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Masks to be decided by school districts, Maryland panel says

February 26, 2022 GMT

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A panel of Maryland lawmakers voted Friday to end a statewide emergency order and enable local school districts to decide whether students must wear face coverings in school.

The Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review voted 17-1 to approve a request by the state’s school board to end the emergency order regarding statewide requirements, effective Tuesday.

Earlier this week, Maryland State School Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury cited improvements in COVID-19 health metrics, higher vaccination rates and the availability of more rapid virus tests in supporting the statewide order for the state’s 24 local jurisdictions.

“The time is right,” Choudhury told the panel’s members Friday. “I’m proud of the work that we’ve done, but like I said we can’t mask our kids forever. This is a good time to do it.”

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Del. Kirill Reznik, a Montgomery County Democrat, noted that school districts could continue requiring masks, if they choose.

“They are being allowed by this regulation to do what they feel is best and we are supporting them in that effort,” Reznik said.

The mask requirements have been in effect since August. Last month, the panel approved an updated request by the school board to let school districts decide to end the mask requirement in schools if the spread of COVID-19 is moderate or low for 14 days in a row or if vaccination rates are higher than 80% in the school or community.

Sen. Sarah Elfreth and Del. Samuel Rosenberg, the co-chairs of the committee, said in a statement after the vote that they continue to urge local jurisdictions to follow those guidelines.

“As our State moves forward, many will continue to live with and be adversely impacted by COVID-19. Therefore, we should be mindful and sensitive to the concerns and needs of all Marylanders in the coming months,” they said.

Anne Arundel County already had ended the requirement. Howard County has decided to make masks optional in schools on Tuesday. Frederick County also decided this week to lift the mask mandate.

The panel of lawmakers voted to rescind the emergency order after hearing testimony from angry and frustrated parents.

“This year’s Super Bowl brought a capacity crowd of more than 70,000 people to the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. The stadium was full of people eating, drinking, screaming, hugging, without masks on. Yet, our children in Maryland had to go to school the following day masked,” said Heather Fletcher.

Some spoke in support of masks. Jennifer Weiner has two children in school in Carroll County, as well as a 4-year-old daughter who sat on her lap as she testified. She said while everyone is tired of COVID-19, children under 5 can’t be vaccinated yet, and her daughter wears a mask to kindergarten with no issues.

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“In January, you all voted to keep this regulation with some very reasonable off-ramps,” Weiner said. “Several counties in Maryland have already met those off-ramps. They’re clearly not unattainable.”

Separately on Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines saying most Americans live in places where healthy people, including students in schools, can safely take a break from wearing masks. The CDC said more than 70% of the U.S. population lives in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. The agency is still advising that people, including schoolchildren, wear masks where the risk of COVID-19 is high.