below:

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