VaxDC Coming to a Theater (and a Restaurant and a Gym…) Near You!

In response to the rapid influx of COVID-19 variant cases over the course of the holiday season, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser recently announced further efforts by the city to curb the spread of the virus. In addition to reinstating the District’s indoor mask mandate (which had been briefly lifted), the mayor issued an order mandating a city-wide vaccination entry requirement (“VaxDC” or “the Mandate”), requiring covered establishments to verify the vaccination status of patrons as a prerequisite to entry.

When Does Mandate Take Effect?

The Mandate goes into effect at 6 a.m. on January 15, 2021, and requires covered establishments to ensure that patrons age 12 and older have received, at a minimum, the first dose of a two-dose vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) or a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine (Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine).

By February 15, 2022, all visitors and guests of covered establishments must show proof of that they are fully vaccinated, which is defined as having received the “full initial course” of a vaccine. Booster shots or other additional doses of the vaccine are not required.

Which Establishments are Covered?

The Mandate covers indoor food and drink establishments, indoor cultural and entertainment establishments, indoor exercise and recreational establishments, and indoor event and meeting establishments.

Indoor food and drink establishments include all D.C. restaurants, bars, coffee shops and seated fast-food establishments, wineries and distillery tasting rooms and mixed-use facilities and food courts.

Indoor cultural and entertainment establishments include movie theaters, nightclubs, hookah bars, pool and billiard halls, cigar bars, concerts, sporting venues, and other entertainment venues.

Indoor exercise and recreational establishments include exercise facilities, dance, yoga and Pilates studios, and any other facilities used for group fitness classes.

Indoor event and meeting establishments include hotel common rooms, banquet halls, conference center meeting facilities, convention centers, auditoriums, shared work facilities, and all other indoor establishments designated by the Department of Health.  Although the term “shared work facilities” is not further defined, it is not believed that the Mandate extends to private office buildings, but instead covers shared or communal work facilities.

What Is Not Covered by the Mandate?

Mayor Bowser’s order contains several key exemptions for facilities and individuals.  Importantly, the Mandate extends only to guests, visitors and customers and does not extend to employees of covered establishments.  It also exempts those only briefly entering establishments for a “quick and limited purpose” such as placing or picking up a takeout order, making a delivery or using the restroom.  The Mandate also excludes from the definition of “covered establishment”:

  • Houses of worship;
  • Grocery stores and farmer’s markets;
  • Pharmacies, medical offices, urgent care centers, or hospitals;
  • Big-box stores and retail establishments;
  • Private meeting spaces in residences or office buildings;
  • Public and governmental regulations facilities; and
  • Polling places during elections.  

Individuals who are entitled by law to a reasonable accommodation from vaccination requirements due to a medical condition or a sincerely held religious belief do not need to comply with the Mandate. VaxDC provides no guidance, however, on how covered employers should approach verification of individual accommodations.

Complying with the Mandate

Beginning January 15, 2022, covered businesses must verify vaccination status before guests or visitors may access any indoor portion of the business.  The following has been deemed sufficient to demonstrate proof of vaccination:

  • An original or a photocopy or photograph of a CDC-issued vaccination card;
  • An immunization record print-out from the patient portal of their vaccine/healthcare provider; or
  • A COVID-19 Verification App such as VaxYes or CLEAR.

The Mandate does not require establishments to verify proof of identification alongside proof of vaccination, although during a press conference held on December 22, 2021, Mayor Bowser indicated that establishments must also check photo identification to ensure the name on the vaccine card matches the individual’s ID.

All covered establishments must also prominently display signage at their entrances publicly notifying visitors of the vaccination entry requirement.  City officials have advised that businesses should employ private security or engage the police if confronted with individuals that refuse to comply with the Mandate. 

See Footnotes

* Laura Spector is a pre-bar associate in Littler's Washington, DC office.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.