Baltimore will lift its indoor masking requirement next week as the number of coronavirus cases continues to decline in the city.
Effective March 1, masks will no longer be required in indoor spaces, both public and private, across the city, Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott announced Thursday. The move does not apply to city schools, he said, where leaders will make their own decision about masking.
The move marks the end of a seven-month stretch when the mask mandate was in place in the city, which has enacted more restrictive coronavirus protection measures than surrounding jurisdictions and the state.
During a news conference, Scott called Baltimore a national model on how to withstand the impacts of this pandemic.
“There is now an even-brighter light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully we can begin to return to our new normal,” he said.
As of Thursday, the city’s seven-day average case rate was 18.37 cases per 100,000 residents — well below the 58 per 100,000 in August when the mandate was enacted. Baltimore’s seven-day positivity rate stood at 2.03%, a 77% decrease compared to one month ago.
Nearly 77% of city residents 12 and over have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
Baltimore Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa she is “encouraged” by the city’s significant decline in case rates and positivity in the last several weeks. However, she encouraged people to continue to wear masks while indoors in crowded spaces, particularly those with limited ventilation.
“This is in no way an indication that the pandemic is over,” she said. “Rather, we are entering a new phase.”
Businesses will still have the right to require masks and vaccinations for patrons, Dzirasa said. However, the city will not require people inside City Hall and other city-owned buildings to wear a mask.
Baltimore’s decision to lift the masking restriction comes well after many surrounding jurisdictions removed their indoor masking policies, which were enacted during a post-holiday surge of the omicron variant. Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore County’s orders expired at the end of January. Other jurisdictions never enacted such policies.
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Earlier this week, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan lifted a mask requirement for workers and visitors in state buildings that was instituted amid the surge. Masks continue to be “strongly recommended” in state buildings for those who are unvaccinated against the coronavirus.
On Tuesday, the Maryland State Board of Education voted to rescind an emergency regulation mandating the use of face masks in schools, sending the decision to state lawmakers for final approval.
Scott said he would consider reinstating the mask policy if another variant emerges.
It is unclear how the lifting of the mask requirement will impact the city’s coronavirus testing policy for employees. In October, Baltimore introduced a requirement for city employees to get vaccinated or face weekly COVID-19 testing as part of a program to protect employees but also restore in-person services at city government offices.
Scott said Thursday the policy will change, but officials were still discussing the details. He noted that the decision to lift the mask mandate was not made until late Wednesday.
Scott declined to answer questions about whether he plans to reopen City Hall, which has been closed to the public since 2020. Public meetings continue to be held virtually although numerous other public buildings have reopened, including courthouses and the State House in Annapolis.
The mayor said he plans to speak to City Council President Nick Mosby and City Comptroller Bill Henry, both Democrats, before making a joint announcement about the plans in the next few weeks.