MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan made major COVID protocol changes Wednesday when he announced the state would no longer require masks to be worn outdoors, and that all capacity and distancing restrictions would be lifted for outdoor dining starting May 1.
However, as has been their standard for the duration of the pandemic, Montgomery County leaders promptly responded that the county would not fall in line with the governor's guidance. County Executive Marc Elrich said lifting the mask mandate altogether was a step too far, and instead urged county residents to follow CDC mask guidance.
"Just [this week] the Council, acting as the Board of Health, approved a new public health regulation that provided further phased reopenings tied to COVID-19 vaccination percentages," Elrich said. "This regulation, which was developed with Montgomery County's public health team, remains in place and is unaffected by Gov. Hogan's latest executive order. County residents should continue to follow face-covering guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."
The county's three-phase reopening plan calls for changes once 60% of residents have at least one vaccine dose and again when 50% of Montgomery County residents are fully vaccinated. Currently, nearly 52% of Montgomery County residents have received at least their first dose of the vaccine, while 34.8% of residents are fully vaccinated.
As far as outdoor dining restrictions, Elrich said the county will not be aligned with Hogan's new orders but will continue to follow the county’s Board of Health regulations and guidance.
"The county’s reopening plan is aligned with our vaccination metrics and this is the smartest, most strategic way to safely reopen all businesses," Elrich said. "Among 78 large counties and metro areas, Montgomery County has the lowest case rate per 100,000 east of the Mississippi River. Our previous decisions have resulted in these low case rates, we should stay the same course.”
Elrich was quick to point out that officials only learned of Hogan's changes when they were announced publicly.
Councilman Will Jawando reinforced that the county would keep following its own pace for reopening. Moving forward, Jawando said the county's decision to base reopening off vaccination metrics would help clear confusion for the public about the timeline for possible guideline changes.
"We tried to strike a balance of allowing people to plan as we head into the spring and summer months but keeping people safe at the same time," he said. "I think the fact that we already set out a pace of when we will open based on the rates will hopefully clear it up for folks.”
To watch the governor's news briefing in full, click the video below: