Montgomery County may lift restrictions for sports, hockey, theaters

County might lift some restrictions for sports tournaments, hockey, theaters

Health officer encourages county residents who work in White House to get tested

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Montgomery County might loosen more of its COVID-19 restrictions, including some limits on sports.

Officials are working with businesses and community organizations to discuss safety precautions and guidance for certain activities.

Dr. Earl Stoddard, executive director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said at a media briefing on Tuesday that officials are speaking with the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds about potentially allowing athletic tournaments there.

Stoddard said the safety requirements are being developed and will likely include guidance for cleaning, temperature checks and testing.

“These are similar things we’ve done previously with some of the professional leagues. We had the U.S. Women’s Amateur Golf Tournament in Montgomery County earlier this year,” he said. “We will work with them to develop a set of guidelines that are commensurate to the nature of the tournament, corresponding the testing to the travel to the county and preceding play, and having a requirement of a negative test before playing in the space.”

During a County Council meeting on Tuesday, health officer Dr. Travis Gayles said the county is investigating an outbreak with a youth soccer club team and a youth school team.

On Wednesday, he said the club team was from the Potomac Soccer Association, but did not name which school the other team came from.

The two teams have at least four positive COVID-19 cases between them and around 35 people are quarantined. The teams played a match together over the weekend, he said.

The Maryland Sports Commission’s Return to Play Committee recently released a classification for modified ice hockey to be a medium-risk sport. Modified hockey includes rule changes to allow it to have less contact among players, Stoddard said.

“We generally have followed the [commission] and will do so in the case of modified hockey, as well,” he said. “We talked to some hockey providers in the county on Monday to talk through that process and develop a process for them to submit plans to make sure they’re in accordance with modified hockey definitions.”

Movie theaters and live performance theatres are also on the county’s list.

Officials are specifically looking at Washington, D.C.’s pilot program to allow live entertainment at six indoor venues. The program limits audience, staff members and performers to 50 inside each venue.

The program runs through Oct. 30.

Stoddard said the county plans on using the findings of the pilot program to determine how live performances in the county will be done.

“I would expect that if our circumstances do not worsen and the D.C. pilot is successful, you will see live performances in Montgomery County in a parallel to [how] they’re being done in the District as well.”

Escape rooms — in which people solve clues in a certain period before they can leave a room — might also be allowed to reopen.

On Friday, the county met with all seven of the escape room businesses in the county to discuss potential safety measures.

“I think there’s actually some space where we’d be able to find some accord with those businesses that will potentially allow them to operate in the future, but we’re still working on it,” Stoddard said.

As the county looks for ways to reopen certain activities and businesses, Gayles cautioned that residents should still look to get tested for COVID-19.

He said there are concerns about the level of contact tracing that has occurred with recent cases at the White House.

“We are recommending any of our Montgomery County residents who may work in those spaces or may have been in attendance to any of those events or come into close contact with any of the individuals in attendance, or work with those areas, we are encouraging you or recommending you get tested, so you can know your status and also allow for us to have a better accounting in terms of the scope of the potential cases that may be tied to that particular location, workspace or those particular events,” he said of recent events at the White House in which people were not wearing masks and were sitting close to each other.

County Executive Marc Elrich said at the briefing that officials don’t know how many county residents work in the White House.

Since flu season is nearing, Gayles said, the county wanted to address claims that COVID-19 is less concerning than the flu.

“I think the national numbers show that COVID-19 nationally has had more COVID-related fatalities than the last five years of influenza across the country,” he said. “When we look at the data specific to Montgomery County, our surveillance team was able to capture influenza and pneumonia-related deaths from 2016 to 2018.”

During the three-year period, there were 456 deaths from influenza and pneumonia in the county. As of Wednesday, there had been 811 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 since March.

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

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