Weekly Message from County Executive Marc Elrich: Our Heroic First Responders Show Their Best Again

by Patrick Herron

Per Montgomery County:

Dear Friends,

It is time to turn the page on my first term and look ahead to the second. I hope you will join us at the Inauguration on Monday, Dec. 5, where both I and the 20th County Council will be installed. The event begins at 11 a.m. at Strathmore in North Bethesda. Tickets are free, but must be reserved in advance. The inauguration also will be shown live on MCM, as well as streamed on the County’s social media platforms.

As you may know, the incoming County Council is historic. It will feature two additional members, it will be the most racially diverse Council ever and will be the first majority female County Council—all six new members elected last month are women.

Congratulations are well deserved for outgoing Councilmembers Tom Hucker, Nancy Navarro, Craig Rice and Hans Riemer. They served Montgomery County honorably and I was proud to recognize them this week for their service to our community.

We will continue the work we began four years ago to make this County more equitable and inclusive for everyone. We will follow through on the broad goals we started and kept pursuing despite being sidetracked by COVID-19. Improving the affordable housing system, adding bus rapid transit, leading the way on fighting climate change and reimagining public safety are all goals we will continue to pursue to make life better across Montgomery County.

I receive many sincere compliments and appreciation for providing residents this weekly newsletter and video. In my second term, we will continue communicating the news, actions and decisions of this government with the people we serve. Through our weekly newsletters, videos, media briefings and social media channels, we will consistently inform you about what we are doing with honesty and transparency. I encourage anyone who wants to share their thoughts about how we are doing to go to my page on the Montgomery County website where you can read my vision statement and contact me with any questions or concerns.

County Council Approves Decarbonization Bill, Bethesda Improvements, Institute For Health Computing Money

Significant legislation was approved this week at the final meeting of the 19th County Council.

The decarbonization bill, which was introduced this summer, was approved. I thank the Council for moving this legislation forward. Our goal is to ensure that new buildings in Montgomery County are built using modern, efficient electric technology to help achieve our climate goals, save money and improve health and indoor air quality. We need to do that work as quickly as possible. This legislation is an important step and complement to the County’s Building Energy Performance Standards and falls in line with the County’s Climate Action Plan.

The Council also moved forward with an exciting project in Bethesda that will help reimagine the area surrounding the Farm Women’s Cooperative Market along Wisconsin Avenue. The surface parking lots near the building will be transformed into public parks, housing, retail space and underground parking, thus fulfilling the requirements of the Bethesda Sector plan.

The project will create 320 multi-family dwelling units and close to 50 of those will be below market price. This development will enhance the historic Farm Women’s Co-op while also bringing new opportunities to downtown Bethesda.

And, finally, the County approved our funding for the new “UM3IHC.” This is the proposed University of Maryland, Baltimore; University of Maryland, College Park; and the University of Maryland Medical System’s Institute for Health Computing that we announced three weeks ago that is still turning heads throughout our region, in academic circles and with the media. This project is a game changer for our bio life sciences industry, our local academic institutions, our economic development efforts in the Pike District, and, most importantly, the future of health and medicine.

This was a wonderful ending to this four-year term with the 19th County Council. I want to wish our departing members of the County Council—Councilmembers Hucker, Riemer, Rice and Navarro—the best of luck in their future endeavors and I look forward to working with the 20th County Council.

Celebrating Small Businesses

Our holiday season got off to a strong start this past weekend with the help of Small Business Saturday. In Montgomery County, we used our social media and local media to help promote some of the businesses operated by our residents as they buckle down for the busiest time of the year.

On Saturday, I toured businesses in Gaithersburg, Germantown and Damascus and presented them with certifications to show them my appreciation. For every dollar spent at a local business, 68 cents stays in our County. That is 1.8 times more than a chain business, and six times more than online shopping.

That is why we spend so much time and effort helping entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground and helping small business owners navigate what can be a tricky process of launching their own businesses. Some of our accelerator programs are done in partnership with companies like M&T Bank. We also offer workshops tailored to a Spanish-speaking audience to help those business owners expand operations within the County. We are working to give small business owners the best chance of success.

We applaud the hard work of small business owners and their employees. We wish them success this holiday season and hope you consider “shopping small” as you search for gifts this year.

‘Respect for Marriage Act’ Passes U.S. Senate

I want to recognize the US Senate’s passage of the “Respect for Marriage Act” this week. Quite frankly, it should have never have taken this long to get legislation like this passed at the Federal level, but I am glad it passed. I want to thank Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin for their votes and advocacy on this issue over many years.

Only 10 years ago, Maryland became the first state in the union to vote for marriage equality by referendum, and I believe this was a significant part of the domino effect to widespread acceptance of marriage equality, including by the Supreme Court.

I want to acknowledge and thank our chief administrative officer, Rich Madaleno, who as a State Senator a decade ago was the lead sponsor of the bill that became State law. It took his persistence, courage and conviction to pass it in Annapolis and win a public referendum.

