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Hogan Calls On State Board of Education To Rescind Mask Policy

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday called on the Maryland State Board of Education to rescind its mask mandate, pointing to the state's improving health metrics as the Omicron-driven surge in cases and hospitalizations continues to wane.

In a letter to board president Clarence Crawford, the governor said the pandemic has had an adverse impact on children, with school closures and other disruptions leading to learning loss and mental health challenges.

"A growing number of medical professionals, parents, and bipartisan state officials throughout the nation are calling for an end to school mask requirements," Hogan wrote. "In light of dramatic improvements to our health metrics and the widespread availability of vaccines, I am calling on you to take action to rescind this policy."

He pointed to comments from former Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen calling for restrictions to be lifted.

At a press conference Tuesday, the governor indicated he would suggest such a change.

"We're going to ask that they consider making some changes to that at their meeting this month," he said.

In a statement, the board said members have received Hogan's letter and there's optimism about the state's improving metrics.

The statement noted research-based off-ramps allowing local school systems to remove mask mandates if 80% of the county is vaccinated or if the county's transmission rate is "low" or "moderate" for two straight weeks.

"The State Board has and continues to rely upon science, research, and guidance from public health experts, including the CDC and the Maryland Department of Health in its efforts to ensure schools remain safely open," the board said. "We look forward to the day when this dark COVID cloud has been mitigated. We will continue to listen and work with our State and local partners in continuing this work."

Board members will continue to review the numbers and assess if the regulation is still needed.

The Baltimore Teachers Union shared an article from The New Republic with the quote: "Face masks keep kids safe from Covid-19 and keep schools open. There's no evidence they harm kids developmentally."

As of Wednesday, 166 schools across the state are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, defined as three or more lab-confirmed cases among a cohort of students, teachers and staff within a 14-day period, five classroom cohorts experiencing positive cases from separate households, or a positivity rate of 5% or higher, according to state data.

Ten schools have reported 70 cases or more, with North Hagerstown High School in Washington County reporting 140 cases, according to state data.

Health officials remove schools from the outbreak list after two weeks have passed with no new cases and no test results are pending.

When the off-ramps were set at a board meeting last December, Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury said the top priority is keeping kids in the classroom.

"No single school should have to close down because of COVID, quarantines should be minimized," he said.

He also said masking couldn't continue "forever."

"We can't mask our children forever, however, we do know masking does play a role in helping our children safe," said Choudhury.

On Jan. 5, a General Assembly panel voted 11-5 to extend the mask mandate and establish the "off ramps" for it to be lifted.

Every county in Maryland still has high transmission of the virus, according to CDC data.

The state health department reported Thursday there are fewer than 1,000 Marylanders hospitalized with COVID-19 for the first time in roughly two months.

The positivity rate is 5.12%, a 0.27% decrease from Wednesday.

The board's mandate is set to expire on Feb. 25.

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