Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich Wednesday implored those who are hesitant about getting vaccinated to do so now that the FDA has given full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

“If your excuse was you did not want to take an experimental vaccine, that excuse is gone,” Elrich said at a virtual news conference. “Now you have got a fully approved vaccine. So, if that is what you were waiting for, please come and take advantage of it.”

Elrich, a Democrat, said he would like to see both the public and private sector step up vaccination and testing efforts.

“I also hope that more companies, organizations, and public entities will require employees to be vaccinated or get regularly tested. There is no reason for that not to be a requirement. Your employees who have been vaccinated and the families that they have at home deserve to be safe. Customers coming into your building deserve to be safe. Doing this is an important step toward accomplishing that.”

Elrich said the unvaccinated population is putting everybody at risk, including themselves.

“The unvaccinated are making both vaccinated and unvaccinated people sick. And this is something that we can put an end to. It is a solvable problem. And it is the unvaccinated people who stand as the largest obstacle as our path back to normal.”

The good news, Elrich said, is that Montgomery County’s vaccination metrics are among the best in the state, with about 95% of the eligible population has received at least one dose of the vaccine and 86% of the eligible population having received both doses of the vaccine.

Statewide, 80% of the eligible population has received at least one dose of the vaccine and 56% of the eligible population has received both doses of the vaccine.

Montgomery County and neighboring Howard County have the highest percentage of fully vaccinated residents in the state, according to the Maryland Department of Health. Somerset County and Garrett County have the lowest percentage of fully vaccinated residents in the state, according to the department.

At Wednesday’s news conference, outgoing Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles joined Elrich in celebrating the county’s rather impressive vaccination metrics.

“We do celebrate and are excited to see such high percentages of our population across the county and across demographic groups getting vaccinated. And we know that we still have room to grow and to get more folks covered.”

Gayles said the county recently began providing COVID-19 booster shots to immunocompromised residents.

“We began providing those doses to individuals who fit that medical criterion last Friday at the county sites. According to our numbers this morning we provided 59 doses to individuals who met that criteria.”

And the county is developing “contingency plans” in order to be ready for when other groups are made eligible for the booster shot, Gayles said.

Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Monfia McKnight said the county will be ready for the full return to in-person learning on Monday, Aug. 30 when its 160,000 students and 24,000 staff members begin the 2021-22 academic calendar year.

McKnight said that this year schools will be in a “different place” than they were 18 months ago at the beginning of the pandemic when they were forced to shut down in favor of virtual learning.

McKnight said the “new normal” will not be “business as usual,”  and that extra precautions will be in place, such as making the back-to-school night a virtual rather than in-person experience.

On Thursday afternoon, the State Board of Education is expected to vote on whether to require face coverings for students and staff for indoor activities at all Maryland schools.

Most of the state’s school systems already require this. But Carroll and four other counties do not.

This article was originally published on MarylandReporter.com on Wednesday, August 25, 2021.


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