2021 | Coronavirus

County will not match state’s changes to outdoor dining, mask mandate

Maryland, Montgomery County don’t align on health guidance

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Montgomery County officials said they won’t be following along after Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday fully lifted the state’s outdoor mask mandate and ended restrictions on outdoor dining, starting Saturday.

Local jurisdictions can have stricter health regulations than the state. But during a press conference on Wednesday, Hogan said he “wouldn’t advise that” because his latest actions are based on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state’s health department.

The state — which is no longer requiring any outdoor mask use — and the county are at odds about what the latest health guidance is.

The CDC this week updated its guidelines to say fully vaccinated people do not need to use a mask outdoors, except in larger crowds. People who are not fully vaccinated can skip a mask outdoors in some instances, such as physical activity and in many small group settings, but should still wear a mask in other outdoor settings.

Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon that the difference between Hogan’s order and the CDC’s guidance is the recommendations for mask use for unvaccinated individuals.

In a joint statement released Thursday morning, the County Council and County Executive Marc Elrich said the county’s new three-phase reopening plan remains unaffected by Hogan’s latest executive order.

Under the latest CDC guidelines:

• For outdoor activities with members of a household, masks are not needed both for people who are fully vaccinated and those who are not
• For small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated family and friends, masks are not needed both for people who are fully vaccinated and those who are not
• For small outdoor gatherings with a mix of fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people, masks are not needed for people who are fully vaccinated but are needed for people who are not
• For dining at outdoor restaurants with friends from multiple households, masks are not needed for people who are fully vaccinated. Those who are not fully vaccinated should use masks and, even with that precaution, it’s considered risky.
• For crowded outdoor events, such as parade or sports, fully vaccinated people need masks. Others also need masks and attendance is not considered safe.

All people are still urged to wear masks at crowded outdoor events. Masks are still needed for all public indoor activities, the CDC says.

People are fully vaccinated about two weeks after either their second vaccine dose or a one-dose vaccine.

The Montgomery County Board of Health regulation states that the county’s mask guidance is based on the guidance of the CDC or the Maryland Department of Health, whichever is stricter.

In the joint County Council and executive statement, officials said residents should continue to follow CDC guidelines on mask usage.

Sonya Healy, a spokeswoman for the council, wrote in an email Thursday evening that the CDC’s guidance “recognizes the importance of mask usage, both indoors and outdoors, regardless of vaccination status, and that is the guidance that Montgomery County is following.”

“The Maryland order on face coverings does not require mask usage almost anywhere outside,” she wrote.

According to the state’s website, masks and face coverings are no longer required outdoors in the state. It says lifting the new masking order is in line with the new CDC guidance.

Face coverings are still required for all large ticketed venues, as well as indoors at businesses and on public transportation.

Unvaccinated individuals are strongly encouraged to continue wearing masks, but are no longer required to do so.

Hogan announced that starting on Saturday, standing service could resume outdoors at bars and restaurants and all restrictions related to outdoor dining capacity and distancing would be lifted. Seated service and physical distancing requirements are still in place for indoor dining.

As far as outdoor dining restrictions in Montgomery County, the county’s health order refers to a specific Maryland Department of Health order that lays out certain restrictions.

Healy wrote in her email that the county’s legal staff members advised the council that there is “no need to amend the County’s Board of Health regulation because it cites … a specific Maryland Department of Health Order.”

The county’s health regulation details that indoor dining shall not exceed 50% of the maximum occupancy. But outdoor dining is directed to follow a state Department of Health order, which stipulates certain spacing, distancing, and cleaning requirements, as well as prohibition of standing service.

“As we have done throughout the pandemic, we will continue to prioritize the guidance from our professional public health team to further drive down case rates, vaccinate our residents as quickly as possible and emerge as a stronger, healthier and more sustainable community,” the county officials’ statement said.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.