Per Montgomery County:
Our country passed a grim milestone this week as we surpassed 800,000 deaths nationwide from COVID. This number accounts for 15 percent of the world’s total fatalities from this virus even though our nation is only 4 percent of the global population. Even sadder, is that despite the roll-out of vaccines, the pace of COVID-19 deaths has increased. It took 119 days for the nation to go from 600,000 to 700,000 fatalities, but only 74 days to go from 700,000 to 800,000. And the seven-day death average in the United States has increased 28 percent from the week before. As one of the world’s wealthiest, most educated, and technologically advanced countries with an ample supply of vaccines, these figures are tragic.
As a County, we are in a much better position than the rest of the nation, “Perhaps the most highly vaccinated large county in America.”
While we are doing better in Montgomery County compared to the rest of the nation, we see that another winter surge in cases is upon us. The State’s database has been unavailable for 10 days and, because of this, I cannot provide an update on our test positivity and case rates; but we do have data about our hospitalization rates and outbreaks, and those numbers are headed in the wrong direction.
Hospitalizations Are Up and Outbreaks Are Increasing
Across the state hospitalizations have increased 44 percent since Dec. 3, and Montgomery County hospitalization rates are its highest rate since mid-April. There has also been a 29 percent increase in outbreaks statewide and 41 percent increase in school and childcare outbreaks.
Outbreaks are also increasing in Montgomery County public schools. Between Saturday, Dec. 4, and Sunday, Dec. 12, there were 518 new COVID-19 cases reported in the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) system. For comparison purposes, there were 1,036 total cases in MCPS schools between the beginning of the school year and Nov. 19 – for the entire first two and half months of school.
I support the recommendation of our Public Health experts and the decision by MCPS to pause sports for 14 days in schools with outbreaks. This recommendation is based on an earlier recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to suppress person-to-person or close-contact spread between players for 14 days.
Please Keep Wearing Masks!
The Montgomery County Council’s Board of Health mask mandate remains in effect and should be with us through the rest of the year. However, this mandate to wear a mask indoors in publicly accessible areas is set to end once the County hits 85 percent of our total population fully vaccinated. As of this letter, we are at 82 percent fully vaccinated. I hope that before we hit that threshold that the County Council will reexamine all the data points and indicators at that time and make the best decisions for the health of our residents.
‘Boosterama’ Meets Super Saturday!
The best response to the newest surge is boosters, boosters, and more boosters. We have so far administered 267,000 additional doses and it is good news that 16-17-years-olds are now eligible for theirs as well. But we still have hundreds of thousands of residents due for their booster shot. The importance of these boosters cannot be emphasized enough, particularly as cases of the Omicron variant increase.
This weekend we are co-hosting – with Salud y Bienestar and Westfield Wheaton, a “Super Saturday Boosterama” on Saturday, Dec. 18 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to provide free COVID-19 boosters to shoppers. First doses for adults will also be available, but there will be no pediatric doses at the event. And no appointment is needed.
“Super Saturday” is one of the busiest shopping days of the year, and so we are taking our outreach efforts directly to the community. I want to thank Westfield Wheaton for offering a raffle of mall gift certificates for those who get vaccinated or boosted. I will be there, and I hope you will join me. Bring a friend or family member to come and get their shot!
311 Hits One Million Calls
This week we announced that 311 has fielded more than one million calls since the pandemic began in March 2020. I want to thank and congratulate our hard-working employees at Montgomery County’s 311 call center. The County has directed residents to call MC311 for assistance and the one-million-call milestone is an indication of the tremendous need that people have had for local government services throughout the pandemic.
MC311 has been an indispensable resource for residents seeking access to food, help paying rent, tree maintenance and numerous other County services. If you are need of information, resources, or assistance with Montgomery County government, MC311 is available 7 a.m. – 7 p.m., Monday – Friday, in hundreds of languages by dialing 3-1-1 in Montgomery County, 240-777-0311 from anywhere, 24/7 online at MC311.com, and you can tweet them @311MC311.
Faster Bus Service Arrives at the Germantown Transit Center
I am happy to see the progress we are making creating a quicker, more reliable, and more equitable bus system. This week, I joined Councilmember Craig Rice and our Department of Transportation (MCDOT) at the Germantown Transit Center to introduce our new red dedicated bus lanes. These bus lanes were implemented by MCDOT in less than 6 months and increase the speed and reliability of transit.
These new dedicated bus lanes are the debut project in the Bus Priority Program, which is part of our Capital Improvements Program. The project provides for targeted and quickly implementable improvements that make buses faster and more reliable. The new bus lanes are on a portion of Century Blvd, Aircraft Drive, and Crystal Rock Blvd., surrounding the Germantown Transit Center.
Transit is the backbone of a sustainable, equitable transportation system and a thriving local economy. An efficient bus system supports our environmental goals by offering an alternative to driving, reducing single-occupancy vehicles on our roadways. Buses also support our equity goals by providing accessibility for those who cannot afford cars and depend on buses to get them to jobs, schools, and other essential trips such as grocery stores. And a better bus system helps supports our County’s economic growth and retains and attracts businesses. I look forward to more exciting announcements about our Ride On Bus services in 2022.
Our Most Recent Budget Forum Focuses on Seniors
Over the last three months we have conducted budget forums around the county for upcoming FY23 budget. Previously, we held five forums, one with each of our five Regional Services Centers, and one additional forum, in Spanish, for our Latino community. This week, we held our seventh budget forum at Leisure World to engage and listen to residents from our senior and aging community. We also hosted two in-person viewing locations at the North Potomac Senior Center and the Margaret Scheweinhaut Senior Center as well as streamed online and over County Cable Montgomery.
The foundation of our government’s success is due to how we prioritize our budget expenditures and investments. I enjoyed each of these forums and found the feedback and engagement from all of attendees valuable as we head into our final FY23 budget. I will be submitting to the County Council the FY23 capital budget on Jan. 18 and the operating budget on March 15; and if you would like to share your thoughts, ideas, or concerns about our budget, you can reach us at https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/exec/Contactcex.aspx. You can watch the Leisure World forum here. You can watch the previous forums by going to the County’s YouTube channel. As an example, here is the Eastern Montgomery Regional Service Center FY23 Hybrid Operating Budget Forum.
New Leadership Joins the County
I want to thank the County Council for confirming two important appointments this week that will greatly assist our public health and economic development efforts. Dira Treadvance was confirmed as our new chief of Children, Youth and Family Services and Tom Lewis was confirmed as our development ombudsman.
Dira Treadvance is bringing years of leadership and experience from working for New York City. She is a compassionate health professional dedicated to the health and welfare of infants, children, and young adults. Dira is committed to innovative approaches and is experienced in bringing disparate groups together and creating common cause with community partners.
Tom Lewis brings decades of executive experience to our economic-development efforts. He was most recently the vice president for government and community affairs for Johns Hopkins University and was formerly the Chief of Staff to Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch. I look forward to having Tom as part of the team in our ongoing effort to create and sustain purposeful development.
I am excited to welcome Dira and Tom to Montgomery County and look forward to working with them.
Throughout this holiday season, I have been visiting and promoting our small and minority-owned retail businesses around the County and encouraging everyone to shop local. As we head into the busiest shopping week of the year, we want you to continue to #KeepingMoneyInMontgomery.
For every $100 you spend at locally owned businesses, $68 stays in our County as compared to only $43 for national chain establishments. Buying from a locally owned business also conserves energy and resources in the form of less fuel for transportation and less packaging.
Please check out our Visit Montgomery County websitefor local holiday shopping, dining, and entertainment options.
As always, my appreciation for your support.