This story was updated at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 5, 2021, to correct the timeframe needed for the mask mandate to be dropped.
Montgomery County Council members unanimously voted Thursday to reimplement an indoor mask mandate for all indoor public spaces.
The council, sitting as the Board of Health, made the decision as the county has seen “substantial transmission” of coronavirus cases during the past week. That means the county has seen 75 new cases daily or 525 over a seven-day period, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Members of the county attorney’s office said Thursday the mandate would begin Saturday, Aug. 7, to meet legal requirements and notices.
The mandate applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. County health officials previously said they will continue to monitor other health metrics like hospitalizations and deaths, but hope the mandate can curb the spread of the virus and the delta variant.
Council Members also approved multiple amendments to the mandate Thursday, including setting a period when it would end. The mandate would end after seven straight days of fewer than 75 cases per day, or an average of that during the same period. That is when the county would be in “moderate transmission,” according to CDC guidelines.
The seven days hopefully prevents a “yo-yo effect” where the mandate could be reinstated and then removed multiple times within a week or month, Council Members said.
Council Members also approved another amendment, which required County Executive Marc Elrich to draft a plan to Board of Health by Aug. 20 that all county employees must either show proof of vaccination against the coronavirus, or provide a negative COVID-19 test to county officials weekly.
Residents who testified Saturday were mixed on whether a indoor mask mandate should be approved. Some said they viewed it as measure to further protect the broader public and those under 12 years old, who aren’t yet eligible for the vaccine. Others said the county’s high vaccination rates — more than 70% of the county’s population is fully vaccinated, according to the CDC — meant a mandate wasn’t necessary.
Council Members said Thursday they knew some residents were frustrated that a mandate needed to be reimplemented. But the action, they added, will hopefully help prevent any greater spread of the virus, especially the Delta variant.
Council Member Hans Riemer said he hopes that health officials look at metrics like hospitalizations and not just case rates, if any more restrictions need to be considered.
“The good news is the vaccinations are working, and new hospital admissions are relatively low … we ought to keep our eye on that and use that as one of our key metrics going forward,” Riemer said.
Council Member Nancy Navarro said there are still many people traveling to the Washington D.C. region, perhaps from areas without as high vaccination rates. That means it’s important to take action to limit the spread of the virus.
“It is important to note there are areas of the country that believe that COVID is a big lie, and it is a joke, and that has unfortunately affected us,” Navarro said. “And so for me, it’s all about being proactive … and this is one more step in recognizing that we are not completely done.”
There are some exceptions to the indoor mandate, including:
- When people are eating and drinking
- People who have a medical reason not to wear one
- An amendment from Friedson, which allows performers and public speakers to not wear one if they are socially distanced from their audience
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org