As Covid-19 metrics continue to steadily decline across Maryland and the entire nation, many of the restrictions that have defined life during the pandemic will soon be a thing of the past. The easing up has already begun for certain limitations, largely due to the administration of millions of vaccine doses. After 14 challenging months, many now feel a strong sense of relief and repose ahead of the summer season.
With restrictions coming to an end left and right, there are countless questions and plenty of confusion. Here’s what you need to know before heading out the door.
UPDATE: During a press conference Friday, Governor Larry Hogan announced that effective Saturday, the indoor mask mandate will be lifted, in accordance with the latest CDC guidance. Exceptions include schools, public transportation, and hospitals. Businesses have the ability to make their own policies relating to masks.
After nonstop press conferences for more than a year, Governor Hogan enjoyed providing Marylanders with good news for a change. He asks for the same “Maryland strong” mentality and understanding for fellow citizens moving forward. “As many of us take off our masks and start to put this pandemic behind us, I ask each and every one of you to please just be kind and respectful of one another,” he said. “Some people may feel comfortable getting back to normal life right away. For others, it may take more time before they feel safe. That’s perfectly okay.”
Masks remain highly recommended for those who have yet to receive a vaccine. The daily positivity rate dropped to just 1.91% Friday, the second-lowest on record, proving that Maryland is almost at the finish line.
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that people who are fully vaccinated can drop their masks indoors and outdoors, in small or large settings, and even do away with social distancing. What’s more, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky even stated that vaccinated people do not need masks indoors when with unvaccinated people, even if at a concert or game where the vaccination status of others is unknown. Make no question, the end is truly near.
This major step forward follows guidance released at the end of April, in which the CDC advised that masks are no longer necessary in outdoor settings. As vaccines have become more widely available, health officials have inched closer to normalcy. Still, the latest CDC announcement is a significant stride unlike anything before.
Masks remain advised for unvaccinated people. Additionally, requirements remain in hospitals and on public transportation.
It is important to note that the CDC is not a law-making agency, and people must still turn to guidance from state and local governments along with businesses. Recommended or not, some will undoubtedly continue to follow stricter guidelines. On the contrary, others have and will continue to disregard ordinances and make personal choices.
What’s the Story in Maryland?
In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan took several actions on Wednesday, just one day before the CDC announcement. To date, nearly 2.5 million Marylanders are fully vaccinated, and that number will continue to grow, with the FDA granting emergency authorization for the administration of the Pfizer vaccine for adolescents ages 12 to 15.
On Saturday, May 15, Hogan plans to lift nearly all the directives affecting businesses, eliminating restrictions on capacity limits and distancing. While the CDC said it was safe to drop your mask Thursday, Maryland was not quite ready. However, the wait was not long, with Hogan swiftly changing course to follow the updated CDC recommendations. He previously promised to lift indoor mask restrictions once 70% of adults had received at least one vaccine dose. The state is already extremely close, at 65.4%. Private businesses retain the authority to make decisions regarding masks.
Echoing the sentiments of his constituents, Hogan is also anxiously awaiting the full return to normalcy. “Here in Maryland, our plan is to get everything back to normal by Memorial Day,” said Governor Hogan. “We are making amazing progress toward that goal. But once again, the fastest way to get rid of our damn masks and to put this pandemic behind us once and for all is for every single eligible Marylander to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Mayor Rick Meehan and the Ocean City Council have acted lockstep with the guidelines handed down from Annapolis. The ending of capacity restrictions is a crucial benefit to local restaurants, which easily become crowded during the summer. Now, Ocean City is more than ready for the tourism rush.
One important change in the past couple of weeks is the lifting of the Boardwalk mask mandate, which was added by the town at the end of July 2020.
This could not come at a better time, as Ocean City prepares for one of its biggest summers yet. Memorial Day, the unofficial start of the season, is expected to be a substantial success, with an anticipated 52% rise in national automobile travel compared to 2020, according to AAA’s holiday travel forecast.
Local businesses say to bring it on. “Governor Hogan’s announcement yesterday was quite a surprise and certainly welcomed by the hospitality community. It has been a long year filled with much anxiety and is time to move towards normalcy,” said Susan Jones, Executive Director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association.
This day seemed as though it would never come after such a difficult fight against the pandemic, but the end is now near and the summer is almost upon us.
To track Maryland Covid-19 vaccination statistics, click here.