Weekly Message from the County Executive Marc Elrich

by Patrick Herron

Per Montgomery County:

Dear Friends,

Another Election Day is behind us which means there’s a lot to look forward to. I am excited to begin my second term and to continue working with the County Council. The new Council will now have 11 elected leaders versus nine and 6 of the new council members are women.. I look forward to working with the returning and newly elected Montgomery County Councilmembers, State Senators and Delegates, Congressional delegation members, and Board of Education members. I also want to thank the Board of Elections staff who worked so hard during the election and are still busy counting the many mail-in ballots. Our County is moving farther away from the pandemic conditions which disrupted our lives, schools, and economy. Now we can put greater focus on on finding solutions for affordable housing, job growth, and traffic issues that will benefit us all. Together, we can advance the work that’s needed to build a better future for all.

An Exciting Academic Research Announcement in North Bethesda!

I am very excited to share with you something that I’ve been working on for almost 4 years. This week we signed an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the University of Maryland, College Park; University of Maryland, Baltimore and the University of Maryland Medical System to launch the Institute for Health Computing in Montgomery County. It will be the centerpiece of development at the North Bethesda Metro station (formerly named White Flint) in the Pike District.

This idea was born out of our unsuccessful bid for the second Amazon headquarters. I realized that we didn’t lose Amazon because we bid too low; we lost Amazon because the company was looking for academic support and presence that would advance its goals and provide them the talent they needed to grow. It prompted me to investigate how to take advantage of the 11 to 15 million square feet of unused space around the North Bethesda Metro. This County is home to some enormous life sciences assets, including the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Henry Jackson Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. By capitalizing on the proximity to those assets, we’ll be able to build something significant.

On the medical side, university leaders believe this institute will establish a new paradigm in health care delivery and change the way doctors use technology to care for patients. As Mohan Suntha, President and Chief Executive Officer of the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) said, “I see this becoming the East Coast Silicon Valley of health computing.”

The institute will leverage the University of Maryland’s world-renowned expertise in artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality, the clinical and research expertise of the University of Maryland Medical System, and the County’s leadership in biotechnology to revolutionize healthcare delivery. Its capabilities will help with drug discovery, adaptive clinical trials, and personalized medicine in a way that will help with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease for residents of Montgomery County and around the world. The work of this new institute also can be applied in other ways to help other industries like hospitality or retail that utilize big data.

This MOU creates the County’s first major academic research facility in the heart of the region’s bio-life science corridor. It will also breathe life into a key section of Rockville Pike and will become the epicenter of the entire region’s bio and life sciences community. Our region already ranks in the top 10 as a life sciences hub and I believe this institute can help push us to number 1 in the future.

The institute center will aid a growing field that helps our economy. As I’ve been working on this project, I’ve been impressed with the level of interest just the discussion of this kind of institute has created in the business world. Companies here are demanding more talent from our region to fill their open positions and expansion goals. This project will help fill that need, spur economic development and likely attract other academic, medical and research-based businesses that want to be close to this innovative work.

The boost that this institute will provide will be better than what we were hoping to get from landing Amazon because it will continue to feed our area’s growing life sciences industry. Just as the business world has gone virtual, the wet labs of old are losing out to the kind of grey labs that will be formed and developed here where medical innovations can be drawn out of programs instead of petri dishes.

Senator Chris Van Hollen summed it up well when he said, “We’ve brought together a world-class team, a powerhouse of higher education in the state of Maryland to develop this project.” We know computer scientists in College Park already work with doctors and researchers in Baltimore but up until now there hasn’t been one location to expand on some of the ideas and projects they have yet to try.

There’s a lot of work to do but I’m confident Montgomery County will be home to those experiments and eventually medical breakthroughs that will pave the way for better treatment. Please watch Thursday’s announcement from a rooftop in the Pike & Rose development. I’m proud that we’ll get to have this kind of role in creating a better health care system nationwide for future generations.

Top Honor for Local Businessman

Photo – L-R Alex Orfinger, Washington Business Journal and Rajan Natarajan, founder and CEO of Global Alliant.

The Washington Business Journal has honored six Montgomery County businesses on their list of “Fastest Growing Companies in Greater DC.” I want to congratulate this year’s local businesses that made the list – Rockville’s Lafayette Federal Credit Union, Spartan Medical Inc, Presidential Exteriors, and Bravium Consulting Inc as well as Potomac’s Curbio, Inc and Onley’s Global Alliant.

