Weekly Message from County Executive Marc Elrich

Per Montgomery County:

Dear Friends:

We often think of heroic actions as a moment in time captured on the news or on social media. But, two years ago, as we were trying to figure out what the COVID-19 virus was and how to best respond to it—we needed our essential workers to show up and provide critical services and items such as groceries, goods, fuel, transportation, healthcare and protection of people and property. And they did it: they showed up at a time when none of us knew much about this virus, the risks of exposure and the best ways to protect ourselves and our families. And despite the potential danger they might face, they went to work and did their jobs. They saved our lives, our economy, our country, and this County. This was heroic and we will always be indebted to them.

I would like to thank our essential workers for their hard work and dedication serving our communities over the last two years. They went to work, and they interacted with the public at a time when personal protective equipment was in short supply (and much of it was poor quality) and before vaccines were available. They continued to do their jobs throughout the pandemic. Their work kept our government running and kept services available for our residents. As we honor all of the County’s essential workers, from our grocery and retail store employees to our Police, Fire and Rescue Services, healthcare workers in the public and private sector, teachers and all the support in the schools that made it possible for schools to be safe and open, child care providers and government employees, I encourage all residents to take a moment this week to thank these workers for their service and to appreciate their risks and sacrifices to ensure that our essential needs were met throughout this pandemic.

I encourage everyone to share pictures on social media and show appreciation in other ways to acknowledge your family, friends and people who made a difference in our lives over the last few years. Please remember to tag Montgomery County on Twitter, @MontgomeryCoMD and on our Facebook page in order to boost this celebration of our essential workers.

Dr. Fauci Predicts Potential Uptick of COVID-19 Cases

This week our COVID-19 positivity rates, case rates and hospital rates remain low. However, as I noted last week, COVID-19 cases are surging in Europe, Asia, and Australia from the BA.2 version of the Omicron variant and increasing hospitalizations there. This past weekend, Dr. Fauci said that we were likely to see an uptick in cases in the United States but is hopeful that we won’t see another surge.

The bad news about the BA.2 subvariant is that it is about 50 to 60 percent more transmissible than the first omicron strain. The good news is that this strain does not appear to cause more severe illness or evade immune responses from vaccination or prior infection.

The bottom line is that there is no reason for anyone to die of COVID-19 anymore. We have vaccines, anti-virals and treatments now that we didn’t have even a year ago. But, if we ignore this new subvariant, think that this pandemic is over, not get regularly tested, and refuse to get vaccinated or boosted, then we should expect and be prepared for another surge and the possibility of straining our healthcare system yet again.

Vaccine and Booster Rates Slowly Increasing, But Disparities Persist

One of the main reasons Montgomery County has a death rate that is one-third lower than the national average is because this government, our residents, and our businesses have taken this virus more seriously than other jurisdictions around our state and nation. But we are far from perfect. Even though 86 percent of our population is “fully vaccinated,” only 56.6 percent of our eligible residents have received their booster or an additional dose.

In better news, we have reached about 60 percent in terms of pediatric vaccination. The national average is only 27 percent—we are more than double the national rate. That is incredible. And I am glad that we are up to 76 percent of our 65-and-older population have received their additional doses, but these are residents that we must make sure are boosted. I encourage everyone to check in on their parents, grandparents, friends, and neighbors in this age group.

There was a significant increase in residents receiving boosters during the Omicron Surge. Between Dec. 15 and Feb. 28, there was a 17-percentage point increase in boosters among White residents, a 25-percentage point increase among Asian residents and a 21-percentage point increase among Black and Latino residents. But there is a 21-percentage point gap between white residents and Black residents who are boosted currently. We have 71 percent of White residents who are boosted, but only 50 percent of Black residents. And there is a 27-percentage point gap between white and Latino residents – as only 44 percent of Latino residents are boosted. This is a big problem and, as we have noted week after week, those currently showing up to get boosted continue to decrease.

Race/Ethnicity % of fully vaccinated 12+ year olds who are boosted as of 12/15/21 % of fully vaccinated 12+ year olds who are boosted as of 2/28/22
NH White 54% 71%
NH Asian 44% 69%
NH Black 29% 50%
Hispanic 23% 44%
NH Other 35% 53%
Unknown 7% 12%

This government has made a concerted effort since the beginning of this pandemic to emphasize equity in all our COVID operations and outreach. And we will continue to concentrate our efforts in communities and zip codes that are underperforming in terms of vaccination and booster rates. If you need to be vaccinated or boosted, please go to www.govaxmoco.com and find out where to get your shot. Vaccines and boosters are available, convenient, and can save your life.

