The Montgomery County Council agreed Tuesday to extend an indoor mask mandate to Feb. 21 at 11:59 p.m.
A previous proposal by county health officials put the end date of the mandate at 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 28.
It also stated that the mandate could end when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists that the number of cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days, the test positivity rate and the COVID-related hospitalization bed utilization case rate have declined for seven straight days.
Those three categories would also need to be below the “high” label used by the CDC.
County Council Member Andrew Friedson on Tuesday proposed the Feb. 21 end date as an amendment to that original measure Tuesday.
He also recommended changing the automatic trigger for termination based on health metrics to a weekly conversation with public health officials. The council approved Friedson’s recommendation.
That move indicates that the mask mandate could end sooner than Feb. 21, if the metrics continue to trend downward, showing a reduced spread of the virus.
“We need to have the conversation of moving from pandemic to endemic, what level of risk and tolerance we’re willing to accept, how we’re going to make sure that residents have the information they need to keep themselves and their families safe, [and] what businesses can do to keep their employees or customers safe,” Friedson said.
Before the vote, about half a dozen residents testified against extending the mandate. They said the omicron variant of COVID-19 has shown that cloth masks do not work in controlling the spread of the coronavirus, and people need high-grade medical masks, properly fitted.
One person testified in support of the extension, saying that small businesses need the government’s support in enforcing the mandate.
The CDC has put out recent guidance that while all masks offer some protection against the coronavirus, medical masks ranging from surgical masks to N95 and KN95 masks are more effective. The guidance notes that the masks must be worn tightly around the nose and mouth.
Multiple County Council members said they understood residents’ frustration about extending the mask mandate. Council Member Craig Rice said he hears regularly from people at his local gym, asking when the mandate will be lifted.
Even though he supported the amended mandate extension, Council Vice President Evan Glass said he had concerns about setting another end date for when it would expire.
Glass said residents have seen target end dates before, and likened those decisions to a scene from the Peanuts comic strip, in which Lucy pulls the football away at the last second every time Charlie Brown runs up to kick it.
“We just need to be honest with ourselves and all of our constituents about what sense of guarantee we are providing. … I would prefer to remove the date and increase the number of conversations this council has [with health officials],” Glass said.
Steve Bohnel can be reached at email@example.com