Masks will be required inside all Maryland public schools effective immediately to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The Maryland State Board of Education had approved the regulation last month on an 11-1 vote. The 10-7 vote on Tuesday by the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review puts the emergency regulation into effect for up to 180 days.
Now everyone inside a Maryland public school will have to wear a face covering, although there are some exemptions in place.
The measure's proponents said in a press release that the requirement is necessary to "prevent school closures, and limit the number of students required to quarantine out of the classroom."
A press release from the Maryland Department of Education says that currently 22 out of 24 local school systems require face coverings inside schools. Only Carroll and Somerset counties had not already required students to wear masks while attending school.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended universal mask-wearing for teachers and students inside school buildings this fall, citing the rapid spread of the delta variant.
Opponents of the requirement criticized the previous vote by the board and Tuesday's vote by lawmakers for encroaching on local school control. They backed Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's position to let local officials decide on masks in schools.
The committee's vote was along party lines, with 10 Democrats voting in support and seven Republicans voting against it.
Marsha Herbert, president of the Board of Education of Carroll County, urged the panel to vote against the mandate. But she said in a statement after the vote that the county would comply.
“The state of Maryland is not in a state of emergency," Herbert testified before the vote. "The state board of education has definitely taken on a very large overreach of power.”
In Somerset County, which had a mask-optional policy, local school officials also issued a statement saying the county on the Eastern Shore would comply with the mandate.
The vote came as Maryland has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The state reported an increase of 1,094 confirmed cases over a 24-hour period Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, hospitalizations reached 828, an increase of 26 from Monday, after having dipped below 100 on July 2.