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Baltimore to end indoor mask mandate on March 1

 A hand taking a face mask off.
On Thursday, Mayor Brandon Scott said Baltimore's indoor mask mandate will lift next week. Credit: Diverse Stock Photos/flickr

Baltimore’s indoor mask mandate will end next week, Mayor Brandon Scott announced Thursday, citing declining COVID-19 rates.

Indoor spaces both public and private will no longer require masks beginning Tuesday, March 1. City schools are not affected by the decision; Maryland’s State Board of Education voted Tuesday to lift a mask mandate but the decision will not go into effect until it receives approval from the General Assembly’s Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review committee. City businesses may continue to enact mask mandates.

“There is now an even brighter light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully we can begin to return to our new normal,” Scott said.

The Democrat cited declining COVID-19 metrics in his decision. The city’s seven-day positivity rate is at 2.03%, a decrease of 77% from four weeks ago. About 77% of residents ages 12 and over have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

He said city leaders will continue to monitor COVID trends and “make informed decisions should another variant of concern begin to emerge across our communities.”

Scott’s announcement comes amid a pattern of relaxed mask restrictions in jurisdictions throughout the state and country. Similar mandates in Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties ended last month. Gov. Larry Hogan ended a mask mandate in state buildings earlier this week.

Baltimore has maintained stricter COVID-19 containment measures than its neighbors since the pandemic first hit, starting with then-Mayor Jack Young. Scott continued the trend after he was inaugurated in 2020.

The Democrat first lifted the indoor mask mandate in July amid declining COVID-19 rates but reinstated it in August as the delta variant reversed those trends. The restriction stayed in place as the omicron variant arrived months later.

At a news conference, Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said that while improving COVID-19 metrics are encouraging, the pandemic is far from over.

“Residents are still being infected and hospitalized with COVID-19. In particular, older adults, the immunocompromised and children that are not yet eligible for vaccination remain vulnerable to severe disease from COVID 19, and masks remain a powerful tool to protect these residents,” she said.

She encouraged residents to continue to wear masks at indoor, crowded and poorly ventilated spaces after the indoor mask mandate lifts.

The health commissioner repeated guidance she’s issued regularly throughout the pandemic: get tested if you have a known exposure or feel sick and get fully vaccinated and boosted if you haven't already.

City Hall has remained closed to the public since spring 2020. Scott has declined for months to say specifically when the building will reopen for months, first assigning the responsibility to City Administrator Chris Shorter. Thursday he said he needed to confer with City Council President Nick Mosby and Comptroller Bill Henry.

“They play a role too and I want to allow them to get that information directly from me,” he said. “But you should expect to hear from me and them, hopefully together. I'm going to ask them to be a part of this within the next few weeks.”

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.