Montgomery County to vote on amendment holding off on reinstatement of mask mandate

The COVID-19 case rates have gone up in Montgomery County, Maryland, but the mask mandate might not go back into effect just yet.

County Council President Tom Hucker on Monday said the council, meeting as the Board of Health, will vote Tuesday on a proposed amendment to the emergency health regulations. It would reinstate the mask mandate if the county has seven consecutive days of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls “substantial” transmission.

Last Thursday, Montgomery County lifted its indoor mask mandate after the case rate had fallen into the “moderate” range — under 50 cases per 100,000 residents over the previous seven days.

The case rate had already been rising, and one day later, on Friday, the county went back over the threshold into substantial transmission. Under the county’s health regulations, the mandate would automatically be triggered.

Current practice has been to give four days’ notice, so unless the council intervenes and modifies the established rules determining how the mandate is triggered, the mandate will resume Nov. 3 at 12:01 a.m.

Hucker said at an online news briefing Monday that the amendment establishing the seven-day horizon was intended to “avoid the yo-yo effect” of abrupt mandate changes.

Under the amendment that will be voted on Tuesday, if the case rate remains above 50 for seven straight days, the seventh day would be Friday, Nov. 5. With “the four-day grace period that we’ve been granting throughout this period,” Hucker said, the mandate would go back into effect Tuesday, Nov. 9.

The case rate has stayed above 50 per 100,000 since Friday, meaning it’s been four days in a row as of Monday.

The health regulation at issue dates to early August, when faced with the delta surge, the council rolled out data-driven mask rules tied to the level of community transmission in the county.

Council Vice President Gabriel Albornoz said acting health officer Dr. James Bridgers had been consulted on the amendment to “engage and clean up, frankly,” the policies that had been in place.

Bridgers said the amendment “will demonstrate strategic and best practices that we currently can deploy.”

Hucker said that the uncertainty over the lifting and possible reinstatement of the mask mandate has been frustrating for residents, but said it was the natural result of being cautious in the face of an unprecedented pandemic.

“There’s been no sort of manual on this,” Hucker said. “There is no perfect answer. You make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time. And now we have new information.”

Albornoz added, “I acknowledge and respect the frustration” over the confusion. “Let’s keep our fingers crossed … that we don’t have to go back.”

WTOP’s Jack Moore and Zeke Hartner contributed to this report.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

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