Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich Wednesday emphasized the need for the implementation of a vaccine passport program to help reduce the spread of the Delta variant and to help mitigate fears of exposure.

Though the county has thebestvaccination metrics in the state, according to the CDC, it’s seven-day community transmission rate has been upgraded by that agency from “substantial risk” to high risk.”

“It is clear to me that if we are going to avoid these cases and avoid watching this spin out of control like it did last fall, we have to implement a vaccine passport program,” Elrich said at a virtual news conference. “When cases are higher there is more anxiety about exposure. This hurts businesses who have already had a miserable 18 months.”

Elrich, a Democrat, said a vaccine passport program would be particularly beneficial to restaurants, as patrons might be more inclined to dine indoors if they know who is and who is not vaccinated.

“So many people I know will not go to indoor dining. And the reason they have given is that do not know who is sitting next to them. Vaccine passports would give customers the assurance that if you go into a restaurant the person sitting in that same room with you is either vaccinated or has a negative test that was done in the last 72 hours.”

Elrich rejected the notion that requiring vaccine passports might hurt restaurants and other businesses.

“Vaccine passports are not going to keep customers away. What they may do is tell more customers to come to your restaurant because they will know with a vaccine passport that the people who could infect them are not going to be in the restaurant.”

Elrich said that for now he is encouraging restaurants and other businesses to mandate vaccine passports but that the matter should eventually be put to a vote by the county council.

Elrich said vaccine passports might encourage more people from other parts of the state to dine in the county and might also go a long way in terms of containment so as to negate the need for a shutdown.

Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles seconded Elrich’s call for a vaccine passport program.

“From a public health perspective that is something that we would feel comfortable recommending and supporting because it helps to keep the environment safe. It takes away some of the penalty from those of us who are vaccinated in terms of participating in different activities. And it avoids potentially having to put in restrictions around capacity limits and things like that.”

Gayles added: “We look forward to continuing those conversations and exploring those options to put that forward as an option for our residents within the county.”

Dr. Earl Stoddard, who leads the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, provided an update on the progress of the county’s mandatory vaccination and testing program for its thousands of employees.

“In total, we have a little over 12,000 county employees as of the part of the validation process. We have heard from about 2,600, which is 21%. Of those who have responded, so far we have asked them to do it over the next two weeks to provide their vaccination status.”

This article was originally published on on Wednesday, September 1, 2021.

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