Weekly Message from the County Executive Marc Elrich

by Patrick Herron

Per Montgomery County:

Dear Friends,

This has been a difficult week for this County. It has been a week with terrible tragedies. For the first time ever, a student was shot inside an MCPS high school. This is shocking and saddening for all of us. A Wheaton Volunteer Fire Department and Baltimore City firefighter, Kenny Lacayo, was one of three firefighters who died in the horrific fire and collapse of a vacant house in Baltimore. It reminds us of the danger our firefighters face every day on the job and of the sacrifices they make for our safety. A 17-year-old Northwest High School student who went missing earlier this month was found deceased in a wooded area in Germantown. And we are ending this month with more than 120 deaths of County residents from COVID-19, more than our last four months combined. Our thoughts and sympathies are with all those who are suffering due to these events. We hope for healing and recovery as soon as possible.

In the midst of these tragedies, I have to note the heroic acts by our first responders, by security staff at Magruder High School to find the victim and by Magruder’s school nurse, who effectively used the bleed kit to slow the bleeding. The staff and students at Magruder also cooperated and responded as needed. For all of that, we are grateful. Oprah Winfrey is quoted as saying, “Turn your wounds into wisdom,” and that is what we will do from the tragedies and trials over the past week.

Ensuring the Safety and Welfare of All of Our Students

I have been working with both MCPS Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight and Police Chief Marcus Jones since the shooting at Magruder occurred to evaluate and implement strategies that they believe will ensure that our students, staff and parents feel safe and secure. I immediately agreed with Dr. McKnight’s request to bring our Community Engagement Officers into high school buildings throughout the County for this week. They will work on long-term adjustments that they feel are necessary.

The weapon in the attack at Magruder was a “ghost gun.” It was a gun that the suspect had mailed to his house in three separate packages and was simple enough for him to put together. This is the fifth ghost gun recovered from County schools during this school year. This is a problem. I am glad that  Attorney General Brian Frosh, Senator Susan Lee and Delegate Lesley Lopez have a bill before the General Assembly to ban these guns in Maryland. I support this bill and I hope you will lend your voice to this effort in Annapolis as well.

Events of this week and other incidents that have occurred throughout the school year are reminders of the mental health issues among our students. Over the past two years, I have increased the budget for MCPS to hire more social workers, psychologists and counselors. We need more specialists to intervene and de-escalate problems before they become serious, and we know how difficult this pandemic has been on everyone in our schools. The school system has been trying to hire these mental health workers, and here, like elsewhere around the country, there is a shortage of qualified professionals. However, they are continuing to hire and work with area universities to bring more people to the schools.

Last May, I created the “Reimagining School Safety and Student Well-Being Committee” (RSSSW). The committee includes students, representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Police and Montgomery County Public Schools, and staff members from the offices of the County Executive and the County Council. The committee put out a report last August with recommendations that we continue to review. Here is the report: https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/rps/Resources/Files/reports/RSSSW-Interim-Report-08302021.pdf

County COVID-19 Cases Fall More Than 50 Percent, But a New Variant is on the Horizon

We have seen a 51 percent decrease in the number of cases since last week. This is good news and is helping ease the strain on our hospitals. Although these are dramatic decreases from our recent peak, it is important to note that our case rate numbers are still at the highest they have been during the entire health crisis. Omicron popped up out of nowhere, and there was news this week that health officials are evaluating a new variant and are working to assess how much of a new threat it might be. The World Health Organization reported this week that the new COVID variant may be more contagious than Omicron and warned against assuming that this virus will continue to mutate into milder strains.

Since the beginning of this pandemic, we’ve watched several variants rise rapidly in the population and dissipate only to be replaced by the next variant. While it’s great that Omicron seems to be on the decline, we have to be careful not to be complacent; we will continue to be vigilant and monitor and track variants as they emerge. Please expect and understand that policies will reflect what we need to do to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Boosters Make a Difference

Sadly, more people in the State of Maryland have died from COVID this month than any other month of the pandemic. In Montgomery County, we have had more than 120 deaths from COVID this month—more than the previous four months combined. However, we are only accounting for 8.4 of the State’s COVID deaths, despite being 17 percent of the State’s population. This is a credit to our high vaccination rate. But I remain concerned that only about 50 percent of our eligible population has received boosters. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week released data showing that boosters are “90 percent effective at preventing hospitalization” with Omicron. We are working to remind people of the importance of getting booster shots. This week, we sent text alert reminders for people to get their booster shots. The booster is easy to get and is so important. If you or anyone you know needs a booster or even their first shot of vaccination, get more information at govaxmoco.com.

