Under the Montgomery order, houses of worship — which saw restrictions loosened about a month ago — also would be subject to the 25 percent cap, along with fitness centers, bowling alleys, art galleries, tattoo parlors and nail salons.
The order must pass a County Council vote, and the legislative body has largely approved of Elrich’s pandemic decisions. Council Vice President Tom Hucker (D-District 5) said Wednesday that he wanted the body to review the order Thursday but vote on it next week. Most of his colleagues agree with him, he added.
“None of us — none of us — wanted to do this,” Elrich said. “Seeing how our numbers went up as quickly as they did, there’s no reason to believe that trajectory would slow in and of itself.”
The tightening of restrictions in Montgomery has been on the horizon for weeks, but whether it is a bellwether for the rest of the region isn’t clear.
D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt told D.C. Council members Wednesday that the city’s virus metrics are trending in an unfavorable direction and could worsen if residents aren’t mindful of activities such as small gatherings, especially around the holidays.
But she said it’s not clear the city is on the path to stricter actions by way of a mayoral order. Localities in Northern Virginia also haven’t stated plans recently to bring back previous restrictions.
In the Washington region, Montgomery has been particularly cautious in lifting restrictions.
Elrich, along with county Health Officer Travis Gayles, have clashed multiple times with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has pressured local governments to move more quickly toward reopening. The governor has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to reimpose limits on social or commercial activity.
“We have spent the last several months preparing for this wave,” Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said last week. Unlike in the spring, Maryland has ample testing, existing hospital capacity and a robust contact-tracing operation, he said.
Montgomery officials said they don’t want to create strains on the health-care system.
“It’ll be harder to deal with this as the problem gets bigger,” said Earl Stoddard, the county’s chief of emergency management. “That’s a big part of why we’re intervening early.”
Neil J. Sehgal, an assistant professor of health policy at the University of Maryland, said it’s unclear whether other localities might follow Montgomery in curbing some social activity, although he supported the decision.
The restrictions that governments lifted over the summer were not meant to be an “exit-only door,” Sehgal said, even though political and public will to revisit them has waned in recent months.
As infections surged in October, Montgomery County officials repeatedly warned that they were considering rollbacks and redesigned their data dashboard to show which metrics they were monitoring. A rise in the number of cases per 100,000 residents accelerated this week, climbing past 13 and far exceeding what officials deemed “dangerous” levels. That, along with increasing test positivity, raised alarm bells for county officials, Gayles said.
Contact tracers for weeks have reported the virus is spreading at social gatherings, indoor dining and houses of worship, Gayles said. He said residents appear to be letting down their guards in terms of masks and physical distancing when around people familiar to them — a trend officials have observed across the region.
“We’re hoping this proactive action will help arrest those changes,” Gayles said.
If approved next week, the restrictions are expected to take effect that Friday, although officials initially will be enforcing them with a “lighter touch” and giving leeway to businesses or individuals unaware of the policy change.
Montgomery’s seven-day average number of new infections stood Wednesday at 141, the highest since mid-June. That trend and numbers have been similar in Prince George’s County.
The seven-day average of new coronavirus infections across D.C., Maryland and Virginia jumped to a record Wednesday of 2,234 cases. That’s up from an average of 1,313 cases Oct. 1.
Jesse Goodman, a professor of medicine at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, said caseloads in the region are “on a sharp upward slope,” even if they’re not rising at the pace of several states across the country.
“The real question is can we get on it quickly enough to reduce the impact and stresses on the health system,” he said.
The D.C. seven-day average jumped Wednesday to 90 cases, the highest since early June. Maryland’s daily average of 906 reached the highest point since early August, while Virginia this week reached its highest daily average since the start of the pandemic.
Virginia’s rising infection rate is largely the result of increased spread in the state’s D.C. suburbs and rural southwestern portions of the state. Northern Virginia continues to record its most daily cases since mid-June, although the number is about half the region’s peak of late May.
The greater Washington region on Wednesday recorded 2,234 additional cases and 21 deaths. Virginia added 1,157 cases and 11 deaths, Maryland added 1,000 cases and 10 deaths, and D.C. added 77 cases and no deaths.
Erin Cox contributed to this report.