Montgomery County, Maryland, officials say the county’s COVID-19 test-positivity rate has dropped below 2%.
During a weekly briefing, officials also said the county has the lowest number of new daily cases across state health metrics.
But in other metrics, they remain concerned about racial disparities.
Despite an increase in vaccination rates among racial minority groups, health officials said they still see a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic residents with higher rates of new cases and hospitalizations.
New data also reinforced a consistent finding that fully vaccinated people are far less likely to be hospitalized.
Currently, 89% of eligible county residents are fully vaccinated, and 98.5% have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. But 70% of hospitalizations are those who are unvaccinated or have received only one dose.
Over the last week, Montgomery County reported 851 new COVID-19 cases, and an overall average of 11 cases per day per 100,000 people.
“They’re still the lowest in the state,” said Sean O’Donnell, the county’s health and human services public health emergency preparedness manager.
The county’s new test-positivity rate over a seven-day average is 1.97%.
The case-transmission rate, health officials said, is 76.3 per 100,000 over the past seven days, which they want to see drop.
When the transmission rate falls below 50, the indoor mask requirement will no longer be required.
“It has sort of plateaued, coming down a little from a few weeks ago,” O’Donnell said.
County officials are encouraging residents to bring their vaccine card or health records with them when they go to get a booster shot, which is currently only available for people who received the Pfizer vaccine.
“The vaccines are not interchangeable,” O’Donnell said.
Vaccines are available throughout the county at nearly every pharmacy. Residents can also go to the county’s website or the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website to find available doses by brand.
In other news, county officials said RideOn bus fares will remain free through Jan. 1, after an extension was approved last week.
A fare equity study the council requested from County Executive Marc Elrich recommended reduced fares, said Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker.
“My colleagues decided to keep fares free,” he said.
Ridership inequities, Hucker said, continue in the county: Two-thirds of customers don’t have their own vehicles, and the average median household income is $35,000.
Hucker, who is considering a run against Elrich in 2022, also praised activists with the immigrants’ rights group CASA of Maryland for rallying Sunday and calling on Gov. Larry Hogan to step up and extend the eviction moratorium during the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, we can’t do that at the county level. We have to count on the governor to speak up for them,” Hucker said.
On Tuesday, the council will receive a briefing on COVID-19 rental assistance and eviction-prevention programs. Updates on the county’s rent relief program expenditures, eviction trends and court procedures will be covered. They will also vote on Bill 3021, which addresses extending the limitations against rent increases and late fees.
New arrivals to the county
Rocking Horse Road International Admissions and Enrollment Center, a county-run service center for families that have just arrived in the U.S., was praised by Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz during Monday’s briefing.
The center provides school registration to Montgomery County Public Schools, materials and other services.
“This is an important transition for families as they come to our country,” he said. “It’s not just a moral obligation for us to be able to provide them with the support that they need, but it helps address our social safety net, it helps with economic development, and it helps in a variety of different ways.”
Albornoz said he looks forward to expanding services at the site. Those interested in registering with the county’s schools through the Rocking Horse facility can call 240-740-4430.
School Resource Officers
The county is also transitioning away from having school resource officers in schools. Albornoz said last week local reporting highlighted some of the violence occurring in middle schools, and he assured residents that the council hears their concerns.
“The health and wellness and safety of our children and youth — as well as the faculty and staff within our schools — is our highest possible priority,” he said, adding that the county will keep providing safety and security on “numerous different levels.”
Beefing up the school system’s social services and mental health services is key to the success of the transition, Albornoz said.
“Frankly, this is not an either-or,” he said. “We need to provide strong safety and security as well as strong mental health services and behavioral health services for our children and youth.”