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Vaccine passports may be in the near future to enter a Montgomery County business

There still remains several factors the council needs to consider in order to enforce vaccine passports.

ROCKVILLE, Md. — Montgomery County leaders may soon introduce a vaccine mandate that would enforce everyone who is vaccine eligible, including children, to provide proof of vaccination to enter businesses in the jurisdiction.

During a media briefing Wednesday, county council members expressed some hesitancy in the public health suggestion. Although leaders have not yet laid out the details in this proposed public health enforcement, they said they are working to determine several factors before it reaches a vote of approval.

There are a few unique challenges council members are considering such as: if fines should be issued for not adhering to the proposed policy or how the order will impact local business.

Council President Gabe Albornoz said leaders have already spoken to some businesses who were not opposed to the order outright but they still need to hear from more businesses and hope to do so at an upcoming panel discussion and public testimony session.

Another factor the council is considering is amendments that may need to be made. The current proposal lays out the current vaccine order in Montgomery County as being fully vaccinated with two COVID-19 doses. But with recent changes and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and health officials, it has become evident that three doses are the safe amount, right now.

Council President Albornoz said that this could present an issue when implementing a possible vaccine passport because there are people who are not eligible or can not take the vaccine.

The council said it still remains unclear on how they plan to consider those who fall under religious exemptions when it comes to vaccine passports. Albornoz said this factor is one of the reasons why leaders have decided to draw out the public health suggestion to get questions answered.

Albornoz said he believes if the council approves the proposal as is without recommended amendments, it probably may not pass a vote.

In the meantime, the council plans to hear from the community who will have to pull it off. 

Mark Bucher, the co-owner of Medium Rare, operated restaurants in Virginia, D.C. and Montgomery County.

“We’re becoming leverage,” he said in response to the proposal.

He’s currently quarantined and recovering from COVID-19. He’s fully vaccinated and boosted and happy the county is taking a stance but says there should be more of a regional approach to mandates because of the economic impact this mandate could have on their bottom line.

“I would say to local government, 'You know what, I’m fine supporting your guidance, reimburse me for every customer that walks out,'” Bucher said.

The proposal would require

• Effective Jan. 22: proof of 1 dose required for patrons 12 years and older; 

• Effective Feb. 15: proof of all doses (excluding boosters) required for patrons 12 years and older; and 

• Effective March 1: proof of all doses (excluding boosters) required for patrons 5 years-and-one month and older. 

Seychelle Hercules, a Montgomery County resident who is fully vaccinated, thinks this is government overreach.

“If you’re mandating people to show their vaccination cards to get into any place, where’s the democracy in that? Where’s the freedom?”  She said despite the rapid rise we’ve seen in our area, it should still be an individual choice.

“I understand mandatory masks, that should be enough,” Hercules said.

As for Bucher, he’s hoping to see more consistency from local leaders on what it means to be vaccinated.

“Jurisdictions have all different interpretations of what vaccinated means. The federal government has a different definition, my kids' schools [have] a different definition, it’s just chaos,” he said.

Nearby jurisdictions such as D.C. have already issued a vaccine mandate. Starting Jan. 15 at 6 a.m., certain District establishments must make sure their patrons who are 12 and older have at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. Come Feb. 15, all patrons will need to have two doses.

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