Recent COVID Omicron Surge Disproportionately Impacted Black County Residents

Over the past weekend, the New York Times featured a story that highlighted that nationally, adult Black Americans were hospitalized at higher rates than whites during the latest Omicron surge this winter. We are seeing the same disparities here in Montgomery County.

During the peak of the Omicron surge in January, Black Montgomery County residents were three times more likely to be hospitalized by COVID than our Asian population, and twice as likely as our white population. This disparity is not acceptable, and we must do better.

There is a clear correlation between hospitalization rates and vaccination rates, and all eligible Montgomery County residents need to be vaccinated and boosted. As I announced last week, my FY23 recommended budget includes a significant funding increase of $2.9 million dollars for the African American Health Program in DHHS and $2.1 million dollars toward our Latino Health Initiative. And we are developing a new outreach campaign that will be targeted toward our Black and Latino residents and communities to better promote and encourage vaccines and boosters.

Important Information for Those Not Insured

This past Tuesday was the last day that the federal government covered the costs of COVID-19 testing and treatment for the uninsured. April 5 will be the last day they will cover the costs of vaccination for this vulnerable population.

This change in policy is being driven by the failure of Congress to provide funding to the Biden administration. This is a national embarrassment and should be addressed as quickly as possible. Now is the time that we should be prepared for potential future surges and not repeat the mistakes that were made this time last year before the Delta variant when people thought the pandemic is was over.

The uninsured are the working poor and disproportionately people of color in our communities. They are already dealing with increasing gas prices, rents, and food. This is not the time to be cutting them off from a critical health need we should be providing to them.

The important news is that testing and vaccination at County government-operated clinics are currently FREE and will remain FREE for you to get tested and vaccinated. And if you or someone you know is uninsured, there are options available. Please call or contact 311 to learn about the services provided through our Department of Health and Human Services.

Please Continue to Self-Report Positive COVID Results

I continue to be impressed with our take-home rapid test and mask distributions. More than 1.6 million take-home rapid tests have been distributed to our residents, including over 1 million at our libraries alone. I want to thank our library staff, volunteers, and the staff from the Health and Human Services, Emergency Management and Procurement departments for their continued efforts to make these resources easily and readily available throughout our County.

The proliferation of take-home rapid tests has been a game-changer for County residents and families. However, we know that many people are taking these tests, testing positive, and doing the right thing by isolating, but they are not reporting the positive case to us. This means there are plenty of COVID-19 cases circulating out there that we don’t know about. I encourage everyone to please report your take-home rapid tests, it is critically important to our efforts to contain the spread of this virus.

Streeteries Will Remain Open At Least Through Labor Day

Our Streeteries program in downtown Bethesda, Silver Spring and Wheaton, which began during the pandemic, will be extended throughout the summer and at least through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 5.

Our Streeteries program has helped reduce the transmission of the COVID-19 virus while helping keep our restaurants in business and workers employed. They have provided safe and family-friendly outdoor gathering spaces for residents throughout a challenging time. As the weather begins to warm up over the next several weeks, residents can enjoy these outdoor dining experiences and continue to support our local businesses.

Transit Drivers Appreciation Day

I was glad to visit the Silver Spring Bus Depot last week and present a Transit Driver Appreciation Day proclamation. Many Montgomery County residents rely on our transit system. Our transit operators have demonstrated dedication, work ethic and resilience and have proven themselves to be leaders in times of need, as they kept Montgomery County moving.

When you use Ride-On, please remember to be courteous and thankful to our bus operators and staff members. They deserve our appreciation and gratitude.

‘Expedited Hiring Weekend’ for the Police Department

In my FY23 recommended budget, I proposed increasing the salary for our police officers that will make their compensation among the best in the region. I am hopeful that the Montgomery County Council will approve this expenditure that will greatly help with recruitment and retention of Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) officers.

If you, or someone you know, would like to serve our community as an MCPD police officer, please register and attend our Expedited Hiring Weekend this coming Saturday, March 26, and Sunday, March 27, for the August 2022 Police Academy Class. Anyone interested in attending this event must apply online at joinmcp.com. For more information about this event contact a recruiter at 240-773- 5300.

Applicants will complete the written exam, oral interview, and background screening phases of the application process in one day and they also can take a tour of the Montgomery County Public Safety Training Academy.

