2020 | Coronavirus

Montgomery County health officer orders shoppers to wear face coverings

Mandate starts Monday; only ‘small number’ of customers can enter store at a time

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Dr. Travis Gayles, Montgomery County's health officer

File photo

Starting Monday, shoppers at Montgomery County stores must wear a face covering, under an order the county’s health officer announced Thursday evening.

The order says retailers must not allow more than “a small number” of customers into a store at once, according to a county press release. The measures are aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus disease, or COVID-19.

“We are working on many fronts to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Dr. Travis Gayles, the health officer, said in the press release. “Protecting shoppers and store employees is critical.”

Gayles’ order comes two days after the Montgomery County Council discussed a similar face-covering mandate for both employees and customers in essential facilities and retail stores.

The regulation the council was considering would have made it a class C civil violation for someone who did not follow it.

Employers would have to provide face coverings to employees who interact with coworkers and customers in person, starting April 16.

However, no citations would be given to employers who show “good faith effort” to obtain appropriate face coverings, according to the proposal.

Council Members Gabe Albornoz and Hans Riemer were the lead sponsors of the regulation, which the council was expected to discuss and put up for a vote on April 14.

In text messages on Thursday night, Albornoz and Riemer said they were pleased by Gayles’ order.

Albornoz wrote that he prefers the health order because “it can be implemented more quickly.”

Riemer wrote in a text message that the council will pull its proposal and is glad to see quick action.

Under Gayles’ order, retail stores must let employees wear masks or face coverings, the county’s press release says.

The order applies to farmers markets, too, according to Julie Parker, a spokeswoman for the county.

Stores must give employees access to clean restrooms stocked with soap and sanitizer. Employees must be allowed to wash their hands at least every 30 minutes, the press release says.

Retailers must establish “capacity limits” by allowing only “a small number of customers” in the store at a time. Lines outside a story must allow for social distancing, or keeping six feet apart from other people.

A violation carries a $500 fine on first offense and a $750 fine for each subsequent offense.

The county’s press release says masks meant for a health care setting, such as N95 masks, should be reserved for health care workers. Instead, the public can use cloth masks.

The county said masks are not advised for children younger than 2 or people who have trouble breathing.

Stores are supposed to include signs and markings to encourage social distancing, the press release says. Some grocery stores have added arrows on the floor to indicate one-way movement in aisles, to minimize people customers going past each other.

Stores also are encouraged to provide disinfectant wipes and swabs for customers to use on shared equipment, such as baskets and carts, and to install clear physical barriers between cashiers and customers, if possible.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued a stay-at-home order on March 30. Residents are to stay home unless they are obtaining food, medicine or medical care or they are essential employees going to and from work.

Only businesses considered essential are allowed to keep their doors open to the public.

Staff writer Briana Adhikusuma contributed to this story.


For other Bethesda Beat coverage of the coronavirus, click here.

To see a timeline of major coronavirus developments in Maryland and Montgomery County, click here.