Jaleigh Canery frolicked outside with her two older siblings and other children at a community fish fry at First Baptist Church of District Heights.
The cheerful and bright-eyed 2-year-old wore an essential garment: a Paw Patrol mask covering her mouth and nose.
Jaleigh’s mother, Jacinda Gantt of Laurel, said she’s pleased Prince George’s County has implemented an indoor mask mandate for children ages 2 to 5.
“She definitely will wear a mask, even outside,” Gantt said. “If a mask is going to help [young children], I’m all for it. I want to keep my family protected and keep other families protected.”
Another part of the effort for added protection stems from Gantt, her husband, Christopher Canery, and their two teenage children all being vaccinated. And she’s hopeful that a vaccine will be available soon for young children.
The county’s indoor mask mandate announced Oct. 6 requires face coverings be worn inside retail stores, restaurants and other businesses. The county’s public school system already implemented a requirement for students to wear them inside all buildings and school buses.
The mandate expands upon an executive order signed by County Executive Angela Alsobrooks for older children and adults to wear them in public places. It will remain in effect through 5 p.m. Oct. 25, “unless amended or terminated earlier.”
As of Sunday, Oct. 17, county data shows confirmed coronavirus cases in children ages 0 to 9 total 6,769. Cases for residents 70 and older total 6,282.
George Askew, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer for health, human services and education, said earlier this month residents ages 12 to 19 have surpassed the age group of 20 to 29 and now count among those fully vaccinated.
Traditionally while working with young adults, Askew said some felt healthy “and not vulnerable” to where they needed health insurance.
Although the intensive care unit capacity at local hospitals stands at 51%, the majority of patients hospitalized remain those unvaccinated.
“I can assure them of this: they are vulnerable to COVID,” he said. “They will catch COVID if they don’t get vaccinated and some of them risk going to hospital. Some of them may be risking death if not getting vaccinated. COVID is something else.”
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a research center at the University of Washington, projects nearly 6,730 confirmed cases for the state of Maryland by Nov. 26, one day after the Thanksgiving holiday.
“That’s the exact reason we don’t want to let up,” Askew said. “The more folks who continue to get vaccinated, the less likely we will see a significant surge in that November time period.”
The county has administered more than one million vaccines manufactured by the single-dose from Johnson & Johnson and two doses from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.
Pfizer and BioNTech, a company based in Germany, announced Friday, Oct. 15 they submitted data to the European Medicines Agency to support vaccinating children ages 5 to 11.
The companies sent similar data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in September which may be reviewed by the federal agency next month.
Until a vaccine for younger children receives approval, parents such as Nataki Johnson of Hyattsville say they’re pleased with the indoor mask mandate in Prince George’s because “we have to protect our babies.”
Johnson’s one-year-old granddaughter isn’t required to wear a mask because she’s too young. As for her 10-year-old daughter, she rarely wears one because she’s receiving her fourth-grade education virtually at Gladys Noon Spellman Elementary in Cheverly.
“She’s a free spirit. I can see her taking her mask off and having her hands in her mouth,” said Johnson, who works as a contractor for the U.S. Navy. “She can stay home with me and I can fuss at her instead of the teacher fussing at her.”