Howard County Executive Calvin Ball today signed an executive order requiring masks be worn indoors in all businesses and facilities open to the public, as well as public transportation, in Howard County. Ball’s decision came in consultation with local health and business leaders. The requirement is effective Sunday, December 26, 2021 at 5:00 p.m.
“With the rapidly multiplying number of COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron and Delta variants, positivity rates in double digits, and increases in hospitalization, this is a necessary step to further protect our residents,” said Ball. “Being vaccinated, getting a booster, and wearing a mask are the three best ways to protect yourself and those around you.”
Maryland’s testing positivity rate has climbed to 12.8 percent, and statewide hospitalizations have surpassed 1,500.
“Masks are a simple and effective tool we can all use to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in our community as we continue to observe an increase in cases across Howard County,” said Howard County Health Officer Dr. Maura Rossman. “The contagious nature of the Omicron variant has increased the need for everyone to practice basic prevention techniques, like getting vaccinated including a booster, wearing a mask, and staying home if feeling ill.”
“We have been looking at the data and while businesses and employment have been making progress, we have not fully recovered,” said Lawrence F. Twele, CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority. “Taking steps to get through this latest spike is critical so our local economy can maintain momentum.”
“COVID 19 and its remnants continue to test our patience and mental fortitude,” said Leonardo McClarty, President and CEO of the Howard County Chamber. “While a mask mandate may be unpopular, it is a much better alternative than shutting down, which would decimate our small businesses and industries that are still recovering from previous restrictions.”
“As we’ve seen over the past two years, business sustainability has been drastically impacted by this public health crisis and getting through COVID without further business interruption is imperative to our economic recovery,” said Kristi Simon, President & CEO of the Central Maryland Chamber of Commerce. “Protective measures like mask wearing can help our businesses stay open and operating safely to serve our community, keep people employed and to limit additional business closures.”
“Executive Ball’s indoor mask mandate is timely as the Omicron variant begins to take hold,” added Amanda Hof, Executive Director for Visit Howard County. “This is a critical measure that will help keep our community safe and lessen negative financial impacts to our tourism industry businesses”.
While Howard County has been a state leader with nearly 87 percent of its residents fully vaccinated, and 95 percent receiving at least one dose, recent studies indicate antibodies diminish significantly after six months, increasing risk for COVID-19, and making boosters necessary.
Only 74 percent of Howard County residents ages 65+ have gotten a booster. Those who are 65 or older should get a booster immediately to increase protection from COVID-19 and particularly the Omicron variant. Currently, 52 percent of all eligible residents have received a booster. Vaccination and boosters may be scheduled through the County’s website.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, The Mall in Columbia has supported and followed all local mandates and guidelines to minimize the risk of illness,” said Barb Nicklas, Senior General Manager of The Mall in Columbia. “Howard County Executive Calvin Ball and the public health authorities have our full support in reinstating mandatory mask usage. We will continue to work hard to protect our employees, merchants and guests and ask our community to join us in doing the same.”
“The health and success of Howard County’s businesses are essential to lives of each and every county resident,” said Jay Winer, President of A.J. Properties, which operates Historic Savage Mill. “If something as simple as wearing a mask can help ensure both the physical and economic health of our community then we should all do our part to keep Howard County open for business.”
“While everyone wishes this was over, with the rise of the omicron variant and the corresponding rise in infections, we think this is a prudent measure to prevent greater spread and allow our businesses in Downtown Columbia to remain open through the holidays and as we kick off 2022,” said Phillip Dodge, Executive Director of the Downtown Columbia Partnership.
I am really going to be interested in the reaction of this announcement.