MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - The Montgomery County Council plans to adopt an amendment that would prevent another indoor mask mandate from abruptly starting on Wednesday of this week.
Council President Tom Hucker confirmed the plans in a regular Monday virtual news conference.
Hucker said the Health Order Amendment the council, acting as the Board of Health, plans to take up on Tuesday, will require the county to experience seven consecutive days of "substantial transmission" before another indoor mask mandate would be triggered.
The fix comes after a weekend announcement that caused confusion and frustration.
Montgomery County had just lifted its indoor mask mandate last Thursday. On Saturday, just two days later, the county’s social media accounts shared that Montgomery County was going back to the indoor mask mandate on Wednesday, Nov. 3.
The announcements came from the county’s Interim Chief Health Officer, Dr. James Bridgers, who noted that the transmission status had changed in just a couple of days after the mask mandate was lifted.
"Our case count moved from about 47.63, which is under that threshold, that moderate threshold, to about 50.6 which is a substantial transmission threshold," Dr. Bridgers told FOX 5. "One day, according to the board of health regulation, obligates me as the acting health officer to advise the council sitting as the board of health of that move to a higher community-level transmission."
That "one-day" abrupt change Dr. Bridgers referred is due to an issue with language in the Health Order on "substantial transmission" the county council passed about three months ago.
In the original order approved August 5th, it clearly states on Page 5: "The requirement to wear face coverings under subparagraph a. terminates, without further action by the Board of Health, when the County returns to a status of moderate transmission for 7 consecutive days."
It’s not as specific on when to return the mandate. Instead, the document outlines that the health officer, "promptly must take reasonable steps to notify the public if the County has become an area of substantial transmission."
That notification has to include the time and date that the mask mandate would take effect.
FOX 5 spoke with Montgomery County Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Dr. Stoddard about this before in a previous news story on previewing what would trigger the county to drop its indoor mask mandate. We also followed up with questions regarding unclear language on transmission status metrics.
A FOX 5 viewer had pointed out that according to the way the Health Order is written, transmission status could also change based on Test Positivity alone, so we know the county executive’s people were aware of problematic language in the Health Order. However, this is a council matter.
On Monday, Council President Tom Hucker was asked more than once, and in different ways, what the council knew when. Hucker stuck to his answer, saying they were just notified on Friday.
"…we are a stand-out among counties, among the three counties in the nation as having some of the best performance during COVID. This is the most recent of our Board of health regulations, we’ve put, you know, several of them in place as you know. I think we are digesting the new information that came in and we’re updating the board of health regulation as we continue to," Hucker told FOX 5.
County Executive Marc Elrich told FOX 5 his office previously recommended 14-consecutive days to move in or out of transmission status.
Hucker said the County Council plans to give a 4-day grace period after 7-consecutive days are reached, so a return to indoor masking in public spaces would not be immediate. This is so business owners and residents can properly prepare.
The County Council is expected to discuss the matter at around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, with a vote expected around 1:30 p.m.
According to the Amended Health Order: "Regarding the substantial transmission status that began on October 30, 2021, the indoor masking requirement would be triggered only if the substantial transmission status continues, without interruption, through November 5, 2021."
Hucker said the council would then move to implement a return to the indoor mask mandate four days later on Nov. 9.