County loosens COVID-19 restrictions on religious gatherings
Exception on mask use granted for children playing sports
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Larger religious gatherings will now be allowed under Montgomery County’s amended executive order issued on Tuesday.
The County Council unanimously approved updates to the Phase 2 guidelines, including looser restrictions for religious gatherings. The updated regulation was formed in partnership with the Faith Community Working Group.
According to the order, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other religious facilities of any faith are allowed to open to the public for indoor and outdoor services.
The gathering size must be determined by dividing the total square footage of the worship space by 50. The total number of people cannot exceed 40% of permitted occupancy.
Seating must be marked and distanced, and every other row of fixed seating or pews must be empty and marked off. People must be 6 feet apart from anyone not from their household.
Before each service, faith leaders, volunteers and other staff members must be screened with a specific set of questions regarding any potential COVID-19 symptoms or contact with the virus.
Temperatures must be taken. Any person with a temperate above 100.4°F cannot enter the facility until at least 72 hours after they don’t have symptoms.
Outdoor services cannot have more than 150 participants. Previous guidance allowed virtual, drive-in and limited indoor and outdoor services with one person or family per 200 square feet.
Another change to the executive order was a face-covering exception for children younger than 18 while playing sports, based on a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Face coverings are required unless an individual is swimming or “engaging in other physical activities where the use of a face covering is likely to pose a bona fide safety risk.”
Other amendments included an explicit cap for indoor food service at 50% — unlike the state, which recently began allowing 75% capacity — and modifying the definition of a face covering to remove plastic full face shields.
Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, told the council that the county’s testing capacity is back to where it was in early August, but fewer people are coming in to get tested. Part of the decline could be because of “testing fatigue,” he said.
Gayles said the state is working on a vaccine dissemination plan that will categorize who is offered a vaccine first, when it is available. Not everyone would get the vaccine at once, he said.
People with pre-existing conditions, health care workers, frontline workers likely would be among the first in line, Gayles said.
Council Member Hans Riemer asked that the council receive a draft plan or presentation on the state’s vaccine dissemination plan and the county’s strategy.
Council Member Andrew Friedson asked if there were any particular rationale about only applying the exception for wearing a mask while playing sports to children and not adults in the same or similar activities.
Dr. Earl Stoddard, executive director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said officials proposed the change because of the AAP’s recommendation.
Gayles said the change only applies for outdoor youth sports, not indoor sports.
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.