Baltimore will follow the state and end both its state of emergency and mask mandates on July 1.
The announcement by Mayor Brandon Scott Wednesday comes one day after Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said state vaccination rates had driven coronavirus infections to sufficiently low levels to warrant the state ending its state of emergency and lifting all remaining masking requirements.
“I want to be clear about something — the pandemic is not over,” said Scott. “We will continue to follow the science and allow the data to drive our decision-making. Folks must continue to get vaccinated so that we can leave COVID behind for good and do not see new strains of COVID or end up in the same place as we enter the fall and winter months as they come up.”
As part of Scott’s announcement, the city will end its local state of emergency as well as all mask mandates effective July 1. Private businesses may still set their own individual policies regarding mask use. Scott called on residents and patrons to respect those individual situations.
One of those individual situations involves city government offices, which will not immediately open to the public under the order. Scott said offices will remain closed to the public for the time being, citing the age of the buildings and a lack of space in which to allow people to socially distance.
The mayor promised a future announcement in which he would lay out “how we’re going to work through the process of bringing city employees back into the building, making sure that we have a policy and practice where we can have the public come in a safe space.”
Hogan Tuesday announced an executive order that will lift 18 previous executive orders, effective at 12:01 a.m. July 1. The orders cover everything from limiting access to child care centers, testing and quarantine for out-of-state travelers, telehealth services, delivery of alcohol as well as one that exempted Santa Claus from travel and test restrictions.
The July 1 date will allow for a new state law to take effect that will continue to allow bars, restaurants and other liquor license holders to continue to deliver under a law passed by the General Assembly earlier this year.
Hogan imposed the state of emergency on March 5, 2020 as he reported the first three COVID-19 cases in the state. Over the next 15 months he renewed that state of emergency 18 times, including on June 12.
Ending those orders now, he said, was the result of declining case numbers as well as increased vaccination levels statewide.
Lifting the state of emergency and mask mandates in the city comes as the jurisdiction struggles to reach self-imposed vaccination goals.
Scott, as recently as 10 days ago, has said the city would not roll back restrictions until it reached a 65% vaccination rate — a level not yet attained in the jurisdiction. The mayor said the lifting the orders did not represent a flip-flop on that goal.
“This is not about flip-flopping,” Scott said. “I’ve always said …we’re going to to be driven by the data. We know we are now at a point where we think it is safe to do this. This is only about the data.”
The number of daily new cases in the city, now at about 15 per day, is down 84% from a month ago. The positivity rate has fallen 64% over the same period to 0.7%.
So far, 57% of the population 18 and over has received either the first of the two-dose vaccines or the single-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine, and 50% are now fully vaccinated.
Hospital capacities are also dropping, with total capacity now at 80% and ICU capacity at 85%.
“People who are still being hospitalized due to coronavirus and its variants are those who are not vaccinated,” said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa, adding that the city remains committed to the 65% goal.
“Eventually, we would like to get to 80%, but we recognize that today 50% of all adults in Baltimore City are fully vaccinated and that’s a big deal,” she said.