- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said Wednesday the county unlikely will move to phase 3 of reopening, following an announcement this week that all businesses in Maryland can open.

County officials will likely instead modify its current stage of reopening and lift restrictions on a case-by-case basis contrary to state recommendations.

“I’m disappointed in the approach Maryland is taking in going directly to phase 3. I’m disappointed because none of the elected officials in the state got consulted on this. Nobody asked us, ‘What do you know? What do you think? What are you hearing? What are you experiencing?’” Mr. Elrich said, adding health officials were not consulted either.

He said Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to allow the state to move to phase 3 was not guided by a health approach, but rather by a desire to boost the economy.

“I get the desire to reopen businesses. I would love to have the tax revenue, but I don’t want the tax revenue if the price to be paid is more sick people and more fatalities in our community. It is not worth it if you can’t do it [reopening] safely,” said Mr. Elrich, a Democrat.

On Tuesday, Mr. Hogan announced that all businesses, including movie theaters and live entertainment venues, in the state can operate at a limited capacity beginning 5 p.m. Friday.

However, local officials have the authority to decide how to reopen and when to relax restrictions.

Although Mr. Hogan touted improved health metrics regarding the pandemic, Montgomery County officials said there has not been sustained improvement with coronavirus infections in their jurisdiction.

The county is averaging about 70 cases per day, but recorded 87 new infections Tuesday and 97 Monday — a higher caseload than what was reported a few weeks ago when there was an average of 40 to 50 infections. The county was reporting an average of 4 to 8 cases in mid-March, when the state initially shut down.

“We’re still at much higher numbers than where we were when we closed things down the first time,” said County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles. “So we just want to make sure we continue to be mindful of that because as we open up more things that increases contact points and that works with transmission. And the higher the viral load is in our community, the more likely it is and the easier it is for it spread to individuals and lead to a significant increase in cases.”

The health officer said the county is studying trends of low transmission (10 cases per day) and moderate transmission (about 35 cases a day) among other factors in considering when to reopen. He said the county should see sustained improvement for health metrics for at least 14 days per federal guidance.

While some health indicators for the county have improved, others have not. According to Dr. Gayles, the test positivity rate over the past three days increased from 2.4% to 2.7%.

Dr. Gayles said the health department will review the governor’s phase 3 plan and issue new guidelines by Friday ahead of the Labor Day weekend.

The coronavirus has sickened more than 20,100 Montgomery County residents and killed more than 780 as of Wednesday, health department data shows.

Last month, Mr. Elrich amended his executive order on reopening guidelines, allowing museums, art galleries and bowling alleys to reopen with restrictions and for soccer games and scrimmages to resume.

Montgomery County opened athletic fields for low- and medium-risk sports games for groups of 50 people or less at local parks, recreation centers and public schools. This month, fields at regional and recreational parks also will open.

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