Opinion: Commentary: Montgomery County Council Approves Phased Reopening Tied to Improving Metrics

Opinion: Commentary: Montgomery County Council Approves Phased Reopening Tied to Improving Metrics

Tuesday, the County Council acting as the Board of Health approved a phased reopening strategy tied to the significant progress we've been able to make on vaccinations. Thanks to the precautions taken and sacrifices made by residents and business owners, and the diligence of just more than 50 percent of County residents who have received at least their first dose of vaccine so far, we're in a much safer and more stable situation. Together, we’ve successfully reduced COVID case rates in Montgomery County below the important benchmarks of 10 new cases per 100,000 residents (currently 7.93) and the test positivity rate of three (currently 2.15).

I have consistently pushed for our County to employ target reopening metrics because of our responsibility to be transparent about the conditions public health experts believe would be safe to begin loosening restrictions. Today's amended public health order does just that and is modeled on phased reopening strategies that are being successfully implemented in states such as Illinois and California. 

Here are some of the major changes that went into effect today, as more than 50 percent (50.4 percent) of the County's population has now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine:

• Gathering limits increase to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors;

• Businesses previously open at 25 percent capacity (including theaters) now move to 50 percent capacity and may serve concessions with social distancing;

• Capacities for sports activities increase to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors, with a similar number of spectators.

• Malls may fully reopen concourses and museums may reopen interactive exhibits.

Once 60 percent of the County's population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, which we hope to achieve in the coming weeks:

• Gathering limits will increase to 250 people indoors and no limit outdoors (including for sports and summer camp activities);

• Most businesses move to 75 percent capacity;

• Camps may permit campers from outside of Maryland, D.C., or Virginia;

• Convention and banquet facilities will be limited to 50 percent capacity in line with State restrictions;

• Religious facilities move to 75 percent capacity.

Finally, at 50 percent of the County's population being fully vaccinated, the County will follow any State or Maryland Department of Health requirements in place at the time. With 33.6 percent of the population fully vaccinated as of today, this phase is expected to occur within six weeks.

If COVID community transmission metrics begin to increase, the Health Officer will report those concerns to the Council, which may suspend the next phase of reopening pending the required public hearing procedure.

As always, please encourage your loved ones and friends age 16 and over to pre-register to receive a vaccine, through the County, the State, or a private physician or pharmacy. The more we encourage those around us to get vaccinated, the faster we can move to the next phase of reopening. The decreasing number of people suffering from COVID proves that vaccines work. This has been an incredibly challenging period of our lives. Thanks to your commitment to keeping yourself and others around you safe and healthy, we're finally much closer to returning to some semblance of normalcy.