Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with comments Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan made at a news conference later Tuesday afternoon.
Officials in Montgomery County say they’re moving ahead with plans to open a COVID-19 mass vaccination site in the Northern part of the county that aims to eventually administer 3,000 shots a day in what county officials described as a partnership with the state of Maryland.
The site will be located on the Germantown campus of Montgomery College, which the county had pitched to state health officials as a vaccine site. The site is expected to open in a matter of weeks, Dr. Earl Stoddard, the head of the county’s office of emergency management, told members of the Montgomery County Council during a meeting Tuesday morning.
Stoddard’s announcement was quickly applauded by members of the county council, who had long pushed for a mass vaccine clinic in one of Maryland’s largest counties. However, at a news conference later in the day at a vaccine clinic in neighboring Prince George’s County, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said the state still remains only in the discussion phase regarding the Montgomery County site and that talk of it as a done deal “was a little bit premature.”
He said he may make an announcement next week.
During the council meeting Tuesday morning, Stoddard was more definitive about the site’s prospects: “The state has given us the go-ahead, and they will be actively supporting us with real logistical support to get the site up and running,” Stoddard said, adding, “That’s obviously very good news for Montgomery County.”
Officials with the Maryland Department of Health and the Maryland National Guard completed a walk-through of the proposed facility over the weekend, and the county was in meetings with state officials Tuesday morning about using the state’s mass vaccination preregistration system to make appointments at the Germantown site, Stoddard said.
Stoddard said the site would operate as a partnership between the county and state, making it different from the state’s four other mass vaccination sites, such as the one at the Six Flags America theme park in neighboring Prince George’s County. Those sites are entirely state-run.
“Just to be clear, the site will operate very differently than other sites, but the ultimate goal is more vaccine throughput and output in Montgomery County,” Stoddard said.
In addition to Montgomery College, the county has partnered with Holy Cross Hospital to run the site.
To start with, the site will run “exclusively” as a county operation to show its viability, Stoddard said, but the goal is to eventually grow to administering 3,000 vaccine doses daily.
That will require a commitment from the state to increase the supply of doses going to the county, officials said.
The Maryland Department of Health recently boosted the weekly supply of vaccine doses the county health department receives — from 4,500 first doses a week to 6,600 doses, according to Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer.
However, even with that boost, the total number of vaccine doses isn’t sufficient to meet the daily 3,000-shot goal for the new site, Stoddard said.
“As the doses increase to the state, they will, in turn, look to increase the doses made available though this large-scale vaccination site,” Stoddard told council members.
For now, the aim is to “have a system in place that can absorb additional doses and expand when those doses come,” Stoddard said, “as opposed to waiting till the doses are here and then build programs to support them.”
Officials said the county still plans to operate smaller-scale vaccine opportunities, both community-based and mobile clinics.
“This won’t be the only vaccination opportunity but will be likely the largest opportunity for mass vaccination in the county,” Stoddard said.
Overall, more than 228,000 county residents have received at least the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine — which is just under 22% of the county’s population.
Those figures include residents vaccinated not only at health department clinics, but also through vaccine appointments at retail pharmacies, hospitals and the state’s other mass vaccination sites. The county has administered about 97,000 of those doses.
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Council plans to rewrite rules for youth sports
A few days after putting in place new COVID-19 regulations that continue some virus-related restrictions, county council members also said Tuesday they plan to go back to the drawing board on rules for youth sports and could vote on new regulations by the end of the week.
Under the rules approved by the council last week, sports remain categorized as low-, medium- and high-risk. In addition, capacity limits on indoor sporting events are capped at 25 people — including players, coaches and bystanders. Capacity limits on outdoor sporting events are capped at 50 people.
As a result of the county’s newly-approved regulations, Montgomery County Public Schools officials said in an update on school athletics that football and cheerleading would remain restricted, which led to protests over the weekend.
While organizers of events can seek a waiver from the county to hold larger events, council members also expressed concerns that not all sports were being treated fairly, after an amendment, narrowly approved last week, lifted the capacity limits on non-contact youth hockey games to 10% of an ice rink’s capacity.
At-Large Council member Will Jawando said, “We should be treating all sports equitably,” saying the decision last week to ease the restriction on ice hockey and not other sports was a “fumble.”
At-large Council member Evan Glass, who introduced the ice hockey amendment, said he agreed with the need for “more fair and equitable framework,” adding, “I want to work collaboratively with everybody, so that we can get football players back on the field, we can get cheerleaders on the sides, we can get basketball players on the court and — whatever other sports we identify and in the venues where those sports are played — make sure we have a thoughtful and thorough policy in place.”
It’s unclear what exactly the new rules will look like, but council members discussed doing away with categorizing sports by risk level entirely.
Gayles, the county’s health officer, urged “extreme caution,” noting school sports have led to coronavirus outbreaks at other Maryland schools.
Gayles said at a minimum all youth players should be required to wear masks.
Other protocols discussed included robust testing and contact tracing efforts.
At-Large Council member Hans Riemer said the mask requirement is essential.
“I think that’s really an crucial element and the science on masking is crystal clear,” he said.
He said if the council acts by Friday, “then our teams could have practice on Saturday.”