MARYLAND, USA — Effectively immediately, masks are no longer required outdoors in Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan said.
According to the governor, more than 4.5 million vaccines have been administered across the state and 85% of Marylanders age 65 and older are either fully or partially vaccinated.
During his weekly COVID-19 news briefing, Hogan said that Maryland has the lowest transmission rate in the country. Hogan said they were able to lift the mask mandate outdoors in part due to the decline in metrics along with what he said was a high vaccination pace.
Face masks and coverings are still required indoors as indoor dining restrictions are to remain in the state.
To watch the governor's news briefing in full, click the video below:
Hogan added that if you are not yet vaccinated, public health officials still “strongly recommend” masks, and everyone should continue to be cautious in the meantime.
"We expect to be able to take additional actions in the weeks ahead and to return to a sense of normalcy -- the fastest way to put this pandemic behind us once and for all is for every single eligible Marylander to get vaccinated as soon as possible," Hogan said.
The governor added that masks are still required for Marylanders at all large ticketed venues -- as well as indoors at all public and private businesses across the state in addition to when using public transportation.
Additionally, Hogan also announced that outdoor dining restrictions will also be lifted starting Saturday, May 1. Standing service can resume outdoors at bars and restaurants, and all capacity and distancing restrictions will be lifted.
Seated service and physical distancing requirements will remain in place indoors at bars and restaurants until more people are vaccinated, Hogan added.
To read the new Executive Order announced by Gov. Hogan, click below:
Local jurisdictions -- Prince George's, Montgomery, Charles and St. Mary's counties -- as they have throughout the pandemic, will have the final say on their mask mandates.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich released the following statement in light of the state's mask outdoor mask mandate and outdoor dining restrictions lifted:
“It is good news that the state’s COVID rates have been declining. I’d like to point out that with almost 20% of the state’s population, Montgomery County’s low case rates have significantly contributed to reducing the state’s case rates," Elrich said in a statement to WUSA9. "We will follow the CDC guidelines on masking per the existing Board of Health order which directs us to use the stricter of the CDC or state guidance. Despite his statement on the website, the Governor’s order regarding masks does not comport with the CDC guidelines."
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 of 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.”
Following the announcement from the governor, Montgomery County Councilman Will Jawando spoke to WUSA9 and said the county would keep following its own pace for reopening.
"The unlimited capacity outside is not consistent with what we’ve done here so we’re going to have to assess in light of this announcement," he said. "We want to make sure that before we open everything up that we continue to get folks vaccinated and continue our focus on equity.”
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.”
A spokesperson for Prince George's County responded to a request for comment and said county leaders would further analyze possible changes to guidelines after Governor Hogan's announcement on Wednesday.
"Prince George’s County is reviewing the Governor’s updated order and consulting with its public health officials," a statement read. "As soon as decisions are made, County officials will inform the public as quickly as possible."
Just last month during his March 9 news briefing, Hogan said the statewide mask mandate “remains in full force and effect.” The governor's previous executive order stated that masks are required at public indoor facilities and outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible -- which includes grocery stores, fitness centers and other public areas of businesses.
"All of our vaccine progress along with all of our sustained positive improvements have enabled us to continue to follow the science and to be able today to take significant steps to further ease more of the mitigation measures currently in place," Hogan said.