Weekly Message From County Executive Marc Elrich: Preparing for Winter’s Worst Conditions—and Protecting Our Most Vulnerable Residents

by MCS Staff

“Dear Friends,

We were reminded this week that winter is here. Although we were not significantly impacted this time, we must expect more bad weather over the upcoming months. I want to thank our Montgomery County Department of Transportation employees for their hard work to prepare for this potential weather event.

The old joke in this region about the weather has always been: “Don’t like the weather around here? Just wait 15 minutes.” Weather can turn very bad on us at any moment, and we must always be prepared for the worst.

As a government, we plan, budget and train to handle winter weather events and their impact throughout the County. Having residents prepared is critical and communications is key. Everyone should follow the latest County weather and traffic by signing up for “Alert Montgomery” texts and email messages or should use our winter weather portal for the latest information.

Be Salt Wise

Our Transportation and Environmental Protection teams are reminding all residents to be “Salt Wise.” During winter, we often use salt to melt ice, and while it helps prevent slips and falls, oversalting can lead to disastrous environmental impacts. Salt runs off into storm drains, local streams, and eventually, to the Potomac and Patuxent rivers that are drinking water sources for 1.8 million residents in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Salt also can corrode concrete and masonry, harm pets and damage surrounding plants and lawns. We are asking you to be “Salt Wise.”

  1. Shovel ice and snow early and often.
  2. Use one 12-ounce cup of salt for 10 sidewalk squares or for a 20-foot driveway.
  3. After storm events, sweep up excess salt for reuse.

By being careful and deliberate with salting, you can ensure your family’s safety AND be eco-conscious.

We Need the State to Help with Rental Relief Assistance: I joined county executives from Anne Arundel, Baltimore County and Howard County; the mayor of Baltimore; and a number of advocacy groups this week in sending a letter to Governor Hogan that requests emergency funding for rental assistance. In our letter, we asked the State for $175 million in additional rental relief funds that would prevent the eviction of approximately 17,000 households. Inflation and highs costs are hitting the poorest among us especially hard, and we have asked the Governor to use some of the State budget surplus to help. So far, in Montgomery County alone, we have approved $91.3 million to nearly 12,000 households and I want to thank our Department of Health and Human Services teams who have been working tirelessly on this program for more than two years. A lot of residents have been helped, but there are still plenty in trouble with rising housing and rent costs. Of all calls currently to our HHS department, 11 percent are still regarding rental relief inquiries.

Federal funds for rent relief is disappearing. That is another reason why rent stabilization is urgently needed. I discussed this during my speech at the inauguration earlier this month. I hope you will lend your voice and advocacy to the State to provide these emergency funds to help prevent evictions. Helping prevent dislocation and homelessness now is more cost effective and is absolutely the right thing to do for our families.

Ending Homelessness: During these holidays, we often take time to appreciate the good fortune of having family, friends and shelter. Unfortunately, some of our most vulnerable neighbors do not have these basic support systems. I am grateful for the work of the County’s Interagency Commission on Homelessness, and all our nonprofit partners, for the progress they are making on our region’s goal to end homelessness.

This week, I spoke to the Interagency Commission on Homelessness at its community-wide meeting at the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Rockville. This meeting continued our work of identifying strategies and strengthening coalitions between the government and our nonprofit partners to combat homelessness and support individuals with affordable housing options.Our bottom line is to leave no one out in the cold.

During the COVID-19 health crisis, we expanded our offerings, giving shelter year-round to as many people as possible. We had to use some of our recreation centers, and when it was time to return those centers to their intended uses, we knew that we needed to do something. Within 20 months, we funded, found a location, designed, constructed and opened a new homeless shelter on Nebel Street. This facility more than doubled our year-round shelter capacity and enabled our shelters to maintain social distancing. As our administration begins this new term, I want to reaffirm the County’s commitment to end homelessness for all. We want homelessness in Montgomery County to be rare, brief and one-time only.

Nelson Mandela once said, “Freedom is meaningless if people cannot put food in their stomachs, if they can have no shelter, if illiteracy and disease continue to dog them.” Please consider our homeless population during this holiday season and into the new year by donating your time, food, clothes or funds to help those who are down on their luck or need help. For more information on how to access resources or assist in these efforts, visit our “Ending Homelessness in Montgomery County” website.

Public Health Update

Dr. Kisha Davis started her work as the County’s new Health Officer this week. We welcome her and look forward to her contributions to our public health efforts. Dr. Davis is beginning her tenure with the County at an important time as we begin the winter season with a “tri-demic” of converging health issues—COVID, RSV and the flu. While we are seeing a reduction in RSV cases, both our flu and COVID rates are climbing. Additionally, our hospitals remain under stress, especially in their ER departments.

