Citing a continued spike in COVID-19 figures, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich announced Wednesday he would issue an order to limit capacity at a number of businesses, including restaurants, retailers and places of worship.
Under the new order, the size of public gatherings would be reduced to 25 people — down from 50.
Capacity limits at restaurants and retailers, as well as at other food service establishments, fitness centers, museums and art galleries, will also be pared back to 25% capacity.
For bowling alleys and personal service venues, capacity limits are set to be capped at 25% capacity or 25 people, whichever is lower.
In addition, religious facilities would also have to limit capacity to 25% under the new rules.
“We have definitely gone beyond the one-day spike,” Elrich said of the county’s coronavirus caseload during an online news briefing Wednesday afternoon.
The new measures, if approved by the Montgomery County Council, would go into effect Friday at 5 p.m. The council is expected to review the order Thursday.
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The count of new coronavirus cases in Montgomery County in recent days has hovered around 150 cases a day. In late summer, that number had dropped to as low as 35 and 40.
In addition, the number of new daily cases per 100,000 residents has been above 13 since Sunday. Two weeks ago, it was about 10. Based on CDC data, the county considers any figure above 10 as being at high risk of transmission.
The positivity rate remains below a key 5% indicator, at 3.3.%.
Regarding the tightened restrictions on restaurants, Elrich said many of them were already having a hard time reaching 50% capacity with the mandated social distancing measures in place.
“So, this is a little less draconian than it seems,” Elrich said. “But it’s a necessary step.”
The county has been hinting for weeks that it would tighten restrictions given the rising case numbers.
“This was a really difficult discussion,” Elrich said. “None of us — none of us — are happy about having to do this. But we’re more unhappy about the numbers and where these numbers are going.”
The county is also seeking to, once again, curtail late-night alcohol sales by dine-in customers. Under the new rules, alcohol sales would cut off at 10 p.m.
For the first time, the county would also be requiring restaurants to take down customers’ names and contact information for contact tracing efforts. The customer records would have to be kept for 30 days. D.C. has already required restaurants to take customers’ information.
Contact tracing data continues to show that family and social gatherings still stand out as big drivers of coronavirus infection in the county.
Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, called the tightened restrictions Elrich announced Wednesday “first-line measures,” that he said he hoped would halt the rise in cases “and, hopefully, prevent us from having to take further steps to curb the pandemic.”
Gayles added, “We don’t want to wait for the numbers to worsen.”