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Montgomery County targets construction sites for tougher enforcement as COVID-19 hits minority communities

County Executive Marc Elrich said the county can't "test our way out of health disparities."

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Montgomery County will redouble its efforts to reach out to minority communities that have been hard-hit by the coronavirus, County Executive Marc Elrich said Wednesday.

Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said in a coronavirus briefing Wednesday that 73% of the county’s COVID-19 cases in June were reported among Hispanic residents. But, he said, that was just a snapshot in time – Hispanic residents make up about 37% of all coronavirus cases since March. He also said the county has seen the highest number of tests among the Hispanic community.

Elrich said those numbers were part of a national trend that Montgomery County hasn’t been exempt from.

“It stems from underlying social inequities,” Elrich said. “The fact that we have these test results doesn’t change the fact that people are getting sick for a reason. These are often the case, particularly in the minority communities, they are the so-called ‘essential workers.’ I say so-called, because they don’t get paid like they’re essential. They just go to work and we decide they should not stay home. But they’re the people who are the most exposed and they bear the greatest risk in this.”

Elrich said he has already met with Hispanic community leaders, and plans to meet soon with leaders of the county’s Black community, to discuss how the coronavirus is impacting them. He also highlighted additional efforts the county is taking, like working with a CDC team and new measures to target noncompliance at workplaces – particularly construction sites.

“We’re going to shut down construction sites where people aren’t working safely. Because these folks, if they’re exposed to the coronavirus, they’re bringing it back to their community,” Elrich said. “They often live in the more crowded housing in the county. So anything that comes back to those communities is more likely to have community transmission. So we’re going to double down on that work.”

Elrich also asked Montgomery County residents to continue reporting noncompliance with mask and social distancing orders. He said last week alone the health department received 70 photos from residents showing apparent noncompliance.

“We know this is new for everybody, so we figure everybody gets a one time, you know, OK, these are the things you need to fix. But we’ve closed businesses down. So we’re enforcing,” Elrich said. “And we’re going to do the same things on the construction sites. These high-risk jobs are the ones that tend to get the least enforcement.”

The state of Maryland as a whole has seen an upward trend in new cases over recent weeks. On Wednesday, the state reported 756 new cases – its highest single-day case count since June 5. More than 20,000 people in the state have now been infected with the coronavirus.

RELATED: Gov. Hogan presses local leaders to enforce social distancing, mask-wearing in public spaces

RELATED: Virginia reported its highest COVID-19 count in a month on Friday. Here's where cases are growing

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