‘This has been traumatizing for people’: Montgomery Co. officials discuss mask guidance, evictions

Officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, are acknowledging that many residents may continue to wear masks even after the county voted to ease rules for face coverings earlier this week.

During an online news briefing Wednesday, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said that many people will continue wearing masks out of comfort and that it may be awhile until people feel comfortable going indoors without masks.

“I get the reluctance,” he said. “This has been traumatizing for people.”

On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council voted to ease mask guidance in the county, allowing fully vaccinated people to go without masks indoors following revised Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state guidelines.

Even if an individual is fully vaccinated, “any business can require masks,” Elrich said.

He said there has been confusion surrounding mask guidance in the county due to the fact that “there’s no way to know if someone is vaccinated.”

Officials said that more than 10,000 kids have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine. That’s about 25% of the county’s 12-to-15-year-old population. The next age group to be vaccinated are 5 to 11-year-olds, but vaccination approval for that age group isn’t expected until the fall at the earliest, said Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

Dr. Travis Gayles, county health officer and chief of public health services, said that many locations, such as summer camps, will continue to require masks since the younger population is mostly unvaccinated.

‘We need rent relief that extends beyond COVID’

Elrich also explained how residents can access rent relief during the pandemic.

He urged residents facing eviction hearings to show up, stating 80% of those impacted typically don’t go to their hearings.

He said he understands that the eviction process is “intimidating” but that 90% of people who show up receive rent relief. Elrich added that the county has more financial assistance for renters coming in.

Earlier this week, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced nearly $193 million in additional funding for local governments. Montgomery County is set to receive $28 million of that.

Elrich said that more than 4,300 households received aid in the first two rounds of financial support, and that over 4,500 applicants have applied for the county’s third round of rental relief, which began last month. The $28 million will be added to the third round, which already has $59 million.

The county is expecting to receive an extra $33 million for rental relief from the American Rescue Plan.

Elrich also stressed the importance of landlords working with tenants instead of trying to evict them.

“It doesn’t make sense for landlords to kick tenants out before they’re given enough time to get back on their feet,” he said. “It’s going to create a lot of vacancies.”

He said if tenants and landlords work with the county to obtain relief they can stall some of the forthcoming evictions.

“We have to do everything in our power to stop the evictions,” Elrich said, calling on Hogan and the Maryland attorney general to extend the eviction moratorium in order to give time for people to obtain rental relief.

“We need rent relief that extends beyond the end of COVID,” he said.

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