Message From the County Executive: Looking Ahead at the Challenges we Must Address in 2023

by Patrick Herron

Per Montgomery County:

Dear Friends,
Year after year, the New Year’s holiday makes us reflective. We have looked back on some of the accomplishments from 2022 in a video that looked at economic, environmental and educational gains. If you have not had a chance to view it, it is well worth your time.

This week’s video is looking ahead at the challenges we must address in 2023, including creating affordable housing solutions that challenge the status quo so we can protect renters, preserve affordable housing options available today and produce more units that are affordable for working families.

We must also continue our efforts to combat climate change and achieve our goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 100 percent in the next 12 years. We can do this by further expanding solar, electrifying our fleet, investing in our electric vehicle infrastructure, and continuing to implement and improve upon our smart and innovative policies on building energy standards.

We must also drive home the message that our roads are meant for more than just cars. We are putting record amounts of money into our Flash Bus Rapid Transit program, and will work with our State delegation and new State leadership to keep that progress going. In the past, business leaders have cited our lack of mass transit options as a reason to avoid moving to Montgomery County. We cannot let this issue continue to act like a roadblock to our economic development.

We went from 11 pedestrians killed on Montgomery County roads in 2021 to 42 in 2022. This increase comes even as we are spending more money on trying to protect all travelers–cyclists, pedestrians and drivers. Our Vision Zero goal of eliminating deaths and serious injuries on our roads by 2050 remains in place with more safety projects lined up for 2023. I encourage everyone to learn about upcoming Vision Zero events happening nearby and help us drive down the number of people seriously hurt and killed in crashes as soon as possible.

I’m also excited to continue our momentum on the economic development front. Last fall we signed an agreement with the University of Maryland College Park, University of Maryland, Baltimore, and University of Maryland Medical System to bring the UM3 (the Institute for Health Computing) to North Bethesda. Combined with the collaboration opportunities with local business, the Universities of Maryland at Shady Grove, and Montgomery College, this is a major opportunity for State’s economy and education opportunities.

As noted in Bethesda Beat’s look at the top stories in 2022, education leaders are calling the advanced research facility a “game changer.” I believe the new facility will also help bolster our already outstanding life sciences hub in Montgomery County, be a catalyst for further business expansion and help spur development around the North Bethesda Metro Station for years to come.

We are set up an incredible year ahead with an expanded and historically diverse County Council as well as new incoming administration in Annapolis.

It is time to work on solutions that unite us instead of divide us.

Health Update

The World Health Organization this week called the new XBB.1.5 COVID-19 subvariant “the most transmissible subvariant that has been detected yet.” This subvariant has been doubling in our nation over the past two weeks, and specifically, in the Northeast portion of the country, including Montgomery County. This subvariant is already close to 40 percent of the new cases we are seeing. It is clearly a “wake-up call” for everyone to get the new bivalent booster.

It is ridiculous that we are still using the “fully vaccinated” term when that is meaningless at his point. It is simple: if you have not received the new bivalent booster vaccine, you are not fully protected.

Throughout the holidays, we encouraged County residents to be careful around loved ones and to get their vaccine boosters. We should have seen our numbers swell into the winter break. However, as you can see from this chart above, demand for our bivalent booster is waning with only 31 percent of all County residents receiving an updated booster.

In December, we also saw 41 COVID-19 deaths in our County and 226 in Maryland. Those are the highest totals since last February. Our community level status remains in the “medium” category mostly due to more of our hospital beds being used to treat patients with COVID.

There is no reason for anyone to die from COVID when booster shots have been proven safe and are widely available. Vaccine information continues to be available on our website.

I continue to follow the advice of our health experts who are closely monitoring how the virus is impacting our community through hospitalizations and community spread. They will let us know if further steps need to be taken to protect our community. Additional measures are not needed right now, but we have the tools to protect ourselves, chief among them vaccines and boosters. Do not wait until your next doctor’s visit. As long as you are not showing flu-like symptoms, you can get your flu and booster shots through a physician or a nearby pharmacy.

If you find yourself in an indoor public space, please choose to wear a mask. Over the last several weeks, RSV, flu and now COVID are leading to more people visiting emergency rooms and ending up in the hospital. Washing your hands and staying home when you are sick are also ways to prevent the spread of viruses.

We have dealt with an early onset of RSV cases, an early surge of flu cases and now we are heading into January and February, which were the two deadliest months for COVID-19 last year. We are far better prepared to respond and deal with outbreaks, but dealing with this “tri-demic” of health threats has put our health care community under stress for the last several months. Let’s keep them in mind as we return to our normal routines and head into the last few months of flu season.

Too Many Police Cruisers Being Hit

We just completed a busy holiday season on the roads that came with an increased danger to police officers and state police keeping our roads safe. Since Maryland’s Move Over Law went into effect in October, five police cruisers have been hit by drivers on our State highways and roads. Luckily, these accidents were not deadly and did not cause any serious injuries, but they should serve as a reminder that this new law is in place specifically to help protect police, fire, other emergency responders and resident who may be stuck on the side of the road.

If you see flashing lights while driving, please slow down while passing and move over when possible. The new law also protects vehicles stopped on the side of the road and showing signs of trouble like hazard lights or flares. Please obey the “Move Over” law.

The region’s “holiday task force,” which included the Montgomery County Police Department, focused specifically on reducing the number of impaired drivers on the roads. It resulted in more than 250 arrests from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. That is just a fraction of the number of drivers stopped and checked. This is a video produced by our police department following the steps officers go through to determine when someone has had too much to drink. Thanks to all of the officers who put in extra time over the last six weeks to keep roads safe and to all the drivers who chose to get home safely without putting lives in danger.

Winter Coat Drive

A one-week coat drive to fill an emergency need in our community brought in more than 400 coats. Coats were collected at the Silver Spring Regional Services Office, recreation centers across the County and in the District 3 police station.

Coat drives are not uncommon ahead of cold months, but plans for a 500-coat donation from a major retailer were delayed leading to this emergency effort.

I want to thank Silver Spring Cares Inc., CHEER, the Montgomery County Police, Montgomery County Recreation and the Silver Spring Regional Services Office for providing a way for the community to help. An online forum was also created to help raise money to buy even more coats and that has generated more than $5,000 in donations. You can keep up with that effort by following this link.

Free Fitness Pass for County Residents in 2023

I am also very happy about the campaign that our recreation department has taken on to improve the health and wellness across the County by offering free fitness passes to residents. In order to improve health outcomes, we have to make fitness facilities and programs accessible to all our residents. I am urging everyone to take advantage of the County’s free fitness pass program. All County residents 16 and older are eligible for a 2023 Fitness Pass at no charge. The pass does not include free access to aquatic centers.

There are close to two dozen recreation centersthroughout the County, making it easy to find a fully equipped fitness room near work or home. The new year is a time when many people are reenergized to get to the gym, and this gives them a no-cost opportunity to do that.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive



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