Per Montgomery County:
As we head into Thanksgiving week, we should be proud that 78.2 percent of our total population is fully vaccinated and 87.7 percent have at least one dose, but these number should not make us feel invincible against the highly contagious delta variant. This week, in response to surging COVID-19 cases nationally, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned, “The somewhat unnerving aspect of it is that if you keep the level of dynamics of the virus in the community at a high level — obviously the people who are most vulnerable are the unvaccinated — but when you have a virus as transmissible as delta, in the context of waning immunity, that dynamic is going to negatively impact even the vaccinated people. So, it’s a double whammy.”
Even though Montgomery County has been one of the highest vaccinated jurisdictions in the nation, COVID-19 cases continue to increase. We have seen a 13-percent increase in cases in the past week, and we have now gone seven consecutive days in “substantial transmission” status. This trend has triggered the County Council’s regulations to reinstate the indoor mask mandate starting on Saturday morning, Nov. 20 at 12:01 am. This means that wearing masks will be required indoors in any publicly accessible areas. As the weather gets colder and more activities begin to move inside, we are likely to see higher rates of COVID transmission. As more of our 5- to 11-year-olds are vaccinated, we will begin to be in a better place. But I don’t think we’re in the place right now, and as we head into winter where cases are likely to surge, we need to proceed with caution.
Families and friends are expected to gather for the Thanksgiving holiday in much larger numbers than last year. As you make your final plans and preparations for your Thanksgiving, please also keep in mind that this pandemic is not over. Please encourage all your guests to get vaccinated if they have not. Make accommodations to space out guests the best you can at your dinner or consider eating outside if the weather cooperates. By being smart and safe with COVID-19 during Thanksgiving, we can avoid having our December holiday gatherings interrupted with illness.
MORE THAN 20,000 5- TO 11-YEAR-OLDS CHILDREN VACCINATED
Montgomery County leads the State in the number of children vaccinated – more than 23,000. We are only about 1/6 of the State population, but we have provided more than 30 percent of the vaccinations.
And notably, we at the County are prioritizing equity and targeting lower income, minority, and immigrant communities to ensure that this vaccine is being distributed fairly. With the vaccines we are receiving, we are working with Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), targeting high-poverty schools, and creating popup clinics with our community partners in Latino, African American, and immigrant communities. Many of the County-sponsored clinics have been located at schools with high poverty rates. The County has received only about 1/3 of the doses to the County from the State, but our Department of Health and Human Services in conjunction with the school system has administered 61 percent of the pediatric vaccinations in the County. The remaining 39 percent have been provided by private physicians, pharmacies, hospitals, and nonprofit organizations.
Our success is a result of months long planning and partnering to prepare for this phase of vaccinations.
However, I am concerned about the number of vaccines we will be receiving in the coming weeks. We receive our doses from the State, and we received a reduced amount this week and the State indicated that we might not receive any or a very small amount next week. At the same time, private providers have unused doses. We’ve had to cancel planned vaccination clinics that we were co-sponsoring with MCPS last weekend, and hopefully, we’ll get an increase in doses soon. We have the capacity to administer them. In the meantime, if you are unable to get an appointment through our HHS department, please check with your pediatrician or local pharmacy for an appointment.
OUR PRIORITIES FOR THE COMING LEGISLATIVE SESSION
The 2022 Maryland General Assembly session is fast approaching, and this week I testified before the Montgomery County Senate and House Delegations about our legislative priorities for the upcoming session. While we hope the worst of the pandemic is behind us, we are not out of the woods yet, and we need to remain focused on the need for continued shorter term relief. In addition, we also need support that will lead to greater economic resilience and addresses the systemic problems that the pandemic highlighted. In order for us to remain the economic engine of the State, we are going to need to partner with the State to get the necessary resources to strengthen our workforce, stimulate economic development, and enhance our education system. One area of severe need is additional investment to increase the stock of affordable housing in the County. I also provided a list of transportation priorities for the upcoming session – high-profile transit projects and support for local transit and pedestrian and bicycle safety programs.
TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS
As we prepare to face Thanksgiving traffic returning this year, it is a reminder of the investment also needed in our transportation infrastructure. The long-awaited Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was signed into law by the president this week, and the level of transportation investment authorized in this bill is historic, and most of the funding will flow to States. State investment in our transportation network is key to the County remaining the economic driver that it is.
Over the summer, when we were debating with the Governor over the future of the American Legion Bridge, I-495, and I-270, we asked for the State to wait until this bill passed to see what we could get for important infrastructure projects. Instead, the Governor moved forward with a public-private partnership that is overdesigned and overly expensive; today the State released the “approved toll rate ranges” that could be as much as $56 for about 15 miles, and as much as $84 if drivers do not have an E-ZPass. And at the same time, the plan would leave most commuters stuck in traffic. The current plan is a bad deal, a bad design, and the wrong choice for Montgomery County. Now that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is law, I hope that this project can be reconsidered.
CONTINUING OUR COMMITMENT TO COMBAT CLIMATE CHANGE
On the environmental front, I was proud to announce that Montgomery County is building the nation’s largest community solar farm to be 100-percent dedicated to creating energy for low- and moderate-income residents. We are partnering with Neighborhood Sun and Ameresco to transfer a portion of the Oaks Landfill into a solar farm. Over 7.6 million kilowatt-hours of energy will be created by this facility – preventing over 5,000 metric tons of CO2 from being released each year, which is equivalent to taking 1,172 cars off the road for one year and preventing nearly 6 million pounds of from being coal burned. This is an important and significant project. I am encouraging any Montgomery County residents who get their energy from Pepco and qualify as low and income moderate households to sign up for 25 percent savings on their energy bill.
As important as creating and investing in clean energy sources is for our environment, so is our process to dispose of waste. Montgomery County is the first jurisdiction in Maryland and the metropolitan Washington region providing a Food Scraps Recycling Program for the commercial sector. Our Department of Environment provides technical assistance, education, and training to companies on how to separate food scraps for recycling and provides food scraps recycling collection service and processing. This week we announced Westfield Montgomery Mall and Montgomery County Public Schools as the newest partners in our program. They are joining the growing list of partners in this successful program that started in 2020, despite challenges of the pandemic. Since the start of the initiative, 22 businesses and organizations have participated in the program. These are large and small Montgomery County-based businesses and organizations—and even the State and Federal government—taking part in this important food scraps recycling effort. We are looking forward to building this program and recruiting even more partners in 2022.
CREATING AFFORDABLE HOUSING
This week, I attended the grand opening of the National Center for Children and Families (NCCF) new affordable housing facility on Flower Avenue in Takoma Park. Creating and preserving affordable housing is one of our County’s biggest challenges and opportunities for equitable and fair growth. We have more than 20,000 households in Montgomery County who earn up to $32,000 a year and are paying more than half of their income for rent. These severely cost-burdened renters have very little money left for food and other necessities. Further, more than 80 percent of renters with incomes up to $70,000 per year are housing cost burdened. NCCF’s new Takoma Park facility will serve the community of renters who are severely cost burdened. These nine, dedicated, affordable housing units are priced for families earning up to 50 percent of Area Median Income. This facility is an example of what we’re doing all over the County, leveraging available resources and policy tools to maximize affordable housing. We are applying every available policy lever and financial asset to increase the number of dedicated, affordable housing units and maximize reductions in housing costs.
OUR THANKSGIVING PARADE RETURNS
Finally, I hope to see many of you at our annual Thanksgiving Parade in downtown Silver Spring this Saturday. This is the only Thanksgiving Parade in the metro DC area and signals the start of the holiday season. It is wonderful to be able to have the parade back this year. The parade steps off at 10 a.m. from Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street and proceeds south on Georgia Avenue, ending at Silver Spring Avenue. We are encouraging families in attendance to socially distance themselves and wear masks to keep the community, our neighbors, and our young people safe. It is wonderful to have the parade back this year and I hope to see you there.
Thanks, and have a good week.