On Covid, Bowser’s Castle Abruptly Raises the Drawbridge

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At the beginning of this month, Washington, D.C., was one of the sanest, most normal deep-blue jurisdictions concerning Covid. After exposing the silliness of the city’s indoor mask mandate in spectacularly hypocritical fashion (celebrating maskless at a wedding reception in August), Mayor Muriel Bowser seemed to reach some sense on the matter in late November. Announcing the dialing back of that mandate on November 21, Bowser said the following:

What you’ll hear discussed across the nation is, we’re moving from a pandemic to an endemic . . . . I anticipate that’s where we’ll be moving too. Rather than the government telling you what you need to do to keep safe, you will evaluate risk and act accordingly.

Notably, she did this against the wishes of a majority of D.C.’s city council. And though it’s hard to think of a better example of the soft bigotry of low expectations, D.C. schools began to return to in-person learning at the beginning of this school year in August. Moreover, unlike other major cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Philadelphia, Washington had resisted imposing a vaccine-passport system. Sure, mandated mask-wearing persisted in some places, and the habit of mask-wearing persisted foolishly in many more. But it really looked like D.C. had become, unexpectedly, a relative island of sanity amid Covid overreaction in similar jurisdictions.

But now the D.C. city government, led by Bowser, has thrown all that out the window in the face of Omicron panic and is set to head into 2021 as one of the most biomedically tyrannical environments in the nation. On December 21, Bowser announced a reimposition of a citywide indoor mask mandate, about a month after lifting the previous mandate. And starting on January 15, “restaurants, bars, gyms, and music venues, and certain meeting spaces” will require proof of vaccination to enter. Moreover, Bowser stated yesterday that “we expect that schools and classrooms will need to transition to situational virtual learning throughout the semester, especially in the coming weeks” (with additional testing rigmarole merely to allow students back into the classroom in the meantime). Translation: Expect a return of remote learning en masse sometime soon.

This is massively frustrating to D.C. residents, and not just because of the mask hokey-pokey, and the added hassles to daily life that these policies will create. (In the words of Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, who also recently announced a citywide vaccine-passport system, such policies are “inconvenient by design.”) It’s also a sign of a missed opportunity by Bowser to move on from Covid overreaction and overcaution to the risk-accepting approach being pioneered by Colorado Democratic governor Jared Polis. The only hope, at this point, is that this elevated bout of Covid panic burns twice as bright but half as long. In the meantime, I hear northern Virginia is beautiful this time of year . . .