Weekly Message From County Executive Marc Elrich

by Patrick Herron
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Weekly Message From County Executive Marc Elrich

Per Montgomery County:

Greetings,

I hope everyone’s fall is off to a great start. October is a beautiful and busy month. It is a great time to explore all that our County offers – you can go to visitMontgomery.com for ideas and suggestions to make this fall memorable.

JOIN US IN-PERSON OR VIRTUALLY AT OUR BUDGET FORUMS

Besides fall in the air, it is also the beginning of budget season. This week, we began our series of hybrid regional budget forums at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center and Silver Spring Civic Building. I appreciate all those who came out and tuned in online to listen to our presentations and ask great questions. Here is the schedule for the remaining three forums, including how to join each one virtually:

These budget forums are important events for us to update the public on our upcoming FY23 budget process and outlook as well provide opportunities for the public to give us their input and feedback. Attend in person or tune-in online to these forums. For more information about these forums, please click here.

COVID UPDATE

Our County’s case rates, positivity rates, and vaccination rates continue to be among the best not only in our state and region but our entire nation. This week, we are up to 98.6 percent of our eligible residents receiving at least one dose. This is incredible. And I am glad to report that our African American vaccination rate is now only 1 percentage point behind our white residents. Last spring this gap was as high as 18 percentage points. This success highlights that our vaccine equity efforts have really paid off.

However, despite this good news, we must recognize that our County is not on an island, and our war against COVID is, unfortunately, not over. We are doing well, but we can’t stop doing what we know works. This week, our nation passed a grim milestone as we saw our 700,000th COVID death nationally. This pandemic has become the deadliest in American history, overtaking the toll from the influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919, which killed about 675,000 people. We continue to send our sympathies to those who lost friends, family, and co-workers over the past 20 months. Quite frankly, it didn’t have to be this way, and too many families are grieving due to bad policy decisions and blatant misinformation by the Trump administration whose influence and incompetence is still reverberating throughout this nation.

NEW LOCATIONS FOR BOOSTER SHOTS

Our Health and Human Services department is also preparing for an increase demand of COVID-19 booster shots and announced new locations to provide increased capacity for COVID-19 vaccinations. Vaccination sites will continue to provide first and second doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, as well as providing additional doses and booster shots currently recommended for certain groups and eligible residents who received the Pfizer vaccine. Vaccinations are now available at the Montgomery College—Germantown campus, and beginning Monday, Oct. 11, COVID-19 vaccinations will be available at the East County Recreation Center and the Silver Spring Civic Building. Visit www.GoVAXMoCo.com for details on locations and clinic hours. Testing for COVID-19 also continues.

SHOULD VACCINES BE MANDATED FOR COUNTY EMPLOYEES?

There has been a lot of confusion recently about my position on proposed Council legislation that would require all Montgomery County employees to be vaccinated or else be terminated. There have been misstatements by others about what I have said, and I want to be extremely clear about my position.

First, I believe that all County employees who can be vaccinated should be vaccinated, just as I believe that all residents should be vaccinated. I believe that vaccine mandates can work and that a national mandate tied to employment would be the most effective means of preventing the unvaccinated from “job shopping” for employers who don’t require vaccinations. The pain, the suffering, and the loss of life from this pandemic would be greatly reduced if we were all vaccinated.

I also want to be clear that I never said I opposed a vaccine mandate of County employees. The legislation would remove unvaccinated employees from our workforce; but as County Executive, I have a responsibility to know the consequences of such a mandate. Government operations include essential services – emergency responders, public safety, and jail operations. Before I was County Executive, I chaired the County Council’s public safety committee, and we carefully reviewed paramedic response times because a longer response time means that the survival rate declines. Before I decide to fire paramedics who aren’t vaccinated, I want to be sure that we can deliver services when they’re needed. A key factor in considering the consequences of this mandate is the exceptionally high challenges of replacing some of our employees. Paramedics cannot be replaced instantly – training takes months even after new hires are identified.