Ensuring that local businesses succeed is a goal of our County. I wish them all further success moving forward.

Honoring Veterans Friday and Everyday

Every year we set aside November 11th to recognize our nation’s veterans.

In Montgomery County we honor the service and sacrifice of our nation’s armed forces in several different ways. Last year we added a “Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business” certification to our Minority, Female and Disabled owned business program.

This certification works in coordination with the Small Business Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs. The goal is to give veterans who own a business an advantage in winning government procurement contracts. Last year, more than $200 million dollars or close to 27% of government spending went through the program that now includes veterans.

Veterans in Montgomery County also have dozens of providers, agencies, and advocacy organizations available to offer many forms of aid and support as well as ways to get involved in the community. Our County’s Commission of Veterans Affairs works with dozens of these groups daily to make sure veterans get the help they need when they need it. This year we supported and encouraged the public’s participation in Operation Green Light, a nationwide program to light our community green to support veterans and their transition out of service.

There were also many community ceremonies on Veterans Day to honor the men and women who have served in Rockville, Gaithersburg, Wheaton and Bethesda.

I hope you got the chance to visit our county website to learn more about the veterans who were born, raised or who now call Montgomery County home in our virtual tribute to military service at MontgomeryCountymd.gov/veterans.

Montgomery County Health Officials Launch COVID-19 Wastewater Surveillance Project  

Hi Montgomery County has added a wastewater surveillance system to monitor community health from threats like COVID-19. With the help of researchers from the University of Maryland College Park, we’re now able to monitor five stations that can help health professionals evaluate when the presence of COVID-19 is elevated in our community through wastewater.

This information is crucial in evaluating community threats. It can give us an early warning system as fewer people rely on PCR tests to determine if they have COVID-19 leaving community health leaders in the dark. The equipment is also adaptable. When I learned Polio had recently been found in New York State I made sure that we added that to the list of dangers we are monitoring.

This is just another layer of protection our community needs post-pandemic. I look forward to updates on what these tests tell us about our community.  For more information about our wastewater surveillance program please click here.

Health Updates: COVID-19 & MPX 

This week hospitals in our area remain busy because of an early swell of respiratory illnesses impacting young children. RSV cases are the primary driver of these pediatric hospital visits, but COVID-19 also remains a threat in our community.

Primarily we’re seeing BA 5 and subvariants of the virus dominating our local case count. It remains around 90 cases per 100,000 people putting our community level at ‘low’. Our transmission rates over the last few weeks remain steady.

Bivalent boosters remain our best form of protection from the spread of Covid-19 through Montgomery County. Researchers looking at data since the new boosters were introduced say less than half a percent of breakthrough cases came from people who have received the new shot. Unfortunately, the percentage of people getting that shot is not nearly as high as when boosters were first introduced. We should still be at peak demand for those new booster shots, but weekly volume statistics show us that demand is already falling.

We’re also seeing interest in the flu vaccine flatten out at 25 percent in Montgomery County and 21 percent across Maryland. I encourage you to stay up to date with your flu shot because flu, RSV and Covid are circulating already.

In terms of MPX or Monkeypox, Montgomery County saw two new cases last week, the first new cases in three weeks. The state added 8 new cases since our last update. It’s a reminder to everyone to be on the lookout for symptoms of the disease like red welts or itchy scabs. They are signs that someone you’re around may be contagious and that close contact should be avoided.

Flooding Concerns Rise with Heavy Rain Possible Over the Holiday Weekend 

Weather forecasters are predicting rain to end the week as the remnants of Hurricane Nicole move up from the South. Flooding is one of the most frequent severe weather events that we deal with in Montgomery County. The damage caused by flash floods can destroy cars, your home and as we saw, just last year, can be deadly. I urge you to be prepared by signing up for Alert Montgomery so that you can stay up to date with flood warnings on your mobile devices.

I’d like to remind you that we recently revamped our County flood website and are asking for the public’s feedback about flood prone areas. The information will help us as we collect new monitoring data and develop a new plan stormwater management plan.

Please stay safe and remember to have an evacuation plan for your home should emergencies arise.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive

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