Some D.C. businesses will be required to check proof of vaccination as of January 15 Restaurants, bars, and gyms will be required to check patrons' vaccination status for entry, per a new mandate from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.
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Some D.C. businesses will be required to check proof of vaccination as of January 15

The new mandate comes as COVID-19 cases surge to record-high levels in the city. Marco Verch Professional Photographer/Flickr / hide caption

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Marco Verch Professional Photographer/Flickr /

D.C. businesses, including restaurants, bars, gyms, and music venues, and certain meeting spaces, will be required to ask patrons ages 12 and older for proof of vaccination to enter, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Wednesday.

The policy will go into effect in January 15, 2022 at 6 a.m., to allow businesses time to prepare. When enforcement begins Jan. 15, patrons will only need to show proof of one shot to enter. By Feb. 15, two shots will be required for entry.

Residents can show their physical vaccination card, a photograph of their vaccination card, or a digital vaccine card. Residents vaccinated in D.C. can retrieve their immunization records through the MyIR portal, or other apps like VaxYes or Clear. Patrons will also be able to show a paper copy of their immunization record, provided by their healthcare provider.

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Bowser said more details on the vaccine requirement are forthcoming, but officials wanted to make the announcement early in order to give businesses ample time to prepare. Places of worship and museums are not required to ask for proof of vaccination. Bowser said more exceptions will be spelled out in the future, including instances when someone is quickly stopping to pick up food inside an establishment. Grocery stores will also be excluded from the mandate. Currently, officials aren't considering allowing a patron to test-out of the vaccine requirement, according to D.C.'s Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, John Falcicchio. He added that employees at businesses are not subject to the vaccine requirement right now — only patrons.

"We do know that mandates have the ability to move people who are not vaccinated to become vaccinated," Bowser said during Wednesday's press conference. "We know that is a huge public health benefit...incidents of COVID among the unvaccinated with this new [omicron] variant are substantially higher than people who have gotten vaccinated."

Bowser's announcement follows similar moves in cities across the U.S. On Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that all gyms, restaurants, and entertainment venues in the city will be required to check the vaccination status of all patrons over 5 years of age, starting on Jan. 3. On Monday, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu issued a similar mandate, requiring all restaurants, gyms, entertainment venues, and some meeting spaces to check the vaccination status of all guests ages 12 and older, starting Jan. 15. New York City was the first in the country to implement such a system back in September, requiring proof of vaccination to dine indoors, visit a movie theatre, or go to a gym, among other activities.

Bowser's administration has been asked for months when — or if — the city was going to create a "vaccine passport," similar to the program in New York, but officials often cited D.C.'s interjurisdictional nature (thousands of residents have been vaccinated out-of-state) as a challenge to creating such a system. When Bowser brought back the city's indoor mask mandate this past summer , as the delta variant drove up case counts across the region, a coalition of gyms and and fitness centers asked Bowser to grant an exception for studios that required proof of vaccination. Their request was denied. In lieu of a government mandate, a growing list of D.C. businesses have already individually decided to require proof of vaccination for entry — some since the delta surge took hold in late July — and most major concert venues in the city require vaccination to attend a show.

The new policy comes as cases in D.C. surge to unprecedented levels. Tuesday morning, the city reported 3,763 new positive cases between Dec. 17 and 19, averaging 1,254 per day — by far the highest number of cases ever reported in a single day since the pandemic began. On Tuesday afternoon, DC Health released the case numbers for Dec. 20, adding 1,155 new infections. According to the Washington Post's coronavirus tracker, D.C. has the highest rate of daily cases per 100,000 out of any state in the U.S., as of Tuesday. Experts say that the impact of the massive case loads on the city's hospital system will be clearer in the coming weeks, as hospitalizations often lag a few weeks behind jumps in infections.

"The good news here is, as we look at other parts of the world [that] have had this disease and experienced a surge of cases already, that their data shows the same thing: that we're not in for a tremendous surge of hospitalizations or death," D.C. Health deputy director Patrick Ashley said on Wednesday.

While omicron takes over the country, Ashley said D.C. has only identified 25 confirmed cases of omicron, although potentially 50 more cases were identified last night that have yet to be confirmed.

Ashley said Wednesday that the majority of new cases have come from individuals between the ages of 25 and 34. Residents over 65 make up around 5% of new infections, while 25-34-year-olds make up more than 25%. Ashley underscored the protection afforded by vaccines and boosters — locally, Ashley said D.C. residents who are fully vaccinated and boosted are 20 times less likely to die from COVID than unvaccinated residents.

"We have a tremendous amount of work to do here in D.C. to get people boosted," Ashley said. As of Dec. 22, roughly 20% D.C.'s fully vaccinated residents have received a booster, per the city's data.

Wednesday's announcement is the latest in a slew of COVID-19 policies Bowser issued in recent days. On Monday, she reinstated the city's indoor mask mandate (effective Tuesday at 6 a.m.), until at least Jan. 31. D.C. Public Schools are delaying the return from winter break by two days to give parents and students time to get tested for the virus. Currently, 25 DCPS schools are closed through the new year due to COVID-19 cases among students and staff.

DC Health is also ramping up its testing capacity, making 1,000 rapid test kits available at one library in every ward starting Wednesday — although the rollout seems off to an already rocky start. Pick-up for the rapid tests at Mount Pleasant Library in Ward 1 didn't start until noon, but residents began lining up before 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, assuming the tests would be available when the library opened. D.C. currently has 260,000 rapid tests on hand, Bowser said Tuesday, and has ordered in total 6 million more.

More: Where To Get A COVID-19 Test In D.C. The D.C. Region Is Shattering COVID Case Records

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