Councilmembers Discuss Proposed Vaccine Passport

On Tuesday, Montgomery County councilmembers and health officials discussed a proposed COVID-19 vaccine “passport,” a proof of vaccine requirement for people to gain entry into certain indoor establishments, with religious and medical exemptions. 

A council worksession and public hearing is scheduled for  Tuesday, Jan. 18. If the measure eventually passes, effective Jan. 21 proof of at least one COVID-19 dose would be required for those ages 12 and older who want to enter restaurants, bars, fitness centers, movie theaters and some other facilities, according to the drafted Board of Health regulation. Then effective Feb. 15, proof of full vaccination — which excludes boosters — would be required for patrons 12 and older. 

Finally, starting March 1, proof of full vaccination would be required for patrons as young as 5-years-old and one month. Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Dr. Earl Stoddard previously shared that county administration would propose a vaccine passport similar to the one that will be enforced in Washington, D.C. beginning Jan. 15. 

Councilmember Hans Riemer urged leaders to stop using the word “passport” when discussing the measure.

“Your average person hears the word ‘passport’ and they think that there’s some new document, or maybe there’s some new app, and there is not,” he said. “This proposal is that you would show your card or a photo of your card. You don’t have to become expert in some new technology.”

Riemer expressed concern about businesses potentially having to deal with people claiming exemptions. Councilmember Sidney Katz shared those concerns. 

“As much as everybody wants everything to be as safe as we can possibly have it, are we being as safe for that person standing there who says you can or can’t come into this business today?” Katz wondered. 

Stoddard said if the council (sitting as the Board of Health) passes the measure, a parallel set of guidelines would be developed that would clarify what counts toward a medical or religious exemption and what potential accommodation could be made at establishments.  

Those who enter the designated establishments for a “quick and limited purpose,” like picking up takeout from a restaurant, are also exempt from proving vaccination status, according to the resolution. 

Some facilities would be exempt from the vaccine requirement, like hospitals, grocery stores, big box stores, libraries and houses of worship. Officials want to make sure everyone can continue to access essential county services, explained Office of the County Attorney Division Chief Silvia Kinch.

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