2021 | Coronavirus

UPDATED: Indoor mask mandate won’t return next week in Montgomery County

CDC data confirm trend of state and local data

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This story was updated at 3:25 p.m. Nov. 4, 2021, to include more details and comments from county officials. It was updated at 7:15 p.m. Nov. 5, 2021, to reflect that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated the county is in “moderate transmission.”

Montgomery County will no longer be reinstating an indoor mask mandate next week, since Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data aligned with state and local data on COVID-19 case rates.

Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard wrote in a text message on Thursday that if Centers for Disease Control and Prevention case count data on Friday matches state and local data, the county would avoid seven straight days of “substantial transmission,” as defined by CDC guidelines.

The county needed to have seven straight days of “substantial transmission” before it would reinstate the indoor mask mandate. If there is one day with “moderate” or “low” transmission, the seven-day clock resets.

On Wednesday, the county hit five straight days with “substantial transmission,” but dropped to “moderate transmission” on Thursday. The CDC dashboard updated on Friday afternoon and identified the county to be in “moderate transmission.”

Previously, County Council members, acting as the Board of Health, voted to amend a regulation involving the mask mandate on Tuesday. They changed it to require seven straight days of “substantial transmission.”

Per CDC guidelines, “substantial transmission” is 50 to 99.99 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, over a seven-day period.

The mask mandate was previously lifted at 12:01 a.m. Oct. 28, after the county saw seven straight days of “moderate transmission,” per CDC guidelines and the Board of Health order.

Moderate transmission is defined as 10 to 49.99 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, over a seven-day period. As of Thursday, the county’s COVID-19 dashboard showed 49.49 cases per 100,000 people, over a seven-day period.

On Friday, the CDC COVID data tracker showed that same case rate, and also moved the county into “moderate transmission.”

The county re-entered “substantial transmission” soon after the mask mandate was lifted in late October.

Because county officials said the order previously only required one day of “substantial transmission” for the mask mandate to be reinstated, it prompted County Council members and other county officials to amend the order. That was to avoid a “yo-yo effect” of the mask mandate being lifted and reinstated so quickly, they said.

If the county had seen “substantial transmission” through Friday, that would have marked seven straight days in that category, and the mask mandate would have been reinstated on Tuesday of next week. Council members and other county officials agreed to that four-day buffer, to allow officials to review and confirm the CDC data aligned with local sources, and to allow businesses to prepare for the mandate being reinstated.

James Bridgers, the county’s acting health officer, and Stoddard told reporters during a news briefing on Wednesday that there is about a 30-hour lag between the CDC data and state and local data being released with regard to case counts and other metrics.

The CDC is pulling its data from different sources than what Maryland and Montgomery County use, Bridgers said.

“We look at the CDC data just to compare. We know they have multiple data feeds, but we want to make sure that they are reporting what they actually receive from the state or other localities,” Bridgers said.

Stoddard told reporters that testing vendors could make mistakes submitting data to the state or the CDC, which can lead to small changes in daily case counts for prior days. It’s rare, but it happens, he added.

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