2021 | Coronavirus

Maryland National Guard to visit county’s proposed COVID-19 mass vaccination site

State has not committed to a Montgomery County site

A resident receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a county-run clinic at White Oak Recreation Center in early January. The clinics are by appointment only and do not allow walk-ins.

Photo from Montgomery County

Although state health officials have not committed to a COVID-19 mass vaccination site in Montgomery County, there are signs that one is possible.

Dr. Earl Stoddard, executive director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said Tuesday that the Maryland National Guard will schedule a walkthrough of a location that the county has proposed.

The visit to the Germantown campus of Montgomery College will follow months of state delegates and county officials calling on the state to place a mass vaccination site in Montgomery County.

County officials have been preparing the necessary infrastructure and planning to make the site more appealing to the state. The visit from the National Guard is part of the site’s logistics and will help with an assessment of how to plan for a site at the college.

State officials have said that they will not consider potential locations until all of the planned sites are opened.

The state has opened four mass vaccination sites: Six Flags America in Prince George’s County, Baltimore Convention Center, M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, and Regency Furniture Stadium in Charles County.

Two more sites are expected to open at Wicomico Youth & Civic Center in Salisbury, opening no later than March 18, and Hagerstown Premium Outlets, opening on March 25 .

During a briefing with the County Council on Tuesday, Stoddard said state officials do not think that vaccine quantities from the federal government are likely to increase before April 1.

“As such, they are reticent to commit to an additional site until they have an increased degree of confidence that there will be an increase in vaccine quantities,” he said. “However, they are definitely interested in our site proposed at Montgomery College in Germantown. ”

The county would have a clinical partnership with Holy Cross Health to serve as one of the partners of the site.

“We have not gotten a commitment from the state to necessarily coin it as a mass vaccination site at this point,” Stoddard said. “They haven’t said no, but they haven’t said yes either. So we’re continuing with our planning efforts.

“Our goal is to do as many of the logistic things up front as possible to make it as difficult for them to say no once the state has more vaccine available to it in a few weeks.”

Stoddard has previously said that the college’s Germantown campus is ideal for a site because of multiple 10,000-square-foot or larger spaces that are available, including a gymnasium and conference space. It also has thousands of parking spots.

In addition, the campus is right off I-270 and could be accessible to Frederick County residents, too.

The Germantown campus is also in a ZIP code area that is consider one of the county’s priorities, with high case rates.

Council Member Hans Riemer said residents could consider the state’s inaction in putting a mass vaccination site or increasing dose allocations to the county to be “almost an effort to humiliate the county.”

“It makes no sense. Why don’t we have the state making a full effort here in Montgomery County?” he said. “To both deny us a mass [vaccination] site and not to increase our dose allocation is outrageous. They are seeking to deny this county’s residents access to the appropriate share of doses.”

The state’s dose allocation is going up considerably, Riemer said, but the county’s isn’t, which indicates that the extra doses are going to the mass vaccination sites.

Riemer said only people with cars, access to public transportation or the ability to take off work to make the drive to Prince George’s County will have access.

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, said the county is “not invited into the room” regarding discussions related to the state’s decisions.

“We’re not included in those discussions. Quite frankly, as I’ve said before, we unfortunately don’t find out what’s happening until the general public finds out,” he said.

Gayles said it’s not clear who the governor is listening to for advice.

Stoddard said he is seeing “movement in the right direction,” in part because of the voices of all of the state and county officials pushing for changes in the state’s rollout.

“There’s a whole lot of critique and criticism coming to the governor, rightfully so, right now. … I do functionally see, on the ground, a difference in the tone and tenor of the conversations [with the state].”

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