2021 | Coronavirus

What to know about COVID-19 vaccine, reopening in Montgomery County

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Pictured are Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses from the initial 100 delivered to Montgomery County officials on Dec. 23.

Photo from Montgomery County

With the introduction of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine and the state beginning to lift certain restrictions on Friday, residents are left wondering what the current status of reopening might be for Montgomery County.

The number of residents and workers being vaccinated in the county is increasing and coronavirus cases continue to drop. But county officials might not move as quickly into reopening as some other parts of the state.

Here’s what to know about the COVID-19 vaccine and where Montgomery County stands with reopening.

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What did Gov. Larry Hogan announce would reopen starting Friday? Will it be the same case for Montgomery County?

During a press conference on Tuesday, Hogan announced a new executive order that will loosen restrictions on restaurants and other businesses.

Capacity limits for indoor and outdoor dining can be removed across the state, starting Friday at 5 p.m. Restrictions were also lifted for retail shops, gyms, houses of worship, and recreation facilities.

Under Hogan’s order, jurisdictions will still be able to decide how and when to lift restrictions. But instead of relying on the governor’s order for that authority, counties will now have to reissue their restrictions and executive orders under their own authority.

The County Council is expected to hold a public hearing and vote on a Board of Health regulation on Friday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. Details of the proposed regulation are expected to be released Thursday night.

Before Hogan’s announcement on Tuesday, Dr. Travis Gayles said that restrictions on gathering limits and child care capacity could be eased if COVID-19 cases continue to decrease.

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Who is currently being vaccinated in the county?

Hospitals, medical providers and certain retail pharmacies are vaccinating residents and workers in Phases 1A, 1B and 1C, according to state guidelines. The state’s phases can be found here.

Montgomery County-run clinics are administering vaccines to residents and workers in Phases 1A and 1B, as well as adults age 65 to 74 in Phase 1C.

Among those are currently eligible are health care workers, medical providers, adults 65 years old or older, and certain essential workers. A list of the county’s phases can be found here.

Individuals in the rest of Phase 1C can preregister for the vaccine, which places their information into the county’s system. An invitation to schedule an appointment will be sent to individuals once they are eligible and a vaccine dose is available to them.

A tool to find a vaccination site near you can be found here.

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Why do the state and county have some different eligibility criteria for vaccine phases?

There are some difference in the eligibility between the state and county’s vaccination phases, such as certain medical conditions that qualify you for the vaccine.

According to Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the county’s health department, Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, said Thursday afternoon that health officers from the state’s counties created a prioritization framework and submitted it to the state for consideration.

“We have not aligned with the state exactly to make sure we prioritized those most vulnerable as an option,” he said. “We take our role as a safety net and protector of those most vulnerably seriously.”

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Can you choose which vaccine is administered to you?

Residents and workers are not able to choose which vaccine is administered to them, but health officials have assured that all of them are viable and effective. The approved vaccines are from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

County officials have said that there will likely be a specific type of vaccine at each county-run clinic. When residents register for an appointment, they will know which type of vaccine they will receive at the clinic.

If they do not want the particular vaccine associated with the appointment, there will be a potential wait for an appointment for a different vaccine.

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How many vaccine doses are being shipped to the county’s health department?

The county is receiving between 4,500 and 6,500 doses a week.

The state provides the county with four-week projections of vaccine dose allocations.

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How many residents have been vaccinated?

As of Thursday, 207,559 county residents — or 19.7% of the population — had received a first dose of a vaccine. Of those residents, 105,236 — or 10% of the population — have been fully vaccinated.

Two of the vaccines require two doses, spaced three to four weeks apart. A new vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, which came to the county last week, requires only one dose.

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Why does Montgomery County not have a mass vaccination site?

State delegates and county officials have been pushing the Maryland Department of Health to place a mass vaccination site in the county. But state officials have said they won’t consider any other potential locations until the planned six have all been opened.

However, the Maryland National Guard is expected to schedule a visit to a potential site proposed by the county at the Germantown campus of Montgomery College.

Multiple 10,000-square-foot or larger spaces are available at the college, including a gymnasium and conference space. The campus has thousands of parking spots.

It is right off I-270 and could be accessible to Frederick County residents. It is also in a ZIP code with a high rate of COVID-19 cases.

Mass vaccination sites at Six Flags America in Prince George’s County, Baltimore Convention Center, M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, and Regency Furniture Stadium in Charles County are currently open.

The remaining two sites are Wicomico Youth & Civic Center in Salisbury, opening no later than March 18, and Hagerstown Premium Outlets, opening on March 25.

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How can community groups get involved with setting up vaccine events?

Under the Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force’s recently announced equity plan, community groups can submit proposals for sponsoring a vaccine site for areas hard hit by COVID-19.

The task force will review proposals considering several factors, including the ability to address disparities in vaccine distribution, such as the number of residents with an annual income below $49,000, the percentage of minority and unemployed residents, and the number of people age 65 and older.

Support staff members will make recommendations to the task force leadership, which will decide which proposals to submit to the Maryland Department of Health for review and vaccine distribution.

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If COVID-19 vaccinations are increasing, is it still necessary to get COVID-19 tests?

You should still get a COVID-19 test if you have had any known exposures to anyone else who has had symptoms or who has tested positive — or if you have been around a large group of people or have traveled.

County officials have said COVID-19 testing has seen a dip in the last month. But testing helps the county track where and how cases are spreading.

Across two weeks in late February and early March, the county administered an average of about 5,500 tests. By comparison, the week of Dec. 26, the county administered more than 11,800 tests.

County officials said decreases testing are being seen across the country

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How do you 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 in Phases 1B and 1C can preregister for the vaccine here.

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

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

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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:
March 5 Q&A
February 24 Q&A
February 17 Q&A
January 19 Q&A

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