Marylanders who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear a mask in most settings, nor do they need to practice social distancing, under an executive order signed by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) on Friday.
His decision to align the state’s mask policy with the guidance issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on Thursday represented a significant step in a historic 14-month pandemic that has impacted every aspect of daily life.
“If you’re fully vaccinated — which means two weeks have passed since you received your second shot, or your one dose of Johnson & Johnson — you should feel free to safely resume any activities without wearing a mask, indoors or outdoors,” Hogan told reporters at a State House news conference.
“Today is the day that so many of us have been waiting for and working toward.”
There are places where masks will still be required, Hogan said, including public transportation, health care settings and schools.
The CDC’s announcement — while theoretically welcome news — caught many by surprise.
Because millions of Americans have yet to get vaccinated, many businesses still require that customers wear masks, largely to protect their workers. Those with compromised immune systems and people who prefer to exercise caution still reach for their mask when they leave home.
As of Friday, 2,501,973 Marylanders have been fully vaccinated, and roughly two-thirds of the state’s adults — 65.6% — have had at least one shot.
Howard (48.1%) and Talbot (47.6%) are the state’s most fully-vaccinated counties. Somerset (25.9%) and Cecil (27.9%) are the least.
The state’s daily positivity rate, 1.9%, is the lowest it’s been since July, the governor said.
In a nod to the political sensitivities that haves swirled around mask use, Hogan urged Marylanders “to just be kind and respectful of one another.”
“Some people feel comfortable getting back to normal life right away. For others, it may take more time before they feel safe,” he said. “That’s perfectly okay, and we should all respect each other.”
Hogan said that Maryland now has an “abundant” supply of vaccine, and he urged those who have yet to get their shots to do so. He said unvaccinated people should continue to wear masks, because they lack immunity from the sometimes-deadly virus.
Asked about Ohio, which has created a $5 million lottery program as an incentive for people to get vaccinated, Hogan said Maryland is willing to explore different methods of swaying those who are hesitant. “We’re going to continue to do whatever we can, whatever it takes.”
Local jurisdictions retain the right to have stricter mask policies than the state’s, and it is likely that some will do so. Anne Arundel Executive Steuart Pittman (D), Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. (D) and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (D) announced Friday that their counties will follow the state.
In the city of Baltimore, capacity restrictions for businesses will be lifted effective Saturday, but the city will continue requiring masks indoors and at outdoor venues until local vaccination rates are higher.
“The CDC’s recent guidance allowing fully vaccinated individuals to remove their masks indoors and outdoors is a triumph of science. This shift in guidance is indicative of the ability the approved vaccines have to reduce the chances of significant illness from COVID, and also increasingly, to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus,” Mayor Brandon M. Scott (D) and Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa said in a statement. “We see this updated guidance as a clear sign that all eligible residents should get vaccinated as quickly as possible, in order to return our city and our country to pre-pandemic levels of normalcy.”
Baltimore’s vaccination rate was 39.9% Friday evening, higher than other metro areas like Philadelphia (34.5%) and Washington, D.C. (23.9%).
Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.