February 28, 2022
Montgomery County's Office of Public Health announced an update to their masking guidelines on Monday, stating that masks will no longer be required indoors.
The decision follows new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as a rapid decline in new COVID-19 cases and high rates of vaccination. Nearly 100% of County residents over the age of 65 are vaccinated, and 95.4% of those ages 5 and older are.
Health officials revised the current masking recommendations to align with the new guidelines developed by the CDC.
"We have looked at the scientific data behind (the CDC's guidance) and find that it really makes sense at this point in the pandemic to do a few things," said Dr. Richard Lorraine, medical director at the Montgomery County Office of Public Health. "To change the criteria that we're using to determine the burden on the community and since that burden seems to be going down quite a bit, we're looking at easing some of our mitigation strategies."
The CDC's updated framework shifts from four levels to three, putting the emphasis on hospitalizations rather than case counts to reflect the progression of the pandemic.
Released on Friday, the new guidance puts more than 70% of Americans within a low or medium threat of community transmission, meaning that the agency no longer recommends masking.
The Montgomery County Office of Public Health notes that the new guidance puts the County at a medium level of transmission.
As a result, masks are no longer required indoors for people who are healthy and not caring for someone who is at a higher risk of COVID-19 infection.
"We're looking to a few different parameters to determine where we're at and these parameters do a good job at predicting the demand on our health care system than the previous ones did," Lorraine added.
The new guidance also includes schools. Lower Merion School District Superintendent Khalid Mumin wrote a letter to parents with the announcement on Monday. However, masks will still be required on school buses and other forms of public transit, in accordance with federal laws.
.@MontcoHealthPA announced today it will update its school and public masking recommendations to align with new CDC guidance for COVID-19 given the County’s high vaccination rates.— Montgomery County, PA (@MontcoPA) February 28, 2022
Updated guidance documents will be released this week.
Read more: https://t.co/1zlvkaSAPL pic.twitter.com/THZB3OxamP
Those at a high risk of contracting COVID-19, or those who are caregivers for more vulnerable individuals, should contact their medical provider for guidance on masking as the County lifts its requirements.
Visitors and staff at Montgomery County government buildings — including the County Courthouse — are no longer required to be masked.
The Office of Public Health still recommends vaccination as the most effective method of mitigation against COVID-19. Appointments can be made through the national vaccine database, or at one of four Montgomery County vaccine clinics.
On Feb. 13, suburban high schools and regional Catholic elementary schools in Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware, and Chester Counties that are operated by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia officially went mask-optional.
Officials with the Archdiocese said that this is a hopeful trend to transition back into a more "traditional" learning environment for many students.
In nearby Philadelphia, city officials lifted the indoor vaccine mandate for dining, but have not yet lifted the city's masking requirements. Philadelphia's new framework for easing restrictions went into effect on Feb. 16, and includes a four-level plan incorporating positivity rates, new cases, hospitalizations, and transmission trends in the decision-making process.
This story will be updated.