ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan is lifting more COVID restrictions on restaurants, bars, sporting events and entertainment venues. But Hogan is keeping the state’s indoor mask mandate in place, even for vaccinated persons, as health agencies face slowing demand for coronavirus vaccines. A number of states have been easing mask mandates as COVID numbers improve in the U.S.
Hogan said indoor mask mandate would be lifted when 70% of Marylanders receive at least one COVID shot. Currently, 65% of residents in the state have received one or more vaccine shots.
“That’s the only way to get rid of the masks,” Hogan said. The governor hopes the state will hit its threshold to lift the mask mandate by Memorial Day.
The governor, who previously eased outdoor mask rules, has also lifted more pandemic restrictions on restaurants, bars, sporting events and venues.Capacity and distancing restrictions will be lifted effective May 15.
Health officials on the Shore and other parts of the state are seeing declines in demand for vaccine. Locally, that is resulting in more supplies and than demand, said Talbot County Health Officer Dr. Maria Maguire.
Vaccine hesitancy and resistance remains among some communities ranging from African Americans and Latinos to Trump supporters.
Charles Gischlar, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health, said the state is looking at adjusting hours at vaccination sites in order to best meet demand.
“We have reached a point where every eligible adult who wants a vaccine can get one. More than 65% of adult Marylanders have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. More than five million shots have been administered in Maryland,” Gischlar said in a statement. “The department is adjusting hours at several of the state’s mass vaccination sites to ensure that we are meeting the vaccine demands of Marylanders, while also adjusting to accommodate adolescents aged 12 to 15. As we adjust and gradually reduce operations at the state’s mass vaccination sites, vaccines will be widely available and will continue to be offered at physicians offices, local health departments and hospitals.”
Hogan and state health officials continued to press more Marylanders to get COVID vaccinations.
Coronavirus vaccines are available at 665 pharmacies and 271 doctors offices statewide, the governor said. “It has never been easier to find and get a vaccine,” Hogan said.
He also said hitting the 70% vaccine threshold is key to the state’s reopening.
“Here in Maryland, our plan is to get everything back to normal by Memorial Day,” Hogan said. “We are making amazing progress toward that goal. But once again, the fastest way to get rid of our damn masks and to put this pandemic behind us once and for all is for every single eligible Marylander to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.”
The lifting of social distancing rules will help bars and restaurants serve more customers. Hogan said sports and other venues can decide for themselves how much capacity they will allow. The cruise terminal at the Port of Baltimore will also be reopening, Hogan said.
The state will also offer COVID vaccines to minors age 12 to 15. The Republican governor is also reinstating work search requirements for those receiving unemployment insurance.
That move comes after a weak April jobs report and as employers struggle to find workers — with some blaming extended and expanded unemployment benefits. Many workers lost jobs and hours because of the pandemic. Others left the workforce because of schools being closed and child care situations.
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