Montgomery County, Maryland, public workers will have to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing starting Sept. 18.
County Executive Marc Elrich at a news conference Wednesday announced the date for the requirement, which had been approved by the County Council earlier this month.
Elrich said the requirement reflected the importance of getting vaccinated as the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus continues to roar through the country.
“Scientists from MIT found that individuals infected with delta are testing positive earlier and are more infectious by the time their infections are detectable,” Elrich said.
The county executive said there was no reason for private businesses not to require vaccinations for workers or customers: “There is no reason for that not to be a requirement,” adding that unvaccinated people are “the largest obstacle in our path back to normal.”
‘Shake off the haters’
Elrich and other officials also took turns thanking Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles for his service.
Gayles announced last week that he’s resigning, effective mid-September. He said he had gotten a “phenomenal opportunity that, quite frankly, I could not say no to” that was in step with what he described as the mission of his career: “to improve access for all folks, particularly those who are most vulnerable.”
That said, Gayles added that, like other health officials across the country, “We’ve received a lot of backlash for what we’ve done.”
“Politics has been injected” into the public health discussion, Gayles said, “which has made it very difficult for some folks to understand the value of the work that we have done … not just in Montgomery County but across the state, the region and the country. … There have been a number of times where we have moved against the grain. We have caught a lot of flak and stress for that, but the data has proven that those decisions have helped keep folks safe.”
Gayles added, “I’m hopeful that if we ever face a pandemic again, or any other significant public health issue that we won’t have to deal with that type of politics.”
He thanked Elrich and interim school superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight, saying of the county executive, “I personally appreciate significantly in the opportunity to work with an elected official who has not been afraid to listen to science and clinical advice. I know that my fellow colleagues and other parts of the state, the region, the country, have not had that opportunity.” He also said the county had “a phenomenal fantastic bright, brilliant team” in public health, and that he personally aimed to “shake off the haters.”
Elrich said the search for Gayles’ successor will start soon, emphasizing that “it’s not solely the county’s appointment.”
The county performs the search and sends candidates’ names to the state, Elrich said, adding that he recently met with Health Secretary Dennis Schrader.
“I made it clear that what we’re looking for is somebody who will be independent and will not give us political advice but will give us the best medical advice … somebody who has the courage to stand up and tell us the right thing to do, not tamper down the right thing to do because of political considerations.”
He added, “I need to be open about it because there’s no way that we would have gotten where we did if we had a health officer who was looking over their shoulder at what the governor wanted them to do.”
Elrich also said he tested negative for COVID-19 after he went to the Maryland Association of Counties conference in Ocean City last week. Several attendees have tested positive.
He said he was feeling fine, noting that he had been vaccinated, and added that the masking at the conference was “very 50-50.”
“The fact that the outbreak may have occurred is no surprise to anyone,” Elrich added. “A number of us were disappointed that MACo decided not to require masking,” also saying many people who would have gone to the conference stayed home because they would have had to bring children with them.
And while the county remains in the “substantial” category for community spread, he said, “our rates, compared to the Eastern Shore, totally justify what we do.”
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