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City officials say indoor mask mandate will lift after two weeks of declining COVID rates

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Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa speaking at a Friday news conference. She said the city will lift the ongoing indoor mask mandate after two weeks of sustained declines in COVID-19 metrics.

Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said the city will lift its indoor mask mandate after two weeks of sustained drops in COVID-19 rates.

“When we introduced the mask mandate in August, the CDC indicated that Baltimore City had substantial community transmission. Currently... Baltimore City is experiencing high community transmission rates,” she said at a news conference Friday, noting that other figures the city will use to determine when to lift the mask mandate include new case rates, testing positivity rates, deaths, hospitalizations and vaccination trends.

As of Friday, Baltimore has seen both drops and rises in these statistics.

The city is averaging 109 new cases per day, an increase of 30.3% from two weeks ago. The seven-day average for daily new death counts is 1.3 deaths, an increase of 350% over two weeks. The amount of patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 has risen just under 1% over the same amount of time.

Trends in the right direction include the average daily testing positivity rate, which is currently 2.3% — a decrease of 4.9% from two weeks ago. The city’s overall vaccination rate has risen 1.6% over two weeks; about 66% of residents 12 years of age and up have received at least one dose.

Dzirasa also reiterated booster guidance from the CDC. Last month, the public health agency recommended additional shots of the Pfizer vaccine for those 65 and up, those with certain underlying medical conditions and those in occupational or institutional settings with high risks of COVID transmission, such as schools, nursing homes and grocery stores.

“We ask at this time that residents who receive the Moderna or Johnson and Johnson vaccine don't mix and match with the Pfizer booster,” Dzirasa said. “In other words, these booster recommendations are only applicable at this point if you received a Pfizer vaccine in your original series.”

The CDC recommends waiting at least 6 months after one’s second Pfizer shot before attaining a booster. The agency has not yet issued guidance for those who received Moderna or Johnson and Johnson vaccines. More data on the effectiveness and safety of these boosters are expected to arrive in the next few weeks.

Many city pharmacies and vaccine sites are equipped to provide booster doses, Dzirasa said. She recommended that residents call the city’s COVAX center to confirm availability. Residents must provide proof of previous vaccinations in order to receive boosters.

Baltimoreans can reach the COVAX center at 443-984-8650 Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.