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Howard County to align with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s order in removing outdoor mask mandate

Howard County will be aligning with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s latest announcement to lift outdoor mask requirements, said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball during a news conference Thursday.

On Wednesday, Hogan announced Marylanders would no longer need to wear masks in most outdoor settings, but that the statewide mask mandate still exists for large outdoor venues as well as indoor businesses. Hogan’s announcement came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance earlier this week that said vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks in the vast majority of outdoor settings.

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Ball said Thursday that Howard County’s new mask guidelines will go into effect Friday. He also announced that Howard will remove outdoor dining restrictions on restaurants.

“We are able to take these steps with the governor based upon our success with vaccinating our residents and declining positivity rates,” Ball said.

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As of Thursday, Howard County leads all Maryland jurisdictions in vaccination rate. A little more than 55% of all Howard residents — adults and children — have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while about 38% are fully immunized against the virus that has killed 575,000 Americans, almost 8,500 Marylanders and 239 Howard residents.

“Howard County was the first jurisdiction in the Baltimore region to have more than 50% of our residents receive at least one dose of the vaccine,” Ball said. “This is a great milestone toward getting back to normal.”

While the county’s coronavirus numbers plateaued at moderate levels in March and early April, two key metrics have drastically improved in recent weeks.

Howard’s weekly positivity rate — which measures the percent at which tests return positive over a seven-day period — is at 2.93%. Just 10 days ago, that figure was 5% — the exact percentage the CDC and World Health Organization have said is needed before relaxing restrictions.

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Additionally, the county’s seven-day rolling average new-case rate — which measures the average number of new cases on a single day over a weeklong period — is at 11.36 per 100,000 residents. About two weeks ago, that figure was almost 20 per 100,000.

“Because of our efficiency in vaccination, our low positivity rates and our case rates, which are trending in the right direction — and because of the CDC guidance ... and that there’s such a low transmission rate for outdoors — we thought it was prudent and we were comfortable in moving in this direction with the governor at this time,” Ball said.

Also during the event outside the Roger Carter Community Center in Ellicott City, Ball revised restrictions on spectators at indoor sporting games and practices. Starting Thursday, two family members per child will be permitted to watch indoor events.

“Youth sports can play an important role in the lives of children, including supporting their social, emotional and physical development,” Howard County Health Officer Dr. Maura Rossman said. “This is especially important considering the isolation that many young people are feeling while spending less time in school or around friends and family.”

Parents and other family members have not been able to watch their children compete or practice at indoor events since the coronavirus pandemic began last March. After fitness centers closed early in the pandemic, they reopened by appointment in July. When coronavirus numbers across the state and county started to surge, the county limited participants at indoor athletic facilities to 10 people. Then, when the numbers improved earlier this year, capacity was increased to 50% but without spectators.

Indoor athletic facilities owned and operated by the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks include the Meadowbrook Athletic Complex in Ellicott City and the county’s three community centers — Roger Carter, Gary J. Arthur and North Laurel.

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