With the state’s coronavirus numbers rising substantially from their lows of early spring, Anne Arundel County on Monday imposed new mask and vaccination requirements for government buildings and public-sector employees.
Effective on Sept. 13, County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) announced, employees who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 will have to provide weekly negative test results.
In addition, everyone who enters a county-owned building — employees and members of the public alike — will be required to wear a face covering.
Speaking to reporters, Pittman said the new requirements are aligned with those just adopted by the Biden administration for federal workers.
They are also consistent with the latest findings from the Centers for Disease Control, which found that unvaccinated people “are at greater risk than ever,” Pittman said, due to the surge of the now-dominant Delta strain.
“The new strain of the virus, we know now, can be carried by fully-vaccinated people. And while they are largely protected from serious illness or death, they can shed the virus and do great harm to their unvaccinated neighbors,” he said.
“We need the masks to prevent the Delta variant from using healthy, vaccinated people as carriers.”
Although 70% of Anne Arundel residents age 12 and up have had at least one dose of the vaccine, the county is now seeing more than 50 new cases per week for every 100,000 people — enough to trigger the CDC’s recommendations.
The state reported 447 new cases on Monday, a massive increase since late June. On June 29, Maryland reported just 36 new cases.
There are three times as many acute COVID hospitalizations — 202, as of Monday — as there were a month ago (66). And the statewide test positivity rate stands at 3.23%, up markedly from a spring low of 0.54%, on June 28.
The bright spot in the data is the state’s death rate, which remains quite low. Over the past week, 14 Marylanders died due to COVID. In the first week of February, the state lost 227 people to the virus.
Pittman said Maryland and Anne Arundel have identical infection rates — 1.4 new cases for every existing one — meaning the case-rate “is steadily rising.”
He said he hoped the county’s new mask and vaccination policies “will set an example to other employers.” He and other county leaders urged residents to get vaccinated.
“We can stop this thing with no new restrictions. No more threats to our economy and very little disruption to our families,” the executive said.
“Please find someone who is on the fence or reluctant to get that vaccine and beg them, plead with them, warn them how deadly the Delta variant is, and get them vaccinated,” Pittman added. “Save someone’s life.”
Anne Arundel’s mask and vaccine order will not apply to public schools, which will set their own policies.
“We’ve been talking to the school system and to private schools about this issue for over a month now,” said Anne Arundel County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman. “We’ll be having a recommendation … in the coming days.”
Maryland’s large counties have differing policies on masks and vaccine requirements.
- The City of Baltimore has a mask mandate for city buildings. “The Scott administration is sympathetic to this matter and currently evaluating the various legal and operational issues associated with this path forward,” administration spokesman Cal Harris said. “As jurisdictions gradually move in this direction, the Mayor will continue to follow the guidance of health experts before making a decision.”
- In Baltimore County, unvaccinated people are currently requested to wear a face covering in county buildings. “County officials remain committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to protect public health and continue to closely monitor key metrics in collaboration with our public health and emergency response teams,” a spokesman said.
- Frederick County currently has an indoor mask requirement in place in all County-owned buildings, spokeswoman Vivian Laxton said. “We plan to maintain this for the foreseeable future. No decision has been made about requiring vaccines/testing.”
- Harford County government is currently open for services consistent with state policy, which does not require indoor masking, though residents are encouraged to use online services whenever possible. A spokeswoman for Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said “no changes [are] planned at this time, but [he] continues to monitor our metrics every day.”
- Howard County re-opened government buildings to the public on Monday with a recommendation that face coverings be worn by anyone who is not vaccinated. For now, there are no plans to mandate masks or require vaccinations, County Executive Calvin Ball (D) said in a statement, which noted 80% of eligible county residents have been fully vaccinated.
- On Thursday, the Montgomery County Council, sitting as the Board of Health, will consider a proposal to reinstate a mask mandate for all indoor spaces that are open to the public. The requirement would be triggered by an increase in the county’s infection rate to 50 cases for every 100,000 people for seven consecutive days.
Officials from Prince George’s county didn’t respond to an inquiry about masking policies or potential changes.
Pittman predicted it is only a matter of time before leaders everywhere are having to contemplate stricter policies.
“I expect that the state — and most counties — right now are looking very closely at what to do, because we have just passed that [infection rate] threshold or are just passing it,” he said.
“Everybody’s going to be confronting these questions, including the governor, I’m sure.”
Editor Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.