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Vaccines offer hope, but county remains diligent in slowing coronavirus

by Judith Hruz


County officials said the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine gives hope that the pandemic will one day end, but reminded that it will be months before everyone is inoculated, so the community and its leaders must continue to take precautions to slow the increasing spread of the virus.

County Executive Marc Elrich said the pandemic has created difficult situations fraught with difficult choices, but that “we made the decision early on that we would do everything we can to protect people.”

Indoor dining is not allowed in Montgomery County and the number of people allowed in retail establishments is reduced as part of Elrich’s efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The Montgomery County Council on Dec. 15 approved Elrich’s latest Executive Order that suspends indoor dining, reduces indoor sports gatherings to no more than 10 people and reduces the maximum capacity of retail establishments.

The new restrictions went into effect at 5 p.m. that day.

“This was extremely difficult for me and the council,” Elrich said.

The Maryland Restaurants Association on Dec. 18 announced that it filed an injunction to halt executive orders banning indoor and outdoor dining in the City of Baltimore and banning indoor dining in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Judges in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties upheld the temporary ban on indoor dining in each county.

Since the lawsuit was filed, Elrich has said he cannot comment specifically about the case.

In early December, Elrich joined the leaders of the seven other largest jurisdictions in the state – Prince George’s, Baltimore, Harford, Anne Arundel, Howard and Frederick counties and Baltimore City – to express solidarity over the need to take action to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Elrich said the united front was designed “to emphasize importance of doing something” about the rising numbers, stressing the word “something.”

The mayor of Baltimore and the county executives of the other counties took actions, most of which included closing indoor dining, in the days surrounding the Dec. 8 meeting.

For many weeks, Elrich and county health officials have urged county residents to take precautions to combat the rising numbers of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and masks.

They have urged residents to wear masks, wash hands frequently, stay socially distant and refrain from gathering, even with family and friends.

Officials also advised not traveling or holding large gatherings during the holidays.

Contact tracing has shown that gatherings of family and friends have been a leading cause of the spread of COVID-19.

At press time Dec. 29, the seven-day average was 37.9 cases per 100,000 residents.

The test positivity rate, meaning the percentage of tests that return positive for COVID-19 of all tests administered, was 7.2.

County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said the county will remain transparent as more vaccines arrive and information becomes available on how they will be distributed.

During the weekly media briefing on Dec. 29, Gayles said he had the vaccine on Dec. 23, “and I feel fine.”

The first round of COVID-19 vaccine doses, manufactured by Moderna, arrived in Montgomery County on Dec. 23 at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

The initial shipment is earmarked for county health staff engaged in managing the pandemic response.

The first group to receive the vaccine in Montgomery County is the core team of public health clinicians who will become responsible for vaccinating residents across the county when additional vaccine arrives.

Montgomery County is following the priority designations outlined by Gov. Larry Hogan and that all Maryland counties will follow:

1A: Frontline health care workers, staff and residents of nursing homes, and first responders

1B: Essential workers and residents over the age 75

1C: Individuals over the age of 65

The process for identifying the order by which all recipients within Priority Group 1A will be vaccinated will be determined by the quantity of vaccine the county receives and when it arrives, county officials said.

The second priority group includes people in critical, essential infrastructure roles as well as those people at moderately higher risk of severe illness.

The general public will have the chance to be vaccinated when the initial priority groups have been vaccinated.

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