BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Anne Arundel County will follow the state government’s lead and drop its mask mandate in county buildings and facilities starting Feb. 22, County Executive Steuart Pittman said Tuesday.

According to the latest data from the county health department, the number of residents hospitalized with COVID-19 dropped by six patients, to 33, and the positivity rate is down to 5.15%.

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“We’re in a much better place. We’re where we were before this surge, which doesn’t mean there won’t be another surge,” Pittman said. “We have to continue to get everybody vaccinated and stay vigilant.”

In a news release, Pittman said dropping masks at the same time as the state government “will help ease confusion about where masks are required.”

On Monday, Gov. Larry Hogan announced masks will no longer be required for employees and visitors in state government buildings starting on Feb. 22.

“Given the dramatic declines in our health metrics, we are now able to take another step toward normalcy in state operations,” Hogan said.

Baltimore County soon followed suit, with County Executive Johnny Olszewski saying masks will no longer be required in government buildings and facilities by the end of the month.

The president of AFSCME Council 3, a union representing 30,000 state government employees and workers in local universities, said Hogan’s decision was “based on polls and not public health” and called on the governor to reverse course.

“The decision to rescind this masking requirement is based on little scientific evidence and makes no sense,” said Patrick Moran. “Just like the Federal Government mandates people wear seatbelts, even if some people don’t like them, the Governor should continue to require masking in State facilities.”

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Pittman encouraged county employees to continue masking if that makes them feel comfortable, adding anyone who’s unvaccinated should wear a face covering in accordance with CDC guidelines.

The county executive said he would wear a mask on a case-by-case basis, noting he had one on during a weekend trip to the grocery store. A little over half the other customers were still masking, he said.

Knowing that most of his staff is vaccinated and boosted, Pittman said he would probably not mask in small meetings.

“But if anybody in that group feels uncomfortable with that, I’ll put one on,” he said. “I’ll always have one in my pocket.”

Anne Arundel County recently surpassed 1,000 deaths from the virus since the start of the pandemic.

Pittman is scheduled to host a vigil on Wednesday, Feb. 16 at 5:30pm at The People’s Park to mark the grim milestone.

Some county residents who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 think not enough attention is being paid to the deaths in local communities, Pittman said.

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“I believe that we’ve become a little bit numb to the loss of life, and it’s not numb when it’s somebody close to you,” he said.

CBS Baltimore Staff