2021 | Government

UPDATED: County’s indoor mask mandate ended at 12:01 a.m. Thursday

Seven straight days of ‘moderate transmission’ met

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This story was updated at 5:10 p.m. Oct. 27, 2021, to include more comments from county officials and to clarify details of the mandate that is expiring. It was updated at 10:07 a.m. Oct. 28, 2021, to reflect that the mandate had ended.

Montgomery County’s indoor mask mandate ended at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, after the county hit seven straight days of “moderate transmission,” per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. 

County Executive Marc Elrich and other officials said during a news briefing on Wednesday that the mask mandate would be lifted Thursday morning. That was affirmed later Wednesday in a memo issued by James Bridgers, the acting health officer.

Moderate transmission, per CDC guidelines, is 10 to 49.99 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, over a seven-day period. Given Montgomery County’s population of about 1.1 million, the county needed to average less than 75 new cases per day for seven straight days.

Through Wednesday, the county had seen 471 cases during a seven-day period, an average of about 67.3 cases per day.

County officials have said that to remain in moderate transmission, the county needed to stay below 50 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period. As of Wednesday around noon, that metric was at 44.8 cases per 100,000 residents.

County officials previously said they would wait until Friday morning to lift the mask mandate, citing a lag between CDC data and state and local data — and wanting to make sure the two align with one another.

But Council Member Sidney Katz asked the council and health officials on Tuesday if the date should be moved up to Thursday morning. Council members, acting as the Board of Health, didn’t object. 

The indoor mask mandate that expired applied to all county government buildings and state government buildings in the county, and all businesses and restaurants in the county, except for when eating and drinking while sitting.

Masks also were required in common areas in apartment and condominium buildings. A federal order still requires them on Ride On buses and Metrorail, and a state mandate requires them within public schools.

Exceptions to the mask mandate that expired included: 

  • Patients going to the dentist or receiving facial treatments needed to wear masks in the examination room.
  • Actors, singers and other performance artists didn’t need to wear a mask on stage if they were at least 6 feet from the audience, Anderson said. The rule also applied to people giving speeches or broadcasts.
  • People didn’t need to wear a mask if they must identify themselves for security purposes.
  • People unable to wear a mask due to a medical condition or disability didn’t need to wear them.

Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard said earlier this week that businesses still have the option to require masks, and urged customers to follow their decision. He said some people might feel safer wearing a mask, and that others who choose not to should respect those who do.   

Bridgers and Stoddard said the county would reinstate the mask mandate if the county re-enters substantial transmission.

“The order itself doesn’t self-terminate, meaning Dr. Bridgers would still be obligated under this order to provide notice to the [County] Council of any change in the transmission levels, per the CDC,” Stoddard said. “And so if we did go back to substantial transmission, you would be required to notify the council of that existing order and that would re-trigger the mask mandate requirement.”

Elrich lauded residents for being vigilant and getting the county to this point. He said it’s probably a good idea for residents to continue wearing masks, especially in crowded areas and indoor spaces.

“I don’t consider 67 cases something to sneeze at,” he said of the case count on Wednesday. “So if I were a citizen, I’d keep wearing my mask, and there’s no reason to take it off. And certainly if you’re going into a store, [or] you’re in a crowded place.”

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