Just two weeks into the new year, the U.S. has already seen more than a million new COVID cases on multiple days. The Omicron variant has created a dangerous surge, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating that this version of the virus currently accounts for more than 98 percent of cases in the country. Omicron is spreading even faster than the previously dominant Delta variant, and pushing case counts higher than ever before. Health officials across the country have started to update existing policies in response to the surge, with some places introducing vaccine mandates for the first time.
Two major cities are gearing up to ban unvaccinated people from several places this weekend. Both Boston and Washington, D.C., have vaccine mandates going into effect on Jan. 15 for most indoor places. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced the new policy in mid-December, as cases in the city started to increase significantly because of the Omicron variant.
According to Wu's order, people 12 years or older will be required to present proof of at least one dose of a COVID vaccine before entering indoor food services, indoor entertainment and event venues, and indoor gyms and fitness settings. The mandate will then evolve in phases throughout the year, with full vaccination being required from individuals 12 and over as of Feb. 15, proof of one dose being required from individuals 5 years and over as of March 1, and full vaccination being required from this age group as of May 1.
"This is just one step in an aggressive approach the city has already been working hard to implement," Wu said in a December press conference, per NBC10 Boston. "It is absolutely a necessary one. We're ready to take this step forward to protect our residents."
She added, "For too many months and years, our businesses have been forced to act on their own. Many have already implemented proof of vaccination independently. Now we are setting clear standards that provide straightforward guidance for businesses and ease that burden."
Washington, D.C.'s Mayor Muriel E. Bowser announced in late December that she would be implementing a vaccine requirement for the nation's capital in the wake of a staggering spike in COVID cases for the city. Under the new mandate, people 12 years and older will have to start showing proof of at least one vaccine dose to enter many Washington, D.C., businesses, starting Jan. 15. The businesses include restaurants, bars, nightclubs, theaters, and gyms. One month later, on Feb. 15, full vaccination will be required.
"I don't make any of these types of decisions lightly, because I don't like Big Brother intruding on my life. [There are] times when the government needs to make decisions for the whole society. Mandates have the ability to help people who are not vaccinated to become vaccinated, and that is a huge public health benefit," Bowser said in December, per The Washington Post. The mayor added that a testing alternative will not be available at first, but she would consider that option later if the state of the pandemic allows it.
Vaccine mandates have already been implemented in other major cities across the U.S., including Chicago, New York City, Minnesota's Twin Cities, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. And while booster mandates are now becoming more and more common among various sectors, no cities have upgraded their policies to include requirements for boosters to enter indoor spaces.