Baltimore becomes latest US location requiring masks indoors

BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore will become the latest U.S. city to return to indoor mask mandates as COVID-19 infection numbers rise, city leaders announced Thursday.

Mayor Brandon Scott said indoor masking regulations will take effect Monday morning, giving businesses and citizens a few days to adjust. The indoor mask rules are mandated for everyone, regardless of vaccination status.

The city’s health order came as the percentage of new COVID-19 cases has increased a whopping 374% over the past month, according to city Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa. As is the case across the nation, the delta variant is propelling those infections. It’s the most contagious coronavirus mutant so far in the pandemic, but COVID-19 vaccines still provide strong protection against it.

Dzirasa urged those who have not yet been vaccinated to do so urgently to protect their loved ones, including youngsters who are not authorized to receive the vaccines.

“I’m speaking to you not just as the health commissioner but as a mother of a child that is too young to be vaccinated. We have the ability to slow the spread of COVID-19 and the actions we all take collectively will protect the most vulnerable among us,” Dzirasa said at a news conference with the mayor.

The announcement in Maryland’s biggest city comes more than a week after guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encouraged vaccinated people to wear masks indoors in areas classified as having “substantial community transmission” levels.

In May, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people didn’t need to mask up in most settings. But their guidance changed in the face of rising COVID-19 infection numbers.

The change was based on research suggesting that while vaccinated people who get infected with the delta variant aren’t likely to become seriously ill, they can very easily pass the virus on to others. The new guidance helps protect the unvaccinated, including children who aren’t yet eligible for the shots, and others who are at high risk for serious illness if infected.

Nearby Washington, D.C., returned to mandatory indoor mask requirements last week. Before that, Los Angeles, San Francisco and various California counties imposed masking rules. On Monday, Louisiana reinstated a mask mandate in all indoor locations as that state experiences the highest per capita COVID-19 growth in the nation.

In Baltimore, the announcement about a return to mandatory masking was met with resignation by some. At a clothing shop across from the city’s Inner Harbor, Luis Medina said he understood the reasoning by city leaders and public health officials but couldn’t understand how they expected to enforce it.

“I wear a mask and I’m fully vaccinated. But I can’t kick people out of my business if they don’t want to wear masks,” Medina said. “I’m running a business. The customers are paying me, not the city.”

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