- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2020

A Montgomery County emergency management official said Wednesday the county is stockpiling resources in preparation for a second wave of COVID-19.

Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said the county has stockpiled almost 4 million N-95 masks, a stark contrast to the 30,000 it had before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“Obviously, we’re in a substantially different place. We feel very comfortable about having enough personal protective equipment for our first responders, police, fire, correctional facilities, our congregate living settings and shelters and our ability to support, if necessary, our health care institutions should they be overwhelmed as they were in the fall,” Mr. Stoddard said.

Earlier this week, Montgomery County officials relaxed restrictions for houses of worship, allowing for larger gatherings with certain safety protocols in place. Houses of worship now can allow up to 40% capacity or a gathering size that is the total square footage of worship space divided by 50, under an amended executive order issued Tuesday.

Seating at churches, temples and synagogues must adhere to physical distancing, and faith leaders, volunteers and other staff must be screened with health questions before the first service of each day.

The amended order exempts children under the age of 18 from wearing a face covering while playing sports and explicitly caps indoor food service at 50%.

The revised order went into effect Tuesday at 5 p.m.

While the county’s public schools have provided online-only instruction, some nonpublic schools have hosted in-person learning. Montgomery County Public Schools are working with nonpublic schools on a recovery plan and developing a hybrid model for when its students eventually return to the classrooms, according to Mr. Stoddard.

Some public schools in the region already are moving ahead with allowing some students to return to the classroom. The Fairfax County School Board voted Tuesday to allow some students to return to the classroom for in-person learning beginning in October, WTOP reported.

The plan involves bringing back 3.5% of teachers and students for in-person cohorts. Preschool students with or without autism, English learner newcomers, elementary students and students who require adapted curriculum programs would be allowed to return.

About 6,700 students and 650 teachers would be brought back to Fairfax schools under the plan.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also has expressed a desire to bring students back to school for small group learning. Although the District’s phase two plan allows for in-person learning, D.C. Public Schools is providing online-only learning for the first academic term.

The District on Monday released new health metrics the city has to meet in order to move to phase three of reopening. The District has been in phase two since June 22. Asked why the District hasn’t moved to the next phase, D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt has said a variety of factors plays into relaxing restrictions, including seeing more clusters of cases linked to each other.

As of Monday, the District met five of the 13 health metrics required to transition to phase three, including a test positivity rate below 3%, less than 80% of hospital utilization, fewer than 5% of COVID-19 patients in hospitals, 90% or more of positive cases with a contact attempt within one day, and 90% or more of close contacts with a contact attempt within two days.

But the District has not met other metrics, including a daily case rate of less than 5 per 100,000 people, or an average test turnaround time of less than two days. The new criteria require the District to have more than 80% of positive cases interviewed within three days and more than 60% of new cases come from quarantined contacts.

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