Montgomery County leaders look toward equitable reopening and health outcomes

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MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (WDVM) — As some restrictions lifted on salons, restaurants, and retail establishments in Montgomery County this week, leaders found that some businesses had the upper hand when it came to a successful reopening.

Leaders realized restaurants without outdoor dining space or sidewalks were put at a disadvantage.

“The county is looking at street closures or partial street closures in order to provide a larger environment for restaurants to be able to expand in. We will be expediting any of the permitting processes that are needed to accomplish that,” said Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich.

In a briefing Wednesday, leaders explained that some small retailers don’t have the infrastructure in place to successfully operate curbside pickup of goods.

“One of the biggest difficulties is a lot of businesses don’t have inventories or their products in an online format for people to view their products,” said Elrich.

With the summer months ahead, child care has become an increasingly pertinent and timely issue for families looking to get back to work.

“The child care sector is not built to sustain itself on limited gatherings of up to ten people. There are going to be long term considerations of how that sector can continue to provide services we need them to provide so people can get back to work,” said Dr. Earl Stoddard, the director of the county’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security Department and lead for COVID-19 recovery in the county.

Aside from revealing inequities in reopening when it comes to business, county leaders say the large scale protests surrounding the death of George Floyd across the nation and the region have also highlighted inequities in healthcare systems.

“The public health response is not only addressing the short term: whether or not we’re seeing increases in cases related to a particular gatherings. But, are we also doing the necessary work to address the different issues that are predisposing communities?” said Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s Chief Health Officer.

Dr. Gayles says it’s key to focus on both short and long-term public health goals when it comes to disadvantaged communities.

“Someone said to me, “You know [these protests] are going to make cases higher in some communities?” said Dr. Gayles. “Unfortunately, they already are. The reality is COVID-19 cases are disproportionately affecting many of the communities that are protesting. You have to ask yourself, how is this all tied together?”

County officials say leaders across departments and branches of government are looking into how the county can proceed to Phase Two. During Wednesday’s briefing, they were hesitant to discuss a time frame or date for the second stage of reopening.

Dr. Gayles says a key metric moving forward is the test positivity rate.

Montgomery County’s current test positivity rate of 12.3 percent sits higher than the rest of the state, which reports a 9.5 percent overall test positivity rate.

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