With Delta variant coronavirus cases on the rise, Baltimore City will resume an indoor mask requirement, regardless of vaccination status, starting at 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 9, Mayor Brandon Scott announced on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Gov. Larry Hogan said he will not reinstate a statewide mask mandate at this time.
Maryland will, however, require state employees who work in congregate settings with “vulnerable” individuals to show proof that they have been vaccinated. If those employees are unable to show vaccination proof, they will be required to wear a mask and be regularly tested for COVID-19. Those requirements will go into effect Sept. 1.
Scott and Hogan addressed the city and state’s rise of COVID-19 cases during back-to-back press conferences Thursday afternoon.
City and state officials stressed the need for residents to get vaccinated, especially as the Delta variant, more transmissible than the original strain of coronavirus, has become the dominant coronavirus strain in the United States.
“Everyone should get vaccinated,” Scott said. “Everyone should do the right thing. Everyone should stop being selfish. Everyone should get their questions answered about the vaccine and get the vaccine so that you can do the things that you want to do, so that you don’t have to bury a parent or a grandparent or a son or a daughter, so that everything that we love about being together will be able to happen without the fear of someone losing their life.”
Scott said the city’s indoor mask order will go into effect next week instead of immediately to allow time for people to be informed of the new requirement and adapt accordingly.
He added that Baltimore already has a mask mandate for people within city buildings, and local businesses can choose to implement their own mask requirements earlier than Aug. 9.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week outlined that jurisdictions with 50 or more new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents over the last seven days are considered areas with “substantial” transmission of COVID-19, while jurisdictions with 100 or more cases per 100,000 residents over the last seven days are experiencing “high” transmission.
Baltimore City is currently experiencing “substantial” transmission, with a seven-day average of approximately 50.89 cases per 100,000 residents from July 27-Aug. 2, Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said.
“The Delta variant is here, and it poses a serious threat to our unvaccinated residents,” Dzirasa said. “I’m speaking to you not just as the health commissioner but as a mother of a child who is too young to be vaccinated. We have the ability to slow the spread COVID-19, and the actions we all take collectively will protect the most vulnerable among us.”
The Delta variant is nearly twice as transmissible as the original coronavirus strain. Data also suggests that vaccinated individuals infected with the Delta variant can spread the virus to others just as easily as unvaccinated individuals, Dzirasa said.
That makes it all the more important for residents to get vaccinated to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Dzirasa said.
“Vaccinations remain the key to helping us transition out of this pandemic,” she said. “Vaccinations are still highly effective. They reduce the risk of severe disease or death from COVID by ten-fold or greater, and they reduce the risk of infection by three-fold. If you are eligible, now is the time to get vaccinated.”
Baltimore’s health department is coordinating with community partners to operate vaccine clinics across the city, with a focus on areas of Baltimore with the lowest vaccination coverage, Dzirasa said.
Baltimore residents can learn more about the vaccine clinics by visiting coronavirus.baltimorecity.gov or by calling 433-984-8650.
People who are unable to leave their home can register to receive a vaccine at their residence by calling 443-984-2273 or visiting covax.baltimorecity.gov.
The Delta variant has become the most common strain of coronavirus in the United States, now accounting 93% of new cases.
New coronavirus cases in Baltimore have increased by more than 374% since four weeks ago, and the city’s seven-day average positivity rate has increased by more than 364% in that time, Dzirasa said.
During Hogan’s press conference, the governor said “Marylanders should feel confident about going about our daily lives.”
However, he acknowledged that state officials are concerned about the Delta variant and that “we do need to take the Delta variant very seriously.”
“The Delta variant is spreading like wildfire in areas [of the United States] with lower vaccination rates,” he said. “In Maryland, our very high vaccination rate is helping us contain the fire.”
As of Thursday, 77.9% of Maryland adults have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
Through Maryland’s COVID-19 sequencing program, health officials have found that the Delta variant accounts for nearly 100% of new cases being sequenced in Maryland, Hogan said. That variant accounts for 93% of all cases nationwide, he added.
Maryland will require vaccination proof from state employees at 48 congregate facilities, including healthcare facilities of the Maryland’s Department of Health, Department of Juvenile Services, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, and Department of Veterans Affairs.
State employees at those employees who are unable to show proof of vaccination will be required to wear a mask and be regularly tested for COVID-19. Employees must receive their first vaccine dose by Sept. 1.
“Anyone attempting to provide false proof of vaccination will be subject to disciplinary action,” Hogan said.
Hogan said the state government will “lead by example” with requirements for its own employees, but he also urged private operators of Maryland’s 227 nursing homes to institute similar vaccination requirements for their employees.
Maryland has seen an uptick in infections among unvaccinated nursing home staff members, although Hogan said the state has not seen an increase in infections among nursing home residents.
“Businesses and other workplaces across the state are able to set their own policies to protect public health as they deem appropriate, and we support their ability to make those decisions,” Hogan said.
Maryland is not imposing any new restrictions or mandates for the general public at this time, he added.
In addition to Baltimore City, 14 other Maryland jurisdictions are experiencing substantial levels of transmission, including Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Caroline, Cecil, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Somerset, St. Mary’s, Washington, and Worcester counties.
Two counties, Dorchester and Wicomico, are experiencing high transmission levels.
The remaining seven counties are experiencing moderate levels of transmission: Allegany, Carroll, Garrett, Howard, Kent, Queen Anne’s, and Talbot.
On the morning of Friday, July 30, most Maryland counties had moderate transmission levels, except for St. Mary’s County, which had substantial levels of transmission at that time.