Montgomery County mask mandate reinstating if substantial COVID-19 spread occurs for a week

Montgomery County mask mandate reinstating if substantial
COVID-19 spread occurs for a week 1

Montgomery County will hold off on reinstating a face mask mandate for now, though county leaders said the measure could return if the community sees a week’s worth of serious coronavirus spread.

The Montgomery County council voted unanimously Tuesday against reinstating an indoor, public space mask mandate unless health officials report seven consecutive days of substantial COVID-19 spread. 

The face coverings mandate in indoor spaces would end when the county sees moderate spread of COVID-19 for seven consecutive days. 

The council‘s decision loosens the prior policy, which had called for mask mandates whenever the county experienced a single day of substantial transmission.

The council decided to count Saturday as the first day of recent substantial transmission for the county. If substantial spread of COVID-19 lasts through Friday, the face mask mandate will be triggered and would go into effect Nov. 9 at 12:01 a.m. 

Council President Tom Hucker noted that it will take weeks to get the majority of children ages 5 to 11 vaccinated and that many in the county are still vulnerable to COVID-19 in defense of the council’s decision.

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“Getting to the place where we have our 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated is critical to keeping our schools open for in-person learning without a new outbreak,” Mr. Hucker said. “There are also thousands of residents in our county who are fully vaccinated but still high risk and immunocompromised. So they are at risk of getting seriously ill or losing their lives to many of us who are fully vaccinated but who wander into a grocery store for a few minutes with them.”

“We have taken a cautious approach. We’ve followed the advice of our professional public health team throughout the pandemic,” he added. “And I think because of that we’re performing better than the great majority of the jurisdictions in this nation.”

If substantial transmission doesn’t last seven consecutive days, then the clock resets to zero and no mandate would go into effect.

The council voted unanimously to terminate the policy if 85% or more of the county’s total population becomes fully vaccinated. Just more than 77% of the county’s total population is fully vaccinated, according to health data.

The county is considered to be experiencing substantial transmission if it sees between 50 and 99.99 total new cases per 100,000 people or 8% to 9.99% test positivity in the past seven days.

Dr. James Bridgers, the county’s deputy health officer, said the health board continues to provide best practices on what science and data are saying to the council

He said the seven-day on and seven-day off ramps would minimize the back and forth between instituting mask mandates and lifting them but keep the community in a “safe space.” He noted the various COVID-19 metrics switch back and forth between moderate and substantial.

Since Friday, new coronavirus cases have surpassed 50 cases per 100,000 residents, county health data shows. As of Tuesday, there were 51.2 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents.

The health regulation also requires that a health officer or other designee notify the public if the county has become an area of substantial transmission for seven consecutive days.

Numerous individuals who attended a public hearing Tuesday said the council should remove the mask mandate.

Paul Meyer, who said he is the father of a 2-year-old, testified against the face mask mandate across the board, saying the best thing to do is to vaccinate people and describing case rates as a flawed metric to decide whether or not to institute a mask mandate.

“With virtually the entire county vaccinated, with 5- to 11 -year-olds next, we should not be reinstating the mask mandate,” Mr. Meyer said. “Covid is endemic in Montgomery County. So are we trying to get to zero Covid? Almost all experts agree that this is impossible. So if that’s not the goal, then we need to have a real discussion about what levels of risk we’re willing to accept. This is something that elected officials need to decide.”

Bradley Jensen said he appreciates the council’s move to provide more predictability around mask mandates. But he noted that if vaccination is a precursor to success, then council members should be discussing that, not about putting a mask mandate back in place.

“The insistence of mask mandates has required my family and others to remove our children from Montgomery County schools and to take the bulk of our business to counties where masks aren’t required so we can enjoy the freedoms that come with unmasking,” he said.

On Thursday, Montgomery County officials announced that the mask mandate for indoor public spaces would lift. The county had hit its seventh consecutive day of “moderate” community spread of the virus, meaning less than 50 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, on Wednesday. The indoor mask mandate was set to automatically lift after seven days of moderate or lower spread of COVID-19, according to the board of health regulations instituted in August.

However, coronavirus cases climbed up again Friday, exceeding 50 cases per 100,000 residents that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers as substantial transmission.

In response, the county’s health officer over the weekend said the mask mandate should resume starting Wednesday, an order voided under the amended health policy.

County officials reimposed the mask mandate in late summer due to the rapid spread of the delta variant.

Montgomery County, as of Tuesday, has recorded more than 82,600 COVID-19 cases and 1,600 deaths. The county also reported a 1.5% test positivity rate and 5.5% of hospital inpatient beds filled with COVID-19 patients.

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