Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich Wednesday said he is concerned that the recent COVID-19 surge could get even worse over the upcoming holiday weekend and urged residents to follow recommended safety protocols so as to help limit the spread of the virus.

His remarks come as the state’s positivity rate has exceeded 12% and the county’s positivity rate has exceeded 10%. Statewide, COVID-19 related hospitalizations have exceeded 1,300.

And though Montgomery County is the state’s largest jurisdiction, it currently has just over 200 COVID-19 related hospitalizations.

Moreover, the county has the state’s highest vaccination rate, with upwards of 95% of the population partially vaccinated and about 83% fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

“With many families planning to celebrate the holidays this week, with larger gatherings and more traveling-we are worried about the potential of a massive outbreak that could put further strain on our hospitals and our health care systems,” Elrich said at a virtual news conference.

“It is important for everyone to be aware of what is going on. And to think hard about any plans that involve large or crowded indoor gatherings. Particularly ones where people are not masked and/or are not vaccinated. And where you will all be breathing the same air for a long period of time,” he added.

The county executive stressed that residents who are sick should avoid large crowds and that those who have yet to be vaccinated should refrain from travel.

“This is not just a Montgomery County problem. This is a national and international crisis right now.”

Elrich noted that earlier on Wednesday Washington, D.C., officials approved a vaccine passport program that will go into effect on Jan. 15 and will require residents to show proof of vaccination to enter many public places such as restaurants and gyms. And Elrich, a long-time supporter of vaccine passports, said he will ask the Montgomery County Council to enact similar legislation.

“We should do the same.”

Earl Stoddard, the county’s emergency management officer, followed up on that point, saying preparations are being made to do just that.

“We have drafted language that we will provide to the county council for their consideration. Hopefully, they will support a vaccine passport program similarly in Montgomery County.”

Sean O’Donnell, the county’s public health emergency preparedness manager, said area hospitals are getting ready for the possibility of a substantial increase in COVID-19 patients.

“Currently with our hospitals, they have not yet begun to restrict other procedures…they are trying to avoid moving to that determination. But it is something that has been done in the past. And the state does provide direction to the hospitals across Maryland when they feel that that is necessary to limit hospital beds to patients that are there for COVID-19 or other essential needs.”

Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday announced that the state will provide an additional $100 million in emergency funding to help address staffing needs at its hospitals and nursing homes.

This article was originally published on on Wednesday, December 22, 2021.

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