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County takes steps to tighten guidelines as coronavirus cases increase –

by Judith Hruz


The county is preparing to tighten some guidelines in light of the increase in the number of cases of COVID-19.

The County Council on Nov. 10 was expected to vote on an order submitted by County Executive Marc Elrich making changes to a previous executive order. That vote came after press time.

The council, sitting as the Board of Health, was scheduled to introduce and hear public comments on Executive Order 122-20, which changes some guidelines, but postponed that decision.

Health officials were not pleased with the delay.

“It will take two weeks to see any benefits at all,” said Dr. Earl Stoddard, director of the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

One change that was expected to go into effect on Nov. 6 was suspending late-night alcohol sales — sales between 10 p.m. and midnight.

Late-night sales of alcohol in food service establishments were suspended several months ago because it had become evident that patrons were less likely to follow guidelines of wearing masks and staying six feet apart from others the later it became.

On Oct. 1, the establishments were allowed to return to selling alcohol after 10 p.m. if they pledged to make patrons follow the guidelines and requested and received a permit.

At that time, the program would be automatically suspended if: the county’s three-day test positivity average exceeds 3.25 percent; the three-day average of confirmed COVID-19 cases exceeds 100; there is an increased association of indoor and outdoor dining with COVID-19 positive contacts of greater than 3 percent combined; or more than 10 percent of inspected participants result in findings that warrant a citation, closure or revocation of a permit.

On Nov. 4, Stoddard said several conditions have been met.

The county’s was averaging well over 100 new cases a day for several weeks, including 163 on Nov. 2 and 165 on Oct. 26, and reported a 13.5 seven-day average of cases per 100,000 people on Nov. 6.

The October case count was 3,415, the highest it has been since May – before the county began reopening.

“If this were May and June and we were making decision on whether to open, we would not open,” Elrich said in late October.

Among changes and clarifications, the proposed changes to the public health order:

Maintains existing child care capacity limits for child care providers in Montgomery County, instead of following the state to 100 percent child care capacity;

Limits gatherings to 25 people and allows indoor food service, retail, personal services and other activities to continue at 25 percent occupancy;

Allows outdoor ice rinks to open with a letter of approval from the county and allows escape rooms to open with only six people per room or game; and

Adds language requiring the collection of information to assist with contact tracing.


Officials urge community to remain vigilant


For weeks, Elrich, Stoddard and Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles have been warning residents that unless the number of cases begins to decline, measures would have to be taken to protect the community.

There is “no doubt this is not an anomaly anymore,” Elrich said.

Elrich and Gayles have been urging the community to continue wearing masks, keeping a distance from other people and washing their hands.

Elrich said six feet of distance is “no longer sufficient.”

“It is every more important to avoid social gatherings, he said, adding, “people really need to think about this as we go through the holiday season.”

Elrich, Gayles and Stoddard have said that results from contact tracing have listed family gatherings, indoor and outdoor dining, and houses of worship as places where those who test positive say they might have contracted the virus.

In response to the nationwide COVID-19 surge and rising positivity rates, case rates and hospitalizations in Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan on Nov. 5 urged Marylanders to follow all public health protocols.

“I cannot stress strongly enough that we cannot afford to let our guard down,” he said. “The weeks and months ahead will be difficult, and our collective actions will determine whether we can continue safely on the road to recovery.”

He added, “Just wear the damn masks.”


    The County Council was expected to meet virtually Nov. 10.  Council staff reports and additional information on items scheduled for council review can be viewed at http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/COUNCIL/ondemand/index.html.

    For detailed information on the county’s coronavirus data, visit www.montgomerycountymd.gov.


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