Montgomery Co. to keep close eye on COVID-19 levels after spring break

Montgomery County, Maryland’s COVID-19 community levels remain in the low range, but there are concerns over how things could look in the weeks following spring break.

County Executive Marc Elrich said that there is worry because as families travel during school holidays, “this has produced bumps.”

Philadelphia has already reinstated an indoor mask mandate. And Arlington County, Virginia’s COVID-19 data shows it’s fallen in the “Medium” category, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention metrics.

“We would like to stay as low on those rankings as possible,” Elrich said.

On Thursday, Elrich will deliver his state of the county address in Silver Spring, and while it’s not required, he recommended that anyone attending indoor events wear a mask.

“You just can’t let this thing run up uncontrolled. At some point, you’re going to have to determine that it’s not breaking where you want,” Elrich said.

James Bridgers, the county’s acting health officer, said that while the county’s Department of Health and Human Services will be working with school officials to track the course of the coronavirus in the weeks following the return to school, “The CDC doesn’t recommend that mask reinstatements be considered until there are high community levels.”

Before spring break, Montgomery County Public Schools posted a community message on its website, asking families to test students on Monday, April 18, the day before students return to school.

“If the test is positive, stay home and follow quarantine and isolation guidelines. If your child has COVID-19 symptoms or is sick, stay home,” MCPS said.

On the federal government’s decision to extend the mask mandate on public transit until May 3, Earl Stoddard, the county’s assistant chief administrative officer, said it’s likely that the county’s Ride On buses would also extend a mask mandate.

“I think we’d look at [what] Metro’s decision would be, what the WMATA decision would be, and just go from there,” Stoddard said.

As long as the virus causes serious consequences, Stoddard said that the county would have to address it.

“There may be a day when we stop talking about COVID-19, but we’re not at that day, and I’m not sure exactly when that day is going to arrive,” Stoddard said in response to whether the county has come to the point that the coronavirus can be treated as endemic, like the flu.

“It all comes down to consequence,” Stoddard said. “We can’t just be a hammer and everything looks like a nail.”

He added that there are others in the community to consider, such as older people and those who are immunocompromised.

“We simply cannot, as a government or as a community, say: ‘Good luck to those people. Everybody else can ignore it.’ That is never going to happen,” Stoddard said.

Sean O’Donnell of the Department of Health and Human Services said that even when COVID-19 numbers come down, there may still be people wearing masks in the fall during the flu season in an effort to “protect themselves from that.”

Last week, Montgomery County announced that it has made its selection to fill its health officer position, which has been vacant since Dr. Travis Gayles stepped down last September. The candidate is being vetted by state officials.

If the candidate is approved by state officials, the County Council will get a chance to interview the person, Stoddard said.

Editor’s Note: This story was corrected to reflect the return date for Montgomery County Public School students.

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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