BETHESDA, Md. - Maryland education officials voted 12-2 to draft new regulations on students wearing masks during a virtual meeting Wednesday and Gov. Larry Hogan held a press conference to update Marylanders on COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.
Gov. Hogan told residents not to panic in the face of the new variant and that the state would not be implementing any new lockdowns or mandates at this time.
The governor says the state is stepping up testing at entry points such as BWI Marshall International Airport and stressing vaccination for all eligible residents.
"If Omicron does come to Maryland, we will find it and track it down," Gov. Hogan said. "We have already begun taking additional steps to further increase surveillance and earlier today, the Maryland Board of Public Works approved additional procurements to acquire additional agents and supplies to further expand our capacity."
The Maryland State Board of Education and Maryland State Department of Education reviewed public testimony, comments and current public health metrics to determine the next steps regarding school mask regulation.
The board voted to have the state department of education draft new regulations on students wearing masks, saying they want to create "off-ramps" for schools to relax masking if COVID-19 rates drop.
The current mask regulation went into place in September 2021. Since that time Maryland officials say mask policies helped minimize quarantines and ensure safe learning environments for students and staff.
The emergency regulation is set to expire on February 25, 2022.
Maryland Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Jinlen Chan says she understands the concern over Omicron, but it was not unexpected by health officials.
"We are concerned about it, as are public health officials around the country and around the world, which is why we’re taking action," says Dr. Chan. "But there are things people can do, and I can't emphasize this enough, that vaccination is our most important tool to protect ourselves and our families."
Gov. Hogan also said he was concerned because the state's positivity rate has crept back up over 5% and we are entering the winter months where cases have previously spiked.
He also said that the state has given out 1 million booster shots and 90% of adults are vaccinated.