BETHESDA, MD — Maryland's most populous county is considering an order that would cut capacity in half at a number of restaurants, retailers, religious facilities, and other businesses.
Citing recent upticks in COVID-19 cases, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) on Wednesday proposed limiting gatherings to 25 people or less, and capping indoor dining at 25 percent, starting Friday. Previously, groups of 50 were permitted to gather at events and food service establishments were allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity.
Religious facilities, museums, art galleries, bowling alleys, and retail shops would also have to reduce their capacity to 25 percent or 25 people, whichever is lower.
The restrictions, if approved by the County Council, would take effect on Friday at 5 p.m.
"This was a really difficult discussion," Elrich said Wednesday during a COVID-19 briefing. "None of us — none of us — are happy about having to do this. But we're more unhappy about the numbers and where these numbers are going."
Under Elrich's executive order, restaurants and bars would also have to cut all alcohol sales, and collect all alcoholic beverages from patrons, by 10 p.m.
In addition, they'd have to keep a daily record of all indoor and outdoor dining patrons for at least 30 days, to assist with contact tracing efforts.
According to county officials, social and family gatherings play a large role in the transmission of the virus.
"We are hoping that these first-line measures are things that will be able to arrest the increase in trends that we've noticed in terms of new cases," said County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles, "(and) that will hopefully prevent us from taking further steps to curb the pandemic."
The county, which is currently in phase two of its pandemic recovery plan, has typically reopened at a slower rate than the rest of the state due to higher COVID-19 numbers. Health officials say the county will not enter phase three until they see low and medium transmission levels — or 10 to 35 cases a day.
Montgomery County on Wednesday hit two straight weeks with more than 100 daily new COVID-19 cases, according to the Maryland Department of Health.
Wednesday's addition — of 153 infections — brings the county to 26,551 positive cases since the pandemic began in early March.