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Mask mandate extended until Jan. 31 in Montgomery County

Initially the mandate was supposed to automatically end once 85% of residents were fully vaccinated.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — The Montgomery County Council voted unanimously Tuesday for the Board of Health to extend the county's mask mandate to Jan. 31.

Initially, the council planned to automatically lift the mask mandate if 85% of Montgomery County's population became fully vaccinated on or before Jan. 4. However, on Dec. 28, Dr. James Bridgers, the acting health officer for Montgomery County, requested the council—acting in its role as the Board of Health—rescind this order with the omicron variant spreading around the county. 

According to CDC data, 83.5% of Montgomery County's population is fully vaccinated and 95% of residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

But Montgomery County now has a high transmission rate with many people who are fully vaccinated and boosted getting infected with COVID-19. 

The CDC's 7-day data metrics show that Montgomery County currently has a testing positivity rate of about 25% and around 18.5% of hospital beds are in use (26.5% of which are ICU beds). 

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, who is fully vaccinated and boosted, even recently tested positive for COVID-19.

The council's unanimous vote comes after Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency Tuesday after Maryland hit a daily record of 3,057 COVID hospitalizations. He warned that the next four to six weeks might be the most challenging part of the pandemic the state has experienced so far.

"Our community has made so much progress by working together to fight COVID-19; however, in the face of the omicron variant rapidly spreading across the U.S. and in Montgomery County and case counts reaching levels we have not seen since beginning of the pandemic across Maryland, it would be irresponsible for us to lift the indoor masking requirement at this time," Council President Gabe Albornoz said.

The mandate goes into effect Wednesday at 12 a.m. until at least Jan. 31 at 11:59 p.m. The council will meet with the Board of Health on a biweekly basis to determine if the order should once more be extended. 

Albornoz said, "This is a public health marathon. We were all hopeful that vaccines would allow us to sprint across the finish line and discard our masks as we begin this new year, however, this insidious, ever-evolving virus has shown us that we still have some more miles to go."

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