2020 | Coronavirus

County seeks regional approach for COVID-19 restrictions, but ready to act alone

Elrich says he is not pursuing ‘blanket closures’

Montgomery County Exec. Marc Elrich speaks during a news conference earlier this year.

File photo

Montgomery County officials hope to recruit other jurisdictions for a regional approach to new COVID-19 restrictions as cases surge, but they’re ready to act alone soon.

In recent weeks, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles have sounded the alarm about rising cases of the coronavirus and increased hospitalization rates. Elrich and Gayles have said they want either a statewide or regional approach to reinstating more restrictions to slow the virus’ spread.

During a call with reporters on Wednesday, Elrich said a regional approach would be more beneficial because local residents often travel to D.C, Virginia and other Maryland counties. But, he said, if those jurisdictions’ leaders don’t get on board, he’s ready to roll out new restrictions on his own, in consultation with Gayles.

“I will do at the end of the day what I can to protect the people of Montgomery County, whether that means acting alone or with others,” Elrich said.

Asked how much longer he will wait for the development of a regional approach, Elrich said, “Not much longer.”

The county executive said that although he would like another statewide stay-at-home order, he’s not pursuing blanket closures of businesses and activities. He did not elaborate on what kind of restrictions the county is considering.

On Tuesday, hours after Gayles told the Montgomery County Council COVID-19 hospitalizations are surging, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan held a press conference announcing a number of initiatives intended to help increase staffing and bed space at hospitals across the state.

He asked counties to enlist “non-deployed” school nurses, health services staff members and other county employees to help staff state testing and vaccination sites. He said hospitals and nursing homes should allow unlicensed people to perform “less critical tasks” to free up nurses for more complex tasks.

Every hospital in Maryland is required to submit a “surge plan” to the state by Dec. 8, outlining strategies to expand hospital bed capacity.
Hogan did not announce any new restrictions.

During Wednesday’s call with reporters, Gayles said he appreciated the measures to help hospitals, but said there “was a noticeable absence in … measures to keep people out of hospitals.”

“We want to do everything we can to work with hospitals,” Gayles said. “… But there are also a whole lot of tools available that … are evidence-based and proven to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

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