Montgomery County, Maryland, lawmakers are set to vote next week on extending the indoor mask mandate through the end of February.
The indoor mask mandate is currently set to expire Jan. 31.
The Montgomery County Council, sitting as the board of health, will hold a public hearing on the mask mandate at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday before the expected vote.
The proposal comes as the county is still seeing a very high number of COVID-19 cases driven by the more infectious omicron variant, although county data also shows the transmission rate dropping precipitously from a peak earlier this month. Hospitalizations in the county remain high compared to previous surges, but are also dropping sharply.
Under the proposal before the council now, masks would be required in indoor public spaces until Feb. 28, but the mandate would end early if COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue falling.
A news release on the council website says the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data tracking the COVID-19 case rate, test positivity rate and hospitalization utilization in the county would have to fall below “high” levels and remain trending downward for seven consecutive days.
- The number of cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days, which is currently 917, would have to fall below 100;
- The test positivity rate, which is currently 15%, would have to fall below 10%; and
- The percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, which is currently 28%, would have to drop below 15%.
The county’s mask mandate has been a source of contention and confusion in the past. Under a board of regulation, approved by the council late last summer amid the delta surge, the county’s mask mandate was also tied to the county’s case rate, which saw the mask mandate “see-saw” on and off.
Under a later version of the board of health regulation, which was also rescinded, the mask mandate would have been dropped once 85% of the county’s total population of more than 1 million was fully vaccinated — a milestone the county reached this week.
Earlier this week, council members in neighboring Prince George’s County extended its indoor mask mandate to March 9.
D.C.’s mask mandate, issued by Mayor Muriel Bowser, is set to expire Jan. 31.
The county council is also set to continue discussion Tuesday on a “vaccine passport” measure that would require restaurants, bars and fitness centers to check customers’ vaccine cards before they can enter the premises.
In a hearing earlier this week, a number of business groups pushed back on the proposal, saying it will place an undue burden on businesses, could lead to clashes with customers and wouldn’t do much to encourage vaccination since already 95% of the county’s population have already received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The measure, which is modeled on a similar COVID-19 vaccine requirement in D.C., is strongly supported by County Executive Marc Elrich, who called it a common-sense approach to make sure businesses operate safely.
In an interview Friday on WAMU’s “Politics Hour” broadcast, Council President Gabe Albornoz indicated he was leaning toward voting “no.”
“For me, at the moment, the juice is not worth the squeeze,” Albornoz said, adding, “I think given our high vaccination rates and how successful we’ve been, overall, I think we need to take a wait-and-see approach, and also see how this works out with the District of Columbia.”
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