This story was updated at 8:30 p.m. on May 27, 2020 to include comments from Gov. Larry Hogan during a Wednesday press conference and at 9:55 p.m. to include County Executive Marc Elrich’s plans to talk on Thursday about Montgomery County reopening.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich is holding a press conference on Thursday “to announce plans for reopening Montgomery County,” according to a press release issued Wednesday night.
Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Larry Hogan said Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction in the state that has not set a date to begin reopening, adding that the county “ought to move forward.”
Elrich has stood firm in not setting a date until the county has more improvement and sustained decreases in several conditions for reopening.
In a media briefing during the day on Wednesday, Elrich said the county is still within its estimated time frame of a partial reopening this week or next week. It will most likely be early next week, he said.
“We think that’s actually possible. I feel pretty good about the numbers being where they are,” he said of the county’s tracking data. “I’m hoping we don’t get a weekend bounce from people going to Ocean City. … So far, the numbers are pushing in the right direction.”
But Hogan said during a later press conference on Wednesday that Montgomery County probably needs to set a date for reopening.
A county press release issued at 9 p.m. Wednesday said Elrich will be joined by County Council President Sidney Katz; Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer; and Dr. Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, at a press conference at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. It will be held at Kentlands Market Square in Gaithersburg.
The news conference will be recorded and posted on the county’s Facebook page and website.
Hogan acknowledged during an afternoon press conference that Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have had the highest number of cases and deaths in the state, which is why local leaders were given the flexibility to make their own decisions for reopening.
“The county leaders begged for and requested that flexibility in the decision-making ability on their individual counties, which we gave them. Then some of them seemed to say we shouldn’t have given them what they asked for,” he said.
In response to a reporter’s question of why Montgomery County is using different metrics than the state for determining a reopening date, Hogan said he hopes Elrich is listening to “all the best advice, follows the numbers and makes the decisions that are right for his county.”
“I’m not sure he’s aware of the latest information — this is new CDC guidelines. The fact that his positivity rates have dropped by 53% — there seems to be some confusion,” Hogan said. “The county leaders aren’t really paying attention to the state plan. They’re kind of making up their own metrics.”
Hogan said the county should not be considering the number of new daily cases for its reopening.
“Cases are going to go up every single day until we have a vaccine,” he said, adding that the state looks at hospitalization, ICU rates and positivity rates, not additional cases.
“They’re (Montgomery County) doing great. They started out in a bad place, but they’re following the same trend of downward — cut in half,” he said. “I think they ought to move forward.”
At the earlier county media briefing, Elrich said he was disappointed that Hogan did not provide the context of stating “why we weren’t opening” when he announced loosening restrictions. Leaders of some counties that did not start their reopening when the state did felt Hogan should have done more to explain why.
“I can deal with changes or whatever he’s going to modify,” Elrich said. “The difficulty of last week is the kind of sense that the counties were doing their own thing instead of expressing a clear message to people that these [Montgomery and Prince George’s] counties were not ready. … I know he knows the conditions here are different [than in other counties].”
On Wednesday, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said the District plans to start lifting restrictions on Friday. The latest stay-at-home order was supposed to be in effect until June 8.
Northern Virginia also is scheduled to start loosening its restrictions on Friday.
Prince George’s County has announced that it expects to begin a reopening phase by Monday.
Montgomery County staff members are developing guidance for businesses that will be allowed to reopen. The conditions will include conditions mask-wearing, social distancing and cleaning.
“I don’t think we’re going to lift [restrictions] on Friday. We will tell people the date,” Elrich said earlier Wednesday. “I anticipate that we will come back and announce the date and announce what the restrictions will be.”
Speaking before Hogan’s press conference, Elrich said, “Things are evolving. We don’t know what the governor’s going to do at 5 p.m. today [at a press conference]. We’ve heard rumors.” He added that the county would take Hogan’s announcement into consideration for its own reopening plans.
Elrich said county officials are focused on “trying to get this right” as opposed to being in lockstep with what other localities are doing.
“Everyone is in flux in terms of what they’re doing. It’s a little bit challenging. … There’s no grand reopening of everything,” he said. “So be calm. It’ll all work out in the end.”
The county’s data dashboard, which displays its reopening criteria, shows that the county still has not met the majority of the benchmarks.
The county is using as its benchmarks:
• Number of new confirmed positive cases each day
• Number of COVID-19 new deaths each day
• COVID-19 related hospitalizations
• Number of COVID-19 related emergency room patients
• COVID-19 related intensive-care unit hospitalizations
• Acute care bed utilizations rate
• Percentage of ventilators in use
• Test positivity
• Number of tests administered
For a week, the county’s dashboard showed seven metrics. On Wednesday, the dashboard showed nine benchmarks, adding test positivity and the number of tests administered. There was no explanation of the change.
There were indicators on Wednesday showing that the county meets three of those nine – hospitalizations, ICU bed utilization rate, and percentage of ventilators in use.
Gayles, the county’s health officer, said during an online briefing on Wednesday that he would not hesitate to delay reopening if there is a reason from a health perspective “to be hesitant about moving forward.”
“We’re looking at the broader picture of the measures in the context of everything that’s happening,” he said. “That will inform our next steps and will also inform the level of openness in terms of what happens.”
Activities will be considered based on the safety level and the risk of transmission, he said.
Gayles said the only metric that continues to lag behind is the acute bed utilization rate, which is aimed to be below 70%. It is currently at 73% for a three-day average.
Additional bed capacity of more than 200 beds is expected soon from opening up the Adventist HealthCare Takoma Park facility, formerly Washington Adventist Hospital, Gayles said.
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at email@example.com.