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

DCPS is extending winter break to allow students and staff time to take rapid tests before returning to school.

WASHINGTON — D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that the indoor mask mandate is coming back starting at 6 a.m. Tuesday through Jan. 31. The mandate returns less than a month after Bowser dropped it, to significant pushback. 

The announcement was made at a weekly COVID-19 press briefing Monday afternoon. It comes as D.C. has been experiencing its highest daily coronavirus case count since the start of the pandemic. 

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

Bowser also said she plans to reinstate the District's state of emergency and announced a six-part action plan to limit the spread of the coronavirus. 

The District is expanding testing centers and will offer 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 will be able to pick up two free at-home rapid antigen tests at eight District libraries. Proof of District residency is required to get a test.

"We encourage individuals who are getting these test kits …to report that info to us here," Bowser said. 

D.C. government employees will be 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. Bowser said officials will have more information about deadlines to provide proof of vaccinations and boosters.

"I think we're all tired of it -- I'm tired of it too," Bowser said. "But we have to respond to what is happening in our city and our nation and we have to focus on keeping critical parts of our government stays open starting with our schools."

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. 

"Every school will receive enough rapid tests for every student, teacher and staff member...  to be used to support a safe return from winter break," Bowser said. 

Schools will remain closed on Jan. 3 and 4 to serve as testing days before schools reopen. Staff and families will use those days to pick up rapid antigen tests, Bowser said. Testing is not required to return to school, though. 

Bowser said less than 1% of cases in D.C. are confirmed to be of the omicron strain. The majority of infections are delta cases.

She urged residents to get vaccinated, boosted, practice COVID-19 safety protocols, and reconsider attending large social events.

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