- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Montgomery County has seen an uptick in COVID-19 cases following Labor Day and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement that the state can move to phase three of reopening, a top county health official said Wednesday.

Since Labor Day, the county has seen several days where cases are close to or exceed 100 cases, according to County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles. The county recorded 121 new cases on Sept. 8, 119 on Sept. 9, 98 on Sept. 10 and 101 on Sept. 11.

As of Wednesday, Montgomery County recorded another 92 coronavirus infections for a total of 21,375 cases. More than 790 residents have died from the illness, health department data shows.

Although Mr. Hogan authorized Maryland to move to phase three, Montgomery County officials decided to keep the county in phase two with some modifications. The county is now allowing outdoor performances as long as they are limited to 50 people and audience members practice physical distancing, County Executive Marc Elrich told reporters Wednesday. Venues would have to submit a letter requesting approval.

County officials are also in talks with restaurants and bars about extending the alcohol sale curfew beyond 10 p.m. Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said there are discussions of an opt-in program, where venues would have to agree to a series of enhanced safety provisions and on-site monitoring and enforcement if they want to sell alcohol between 10 p.m. and midnight.

But if new coronavirus cases continue to trend upward, Dr. Gayles said it could force the county to renew restrictions and to shut down certain businesses again. In order to move to the next phase of reopening, the health officer said the county would have to see sustained improvement in health trends such as moderate and low transmission of COVID-19, which ranges from 10 to 35 cases a day.

Montgomery County has also signed with CIAN Diagnostics to be its primary coronavirus test supplier, which provides self-administered nasal swab tests. The contract will prevent the county from having to switch up or pause testing at clinical sites, which the county had to do when it suspended the use of coronavirus tests by Rockville-based biotech company AdvaGenix.

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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