How prepared is Montgomery Co. for coronavirus?

Department heads in Montgomery County updated the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday over coronavirus preparedness in Maryland’s largest county, as the state awaits test results from more patients for the disease.

The fact that Maryland — along with Virginia and D.C. — can now perform tests for the virus that causes COVID-19, gives health officials the ability to get a jump on possible cases.

“It has a significant impact in the ability to more quickly do contact tracing if a case were to be identified,” said Dr. Travis Gayles, referring to the process for identifying, diagnosing and treating patients.

Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, joined Gayles during the briefing.

Stoddard told council members that preparations to deal with COVID-19 virus have been underway since January. Among them are tabletop exercises, including one to test how teleworking across county agencies could work in the event of a disruptive outbreak.

“If there’s an action we’re asking the public to take, it will go out — in combination with public information — through the alert system,” Stoddard said, referring to the county’s text and email alert system.

Councilmember Tom Hucker noted that some county operations have not changed. One example is “social distancing,” where in-person meetings are replaced with teleconferencing.

Deputy Superintendent for Montgomery County Public Schools Monifa McKnight and school board President Shebra Evans also briefed council members.

McKnight said schools have asked cleaning staff to disinfect buildings, with special attention given to surfaces to prevent transmission of the virus.

“The Department of Health and Human Services will make the determination if we ever get to the point where a school closure is necessary,” McKnight said.

Gayles told council members that adopting fist bumps and elbow-to-elbow greetings could be helpful, since hands are a place where germs can live.

Councilmember Hans Riemer thanked Gayles for bringing that up, noting awkward interactions that crop up when people offer a handshake greeting. “I feel like we should declare a moratorium on handshakes,” he said, half-jokingly.

As Gayles and Stoddard answered questions about preparations, Stoddard closed the briefing by telling council members that people should pay attention to their emotional and mental health, along with their physical health.

Stoddard urged people not to become fearful and to seek out credible information.

“You need to stay calm and rational about this,” he said. “We’re going to be doing this for weeks or months, and you should be prepared to do that.”

More coronavirus coverage

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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