8.5.21 – DCist—
Montgomery County and Prince George’s County officials will join the District in requiring residents to wear masks indoors in public spaces regardless of vaccination status.
Montgomery County’s mandate will go into effect starting Saturday at midnight, and Prince George’s will start on Sunday at 5 p.m.
The Montgomery County council voted at an emergency meeting Thursday to reimplement the indoor mask mandate as the county and others in the region reach substantial COVID transmission levels due to the spread of the Delta variant, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The news came shortly after Gov. Larry Hogan announced vaccine requirements for state employees working in high-risk congregate settings like healthcare facilities.
Montgomery County is seeing 57.58 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week, according to the county’s dashboard. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines substantial transmission levels as 50-100 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week or a positivity rate between 8% and 10%.
“Although we have the highest vaccination rates in the nation, masking is one of the ways we know can reduce the spread of the dangerous delta variant,” Council President Tom Hucker told councilmembers at the start of the meeting. “We also urge people to get vaccinated immediately.”
Nearly 64% of county residents are fully vaccinated, according to county data.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks also announced Thursday via press release that the county would resume masking indoors for everyone over the age of five.
“After consulting with health officials who are monitoring our COVID-19 metrics daily, we have been advised that we are now at a point where we must reinstitute an indoor public mask mandate to keep Prince Georgians safe,” Alsobrooks said in a statement. “The spread of the new Delta variant shows that we can only get out of this pandemic by getting more people vaccinated.”
Prince George’s is also seeing “high” transmission rates, per Alsobrooks’ press release, with approximately 77 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week, according to CDC data. About 54% of the county is vaccinated.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan stopped short of reimplementing a statewide mask mandate Thursday, saying at a press conference that he “strongly urges” unvaccinated people to wear a mask and get vaccinated.
In testimony before the Montgomery County council, some county business owners, like John Anderson with W Curtis Draper Tobacconist in Bethesda, said they were concerned about how the mask mandate would affect their businesses.
“I’m in favor of mask mandates…but unfortunately was forced to close [my store] for over a year,” Anderson said. “My family, my wife, my daughter, and my eight employees, count on this business.”
He asked the council to treat cigar lounges like restaurants and bars and allow patrons to remove their masks while seated indoors. The council is allowing indoor cigar and hookah lounges to apply for waivers that would allow patrons to remove their masks once seated.
Other county residents, like William Fitzmaurice, were outraged by the prospect of a new mask mandate and told councilmembers that the mask mandate would “only protect the unvaccinated, but those individuals have had their chance [to get vaccinated] and weighed those risks.”
But health officer Travis Gayles emphasized that the county is following the CDC’s guidance on the transmission levels.
“We’re using what has been a national definition,” Gayles said. “We will continue to look at the daily hospitalization rate and fatality rate.”
The City of Alexandria was the first in the region to reach substantial rates of transmission last week and strongly recommended all residents to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status, but it is not required by law.
Montgomery County joins the District in reimplementing an indoor mask mandate. As of last Saturday, all D.C. residents over age two – regardless of vaccination status — are required to wear masks at all indoor businesses, including gyms and restaurants.
“It’s important for us as a region to invoke policies together,” Montgomery County Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz told councilmembers prior to the vote.