County will move into phase 2 of reopening next week, Elrich says

UPDATED: County will move into phase 2 of reopening next week, Elrich says

Second phase includes indoor dining, limited seating at places of worship

| Published:

This story was updated at 5:48 p.m. on June 10, 2020 to include Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement on Wednesday of additional allowances under the state’s second phase of reopening. It was updated again at 6:55 p.m. to include more details of and comments about the state’s and county’s plans.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said on Wednesday that the county will move into its second phase of reopening next week, although he is not specifying which day.

During a media briefing, Elrich said the second phase would likely begin between the dates of phase 2 set by Prince George’s County (June 15) and Washington, D.C. (June 19).

“We’re going to look to see what the data shows. If the data continues to be reasonable, then this is what we’re going to be able to do,” he said. “If we see high spikes [in the metrics], obviously, we won’t be able to go there.”

Elrich also was not specific about the county’s phase 2 plan during an interview later Wednesday — after Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the statewide phase 2 is expanding to allow indoor dining at restaurants, at 50% capacity, starting Friday at 5 p.m.

When indoor dining resumes, customers must be seated at least 6 feet apart and no more than six people can be seated at a table unless they live together, according to Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips. Guests and employees must wear masks, and tables and chairs have to be disinfected between each use. No buffets or self-serve stations are allowed. 

Montgomery County has been one of the few holdouts in following along with the state’s timetable for moving through stages of reopening. Montgomery County has the most COVID-19 deaths in the state and is second to Prince George’s County in the number of cases.

Hogan announced on Wednesday that he was easing more social distancing restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

He said outdoor amusement activities, such as miniature golf, can resume and pools can reopen at 50% capacity.

Earlier Wednesday, Montgomery County laid out the details of what will be included under phases 2 and 3 of its reopening plan during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it is ready to get there.

The county entered phase one on June 1. That phase allows restaurants and bars to open with limited outdoor seating. Phase one also allows:

  • Retail shops to open for curbside service only
  • Child care services for state-approved emergency programs for essential employees and employees of businesses and entities allowed to reopen in the first phase
  • Car washes can do exterior cleaning only
  • Manufacturing businesses for a full reopening with precautions and guidance
  • Outdoor day camps and youth sports programs under state guidelines

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, said on Tuesday that the county would need to evaluate at least two weeks’ worth of data before deciding on whether to move into phase 2. That would put the earliest the county could go to phase 2 as Monday of next week.

He did not announce any details at the time on Tuesday of what phase 2 would include.

Gayles said Wednesday that if the metrics begin to show an increase in new cases or in any other conditions, the county would need to re-evaluate its restrictions and possibly put some back into place.

The county’s website states that moving to phases 2 and 3 depends on whether the county is meeting its COVID-19 health criteria. As of Wednesday, the county was meeting 7 of 10 benchmarks.

The county also posted on its website Wednesday that under phase 2:

  • The number of child care services for essential employees would expand.
  • Restaurants would be allowed to serve customers indoors at 50% capacity
  • Limited indoor and outdoor services could take place at places of worship
  • Gatherings of up to 50 people would be allowed
  • Outdoor pools would be open for lap swimming with requirements
  • Outdoor day camps and youth sports would expand their offerings
  • Limited in-store purchase would be allowed at retail establishments
  • Gyms and other fitness centers would be open with requirements

Many of the activities that would be allowed under phase 2 would require businesses to maintain a distancing ratio of 1 person per 200 square feet of space, such as gatherings at houses of worship, gyms and retail establishments.

Hogan announced details of additional allowances under the state’s phase 2 at his press conference on Wednesday.

The following will be allowed starting at 5 p.m. on Friday:

  • Indoor dining can resume at 50% capacity with distancing
  • Local schools can plan and hold safe outdoor graduation ceremonies with appropriate capacity and distancing
  • Outdoor amusements and rides, miniature golf, and go-kart tracks
  • Outdoor pools will be able to increase capacity to 50%

The following will be allowed starting at 5 p.m. on June 19:

  • Indoor gyms and other indoor studio fitness activities such as dance studios and martial arts may open at 50% capacity
  • Casinos, arcades and malls will be able to reopen with strict safety protocols

Montgomery County also listed details of its phase 3 plan on Wednesday, which include:

  • A reopening of all child care programs, with social distancing restrictions
  • Limited reopening of concerts and theaters
  • A requirement that people keep a distancing ratio of 1 person per 100 square feet at houses of worship, fitness centers, salons and other retail establishments.
  • Restaurants could expand indoor dining to a maximum of 75% capacity

‘We have not opened up everything’

During Hogan’s press conference, he was asked what he’d say to county executives who are deciding whether to move toward expanding their reopening.

Hogan said some counties were in a “pretty bad spot” compared to the rest of the state a while ago. Giving them flexibility to make their own decisions about reopening made sense, he said.

“I think today, County Executive Elrich in Montgomery County was actually saying he was ready to open up things right away which is almost the complete opposite of where he was,” Hogan said.

Elrich told Bethesda Beat in a phone interview Wednesday evening that he was offended by Hogan’s comment. It was a “mischaracterization” of what the county did and was a “pointless, political comment,” he said.

“I took offense at his comment that I opened up everything,” he said. “We have not opened up everything.”

Elrich said Hogan doesn’t consult with county officials on reopening plans and doesn’t have any of the county executives on his recovery team. Hogan “doesn’t talk to anybody,” he said.

“We have no warning, once again, today, of what he’s going to propose. We just basically took a wild guess [of what Hogan would announce] … when we decided what to include in our phases,” he said.

Elrich continued to decline to set a date for the start of the second phase of reopening.

“I get more cases in a week than about 10 counties have gotten since the first day of COVID-19,” he said. “To say that if Garrett County can open, you can open — that’s nonsensical.”

Hogan tends to overstate what he is allowing through executive orders in his announcements, Elrich said. 

“When you read the fine print, you find it’s not as dramatic,” he said.

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