2021 | Government

Montgomery County health officer supports COVID-19 vaccine passport

Elrich wants County Council to implement a measure; council chair points to existing apps

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Montgomery County’s top health official on Wednesday for the first time publicly endorsed a proposal to require a COVID-19 vaccination passport.

County Executive Marc Elrich last month said leaders across the region were discussing the possibility of a vaccination passport, as proof of immunization, but did not name any other jurisdictions specifically. He said he believed it would be more effective to implement on a regional or statewide approach.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments last week wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat that an “informal” discussion was held about the possibility, but “no follow up discussions on this topic are scheduled.”

On Wednesday, Elrich again pushed for the mandate locally, and said he is “going to suggest” the County Council implement the measure.

Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said that “from a public health standpoint, that is something we would feel comfortable recommending and supporting.”

Both Gayles and Elrich emphasized there is no formal proposal drafted.

County Council President Tom Hucker said in an interview he would have to learn more about Elrich’s proposal before commenting on it.

But he added there are two mobile apps that several businesses in the state and Washington D.C., are using to verify people’s vaccination status or record test results: the CLEAR app and the MyIR app. Many businesses, including restaurants, are free to use one of those two apps if they feel it is necessary, he said.

“I’m more than open to it, but those two [apps] already exist,” Hucker said of the passport proposal.

Elrich said he believes the passport would encourage people to go to establishments because they would know everyone else there was vaccinated.

“When cases are higher, there’s more anxiety about exposure, and this hurts businesses that already have had a miserable 18 months,” Elrich said. “… With the high level of people that we’ve got vaccinated … vaccine passports aren’t going to keep customers away.”

Elrich added the passport concept could make Montgomery County “the destination to go” because consumers would feel more comfortable that the dining experience “would be safer in Montgomery than it is in other places.”

He said there could be an option for unvaccinated people to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test obtained within the past 72 hours.

Gayles added that the concept would likely encourage more people to get vaccinated and avoid having to reimpose capacity restrictions on restaurants and other businesses.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Montgomery County was reporting a rate of 105.26 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, the highest mark since mid-February. A rate of 100 or more cases per 100,000 people falls within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “high transmission” category; the county moved from “substantial transmission” to “high transmission” status Sunday.

The percentage of hospital beds being used by COVID-19 patients was about 5.4%, markedly lower than the rate of 13% reported the last time the case rate per 100,000 people was at a comparable level.

Bethesda Beat staff writer Steve Bohnel contributed to this story.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com