After weeks of rising coronavirus infections, Montgomery County is likely to become the first locality in the Washington region to reimpose significant restrictions on social and commercial activity.
County Executive Marc Elrich (D) issued an executive order Wednesday that would limit gatherings to 25 people or less and reduce capacity for restaurants and shops from 50 percent to 25 percent. Leaders across the Washington region have been monitoring a surge in cases as part of a national spike that has sent infections to record levels.
Under the Montgomery order, houses of worship — which saw restrictions loosened about a month ago — also would be subject to the 25 percent cap, along with fitness centers, bowling alleys, art galleries, tattoo parlors and nail salons.
The order must pass a county council vote, and the legislative body has largely approved of Elrich’s pandemic decisions. Council vice president Tom Hucker (D-District 5) said Wednesday he wanted the body to review the order Thursday but vote on it next week. Most of his colleagues agree with him, he added.
“None of us — none of us — wanted to do this,” Elrich said. “Seeing how our numbers went up as quickly as they did, there’s no reason to believe that trajectory would slow in and of itself.”
[Montgomery County halts plan to lift restrictions as D.C. region’s coronavirus cases rise]
The tightening of restrictions in Montgomery has been on the horizon for weeks, but whether it is a bellwether for the rest of the region isn’t clear.
D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt told D.C. Council members Wednesday the city’s virus metrics are trending in an unfavorable direction and could worsen if residents aren’t mindful of activities such as small gatherings, especially around the holidays.
But she said it’s not clear the city is on the path to stricter actions by way of a mayoral order. Localities in Northern Virginia also haven’t stated plans recently to bring back previous restrictions.
In the Washington region, Montgomery has been particularly cautious in lifting pandemic restrictions.
Elrich, along with county health officer Travis Gayles, have clashed multiple times with Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has pressured local governments to move more quickly toward reopening. The governor repeatedly has said he doesn’t want to reimpose limits on social or commercial activity.
“We have spent the last several months preparing for this wave,” Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said last week. Unlike in the spring, Maryland has ample testing, existing hospital capacity and a robust contact-tracing operation, he said.
Montgomery officials said they don’t want to create strains on the health-care system.
“It’ll be harder to deal with this as the problem gets bigger,” said Earl Stoddard, the county’s head of emergency management. “That’s a big part