The Maryland State Board of Education moved a lot faster than expected this week outlining the “off ramp” options for school systems hoping to go mask optional. Though the speed of the process was surprising, the emergency resolution still requires legislative approval. The mask mandate remains in effect until February or until the legislative committee approves the school board’s new resolution.
The timing of when the resolution takes effort seems inconsequential currently because no school system in the state can meet the thresholds outlined in the state’s “off ramp” mask plan. What the board approved as the metrics to meet is out of reach for most school systems anytime soon, especially with upticks in positivity a certainty through the holidays.
Under the plan approved by the state school board this week, school systems across Maryland can return to mask optional when one of three benchmarks are met – individual schools have an 80% vaccination rate; countywide vaccination rate of 80% or higher; and county transmission rates per the CDC classified as low or moderate. It seems to me the only indicator within reach for Worcester County is the countywide vaccination goal of 80% (currently we stand at 74%).
The individual school’s vaccination rate goal is problematic for several reasons, including strong beliefs from some adults against vaccination and a certain hesitancy to get young kids the shot immediately. The transmission rate is a bad option because it could lead to a seesaw situation. It’s unfair to flipflop on masking dependent on the transmission rate, which could fluctuate greatly. For a month, the rate could be moderate followed by a month of high transmission. Additionally, and along the same lines, it would be wrong of school systems to allow certain schools, such as a high school meeting the vaccination mark, to go mask optional while an elementary school a few miles away must still sport masks because it doesn’t hit 80%.
I look at the state school board’s move this week as progress, although it’s not going to immediately result in scaling back the mask mandate. It’s a roadmap for school systems to target over the coming months. My crystal ball tells me masks could become optional in Worcester County sometime in the early spring.
Next year is an election year in Maryland. The big race to watch will be for governor, as incumbent Larry Hogan completes his second, four-year term. There are numerous candidates in the race already including two household Democratic names — Comptroller Peter Franchot and former Attorney General Doug Gansler.
On the local front, it was interesting to note there were two filings yesterday in different Worcester County Commissioner districts. Three-term Commissioner Jim Bunting is seeking re-election in District 6. In District 3, where long-time Commissioner Bud Church is not seeking re-election, former Berlin Councilman Thom Gulyas has filed. Gulyas served six years in Berlin before stepping down last September mid-term since he was moving out of town limits. It was known Gulyas, a Republican, would seek a commissioner seat, following in the footsteps of his mom, Louise, who represented Ocean City for 16 years in Snow Hill. This is going to be a fun district to watch as it’s expected to feature several more filings in the coming months. Several well-known names with political experience are rumored to be mulling runs.
There was some good news and bad news for the offshore fishing industry this week.
NOAA has implemented a two-year retention ban on North Atlantic shortfin mako shark after classifying it as “overfished.” “The United States looks forward to advancing additional conservation measures through future ICCAT negotiations to further reduce total fishing mortality and fully rebuild this stock,” said Alexa Cole, U.S. Commissioner to International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) and Director of NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection Cole. “The use of modified fishing gear, including circle hooks to reduce bycatch mortality, is an important element we will want to discuss further in ICCAT. These measures will immediately reduce fishing pressure across the North Atlantic and support the rebuilding process of North Atlantic shortfin mako shark, a key U.S. priority going into the meeting.”
On the flip side, offshore boats will be happy to hear the (ICCAT) adopted a measure allowing a quota increase for bluefish tuna. Details will be announced in the coming months as far as new boat limits.
The novelty of watching jets fly over the ocean from the beach will likely never wane for any of us, but there should be some mild concern among Ocean City officials this week. Next summer’s OC Air Show will be the third straight year of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds headlining the event. It was announced this week the Thunderbirds will headline in 2023 as well. There are lots of rumors circulating, but clearly there is an issue between the event and the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels team. It’s unlikely either side will ever acknowledge a rift, but something clearly is awry because there were many years of alternating performances between the top two jet demonstrations teams in our country. The Blue Angels last performed in Ocean City in 2019.