MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Masks will once again be required to be worn in indoor facilities across Montgomery County as of 12:01 a.m. Saturday, due to COVID-19 community transmission rates.
Based on a recent vote by the Montgomery County Council, the mandate is automatically reinstated if the county's transmission rate stays above a certain level for seven consecutive days. The ruling, informed by guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), determined that level to be 50 or more cases per 100,000 people, defined as substantial community transmission.
Dr. James Bridgers, acting County health officer, notified the council Tuesday that the county had regressed to substantial transmission, reporting 60 cases per 100,000 residents, according to county data.
The reinstatement is the latest in a series of will-they-won't-they reversals on mask rules in the county.
"This off and on is creating, not bitterness in people, but, I would say, sadness," Montgomery County resident Christina Ferretti said the night before the mandate was set to go back in effect.
The indoor mask mandate was put back into effect in August, when the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to follow CDC guidance and require that all residents, regardless of vaccination status, wear face coverings indoors while the county was in substantial or high periods of community transmission.
On Thursday, Oct. 28, the county announced it could officially end the mask mandate, after seeing moderate transmission for seven consecutive days. But less than a day later, the case count crept back up to 50.3, reigniting conversation about when mask mandates should be put into effect.
"We certainly understand that there will be a number of our residents who are frustrated that they are going to have to wear their masks again in indoor public spaces and to them I say, 'we're almost there,'" Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz said.
According to county data, 78% of Montgomery County's population is fully vaccinated. Mandates will go away, the council said, when that number hits 85%.
In an effort to curb the yo-yo changes, the Montgomery County Council voted on Nov. 2 to approve an amendment requiring seven consecutive days of substantial transmission before reinstating the mask mandate.
"Montgomery County has one of the best rates in the nation for vaccinations and limiting the spread of COVID-19 because we have consistently made public health decisions based on data and guidance from our top health officials," Council President Tom Hucker previously said. “The goal of this amendment is to balance public health concerns with stability and predictability for residents on indoor masking guidance. This approach is meant not only to keep each of us safe but to help keep everyone else safe.”
The decision to reinstate the indoor mask mandate in Montgomery County has the support of some businesses.
Yasmin Henkesh owns Serpentine Dance Studio in Bethesda and said she wants to do whatever she can to keep her students safe.
"The only way to fight this is that everybody gets on board and everybody does their part," she said.
Business owner Lilit Ghazaryan is preparing once again to ask her customers to wear masks in her Rockville store, Saints Valley.
"I do believe that they're doing it for the security and for the well-being of the public," Ghazaryan said. "But I also think that because we live in a democratic society, I think we should be able to, maybe choose."
Montgomery County's announcement comes the same day that its D.C. neighbors learned their own indoor mask mandate, which had been in place since late July, would be lifted. Starting Nov. 22, masks will not be required in most indoor settings, with exceptions including schools, public transportation and some government facilities.
Albornoz said Montgomery County officials were aware of District officials' decision earlier in the day when questioned about whether they were concerned that move could impact the case rate in their community.
"There's always a concern when policies are not aligned exactly with the potential for unintended consequences," he said. "But by and large, most people in our community -- and not just in Montgomery County, but across our region -- have been diligent about wearing their masks."
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser was also asked her thoughts on Montgomery County's mask policies during a press conference Tuesday morning.
"I don't work for Montgomery County," she responded. "I speak for the residents of the District."
Bowser added the step to end the indoor mask mandate in D.C. means that vaccines are working and preventing people from getting severely ill and dying from the virus. D.C. Health officials said 88% of all D.C. residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.