No New Statewide Masking Rule, But It’s Back in Three Large Jurisdictions

The continued spread of COVID variants has public health officials and government leaders re-thinking their local approaches. This week Governor Hogan announced new requirements for many State employees, and three of Maryland’s largest jurisdictions renewed their local indoor masking requirements to combat the virus’s effects.

In Baltimore, Mayor Scott and Health Commissioner Dzirasa announced the resumption of an indoor masking mandate. From coverage on the WBALTV webpage:

The mayor cited a rapidly increasing number of cases and he emphasized getting vaccinated against COVID-19. As of Wednesday, COVID-19 cases have increased approximately 374% in the last four weeks and positivity has increased by 364% in the past four weeks, the mayor said.

Officials said the increase is indicative of rapidly increasing virus transmission due to the highly transmissible delta variant.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, Baltimore City is now in the “substantial” risk category, with approximately 50.89 cases per 100,000 residents, over a seven-day average for the time period between July 27 and Aug. 2.

While the mayor and Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa are reinstating the mask mandate, they are also urging people to get vaccinated.

The same day, the Montgomery County Council, sitting in its role as the County Board of Health, debated and passed its own mask mandate, citing similar concerns. From material on the Montgomery County media page:

The regulation is consistent with new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. County leaders say reinstating a mask requirement indoors is a proactive step in preventing the further spread of the virus as the Delta variant sweeps the nation. Although many residents are vaccinated, additional layered prevention strategies will be needed in the short term to keep people safe according to health officials.

County Council President Tom Hucker says he hopes this will help protect residents against the dangerous Delta variant, as he encourages unvaccinated residents to get their shots.

Prince George’s County followed suit, citing similar concerns. From coverage on WTOP:

Hours after requiring masks inside all county government buildings starting Friday, Prince George’s County, Maryland, has reinstituted an indoor public mask mandate that will go into effect Sunday.

County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said Thursday that masks will be required inside all county government buildings starting at 5 p.m. Friday as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

“The new delta variant is particularly concerning, and we are taking additional precautions in county government to keep our employees safe at work,” Alsobrooks said in a statement.

Later, the county said that the indoor public mask mandate will go into effect on Sunday at 5 p.m. These apply to vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

At the statewide level, Governor Hogan called upon State employees in multiple forward-facing agencies to be vaccinated or subjected to added testing and masking requirements:

Effective September 1, employees in 48 state facilities will be required to show proof of vaccination, or adhere to strict face covering requirements and submit to regular, ongoing COVID-19 testing.

New vaccination protocols will apply to state employees in the following agencies:
Department of Health (11 state health care facilities)
Department of Juvenile Services (12 facilities)
Department of Public Safety and Corrections (6 detention centers and 18 correctional facilities)
Department of Veterans Affairs (Charlotte Hall Veterans Home)

The Governor did not impose new statewide requirements on residents or private businesses, but did aggressively urge residents to get the vaccine – citing continued vaccination as the strongest tool against the continued spread of the virus:

“Please, just get the damn vaccine,” said Governor Hogan. “The vaccines are free, safe, they work, and they are widely available everywhere across the state at thousands of distribution points, including hundreds of pharmacies and primary care providers.”

Watch the Governor’s press conference. View the slides from the Governor’s press conference.

The Governor’s message hit social media soon after:

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties