Playing and praying: Montgomery County tweaks COVID-19 restrictions

The Montgomery County Council approved tweaks to COVID-19 restrictions that relax some of the existing rules, to allow more people to pray at houses of worship and let kids play outdoor sports without masks in the Maryland county.

“The new guidance we’re getting today on religious institutions — I obviously would have preferred it to happen before Rosh Hashanah, but glad that it’s happening now,” Council Member Andrew Friedson said at a meeting Tuesday.

Friedson told his colleagues on the council that he’d recently attended services online, “and it was bizarre to me to look at a virtual, empty sanctuary.”

The council also approved a provision that grants an exception to mask requirements for kids taking part in sports outside. The restrictions for masking up when playing sports outdoors would remain in place for adults 18 and over.

But while Gov. Larry Hogan recently announced that restaurants could increase seating capacity to 75%, Montgomery County will continue to restrict dining capacity to 50%.

Council Member Craig Rice said it’s critical that people comply with wearing masks and social distancing. “If we cannot control community spread, if we can’t get folks to do what they need to do, we are not going to open” county schools.

“Those people who continue to choose to be irresponsible and put the safety of Montgomery County residents at risk — they’re the ones who are keeping our schools closed,” Rice said. “Let’s come together; let’s follow the rules.”

There have been discussions about how relaxing restrictions on alcohol sales at the county’s restaurants could work.

Eric Heckman, co-owner of Caddies On Cordell, a bar and grill in Bethesda, encouraged the council to expand the hours they could sell alcohol. Currently, alcohol sales must stop at 10 p.m.

Heckman told the council, “Most restaurants are experiencing huge decreases in revenue. This is going to get worse as the weather gets colder and our outside facilities are not as useful.” Any expansion of alcohol sales, he said, would be a big help.

Heckman said his business works hard to comply with the restrictions still in place. “We endorse very strong and strict protocols,” he said, explaining his staff takes customers’ temperatures at the door and enforces social distancing. He added that Caddies has four “very large — and professional” security staff members dedicated to enforcing COVID-19 precautions.

Dr. Earl Stoddard, the executive director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said further guidance on expanding alcohol sales could come later this week.

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.

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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