After a weekend of confusion, Montgomery County, Maryland, is changing the policy governing its indoor mask mandate. Following a vote by the county council Tuesday, the county’s indoor mask mandate will return only if the county sees seven straight days of substantial or high spread of the coronavirus.
Acting health officer Dr. James Bridgers believes reinstating the order based on a week’s worth of data, instead of just a single day, will bring some stability to the policy.
"Case counts, test positivity, reproduction value, all of those things seem to be going back and forth, and I think that an amendment would be the best way forward which would minimize some of that back and forth," Bridgers said.
The county's mask mandate has been a rollercoaster, to say the least. It was put in place Aug. 5 when the county reached substantial transmission as the delta variant spread in the county; it moved into the high transmission category a month later. On Oct. 21, transmission fell back to a moderate level. On Oct. 28, the mandate was lifted. However, 48 hours later, the county was back in the substantial transmission category and was preparing to bring the mandate back this week.
Ahead of the vote, county leaders said they wanted to prevent a so-called yo-yo effect where it’s unclear whether residents should mask on a day-to-day basis.
“A seven-day period provides a more accurate picture of public health trends related to the virus and eliminates quick swings back and forth on indoor masking requirements,” a council press release said.
Retired nurse Paul Allen, a Montgomery County resident, says this new approach makes things more predictable for residents and business owners.
"Having to check every day if it's an abnormality just kind of confuses the issue," Allen said.
With kids ages 5-11 on the cusp of being eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, some county leaders are ready to consider permanently removing the mandate.
The council unanimously approved a measure that would eliminate the mandate once the CDC reports 85% of eligible Montgomery County residents are fully vaccinated.
"We want to make sure that before we speed out of the tunnel now that we see the light, that we have our seatbelts on and this is what we need to do to make that happen."
According to the CDC, Montgomery County is still seeing substantial spread of the virus. If that trend holds through Friday, the mask mandate could return next week.
Businesses may ask patrons to wear masks, and schools still require face coverings under a state regulation.