Lawmakers griping about needing to travel to the suburbs for food to avoid Washington’s new vaccination requirement won’t have to go far to get grub without proof of a jab.
Eateries on both the Senate and House sides of the Capitol complex are continuing to serve masked and unmasked diners alike without proof of vaccination.
Just steps from the Capitol, proof of vaccination is required in addition to masks at many food establishments after a requirement from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, went into effect over the weekend. The order affects visitors to eateries, bars, clubs, entertainment venues, recreation facilities like gyms, and other types of facilities.
But Congress, which is not legally required to adhere to requirements set by its host city, can make its own rules. And there’s no indication the Capitol will require proof of vaccinaton for those who work on the Hill to get a bite to eat or use a congressional gym.
“It's very concerning to me; indeed, it could be dangerous,” said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat. “We're trying to prevent the spread and to move this virus finally out of, certainly the District and … indeed the country.”
A patchwork of Capitol rules and mandates leaves the thousands of employees in the decentralized and bitterly divided institution mostly left to do what they see fit as the omicron wave of COVID-19 continues.
“The District, which is looking out for the health and safety of residents, is doing the right things here with some success, but there's not a thing it can do about the Capitol,” Norton said. "And we don't see that either side of the Capitol is willing to do much.”
Aparna Soni, an assistant professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs, said the various mask, vaccine and testing policies in places surrounding D.C. can quickly impact the District itself.
“If one city or state does not make serious attempts to reduce the spread of the virus, then infected people in that area who travel to D.C. can bring the virus with them, affecting D.C. residents as well,” she said, adding that a consistent and coordinated approach would be more effective in slowing virus transmission.
House staff returned to eateries like Dunkin’ last week to find the chairs had been removed, along with other measures the House chief administrative officer imposed in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19. The CAO also encouraged takeout and ordering ahead through an app used by Sodexo, which manages the House-side dining services. But encouraging mask-wearing and takeout is all a contractor like Sodexo can do.
“Sodexo cannot establish their own vaccine mandate to require patrons of the House dining locations to be vaccinated,” CAO spokesman David O’Boyle said. “If Sodexo wanted to require its own employees to be vaccinated, they could do so. There is nothing from the House contract prohibiting them from doing so.”
Both unvaccinated and vaccinated people are required to mask up indoors in D.C. while shopping, riding public transit or entering common areas.
Bowser's proof-of-vaccination order does not extend to places like grocery stores, churches or parts of hotels, though the new rules prompted organizers of the “defeat the mandates” rally to block off hotels across the river in Virginia in protest, according to its website.
The Office of the Attending Physician sent a memo earlier this month urging everyone in the House and Senate to wear more robust N95 and KN95 masks and to let staffers work from home. Unlike the House, the Senate does not require masks.
Norton traded barbs with Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., over the weekend, offering him sandwiches after he said his office wouldn’t comply with the new rules in the District.
“We will not show papers. We will not order takeout from restaurants that require papers for dine in. We will get our food from Virginia or we will bring it to work,” part of Massie’s tweet said.
Norton said she hadn’t heard from Massie’s office yet but she’s still ready to provide grub.
She even seemed ready to fill his preferred lunch order: “Ask him what he wants.”