Elrich Issues Order to Reinstate COVID-19 Restrictions: ‘This is Something We Just Have to Do’

Updated Post (Nov. 5): The Montgomery County Council said it will not vote on Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich’s executive order to reinstate some COVID-19 restrictions until next week. The changes will not go into effect Friday at 5 p.m.

Original Post (Nov. 4): Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said it is time to reinstate some COVID-19 restrictions.

“We’ve looked at the data and determined we need to put some additional restrictions back in place. And we’re hoping that this will reduce the spread of the virus,” Elrich said at a media briefing Wednesday.

Elrich said he sent an executive order with the following changes to the county council for approval:

  • Reduce gathering size limit from 50 to 25 people
  • Reduce capacity to 25% in: fitness centers, food establishments, museums/art galleries, retail establishments and religious facilities
  • Reduce capacity to 25% or 25 people, whichever is lower, for bowling alleys and personal services
  • Require restaurants to collect contact information from customers to help with contact tracing

The order goes into effect Friday at 5 p.m. if the council approves it. Members are expected to review it at a meeting Thursday and thus far, the council has approved COVID-19 county executive orders.

The county’s Late-Night Alcohol Sales Program will also be suspended, Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director Dr. Earl Stoddard said at the briefing. The program allows food establishments to apply to sell alcohol for on-premise consumption past the 10 p.m. deadline until midnight, if they meet certain safety requirements.

Stoddard said a second requirement for the program’s suspension has been met: the 3-day COVID-19 test positivity average exceeded 3.25%.

One requirement has already been met many times since October. The three-day new coronavirus case average has exceeded 100. On Wednesday, the Maryland Department of Health reported 153 new cases in Montgomery County.

The program’s potential suspension was discussed at an Oct. 20 council meeting, at which point there had been nine days when the three-day average exceeded 100. At the time Stoddard said the county did not have a reason to believe the alcohol program is linked to the over-100 averages. He said contact tracing didn’t point in that direction, and so the program continued.

On Wednesday, Stoddard said the county has a responsibility to follow the program’s requirements as listed in the executive order, and so the 10 p.m. alcohol cut-off will be reinstated Friday at 5 p.m.

“We waited as long as we possibly could to make sure that the changes that we’ve seen in our case counts were sustained,” Stoddard said. “But given that they are both sustained and frankly increasing in their magnitude, we realized that we had a responsibility to follow the original metrics and also protect public health.”

On Wednesday, Montgomery County’s seven-day average number of new cases per 100,000 residents is 13.4. That’s a high risk of transmission according to the county’s coronavirus data dashboard. The county’s 14-day test positivity shows a low risk of transmission according to the dashboard, but Elrich said the way Maryland calculates positivity rate is different from other areas. He said positivity is calculated based on the number of tests given, which doesn’t take into account that some people are tested every week or even more frequently.

“Our positivity is technically, depending on our chart, looks okay. We’re in the low transmission range, but if we were using the way it’s calculated in some other settings we would be in the medium transmission range,” he said.

Elrich said he won’t tell residents to be happy about the rollbacks, but they have to be implemented.

“We’re hoping that people, when they look at these numbers, which we think are very sobering, will recognize that this is something we just have to do, whether we like it or not,” he said.

“I don’t like it, I’m not going to tell anybody you should like it, I’m not going to tell anybody ‘this is just perfectly fine, what’s the big deal?’ It is a big deal not to have the kind of social interactions we’re all used to,” he continued.

“But, we’ve never been in this situation where we had to worry about our social interactions making people sick and causing some people to die.”

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About Maryam Shahzad

Maryam is a reporter with Montgomery Community Media. She graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019 with a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism. Previously, she was an intern with MCM. She can be reached at mshahzad@mymcmedia.org or on Twitter @maryam_mcm.

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