Montgomery County, Maryland, is on pace to end its indoor mask mandate this week if current transmission levels of COVID-19 remain low over the next few days, officials say.
Maryland’s largest county re-imposed its indoor mask mandate in early August amid a hike in coronavirus cases driven by the delta variant.
Under regulation approved by the Montgomery County Council, acting as the board of health, the mask mandate is automatically set to phase out after the county achieves seven days in a row of moderate or lower transmission, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Moderate transmission is defined as fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 residents over a consecutive seven day period.
On Monday, Montgomery County’s COVID 19 case rate stood at 45.7 cases. The first day the county reached a level below 50 occurred Oct. 21. According to the county, the seven-day countdown began the following day when interim Health Officer Dr. James Bridgers notified the county council of the lowered transmission rate.
As long as the current trend holds, the seventh consecutive day may arrive Thursday, Oct. 28 — allowing the county’s mask mandate to automatically lift on Friday at 12:01 a.m.
If, however, at any point before Thursday, transmission rates rise above the 50-case threshold, the clock will be reset.
“Our fingers are crossed that we achieve that milestone later this week of seven consecutive days, allowing us to be able to automatically trigger the elimination of the mask mandate,” said Montgomery County Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz during an online press briefing.
But, under the regulations approved by the county council in August, the mask mandate could automatically be reinstated if case rates begin to rise again.
“We are currently in moderate (transmission), but the mask mandate can come back if we move back into substantial transmission,” said Council President Tom Hucker.
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Where you’ll still see masks
Even if the general mask mandate is lifted, there are still required places you can expect to see face coverings, such as schools and on public transportation, including Metro and Montgomery County’s RideOn buses.
As part of Montgomery County Public Schools’ COVID-19 prevention measures, all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear masks indoor.
In addition, rules from the federal government require masks on public transportation.
Even with the lifting of the county’s mandate, businesses can still require patrons to wear masks on the premises.
Montgomery County, which has drawn both praise and criticism for its cautious response to the pandemic, boasts some of the highest vaccination rates in the country. It is also one of the first counties in the broader D.C. region to see COVID 19 transmission levels dip below the CDC recommended threshold at which masks should be required for indoor public places, including for those fully vaccinated.
For other areas in the region that enforce a mask mandate, Howard County has also fallen to a case count of 43 per 100,000 in the past seven days; Prince George’s County is nearing the “moderate” line — at about 60 cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days; D.C. is currently sitting at about 86 cases per 100,000 residents over the past week.
As of Monday, no county in Virginia was below the 50-case threshold that marks moderate transmission.