Maryland tightens mask requirement, issues travel advisory for hot spot states

Maryland tightens mask requirement, issues travel advisory for hot spot states
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Maryland is tightening its face mask requirement, and will begin requiring people to wear masks outdoors when in public in an effort to prevent a spike in coronavirus cases, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced Wednesday.

Beginning July 31, Hogan said the state's mask order will be expanded to anyone who is outdoors and unable to consistently be at least six feet away from others.

It will also include restaurants, houses of worship, gyms, casinos, stores and office buildings. 

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Like the current order requiring masks to be worn in stores and on public transit, the expanded order will be enforced by the police, and violation is considered a misdemeanor, subject to a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to a year in prison. 

Individual counties in the state have been free to impose stricter requirements, and many already have. 

Hogan said the move was “fact-based, apolitical and solidly grounded in science. While it can be an inconvenience, especially in the heat, wearing a mask is the single best mitigation strategy that we have to fight the virus.”

Hogan also issued a travel advisory, telling Maryland residents not to travel to states where the positivity rate is greater than 10 percent. Unlike neighboring Washington, D.C., however, Hogan is not issuing a quarantine order for people who travel to those hard-hit areas.

States currently in the advisory include Florida, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina, Nebraska and Idaho.

Hogan advised anyone who travels to those states to get a coronavirus test and to quarantine until the results are back. 

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Hogan's announcement comes as the rate of positive COVID-19 tests has ticked up recently. 

It has remained below 5 percent for over a month according to the state's calculation, but Hogan described the current situation as a "fork in the road." 

"We can either continue making progress and continue heading in the right direction, or ignore the warnings and spike back up like much of the rest of the country," he said. 

Officials said the seven-day average positivity rate was 4.77 percent, while the daily rate for Wednesday was 5.85 percent.

According to Johns Hopkins University, which uses a different measurement, the seven-day average positivity rate is 5.8 percent.

Hospitalizations have increased in recent weeks as well. After hitting a low of 386 patients two weeks ago, there were 571 patients reported in the hospital on Wednesday, with 126 in intensive care.

"We are concerned and we're closely monitoring hospitalizations. We have seen a 28 percent increase over the past two weeks," Hogan said.

Hogan said the Trump administration on Tuesday identified 21 “Red Zone” states, and that Maryland was not one of them. He urged residents to continue to wear masks and not to get complacent.

"We’ve come too far together to lose the progress that we’ve made on the road to health and economic recovery,” he said.

Hogan said contact tracing data shows the top activity of those who have tested positive recently was attending family gatherings. The next highest on the list was house parties.

Bars and restaurants, on the other hand, "don't appear to be a main part of the issue," Hogan said, noting that there are still capacity restrictions in place, and customers must be seated for table service only.