2021 | Coronavirus

County now considering reimposing indoor mask mandate next week

Mandate would return only after seven straight days of ‘substantial transmission’

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Montgomery County is now considering reimposing an indoor mask mandate next week instead of this week.

The new target date will be Tuesday, Nov. 9, at 12:01 a.m., rather than Wednesday of this week, which was the plan as of this past weekend.

First, the Montgomery County Council, acting as a Board of Health, will meet on Tuesday of this week to consider an amended version of the county’s COVID-19 mask mandate. A new version would reimplement the mandate after seven consecutive days of “substantial transmission” instead of one.

If the council approves the new order, the mask mandate would go back into effect on Nov. 9, instead of at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

The indoor mask mandate, implemented in August, lifted at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 28, because the county was in “moderate transmission” for seven consecutive days, meaning that the county was averaging 10 to 49.99 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period.

The county had been in “moderate” transmission for seven straight days.

The next day, though, the county went back into “substantial transmission,” meaning that the county is averaging 50 to 99.99 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period.

Over the weekend, Acting Health Officer James Bridgers sent a memo to the County Council and County Executive Marc Elrich stating that the county had entered substantial transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

The memo said the mandate would be reinstated at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday of this week, unless the council acts as a Board of Health and makes a change.

Council President Tom Hucker and Bridgers told reporters during a briefing on Monday that the council will meet as a Board of Health on Tuesday to consider an amended order that requires seven consecutive days of “substantial transmission” before the mandate goes back in place.

The seven-day period is intended to avoid the “yo-yo” effect of the mandate being lifted and reinstated multiple times in quick succession.

According to county data, Monday was the fourth consecutive day Montgomery County was in substantial transmission.

Hucker said that under the amended order, Bridgers would notify the council and Elrich on Nov. 5 if the county hits the benchmark of seven consecutive days in substantial transmission. However, the mask mandate wouldn’t take effect until Nov. 9, he said.

“It would not go into effect immediately, in order to provide all of the public, businesses, places of worship the four-day grace period that we’ve been granting throughout the pandemic,” he said.

Additionally, Bridgers said the four days allows a buffer for a lag between COVID-19 transmission data at the state level and the CDC. The state typically reports its data a day or so faster than the CDC, he said.

“We have historically and traditionally used the CDC data as a measure because they have multiple data feeds that would correlate to what we’re doing,” he said.

Also on Monday, Bridgers and Sean O’Donnell, the public health emergency manager for the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, said they expect vaccinations to start for 5- to 11-year-olds.

O’Donnell said the CDC’s panel is expected to review a set of recommendations in the next few days and give authorization. Clinics will then be set up, likely in early evening hours that don’t overlap with school, O’Donnell said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com