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Baltimore, Montgomery County reinstitute indoor masking for all

Several of the state’s biggest jurisdictions reinstated mask mandates today, hoping to curb the rapidly increasing spread of the Delta variant, a more transmissible strain of the coronavirus that is causing increases in cases in Maryland and nationwide. 

Baltimore city and Montgomery County will begin requiring vaccinated and unvaccinated people to wear masks indoors in the coming days; Baltimore’s mandate goes into effect at 9 a.m. on Aug. 9 and Montgomery County’s goes into effect at midnight the morning of Aug. 7. 

“We know that the increase in cases is not unique to Baltimore. But as you have heard me say many times, my responsibility and single priority as your mayor is to ensure the wellbeing of residents and it would be foolish not to try to get ahead of this while we had the opportunity to do so,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said. “We can act, we must act and we will act.” 

The number of COVID-19 cases in Baltimore has skyrocketed by 374% over the past four weeks as the Delta variant has become the predominant strain of the virus in both Maryland Baltimore in recent weeks, according to Letitia Dzirasa, Baltimore’s health commissioner. 

The city is also at “substantial” risk of COVID-19 spread, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, having reported 50.89 cases per 100,000 residents between July 27 and Aug. 2.  

Montgomery County also received the same designation, totaling 57.6 cases per 100,000 residents over the past week. That’s almost 7.5 times higher than the average number of cases per 100,000 this time last month. 

The resolution, which was passed unanimously by the Montgomery County Council, not only institutes a mask mandate starting this weekend, but more broadly requires people to wear masks indoors any time the county falls into the CDC’s “substantial” risk category. This happens whenever more than 50 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents are confirmed within a seven-day period. 

The new mask mandates follow recent CDC guidance that advises vaccinated and unvaccinated people to wear masks indoors in public spaces to lower the spread of the Delta variant. 

Other jurisdictions in the state are also taking similar steps to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but stopping short of countywide mandates. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced today that masks will be required inside county government buildings, starting at 5 p.m. on Aug. 6.  

She, too, cited concerns about the Delta variant as the cause for the mandate, saying, “The new Delta variant is particularly concerning, and we are taking additional precautions in county government to keep out employees safe at work.” 

The county is currently working on additional policies that will require employees reporting to the office to either be vaccinated or be regularly tested for COVID-19. 

Anne Arundel County also began requiring its employees to wear masks to work as of Thursday, and the county will require employees to be vaccinated or complete weekly testing starting in September 

Statewide, Gov. Larry Hogan has not indicated any plans to reinstate an indoor mask mandate, saying that “we’re in a far different place than we were in the beginning. If you’re vaccinated, you’re at very little risk, so it’s different than the way it was before.” 

But, he said, he supports local jurisdictions’ rights to make the best public health decisions for their communities. 

“I’m sure they’re trying to make the best decisions that they can,” he said. “I know we’re basing our decisions, like we always have, on the actual data and the advice of all the top health experts.” 

Despite rising case counts, Scott said Baltimore decided to wait to implement the mask policy until next week in order to give people and businesses time to acclimate. He noted that city buildings currently require masking and that any businesses that want to begin requiring masking ahead of Aug. 9 are free to do so. 

The city’s previous mask mandate was lifted just over a month ago, on July 1. Prior to that time, Scott had announced that the mandate would be lifted when 65% of city residents over the age of 18 had received at least their first dose of the vaccine; however, he ended up lifting it when only 57% had, in tandem with the state of Maryland ending numerous COVID-19 restrictions, including mask requirements. 

Currently, 63.7% of adults in Baltimore have received at least their first dose, lagging behind the state’s rate of 78.1%, according to the CDC. 

Scott pushed for those who are still unvaccinated to get the vaccine as soon as possible. 

“As we continue to push for everyone to get vaccinated and again, everyone should get vaccine, everyone should do the right thing, everyone should stop being selfish, everyone should get their questions answered about the vaccine and get the vaccine, so that you can do the things that you want to do,” he said. 

No jurisdiction has reinstated any other COVID-19 measures, like closures, capacity limits or outdoor masking requirements.