MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan made major COVID protocol changes Wednesday when he announced the state would lift all capacity restrictions on indoor and outdoor venues starting May 15, and would lift the indoor mask-wearing requirement once 70% of Marylanders were vaccinated.
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.
"As we have done throughout the pandemic, we will continue to prioritize the guidance from our professional public health team and vaccinate our residents as quickly as possible and emerge as a stronger, healthier and more sustainable community," a joint statement from County Executive Marc Elrich and the Montgomery County Council said.
The statement went on to say that Montgomery County would continue to pursue its phased reopening approach based on vaccination percentages. 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.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 596,788 residents have received at least the first vaccine dose (57%) and 469,399 people are fully vaccinated (44.7%).
"Montgomery County is on track to have 50% of the population with vaccinations complete before May 15," the joint statemet said. "This means that by May 29, Montgomery County should resume normal operations across all indoor and outdoor businesses, restaurants, theatres, arts and entertainment venues and sports facilities."
The county's positivity rate is currently 1.57%, with an average case rate of four per 100,000 residents. The joint county statement said those rates were the fourth lowest in the nation for jurisdictions with more than 700,000 people.
It's worth noting that Elrich and Montgomery County have tended to fall in line with CDC guidance, and Thursday afternoon, the CDC made a major change to mask-wearing guidelines. Fully vaccinated are allowed to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and inside in most situations, the CDC said.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities -– large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”
Elrich has not yet responded to the new rules, though his Thursday morning statement said, "We currently follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on face covering requirements and are consistently working with our public health experts to determine what changes may be appropriate as vaccinations continue to increase."