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Baltimore City plans to lift mask mandate when 65% of adult residents have received a dose of COVID-19 vaccine

Baltimore City residents and visitors will be wearing masks indoors and at outdoor events for a bit longer as Mayor Brandon Scott announced Monday that the requirements will remain in place until at least 65% of adults are partially vaccinated.

So far, 52% of city residents 18 and over meet that description, a spokesman for the city health department said. And 42% are fully vaccinated.

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan lifted the statewide mandate last week — when 65.6% of Maryland adults had received at least one shot — after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised that vaccinated individuals could forego masks indoors and out. Most Maryland officials signaled they’d follow suit.

But Baltimore City has taken a more cautious approach throughout the pandemic, often maintaining restrictions locally while the governor relaxed them for the state. The city, however, has aligned itself with the governor’s decision to eliminate capacity restrictions at all venues.

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“The CDC’s announcement regarding vaccines comes at a time where robust methods to confirm whether individuals are vaccinated do not yet exist,” the city health commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said Monday.

City officials signaled last week that they planned to hang on to mask requirements, but they announced their threshold Monday.

About a third of all city residents are fully vaccinated against the virus.

“This means two out of three people you pass on the street are not yet vaccinated,” Scott said.

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Officials said they’re hopeful the 65% bench mark will be reached quickly, thanks to efforts to bring shots to unvaccinated residents. But, they still have a ways to go.

“We obviously have a couple of mass vaccination sites in the city, but really the approach will be in the months to come around mobile vaccination sites and pop-up clinics that are easily accessible,” Dzirasa said.

So far, a majority of the shots doled out in the city have gone to non-Baltimore City residents — 63.8%, according to the city’s dashboard.

Monday, Gov. Larry Hogan criticized Scott’s decision while touring a freshly renovated concourse at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

“It just doesn’t make any sense to me. But you know I think the mayor may have the authority to do that,” Hogan said. “I know I saw him at the Preakness and at an event Thursday night— both indoors, neither time with a mask. So if he’s not going to do it, then he probably shouldn’t tell others what to do.”

A spokesman for the mayor’s office declined to comment on the governor’s remarks.

Asked about confusion or frustration stemming from different restrictions inside and outside of the city, Scott emphasized that the rules for masking weren’t changing. Dzirasa said the city is aligned with the state, which didn’t lift mask restrictions until about 65% of adults had their shot.

“We, of course, are always going to be concerned about people who just don’t think they should follow the rules,” Scott said. “This is nothing new.”

Some public health officials have said the CDC moved too rapidly in stating that vaccinated individuals could go without masks.

“If there is no reliable way to verify vaccination status, indoor mask mandates must still remain in place,” wrote Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore City health commissioner, in a Washington Post editorial over the weekend.

In a statement to The Sun, Wen said Baltimore officials made the “right call,” and is taking on a duty federal officials have abrogated.

“I commend the Mayor and health commissioner for making a difficult but important decision to safeguard residents’ health,” she said. “The CDC should have laid out metrics such as this, to tie lifting of mask mandates to community vaccination rates; in their absence, local officials have to make the hard calls.”

The city’s business community has at times been vocal about the fluid patchwork of COVID-19 restrictions around the state.

In a statement Monday, the Greater Baltimore Committee, which represents more than 500 businesses, nonprofits, foundations and leading educational and civic institutions, said it is encouraging all residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible so that city businesses can be “on equal footing with businesses and employers in other jurisdictions.”

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