The Prince George’s County, Maryland, council voted unanimously Monday to extend its current COVID-19 restrictions, including the county’s indoor mask mandate, until early 2022.
The council voted to extend, for the 15th time, the county’s emergency declaration related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The indoor mask mandate — which requires everyone 2 and older to wear a mask in public indoor settings regardless of their vaccination status — is a part of the resolution.
The current resolution was set to expire Dec. 9 at 5 p.m. It has now been extended until Jan. 23. The council’s vote was 9-0.
The news came the same day President Joe Biden addressed the nation, calling the new COVID-19 omicron variant a cause for concern but “not a cause for panic,” and urging Americans to get booster shots and to wear face masks indoors to slow the spread of the virus.
Prince George’s County has seen a modest uptick in new coronavirus cases over the past few weeks, and now has what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies as “substantial” transmission of the virus.
County Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter urged residents to continue mitigation strategies, such as mask-wearing, avoiding crowds and getting vaccinated or booster shots.
He said the emergency order may have to be modified to add additional restrictions, but that was not a given, even with the new variant.
“Just stay vigilant, and like all variants and viruses, this too will pass. We just have to get through this time period,” he said, referring to the arrival of cold weather and the holiday season.
Prince George’s has had an indoor mask mandate in place since early August, when the D.C. area saw an increase in cases driven by the more infectious delta variant.
Carter said the county did see a rise in cases due to the delta variant in the fall — but saw only a small number of deaths from the virus, in part, due to the relatively high number of vaccinations.
As it stands now, more than 97% of residents older than 65 have had at least one vaccine dose and more than 87% of county residents older than 12, according to CDC data.
Neighboring Montgomery County, which has a mask mandate automatically tied to the county’s case rate, reinstated its indoor mask mandate Nov. 20, after it had been lifted for about three weeks.
In D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser lifted the District’s broad mask mandate starting Nov. 16. Her administration has come under scrutiny for the change, but officials have defended the move, saying COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths in the District in fully vaccinated people are exceedingly rare.
Regarding D.C.’s decision to lift its broad mask mandate, Carter said, “We just felt that was a little premature, so we’re going to stick and stay where we are.”
Council member Mel Franklin asked about the mask requirement in gyms and fitness studios. “I’m getting quite a lot of feedback from some residents about the difficulty of doing cardio exercises with a mask,” he said.
Carter responded, “I understand the difficulty of wearing a mask when you’re in the gym. It’s tough.” But he said he was “standing firm” on the matter of wearing masks indoors because gymgoers are often breathing heavily in enclosed spaces.
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