Montgomery Co. Executive urges caution as COVID-19 transmission rates tick upward

Montgomery County, Maryland, Executive Marc Elrich wants county residents to wear masks indoors, even though the mask mandate is not in effect.

In his Wednesday afternoon briefing, Elrich noted that the county’s COVID-19 transmission rate had hit the “substantial range” for the second day in a row.

“It would take seven to go back to a mask mandate, but I just wanted everybody to know that we’re kind of standing on the brink of the two rates” Elrich said. “I continue to urge everyone to wear masks indoors in publicly accessible areas” whether required to do so or not said Elrich.

When the county goes above 50 cases per 100,000, it is considered in the “substantial range.” Under the county’s Board of Health regulations, the county would have to be in the “substantial range” for seven consecutive days before the mask mandate would go back into effect.

Elrich has been quick to cite the county’s high rate of vaccination, which topped 99% for the eligible population and just under 80% for the entire county population.

“Now the definition of eligible population is changing because we’re including the 5- to 11-year-olds” he said.

“You’ll see a decrease in our percentages because there’s now this larger population” newly eligible to get vaccinated.

Montgomery County got more than 13,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine intended for children between 5 and 11 years old, and county officials say the demand from parents has been high.

Earl Stoddard, the county’s Assistant Chief Administrative Officer, said “I don’t think there’s any question that we have what amounts to 75% of our parents wanting to get their 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated.”

In addition, said Stoddard, “We’ve already seen, anecdotally, that kids being vaccinated is encouraging some older adolescents, young people and parents” to get vaccinated themselves.

Both Stoddard and Dr. James Bridgers, the Acting Health Officer for Montgomery County, said they fully expect the county to reach the benchmark of seeing 85% of the entire population vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“I don’t think there’s any question of if we hit the number,” said Stoddard. “It’s a question of when we hit the number.”

“Right,” said Bridgers.

Stoddard was asked about the recent decision to put the Montgomery County School system “test to stay” program on hold. He said he had been in touch with the Maryland Department of Health and school officials, and that there would be more discussions on whether the pilot could go ahead “later this week.”

The county school system has continued to quarantine students as needed, after adjusting the protocols to reduce large numbers of students having to stay home during the first weeks of school.

During the first week of November, Stoddard said 273 students were placed in quarantine, compared to the large numbers that had been placed in quarantine in the first weeks of school.

“We think we can get better and better at this as we move forward. We’re trying to layer one on top of the other, these protective measures to keep more students in school” said Stoddard, referring to the county’s idea for the test to stay program.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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