A Maryland legislative committee voted Friday to rescind a mask mandate in the public schools that immediately allows all 23 county and Baltimore City school systems to make that decision.
The committee’s near unanimous vote ratified a decision the state Board of Education made Tuesday based on a recommendation from superintendent Mohammed Chodury.
“We continue to emerge from the pandemic … and a greater depth of understanding of COVID-19 and its impact,” he said. “The time has come to return to local leaders.”
Lawmakers on the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review voted less than an hour before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated recommendation on mask requirements.
The federal agency’s guidance allows scrapping masks and face coverings if hospitalizations in a particular community are low.
A color-coded system now outlines masks as unnecessary for any jurisdiction at “green,” or low community transmission.
A yellow category suggests consulting a doctor, orange represents high transmission and residents should continue to wear a mask indoors and in schools.
The CDC assesses the categories based on three metrics: new COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 people in the past seven days; the percentage of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients; and total COVID-19 patients per 100,000 people in the past seven days.
Approximately 17 Maryland counties and Baltimore City are in the green category, per the CDC. Somerset, Wicomico and Worchester counties along the Eastern Shore are in yellow, along with Garrett and Washington counties in Western Maryland.
Allegany County represents the only jurisdiction ranked with a high community transmission in the orange category.
Per CDC guidance, Maryland students are still permitted to wear masks on school buses. In addition, everyone must strap them on when riding public transportation.
House Speaker Pro Tem Sheree Sample Hughes, who represents portions of Dorchester and Wicomico counties, represented the only person who voted no.
The Democrat from the Eastern Shore responded to comments a few parents made during a public hearing before the vote on how last year’s decision for students to wear masks in schools resembled a form of child abuse.
“When you have a child that is traumatized and truly abused, don’t put that in the same category as wearing a mask to protect the child,” she said. “So to that end, I thought that was very disappointing.”
The committee co-chairs, Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel County) and Del. Samuel Rosenberg (D-Baltimore City) released a joint statement with hopes residents will be sympathetic to each other.
“As our State moves forward, many will continue to live with and be adversely impacted by COVID-19,” they said. “Therefore, we should be mindful and sensitive to the concerns and needs of all Marylanders in the coming months.”