BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Following the expiration of the county’s mask mandate, Anne Arundel County officials on Tuesday said COVID-19 health metrics are improving but cautioned residents to remain vigilant.

As of Tuesday, hospitalizations in the county are down to 77 patients, after peaking at 284 on Jan. 11, and the positivity rate is down to 10.23%, according to data from the Anne Arundel County Department of Health.

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While hospitals and medical centers are recovering from the Omicron-driven surge in cases, County Executive Steuart Pittman said 109 residents died from the virus in the month of January.

Anne Arundel County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman said 28 of those deaths came in the last week.

“The mask mandate that we put in effect ended yesterday, but we continue to have high rates,” said Pittman. “We continue to follow CDC recommendations and encourage people to wear masks when they cannot social distance, especially indoors and public places.”

A mask mandate remains in effect inside county government buildings, as is the case with state government buildings, including those in Annapolis.

Two business owners sued the county in January to block the mandate, but circuit court judge ruled against a request for a preliminary injunction six days before the measure was set to expire.

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Speaking on Jan. 18, Pittman and Kalyanaraman defended the policy, saying it was helping hospitals catch up with a sharp increase in patients.

“That’s exactly what we wanted to see with the mask mandate,” said Kalyanaraman. “It’s exactly what is needed to decrease the spread and give our hospitals a chance to catch up to provide care to folks who need it.”

The county health officer on Jan. 7 issued a public safety order reinstating a mask mandate hours after the county council voted not to renew the policy.

Speaking Tuesday, Kalyanaraman encouraged residents to continue masking and to get vaccinated or boosted if they haven’t already. He also urged parents to get their children immunized, saying shots for children between ages 5 to 11 have “stalled out” below 50%.

“I think the bottom line is that we’re doing better, but we’re not quite there yet,” he said.

Most county-run clinics can offer any COVID-19 vaccine shot at any time, Kalyanaraman said, and the county is distributing N95 and KN95 masks at libraries and other local organizations.

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He also advised residents to get their flu shot, saying hospitals are seeing an increase in cases as the number of COVID patients has declined.

CBS Baltimore Staff