Delivering government services is not like running a bookstore or a restaurant where firing staff who aren’t vaccinated might result in slower service for the customer – that would be inconvenient, but it would not be a potentially dangerous situation. We are running a government, and the ability to provide necessary services like police, fire and rescue, and staffing our jail is a critical function. Before we issue a blanket-mandate with prescriptive discipline we should review and be clear-eyed about the implications for public safety. That’s why I’ve asked staff in these departments to conduct a realistic scenario-based assessment of how potential personnel loses may affect their ability to effectively deliver these services. Within the fire and rescue service, more than 80 percent of the calls they run are health related, and if the loss of paramedics were to result in delays in ambulances arriving, we would be putting lives at risk. Similarly, if our jail were inadequately staffed, we would be putting both the people in jail and our employees at risk. I want to be sure that legislation will not jeopardize the health and safety of our residents. The analysis I have requested is essential to judging the risks and benefits of this vaccine mandate and proposing a mandate without this assessment was premature.

We already know that, among the employees who have reported, 92 percent are vaccinated. We anticipate that at the end of the day, there are likely no more than 1,000 County employees who remain unvaccinated out of the more than 200,000 residents who aren’t vaccinated. Because of the other measures my administration has implemented, including personal protective equipment, distancing, barriers, and ventilation improvements in County facilities, unvaccinated County employees pose less risk than more common daily interactions in retail, restaurant, or fitness centers throughout the County. These employees have been responding throughout the last 20 months of this pandemic to make Montgomery County one of the safest places in the entire country.

I expect my staff to provide me with a realistic consequence analysis by next week. At that point we will have full knowledge of our circumstances and chart the best way forward. Regardless of how upset I or anyone else is about the refusal of people to get vaccinated, that anger can’t cloud our thinking of how best to manage the situation we may find ourselves in. I genuinely wish that the sponsors of this legislation would have come to me to discuss their interest in greater detail so we could have conducted this critical analysis prior to their drafting of the proposed mandate and accompanying discipline. I believe such preparatory work would have shown greater respect for the employees who have been responding for the last 20 months – with much of their work before the availability of vaccines or, in some cases, before adequate protective equipment was available. We will continue to work to ensure the best possible outcome for our residents and employees.

NEWEST ANALYSIS ABOUT I270/495 PLANS CONFIRMS PROBLEMS WITH THE STATE’S CURRENT APPROACH

Last week the State released an updated analysis about its plans for the Capital Beltway and I-270 and the report shows that toll lanes would not help afternoon drivers who did not pay the potentially extraordinarily expensive tolls and even the drivers in the toll lanes would average 23 mph rather than the 45 mph promised previously. I do believe there are important steps we can take to address congestion, but the State’s own study shows that contracting with a private partner to make a profit on toll lanes does not profit the people of Maryland. And as I have written before

(https://montgomerycomd.blogspot.com/2021/07/message-from-county-executive.html
and https://montgomerycomd.blogspot.com/2021/08/message-from-countyexecutive.html), the current plan leaves the residents of Gaithersburg, Germantown, Clarksburg and points north mired in congestion. You can read more about this recent analysis here.

RENTAL RELIEF CONTINUES TO BE DISTRIBUTED

We continue to make progress in the distribution and allocation of rental relief funds that are helping families stay in home and avoid evictions. As of earlier this week, more than $27.5 million in assistance has gone out this round, for a cumulative total of over $45.4 million in direct assistance. We lead the state in rate of distribution of funds for July and August (the most recent information available).

Since May of 2020 when we began providing rental relief from our coffers – we have received over 21,400 applications for assistance and prevented nearly 7,200 households from being evicted. Since the launch in April of this year of our latest tranche of money from the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program, we have received over 11,200 applications for this round of funding. This is substantially more applications than any other jurisdiction in the state. We have received nearly as many applications as all the other Big 8 jurisdictions around the State combined.

Our program has already processed 54 percent of all of these applications and case workers are currently working on another 15 percent. Based on our pace, we expect to process the remaining applications within 3 months. And our denial rate has dropped from about 30 percent plus to 9 percent with the improvements we have made to our process with this current round.

In terms of evictions there have been 574 households have writs scheduled for eviction since July 19 and we have gotten 41 percent of these households to apply for assistance. Fewer than 8 percent of these writs have turned into evictions and that is good sign that we are getting to these problems early and keeping as many families in their homes as we can. I want to, once again, thank the Sheriff’s offices for working with our great team at Health and Human Services to share their information to expediated these cases and ensure that as many as these families can stay in their homes.

