Political Fight After D.C. Mayor's Shift on Mask Mandate a Microcosm of Broader Battles

Political Fight After D.C. Mayor's Shift on Mask Mandate a
Microcosm of Broader Battles 1

The political fight after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s decision to ease mask requirements is a microcosm of broader battles.

Residents of the nation’s capital will no longer need to wear masks in many indoor places on Monday, Nov. 22, but will still be required to do so at a few public institutions, on public transportation, and in facilities where groups assemble, like schools, buses, and jails. The mandate no longer applies to private businesses, which can require masks at their discretion.

Bowser called the step a “shift in where we are with the pandemic.” She said the previous return of the mask mandate this year helped to stunt the surge of the Delta variant.

The debate sparked from the announcement reflects a larger one regarding the overall division in the U.S. on the government’s push to alleviate COVID. Some are pushing toward normalcy while others warn against such moves.

“Cold weather states showing an uptick in COVID-19 cases, CDC metrics show the district in the substantial spread zone, neighboring jurisdictions are moving to reinstate mask mandates as they see a surge in coronavirus cases, and our youngest residents still aren’t vaccinated. This is premature,” tweeted D.C. Council member Robert White. White and nine other members of the council sent an open letter urging Bowser to reconsider the measure, The Associated Press reported.

The letter said that D.C.’s actions thus far have been “appropriately thoughtful, careful, and protective of our residents” regarding COVID. It also lists a number of reasons why Bowser’s decision is untimely, such as holidays surrounded by substantial travel, the cold weather, and the fact the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers consider the capital to be at a higher risk of COVID.

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For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks at a news conference March 15, 2021, in Washington. The District of Columbia will lift its indoor mask requirement starting next week, as local COVID infection cases continue to trend downward.
Andrew Harnik/AP Photo, File

Dropping the indoor mask policy now would “place the district ahead of the science,” the letter said. “We are concerned that changing course entering the winter months, not to mention a week before a major travel holiday, is not a prudent course of action. It sends a signal that public health concerns are back to normal when they are not.”

The White House also noted the CDC numbers and said it wouldn’t be dropping its masking policy.

Efforts to contact multiple council members for comment were unsuccessful. But Bowser on Friday seemed unaffected by the criticism. Speaking on a popular local public affairs radio show, she never mentioned the council objections, and said the change won’t have much impact on the daily lives of residents.

“We know that a lot of businesses will maintain their mask mandate and a lot of Washingtonians will continue to wear their mask,” she said. “Quite frankly, I don’t expect many D.C. residents to change their current behavior. They are going to wear a mask going to a restaurant or a grocery store and they’re likely to continue.”

The council’s letter to Bowser warned her against risking the sort of confusing back and forth experienced by neighboring Montgomery County, Maryland, which lifted its indoor mask requirement three weeks ago and is now set to reinstate it starting Saturday in the face of rising infection numbers.

Muriel Bowser, D.C. Council, Mask Mandate
D.C. Council member have urged Mayor Muriel Bowser to reconsider her decision in easing mask requirement in the nation’s capital. In this photo, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser delivers remarks during the opening ceremony of ‘In America: Remember,’ a public art installation commemorating all the Americans who have died due to COVID-19 near the Washington Monument on September 17, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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