The ordinance, which made it illegal for more than three people in a group to congregate in certain areas, was rushed into effect July 31 as a temporary measure without public input. The public hearing drew wide opposition from the community, although the county’s health director and staff said crowding outside bars and restaurants — as patrons wait for tables inside occupancy-limited businesses — created opportunities for the virus to spread.
A presentation to the board from county staff said crowding especially occurs between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. along Clarendon Boulevard, and “efforts to spread out long lines of patrons by officers and restaurant security have been met with defiance, confrontation and hostility.”
The all-Democratic board voted to rescind the ordinance at the end of September, with the lone vote to keep it coming from board Chairwoman Libby Garvey.
“Arlington police have determined that it is impractical to cite hundreds of violators a night,” board member Christian Dorsey said. “They have prioritized encouraging compliance and have not issued a single citation. I don’t see any reason to continue having something on the books that clearly doesn’t work.”
County manager Mark Schwartz said that despite posted warnings and education efforts, compliance remained spotty and enforcement proved challenging. The county’s rolling seven-day average caseload stood at 14 on Wednesday, down from an average of 22 daily infections a month earlier.
While Arlington’s caseloads have ticked downward recently, infections have risen slightly in Montgomery County since the Labor Day weekend and the loosening of pandemic restrictions in some parts of Maryland.
The county reported more than 90 daily cases in five of the past seven days, up from figures in the 60s and 70s in August. The rise is partly because residents have become less diligent about wearing masks and observing physical distancing, said county health officer Travis Gayles, but also because residents gathered in large groups over the holiday weekend or traveled out of the county.
“It does make it a challenge when folks are able to travel to other places with fewer restrictions,” he said, referencing the state’s decision to lift restrictions on nearly all businesses as part of its Phase 3 reopening — a move that D.C.’s immediate Maryland suburbs opted not to make.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) also announced Wednesday that the county has signed a contract with Maryland-based laboratory Cian Diagnostics, which supplied nasal swab tests to the local government after its previous vendor, AdvaGenix, was cited by federal inspectors. Cian already has a contract with the state Department of Health, which offered the county 5,000 tests a week for four weeks when officials ordered AdvaGenix to cease testing operations.
The greater Washington region on Wednesday reported 1,544 new infections and 52 additional deaths. Virginia had 845 new cases and 45 deaths, Maryland had 643 new cases and six deaths, while D.C. had 56 cases and one additional death.
Virginia’s death toll was well above average for a second consecutive day, lifting its seven-day average number of fatalities to 27 — up from eight to start the week. The state reported a record 96 deaths on Tuesday, citing a reporting backlog that included deaths that occurred over the past month.
The seven-day average of new infections Wednesday in D.C., Virginia and Maryland stood at 1,677.
Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.