Students in Howard County, Maryland, can soon go maskless on the playground under an easing of coronavirus restrictions that also includes lifting capacity limits on spectators at school sports and expanding attendance at upcoming high school graduation ceremonies.
“This easing of restrictions is a direct result of individuals becoming vaccinated at an expedited rate and in light of the lowering COVID-19 case rates in Howard County and across Maryland,” wrote Howard County Public School System Superintendent Michael J. Martirano in an update to the school community Friday.
The superintendent said the changes, which take effect Saturday, May 15, come after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a wholesale lifting of most coronavirus capacity restrictions across the state and most recently the lifting of the indoor mask mandate Friday.
County Executive Calvin Ball said the county would follow the state and lift its mask mandate on Saturday, with the exception of public transit, in schools, day cares and medical facilities.
But outdoors, masks are no longer required starting Saturday while on school property. That includes during outdoor recess, while students are eating meals outside, during outdoor physical education classes and other times when students and staff are outside on school grounds.
“Masks may still be worn based on individual discretion, and social distancing during these times continues to be strongly encouraged to the extent possible,” the superintendent’s note said.
Masks will still be required for spectators at outdoor sporting events.
However, the school is easing attendance limits at outdoor athletic venues, which will be able to move to full capacity beginning Saturday. The school system is now in the spring sports season, which includes lacrosse, softball, baseball, tennis, and track and field.
Previously, student athletes in each sport were limited to two spectator passes per game and stadiums were limited to 50% capacity.
In addition, the school system is planning to boost attendance limits at upcoming high school graduation ceremonies planned for later this month and next month.
Originally, each student was allowed to have two guests for their ceremony. That was later upped to four tickets. Now, the school system says that will increase even more.
“We are currently working with Merriweather staff to determine the exact number of additional tickets each graduate will receive based on venue logistics and will communicate that early next week,” the school system said.
Masks will be required and physical distancing is advised for unvaccinated attendees, the school system said.
“I am pleased that we have made tremendous progress and that this easing of restrictions is finally possible,” Martirano’s statement said. “I remind the entire Howard County community to continue to follow healthy and safe practices that prevent the spread of COVID-19, and to take advantage of the many vaccination opportunities available in our community.”