Citing progress in the state’s vaccination campaign and a new set of federal guidelines, Marylanders will no longer be required to wear masks outdoors, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced on Wednesday.
Restrictions on outdoor dining and bar service are also being lifted.
Hogan said he made the decision to lift the outdoor mask order, which he imposed last spring, after weighing COVID-19 guidance issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday.
He also consulted with state and federal health experts, “all of whom agree that the risk of transmission outdoors is very low, especially for those who’ve been vaccinated.”
The governor said the state’s vaccine supply is now “even” with demand, meaning that everyone who wants a shot can get one.
“We have plenty,” he told reporters at a news conference outside Government House.
Residents who are “on the fence” should heed the advice of public health professionals, who have consistently called the vaccines safe and effective, the governor said.
“If you’re an individual who does not intend to get vaccinated, we want to make sure that you understand that you are still in danger of hospitalization and death,” Hogan said. “Unvaccinated people — including younger people — are continuing to be hospitalized.”
The lifting of Maryland’s outdoor mask mandate took effect immediately.
Restrictions on outdoor dining and bar service end on May 1.
Counties that wish to keep an outdoor mask order in place or retain limits on restaurants and bars can do so, the governor acknowledged. But he said the time has come to move to “the next phase” in the fight against the virus.
“Everybody whose been vaccinated can no longer continue to be held back because of the few who are refusing to,” he said.
Face coverings will continue to be required for “large ticketed venues,” when visiting any business, and on public transportation.
The state will open its 13th mass vaccination site on Friday at the Mall in Columbia, Hogan said. But with supplies increasing and demand leveling off, he said the state will eventually begin to phase out the high-volume locations.
“We’re probably not going to have every day of the week. We’re probably not going to have the same hours. We’ll gradually wind them down until they’re no longer needed,” he said.
Maryland continues to grow the list of pharmacies and doctors’ offices offering the vaccine, as well as no-appointment-necessary opportunities.
Ed Singer, the health officer in Carroll County, called Hogan’s move “a pretty reasonable step” given the data.
“We’ve known since the beginning of this pandemic that anything that we do outdoors is safer than things that we’re doing indoors,” he said. “Most of the outbreaks that we’ve seen… have mostly had to do with close contacts inside.”
Singer, head of the Maryland Association of County Health Officers, was speaking only in his capacity as the health chief in Carroll County.
“The whole issue with transmission outside is, I think, relatively low risk,” he said.
Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) called Hogan’s move premature. He noted that few counties in Maryland have crossed the 50% vaccination threshold.
“The CDC says if you’re outdoors and cannot socially distance, you need to wear a mask if you haven’t been vaccinated,” he said. “There’s no reason not to be cautious on that.”
Elrich said his team will “probably” recommend to the County Council, which serves as the Board of Health, to keep current restrictions in place, despite Hogan’s order.
“You should wear a mask if you’re outdoor dining and you’re talking to people and you’re walking around,” he said. “[Going mask-less] is not a safe thing to do.”
Montgomery’s case count stands at 8 for every 100,000 people. Elrich said he built a large-county spreadsheet using New York Times data and found that Montgomery is the only jurisdiction with more than 750,000 residents that has a case-count that low.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny A. Olszewski Jr. (D) announced Wednesday evening that his jurisdiction will align with the state.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott (D) said in a statement that he and his health team are reviewing the governor’s order.
“We would like to reiterate that the CDC’s guidance for not wearing a mask when outdoors under certain conditions specifically refers to fully vaccinated individuals, or those interacting with fully vaccinated individuals,” he wrote.
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (D) said in a statement that he too is “reviewing” the governor’s actions.
Hogan said he will greet vice president Kamala Harris when she visits the state’s mass vaccination site at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday. Her visit, on the day following the president’s address to Congress, is expected to highlight the administration’s efforts to fight the pandemic and provide relief to families and businesses.
“I think it was picked because it’s a perfect example of a very well-run vaccination center,” Hogan said. “It’s part of our equity effort in Baltimore City and we’re cranking out a lot of vaccinations there. … We’re going to be proud to show it off to her.”
Scott (D) will also greet the vice president, according to an aide.
By Bruce DePuyt