Howard County Executive Calvin Ball on Monday announced county government buildings are now fully reopened to the public after being shuttered since the coronavirus pandemic’s early days last year.
Face masks should be worn by anyone who is not vaccinated and 6-foot physical distancing is still encouraged, according to a county news release.
Vaccinated employees and visitors should feel comfortable continuing to wear a mask if they choose, the county said.
Some county buildings and facilities, such as the 50+ centers or the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup, may have stronger requirements for employees and visitors based on their specific use. Residents should check with facilities for guidelines before visiting.
The Howard County Department of Community Resources and Services, for example, said later Monday that it is requiring all employees and visitors to wear masks effective immediately, regardless of vaccination status. The department oversees nine offices, including the Office of ADA Coordination; Office on Aging and Independence; Office of Children and Families; Office of Community Partnerships; Office of Consumer Protection; Office on Disability Services; Office on Human Trafficking Prevention; Office of Local Children’s Board; and Office of Veterans and Military Families.
“While we have made great strides in combating COVID-19, we are still taking all necessary precautions to keep our employees and public safe,” Ball said in a statement. “Our county employees have worked hard to make our buildings safe and accessible to our residents and businesses who need to access services in person. Again, I implore anyone who has not already gotten vaccinated to do so as soon as possible.”
The County Council, which has been meeting virtually since the pandemic’s start, also will return to in-person meetings in September after its August recess, council member Liz Walsh said Monday.
The announcement comes days after Howard County Public School System Superintendent Michael Martirano announced masks will be required for all students, staff and visitors regardless of their vaccination status during the 2021-22 school year.
Howard County has also implemented a new visitor management system to keep nonpublic areas more secure for county employees. Visitors will be required to sign in, get a visitor’s badge and, if visiting a nonpublic area, have an escort to their meeting.
The county will continue to adapt its safety guidelines as needed based on any state mandates, local and statewide metrics, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, according to the release.
Ball on Monday afternoon wrote on Twitter that Howard does not plan to mandate masks or require vaccinations for its county employees. Earlier in the day, Anne Arundel County and Annapolis announced that employees and those who enter county and city buildings will be required to wear masks inside beginning Thursday. Also, county employees who are not vaccinated will be required to get tested for COVID-19 on a weekly basis starting Sept. 13 and city employees starting in October.
Howard’s vaccination rates remain the highest in the state, with 72.3% of the county’s total population having received at least one shot of a vaccine and 68.1% being fully vaccinated, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health on Monday.
There have been 19,646 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Howard since March 2020 and 253 deaths, state data shows.
Maryland coronavirus numbers have been on the rise in the past month due to a much more contagious COVID-19 mutation, called the delta variant, now circulating in the United States. In early July, less than 100 new COVID-19 cases were being reported per day in the state. That number steadily rose throughout the month, now with more than 400 cases per day confirmed for the past six days.
While Howard County hit a record-low positivity rate — which measures the percentage of tests that returned positive results over the past seven days — of 0.38% on June 30, as of Monday, the rate has risen back up to 2.76%. Howard’s case rate per 100,000 people per day, reported as an average over the past seven days, which had been as low as 0.79 in late June, is now at 6.49 as of Monday.
Baltimore Sun Media content editor Erin Hardy contributed to this story.