Weekly Message From County Executive Marc Elrich (12/22/22)

“Dear Friends,

Severely cold temperatures will arrive in Montgomery County this holiday weekend. A “Cold Emergency Alert” will be issued by the County and is expected to last from mid-day Friday through Saturday.

According to the National Weather Service that means we can expect temperatures to dip into the teens and single digits with wind chills reaching below zero. Temperatures should rebound a bit on Sunday with wind chill not being as big a risk but below freezing temperatures will stick around through Monday or Tuesday.

It is good to remember some things ahead of this arctic blast to keep your family and your home safe. First of all, I encourage everyone to sign up for Alert Montgomery through our County website. It will keep you up to date on all public safety threats.

Please bundle up when you go out, and do not go outside for extended period of times unless you must. These expected temperatures are potentially dangerous to people and pets. Our Homeless Information Line is available 24/7 to help anyone in need of a warm place to stay. Callers will also take reports from the public and attempt to locate anyone in need of support and resources. The number is 240-907-2688. The County began preparing for this Cold Emergency Alert ahead of the storm by proactively reaching out and encouraging homeless men and women to take a spot in our shelter, where there is space available.

During extreme weather events, Montgomery County offers libraries and recreation centers as options for warming shelters. These facilities keep their normal hours of operation, which means you can visit County libraries Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Libraries will be closed, however, Sunday and Monday, due to the Christmas holiday. Residents concerned about the well-being of a homeless individual can call the 24-hour Line at 240-907-2688.

We have already seen cold temperatures impact WSSC water pipes. The company has had numerous reports of water main breaks in December. To report a water main break call 301-206-4002, email the company or use the WSSC app.

The non-emergency police number can be used to report pets that are left out in the cold without anyway to stay warm – 301-279-8000 and press Option 2.

Hypothermia can occur even in what we consider normal cold temperatures, typically what we see during the overnight hours at this time of year. During this Cold Emergency Alert, the temperatures will drop even further below what we are used to, and the wind will also contribute to dangerous conditions.

Please be on the lookout for signs of hypothermia like bright red skin on infants and fumbling hands, memory loss and slurred speech in adults. I hope you check in on elderly neighbors and friends over the weekend to make sure they are staying warm safely. Please keep an eye on our social media through this event for the latest information and how it may impact you.

Homicide in Downtown Silver Spring

I was shocked and saddened to learn about the death of a man Wednesday night in Downtown Silver Spring. Police said he was out with his family for dinner and returned to his car to drop off leftovers before returning to his family when he was fatally attacked in the stairwell of the Wayne Avenue Garage.

This death is tragic and appears to be different than other shootings that take lives in Montgomery County in which victims and suspects know each other. An investigation is underway and a motive for the deadly attack has yet to be determined but this appears to be the kind of random violence that is most worrisome to the community. On top of that, the incident is unsettling because it happened in an area where many people are moving around at stores and restaurants. The garage where it happened is one that I and hundreds of people frequently use. Our Regional Services Center will coordinate with residents and business leaders in the area to address questions and concerns about the incident and provide updates on the investigation.

We have seen a reduction in violent crimes in this area. Montgomery County Police will be increasing the number of officers patrolling the area over the next few weeks to help residents and visitors to feel safer. Police are asking the public for any information about activity around the Wayne Avenue Garage that night that could help them find the responsible. If you can help, please call the tip line at 1-866-411-8477 (TIPS.)

Standing Up to Antisemitic Vandalism

There was a swift response to another incident of antisemitic vandalism this past week. Last weekend an unwelcome message was spraypainted on the sign for Walt Whitman High School. I applaud the Walt Whitman High School principal for acting quickly and decrying what is truly unacceptable behavior. The hate message was quickly removed, and a letter was sent to students and parents condemning the act.

I appreciated joining other elected officials and community members at an event organized by the Glen Echo volunteer fire department and Chabad of Bethesda to commemorate the first night of Hanukah, acknowledge the most recent acts of antisemitism and stand united against hatred and intolerance. It’s a sad development that even as we celebrate this holiday tradition we must still address such abhorrent acts against minority groups like this.

This was the fifth major act of antisemitic vandalism we have witnessed this year, and it made national news. We have also had reports of other antisemitic incidents as well hate crimes and actions against other communities such as the recent vandalism of the historically Black church of Scotland AME, the anti-Asian hate crime that occurred in Rockville over the summer, and the protesting and attempts of intimidation by the Proud Boys at Drag Time Story hour.

Unfortunately, most of the time when these acts of vandalism occur, it is very difficult to find the culprits. However, we still need to do everything in our power to catch and stop these acts from happening.

No one should feel unsafe in their own community. And those who peddle this sort of hate need to know that we don’t accept or tolerate this type of behavior in Montgomery County.

This problem is not going to be solved by our police department or Jewish community alone – we must be more intentional and deliberate in how we collectively address acts of hatred like this. It is imperative that we educate our children and all people. I believe that through education and understanding, people can come to understand that we are far more alike than different.

Sadly, just last week, right before this incident happened, Whitman’s Jewish Student Union led efforts to confront antisemitism because of a national rise in the antisemitic rhetoric and incidents. We could all learn a lesson from that group of Whitman students and those outreach efforts.

One of my favorite historians is Howard Zinn, he famously said, “If you don’t know history, it’s as if you were born yesterday. If you were born yesterday then any leader can tell you anything.”

