In short, it’s stupid. In case you missed it, D.C. Mayor Bowser (‘like Krysten Sinema, but not as smart’) decided to end the vaccination requirement for indoor venues February 15, and the indoor masking mandate will end March 1 for many indoor venues: restaurants, bars, gyms, churches, grocery stores and pharmacies, and retail stores. So what might this mean for D.C.? Let’s look at the vaccine mandate first.
In the short term, I don’t think it will do much to increase the prevalence of COVID. Right now, D.C. is largely vaccinated and people are still masking. Where it could do a lot of damage is in April, if other regions of the U.S. still have high prevalence (and, yes, the prevalence has dropped a lot in many places, but in absolute terms, which is what matters, COVID prevalence, like the rent, is too damn high). Tourists who decide to grace us with their prevalence–and their COVID–could kick off a new round of outbreaks, and, at that point, most people, even if boostered, won’t have as much protection as they do now.
One of the key things Bowser still doesn’t seem to understand is the role of behavior in all of this: people who are vaccinated, on average, are less likely to engage in risky behaviors (and when they do, they have some protection), so a vaccination mandate is a de facto screen of people who are more likely to be infected. So depending on what is happening elsewhere, April could get ugly again. Put another way, if COVID prevalence is still high in other places, and if I walk into an establishment, see a bunch of MAGA-hat wearing dopes, I’m walking right back out–and that has nothing to do with their politics (that’s just a bonus). Guess we could call this ‘When White People Get Profiled.’
The mask mandate seems more harmful over the short term (though it probably wasn’t doing much in bars and restaurants, where it was kind of stupid; five minutes of wearing a mask before drinks and waiting for the check probably doesn’t stop spread). I hope I’m wrong, but the prevalence in D.C., at best, will drop to high substantial levels by March 1 (10-15 new daily cases per 100,000), and it might not even do that. Masking is a good way to prevent spread, and protect workers, especially when KN95 or N95 masks are used. This might lead to an increase or a leveling off at a high prevalence, which, of course, means we’re primed for an outbreak. And, as above, once tourist season starts, the risk only will increase.
If there’s any good news, it’s that many D.C. residents will ignore Bowser and wear masks indoors (for a while anyway).
So I don’t think we’ll see an explosion, but rather than crushing the curve, we’ll just tolerate a high level of infection (and long COVID and heart disease due to COVID infection). Of course, given Bowser’s demonstrated inability to reinstate protections rapidly, not lowering the prevalence further means that if things do explode, we will have far less time to react–which is to say, not enough time.
Bowser should have waited. If only there were a legislative branch, a Council if you will, that could do something…