Health officers in two major Maryland jurisdictions are encouraging a voluntary return to mask use as COVID-19 cases tick back up.
All of the state remains in a low transmission range according to current guidelines issued by the Centers For Disease Control. Health officers in Baltimore city and Anne Arundel County said the rates in their respective jurisdictions are nearing the moderate range and urged caution.
“This new data does indicate that Baltimore city, like other similar sized jurisdictions around the country is seeing a stark increase in case rates,”said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa.
“Based on the increase in case numbers that we’re tracking internally and out of an abundance of caution, I am strongly recommending that masks be worn indoors, in public settings, regardless of vaccination status,” she said.
Dzirasa stressed that recommendation was voluntary and inline with current CDC standards. She said the city would likely not consider returning to a mandate before the city moved into a high transmission situation.
Maryland’s seven-day average of news cases was 1,530 as of Tuesday, a 53% increase over the previous week. The 311 hospitalizations, a key metric for the CDC, remains low compared to previous waves of the pandemic. Even so, the total number of people hospitalized has increased more than 55% since May 1, according to state data.
“It’s too soon to say if this is a new wave,” Dzirasa said. “We may be in this for a couple of weeks.”
Dzirasa said the city has seen an increase in the number of cases increase 243% over the past 28 days. Hospitalizations in the city have increased 28% over the same period.
And while the average number of new cases over the past week sits at about 180, the city’s overall transmission rate remains low because the average number of COVID-related hospitalizations sits at 83 for the past week. Dzirasa called the figure “relatively low” compared to the Delta and Omicron surges of late 2021 and early 2022.
Anne Arundel County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman said his county is in a similar situation.
“I know we’re in a different phase of the pandemic) but we are seeing case rates go up,” Kalyanaraman said.
“What’s promising is that the hospitalization rates are lower than we’ve seen in prior times,” he said. “Just six months ago, at this case rate, we’ve only got about 30% to 40% as many hospitalizations as just six months ago. That’s progress.”
On Monday, the county reported an average seven-day case rate of about 26. The county would move into the moderate range with an average of 28 new daily cases over a week.
“We know there is a bit of an undercount because of home testing which does not get reported,” Kalyanaraman said.
Kalyanaraman recommended a voluntary return to mask use for those who are testing at home.
“I think it is important to recognize that at this time we are going to have to do a little more around masking — particularly those who are at high risk of severe disease, those with chronic conditions, those who are older, should be masking in indoor settings and in public settings,” he said.