While several area leaders have voiced their support for a county vaccine mandate with no option of weekly testing instead, Montgomery County, Maryland’s executive said he is wary of the potential consequences.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said he would like to implement a stricter vaccine mandate for county employees, but added his chief concern would be losing members of emergency service fields — such as police officers and firefighters — to resignations over a vaccine requirement.
“So I’ve a slightly mixed feeling about this … I do believe everybody should get vaccinated. I don’t think there’s any question that everybody should get vaccinated … [however] if the result is that a large number of people in the fire department and the police department and corrections decide they’re not going to get vaccinated, and the county loses these people, the consequences to public health, or public safety can be severe,” Elrich said.
Currently, Montgomery County employees must submit their vaccination status by Sept. 18. If they are not vaccinated, they will be required to receive a weekly COVID-19 test. Around 60% of employees have submitted their status so far, and around 95% of those who have submitted are vaccinated.
On Tuesday, At-Large Council member Hans Riemer advocated for a heavier burden being placed on unvaccinated employees, saying weekly testing did not provide the necessary incentive to convince people to get vaccinated.
Council member Will Jawando pushed for a mandate that did not include the option to get tested in lieu of vaccination.
Elrich said Wednesday that he liked the idea of a stricter mandate, but worried about the ramifications.
“I’d like to do it, but I don’t want to do something that produces an actual worse outcome than the problem we’re trying to fix,” he said.
County continues work on vaccine passport policy
County Executive Elrich said Montgomery County remains committed to finding a way to roll out a vaccine passport for businesses, but that the specifics of how the policy would be implemented were still in development.
“This is in draft, we’re still dealing with some other related issues such as the state,” Elrich said. “So we are trying to make sure that if we put it in front of them, they are actually able to implement it — I don’t want to put forward a policy and then discover we’re not gonna be able to get the information we need.”
Elrich said he felt the passport was necessary despite the county’s high vaccination rate because many businesses attract customers from other areas.
“We have very fluid borders. For one thing, a lot of our county residents work outside of Montgomery County, a lot of people from outside Montgomery County work in Montgomery County — they come to the shops, the restaurants, movie theaters, all the things we do here are attractive beyond the borders of Montgomery County,” he said.
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Vaccine boosters rolling out in Montgomery County
Dr. James Bridgers Jr. — the county’s acting health officer following the departure of Dr. Travis Gayles — said the county is currently underway in getting immunocompromised individuals vaccinated.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan enacted an order allowing those who believe they have compromised immune systems to get access to a booster shot.
Bridgers said Montgomery County has been working to get individuals their boosters, but requested that residents talk to their primary care provider before getting a booster.
So far, 439 residents who reported being immunocompromised have been received a booster shot in the county.