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Montgomery County residents speak out against vaccine mandate

Another testimony session will be held Jan. 25 before the Montgomery County Council votes on the issue. No decision will come before that meeting.

ROCKVILLE, Md. — During a public input session to discuss the possibility of vaccine passports in Montgomery County, the overwhelming majority of residents and organizations were against the idea of implementing the public health mandate. Tuesday's lengthy County Council work session ended without a decision. 

A proposal introduced by Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich would make proof of vaccination a requirement to enter bars, restaurants, recreation centers businesses and gyms in the jurisdiction. A similar mandate went into effect in D.C. Jan. 15. 

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

The proposal would require

Proof of all doses (excluding boosters) required for patrons 12 years and older effective Feb. 15

• Proof of all doses (excluding boosters) required for patrons ages 5 years-and-one month and older effective March 1 

The Council is reviewing the proposal and held a testimonial session for members of the community to sound off on the mandate.

Although Council President Gabe Albornoz said leaders spoke to businesses who were not opposed to the order outright, Tuesday's hearing did not reflect that judgment. 

"If you pass a vaccine passport in Montgomery County you will kill my business and many other businesses," gym owner Nicole Eckenrode said. "No to vaccine passports."

Other business owners struggled to see a justification for the mandate, or why they should be burdened with asking to see vaccine cards, believing it would cause unnecessary confrontation for employees already struggling to adapt to a new normal. 

"I'm not really sure what the goal of this policy is," said Matt Libber with MD Soccoplex. "We are already the highest vaccinated in the region...I would have to hire additional people to check [vaccine cards at the door] and I can't hire right now."

Howard County just narrowly beats Montgomery County in vaccination metrics, but otherwise, Montgomery does report significantly higher numbers than the rest of Maryland. According to health department data, 95% of Montgomery County residents have received one vaccine dose, 85% are fully vaccinated, and 46% are boosted. Statewide, 87% of eligible Marylanders have received at least one vaccine dose.

Some activist organizations opposed Elrich's legislation due to a lack of clarity and discrepancies in the proposal about enforcement. The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Montgomery County (HCCMC) expressed concern over the Montgomery County Police acting as the enforcers of the mandate, saying this may have a negative effect on minority businesses.

Information on how religious exemptions and booster status factor in also remains unclear. 

Due to the high volume of residents opposed to the mandate, Albornoz said another testimony session will be held Tuesday before the Council votes on the issue. No decision will come before that meeting.

RELATED: Montgomery County teachers share new frustrations since returning from winter break

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