2020 | Coronavirus

County Council extends stay-at-home-order, doesn’t set date for reopening

Restrictions will loosen when certain criteria are met

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The Montgomery County Council extended the stay-at-home-order for county residents until certain criteria related to coronavirus testing and the number of new cases are met.

The order, however, is indefinite and doesn’t set a date for when the county will begin to reopen.

On Friday , the council unanimously approved County Executive Marc Elrich’s executive order from Thursday to extend the stay-at-home order for the county.

Gov. Larry Hogan first issued an executive stay-at-home order on March 30.

On Wednesday, Hogan issued another executive order to allow a slow reopening of the state’s economy at 5 p.m. on Friday. He gave the state’s counties the decision to continue a stay-at-home order in their community based on local data on the spread of COVID-19 and related factors.

Montgomery County won’t be opening for now.

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, told the council on Friday that a date was not set for reopening yet. He indicated that setting a date could get confusing if it had to be moved because benchmarks weren’t being met yet.

Council Member Gabe Albornoz asked if the county would open around the same time as Washington, D.C., which has extended its stay-at-home order to June 8. Northern Virginia cities and counties are expected to begin a first phase of reopening on May 29.

“The time frame we’re thinking through is consistent with our colleagues in D.C. and Northern Virginia,” Gayles said. “Our goal is to make the measures that we put forth readily available … live on our website, so people can follow at home.”

Here are the criteria that the county expects to meet before it begins lifting restrictions.

● a sustained decrease, or rolling average, during a 14-day period of: new cases in an environment of increased testing, hospitalization rates, ICU rates, deaths, coronavirus-like and influenza-like illnesses in the health care system, percentage of acute bed usage, percentage of ICU bed usage, and percentage of emergency and critical care equipment used by coronavirus patients

● a sustained capacity to test 5% of the county’s population per month

● a sustained decrease in the number of new positive tests

● a sustained, robust system of contact tracing

● The beginning of a meaningful infrastructure to identify and begin addressing demonstrated coronavirus-related inequities in health outcomes

Gayles said people should continue to practice social distancing and refrain from leaving their homes unless it was for essential reasons, such as buying food or medicine or getting exercise.

Council Member Nancy Navarro said that if the county acted too quickly in lifting restrictions, it could lead to a spike in cases. People need to follow restrictions so that doesn’t happen, she said.

“We run the very real risk of a spike and a surge. That is so important for our residents to understand,” she said. “We’re all anxious and want to go out.”

Gayles said he recognizes that people have “quarantine fever” and are getting tired of staying at home.

“When we look at the data, we’re just simply not there,” he said. “By doing this and continuing this, we’re moving in the right direction but we need to see more sustained positive movement. … We can’t afford to have a spike. If we’re trying to recover and get hit with another spike, that’s going to be a significant blow to the system.”

Council Member Hans Riemer said he was concerned with how the state was handling reopening.

“I really view this as passing the buck down to the county to have to make a tough decision about remaining closed and then figuring out how to reopen. … Does the state feel like their urgency is going to diminish now that they’re not owning a massive decision?” he said. He added that the county needed to make sure that the state was still aggressive in its response in partnership with the county.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.