Elrich Calls for Vaccine Passport Program in Montgomery County

A Department of Health and Human Services employee holds a COVID-19 vaccine record card at Operation Warp Speed headquarters in Washington, D.C. in November 2020. Department of Defense photo.

As COVID-19 cases rise, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) on Wednesday said that in order to avoid the kind of spikes seen at the end of last year, “We have to implement a vaccine passport program.”

The news comes the same day that outgoing Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles told Elrich, Council President Tom Hucker (D) and vice president Gabriel Albornoz (D) that the county has officially tipped into the “high transmission” category for COVID-19, meaning there have been more than 100 new cases of the coronavirus per 100,000 people in the past seven days.

Nearly the entire country is in this status, including D.C. and all of Virginia; only Kent and Talbot counties in Maryland are in the lower “substantial” category.

“We’re at the low range of the high rate, but there’s little consolation in that,” Elrich said during an online briefing. “If more people were vaccinated, this would not happen.”

Elrich said that while capacity and other restrictions limit people’s ability to do things, a passport program “actually would encourage people to do more things,” by making it “more difficult for the unvaccinated to come in contact with people who are vaccinated.”

Any such move would need approval from the County Council, which also sits as the board of Health. Elrich and Gayles said there hasn’t been a formal proposal yet, but that it has “preliminarily been discussed,” and that “From a public health perspective, that is something we would feel comfortable recommending and supporting.”

While breakthrough cases of the virus among vaccinated people have been happening, Elrich said that “The beginning of the line of any vaccinated person getting sick” starts with someone who isn’t vaccinated.

“We need to be clear about who’s responsible for this and what the consequences are,” Elrich said. “A lot of people are getting sick who don’t need to be sick, and some people are going to die who don’t need to die.”

Restaurants in the county have had “a miserable 18 months,” Elrich said, and vaccine passports would give assurances that people are vaccinated or have had a negative test in the past 72 hours.

When counties were imposing capacity and other restrictions, the fear was that the county with the least-restrictive rules would become the area’s go-to destination. Elrich posited that the effects of a vaccine passport program would have the reverse effect.

“By allowing us to maintain our capacity and our ability to serve people,” he said, “we actually could become the destination to go to if people have a confidence level that dining in Montgomery County is safer.”

He added that he would be discussing the idea on a conference call with other county executives later Wednesday.

As part of Maryland Matters’ content sharing agreement with WTOP, we feature this article from Rick Massimo. Click here for the WTOP News website.