On Dec. 22, 2021, Washington’s Mayor Muriel Bowser announced her plans to issue an extraordinary executive order, demanding that people over 11 years old who are not “fully vaccinated” from COVID-19 be barred from restaurants, bars, gyms and most indoor gatherings.
For reasons known only to the mayor, this “urgent” order will not be formalized three weeks following her Twitter announcement, beginning Jan. 15, 2022. The mayor announced these restrictions knowing she lacked any legal authority to do so, based on transparently false assertions about the effects of COVID-19 vaccinations and without even a semblance of a “public health emergency” to justify this power grab.
The day before the mayor issued her “emergency executive order,” only 3.3% of D.C. hospital patients had tested positive for the virus associated with COVID-19, according to the D.C. Department of Public Health. DPH classifies this as a “minimal hospitalization rate,” the lowest level of COVID-19 infection among hospitalized patients since March 2020. Five days later, the percentage of COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped even further, to 2.5%. This is a “public emergency”?
In a further rejection of common sense, the mayor’s order demands COVID-19 vaccination of people as young as 12, when no Washington resident under 19 years old has ever died from COVID-19. Further, for the last 12 months, DPH has linked not a single death of anyone under 30 to a positive test for COVID-19. Yet those who will be most affected by the mayor’s delayed “emergency” vaccination order — people who frequent bars, gyms, restaurants and recreation centers — are disproportionately these same younger people who are at no actual risk of dying from COVID-19.
In addition to nonsensically targeting young people, the mayor’s order will disproportionately affect the city’s Black population. As of Dec. 15, 2021, fewer than half of Black Washington residents have received COVID-19 vaccinations, compared with 61% of white residents, 67% of Hispanic residents and 85% of Asian residents. COVID-19 vaccines are widely available in Washington, yet more than half of Black residents have chosen not to receive one. If the mayor’s order is enacted, half the city’s Black population will be effectively barred from participating in most social and recreational activities or coerced into accepting a medical intervention they have already rejected. Apparently, “Black lives matter,” but the personal decision-making of Black people, not so much.
The mayor’s order for “vaccine mandates” is centered on the self-evidently false claim that vaccination prevents infection with the virus associated with COVID-19 or prevents the transmission from a vaccinated person. Sports fans are painfully aware of the “COVID health and safety protocols” that regularly result in cancellations of NFL, NBA and college games as dozens of “fully vaccinated” athletes daily test positive for the virus. The CDC has told vaccinated Americans to “avoid cruise ships, regardless of vaccination status,” after investigating COVID-19 outbreaks on more than 94 ships, despite 100% vaccination rates for passengers and crew. Even more obviously, the most heavily vaccinated U.S. states are also those with the highest rates of reported COVID-19 infections.
In September 2021, the mayor issued a similar order, requiring all government workers to be COVID-19 vaccinated while allowing for medical and religious exemptions. How is that working? During the week before Christmas 2021, over 100 D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services members tested positive for COVID-19, 75% of whom were vaccinated. And according to a Dec. 26 update, the situation has become even worse: “The contagious variant Omicron has swept through D.C. Fire this week. The internal daily reports show 35 positive cases on Wednesday [Dec. 22, 2021], with 27 fully vaccinated. On Thursday, there were an additional 39 positive cases and 33 of them are fully vaccinated. Up to today, there are 198 on quarantine and 117 tested positive.” Unvaccinated firefighters and EMS workers, who must undergo frequent testing (unlike the vaccinated), now have to work extra shifts to cover for their vaccinated but infected colleagues.
Neither D.C. law nor the U.S. Constitution permits the mayor to force people to accept unwanted medical interventions as a condition of living their normal lives. D.C. Code §7-2304 grants the mayor extraordinary powers to do things like impose quarantines, cut off utility services and request federal disaster assistance, but not to control our bodies. If any local law did assert such extraordinary power, it would clearly violate our most basic rights to personal decision-making and bodily integrity deeply rooted in the U.S. Constitution. Under federal law, the government cannot impose any medical treatment on anyone, even among people who lack the mental competence to make such decisions.
There is no current public health emergency related to COVID-19 in Washington, where fewer people are hospitalized with COVID-related illnesses than ever before. Whatever benefit vaccination might provide to the injected, it does not prevent the spread of COVID-19. The mayor’s mandate cannot possibly achieve its stated goal of “stopping COVID-19.”
The mayor’s order is plainly illegal. She has no authority to coerce anyone to be vaccinated as a condition of participating in social life, nor could her order have any positive impact even if she had the power to impose it. She is counting on businesses and the public to unquestioningly comply with her invalid dictates until the courts inevitably strike them down, delivering even more profits to vaccine manufacturers in the interim. No business should abide by this blatantly illegal power grab, and residents should boycott any businesses that enforce compliance.
• Philip Fornaci is a civil rights attorney in Washington, D.C.
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