Montogmery County will start reopening on Monday, Marc Elrich announced

UPDATED: Montgomery County will start reopening on Monday, Elrich says

Protesters yell insults at county executive during press conference

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Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich announced on Thursday that the county is going to begin reopening on Monday. Hecklers yelled insults at him as he spoke at a press conference in Gaithersburg.

Photos by Briana Adhikusuma

Montgomery County will begin its first phase of reopening on Monday at 6 a.m., County Executive Marc Elrich said Thursday afternoon at a press conference marked by hecklers yelling insults at him.

Under the county’s reopening, restaurants and bars can reopen with limited outdoor seating. Retail stores can do business only through curbside service.

As Elrich spoke at the Main Street pavilion in Gaithersburg, a crowd of people shouted several insults at him, such as “Nazi,” “Fascist” and “dictator.” They also yelled profanity and booed him and Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, chanting “Reopen” and “Open retail.”

Both Elrich and Gayles had to repeatedly pause as they spoke because the people were yelling over them.

Several of the protesters were holding signs that read “Free us please!” and “OPEN Montgomery County!”

Even though Maryland has begun its phased-in reopening, Montgomery County, which has been harder hit by coronavirus than most counties, has been holding back and waiting for more improvement.

As he was heckled, Elrich told the crowd: “Only the actions we’ve taken flattened the curve.”

At another point, Elrich addressed the protesters by saying: “You guys are funny because most of this is part of the governor’s plan.”

Some police officers stood nearby.

As county officials ended the press conference and walked away, protesters chanted, “Recall!”

Other provisions of Montgomery County first-phase reopening include:

• Child care services are allowed to open for state-approved emergency programs for essential employees. It also applies to employees of businesses and other entities that can reopen in the first phase.

• Hair salons and barber shops can operate for hair-only appointments.

• Car washes can do exterior cleaning only.

• Manufacturing businesses can fully reopen with precautions and guidance.

• Outdoor day camps and youth sports programs can resume under state guidelines that were outlined on Wednesday.

County officials reiterated that the public should follow best practices while the first phase of reopening takes effect, including wearing face coverings in public indoor spaces, maintaining a social distance from others, limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people and teleworking when possible.

Some businesses and amenities can’t open yet under the first phase. They include:
• Swimming pools (licensing and inspection can be requested and conducted)
• Senior centers
• Fitness centers
• Movie theaters
• Shopping malls
• Nail salons

The county is looking ahead to when it might be able to further loosen restrictions. Gayles said the county will continue to monitor the same benchmarks it has been using.

He said the second phase could include more lenient restrictions on capacity at restaurants and retail shops and permission for more people to gather in one place.

Several outdoor recreation activities have been allowed even before Elrich’s reopening announcements.

They include:
• Golf courses
• Archery
• Shooting ranges
• Marinas
• Campgrounds
• Horseback riding facilities
• Tennis courts

The County Council announced Thursday evening that it would have a virtual public hearing and vote on an executive order to ease stay-at-home restrictions on Friday at 1 p.m. Written, audio and video testimony for the public hearing can be submitted on the council’s website.

Gov. Larry Hogan said during a press conference on Wednesday that Montgomery County was the only jurisdiction in the state that had not publicly announced a plans for reopening. He said Montgomery County should set a reopening date and “ought to move forward.”

Elrich said Wednesday, before Hogan spoke, that he expected the county’s reopening date could be close to Prince George’s County’s reopening date, which is Monday.

A week ago, Hogan allowed Maryland to start reopening some of its businesses and amenities, as long as social distancing practices were used to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Hogan on Wednesday announced additional measures: Outdoor dining, outdoor pools, day camps, youth sports, and social organizations could begin to reopen under strict guidelines starting at 5 p.m. on Friday. Only outdoor activities in each case would be allowed.

Dr. Travis Gayles, Montgomery County’s health officer, speaks during a press conference in Gaithersburg on Thursday

Montgomery County has used some different metrics for determining a reopening date than the state has been using and is not following all of the state’s reopening actions.

As of Thursday afternoon, the county was meeting two of the nine metrics it established for deciding whether to reopen.

Montgomery County has been factoring in the number of new cases each day. But Hogan said that metric shouldn’t be included because cases will go up every day until there’s a vaccine.

“The county leaders aren’t really paying attention to the state plan,” Hogan said Wednesday. “They’re kind of making up their own metrics.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Elrich stood firm in not setting a date until the county has had more improvement and has seen sustained decreases in several conditions for reopening.

Both Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia plan to start lifting restrictions on Friday. The District’s latest stay-at-home order was supposed to be in effect until June 8.
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.

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