Cyber Security Threats

As I mentioned during my weekly media briefing, due to increased tensions with Russia over the war in Ukraine both President Biden and Governor Hoganhave put out warnings about the potential of imminent cyber-attacks. We are taking this threat very seriously in the Montgomery County government.

We average over 15 million “events” per day that are logged. Events are activities like a normal e-mail received by a County employee, an attacker checking to see if we are vulnerable to a security hole, or someone logging into the secure network. Generally, they are not malicious but need analysis to determine that. We average over 40,000 malicious attacks per day that are tracked by our automated systems. These tend to be from overseas and range from a phishing e-mail up to a nation-sponsored attack.

This is serious business, and during this time, we want all employees and residents to be mindful of an increase in the degree and sophistication of these attacks as well as be prepared for any issues that may arise due to one.

The Best Places to Live in Maryland are in Montgomery County

Niche.com recently released its 2022 list of the ‘Best Places to Live in Maryland’ and Montgomery County is home to all five places in the top five and 18 of the top 25. Congratulations to North Potomac for being named the No. 1 best place to live in the entire state.

Montgomery County is a great place to live, work and raise a family, and this recognition shows just that.

As always, my appreciation for all you do,

Marc Elrich
County Executive

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17th Annual Kensington Day of the Book Festival

Now in its 17th year, the Kensington Day of the Book Festival is a family-friendly street festival featuring 150+ renowned authors, poets, and literary organizations. Enjoy live music on five stages, special guest speakers, military veteran writers and comedians, poetry readings, cookbook demos, children's program, and much more.

Admission is free, and attendees will also be able to explore a marketplace of books and food offerings from local vendors.

Not your average book festival! This festival offers something for everyone!

17th Annual Kensington Day of the Book Festival

Sunday, April 21, 2024, 11am-4pm (held rain or shine!)

Howard Avenue, Kensington, MD 20895

www.dayofthebook.com

Instagram: @kensingtonbookfestival

Contact: Elisenda Sola-Sole, Festival Director

[email protected]

301-949-9416 (text preferred)

FEST OF SPRING Caribbean Wine Food & Music Festival

Get ready to experience the vibrant colors, tantalizing flavors, and infectious rhythms of the Caribbean at the FEST OF SPRING Caribbean Wine Food & Music Festival! Hosted by RHU LLC, this exciting festival is set to take place on May 18, 2024, at the picturesque 16700 Barnesville Rd in Boyds, MD.

Step into a world where the Caribbean spirit comes alive! From 12:00 PM onwards, immerse yourself in a sensory journey that celebrates the unique culture, cuisine, and music of the Caribbean. Whether you're an African American, a Reggae or Soca music enthusiast, a wine lover, or part of the vibrant Caribbean diaspora, this festival promises to delight and captivate you in every way.

Let the enticing aromas of mouthwatering Caribbean dishes tantalize your taste buds. Feast on traditional delicacies prepared by expert chefs, showcasing the rich and diverse culinary heritage of the Caribbean. Indulge in flavorful jerk chicken, succulent seafood, and delectable plantain dishes that will transport you straight to the islands.

Accompanying the culinary extravaganza is a carefully curated selection of premium wines, ensuring the perfect pairing for your palate. Sip on fine wines from renowned vineyards, each sip a reflection of the Caribbean's vibrant spirit. Discover new flavors, expand your wine knowledge, and savor unforgettable moments with every glass.

As the sun sets, get ready to groove to the infectious rhythms of Caribbean music. Feel the pulsating beats of reggae, soca, dancehall, and calypso, moving your body to the lively melodies. Live performances by talented musicians and performers will keep the energy high, ensuring a night of unforgettable entertainment.

Don't miss this opportunity to embrace the Caribbean spirit and celebrate the arrival of spring in style! Tickets are available on AllEvents, so secure your spot today. Join us at the FEST OF SPRING Caribbean Wine Food & Music Festival, where cultures collide and unforgettable memories are made.

LIVE PERFORMANCES By: CULTURE Feat. Kenyatta Hill, EXCO LEVI, IMAGE BAND, RAS LIDJ REGG'GO with Special Guest SUGAR BEAR FROM E.U. & MORE! & MORE!

MUSIC By: DJ ABLAZE, DJ SMALLY & NAJ SUPREME

2 NIGHT Camping packages available: RV/CAMPER $200 | TENTS $150 Starting on Friday May 17 @ 5pm | 30 RV SPACES | 30+ TENT SPACES

KIDS 12 & UNDER FREE!!!

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