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Maryland's most-populous county tightens mask mandate, limits indoor gatherings

Maryland's most-populous county tightens mask mandate, limits indoor gatherings
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Maryland's most populous county on Tuesday tightened a mandate ordering mask usage in public and further restricted indoor gatherings in response to an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Masks will now be required outdoors, regardless of distance and separation between individuals, in Montgomery County, just outside of Washington, D.C. Previously, they were mandated in public when 6 feet of separation was not possible.

The county's top health official, Travis Gayles, also said in a directive issued by the Department of Health and Human Services that face coverings with a valve or face shields are not sufficient. 

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Indoor gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence are prohibited in the county effective at 5 p.m., Gayles added.

Restrictions on businesses, which are limited to 25 people indoors, will be unchanged. Outdoor gatherings will also remain capped at 25 people.

The move comes just before some families will gather for Thanksgiving celebrations on Thursday, and as Montgomery County's top health official warns that small gatherings are potential catalysts for spreading the coronavirus, WTOP News reported.

"Contact tracing data indicates that family and group gatherings are where a significant number of the state's cases are occurring," Gales said in a statement, according to the radio station.

The county health department noted that COVID-19 cases have risen in recent weeks, with more than 2,000 infections recorded in the past seven days.