ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland is ending its statewide mask mandate this weekend, following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Friday.
The mask mandate will end effective Saturday, the Republican governor said at a news conference.
“Today is the day that so many of us have been waiting for and working toward," Hogan said. "We finally do clearly see that light at the end of the tunnel. Our long hard fought battle against the worst global pandemic in nearly a century is finally nearing an end.”
In alignment with CDC guidance, face coverings will still be required on public transportation, and in schools, child care and health care settings, Hogan said.
The Maryland Department of Health has issued a public health advisory strongly recommending that all non-vaccinated individuals over the age of 2 continue to wear face coverings in all indoor settings and in outdoor settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
Private businesses and workplaces can put in place their own policies.
The governor made the announcement as the state's health metrics continued to improve. Hospitalizations from COVID-19 dropped below 700 for the first time since November, down to 680.
“And today, we have reached 1.91 percent — our second lowest daily positivity rate ever throughout the entire pandemic," Hogan said.
On Wednesday, Hogan had said the state would lift the indoor mask mandate when 70% of Maryland adults receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and the state was within 4.6% of reaching that goal. But Thursday's announcement by the CDC that fully vaccinated people could stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings prompted Maryland to accelerate the timeline.
“Our team was being cautious," Hogan said. “We had already decided to lift the mask mandate as of, you know, we said we were going to do it by Memorial Day weekend, which is fast approaching, and we’re just speeding up a little faster now thanks to the actions by the CDC.”
Local jurisdictions may continue to use their own emergency powers on these matters.
The governor also said Maryland's state of emergency would remain in place, because it helps local businesses like bars and restaurants by enabling them to deliver liquor.
“It also enables us to continue to utilize the National Guard as we are continuing the vaccination effort, and so it still remains in place but there are no more restrictions," Hogan said.
Earlier this week, the governor announced the lifting of restrictions on indoor and outdoor venues, including restaurants, that also will take effect on Saturday.
All remaining capacity and distancing restrictions that have been in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be lifted on indoor and outdoor dining on Saturday, the governor added.
Indoor and outdoor venues will be able to resume normal operations, Hogan said. Remaining capacity restrictions will be lifted on indoor entertainment venues and conventions, and all outdoor entertainment, art and sports venues, with masking protocols in place.