2021 | Coronavirus

UPDATED: Montgomery County might be nearing end of indoor mask mandate

Mandate automatically ends after seven straight days of ‘moderate transmission’

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This story was updated at 11:10 a.m. Oct. 22, 2021, to include updated information about case rates. It was updated at 12:10 p.m. to include updated information about the number of cases per day. It was updated at 5:40 p.m. to reflect that Montgomery County is now considered having “moderate transmission.” 

The county’s indoor mask mandate might end soon, health officials said Wednesday. 

Health officials are closely monitoring coronavirus case rates in the county, to see when the mask mandate could end. The mandate automatically ends when there have been seven consecutive days with the county in “moderate transmission,” as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Moderate transmission is defined as 10 to 49 new coronavirus cases per day per 100,000 people, over a seven-day period. 

Until this week, the county was considered to have “substantial” transmission, per the CDC. Substantial transmission is defined as 50 to 99 new coronavirus cases per day per 100,000 people, over a seven-day period. 

That means Montgomery County, based on its population, has substantial transmission when there are 75 or more new coronavirus cases per day during a seven-day period, officials said. It has to drop below 75 to be considered moderate.

The current seven-day average number of cases, as of Oct. 22, is about 70.7 cases per day.

As of Friday afternoon, the CDC’s coronavirus tracker for the county showed a case rate of 49.78 cases per 100,000 people, meeting the moderate transmission category requirement. 

Once the county is in the moderate category for seven straight days, the indoor mask mandate would automatically be lifted.

Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard wrote in a text on Friday that since local data matches the CDC data, it confirms there is a “simply a lag” with the CDC’s data. Because of that and the release of data on Friday, the county is in day two of its seven-day “clock” to lift its indoor mask mandate, Stoddard wrote. 

James Bridgers, the county’s acting health officer, cautioned that the county needs to see seven straight days of moderate transmission for the mask mandate to be lifted, not just one day.

“While we’re monitoring these case rates and transmission rates … when we get below that threshold, if there’s a day in that seven-day consecutive period where the case count goes up, that restarts the clock,” Bridgers said.

The County Council does not have to reconvene as the Board of Health to end the mask mandate, Bridgers and Stoddard said. 

Stoddard said that he and other health officials will monitor the days that the county is in the moderate category. Bridgers will notify the County Council when the mask mandate is about to be lifted, he added.

“When the seventh day arrives, Dr. Bridgers … would send a formal note to the County Council saying, ‘We’ve reached day seven. Therefore, at this time tomorrow, the mask mandate will be lifted,’” Stoddard said. 

County Executive Marc Elrich said Wednesday that even though the indoor mask mandate might be lifted soon, it’s still a good idea to continue wearing them indoors. That’s because Montgomery County’s case rates and other health metrics are better than others in the region, and people move throughout the region, Elrich added.

“We’re not an island, so even when our mask mandate is removed, I continue to encourage masking indoors. … You can see what the rest of the East Coast looks like, and it’s not a pretty picture,” Elrich said.

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