Next month, Marylanders will no longer have to wear masks in any settings, including schools, camps and child care facilities, except where required by local rules, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday.
Other measures, such as the state’s ban on evictions and foreclosures, winding down emergency health operations and renewing driver’s licenses, will be subject to a 45-day grace period “where certain regulations will continue to be relaxed to complete the administrative transition out of the pandemic.”
“It’s not mission accomplished. The battle’s not over,” Hogan said. “We’re transitioning from a state of emergency to an ongoing operation. … Our efforts continue, but it is a very hopeful point. … There were days when I wasn’t sure we would ever get here.”
Will masks still be required anywhere in the state?
Masks won’t be required by state law. But restaurants, venues and other businesses and workplaces may continue to require them. A spokesman for the governor said local jurisdictions and school districts could issue their own orders if allowed under local laws.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott plans to “deliver a path forward” during a news conference Wednesday, according to the Democratic mayor’s spokesman, Cal Harris.
Masks will continue to be required on all Maryland Transit Administration and other U.S. public transit systems by a federal executive order in effect until Sept. 13.
What about schools?
School officials in the Baltimore region said they were reviewing the governor’s announcement Tuesday and deciding how to proceed.
Anne Arundel County Public Schools has not yet made a decision on whether to continue to require masks, but officials plan to act with “some sense of urgency,” said spokesman Bob Mosier.
“The comments from the governor today were very encouraging for us,” Mosier said. “We have said for some time now that we want to get back to school as we know it as soon as we possibly can.”
Baltimore City Public Schools will continue to require masks for all staff and students indoors, but masks may be removed outdoors on school grounds while maintaining social distancing. Tables and desks will continue to be spaced 3 feet apart, and pooled testing will be conducted even when individuals don’t have symptoms, city schools spokesman André Riley said.
“We’ll be updating some health practices starting this summer, with the possibility of other moves this fall as the science evolves,” Riley said.
Baltimore County Public Schools officials also plan to continue to require masks for the remainder of the spring semester and for summer programming, spokesman Charles Herndon said.
Officials want to see updated guidelines for schools from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the state education and health departments before, “in part because current guidance … requires the face coverings,” Herndon said. “We don’t know at this point whether or not the state health secretary will issue a new order or recommendation.”
“We are, of course, monitoring for changes in guidance from health experts and will incorporate those changes into any decisions or changes we might make this summer,” Herndon said.
Carroll County Public Schools will make masks optional beginning July 5, when the county school system’s Summer Recovery programs begin, said spokeswoman Carey Gaddis.
Harford County Public Schools will no longer require masks in schools and offices beginning July 1, the school system said Wednesday morning, following Hogan’s announcement. HCPS planned to send a 10 a.m. notification of the policy to parents by text and email.
“This means that for all in-person summer school instruction and summer programs, students, and staff, will not be required to wear masks as of July 1,” school officials said in a statement. “If you would like your child to continue wearing a mask in school, please instruct your child to do so.”
HCPS will not require masks during any Fourth of July events that take place after July 1. Participants will still need to follow any parade committee guidelines.
“We expect to begin the 2021-2022 school year without masks,” the statement said. “We will continue to dialogue with the Harford County Health Department, as well as review CDC and MSDE guidance around schools and best practice response to COVID-19 throughout the summer.”
Howard County Public Schools officials announced a mask requirement as part of a planning update to the county board of education last week, “with the understanding that as the State’s orders changed, we could also make adjustments,” spokesman Brian Bassett said Wednesday.
“Those conversations will continue among staff and the Board through our continuing preparations for the fall and for our summer programming which will still be happening on July 1 when the new State orders are implemented,” Bassett said.
Which orders end July 1? Which are subject to the 45-day grace period?
In addition to the rest of the mask order, several other orders are set to end July 1. They include: quarantine and testing requirements for travelers; restricting the supply of hydroxychloroquine and other drugs; early release of inmates due to COVID-19 concerns; alternative marriage procedures; child care for essential personnel and shareholder meeting flexibility.
The evictions and foreclosures ban, emergency health operations and flexibility for driver’s license renewals will remain in place for an additional 45 days, ending Aug. 15, the governor said.
Other orders being extended include: the activation of the National Guard; state oversight of nursing homes; COVID testing by pharmacists; alternate care sites; vaccination reporting; health care work force flexibility; children’s health program contributions; EMS workforce augmentation; video hearings for the Maryland Insurance Administration; and health care license extension.
Looming evictions and foreclosures will be the top issue facing local leaders as they weigh how to respond to the ending state of emergency, said Michael Greenberger, founding director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law.
“I would prefer personally that the state of emergency stay in place longer so that these eviction problems can be eliminated,” said Greenberger, who advises county leaders. “But I don’t think it’s crazy radical for the governor to say we are going to put a stop to this on Aug. 15.”
What happens under a state of emergency?
The state of emergency enables multiple options for emergency response and activates the Maryland Emergency Management Agency to deploy supplies and resources.
It authorizes the governor to suspend laws and regulations, order evacuations, impose curfews and limit access to certain areas if “necessary in order to protect the public health, welfare, or safety.”
The governor can also activate the Maryland National Guard and accept money and resources from the federal government and distribute it as needed. The end of the state of emergency does not preclude the state from receiving money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Hogan said.
A general state of emergency can last only for 30 days, so Hogan has renewed it multiple times over the course of the pandemic. The General Assembly has the authority to end a state of emergency by passing a resolution, but state lawmakers have expressed no interest in doing so.
What other states have also lifted their state of emergency orders?
In order to allow for the 45-day grace period, the state of emergency and catastrophic health emergency won’t actually lift until Aug. 15.
When they do, Maryland will become the latest state to end its COVID-related state of emergency. Massachusetts did so as of Tuesday, and Delaware is following suit in July.
In contrast, New Jersey ended its health emergency but continued its state of emergency. Vermont lifted all pandemic-related restrictions after vaccinating 80% of all residents.
Some jurisdictions have plans to phase out local state of emergency declarations. Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a Democrat, said he will allow his county’s state of emergency to expire July 9. In the city of Annapolis, the state of emergency will expire 30 days after the state’s ends.
Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.