2021 | Government

County officials say next reopening phase, tied to vaccinations, expected by May 21

Last reopening phase could start in late May or early June

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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 officials are looking ahead to a more normal spring, with fewer coronavirus-related restrictions. The county expects to lift another round of requirements by May 21.

The county is currently in the first phase of its three-phase reopening plan.

The new plan was implemented on April 27, when 50% of the county’s population had received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Each of the reopening phases begin when a certain vaccination threshold is reached. The second phase begins when 60% of the county’s population has received a first dose of a vaccine. It will further lift restrictions on businesses, gatherings and activities.

When 50% of the county’s population is fully vaccinated — within two weeks of receiving a second dose or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine — the county will enter the final phase.

The last phase will end county-specific restrictions and instead, revert restrictions and regulations to what the state has in place. For much of the pandemic, Montgomery County has held back on advances in reopening, using a more cautious approach to try to restrict the spread of the virus. Switching to state standards will represent lighter restrictions.

Earl Stoddard, executive director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, told the County Council on Tuesday that he expects the county will reach the second reopening phase by May 21.

Stoddard said 47.5% of the county’s population has received a second dose or a one-dose vaccine.

With that percentage going up about 0.6 percentage points each day, he expected that sometime next week, the countdown would begin for the two-week period before half the population is fully vaccinated. It takes approximately two weeks after a second dose or the one-dose vaccine to have full protection against the virus.

“Right by the end of May, we’ll be there, or the first week of June, for that last phase,” he said.

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, noted that the timeline estimate is based on people getting vaccinated.

“This is dependent upon folks coming in and getting vaccinated. So we need you to come in and get vaccinated. … I know [officials and the public] had some disagreements about numbers throughout the pandemic,” he said. “But here’s a clear one — our reopening metrics are tied to the number of folks getting vaccinated. You control your destiny on that one.”

The ultimate reason to get vaccinated is for health, but it’s also the key to being able to move closer to removing more restrictions, Gayles said.

Children ages 12 to 15 are expected to become eligible on Thursday for the Pfizer vaccine, which is going through final approval for the age group. That increase in eligible residents is expected to give the county a small boost for vaccinations, according to health officials.

The only people left on the county’s vaccine appointment preregistration list are individuals who live outside the county and outside the state, Stoddard said.

The county has yet to vaccinate about 185 homebound residents.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to set up two vaccine clinic sites in the county — one in upcounty and another in East county — to provide 200 vaccine doses a day for seven to 10 days in early June. The locations are being finalized.

Last week, the county launched a text message campaign in areas where there were disproportionately lower vaccination rates, particularly in Black and brown communities. About 147,000 text messages were sent to residents to encourage them to get vaccinated.

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