The ban on indoor eating at Montgomery Co. may end soon; A board member “ blown away ” by vaccine disparities


Montgomery County, Md., Could restart indoor dining amid a drop in coronavirus cases, but officials say they still don’t think it’s a safe option.

Montgomery County, Md., May soon restart indoor dining amid a drop in coronavirus cases – becoming the latest state jurisdiction to do so – but officials stress they don’t think still not that this is a safe option.

A draft executive order to allow indoor dining limited to 25% starting next Tuesday was sent to Montgomery County Council on Tuesday.

Earl Stoddard, director of the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Management, first alluded to the decision during an appearance before the council earlier Tuesday.

The ordinance must be approved by the board and will not take effect until February 9.

The proposed move to reopen indoor restaurants is a flip-flop for the county, which has defended its ban on indoor eating even as neighboring jurisdictions, such as Prince George County and DC, lifted. similar prohibitions.

Speaking to the board on Tuesday morning, Stoddard suggested the move was aimed at balancing public health needs and the economic impact of the ban, but said he still didn’t think eating inside was safe. .

“Just because something is allowed doesn’t mean it’s a good idea,” Stoddard told board members.

Any activity indoors where you cannot wear a face mask and are with other people who are not in your household for an extended period of time is not safe from a public health point of view. Stoddard said, adding, “My family will not participate” in indoor meals even if approved in the county.

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The county council suspended indoor dining in mid-December amid a rise and ahead of an increase in coronavirus cases during the holidays.

More recently, the number of new cases per 100,000 population fell by nearly half – from nearly 50 in early January to 26.2 on Tuesday, according to data from the county’s coronavirus dashboard. The test positivity rate also declined more modestly.

At-Large board member Will Jawando said he didn’t think restarting indoor dining made sense even with improving numbers.

“I feel like I’m in ‘The Twilight Zone’,” he said. “If I would go around and ask everyone – my coworkers and I – I hope and think we would all say we don’t have meals inside because it’s not safe.

Jawando has said he will not support the measure lifting the ban on indoor eating when it is officially presented to Montgomery County Council.

“It seems totally upside down we would say, we’ve made a few weeks of progress, and we’re going to be opening restaurants inside,” Jawando said.

‘Like watching a dystopian movie’

Montgomery County officials have detailed the steps they are taking to ensure that a limited number of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are distributed fairly, targeting specific zip codes that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus in terms of deaths and cases.

Montgomery County Health Department officials acknowledged that the county had work to do to ensure equitable distribution of vaccine doses.

Several weeks after opening a website, allowing county residents to pre-register for vaccines either now or when doses become available for their group, there are stark demographic disparities, according to data presented in Montgomery County Council.

As of January 31, white residents of the county made up more than 73% of those who registered. The numbers do not match the county’s overall demographics, according to US Census data. There are also geographic disparities.

Dr Raymond Crowel, chief of the Montgomery County Health Department, showed council members a map showing how pre-registration by residents of southwestern County, from Bethesda to Potomac, was well over-represented, by compared to under-represented areas further north and east, at Silver Spring and Gaithersburg, for example.

“The data shows that people are not enrolling in proportion to their numbers in the population, or in relation to the impact of COVID on the community,” Crowel said. “We therefore have work to do to improve access to pre-registration.”

In addition, the county uses the information gathered during pre-registration registrations to target certain populations based on race, ethnicity and geography within the 75+ age group that is currently receiving appointments. you to get vaccinated.

Crowel said the county is prioritizing certain zip codes based on rates of coronavirus cases over the past 90 days and death rates throughout the pandemic to “identify and assign doses to people and communities which were most affected. “

Council members reacted with indignation to the disparities in access to the vaccine.

“I’m absolutely blown away… It’s like watching a dystopian movie play out,” said Nancy Navarro, Council member, who represents District 4 on Council.

She said she was aware that there were a very limited number of doses of the vaccine, but said she found it disturbing “the inequalities and disparities are already so glaring”.

She added: “When you look at who has pre-registered, when you look at who will have access first, you can already see this extraordinary gap.”

Council member Craig Rice, who represents District 2, said he appreciates the county health department’s efforts to target populations disproportionately affected by the virus.

But he noted that an ever-growing number of vaccine doses sent to the county by the state bypass the health department and are delivered to other vendors, such as hospitals and retail pharmacies, who are not. bound by county guidelines.

“The reality is, we have more doses outside of what you have that don’t have the same commitment,” Rice said, speaking to health department officials. “And those who lose are the people of color in our community. We need to be frank, honest and real about it.

Rice said the proliferation of other providers receiving vaccine doses from the state – instead of county health departments – means, “The state has made a decision to distribute private vaccines, without ensuring that it goes to those who need it most. These are the facts. The numbers speak for it, we see it and we see the results. “

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