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Maryland's Mask Policies Are Shifting Around The Decreasing COVID-19 Positivity Rate

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- For the first time in three months, the COVID-19 positivity rate in Maryland has fallen below 4%.

As infections rapidly decline as well as other key metrics, COVID-19 mitigation measures are starting to peel off despite the CDC's recommendation to mask up in communities with substantial or high transmission spread.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski announced the latest mask policy change on Monday.

"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."

Effective Feb. 28, the indoor mask requirement for Baltimore County buildings and facilities will end. Last fall, the County implemented weekly testing requirements for employees who did not report their vaccination status. This will also expire towards the end of the month with the last required test administered on Feb. 25.

The countywide indoor face-covering requirement ended February 1.

Data from the CDC shows Baltimore County is one of four counties in the state labeled with substantial spread, meaning between 50 to 99 new cases per 100,000 people in the past week. The rest of the counties in the state are still experiencing a high transmission of the virus.

Gov. Larry Hogan also announced Monday that starting Feb. 22, masks will no longer be required for employees and visitors in state government buildings.

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

Last week, Hogan called on the Maryland State Board of Education to drop its mask mandate, citing the improving metrics in the state following the Omicron variant, which led to a surge in cases and hospitalizations.

"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 a letter to board president Clarence Crawford. "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."

In response, the Board of Education noted that it reviews the need for the mask mandate at each of its monthly meetings. The next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 22. The panel also pointed out that there are research-based "off-ramps" in place for schools to lift the mandates themselves.

Under the current policy, schools may lift the mask mandate 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.

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Baltimore transitioned into optional masking on Monday.

"We believe with the metrics as they are right now, that we can safely move to parental choice mask optional for students starting Monday," Dr. Donna Hargens, the superintendent of Catholic Schools, said.

However, students in Baltimore City will continue wearing face masks until Mayor Brandon Scott relaxes the mask requirement.

While pockets of change continue throughout the state, the federal government is waiting for new CDC guidance on indoor masking to pass down.

"We wait for the CDC to do a thorough and rigorous review of the current data to give us a sense of what our next set of recommendations should be," Dr. Cameron Webb with the COVID-19 White House Response Team said.

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