2021 | Coronavirus

Montgomery County adopts less restrictive mask guidelines

Fully vaccinated residents don’t need to wear one in most settings

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Montgomery County officials on Tuesday voted to relax some mask-wearing requirements, aligning with recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The county’s Board of Health, which includes the County Council, unanimously approved new regulations, after some minor clarifying amendments from Council Member Andrew Friedson.

Under the new county guidelines, people are no longer required to wear a mask outdoors. Also, people who are fully vaccinated no longer have to wear a mask indoors.

People who are not yet fully vaccinated still need to wear a mask indoors, per regulations set by the Maryland Department of Health.

“Fully vaccinated” means people who have received their final dose of a vaccine or a one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two weeks ago, according to the CDC and the state Department of Health.

The mask-wearing changes take effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

“Today didn’t just happen, it wasn’t an accident,” Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz said before the vote Tuesday. “It was the culmination of hours and hours of time spent trying to figure all of this out.”

On Monday, the county entered phase two of its three-stage reopening plan, which was triggered by 60% of the county’s population receiving at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. The following changes were immediately implemented:

• Removes outdoor capacity restrictions and raises the capacity for indoor events to 250 people

• Most businesses, restaurants and religious establishments can increase capacity to 75%

• Convention and banquet facilities can increase to 50% capacity

• Indoor sporting events increase to a 250-person capacity limit, and no limit outdoors

• Convention halls and banquet facilities limited to 50% capacity

• Cigar and hookah bars can allow outdoor smoking

The first phase of the county’s reopening phase, which began when 50% of the county’s population getting at least one dose of a vaccine, included the following:

• Gatherings limits increased to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors

• Most businesses increased capacity from 25 to 50 percent

• Malls reopened their indoor concourses and returned tables and chairs inside

• Sporting events were capped at 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors, with a similar number of spectators

The county is scheduled to enter the final phase of its reopening plan on May 28 at 6 a.m. That is based on 50% of the population being fully vaccinated. The county reached that threshold on Friday, but the final phase happens two weeks later, when vaccinations reach full strength.

Most business restrictions will be lifted and normal activities will resume in the third phase, but some will remain, including wearing masks on public transportation, in schools and in health care settings.

The Maryland Department of Health also has recommended keeping distancing measures in certain businesses, like six feet between tables in restaurants and bars. Businesses, as private entities, can enact their own restrictions, like mask-wearing or social distancing.

Multiple council members called on residents to encourage family members and friends who haven’t gotten vaccinated to do so.

Council Member Sidney Katz said county health officials have done a good job distributing vaccines, despite all of the challenges caused by the pandemic.

“This has been turmoil to turmoil to turmoil, but we are getting there … and we are getting to the point where more people in the public will feel more comfortable,” Katz said.

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