2021 | Coronavirus

What to know about how the county is reopening

Have questions about COVID-19 vaccines or restrictions? We’ll try to answer them.

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A county resident receives her first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at the vaccine site on Montgomery College's Germantown campus on March 31, 2021.

File photo

Montgomery County is moving forward in ways that could make this summer more normal than the last one.

The county is beginning to lift restrictions based on the percentage of vaccinations — a move that officials say will motivate residents to get vaccinated and encourage others to do so.

The first phase of the new three-phase reopening plan began on Tuesday. The threshold for the first phase — 50% of the population receiving at least one dose — was reached on Monday, but the County Council, acting as the Board of Health, did not approve the plan until Tuesday.

The beginning of the second phase, which is expected to be reached in the next two or three weeks, will be triggered by 60% of the population receiving a first dose.

The last phase will be reached once 50% of the population is fully vaccinated with a second dose or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Officials estimate that it will take an additional four to six weeks to reach the third phase.

Although Gov. Larry Hogan fully lifted the state’s outdoor mask mandate and restrictions on outdoor dining, county officials have said they won’t be lifting those locally.

What is allowed in the first phase of the new reopening plan?

Because 50% of the county’s population has had a first dose, the first phase of the plan makes the following changes:
● Gathering limits increase to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors (previously 25 indoors and 50 outdoors)
● Businesses limited to 25% capacity move to 50% capacity and can sell concessions with social distancing
● Camps can move to the gathering limits of 50 indoors and 100 outdoors (previously 25 indoors and 50 outdoors)
● Escape rooms — in which groups try to solve clues to earn their way out of an enclosed area — can allow 10 people per game (previously 6 people per private game)
● Museums and galleries can reopen touch exhibits
● Malls can reopen pedestrian concourses and return tables and chairs inside
● Sports can move to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors, with a similar number of spectators (previously 25 indoors and 50 outdoors)

What restrictions will be lifted in the second and third phases of reopening?

The second phase will begin when 60% of the population has had a first dose. The following changes will go into effect:
● Gathering limits will increase to 250 people indoors and no limit outdoors
● Most businesses will move to 75% capacity and can sell food and drink for consumption while seated
● Camps can increase to gathering limits of 250 people indoors with no capacity limits outdoors and can permit campers from outside Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia
● Convention and banquet facilities will be limited to 50% of the maximum capacity per state restrictions
● Cigar and hookah bars can permit smoking outdoors
● Food service establishments can move to 75% of maximum capacity
● Religious facilities can move to 75% of maximum capacity
● Sports can increase capacity for participants and spectators to 250 people indoors and no limit outdoors

The third phase will be reached once 50% of the population has been fully vaccinated with a second dose or a one-dose vaccine. Under the last phase, the county will no longer have local restrictions and will instead follow any state or Maryland Department of Health requirements in place at the time.

If the governor lifted the outdoor mask mandate and outdoor dining restrictions, why is Montgomery County not also lifting those?

Although the governor can lift certain restrictions for the state, local jurisdictions still have the power to implement stricter regulations.

Montgomery County officials have said that they will continue to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on outdoor mask use, which is still recommended for unvaccinated people.

Hogan lifted the entire outdoor mask mandate on Tuesday, but strongly encouraged unvaccinated individuals to still wear a mask.

He said the new state guidance is in line with the CDC, while the county says it isn’t. The CDC uses stronger language than the state in some areas, including the need for unvaccinated people to uses masks in certain outdoor settings.

Outdoor dining restrictions in the state will be lifted on Saturday, but not in Montgomery County.

Hogan announced on Tuesday that standing service would resume outdoors at bars and restaurants and all restrictions related to outdoor dining capacity and distancing would be lifted. Seated service and physical distancing requirements are still in place for indoor dining.

Montgomery County will continue to follow a specific Maryland Department of Health order that lays out certain restrictions such as spacing, distancing, and cleaning requirements, as well as prohibition of standing service.

What changes are coming to appointments at the county’s mass vaccination site?

Starting on Saturday, residents will no longer have to preregister for a vaccine appointment at the county’s mass vaccination site on Montgomery College’s Germantown campus.

