Montgomery Co. officials on vaccines, holiday travel and indoor dining lawsuit

The Silver Spring Red Line Metrorail station in Silver Spring, Maryland, is pictured on Dec. 1, 2020. (Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Montgomery County, Maryland’s health officer said it would likely be months before the general public has access to the COVID-19 vaccines, but county officials could see a limited supply as early as Wednesday.

Dr. Travis Gayles said during a weekly briefing Tuesday that he was not trying to be evasive, but it wasn’t clear how many doses would arrive and exactly when they would be delivered.

Gayles spoke at the briefing with County Executive Marc Elrich and Earl Stoddard, the director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

As of Tuesday, Gayles said it was likely that the county would get 100 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Gayles did say that health workers involved in the county’s vaccination plans would be at the front of the line to receive vaccines.

Elrich told reporters, “I will be getting my vaccine shot when it’s my turn, whenever what category I’m in.”

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks got her vaccination Tuesday, as did Prince George’s County’s Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Elrich mum on claims he overstepped authority

At the start of Tuesday’s briefing, Elrich told reporters he would not be commenting on the lawsuit that alleges he overstepped his authority when he ordered a ban on indoor dining.

In the lawsuit, filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, lawyers for dozens of restaurants said that Elrich’s move “is an abuse of his discretion, is arbitrary and capricious and violates the standards set forth in Montgomery County Code.”

Elrich responded to a question about the lawsuit’s allegations by saying, “We took this step out of grave concern for public health. And we’ve invested millions to assist our restaurants during this pandemic because we want them to survive. But, first and foremost, we have to preserve lives.”

The suit also insists that Elrich’s move does not lessen risk to the public but actually escalates it.

The court document states the ban “will increase the spread of COVID-19 and destroy the lives of those dependent on the food service industry.”

The argument includes the assertion that people who can’t go to restaurants will instead hold gatherings in their homes and offices.

“These homes and offices, though perhaps clean, are not licensed and inspected by health department officials,” the court document reads.

Stoddard has previously said that dining together in any setting is risky behavior.

“If you’re with people that aren’t part of your immediate, traditional household, it’s riskier. If you’re doing anything for extended periods of time, it’s riskier. And if you’re doing it without a face covering, it’s riskier. So, when you align all those things together, that’s how you get to the question of what are some of the highest risk activities,” said Stoddard, adding that these are part of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A hearing in Montgomery County Circuit Court is scheduled for Wednesday.

Winter holiday travel

Elrich expressed frustration when asked about holiday travel. “I don’t have the draconian powers that could actually curb travel. We’ve been very clear about our messaging,” he said.

Elrich noted that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan had ordered restrictions on out-of-state travel, and said he was in total agreement with Hogan on that point.

Gayles said another issue is what people do when they get to their destinations.

“What types of environments are they going in? Are they continuing to wear their face coverings? Are they continuing to appropriately physically distance away from individuals who are not a part of their household?” Gayles said.

Elrich urged people to stay home for the holidays. “If we do this right … More of the people we care about are going to be here to join us next year,” the county executive said.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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