We remain in the “Low” community level for COVID, according to the CDC. However, our COVID case rate is comparable to the same time last year. We are encouraging everyone to “test before you go” to your holiday gatherings. It is better to cancel plans than to get friends and family sick. I want to thank President Biden and his administration for their COVID Winter Preparedness plan, as well as for funding for a new round of at-home rapid test distributions through the mail. All households can order a total of four at-home COVID-19 tests that will be mailed directly to them for free. More information can be found at this website: https://www.covid.gov/tests.

In the absence of Congress providing additional funding for the nation’s COVID-19 response, the White House used existing funding to add more at-home COVID-19 tests to the nation’s stockpile and support this round of ordering ahead of continued increases in COVID-19 cases. Orders for this round of testing will begin to ship starting the week of Dec. 19. We continue our own take-home rapid test distributions at County libraries, but it is helpful when families also take advantage of these Federally-distributed tests so we can have our local supply last longer. Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order a third round of free at-home tests.

Free Flu and Bivalent Booster Shots at Westfield Wheaton Saturday

The most important thing everyone can do is to get bivalent booster and flu shots. I am pleased that 57 percent of our residents 65-and-over have received the new booster because this age group is the most vulnerable to serious illness and death from COVID. Unfortunately, more than 70 percent of eligible County residents still need their bivalent booster vaccines. Sometimes the easiest way to find those who need these shots is to go to them instead of waiting for them to come to us. As we mentioned last week, this Saturday, Dec. 17, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. is our fourth “Boosterama” at Westfield Wheaton mall. This weekend will be the busiest shopping weekend of the year, so we expect heavy traffic, and hopefully, lots of interest in getting needed vaccines. Westfield Wheaton will once again be raffling off mall gift certificates to anyone who rolls up their sleeves.

I want to thank our Department of Health and Human Services team, including our Latino Health Initiative “Salud y Bienestar,” Westfield and Proyecto Salud for their continued collaboration and outreach. Creative ideas like Boosterama, and partnerships like the one with Westfield, help Montgomery County continue to lead the nation in vaccination rates. This will be our first Boosterama that also will offer flu shots and I am interested to see the results. Our flu rates are nearing a record high and we are just about to get into the full swing of the flu season. There have already been 10 deaths across the State this year due to the flu. The CDC recommends that everyone six months and older get an annual flu shot.

Free in 2023: It is that time of the year for making New Year’s Resolutions. One of the most common resolutions is to get in better shape and lose weight. The Montgomery County Recreation is here to help with “Free in 2023,” its initiative that will offer a full year of free access to all recreation centers for County residents. Starting Jan. 3, the free pass will provide access to fully equipped fitness rooms, open gym (drop-in) activities and game rooms at any recreation center during regularly scheduled hours. The free pass does not apply to County aquatic centers. Go to this website or to any recreation center starting Jan. 3 to get your free passes. We have noticed over the last couple of weeks how popular this news is. I want to thank Department Director Robin Riley and all our Montgomery County Recreation employees for this gift that can be enjoyed for an entire year. Recreation activities and exercise are the keys to healthier and happier lives. I hope you take advantage of this incredible opportunity.

U.S.-Africa Leadership Summit: Leaders from African nations were in Washington this week to meet with White House and Congressional officials. The last time our nation hosted these leaders was in 2014 and a lot has changed since that time including new political leadership, the pandemic and the rise of Russian and Chinese interest on the continent of Africa. These meetings are important to the more than 54,000 Africans who live in Montgomery County, making up 15 percent of our immigrant population. In fact, statewide, African immigrants have increased 42 percent in the past 10 years.

Montgomery County has been home to a thriving African diaspora for decades and continues to make global impact on society in the County and the State. Africans have, and continue to, contribute in very significant ways to society and our cultural fabric. The African diaspora also plays a critical part in our County efforts to be a global partner in building and strengthening world peace and maintaining global relations through its Sister Cities ties with Gondar, Ethiopia, and strong commitment to inclusion through government funding and support to many African community-based programs and services.

I want to thank President Biden for announcing his Executive Order on establishing the President’s Council on African Diaspora Engagement in the United States. This effort will further strengthen our ties and provide a platform for members of the African Diaspora to contribute and engage on issues of their homeland. For more information on resources and events on County’s outreach efforts to our African communities, I encourage you to contact the Montgomery County African Community Liaison, Harriet Shangarai, and follow the African Affairs’ Advisory Group on Facebook.

Happy Hannukah: I want to wish our Jewish community a Happy Hannukah, which begins on Sunday evening. I hope everyone who celebrates has joyous gatherings with their family and friends. Sadly, this has been a tough year for our Jewish community as we have seen a rise in antisemitism. Last week, I attended the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington breakfast gathering and talked about the increase in hate toward Jewish residents. I am glad that Montgomery County provides security grants to our institutions in need of assistance. It is sad that we must spend money to protect people from those who hate rather than using this money to help with other pressing needs. However, we will continue to provide the funding as needed, and we stand unified against this hatred. We are one of the most diverse jurisdictions anywhere; we embrace our diversity, and we will continue our work for better days ahead.

As always, my appreciation for what you do,

Marc Elrich

County Executive”

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