Dear Members, Friends and Volunteers,
Montgomery County Issues New COVID Mitigation Measures Among Rising Cases
In case you missed it, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles announced new restrictions that went into effect at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 24. Indoor gatherings are now limited to no more than 10 people, though this does not apply to business establishments and other facilities permitted to operate as outlined in Executive Order 122-20, which permits up to 25 percent occupancy or 25 people, whichever is lower. Outdoor gatherings continue to be limited to 25 people.
The new order also requires that residents wear face coverings (as defined here) outside their homes whenever they are likely to come in contact with others who are not members of their household. As a precaution, residents are advised to always carry a face covering with them just in case they unexpectedly come in close contact with others. There are exceptions, however. A face covering is not required if you are:
Governor launches broad COVID-19 compliance & enforcement operation
This past Monday, Governor Hogan announced the launch of a wide-scale compliance, education, and enforcement operation to slow the spread of the virus. This all-hands-on-deck operation went into effect on Nov. 25, and will continue through the holiday season.
State troopers are being assigned in every county to work in partnership with local leaders, law enforcement and other county officials, with a focus on educating the public about existing orders and protocols, preventing super-spreading events, and taking enforcement actions when necessary.
MSP has a 24/7 COVID-19 Prevention Hotline, where members of the public can report unsafe facilities and activities or public health order violations. Anyone who sees unlawful behavior are encouraged to report it by sending an email to Prevent.Covid@maryland.gov or calling (833) 979-2266.
COVID-19 vaccine may be available here by the end of 2020
Last week, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles noted that a COVID-19 vaccine could be available in Montgomery County as early as late December, assuming that the the FDA approves one or more vaccine as safe and effective. Gayles said at a media briefing that the vaccine would be distributed in phases. The first phase would focus on first responders, health care workers, essential workers and residents with increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, such as those with underlying medical conditions and people at least 65 years old.
The Maryland Department of Health has released its vaccination plan, which states that the second phase would be wide-scale distribution of a vaccine. A third phase would be continued vaccination and a shift to a routine strategy. You can read more in Bethesda Beat.
Help Fight COVID Using Your Phone
If you use a smartphone, you can help with Maryland's contact tracing efforts at no cost. iPhone users only need to opt into Exposure Notifications and select Maryland as the region, while Android users can download the MD COVID Alert app from the Google Play store. The whole system is anonymous and designed to protect your privacy. Once you have set it up, your phone will use Bluetooth Low Energy technology -- NOT location settings or GPS -- to determine if you have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, and alert you about your potential exposure.
Currently, MD COVID Alert works with the neighboring jurisdictions of DC, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. Users who work or travel between these regions will receive Exposure Notifications if they come in close contact with another user that has verified a positive test result. You can read more about how to install MD COVID Alert/Exposure Notifications here. A recent article in The Washington Post also describes the programs and provides links to other states' COVID tracking apps.
Supporting Local Businesses Impacted by COVID
If you are looking to help local businesses stay afloat while doing your holiday shopping this weekend and beyond, the Bethesda Urban Partnership has launched a digital gift card program called Bethesda Bucks. Bethesda Bucks e-cards can be used at restaurants, shops and other businesses in downtown Bethesda. Nearly 50 businesses are participating, including many restaurants and other food establishments, but also Strosniders, Bethesda Florist, The Blue House and Urban Country.
Customers select a gift card amount from between $5 and $250, enter the recipient’s email address and phone number, and pay the selected amount. Recipients are notified of the gift in an email and a text message, and can check the balance of their card on their smartphones.
COVID-19 Information Portal
Montgomery County’s COVID-19 Information Portal provides a variety of breakdowns on how the virus has impacted the County, such as the positivity rate, the number of cases, and hospitalization numbers. The statistics are regularly updated to reflect the most recent reports during the health crisis. Find the Data Dashboard here.
COVID-19 testing schedule for the upcoming week
Amidst rising numbers of new COVID-19 cases, Montgomery County health officials continue to urge all residents to get tested for COVID-19 and will provide free walk-in and drive-thru COVID-19 testing at multiple sites during the upcoming week. Testing is important for everyone so that health officials can track the spread of COVID-19 in the community. Some individuals with COVID-19 can be asymptomatic (without symptoms) and spread the disease to vulnerable groups, such as the elderly.
Testing clinics are free, no doctor’s order is required, and no appointments are needed. Residents who are experiencing symptoms should call the Testing Helpline at 240-777-1755 for assistance with scheduling testing, as not all sites accept residents with symptoms. Some testing site locations have changed to accommodate weather changes. You can read the schedule of upcoming Montgomery County testing clinics, as well as other testing options that might charge money, here
Sources: Bethesda Chevy-Chase Regional Services; Montgomery County; Maryland.Gov; Bethesda Beat; Maryland Department of Health's COVID Link; The Washington Post.