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Baltimore County To Lift Mask Mandate In Government Buildings, End Testing Of Unvaccinated Employees

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Baltimore County will end its mask mandate in government buildings and facilities and stop required testing for unvaccinated workers by the end of the month, County Executive Johnny Olszewski said.

In a statement, Olszewski said the county's positivity rate has dropped by nearly 89% since January, and the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has dropped by 77% in that time.

"As we approach the two-year mark of this pandemic, we are actively working to responsibly provide as much normalcy as possible for our employees and residents," Olszewski said. "The numbers are trending in the right direction and I am glad to be in a position to take these next steps in Baltimore County."

The policy goes into effect on Monday, Feb. 28.

Starting Feb. 25, the county will no longer require employees who did not report their vaccination status to test weekly.

The county's announcement comes on the same day Gov. Larry Hogan said masks would no longer be required in state government buildings as of Feb. 22.

He cited improving statewide COVID-19 metrics, with the positivity rate at 3.77% after peaking at 29.98% on Jan. 5.

"Given the dramatic declines in our health metrics, we are now able to take another step toward normalcy in state operations," Hogan said.

Both executives said masking would be encouraged for unvaccinated residents and visitors.

The president of AFSCME Council 3, a union representing 30,000 state government employees and workers in local universities, said Hogan's decision was "based on polls and not public health" and called on the governor to reverse course.

"The decision to rescind this masking requirement is based on little scientific evidence and makes no sense," said Patrick Moran. "Just like the Federal Government mandates people wear seatbelts, even if some people don't like them, the Governor should continue to require masking in State facilities."

Last week, Hogan sent a letter to the Maryland State Board of Education suggesting the panel drop its mask mandate.

He again cited the improving metrics in the state after the Omicron variant led to a surge in cases and hospitalizations.

In response, the board noted it reviews the need for the mask mandate at each meeting and pointed out to the research-based "off ramps" in place for schools to lift the requirements.

Under the existing policy, schools can lift mask mandates if 80% of the county's population is vaccinated, if 80% of the school's students and staff are vaccinated or if the county's transmission rate is "low" or "moderate" for 14 consecutive days.

As of Monday, Baltimore County has reported 126,556 COVID-19 cases and 2,322 deaths from the virus since the start of the pandemic.

The county reported 41 new cases on Sunday, down from a peak of 2,000 cases reported on Jan. 3.

According to the most recent CDC data, Baltimore County is one of four jurisdictions in the state with a "substantial" rate of transmission. All the others had a "high" rate of transmission.

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