Maryland’s mask mandate for workers and visitors in state buildings will be lifted next week, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday.
Effective Feb. 22, masking would become optional inside places like Motor Vehicle Administration locations and other state buildings. Some localities in Maryland, such as Baltimore City, still have indoor masking mandates.
Masks will be “strongly recommended” in state buildings for those who are unvaccinated against COVID-19, Hogan’s office said in a news release.
Later Monday, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. announced that masks would no longer be required in county buildings starting Feb. 28, and mandated coronavirus testing for unvaccinated county employees would come to a halt.
The state announced Jan. 3 that it would resume requiring mask-wearing inside its buildings, as the omicron variant of COVID-19 surged. Back then, the seven-day average positivity rate was higher than ever before, climbing toward 30%.
Monday, the rate was 3.77%, and 751 people were battling their COVID-19 infections in Maryland hospitals. In January, as many as 3,462 people were hospitalized with coronavirus at once.
“Given the dramatic declines in our health metrics, we are now able to take another step toward normalcy in state operations,” Hogan said in Monday’s news release. “In addition, we continue to offer paid leave for state employees to get their booster shots, which provide critical protection against the virus and its variants.”
The General Assembly’s presiding officers said Monday they plan to continue requiring masks in the State House legislative chambers, as well as in offices and committee rooms in the Annapolis complex.
State officials did not immediately answer questions about whether congregate facilities such as state correctional institutions were included in the governor’s directive.
In a statement Monday, Patrick Moran, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Maryland Council 3, opposed Hogan’s decision. AFSCME is the largest state workers’ union in Maryland.
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“Governor Hogan continues to lead Maryland based on polls and not public health,” Moran wrote. “Maryland still has over 750 people hospitalized and people dying every day — including two AFSCME Council 3 members in the last two weeks.”
The governor’s decision endangers front-line state workers, Moran wrote — especially “those in congregate care facilities with no opportunity to social distance.”
“Just like the Federal Government mandates people wear seatbelts, even if some people don’t like them, the Governor should continue to require masking in State facilities,” Moran wrote.
Last week, Hogan asked the State Board of Education to lift a mask requirement for Maryland schools.
The board has said COVID-19 transmission must be moderate or lower for counties to consider voiding the mandate, or there must be an 80% vaccination rate in schools or their surrounding communities.
Currently, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that COVID-19 transmission in all Maryland counties is considered high or substantial.
Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.