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Hogan calls on State Board of Education to end mask mandate

The governor expressed hope that the board would revise its mandate earlier this week. Credit: Joe Andrucyk 410-991-4372/MD Gov Pics
The governor expressed hope that the board would revise its mandate earlier this week. Credit: Joe Andrucyk 410-991-4372/MD Gov Pics

Gov. Larry Hogan wrote to the State Board of Education Thursday, calling on the board to end its masking mandate.

“In recent weeks, Maryland emerged from the Omicron wave faster than just about any other state,” he wrote. “We must all learn to live with this virus, not in fear of it.”

Hospitalizations dipped below 1,000 Thursday, according to state data. The positivity rate has dropped more than 80% since last month to just over 5%.

While masking remains mandatory in schools, the state board revised its policy in December to include ‘off-ramps,’ meaning a school system could lift masking based on COVID metrics.

But Dr. Odis Johnson Jr., Executive Director of the Johns Hopkins University's Center for Safe and Healthy Schools and a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Social Policy, said it’s too early to lift masking in schools.

“It really is perplexing,” Johnson said, adding: “That’s perhaps an opinion that’s going against the tide right now.”

The key metric to look at, he said, are vaccination rates among children. Johnson said that among 5 to 11 year olds in Maryland, they’re too low.

According to state data, less than half of 5 to 11 year olds are vaccinated. However, the number is at just over 80% for 12 to 17 year olds.

Johnson acknowledged that masking could pose learning difficulties in the classroom. But he said lifting mandates now could be disproportionately harmful for students at schools with poor ventilation, or who have comorbidities.

“Removing masks…for populations that are more likely to have those health concerns, is really a bad move and may have inequitable impact, causing more racial disparities and health outcomes for young people,” he said.

While the CDC has not revised its recommendations to mask in schools, experts like Dr. Leana Wen have spoken in favor of lifting masking in states with high vaccination rates and improving COVID-19 metrics, which Hogan noted in his letter to the state board.

A spokesperson for the board said it appreciates Hogan’s input but did not say whether the board would comply.

Sarah Y. Kim is WYPR’s health and housing reporter. Kim is WYPR's Report for America corps member, and Anthony Brandon Fellow. Kim joined WYPR as a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. Now in her second year as an RFA corps member, Kim is based in Baltimore City.