2020 | Coronavirus

UPDATED: County will enter phase 2 of reopening on Friday

Limited indoor dining for restaurants, increased gathering limit included

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Montgomery County will enter phase 2 for reopening on Friday at 5 p.m.

According to a press release sent Monday afternoon, the county “achieved its benchmarks” and will lift more restrictions for businesses and amenities in the county.

Among the new allowances are limited indoor dining of up to 50% capacity for restaurants, limited in-store capacity for retail shops, and an increase of gatherings to a maximum of 50 people.

Other businesses and entities allowed to open with restrictions include gyms, nail salons, indoor and outdoor pools, and parks and playgrounds.

Other allowances include:
● Child care programs can reopen with up to 15 individuals per classroom
● Houses of worship can host virtual, drive-in and limited indoor and outdoor services with one person or family per 200 square feet
● Hair salons, barber shops, and nail salons can provide all personal services by appointment only
● Car washes can open for internal and external cleaning
● Office spaces and multitenant commercial buildings can have limited use for nonessential employees with requirements, but remote working is still encouraged
● Outdoor day camps can expand opening with requirements
● Outdoor youth sports can expand for low-contact sports with requirements
● Ride On bus service will have an expanded schedule and routes

The businesses and services that will remain closed for phase 2 include:
● Concerts and theaters
● Senior centers
● Libraries
● Recreation facilities

“Protective measures such as maintaining physical distancing, careful cleaning and disinfecting, and face coverings being worn by employees and customers, are just some of the measures being required of businesses that are in this second phase of recovery,” the press release stated.

The county’s first phase of reopening began on June 1.

On Monday afternoon, the county’s data dashboard, which tracks progress on conditions of the pandemic, reported that the county is meeting or showing significant progress in eight of its 10 benchmarks.

Those include:
• Number of new confirmed cases: 103 (three-day average); 12 declining days over 14 days
• Number of new COVID-19 related deaths: five (three-day average); 13 declining days
• COVID-19 related hospitalizations: 201 (three-day average); 14 declining days
• Number of COVID-19 related emergency room patients: six (three-day average); 14 declining days
• COVID-19 related intensive-care unit hospitalizations: 76 (three-day average); 14 declining days
• ICU bed utilization rate: 61% (three-day average); the county benchmark of 80% or less has been met for 14 days
• Percentage of ventilators in use: 44% (three-day average); 14 declining days
• Test positivity: 7% (three-day average); 14 declining days

The county has not met its goals for its acute care bed utilization rate and the number of tests administered, according to the dashboard.

The county is using the benchmarks as guidance for when to expand its reopening

On Monday morning, the Maryland Department of Health reported that Montgomery County had the smallest daily growth, 0.4%, in new COVID-19 cases since mid-March.

There have been 13,657 confirmed cases in the county and 655 deaths from the virus.

The county will be the last jurisdiction to enter phase 2 in the state. Prince George’s County entered its second phase on Monday at 5 p.m.

Washington, D.C., officials have said Friday is the earliest that the District could begin phase 2.

Montgomery County has advanced to its reopening phases slower than most of the rest of the state, earning both criticism and praise of residents.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, were booed and heckled by a crowd of protesters at a May 28 press conference announcing the first phase of reopening.

The protesters shouted insults at Elrich, including “Nazi,” “Fascist” and “dictator,” for not opening the county faster. When Elrich finished the press conference and walked away, they began chanting “Recall.”

On June 8, two groups of residents gathered outside of the Executive Office Building. One criticized the county’s response to reopening; the other spoke out in support.

The county’s slower reopening phases has also drawn the attention of Gov. Larry Hogan, who has chided Elrich and the county for opening slower and using different metrics to determine reopening timelines.

Elrich, however, has said the county is looking at evidence and determining what is best and safest. He has noted that Montgomery County has been hit harder than most areas in Maryland.

The county now has an advisory group of medical professionals to help with recovery plans. The group met for the first time on Thursday.

County Council President Sidney Katz told Bethesda Beat on Monday evening that the county is ready to enter the second phase.

“I believe we’re all looking forward to getting close to being back to normal, not that this is totally there,” he said. “We also have to be cautious in how we are doing this because, obviously, [in] the areas that we’ve heard of throughout the United States and across the world that have done this too quickly, [it] was not a safe thing to do the way they did it.”

Council Member Evan Glass said all of the county’s actions have been dictated by science and medical data.

“We have to recognize that we live in a vibrant region and we have to coordinate with the District of Columbia, Prince George’s County, Arlington, Frederick County, and other neighboring jurisdictions,” he said. “The fact that all of the jurisdictions are moving on a similar schedule should be reassuring to our residents.”

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