Prince George’s County, Maryland, will lift its indoor mask mandate on Monday, Feb. 28, but is keeping its mask mandate for schools in place for now.
Prince George’s County has become the only jurisdiction in Maryland that has fallen into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s moderate transmission range, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said at a coronavirus briefing on Friday.
She said the seven-day average transmission rate in the county is 44.98 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents.
“What I think is most significant about where we are, given the fact that we started at the highest transmission rate not only in the state, but one of the highest in the region, our numbers tell us that we are the only jurisdiction in the state of Maryland that is presently in the moderate category,” she said.
Alsobrooks also noted that the county’s COVID-19 test positivity rate has dropped from to 5.16% two weeks ago to 2.29% today, while COVID-19 hospitalizations have decreased by 36% over the last week. In fact, patients with COVID now make up only 4% of the county’s overall hospital capacity.
But she said that Prince George’s County has not yet met the threshold for lifting mask mandates in schools.
On Feb. 22, the Maryland Board of Education voted to lift its statewide school mask mandate while allowing local school boards to adopt their own policies. The board recommended several “offramps” to guide school districts’ decisions, including a vaccination rate of 80% in the surrounding county.
Alsobrooks said Prince George’s County is using that metric. Currently, just over 72% of county residents have been fully vaccinated, which is categorized as having received both doses of the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one dose of the J&J vaccine. More than 40% of residents who are fully vaccinated have also received a booster.
“We likewise have one of the highest vaccination rates in the state, and so Prince Georgians have totally crushed COVID-19,” Alsobrooks said.
She added that from the beginning of the pandemic, “I promised you that we would make all of our decisions based on science and medicine, and we will be guided by data.”
Monica Goldson, CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools, said the school system will also be guided by data-driven metrics.
“According to the Maryland State Department of Education’s previous guidance, we have the opportunity to remove the mask mandate once the county reaches 80% vaccination. We have time to work through what this change will mean for all members of the Prince George’s public school community, including those with medical conditions,” she said.
“In addition, making sure we modify our testing and quarantine policy and day-to-day operations in collaboration with our local health department, it’s important that all parents and employees can make the right decision for themselves and their families at whatever point that mandate is lifted,” she added.
George Askew, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer for health, human services and education, said vaccinations for children under 5 will be key in helping to make those decisions.
“By early spring, we hope the FDA and CDC will give providers the green light to vaccinate children six months and older. I know that there are a lot of anxious parents looking forward to that time,” said Askew, who is leaving his post this month to become president and CEO of the Meyer Foundation.
Alsobrooks said she has “received lots of emails about the mask mandate and the majority of our parents have asked that we continue to keep masks because our youngest learners just had the opportunity to receive the vaccination.”
She credited masks with helping to keep students in school during the delta and omicron waves. Asked if she heard from parents opposed to the mandate, Alsobrooks replied: “I’ve definitely had a few — nowhere in comparison to the number of parents who have asked us to keep them.”
The county executive stressed that even with the lifting of the indoor mask mandate, residents who still want to wear masks are encouraged to do so. She also noted that masks are still required on all public transportation.
“I totally understand the concern and trepidation of any resident who says I am not yet ready. … And we’re not pretending that COVID-19 does not exist anymore,” she said.
“The omicron surge came just as we saw the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “Even at that time, many of us who were fully vaccinated and boosted, myself included, and felt we were doing all the right things, still tested positive. And so I know and understand the concern of any resident who says at this point they are not ready to remove their masks.”
Alsobrooks urged all residents to be respectful of those who choose to wear masks “to continue in the spirit of togetherness that we have seen and experienced throughout this pandemic.”
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