Mayor Ends D.C.’s ‘Public Health Emergency’ While Retaining Emergency Powers


At 4:06 p.m. on Saturday July 24, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser took to Twitter to proclaim an end to the District’s coronavirus “public health emergency.”

To allow for a “nimble” response to the pandemic’s ongoing impacts, however, the District’s broader “public emergency” status — enacted at the outset of the pandemic — will be extended through October 8, 2021.

“Today, I issued Mayor’s Order 2021-096 to update and extend the District’s public emergency and end the public health emergency,” the mayor tweeted.

By keeping the “public emergency” in place, Bowser said the District can “stay nimble in response to the virus” and “retain the ability to implement or dial up and down critical measures to protect the health of our community.”

Given the ongoing impact of the pandemic and the “recovery efforts associated with those impacts, including efforts related to the economy, education, and public safety,” the Mayor’s Order states, “it remains necessary that the District remain in a public emergency to continue to authorize government actions to modify procedures, deadlines, and standards authorized during this declared emergency and to thoughtfully and safely respond to Covid-19 and its ongoing impacts.”

Citing effective vaccination campaigns and the consequent reduction of Covid-19 cases in the District, the mayor justified lifting the “public health emergency.” Improved “health metrics related to Covid-19 in the District warrant the end of the public health emergency as of July 25, 2021.”

According to the Mayor’s Order, “The increased vaccination of District residents, workers, and visitors; the universal access to the vaccine in the Washington, D.C. region; and the declining incidence of Covid-19 case rates allowed the District to ease many of the emergency restrictions put in place as a result of the public emergency and public health emergency,” the Mayor’s Order states. “However, increases in case rates or hospitalizations may necessitate re-imposition of restrictions.”

According to Mayor Bowser’s office, the extension of the “public emergency” will continue to allow the mayor authority to:

  • Receive federal reimbursement, as well as federal relief and recovery grants;
  • Make personnel changes necessary to respond to the emergency;
  • Alter government services – e.g., make changes to how services are provided to residents;
  • Implement preventive measures for people who are medically vulnerable or experiencing homelessness;
  • Establish/extend emergency grant authority for DMPED;
  • Provide incentives to comply with public health recommendations;
  • Establish mask requirements;
  • Establish vaccination requirements;

The Mayor’s Order justifies the original March 2020 decision to declare the “public health emergency,” citing key statistics about the pandemic’s impacts both nation-wide and locally and indirectly highlighting the District’s relative success in confronting the crisis. “More than 34.3 million Americans have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and more than 610,000 have died from the disease. Locally, transmission stands at a seven-day average of 5.9 new daily cases per 100,000 persons; total infections in the District have risen to 49,930; and tragically, 1,146 District residents have lost their lives due to Covid-19.”

The order cautions the public against the risks of new strains of the novel coronavirus such as the Delta variant and encourages residents who have yet to be vaccinated to do so immediately. “The spread of Covid-19 remains a serious threat to individuals who are not vaccinated. Masks and physical distancing are still important tools for reducing risk of Covid-19 for unvaccinated persons, persons who are immunosuppressed, and persons living or working in certain settings. Residents, workers, and visitors have a personal obligation to be vaccinated as soon as possible and to abide by the District of Columbia Department of Health (DC Health) guidance on mask wearing to protect themselves and those they interact with personally and professionally.”

“Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective in real world settings, including against SARS-CoV-w variants currently circulating in the United States and the region. To date, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 70% of District residents aged 12 and older have received at least one dose of an approved vaccine; and almost 85% of District residents aged 65 and older have received at least one vaccination dose,” the Mayor’s Order states.

Mayor Bowser continues to urge all residents to help battle the pandemic by taking advantage of the District’s vaccination programs. “To our residents and workers who have not yet claimed their free Covid-19 vaccine, our message is simple: don’t wait, vaccinate.”

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