The application for rent relief remains open. If you are in need or know someone that is, please click hereand submit an application today.

LOOKING FOR QUALITY AND AFFORDABLE CHILD CARE?

Navigating the challenges of childcare can be difficult even when we are not amid a pandemic. Two upcoming Facebook Live events will provide information about quality childcare and how to pay for it; the events are Tuesday, Oct. 12 in English and Wednesday, Oct. 13 in Spanish. These live online sessions will be held at 7 p.m. on the DHHS Facebookpage. Sessions are free and no registration is required. Visit the Child Care Resource and Referral Center’s website for more information. HHS staff from Early Childhood Services will answer questions from parents and prospective parents. The information provided will help parents know what questions to ask, where to find resources, and how to locate the best care available for their child’s future successes.

FLU SEASON IS HERE!

With fall here and winter following, we are also heading into flu season. We are encouraging everyone to make sure that they get their flu vaccine. Preventing yourself and your family from the flu is important to our overall health efforts. Last fall and winter, the flu wasn’t as prominent because kids were not in school, and many folks were staying away from each other and not commingling. With vaccines throughout our community, this fall and winter will be different and the flu will be more prominent.

Stopping the spread of flu is going to be crucial to reducing staffing shortages – especially amongst our medical professions and hospital staffs. The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services will offer four flu vaccine clinics over the upcoming weeks. You can also get a flu shot at many retailers and primary care physicians may also offer flu vaccine. For more information and how to obtain a flu shot please click here.

GET YOUR STEPS THIS ‘WALKTOBER’

One of the healthiest ways to explore our County this month is by walking. Our Department of Transportation is currently promoting “Walktober” with a series of outreach events to promote the work being done under the Vision Zero program to make walking in Montgomery County safe for people of all ages and abilities. This week, we lunched our “Walk & Ride Challenge” that will run from Oct. 4-22. This Challenge is open to employees working remotely or in-person in five participating Transportation Management Districts around the County. Nearly 100 employer-based teams have registered and will compete against each other to log the most steps for weekly prizes and a grand prize at the end of the competition. More information on the Challenge is available here.

I joined in on the walking fun this week when I participated in International Walk to School Day. We are committed to ensuring that walking and biking to school is a safe option for as many students as possible. Walking or biking to school is good for a student’s health and well-being, as well as helpful to our efforts to reducing carbon emissions from vehicles. Every Wednesday during Walktober, MCDOT’s Safe Routes to Schools team members will be at numerous Montgomery County Public Schools to talk pedestrian safety and provide prizes to students.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH

Finally, October is both Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Breast Cancer Awareness Month – two issues that are critical to the health, safety, and welfare of our families.

Domestic Abuse is a scourge in our society that unfortunately has gotten worse due to impacts and stress from the pandemic. On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. Per year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. The COVID-19 pandemic created a difficult environment for many people – as they were stuck in their home with their abuser – separated and isolated from their support systems. This year compared to 2020, the number of Montgomery County domestic violence incidents reported is 27 percent higher – which is why it is so important for us to encourage people to get help. Last year, there was a lot of underreporting or non-reporting of domestic abuse and child neglect as kids were not in school and victims may have had a harder time getting away from their abuser.

Our goal continues to be ensuring easy and reliable access to domestic violence services, support, and help. If you are the victim of domestic violence or know of someone who needs help, please call 2-1-1 for confidential assistance or find resources online here. And throughout this month the Montgomery County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council will be conducing virtual weekly events, webinars and panels that all residents will participate and recognize that we all must be engaged and committed to end Domestic Violence in Montgomery County.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women – about 13 percent of women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. 43,000 women throughout this nation are expected to die in 2021 from breast cancer. And in women under 45, breast cancer is more common in Black women than white women. Overall, Black women are more likely to die of breast cancer. For Asian, Hispanic, and Native-American women, the risk of developing and dying from breast cancer is lower.

The good news is that overall death rate from breast cancer decreased by 1 percent per year from 2013 to 2018 due to the result of treatment advances and earlier detection through screening. And that is why I want to encourage everyone to get tested for breast cancer as well as other cancers.

As always, thank you for your ongoing support.
With appreciation,

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