The site will switch to an open appointment system. Those who have preregistered will be contacted by the end of Friday to set up an appointment.

Appointments can be made online at covidvax.maryland.gov or by calling 855-634-6829.

County officials also expect to potentially add walk-up lines at the site when demand for the vaccine wanes.

What is the status of the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

Montgomery County will resume using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the mass vaccination site and its clinics on Monday.

Use of the vaccine was paused on April 13 while federal agencies reviewed a potential link to 15 cases of rare blood clots — thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome. None have been in Montgomery County.

The one-dose vaccine was cleared for use again last week. More than 8 million J&J doses were administered across the country before the pause.

When the county temporarily stopped using the J&J doses, officials stored 1,300 doses of the vaccine for the mass vaccination site and about 284 doses for county clinics. Officials have already started using the vaccine again for homebound vaccinations.

What concerns remain for taking the J&J vaccine?

According to the CDC, women younger than 50 years old “should be aware of the rare but increased risk” of the blood clots that the reports have suggested follow use of the J&J vaccine.

People who receive the J&J vaccine should watch for symptoms of a blood clot over the three weeks following inoculation.

Those symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal pain, severe or persistent headaches or blurred vision, and easy bruising or tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the injection site.

If anyone developed one or more of those symptoms within the three-week timeframe, they should immediately seek medical care, according to the CDC.

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, said during a media briefing on Wednesday that if people have concerns about the vaccine, they should speak with their medical provider.

“It’s cause for concern when you do see the report of those cases. … But there were over 8 million other folks who received the [J&J] vaccine,” he said. “I would imagine probably 60% of those have been women so far as women have been outpacing men in terms of getting the vaccines. The overwhelming majority did not have those complications.”

If people still have concerns about the vaccine after seeking advice from their medical providers, they can stick with either of the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, Gayles said.

Do I need consent from a parent or guardian to receive a vaccine if I am younger than 18?

Yes, you will need consent from a parent or guardian if you are 16 or 17.

How should children ages 16 and 17 sign up, since they can only receive the Pfizer vaccine?

When the county’s preregistration site pulls names for appointments each week, staff members check the list to ensure that residents ages 16 and 17 will receive an appointment for a Pfizer vaccine dose.

Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for people under age 18.

If I am homebound, how can I get a vaccine?

When residents preregister through the county’s system, they can indicate whether they are homebound.

The county is working with a clinical partner to administer homebound vaccinations.

How do I get to the county’s mass vaccination site if I don’t have a car?

A free Ride On Vaccination Shuttle is being offered for transportation between the Shady Grove Metro Station and the mass vaccination site at Montgomery College in Germantown.

The vaccination shuttle runs every 15 minutes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. At the Metro station, the shuttle will be at Bus Bay H.

Ride On bus Route 55 goes to the college on its run between Rockville Metro Station and Germantown Transit Center.

I’ve already been vaccinated. Can I cancel my preregistration with the county health department?

Yes. If you have already been vaccinated elsewhere, you can cancel your preregistration for a county-run clinic here. Completing the form will take you off the list.

How many residents have been vaccinated?

As of Thursday, 548,780 county residents, or 52.2% of the county’s total population, have received a first dose of a two-dose vaccine from Pfizer or Moderna. The two-dose vaccines are administered three to four weeks apart.

There are 374,236 county residents, or 35.6% of the population, who are fully vaccinated with a second dose or with the one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.

The county reports that data using the total population, which includes minors under age 16 who are not eligible for a vaccine.

How do I find more information?

More information can be found through these resources:
● Montgomery County vaccine website: https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/covid19/vaccine/
● Maryland vaccine website: https://coronavirus.maryland.gov/pages/vaccine
● Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine page: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/index.html

Residents and workers 16 and older can preregister with the county.

A Preregistration Helpline for county-run clinics is available at 240-777-2982. General vaccine questions can be directed to the county at 240-777-1755.

Staff members are available for callers in English and Spanish. The call center is open Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Have a question that wasn’t answered here?

Email your question to briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com and include “COVID Q&A” in the subject line. We will try to answer it.

Our past vaccine Q&As are available here:
April 23
April 16
April 9
April 2
March 26
March 18
March 11
March 5
February 24
February 17
January 19

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