Montgomery County, Maryland, is moving to relax some COVID-19 restrictions to allow for some spectators at sporting events in the county.
The Montgomery County Council voted 9-0 to approve new rules Friday that allow up to two spectators per participating athlete at any sports event in the county — up to a maximum of 50 spectators.
In addition, the new rules require the use of a barrier to delineate a specific area for spectators that is separate from the area for athletes and coaches and requires that the spectator area is large enough for people to maintain 6 feet of social distancing from members of other households.
All spectators are also required to wear face coverings. The new rules go into effect April 2 at 5 p.m.
“I believe the proposed amendment addresses the needs of our young athletes and our families while continuing to uphold the public safety measures we know keep us safe,” said Council President Tom Hucker, shortly before the council voted to adopt the measure.
Under the new rules, the number of spectators is in addition to an overall cap on attendees at gatherings. Those limits are 25 people maximum at indoor gatherings and 50 people maximum for outside events.
The new rules also allow for organizations to welcome even larger crowds of spectators if organizers submit a waiver detailing their COVID-19 protocol plans to county officials.
Dr. Earl Stoddard, the director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said Montgomery County Public Schools athletics officials have already submitted a waiver plan, and he said he expected it to be approved by the time the new rules go into effect next week.
“We generally agree that certain spaces have more flexibility,” he said, but it was important for venues to detail plans for maintaining social distancing at entrances and exits as well as restrooms.
“Overall, we agree that there can be a capacity beyond 50. For many of these venues, we just want to be working with those individuals like MCPS to make sure that each facility has the appropriate protocols in place,” he said.
Before the council vote, Cynthia Simonson, president of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, said the 50-person spectator limit didn’t make sense considering the capacity of the county high school’s large football stadiums, which can hold 3,000 to 4,000 people.
The new rules come a week after the county council eased restrictions on the play of sports previously considered high-risk, such as football and cheerleading.
At-Large Council member Hans Riemer called the council’s latest vote Friday an “interim step,” and suggested council members should consider further changes in the future.
“We are at the very early stages here of spring sports,” he said. “I think there are some issues that we’ll need to evolve on in a couple of weeks.”
He noted that the current spectator limits wouldn’t allow two parents of every player on a typical Little League team — with a roster of 13 or 14 players — to watch a game.
Hucker, the council president, said the council — acting as the board of health — will consider changes every two weeks.
Some parents and members of soccer organizations have been critical of the county’s current rules requiring the wearing of face coverings on the field during play.
Matt Libber, the executive director of the Maryland SoccerPlex, who has testified before the council numerous other times, asked county lawmakers to reconsider the mask mandate. He said Montgomery County is the only county in the state that requires players to wear masks while engaged in active play and that the SoccerPlex is losing business as teams decide to hold events elsewhere.
He said that could have a “grave economic impact,” since big sporting events bring in a lot of people who stay in hotels and dine out.
“If we push this decision any longer, we’ll continue to lose events, which will have a massive economic impact to this county,” Libber said.
Separately, starting Friday, some coronavirus-related capacity limits are expanding. Capacity limits for indoor dining as well as fitness centers and salons will expand to 50%. Also starting Friday, movie theaters and other arts and entertainment venues can reopen for the first time.
“I would ask all of our restaurant owners to scrupulously adhere to the mask mandate and seating restrictions and the other guidelines we still have in place, and patrons should be remembering to replace their mask whenever they’re not eating and to avoid crowded spaces,” Hucker said. “We all have to do our part, not only to protect our families, but to keep our entire community safe.”
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