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COVID-19 | Metro considers 'mask only' cars, Prince George's County recommends wearing masks inside public places

Prince George's County's Health Department has recommended wearing masks indoors following a recent increase in omicron subvariant cases.

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. — One local health department is recommending residents wear masks indoors as Omicron subvariant cases continue to increase in the DC region.

The Prince George’s County Health Department is asking that locals, ages 2 and older, voluntarily wear masks inside public places.

“Due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, COVID-19 cases have been steadily rising in Prince George’s County and the State over the last six weeks,” the health department’s statement reads. “This recent rise is substantially lower compared to the winter Omicron case surge and County COVID-19 hospitalizations remain relatively low.”

According to CDC data, Prince George’s County still remains at a “low” community level for the coronavirus.

However, between May 3 and May 10, the county saw its case rate increase by more than 35 percent. Over that seven-day period, Prince George’s County experienced about 144 new cases a day.

Luckily, hospitalizations have remained low in the county.

The CDC estimates that 41 people were admitted to the hospital in Prince George’s between May 2 and May 9 due to the coronavirus.

The Prince George’s County Health Department’s recommendation comes at a time when one of the DC region's biggest transit providers is considering a new policy to help keep some of its riders comfortable.

At the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Special Board of Directors meeting Thursday, alternative board director for the federal government Bryna Helfer asked if Metro had considered creating mask-only cars for its trains.

“Like a quiet car, like on the Amtrak?” she asked, “Has that been considered?”

Theresa Impastato, Metro’s executive vice-president and chief safety officer, confirmed the idea had in fact been considered by the agency.

She added Metro had even recently had a discussion with New Jersey Transit, which is also thinking about designating some of its cars to be mask-only.

However, Impastato pointed out the proposal would present Metro with some challenges too.

“We do have some concerns that have been identified around enforcement of the mask-only car and how that could potentially create conflict amongst our customers,” she said.

Dr. Stuart Ray serves as a professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University.

He said people can still be protected from the virus’ spread by wearing a mask when others around them are not.

“I just spent a couple of weeks on the COVID ward and was taking care of people with active COVID,” he said. “And, I know from the experience at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere, that the mask I was wearing would protect me. And, so, we're two-and-a-half years into this, and I haven't caught it. And, so wearing a high-quality mask carefully, really makes a difference.”

Ray said he’s not surprised mandates are no longer being instituted like they were in the past, however. He said it appears society is building more of an immunity to the disease and that this latest increase in cases has not proven to be as bad as those experienced in the past.

Ray adds that he believes another factor could be influencing people to take their masks off more too.

“I can't help thinking that weather has a certain impact here, too,” he said. “I think people are really happy to see spring arriving and in full swing. And, so, I think that that is an exciting time. People are tired from the last couple of years. So, they're really exuberant about the notion of getting back to something like normal.”

As for mask mandates, Ray thinks it is unlikely they will come back barring a major development.

“I think that as we move around in society, we're likely past the point where people are going to do mask mandates unless something really changes,” he said. “And, we're always ready for change, because we get surprised, but I think that we're probably past that. And, it's going to be about protecting yourself and those you care about and being reasonably responsible and not intentionally putting people at risk.”

For now, Prince George’s County Health says locals need to remember masks remain required in congregate healthcare settings, public schools and libraries, and in any business that chooses to require them.

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