Montgomery Co. unveils proposed response to Md. order lifting COVID-19 restrictions

Officials in Montgomery County unveiled their proposed response to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to lift coronavirus-related restrictions on restaurants, retailers, and other establishments earlier this week.

The Montgomery County Council will introduce the Board of Health Regulation recommended changes and hold a public hearing Friday at 1:30 p.m. The council is expected to act on the proposed regulation.

“The proposed BOH Regulation would continue restrictions greater than the Governor’s restrictions but loosen the restrictions imposed by the Local Order currently in effect,” according to the council agenda.

The proposal:

  • Removes all local restrictions on child care facilities and therefore require them to
    follow state requirements.
  • Changes maximum capacity to align with fire or other occupancy permit.
  • Increases outdoor gatherings to a maximum of 50 persons.
  • Increases indoor gatherings to a maximum of 25 persons.
  • Removes the one person per 200 square feet of space limits.
  • Removes the alcohol limits on food service facilities.
  • Removes the restriction on buffet service for food service facilities.
  • Removes outdoor structure requirements for food service facilities.
  • Permits food courts in malls to operate in the same manner as other food service
    facilities.
  • Increases capacity for religious facilities to 50%.
  • Permits arts and entertainment facilities to open at 25% capacity on March 26.
  • On March 26, increases the capacity limits for indoor dining at food service facilities,
    fitness centers, bowling alleys, escape rooms, museums and art galleries, personal
    services facilities, pools, retail establishments, and recreation centers from 25% to 50%.

Earlier Thursday, county leaders were set to hold a weekly media briefing to announce their plans for coronavirus restrictions in the wake of Hogan’s new order. But when reporters joined the virtual call at 1:30 p.m., it was announced the briefing was canceled due to an “unfortunate circumstance.”

County officials have been conferring on the impact of Hogan’s reopening plan, and the briefing was originally scheduled Wednesday, a day after the state made its announcement.

Barry Hudson, a spokesman for County Executive Marc Elrich, said, “The delay is simply because we’re trying to make sure we iron out all the issues as it relates to how we’re going to proceed.”

The governor’s announcement Tuesday that he was relaxing statewide restrictions starting Friday at 5 p.m. came as a surprise to many county government officials across Maryland, who said they weren’t informed of the planned changes before the governor announced them and who have spent the days following coming up with ways to rework local coronavirus restrictions.

Hogan’s order would maintain a statewide mask mandate and require restaurants, retailers, religious facilities and gyms to maintain social distancing rules.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said Thursday the county wouldn’t be following Hogan in lifting capacity limits at restaurants, movie theaters and other establishments entirely, but would instead impose a 50% cap.

Anne Arundel and Howard counties said they would generally align with the governor’s order, but Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said the county would continue stricter social gathering limits.

Part of the challenge for local officials is that the governor’s new order had the effect of, effectively, voiding many local restrictions that were legally based on the governor’s previous orders. In Frederick County, Maryland, for example, Executive Jan Gardner said only the coronavirus rules put in place by the county’s board of health would remain standing after Hogan’s new order goes into effect.

Over the course of the pandemic, Montgomery County has been more cautious than the state at lifting restrictions.

The county had only restarted indoor dining with 25% capacity limit last month — becoming the last jurisdiction in the D.C. area to do so following a holiday surge in cases that spurred tighter restrictions across the region.

Responding to the governor’s loosening of coronavirus restrictions, Hudson, the Montgomery County spokesman, noted that 80% of the county remains unvaccinated.

“This type of thing causes you to lose sight of the fact that the pandemic is not over … And all the local jurisdictions are simply trying to make the best decisions that are best for the health and welfare of their residents and doing it in a pretty quick manner,” Hudson said.


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.


WTOP’s Abigail Constantino contributed to this report.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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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