**FILE** Courtesy of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan via Twitter

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday state employees and visitors to state buildings won’t be required to wear masks or face coverings starting Tuesday, Feb. 22.

The order goes into effect based on the state’s positivity coronavirus rate below 4% and hospitalizations at 715, according to state Health Department data released Tuesday, Feb. 15.

“Given the dramatic declines in our health metrics, we are now able to take another step toward normalcy in state operations,” Hogan said in a statement. 

“In addition, we continue to offer paid leave for state employees to get their booster shots, which provide critical protection against the virus and its variants. I want to thank all of our dedicated state employees for their tireless efforts that have helped make Maryland’s COVID-19 response a national model,” he said. 

In the meantime, the full House of Delegates reconvened Tuesday for the first time since they voted on the legislative redistricting plan Jan. 27. Masks will remain in effect for delegates when on the House floor, which has 141 members.

Before the session began, House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) reminded her colleagues masks are required on the floor which includes covering the nose.

“We just have to be safer and lead by example,” said Del. Pam Queen (D-Montgomery County). “We’re only here for 90 days and we have a lot to get done. We do need to go that extra route to make sure we’re safe and do the people’s work.”

House committees will continue to hold public hearings and conduct business online.

The Senate, which has 47 members, allowed the public to attend hearings in person Tuesday. But visitors must wear masks in committee rooms and not sit directly beside each other.

Even though House members haven’t met in person as frequently as the Senate, Del. Nick Charles (D-District 25) of Forestville said about 1,400 bills are being reviewed and discussed. 

The Prince George’s County House Delegation, which Charles serves as chair, holds weekly sessions online and has nearly finished its work drafting county-focused bills.

“Even when we aren’t on the floor, we’re still making sure we get work done for the people,” he said.

Hogan’s mask order also goes into effect on the same day the state Board of Education will meet to review the state’s mask requirements for public schools. The state board voted in August to implement a mask mandate in all 24 public school systems that would not exceed 180 days.

Clarence Crawford, school board president, wrote in a letter Thursday to Hogan all COVID-19 metrics continue to be watched with “off-ramps” during the recent omicron variant surge.

The letter noted school systems and local school boards can lift mask mandates based on the following provisions:

  • At least 80% of the county population “is fully vaccinated.”
  • A superintendent verifies 80% of school staff and students in a school system are fully vaccinated.
  • If a county has sustained 14 consecutive days of moderate or low transmission rates of COVID-19 cases, based on recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Again, we deeply appreciate your strong leadership and support throughout this once in a century pandemic,” Crawford said. “We, too, share your desire not to let this pandemic distract us from aggressively addressing the learning loss and social emotional harm this pandemic has done to our children. We look forward to working with you and stakeholders across the state to provide an excellent and equitable education for every Maryland child.”

As of Tuesday, the CDC rated Maryland’s community transmission as “high.” The federal agency labeled four counties as “substantial,” which sits just one step below high: Baltimore, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Queen Anne’s counties.

In the meantime, Baltimore County lifted its mask mandate Feb. 7 and Frederick County health officials announced four days later masks are no longer required.

The indoor mask requirement will tentatively be lifted in Montgomery County Monday, Feb. 21 and in Prince George’s County March 9 at 5 p.m.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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