Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Montgomery County Council President Gabe Albornoz said Monday that he has concerns about a proposed vaccine passport proposal for some businesses and it needs more work.

The proposal would need to be amended to help those establishments to earn his support, he said.

Albornoz told reporters during a news briefing Monday that there “are still more questions than answers” regarding the proposal, and the County Council would likely not vote on it on Tuesday. 

The proposal, introduced by County Executive Marc Elrich’s administration, would require those 12 and older — and eventually, 5 and older — would need to show proof of vaccination at the following establishments and similar businesses:

  • Restaurants, bars and nightclubs
  • Indoor entertainment venues, including bowling alleys, billiard and pool halls, museums, movie theaters, performing arts theaters, arcades and others
  • Indoor gyms and similar establishments
  • Hotels, conference centers and similar venues
  • Other establishments designated by the county’s health officer

In recent meetings, several residents and businesses have raised concerns about the proposal, ranging from its effectiveness on curbing the spread of the coronavirus to the burden it would place on business operations. 

Albornoz also said Monday that it’s important to first see how well a similar vaccine passport proposal in Washington, D.C., is implemented before voting on one for Montgomery County.

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“The council is certainly not ready to vote on this right now,” Albornoz said. “I can’t project at the moment when we would be able to, or if we wouldn’t be able to at all, quite candidly. We do want to wait and see how things roll out in the [District of Columbia] and have that serve as a guide for us as well.”

He said businesses would need enough notice and assistance before he could support it.

“There would need to be support in some form or fashion,” Albornoz said. “Because if we are setting up businesses to not be able to enact this, then we defeat the purpose of enacting it in the first place. But that would be my provision.”

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Mask mandate extension will be introduced

County health officials will introduce a proposal to extend the indoor mask mandate with new guidelines for when to lift the mandate. Currently, the mandate is set to expire on Jan. 31 at 11:59 p.m.

Under the proposed extension, the mask mandate would end when either of the following happens first:

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  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists that the number of cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days, test positivity rate and COVID-related hospitalization bed utilization case rate have declined for seven straight days. The three categories would also need to be below the “high” label used by the CDC.
  • Feb. 28, 2022, at 11:59 p.m.

The county’s COVID-19 dashboard showed on Monday that those three categories have started to trend downward, but are still in the “high category.”

Sean O’Donnell, the county’s public health emergency preparedness manager, told reporters that council members will discuss whether to change that seven-day window or make other tweaks to the proposal. 

O’Donnell said that includes whether the seven days would be retroactive to the council passing the indoor mask extension — including if the Feb. 28 date might be moved.

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“When this was last brought up, there was a lot of concern about the changing increase in our positivity [rates], as well as our cases,” O’Donnell said. “But, you know, again, that’s something that could be reevaluated as we go forward.”

The council is scheduled to vote on the proposal after a public hearing Tuesday.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com

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