Montgomery County officials are clarifying a recent order that requires residents to wear masks outdoors at all times if not in a private area.
In a directive Wednesday, the county’s health officer, Dr. Travis Gayles, said it would require all residents to wear face coverings “outdoors and whenever coming into contact with individuals who are not members of their household.”
Some WTOP readers said this order was too vague, and made it seem as though masks were required when outside for any reason.
Gayles said in a briefing that the county will require residents to wear face masks when going outside if it’s possible they will encounter another person who is not a member of their household.
County officials said this did not apply to using private backyard space or stepping outside when the chance of running into another person was low.
The tighter restrictions come as the county is forced to have tough conversations around the spike in cases seen in Maryland and across the nation, Gayles said.
“We’ve had to revisit conversations we had in the spring — for example: Do we have adequate morgue space?” Gayles said.
“In the spring, we had to order refrigerated trucks in order to be able to provide additional support to our hospitals, and based upon the numbers and the trends of how they’ve moved forward, and looking at the hospital data … we know if we see any semblance to what we saw in the spring … we could potentially run out of space.”
The restrictions were put into place as the county gears up for a potential spike caused by Thanksgiving travel and social gatherings.
County Executive Marc Elrich said he would like to see the state move back into Phase One of coronavirus restrictions, but that he would not take the county back to that level on its own, because he felt it would not be effective if Montgomery County were the only jurisdiction to tighten restrictions.
“With our numbers that we have today, that’s where we’d be — nothing in the county would have been opened when COVID started with these numbers,” Elrich said. “We wouldn’t have talked about opening stuff up back in the spring if these were our numbers — we had to bring our numbers way down before we started opening things up.”
Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said that people and businesses who are reported for health safety violations will not immediately face fines. Law enforcement will first try to work with those who are violating the order, he said, to find a way for them to go about their business in a way that meets guidelines.
Only repeat offenders will be fined or charged, Stoddard said.
Both Elrich and Gayles stressed that the mask mandate and increased restrictions were done out of a desire for safety.
“We’re asking people — if you’re not concerned about your own health and safety, be concerned about the health and safety of people around you,” Elrich said.
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