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Howard to require masks in all county government buildings, regardless of COVID vaccination status

Just over a week after it was announced that county government buildings were reopened to the public and masks would be required only for those not vaccinated against COVID-19, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said Thursday that masks will be required for all county employees and visitors in those buildings, effective Saturday.

“Howard County’s increasing case rates are concerning, and it is important for residents to be aware of the current risks, especially if they are still unvaccinated,” Ball said in a statement. “Masks continue to be an effective tool in reducing the spread of COVID-19, and we want to ensure our employees and public visitors are safe when in our buildings.”

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals wear masks indoors in areas with substantial community transmission of COVID-19. Most Maryland jurisdictions, including Howard County, now meet that criteria.

In the Central Maryland area, Anne Arundel County is also requiring masks to be worn in county buildings, regardless of vaccination status. Baltimore County will require the same effective Friday. Neighboring Montgomery and Frederick counties, as well as Baltimore City and Washington, D.C., are requiring masks in all indoor venues. Currently Carroll and Harford counties have no local masks mandate, and there is no statewide mandate.

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“Let’s continue to look out for one another, especially those 11 years old and younger who are not yet eligible to receive vaccines. And if you haven’t already and are able, please get vaccinated,” Ball said Thursday.

Howard’s vaccination rates remain the highest in the state, with 73.15% of the county’s total population having received at least one shot of a vaccine and 68.7% being fully vaccinated, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health on Thursday.

There have been 19,882 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Howard since March 2020 and 255 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, with the state on Thursday hitting more than 1,000 new cases confirmed for the first time since April 28.

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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 Thursday, the rate had risen back up to 2.3%. Howard’s case rate per 100,000 people per day, reported as an average over the past seven days, is now at 8.33 as of Thursday. It had been as low as 0.79 in late June.

“Despite our amazingly high vaccination rate, it needs to be higher,” Howard County Health Officer Dr. Maura Rossman said Tuesday at a news conference, stressing the importance of getting vaccinated. “For those waiting for the right time to become vaccinated, now is the time.”

The announcement comes a few weeks after Howard County Public School System Superintendent Michael Martirano announced masks are required in school buildings as of July 30 for all students, staff and visitors regardless of their vaccination status and that mandate will continue into the 2021-22 school year.

Martirano is expected to provide further updates on health and safety measures during Thursday’s Board of Education meeting.

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