On May 28, Montgomery County, Maryland, will lift most remaining coronavirus restrictions in the county, including rules requiring unvaccinated people to continue wearing face coverings in most indoor settings.
But that doesn’t mean you’ll stop seeing masks in Maryland’s most populous county.
Even with the easing of restrictions, the county will still follow guidelines from the state that require masks on public transportation, in health care settings and inside schools and other child care facilities.
The county will also continue requiring people to wear masks inside county-owned and operated buildings, officials said during an online news briefing Wednesday.
In addition, businesses and workplaces are free to set their own rules about mask-wearing, County Executive Marc Elrich said.
“It is the right of an owner to require that you wear a mask, so if you don’t like it, they’re actually doing something that they have the right to do,” Elrich said. “Arguments over masking can quickly get heated and we need to make sure everybody knows these facts and understands the guidance, so that there’s no question about whether [or] not an owner is able to do this.”
It’s also the case that some people — even if they’re fully vaccinated and in a place that allows them to unmask — just won’t feel comfortable doing that yet.
And that’s also OK, Elrich and county officials stressed.
Dr. Raymond Crowel, a clinical psychologist who heads the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, said that while COVID-19 took a stark toll on people’s mental health, the easing of restrictions can also make people feel anxious.
“Reopening is going to cause some anxiety in people for some very good reasons,” Crowel said. “As more and more people are vaccinated, the tangible things that signaled safety from COVID are changing … All the things that were signs and signals that we were protecting ourselves and each other are going away. Vaccination has made that possible and safer to do, but it may not feel that way at first for people.”
He added, “Give yourself time to adjust and be patient with yourself and others.”
Earl Stoddard, the head of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said the county is sticking with a masking policy at its facilities “largely because we’re providing services to a huge array of different people,” including children and people with underlying health conditions.
The county also wants to instill confidence in staff returning to their offices after a year away that they’ll be safe.
“I don’t know how long that policy will remain in place. We’ll continue to evaluate that as we see our numbers continue to dip, and so it’s entirely possible that that policy will not last long. Over the next several weeks or months, we’re going to continue to evaluate it.”
Overall, people taking part in more community activities will have to judge for themselves what they feel comfortable doing, he said, explaining that he only recently dined indoors at a restaurant for the first time in more than a year.
“I don’t think it’s going to be one of those things where people are going to wake up tomorrow, like, ‘You know what? Pandemics’ over. I’m going to go back to my life as normal.’ It’s going to be a process.”
Germantown mass vax site still seeing ‘pretty good turnout’
The county has seen continuing declines in coronavirus metrics. The positivity rate in the county — the percentage of tests coming back positive — has dropped to fewer than 1%. The case rate per 100,000 residents has dipped to 2.15 new cases per day.
As it stands now, about 55% of county residents are fully vaccinated and just under 62% have received at least one dose.
As other mass vaccination sites around Maryland and the region prepare to close up shop, Stoddard said Montgomery County has no plans to wind down operations at its large-scale vaccine clinic at the Germantown campus of Montgomery College.
“We are aware that other mass vaccination sites are ramping down or closing across the state and other places,” Stoddard said.
He added, “We’re still seeing a pretty good turnout” at Germantown. On average, the site administers 500-800 second doses a day and about that many scheduled appointments or first doses and additional walk-ups.
In addition, county teams are “literally going door-to-door” to encourage people to get vaccinated, he said.
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