2021 | Coronavirus

County hopes to hit 85% vaccination rate by year’s end, cancel mask mandate

It’s unclear if ‘fully vaccinated’ definition might change, affect county’s action

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

County health officials hope that, given the current rate of 5- to 11-year-olds being vaccinated, the county will have 85% of its county residents fully vaccinated — a metric that eliminates an indoor mask mandate.

Sean O’Donnell, the public health emergency manager for the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, cautioned, however, that he would further need to review vaccinations among that age group to see when the county will hit that metric.

“I’m hoping we get there by the end of the year. But I will have to go back and talk with our data analysts and epidemiologists to get an updated date and projection on that,” O’Donnell told reporters Monday.

The county’s indoor mask mandate, currently in effect, ends in either one of two ways.

First, the county would need to see seven straight days at or below “moderate transmission,” as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Moderate transmission is defined as 10 to 49.99 new coronavirus cases per day per 100,000 people, over a seven-day period.

Given the county has been in “substantial transmission” — 50 to 99.99 new coronavirus cases per day per 100,000 people, over a seven-day period — for several weeks amid rising case counts, that is unlikely in the immediate future.

The County Council, acting as the Board of Health, put in its most recent regulation concerning the indoor mask mandate a condition that would eliminate the mask mandate entirely.

The mandate would automatically end at 12:01 a.m. the day after 85% of the county’s total population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, as measured by the CDC’s COVID data tracker.

Fully vaccinated means two weeks after a person has received either the second dose of the Moderna or the Pfizer vaccine, or the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine. 

As of Monday, 80.7% of the county’s population was fully vaccinated, according to the CDC’s COVID data tracker. The county’s COVID dashboard shows that 71.3% of the population has completed its “full dose schedule.”

Health officials have stated that the difference between the two numbers is because the CDC includes residents who got their vaccinations outside of Montgomery County, whereas the county’s total does not include those residents. 

It’s also unclear if the county’s mandate would be affected if the CDC changes its definition of “fully vaccination” to include those who got a third dose if they are immunocompromised, or a booster shot for increased protection against the coronavirus.

According to state data O’Donnell shared with reporters Monday, 214,019 “additional doses” had been administered countywide as of Dec. 2. He said health officials have always encouraged people to get the booster shot if they are eligible.

All residents 18 years or older are now eligible for a booster shot. Residents can receive any of the three approve vaccines, regardless of their first series. 

“I think if that message went out, it would likely … put more of an emphasis to our population that they really do need to come out and get one,” O’Donnell said. “But as soon as they expanded the eligibility [for boosters], we saw a huge surge in people getting it, so our county does want to get those shots.”

County Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz, chair of the council’s Health and Human Services committee, said it’s a good sign that a lot of residents are getting their boosters. He added, however, that if the CDC changes its definition, the Board of Health might revisit the indoor mask mandate regulation.

“If the absolute definition changes, then clearly we would have to reassess all the policies that we’ve enacted to date, and we would be prepared to do so,” Albornoz told reporters.

It’s also unclear if the omicron variant of the coronavirus — first reported in Maryland last week — might affect the mandate. O’Donnell told reporters that more information will become available in the coming weeks, including whenever the first omicron case is reported in Montgomery County.   

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