2020 | Coronavirus

County hopes to avoid ‘blanket closures’ to slow COVID-19 spread

Officials would focus first on stricter gathering limits

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As Montgomery County officials eye whether more stringent restrictions should be reinstated as COVID-19 cases climb, Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said he hopes to avoid instituting “blanket closures” of businesses.

Gayles was clear that no new restrictions are imminent, but said county officials are planning, in case the virus has a resurgence in the fall and winter. If stricter restrictions are needed, Gayles said, the county would look first to reducing the maximum number of people allowed to gather.

“The first attempt will be to try to make tweaks to capacity limits before making blanket closures on businesses, or types of businesses, unless there’s very clear evidence that contact tracing shows a particular venue is tied to an increased number of cases,” Gayles said.

Last week, county officials also said they’d target indoor activities in which a face covering is removed for part of the activity, such as dining.

Since Oct. 1, Montgomery County has reported a daily increase of more than 100 new COVID-19 cases 10 times. At times in September, the county reported as few as 30 new cases.

There were eight days with daily case increases of more than 100 in September and five days in August.

The increase, along with a higher rate of community transmission, test positivity rate and cases per 100,000 people, has “given us pause,” Gayles said during a call with reporters on Wednesday.

As of Tuesday, Montgomery County’s positivity rate was about 3.1%, Gayles said, and there are an average of about 10.4 cases per 100,000 residents.

Contact tracing has consistently found that many people who contracted the coronavirus had recently dined indoors or been in a group with several other people, often family or close friends.

“There may be some letting down of our guard, so to speak, when we are around people we feel comfortable and familiar with,” Gayles said. “We recognize there is significant fatigue and everyone’s tired from having to deal with this … but we have to keep wearing face coverings and being vigilant.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com