The Montgomery County Council has voted to reinstate COVID-19 restrictions that tighten the rules for businesses, restaurants and religious organizations amid an ongoing hike in coronavirus cases throughout the region.
The new rules approved by council members Tuesday reduce capacity limits for restaurants, retail outlets and personal services businesses to 25% — down from 50% previously. The reduced capacity limits also apply to religious facilities.
In addition, public gatherings are limited to 25 people — down from 50 before.
The nine-member council voted reluctantly to reinstate the restrictions, with members saying there were no good answers to balancing the need to safeguard public health and protect local businesses.
The vote was unanimous, and the order goes into effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Under the new rules, public gatherings, such as parties, receptions and festivals, are limited to 25 people or fewer.
Capacity limits are now set at 25% for fitness centers, indoor restaurant dining, retail businesses and religious facilities. At personal services establishments, such as hair salons, barbershops, massage parlors and nail salons, capacity is capped at 25% or 25 people, whichever is fewer.
Last week, the county also ended a program that allowed some bars and restaurants to serve alcohol to dine-in customers after 10 p.m.
At-large Council member Gabe Albornoz said the new rules were necessary because of the rising number of cases in the county, which he called “stark and sobering.”
Montgomery County reported 187 new coronavirus cases recently. In general, the average number of new cases is near 200.
The number of new cases per 100,000 people is 18.1. Using CDC data, the county considers anything above 10 as indicative of a high risk of transmission of the coronavirus.
Statewide, number are climbing as well. On Tuesday, the Maryland Department of Health reported another 1,338 confirmed coronavirus cases.
“COVID is at an all-time high … here in Montgomery County, in the state of Maryland,” said Council member Craig Rice. “And so, from that perspective, we really have to act now.”
As they voted, the council members said a regional approach was critical to making efforts to reduce the spread of the virus, ahead of Gov. Larry Hogan’s news briefing Tuesday evening.
“We need the state to step up and provide leadership not only for Maryland, but for the whole region … because a local jurisdiction implementing its own stay-at-home order is a very severe measure to take in the absence of other jurisdictions doing the same thing,” Council member Hans Riemer said. “It puts us in a very difficult posture.”
Last week, Hogan addressed the state’s climbing COVID-19 caseload and urged Marylanders to “wear the damn masks” and comply with other safety measures, but stopped short of mandating new statewide restrictions. On Tuesday evening, he announced updated restrictions for the state.
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