Montgomery County to loosen some coronavirus restrictions on March 26 after council vote

It seems that pretty much all parts of Maryland are almost in line with the state after Governor Larry Hogan said he is lifting restrictions on restaurants, retailers, and other establishments beginning Friday at 5 p.m.

Areas like Frederick, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, and Howard counties have all modified some restrictions to increase limits, but are not going as far as the state.

Download the FOX 5 DC News App for Local Breaking News and Weather

Meanwhile, Montgomery County is one of the last areas in the state to loosen some of its restrictions. 

On Friday, the county council moved forward with their proposal, which states that indoor dining capacity – currently at 25 percent – will increase to 50 percent on March 26. Houses of worship will also increase 50 percent on that date. 

FOX 5's Ayesha Khan reports that a majority of their discussion focused on indoor and outdoor sports – for example, indoor youth sports remains at a 25 person limit. 

A few business owners say they can’t understand why Montogmery County is still continuing to drag its feet when so many other surrounding counties have already opened up most of their establishments at a much larger capacity.

"They don’t care that we live in a county surrounded by D.C., P.G. Howard, and all these other counties that people can go to and are taking business out of our county – they just don’t care," said Tommy Joe's owner Alan Pohoryles. 

On Friday, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich released the following statement: 

"In Montgomery County, we are implementing a phased approach to reopening that will allow our community to get our students and teachers back in the classroom safely, expand business opportunities and restore recreational and social activities in a way that doesn't unduly jeopardize public health. We all want life to go back to normal as quickly as possible, and today we are taking another step on the road to reopening by approving a new Board of Health regulation. We are aligning our outdoor dining with Maryland's Department of Health guidance, while indoor dining capacity remains at 25 percent until March 26 when it will increase to 50 percent. The 10 p.m. time limit for alcohol service has also been eliminated. Childcare may return to group sizes and staff-child ratios in accordance with Maryland regulations. Outdoor gatherings have been increased to 50 people or less and indoor gatherings have been increased to 25 people or less. Retail establishments and businesses, such as fitness centers and hair or nail salons, as well as museums and art galleries can operate at 25 percent capacity. Houses of worship can conduct services at 50 percent occupancy.

Sports played outside can now occur with a maximum of 50 people and indoor sports activities can be played with a maximum of 25 people. Since sports play a major role in mental health and wellness, a letter of approval can also be sought from the County for larger youth sports activities. This process takes into account the unique aspects of each sport to ensure that the plans made by teams and facilities ensure health and safety. Youth ice hockey is also allowed at 10 percent of the maximum capacity of the ice rink. On March 26, capacity limits will also increase to 50 percent for retail establishments, personal service facilities, fitness centers, bowling alleys, escape rooms, museums, art galleries and pools. Also on March 26, theaters, social clubs and all admission and amusement venues can reopen at 25 percent capacity without food concessions. This balanced approach maintains capacity limits because COVID-19 remains a matter of life and death. The reality is that nearly 1,400 Montgomery County residents have died from COVID-19. In addition, our County has the second highest number of cases in the state and nearly 64,300 of our community members have suffered with the virus. Multiple COVID-19 variants have also been detected in Montgomery County. Based on the limited supply of vaccine that local health departments receive from Maryland, only 10.5 percent of the state’s population is fully vaccinated. Our local health department is ready and able to administer 3,000 shots per day, but we receive on average only 4,500 doses each week which has delayed our persistent efforts to protect more residents. This lack of vaccine doses from the state exacerbates our concerns about lifting public health protections like capacity limits that have been proven to help stop the spread of the virus. If we all stay committed to the fundamental health principles that helped us bring down infection rates, over the next few weeks we will have more vaccinations in the arms of our residents. Additional doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which are expected in the next two to three weeks, will also help accelerate the rate of protection.

As we marked the one-year battle against COVID-19 on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Council, "We are well-positioned to bring this historic pandemic under control if we all just hang on a bit longer. Now is the time for us to keep the foot on the accelerator with regard to adhering to public health measures such as masking, physical distancing and other measures that we know work." County leaders will continue focusing on what works, listening to our public health experts and acting based on the needs of our community because public health is the key to a sustained and robust recovery for all."