Children ages 2 to 5 will have to wear masks indoors in Prince George’s County, Maryland, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced Wednesday.
The county’s mask mandate previously covered people down to age 5.
“As a parent, I know it is not easy to mask younger children,” Alsobrooks said, but rising cases of COVID-19 among young children means that “we are just going to have to do more.”
She said the numbers overall were looking better for the county since July: The test positivity rate was down to 3.3%, while the infection rate — the average number of people each infected person goes on to infect — stands at .93, a sign the virus is retreating, not expanding. And the daily case rate is at 12 per 100,000 people, down from more than 20 at the end of August.
Dr. George Askew, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer for health, human services and education, said he expects the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to downgrade the county’s community-spread status from “high” to “substantial” later this week.
Askew added that he and Alsobrooks had received comments from parents angry about the difficulty of masking kids, but said that “we get just as many if not more” such comments from parents who are upset that children in child care centers and other facilities aren’t masked.
Alsobrooks said she would be looking at incentives to raise the percentage of county workers who are vaccinated, especially because it lags the overall county rate.
The county is still in the process of asking employees to submit their vaccination status as it works to finalize its employee vaccination policy.
But Alsobrooks said preliminary data show that 64% of county workers have received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to 82% of residents who have received at least one shot. “It’s our goal to bring our employees in line with that,” she said, noting that the county government would “incentivize wherever possible” among workers.
For his part, Askew gave repeated reminders of the effectiveness of the vaccines.
“The pandemic has become a pandemic of the non-vaccinated,” Askew said, adding that, “Those who report to the hospital the sickest, and those who are dying, are overwhelmingly the unvaccinated.”
He said CDC numbers found that unvaccinated people are five times more likely to get infected with COVID-19 than vaccinated people, and 20 times more likely to be hospitalized. The vaccines are saving lives.
“Getting very sick from COVID is preventable,” Askew said. “It’s heartbreaking to know that a few needle sticks could have saved so many people.”
Alsobrooks added: “The best antidote that we know to this point is to be vaccinated.”
You can set up a vaccination appointment on the Prince George’s County website.
Boosters, third doses
Booster shots are available for people who need them, Alsobrooks said, and Askew made clear again the distinction between booster shots and third doses, both of which have gained in profile in recent weeks.
Booster shots are for people who have had both shots of the Pfizer vaccine (they’re not approved for Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines so far) and are over 65, or others ages 18 to 64 depending on their medical conditions and their jobs, such as those who work in health care, correctional facilities, grocery stores and nursing homes.
Such people should get boosters six months after their second shot. “You do not have to show proof of eligibility that you are eligible for a booster shot,” Alsobrooks said, “but keep in mind the timing.”
Third doses, on the other hand, are for people whose immune systems are compromised by medical conditions or by medicines they take. That compromise prevents people from achieving the usual level of immunity in the first place. Those additional doses are available for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and if you qualify, you should get it 28 days after your second shot, Askew said.
Alsobrooks also detailed some of the ways that Prince George’s County has been and is spending the money granted by the federal American Rescue Plan.
She concentrated on rental assistance, saying the county received $84 million and has given out about $30 million of that so far.
“We have plenty more money to spend, and plenty of applications to process,” she said, with more applications coming in every day.
She said that a series of community fairs would help residents navigate the rental assistance program. In the meantime, people can get help by calling 301-883-6504 and then pressing 9, or by going to the county’s Housing and Community Development page and clicking on “Emergency Rental Assistance.”
Askew said he anticipates FDA approval for children ages 5 to 11 to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in the next few weeks, but he had several pieces of advice regarding Halloween.
For one thing, he said, children must wear masks, and the kind of masks that come with costumes won’t cut it — the same kind of face coverings that have been in use for the past year and a half have to be employed. He noted that adding a costume mask over a cloth mask can make it hard to breathe.
He also said people on the other end of the trick-or-treating process should make individual goodie bags of candy for children, and/or put candy in bowls at the end of the driveway.
And, it probably goes without saying, bobbing for apples is out.
He added that flu season was beginning, and that flu vaccines are already available.