In response to rising numbers of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan is expanding the list of places Marylanders are required to wear masks. Beginning Friday, masks will be required statewide in all indoor public places and outdoors when it’s impossible to keep physically distant from other people.
“This expansion of the masking order is an action that is both fact-based, apolitical and solidly grounded in science,” Hogan said at a press conference Wednesday. “While it can be an inconvenience, especially in the heat, wearing a mask is the single best mitigation strategy that we have to fight the virus.”
The new mandate is similar to rules already in effect in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. It also expands one Hogan issued in April. The earlier order required masks in stores and food establishments and on public transit.
The state is also “strongly advising” Maryland residents not to travel to states with positivity rates 10% or higher. Hogan said there are currently nine states that meet that standard: Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina, Nebraska and Idaho.
If residents need to travel to one of those states, they should immediately get tested for COVID-19 when they return and quarantine until they receive the results, Hogan said.
Hogan’s announcement coincides with rising numbers of COVID infections and hospitalizations in Maryland.
However, Hogan attributed the rise in cases to an increase in testing, echoing an argument made by other politicians around the country, including President Donald Trump.
“Thanks to a robust long-term testing strategy and our strategic stockpile of test kits, we successfully have increased our testing capability dramatically over the past month,” Hogan said. “As expected, this exponential increase in the gross number of tests, which is now at more than 1.1 million, has resulted in an increase in the number of positive cases that we have identified.”
Instead of looking at the number of cases, Hogan said, the number to watch is the seven-day average positivity rate. By the state’s calculation, that number is 4.8%, just below the CDC’s benchmark of 5%. Johns Hopkins University, which calculates it differently, puts it at 5.8%.
But Hogan said he is concerned that hospitalizations are up 28% in the last two weeks. The increase triggers a “stop sign” in the state’s recovery plan. Businesses that are already open can stay open, but the state will hold off on advancing to phase three of the plan.
A number of critics have been calling on Hogan to reinstate some of the restrictions he implemented in the spring, such as closing non-essential businesses.
Hogan said that would be disastrous to the state’s economy.
“Right now, we just don't believe there are any more steps we need to take,” he said, “but we won't hesitate to take the ones that we believe are necessary."
Contact tracing has shed some light on where people are getting sick, Hogan said. Nearly half of people interviewed recently by contact tracers reported being at family gatherings, followed by house parties and outdoor events.
Contact tracing identified the riskiest location as people’s places of work, Hogan said.
“People who can telework must continue to do so, and employers should give employees every opportunity to continue to telework,” Hogan said, repeating a frequent refrain for the last few months.
He said allowing employees to telework is one of the best ways to help keep Maryland businesses open during this pandemic — aside from wearing a mask.