Maryland officials will not impose a new mask mandate or order businesses to close as the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus causes yet another wave of infections, Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday.
Vaccines, not government health mandates, are the key to fighting the highly contagious variant, he said.
“Mask mandates and shutdowns will not be able to eradicate the threat of the virus, of this delta variant,” Hogan said at a news conference in Annapolis.
“The purpose of those mitigation measures last year, when there was no vaccine … was to save lives and to keep hospitals from overflowing,” Hogan said.
Hogan on Thursday also announced that state employees who work in congregate settings will be required to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as of Sept. 1.
The requirement includes some employees of the Maryland Department of Health, the Department of Juvenile Services, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Hogan said.
State workers who do not provide proof of vaccination will be required to follow rigorous masking and testing rules.
Hogan also urged the private operators of Maryland’s 227 nursing homes to institute similar vaccination requirements for employees.
The news conference also addressed the delta variant, a more contagious version of the COVID-19 virus that now accounts for nearly 100% of new COVID-19 cases in Maryland.
Maryland has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the nation, with nearly 80% of adults at least partially vaccinated, but it has not been immune to a surge in cases caused by the delta variant.
Still, Hogan and state health officials said the state’s health metrics remain far better than during the worst days of the pandemic, and that the vast majority of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people.
While some vaccinated people have tested positive for COVID-19, the number of “breakthrough cases” remains small and people who are vaccinated are much less likely to become seriously ill, the officials said.
Hogan once again urged Marylanders who have not yet gotten vaccinated to get the shot.
“You are the ones threatening the freedoms of all of us, the freedom not to wear masks, to keep our businesses open and to get our kids in school,” Hogan said.
Hogan’s news conference Thursday arrived nearly at the same time as an announcement from Baltimore City officials that the city will require masks indoors starting Monday, making it the first jurisdiction in the state to do so.
Madeleine O’Neill covers the Maryland State House and state issues for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @maddioneill.