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by Timothy Dashiell and Fern Shen4:26 pmAug 5, 20210

Scott brings back Baltimore’s indoor mask mandate amid Covid case spike

With residents under “substantial” risk of transmission, face coverings will be required inside stores, restaurants and other indoor spaces, starting Monday

Above: Baltimore’s Covid-19 Dashboard shows a rise in new cases (light blue) and seven-day average (dark blue). (https://coronavirus.baltimorecity.gov/)

Just hours before Mayor Brandon Scott announced he is reimposing an indoor masking requirement for Baltimore – and renewed the call for people to get vaccinated to help combat a sharp rise in cases – a group of people stood outside a northwest Baltimore vaccine clinic.

Many, though not all, wore masks.

Several, like Lincoln Brook, said news of the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus had convinced them to mask up and finally get the shot.

“Honestly, this variant is messing with my my head. If a vaccine protects me, then shoot, I’ll get it,” Brook said, as he waited with others outside Forest Park High School where the Health Department was providing free Pfizer shots.

Others, like Dakari Simpson, said the vaccine argument didn’t convince him until he saw what happened with an uncle who got the shot (and experienced some mild symptoms) and an unvaccinated aunt who got Covid and “was sick for a month and a half, damn near.”

“I’m gonna just stick to wearing my mask because that’s gotten me this far”  – Tony Waterman.

Still others walked by – maskless and skeptical – some saying breakthrough cases (the relatively small number of vaccinated people who have been infected) made them doubt the effectiveness of the vaccine.

“If vaccinated people are still testing positive, then why the hell do I need it?” Huey Macey remarked, bypassing the clinic.

Others indicated that, while they are still shunning the shots, they have at least embraced face covering.

“It’s been a year and I haven’t gotten Covid, so I’m gonna just stick to wearing my mask because that’s gotten me this far,” Tony Waterman said.

“I don’t need to put no poison in my body just yet.”

Cases Spike 374%

Their remarks illustrate the challenge for Scott as he brings back indoor masking in Baltimore, the first Maryland jurisdiction to do so as Covid cases re-surge locally and nationally.

In some parts of the city, as many as 70% of residents remain unvaccinated, officials recently said, bemoaning the persistence of misinformation about the vaccine and the virus.

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At a news conference today, Scott noted that, unlike the elected leaders of some other jurisdictions, he has the power under the city’s charter to reinstate the mask mandate without a state-issued state of emergency.

The hospitality industry and other business interests had bristled at the city’s initial masking requirement, which was maintained longer than other jurisdictions before being lifted on July 1.

Officials today said the recent spike in cases compelled them to bring it back.

They reported that new cases increased more than 374% compared to four weeks ago and that positivity, which now stands at 1.7%, has seen a similar rise over the past month.

Statewide, the resurgence has increased the number of serious Covid cases, with 325 people currently being treated for the virus in Maryland hospitals.

“Given the data, we must act in an attempt to address the surge of new cases,” Baltimore Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa said today.

She noted that the rate of community transmission in Baltimore – over 50 new cases per 100,000 residents – places residents in the “substantial risk” category, as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (This was based on seven-day average of July 27-August 2.)

“If you are outside your home – whether vaccinated or unvaccinated – you must wear a mask indoors”  – Letitia Dzirasa, Health Commissioner.

Dzirasa warned the public that everyone will be required to follow the new masking mandate, which takes effect on Monday, August 9, at 9 a.m.

“If you are outside your home – whether vaccinated or unvaccinated – you must wear a mask indoors to protect yourself and others,” she said.

As for the effectiveness of the vaccine, Dzirasa had this message for doubters: Covid shots “reduce the risk of severe injury or death from Covid by 10-fold or greater, and they reduce the risk of infection by three-fold.”

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