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Baltimore County will hold off on reinstating indoor mask mandate

Baltimore County is not planning to reinstate an indoor mask mandate, but will push forward on efforts to get more people in the county vaccinated in hopes of reversing the increase in COVID cases, county officials said Friday.

Mass vaccination centers will open next week at two county high schools in areas where vaccination rates are particularly low. While 72% of adults in the county are vaccinated, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said less than half of children between 12 and 18 years old have gotten the shots, leaving them vulnerable amid increasing spread of the delta variant.

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“For Baltimore County we are focused on getting vaccine in arms and that is our best tool and that is how we avoid any other step,” Olszewski said. The county does support the school system’s recent decision to require all students and staff to wear masks when they return to buildings in the fall.

Baltimore County Health Officer Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch emphasizes the need to be vaccinated as County Executive Johnny Olszewski looks on at a press conference at Dundalk High School.
Baltimore County Health Officer Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch emphasizes the need to be vaccinated as County Executive Johnny Olszewski looks on at a press conference at Dundalk High School. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore County Health Officer Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch said he has been closely monitoring the number of new cases recently. Multiple factors will determine if a mask mandate might be reinstated, he said, adding there is no specific number of cases that will trigger that decision.

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“It is dynamic and ever changing and so we have to continue to look at that … but I think at this point I want to emphasize getting the vaccine,” Branch said.

Baltimore City and Montgomery County both said that they will begin requiring all residents and visitors to their jurisdictions to wear masks indoors, but Olszewski has not followed despite rising rates of COVID-19. Baltimore City has 1.05 cases per 1,000 residents in the past 14 days while Baltimore County has had 1 case per 1,000 people over the same period. In Baltimore City, the mask mandate takes effect on Monday at 9 a.m.

The two vaccination centers will be open from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at New Town High School on Monday and at Dundalk High School on Tuesday. Other sites will be chosen in following weeks. While the centers hope to attract students from the area, they will accept adults who wish to be vaccinated as well.

“We are expanding access to this life saving vaccine and getting more of our children vaccinated before school starts,” Olszewski said.

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Once schools open at the end of the month, the health department will make vaccine doses available at 13 middle and high schools with wellness centers, Olszewski said. With their parents’ permission, students can then go to the school nurse to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Baltimore County schools require students and staff to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

In the past month, infections of the virus have spiked in Maryland and across the nation, driven by the delta variant that is more contagious and dangerous version of the virus. Nearly all of the new coronavirus cases that are sequenced at Maryland labs are delta variant infections according to the Maryland Department of Health. New data also indicates that vaccinated people, while they are unlikely to be hospitalized or die, can spread the virus.

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