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by Judith Hruz
County Executive Marc Elrich would like the state and other jurisdictions in the region to work together to fight the rising cases of COVID-19, but he is willing to move forward alone with tighter restrictions if it means saving lives.
He does not mean closing down everything, he said during his weekly media briefing on Dec. 2, but he “will not wait much longer” to take a more measured approach to stemming the spread of the coronavirus.
“I will do whatever I can to protect the people of Montgomery County,” Elrich said, whether that means working alone or working with other jurisdictions.
He reiterated the challenge of balancing saving human lives and saving businesses and the economy.
Elrich and County Health Officer Travis Gayles said they wished Gov. Larry Hogan — who held a press conference Dec. 1 to discuss the need for more medical workers and, soon, hospital beds if cases continue to surge — would have addressed keeping people from being exposed and getting sick to make sure hospital beds do not fill up.
Gayles said it is “important to do everything we can to keep people safe so they don’t have to use the hospitals.”
Because it will be months before vaccines are widely available, only people can stop the spread of the virus.
“We cannot stop our fight or let our guard down,” Elrich said.
Dec. 2 marked the 30th consecutive day with 1,000 or more cases reported in Maryland.
In Montgomery County, 234 cases were reported on Dec. 2; however, 505 were reported the previous day.
The test positivity rate in Montgomery was 5.6 percent and there were 31 cases per 100,000 on Dec. 2. Those numbers were up from the previous week, when the positivity rate was 4.7 percent and there were 27.9 per 100,000.
Gayles tightens some guidelines
Amid the skyrocketing numbers of COVID-19 cases, Gayles in late November limited indoor gatherings to 10 people and required face masks to be worn at all times outdoors and also indoors in public facilities.
When residents leave their homes, they are required to wear a face covering when they are likely to come in contact with others who are not members of their household.
As a precaution, residents are advised to always carry a face covering with them in case they unexpectedly come in close contact with others.
The new requirements went into effective Nov. 24.
“This is serious business,” Gayles said during the county leaders’ weekly media briefing on Nov. 25. “If I’m … sounding concerned, it’s because we are.”
With the new mandates, Montgomery County joined other counties in the state, including nearby Prince George’s and Howard, that have reduced gatherings to 10 people or less.
County officials are urging residents to stay home and limit social gatherings, including gatherings with family members.
According to state contact tracing data, gatherings are a major source of COVID-19 transmissions.
“This is a very serious time in our battle with COVID,” Elrich said.
“The number of cases in our county and around the state continue to be alarming,” he added.
Montgomery County has had had more than 30,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nearly 900 deaths, the county reported.
The new provision does not apply to businesses, establishments and facilities that are permitted to operate as outlined in Executive Order 122-20, which permits up to 25 percent occupancy or 25 people, whichever is lower.
Outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people continue to be prohibited.
“Contact tracing data indicates that family and group gatherings are where a significant number of the state’s cases are occurring,” Gayles said. “It is extremely important that each of us thinks about our collective responsibility to help slow down the spread of COVID-19. The cases counts are continuing to rise at an alarming rate, and we need to take more drastic steps to reduce transmission.”
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