Our County and nation are better off when all residents have equal rights and freedoms.

2022 Vision Zero Progress

Despite the rain on Wednesday, the County got a chance to celebrate a Vision Zero accomplishment. The first phase of the Bethesda Bikeway project, which provides protected lanes for cyclists along Woodmont and Bethesda avenues, as well as across Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda, is now complete. This is the third protected bike line project finished under Vision Zero. With each of these upgrades, we are working toward making cycling, walking and running in our communities safer.

Now is a good time to look back on what we accomplished in 2022 with Vision Zero. Safety improvements made across our County. We have seen a 15 percent decrease in serious and fatal crashes compared to recent years before the pandemic. Last year, more than $100 million was spent on safety improvements. By next summer, we will spend another $123 million.

Our hearts break for everyone we lose in traffic fatalities. So far this year, 47 people have been killed on our roads. These are not just statistics. Each death represents someone’s mother, father, son or friend. Improving vehicular, bike and pedestrian safety is a priority. We are going to continue to work toward our goal of zero road deaths as soon as possible.

RSV Cases Straining Hospital ERs In Our Area

This winter we are more prepared than ever for COVID-19 with bivalent boosters and a high vaccination rate protecting Montgomery County. Still, we are currently seeing a strain on our emergency departments because of the so-called “tridemic” that is the early start to the flu season combined with the early and high rate of RSV and lingering COVID-19 threat.

RSV cases are pushing some of our hospitals to the brink. Over the recent long holiday weekend, capacity levels at local hospitals were reaching into the “red zone.” This is very concerning. In response to the elevated case load, the State of Maryland started an RSV dashboard.

Additionally, the State is also promoting a “flooster” campaign with the hope that people will get both their flu shot and latest COVID booster to keep these respiratory illnesses from further overwhelming hospitals and the health care system.

This should sound very familiar to everyone around here. We have never wavered from our message to remain vigilant. We pushed flu shots early on and that is why 30 percent of Montgomery County has already received flu shots, outpacing the State. In the lead up to Halloween and Thanksgiving, we reminded people to stay home if they are sick and continued to push boosters and flu shots.

Now with the holiday season in full swing, we must continue to gather cautiously and wisely. Wear masks when appropriate or around those who are immune compromised and remember to consistently wash hands. Free N95 masks, as well as COVID tests, are available at Montgomery County libraries. We encourage everyone to get tested before and after holiday gatherings. We must all do our part to ensure that hospitals and their staffs do not become overwhelmed with patients.

Let’s hope this winter is remembered for the work we put in well ahead of time to prevent another Covid wave.

Marking World AIDS Day

We marked World AIDS Day this week. As much as we focus on COVID, monkeypox, RSV and flu, I want to acknowledge and thank the work of the County’s Department of Health and Human Services’ HIV/STI services and all the preventive work and outreach it does.

In 2019, the County was named an “Ending the HIV Epidemic” jurisdiction, along with Baltimore City, Prince George’s and D.C. The initiative is a Federal plan to reduce new HIV infections by 90 percent in places in the U.S. where new infections are happening the fastest. Our plan outlines strategies to help us reach that goal. There are about 4,000 people in Montgomery County currently living with HIV and an average of 123 people were diagnosed with HIV every year for the past five years.

We encourage everyone to:

  • Get tested for HIV, even if you do not think you are at risk.
  • Seek treatment for HIV if you test positive.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, the HIV-prevention medication, to reduce risk of HIV.
  • Learn the facts about HIV and talk with partners, family and friends about it.
  • Fight HIV stigma by showing support and compassion for people living with HIV.

County residents seeking free or low-cost HIV testing, treatment or prevention should contact Montgomery County HIV Services at 240-777-1869. Find out more about our efforts at Do It For You MC.org. With successful treatment, people living with HIV can live long, healthy lives and prevent transmission of HIV to others.

Plane Crash Near Airpark

We are extremely grateful to all those who responded to the small aircraft entanglement with high tension wires near the Air Park in Gaithersburg this past Sunday. This was a unique and complicated emergency incident that knocked out power to more than 120,000 Montgomery County residents.

This was an incredible response and recovery effort from the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service while dealing with an unprecedented situation. I also want to commend and thank Pepco and AUI Power for their quick work and collaboration to ensure that everyone was safe during this rescue and for restoring power as soon as possible.

Additionally, the County Police Department, along with the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and Maryland State Police swiftly and adeptly managed traffic and monitored impacts on County until power was returned.

All in all, this incident—along with the Gaithersburg fire and building collapse two weeks ago—are examples of Montgomery County’s first responding agencies at their very best. We are very fortunate to have such incredible talent and decision-making skills in our public safety departments. We are grateful for their quick actions and deliberative approach to ensure everyone was kept safe.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich

County Executive
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