Whether it is Jewish oppression, the lingering impacts of systemic racism, colonialism, or subjugation of indigenous peoples, we must teach our factual history, the good and the bad, to discover the underlying basis for the racism, sexism, and religious intolerance that still permeate our society. Montgomery County is a welcoming, progressive, and compassionate community and we can’t allow incidents like these to cause fear or be normalized.

DPS Permitting Changes Help Business Owners

As County Executive one of my priorities has been to figure out how to make it easier for companies to do business here in Montgomery County. We’ve made progress yet again with a new policy within the Department of Permitting Services (DPS) that makes it easier for business owners to move in and get to work.

This comes in response to complaints I heard from business owners directly during listening tours with County Councilmember Sidney Katz after I was first elected. There were concerns about the lag time between a completed final inspection and receiving notice from inspectors. That gap has been eliminated because Use and Occupancy (U&O) certificates will now be electronic. Once the final inspection is complete and approved, the primary applicant will automatically receive an email with the U&O certificate attached. We have also added U&O certificate printing options to the County’s Permitting Services website.

These changes also apply to newly constructed homes as well. We will still make sure all building, electrical, mechanical and fire safety measures are in place for new construction but now, rather than waiting days for word of a decision to become finalized, business owners and homeowners will be able to plan better knowing that there won’t be that added delay built into the opening process. I appreciate DPS responding to the needs of businesses and residents.

Covid Hospitalizations Put Montgomery County Back in ‘Medium’ Status

Montgomery County’s COVID-19 Community Level Status is once again considered “medium.” It’s due to the percentage of hospital beds now dedicated to patients testing positive for COVID.

Recommendations for keeping yourself safe remain the same: Boost, mask, wash, test. These four steps still work after almost three years of dealing with this pandemic.

The best way to prevent a serious bout with COVID-19 is by being vaccinated and getting a bivalent booster.

Only 28 percent of our County residents have received the bivalent booster thus far. With each “wave” of vaccinations–from initial and second doses to the boosters to the current bi-valent boosters—we are seeing fewer people show up to get their shots. When you look at the breakdown, children and Black and Latino adults are the furthest behind.

Those who are not vaccinated are being hospitalized and still dying, at far higher rates than those who are vaccinated. Getting these shots are still vital to saving lives and preventing illness. So, if you are not vaccinated or boosted, get your shot. It works. These preventative measures also help keep flu and RSV numbers down as well.

On Saturday, hundreds of people turned out at Westfield Wheaton Mall for our fourth Boosterama and flu shot clinic. At the event, 197 people received their COVID booster vaccine and 143 got their flu shot. I am encouraged by these numbers and thank the Department of Health and Human Services for helping more of our community get protected.

I am glad to see more people wearing masks. Wearing a mask in crowded indoor places with poor ventilation is strongly recommended as well as during nursing home visits, on public transportation and around people who are at high risk of having serious complications from COVID.

It is also important that residents continue to test. We have free rapid tests still available at our libraries and the federal government is also providing another round of rapid tests by mail.

I hope everyone will consider the health of others during this holiday season. The holidays will be much more enjoyable when we gather safely, and people don’t have to stay home because they are sick. If you are not feeling well, please stay at home. It’s better to miss out on something than to get a loved one seriously ill.

Fighting High Drug Prices

This week I joined the County Executives from Prince George’s, Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore, and the Mayor of Baltimore in sending a letter to the Chair of the Prescription Drug Affordability Board. In the letter we indicate our strong support for setting upper payment limits on prescription drugs in our State.

This is a health equity issue and one of the key reasons I supported the Board and the authority given to it in 2019. Drug prices continue to escalate and impact many Marylanders, painting some into a corner when it comes to choosing between their health and other necessities.

In addition to the letter, I joined a video call on Monday asking the Prescription Drug Affordability Board to ask the General Assembly to broaden the group’s authority. The goal is to make medications affordable. I also participated in one of several forums this fall held across the state by the Maryland Health Care For All!coalition and AARP Maryland. They helped Marylanders understand how the Board can work for them and were critical in obtaining testimonials, which reinforce the need for reform.

A recent survey found almost half of all Maryland adults between 20 and 60 use some kind prescription drugs. The percentage skyrockets when you look at older adults. The State must do all it can to keep these costs from getting out of control. High drug costs also impact county budgets here and in our surrounding communities.

Allowing companies to continue pushing the limit of what the market can bear has created a dangerous situation for housing in Montgomery County. If we continue to allow that with prescription drugs lives will be lost. I hope the General Assembly will act on our request and give Maryland’s Prescription Drug Affordability Board the tools it needs to fight the rising cost of medicine.

Holiday Giving Project

I hope that all residents enjoy their holiday break with friends and family. We also want to be mindful of those who do not have family, support networks and resources that we take for granted.

Our County charities and nonprofits are pivotal to our efforts to help the people, issues and challenges that impact all of our communities but with increasing demand and rising costs, county charities need help.

Please donate your time, money or resources. It is a great way to get an end of the year tax write-off. More importantly, you are providing critical lifelines and opportunities to those in need.

Montgomery County employees help by contributing through our Employee Giving Campaign. This year we wanted to exceed last year’s record-high fundraising total of $291,038. Program leaders tell us based on initial results we surpassed that amount and still have a chance of meeting my goal of $300,000 by the time calculations are finalized early next year.

Thank you to our wonderful employees for helping to contribute to the wonderful community service organizations that work year-round to improve lives in Montgomery County. This thoughtfulness is a testament to the character and goodwill we have within our county workforce.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive”

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