Montgomery County will not move into Phase 3 of reopening next week

Montgomery County will not move into Phase 3 of reopening next week

Officials want to evaluate potential impact of July 4 weekend first

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There’s still no plan for when Montgomery County residents can attend a concert, watch a movie in a theater or do other things that draw crowds.

The county isn’t moving into Phase 3 of reopening until officials evaluate the July 4 holiday weekend and whether it created an influx of new COVID-19 cases.

“We’re going to wait until we have at least a week from this weekend to make sure we don’t see a spike in cases,” County Executive Marc Elrich said during a media briefing on Wednesday.
“We’ll know better how the weekend played out in about a little over a week from now. We’ll be discussing this on the weekend, next weekend, and we’ll move forward as appropriate.”

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, said people should adhere to social distancing standards and the county’s limit of 50 people for any gathering. People who travel to the beach and mingle with a crowd could bring COVID-19 back to the county. The same is true for people traveling into the county for the holiday, he said.

Between the first and second phases of reopening, Gayles allowed for about two weeks of data before reevaluating the conditions of the health crisis in the county.

Friday marks two weeks of Phase 2 in the county, but Gayles said officials won’t be reevaluating on that exact day and the county definitely won’t enter Phase 3 on Monday.

Preliminary guidelines for Phase 3 include restrictions being lifted in spacing requirements in retail shops, houses of worship, hair and nail salons, barbershops and restaurants.

It would also prompt limited openings of recreation facilities, with limits.

“We’ve seen improvements, but when we look at the new cases, we have kind of plateaued a little bit,” Gayles said.

He said the county has been getting around 60 new COVID-19 cases a day, an increase of around one half of 1%.

“We want to see more improvement from that level before we feel comfortable opening up more activities to folks,” he said.

If Gov. Larry Hogan lifts certain restrictions, the county’s third phase also would include limited openings of concerts and theaters, with requirements. It would include a reduction in the distancing requirements for gyms, fitness centers, and gatherings.

“We’ve made significant progress in containing the virus, but we still have a long ways to go — certainly before we begin to have conversations and discussions about moving to next phases,” Gayles said.

County officials are paying attention to other nearby areas and states where there have been significant increases in daily cases affected by reopening — possibly too soon — or not having strict precautions in place, Gayles said.

Many of the new cases in the country have been in people younger than 30, he said, who might have a sense of “invincibility” and think they’re unlikely to suffer consequences.

“The reality is we don’t know the long-term effects and impact [on young people],” he said.

As of Wednesday morning, the county has administered an average of 1,600 tests a day. The county has also collected more than 109,000 tests from county residents, which Gayles said is more than in other jurisdictions in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Almost 93,000 Montgomery County residents have been tested — about 8.8% of the county’s population. Some residents have been tested multiple times.

Elrich said that the county’s reopening guidelines will be enforced with businesses that don’t comply.

“We’ve had some that we’ve had to talk to. Businesses will stay open as long as they’re following the health guidelines. If they are not following the health guidelines, they’ll be closed,” he said. “Because we can’t afford to let some, few number of businesses that don’t want to follow the guidelines jeopardize everybody else’s ability to stay open, which depends on our ability to control the spread of COVID-19.”

Elrich said county pools will reopen “soon,” but he would not be more specific. The county is working on preparing the pools for use.

Wading and baby pools will be closed, but slides and diving boards will be open.

“We’re moving in that direction. We have to bring on the personnel,” Elrich said. “We did not spend the money early to get pools ready because we didn’t know when we would be ready. There was a moment where none of us thought we’d even be thinking about opening pools this summer.”

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

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