The move comes after Gayles last week ordered private schools in the county to begin classes online in the fall, a decision that sparked backlash from Hogan and others, and led to a lawsuit from parents seeking to overturn the directive.
On Wednesday, Gayles rescinded his original directive. His new order references regulations that allow local health officers to “take any action or measure necessary to prevent the spread of communicable disease,” and “issue, when necessary, special instructions for control of a disease or condition.”
At a news conference earlier in the day, Gayles reiterated his view that it is not safe for schools of any kind to reopen, given the prevalence of the novel coronavirus in the state’s largest jurisdiction.
“The purpose of what we’re doing is to keep kids safe,” said Gayles, a pediatrician by training. “What we’re asking is for some time to allow us, as a jurisdiction, to demonstrate lower community transmission.”
Hogan (R) on Monday sought to invalidate Gayles’s first county directive that said private and parochial schools would have to stick to online teaching until at least Oct. 1. The governor rebuked the county, saying local health officials may shut down schools only on a case-by-case basis for health reasons.
Gayles has said even schools with comprehensive reopening plans can do so only with low community transmission rates, which in Montgomery means fewer than 10 daily cases. While the county has avoided the kind of spikes in infections seen in the Baltimore region, it is still reporting a seven-day average of about 100 cases a day.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) said Hogan’s order was “inappropriate” and unsupported by data. He said Montgomery managed to avoid a severe resurgence of the virus because it reopened at a slower pace than the state.
“His decision on private schools is not a good decision,” Elrich said. “I wish he would let us continue working on these problems so we can get the numbers down.”
Montgomery County on Tuesday lifted some restrictions on social activity while adding others. The changes were made based on what contact tracers identified as common sites for virus transmission, county officials said.
Food establishments can no longer serve alcohol after 10 p.m., although indoor and outdoor dining are still permitted. Religious institutions can hold outdoor services for up to 150 people, rather than one person or household per 200 square feet.
Businesses offering services like tanning, tattooing, waxing and massages are allowed to reopen with physical distancing and operate by appointment. Cigar bars, hookah bars and vape shops can open with no smoking on-site, while amended sports guidelines allow for kayaking and canoeing.
Virginia took steps on Wednesday to control the spread of the virus, announcing the launch of a smartphone app to notify people potentially exposed to the coronavirus.
The technology, developed by Apple and Google, uses short-range Bluetooth antennas in smartphones to alert people if they have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Alabama announced earlier this week it is testing a similar system with a limited number of people. Virginia officials, who privately conducted testing with about 500 people, said their app is the first based on the technology to be launched statewide.
As they unveiled the free mobile app, COVIDWISE, state health officials stressed that the privacy of the individuals and locations will be protected. They referred to the technology as an “exposure notification app,” as opposed to the more common terminology of “contact tracing app,” which Apple and Google have used.
After downloading the app, users who receive a positive coronavirus test result can share that fact anonymously with others whom they were in close contact with, defined as within six feet for at least 15 minutes. Anyone who may have been exposed will get an alert.
“This is another tool we can have to protect ourselves, our families and our communities,” said Gov. Ralph Northam (D). “No one is tracking you. None of your personal information will be saved. It’s an exciting step forward and I’m proud that Virginia is leading the way.”
In D.C., city Parks and Recreation Director Delano Hunter announced that pools and splash parks will stay closed for the season “out of an abundance of caution.” The department has reopened non-water outdoor facilities.
D.C. health officials noted Wednesday that rising caseloads in July didn’t result in a spike in hospitalizations or deaths. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the D.C. Department of Health, said it might be the result of young people making up a growing proportion of new cases.
“What may be happening is that if younger populations are tending to be more impacted, their severity of illness may be less and death may be less likely in that age group,” she said.
Nesbitt said contact tracing shows the city is seeing a rise in the number of people who had been dining while infectious. Asked if she planned action to restrict indoor dining, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) pointed to ongoing inspections of businesses and said she is watching health metrics.
D.C. alcohol regulators on Wednesday approved enforcement against restaurants and bars that failed to comply with social distancing rules. Those infractions included employees not wearing masks, operating after-hours and playing loud music, which raises concerns of transmission from patrons having to speak loudly. Since the start of July, regulators have imposed 55 disciplinary actions, mostly through warnings.
The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board also took an initial step to suspend entertainment venue Lyve at U’s liquor license, the first business to face such an action in the city. District officials say the establishment essentially operated as a nightclub with prohibited live entertainment and patrons failing to socially distance. Inspectors found other violations in an earlier visit.
The board also approved $1,000 fines against Churreria Madrid Restaurant, Creole on 14th, Luna Restaurant and Elevate.
With the pandemic taking an economic toll, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt said Wednesday it’s “unlikely” the city will see another drastic decline in revenue projections, but cautioned that a worst-case scenario might require a budget overhaul.
“If the District were required to shut down again or revert to Phase I reopening, federal assistance to the local economy were significantly reduced or eliminated, and/or unemployment levels do not begin a recovery, a lowering of the FY 2021 forecast by as much as $500 million is possible,” he wrote in a letter to city officials.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) had warned fellow lawmakers to expect revenue to decline further while opposing some tax and spending increases. The D.C. Council passed a budget last month that tapped reserves, froze employee pay and raised some taxes to address a nearly $800 million hole in revenue.
D.C., Virginia and Maryland added another 1,415 coronavirus cases Wednesday, as well as 36 new deaths. D.C. reported 45 new cases and no deaths, Maryland reported 572 new cases and six deaths, and Virginia added 798 new cases and 30 deaths.
Caseloads in Maryland have trended upward since early July, with the state’s seven-day average hovering near 900 after bottoming out at 338 in late June.
Hogan said Wednesday that the state’s seven-day positivity rate of 4.05 percent and the daily positivity rate of 3.08 percent were the lowest levels since the pandemic began. He said state health officials are monitoring a spike in the positivity rate in Worcester County, home to Ocean City, which has a seven-day average of 6.43 percent.
Virginia’s daily caseload has plateaued over the past two weeks after earlier surges in the Hampton Roads region. Northern Virginia’s infection rate has changed little since mid-June, while cases in D.C. have ticked downward recently.
Dana Hedgpeth and Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.