Montgomery County will loosen COVID-19 restrictions in three phases tied to the percentage of residents who are vaccinated.
In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council approved the reopening plan.
Phase 1 starts at 5 p.m. Tuesday, after more than 50% of residents received their first vaccination shot. Under Phase 1:
- Gathering limits increase to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors
- Businesses that were limited to 25% capacity can operate at 50% capacity
- Malls can reopen their pedestrian concourses and return tables and chairs inside
- Sports are allowed to have 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors
Council leaders say the new approach validates the success of their approach to reopening, which has been slower than other jurisdictions in Maryland.
“We would not be here without the cooperation of our residents and without their full understanding of why we had to make certain decisions,” Council Member Nancy Navarro said.
Phase 2 will start once 60% of the population has received one vaccine shot. Under Phase 2:
- Gathering limits will be increased to 250 people indoors, with no limit outdoors
- Most businesses will be able to move to 75% capacity
- Food service establishments may move to 75% capacity
- Sports may increase capacity to 250 indoors, with no limit outdoors.
Phase 3, the final phase, will begin once 50% of the population is fully vaccinated. Under Phase 3, all conduct and business in the county must follow county and state health requirements, but there are no specific capacity limits.
County health officials estimate it will take about six weeks to reach the final phase.
“The sooner we get there depends on people showing up for their second doses,” Council Member Andrew Friedson said.
For some in the county’s hard-hit hospitality industry, the loosening of restrictions is welcome.
“This will allow us to bring back employees and slowly return to being an economic generator for the county,” said Amy Rohrer, president of the Maryland Hotel Lodging Association
John Anderson, owner of W. Curtis Draper Tobacconist, argued the county isn’t moving fast enough and the rules are uneven.
“Our lounge is mandated to remain closed while the rest of the county reopens and restaurants are allowed up to 50 percent capacity. Our air handling system is better than you will find in any restaurant, yet we are mandated to keep our lounges closed,” he said.
The rules for his business won’t change until Phase 2.