It looks like an indoor mask mandate in Montgomery County, Maryland, won’t be coming back, after all — at least not for now.
Under health regulations rewritten this week by the county council, acting as the board of health, the county needs to see seven consecutive days of substantial or higher transmission before the indoor mask mandate is reinstated.
Beginning late last week, the county began to experience an uptick in its case rate, and Wednesday marked the sixth straight of day of substantial transmission. However, the county’s data for Thursday — the seventh day — indicated the county had dipped back into the moderate range.
That resets the clock on the mask mandate — meaning if the county moves back into substantial transmission in the future, it would take seven consecutive days from that point to trigger the indoor mask mandate.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines substantial transmission as more than 50 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days.
As of Thursday, Montgomery County’s case rate is sitting at 49.49, per the county’s COVID-19 data dashboard. However, that figure isn’t considered official until it’s reported by the CDC, which typically lags about a day behind the county’s update, according to assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard.
That means the final word on the indoor mask mandate won’t come until likely Friday afternoon, but Stoddard told WTOP that county officials “fully expect” the CDC reporting to match the county’s data.
“And once that … data indicates that we are in fact in a moderate transmission level, we will reset the clock again based on the board of health regulations,” said Dr. James Bridgers, the county’s acting health officer, in an interview with WTOP. He added, “The masks will remain off while we monitor the data over the next seven days.”
Montgomery County — Maryland’s most populous county — adopted the data-driven approach to indoor mask rules in August, as the county faced a surge in cases driven by the delta variant.
But it has also led to some confusion and complaints about a yo-yo effect of quickly shifting mask rules.
Last week, after seven straight days of declining case numbers, the indoor mask requirement was lifted. But the very next day, numbers began creeping back up again. Under the original Aug. 5 health order, the mask mandate was to be automatically triggered — after a few days’ public notice — if the county reentered substantial transmission.
Instead, the Montgomery County Council, sitting as the board of health, quickly met Tuesday to retool the rules, requiring seven consecutive days of substantial transmission before the mask mandate would be reinstated.
County council members pointed to the county’s high rate of vaccination for relaxing the masking trigger. Currently, 77.5% of the county’s population is fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.
The council also approved an amendment doing away with the mask mandate once and for all once 85% of the total population is fully vaccinated.
A big boost to the vaccination effort began this week when the CDC gave the OK to COVID-19 vaccine shots for children ages 5 to 11. There are roughly 100,000 young children of that age in the county, and health officials in Montgomery County are aiming to quickly administer shots to the newly-eligible youngsters.
County clinics for school-age children open Thursday.
“This will help us in our goal to achieve 85% of those individuals who are fully vaccinated per the Board of Health regulation,” Bridgers said.
WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.
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