Montgomery County government workers will have to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing starting Sept. 18.
County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) at a news conference Wednesday announced the date for the requirement, which had been approved by the County Council earlier this month.
Elrich said the requirement reflected the importance of getting vaccinated as the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus continues to roar through the country.
“Scientists from MIT found that individuals infected with delta are testing positive earlier and are more infectious by the time their infections are detectable,” Elrich said.
The county executive said there was no reason for private businesses not to require vaccinations for workers or customers, either, adding that unvaccinated people are “the largest obstacle in our path back to normal.”
Elrich and other officials also took turns thanking county Health Officer Dr. Travis A. Gayles for his service.
Gayles announced last week that he’s resigning, effective mid-September. He said he had gotten a “phenomenal opportunity that, quite frankly, I could not say no to” that was in step with what he described as the mission of his career: “to improve access for all folks, particularly those who are most vulnerable.” Gayles said he would be able to provide more details later this week.
Gayles added that, like other health officials across the country, “We’ve received a lot of backlash for what we’ve done.”
“Politics has been injected” into the public health discussion, he said, “which has made it very difficult for some folks to understand the value of the work that we have done … not just in Montgomery County but across the state, the region and the country. … There have been a number of times where we have moved against the grain. We have caught a lot of flak and stress for that, but the data has proven that those decisions have helped keep folks safe.”
Gayles added, “I’m hopeful that if we ever face a pandemic again, or any other significant public health issue that we won’t have to deal with that type of politics.”
He thanked Elrich and interim Montgomery County school superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight, saying of the county executive, “I personally appreciate significantly the opportunity to work with an elected official who has not been afraid to listen to science and clinical advice. I know that my fellow colleagues and other parts of the state, the region, the country, have not had that opportunity.” He also said the county had “a phenomenal fantastic bright, brilliant team” in public health, and that he personally aimed to “shake off the haters.”
Elrich said the search for Gayles’ successor will start soon, emphasizing that “it’s not solely the county’s appointment.”
The county performs the search and sends candidates’ names to the state, Elrich said, adding that he recently met with Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader.