2021 | Coronavirus

County eyes COVID-19 metrics as it considers reinstating indoor mask mandate

Board of Health to meet next week to review rising case counts

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Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer.

County Executive Marc Elrich and Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, have recommended that the County Council reinstate a mask mandate indoors if COVID-19 cases continue to rise countywide.

Elrich and Gayles said in a news release on Friday that a mandate should be reinstated if the county sees “substantial transmission” of the coronavirus in the coming weeks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines substantial transmission as 50 to 99 cases per 100,000 residents for seven days.

Given Montgomery County’s population of about 1.05 million, that equates to roughly at least 75 new cases per day, or 525 new cases over a seven-day period, the press release said. If that threshold is met, an indoor mask requirement for all residents, vaccinated or unvaccinated, should be reinstated, Elrich and Gayles said.

Earl Stoddard, an acting assistant chief administrative officer for the county, said that while vaccination rates are high countywide, there are still hundreds of thousands of unvaccinated residents. That’s why he, Gayles and other health officials have recommended an indoor mask mandate if case levels reach the threshold.

The fact the county had 97 new cases on Friday — the most in a day since May 30 — is a sign of  increasing transmission countywide, Stoddard added. Even though hospitalization figures aren’t as high as during the worst parts of the pandemic, health officials are considering that many students will return to classrooms in August.

Stoddard emphasized that there have been no discussions on limitations for school capacity, but added that officials are recommending the indoor mask mandate to prevent further transmission.

“If there is significant transmission and unchecked transmission, that translates to more … potential disruption in our school environment,” Stoddard said. 

The County Council, sitting as the Board of Health, will consider an indoor mask mandate when it meets on Thursday.

Elrich said in the press release the policy would help protect everyone, including those who are ineligible or haven’t been able to receive the vaccine.

“No one wants to go back to wearing masks but in the absence of a 100 percent vaccination rate in the community, masking is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus and  protect the health of our community,” Elrich said in the statement.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com