Rapid Take Home COVID Tests Becoming Easier to Find

Our rapid take home COVID test distributions continue to be in demand. Last Friday, I went to the White Oak Library and handed out test kits. It was a very cold day, and some folks were waiting out in the cold for well over an hour before the distribution began. Despite the wait and cold, these residents were patient and grateful. The distribution system operated by our library employees and volunteers was seamless and moved the line very quickly.

So far, we have given out nearly 800,000 test kits. This includes more than 500,000 given out over the last two weeks at our libraries and nearly 300,000 provided to our schools. We also are working to make sure these rapid tests are getting to others in need, including the homebound, childcare providers, and private schools. We continue to encourage everyone to use our portal to upload test results at https://onestop.md.gov/forms/maryland-covid-at-home-test-self-report-61dc801b819e860001f1037a.

Thankfully, for now, tests are more available. Just this week we heard good news for both our nation’s COVID response and our local economy. Rockville’s own Maxim Biomedical received Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its new ClearDetect™ COVID-19 Antigen Home Test.

Get the Tax Credits You Deserve

It is tax season, and tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 28, is “Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day.” The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of our nation’s most robust anti-poverty programs. Families earning up to $57,000 may be eligible for this credit (the income level is tied to family size). The State also has an EITC, and I am very proud that Montgomery County is one of a very few local jurisdictions in the country that offers a local credit, called the “Working Families Income Supplement.” We also are the only county in Maryland that offers a local credit that is a 100 percent match to the State’s program. This tax credit helps low to moderate-income workers and families get a tax break. The maximum Federal tax credit is $6,728 (plus 45 percent matches from both the State and the County). That is a significant savings for our working families most in need of financial support.

I want to make sure that all our residents who qualify take advantage of this program. For more information on this tax credit and other tax credits, visit montgomerycountymd.gov/cashback. If you do not qualify for this tax credit, please help us out and pass along this information to anyone who can benefit from it.

Voting Women Change Everything

This weekend, I will be joining the Montgomery County Commission for Women for its 42nd Annual Women’s Legislative Briefing that will be held virtually from 12:30-5 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 30. This year’s theme is “Voting Women Change Everything” and I could not agree more.

There will be two additional seats this year on the County Council, as well as changes in district lines for the Council and the General Assembly. It is important for people to learn about the issues and their choices for elected leaders. The Commission for Women’s Briefing will help educate and energize voters as we head into elections. This event brings together advocates, allies, policymakers and emerging leaders to empower, engage and mobilize Marylanders around issues affecting women and girls throughout the State. To register for this event, visit https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/cfw.

Music to Our Ears

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is partnering with Montgomery College on Thursday, Feb. 3, to provide a free concert with Jonathan Rush as conductor. Tickets are required. You can reserve seats at https://my.bsomusic.org/17555/17557?utm_source=wordfly&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=BSOatMontgomeryCollege&utm_content=version_A

Learning Our History

I will be giving brief remarks on Saturday as part of the Montgomery County History Conference, a nine-day event that is already underway. You can get more information about its schedule of events at https://montgomeryhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/HC_Program_2022-1.pdf.

County Attorney Bids Adieu After 37 Years of Service

I wanted to note that this week is Marc Hansen’s last week as our County Attorney. Marc has served our County for more than 37 years. He has been our County Attorney for the last 12. Being County Attorney is a difficult job, and I appreciate his hard work, experience and constant availability. I want to wish him well in his retirement.

Losing a Legend

Montgomery County lost a beloved resident and historic figure last week as Brigadier General Charles McGee passed away at 102. General McGee was one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen and served for 30 years in our military, completing 409 air combat missions across three wars. Our thoughts and sympathies are with General McGee’s family, friends and the community. As we begin Black History Month next week, heroic individuals like General McGee—along with his fellow Tuskegee Airmen and all our Black military veterans who faced segregation, racism and incredible obstacles after they came home from serving to protect our nation—need to be remembered. We all need to learn about who they are, what they did and why it matters.

As always, my appreciation for all of you

Marc Elrich
County Executive

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