Montgomery County officials want Gov. Larry Hogan to implement stronger COVID-19 restrictions across the state and provide more guidance on closure criteria, enforcement penalties, capacity limits and other measures.
Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, said during a media briefing on Thursday that the state’s health officers proposed a set of COVID-19 regulations to the governor .
The recommendations were related to requirements instead of suggestions for the pandemic response and creating guidelines for a standardized approach, while still leaving the ability for jurisdictions to enforce more restrictive measures, Gayles said.
“The challenge is if each of the local jurisdictions have to do this dance of working together or thinking about, ‘What are you going to do? What are we going to do?’ in terms of what are the community transmission levels that are not safe to keep your businesses open, not safe to keep your schools open, not safe for sports to happen,” he said. “In the absence of statewide guidance in those spaces, it creates a space where each jurisdiction is working to try to figure out that information on its own.”
Gayles said the county health officers appreciate the ability to make restrictions more specific to their jurisdictions but there are some “gray areas” where statewide guidance would be beneficial.
On Tuesday, Hogan issued an order for restaurants and bars to decrease from 75% capacity to 50% by 5 p.m. on Wednesday. The state Department of Health also issued an immediate public health advisory strongly discouraging indoor gatherings of 25 people or more, excluding religious services.
Earlier on Tuesday, Montgomery County approved its own amended executive order to require restaurants and businesses to cut their current capacity limit in half — 50% to 25%.
The county also reduced the gathering limit from 50 to 25 people .
County Executive Marc Elrich said during the briefing that he was “disappointed” that Hogan did not emphasize the need to follow guidance and restrictions more on Tuesday.
“I think he needed to bite the bullet and say not that, ‘you should do this,’ but ‘you must do this,’” he said. “I think we’re at a ‘must’ point. If the number doesn’t change with ‘should,’ he’s going to have to be back in two weeks doing ‘must’ anyway.”
Elrich added: “I think this is a problem with taking half measures on some of this stuff. You know what kind of curve you’re on. … Going back to a standard that you implemented when cases were nowhere near as bad as they are right now is probably not enough right now.”
Asked during a Thursday afternoon press conference whether he planned to order more restrictions as some counties have, Hogan said jurisdictions are free to have stricter regulations.
“State law provides for them to make their own decisions,” he said. “They can be more restrictive than the state. We’re very comfortable with the decisions we’ve made statewide. We’ve left the flexibility with the counties to make their own decisions. We’re going to continue to track the metrics and make our decisions every day as we see fit.”
Hogan said the state already has a mask mandate that should be enforced in jurisdictions, but county officials have “not been doing a very good job of doing that.”
On Thursday, Hogan also announced $70 million in federal funding that will go into new programs and initiatives in response to the pandemic.
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.