- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The District’s indoor mask mandate will end next week, but neighboring Montgomery County is set to reimpose a similar order.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Tuesday said the city’s indoor mask mandate will lift Monday, but that the face coverings will still be required in some places.

“I want to be very clear. This does not mean that people should stop, that everyone needs to stop wearing their masks. But it does mean that we’re shifting the government’s response to providing you this risk-based information and recommending layering strategies as the best way to protect yourself and the community,” Miss Bowser said.

However, masks will still be mandated in a number of circumstances regardless of a person’s vaccination status.

Such situations include on public transportation; in schools, dorms or residences; in correctional facilities, libraries and child-care facilities; and in D.C. government facilities with direct interactions with the public.

In addition, any private business that wants to impose a mask requirement on its customers is free to do so.

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the D.C. Department of Health, said daily case rates of new coronavirus infections have plateaued around 80 to 90 cases per 100,000 residents each week since late October.

She noted about 1 in 5 new coronavirus cases are among the fully vaccinated, which is up from 1 in 7 about a month ago, but that remains much lower than the rate among those who aren’t inoculated.

Nearly 100% of COVID-19 related hospitalizations in the District are among the unvaccinated, Dr. Nesbitt said, while deaths among the fully vaccinated remain a “rare event.”

As of Sunday, more than 65,600 D.C. residents have tested positive for COVID-19 while nearly 1,200 have lost their lives to the illness, city health data shows. About 63% of D.C. residents are fully vaccinated while 76% are at least partially vaccinated as of Nov. 8.

But unlike the District, Montgomery County in Maryland is set to tighten its COVID-19 protocols by reinstating its mask mandate this weekend.

The number of COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday fell under “substantial transmission” in the county, making it the seventh straight day of high spread. In response, acting county health officer Dr. James Bridgers sent a notice to the county council, and the indoor mask mandate will go back into effect Saturday at 12:01 a.m.

As of Tuesday, the county had experienced a transmission rate higher than 50 new infections per 100,000 people for the last seven days.

The county is considered to be experiencing substantial transmission if it sees between 50 and 99.99 total new cases per 100,000 people or 8% to 9.99% of tests in the past seven days come up positive.

Montgomery County recorded a seven-day rate of 59.96 cases per 100,000 residents on Tuesday, a climb from the 50.44 case rate reported Nov. 9.

Earlier this month, the Montgomery County council voted unanimously to reinstate a mask mandate for indoor public spaces if there are seven consecutive days of substantial COVID-19 spread.

The face coverings mandate in indoor spaces would end when the county sees moderate spread of COVID-19 for seven consecutive days.

The council’s decision relaxed the prior policy, which had called for mask mandates whenever the county experienced a single day of substantial transmission.

Council President Tom Hucker had said that it will take weeks to get the majority of children ages 5 to 11 vaccinated and that many in the county are still vulnerable to COVID-19.

The council also voted unanimously to terminate the policy if 85% or more of the county’s total population becomes fully vaccinated. As of Tuesday, that figure is nearly 70% of the county’s total population, according to health data.

The coronavirus has sickened more than 83,700 county residents and claimed the lives of more than 1,600, county tallies show. 

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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