Weekly Message from the County Executive Marc Elrich

by Patrick Herron

Weekly Message from the County Executive Marc Elrich

Per Montgomery County:

Dear Friends,

The conversations continue about the necessary steps to contain COVID, even in our County where we lead the nation with 85 percent of our eligible population fully vaccinated and 94 percent with at least one dose, according to CDC statistics.

Even with those impressive numbers, we must continue to be careful. The number of COVID cases is still concerning, and we remain a community with “Substantial Transmission” of the virus according to the CDC. This means the indoor mask mandate remains in effect in Montgomery County.

The vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths are unvaccinated people. Out of the more than 1,500 people in Maryland who have died from COVID-19 since the end of January, 96 percent were unvaccinated and only four percent were vaccinated. And in our County, the “break-through” cases (vaccinated people who get COVID) that required hospitalization were .004 percent of the vaccinated population.

We continue to vaccinate more individuals—more than 5,000 this past week—especially people age 16-39, which is good news. And more people are getting tested. Testing is important, but getting vaccinated is, of course, the best way to stop the spread of the virus.

With school starting on Aug. 30, we must do everything we can to protect our students, parents and staff. We need to reduce the opportunity for outbreaks in our schools, so if you are returning from vacation, whether you are vaccinated or not, please get tested.

Remember, the Delta variant is highly contagious and can be transmitted to and by vaccinated people.

For the unvaccinated: please get vaccinated. Vaccinations are available at our County clinics, pharmacies, hospitals and many other places, including at the County Agricultural Fair, which runs through Saturday night. Go to our website to find a vaccination location.

Proof of vaccination

I want to express my support for efforts by some Montgomery County businesses that have begun to require proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result. They understand that this is important to their patrons, particularly in restaurants, where people do not want to risk exposure when they are unmasked for an extended period while eating.

Proof of vaccinations—especially in places like restaurants, movies and entertainment venues where people gather, eat, and drink—will create more business by providing a better sense of safety for customers. I believe there should be a regional vaccination passport, which is currently being reviewed for feasibility by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

I understand that some people object to requiring either proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result, often arguing that getting vaccinated is a personal decision. That personal decision becomes a public decision when one person’s individual right becomes his/her right to make other people sick, and that right does not exist.

We will do what is necessary to protect the public health and I applaud those businesses who recognize that a safe and comfortable space is what their customers want and deserve. With 85 percent of eligible people vaccinated, that is a lot of people who can return to public spaces, and the safer those spaces are, the more people will return to our businesses, workplaces, shops and restaurants. For those who do not want to get vaccinated, tests are widely available. You can get more information on test locations here.

Booster Shots

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made two recent recommendations regarding additional doses. First, people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised should get a third shot to make sure they have enough protection against COVID-19. You can read the CDC information here. And beginning today, County sites will be offering the third dose for these individuals. More information is on our website. Please know that when you view the list of clinics offering the third dose, it will include the information on which vaccine they are offering.

Second, the CDC, along with other Federal public health and medical experts, is now recommending that the general population get a booster shot eight months after being fully vaccinated. You can read the CDC statement here.

I want everyone to know that our public health team is prepared and has anticipated the advent of boosters and have been planning for it. The plan focuses on distributing boosters efficiently and equitably, and working with the private sector as much as possible.

Public Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles

Our public health officer, Dr. Travis Gayles, is resigning. I want to thank Dr. Gayles for his leadership, strength and compassion as the Montgomery County Health Officer during our County’s most significant health threat. I appreciate his service to the residents of Montgomery County and my administration. Dr. Gayles absorbed a torrent of hate and vitriol from some people–including receiving threats to his safety, and racist and homophobic emails and social media attacks. Yet, his recommendations and consistent guidance on the best public health practices have been central to our being one of the safest large jurisdictions in the country.

Our director of the Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Raymond Crowell, has already begun the process to find the replacement of Dr. Gayles, which is a joint appointment between the County and the State. We will expect someone who will remain independent and will do what is right, not expedient. Dr. Gayles showed how a health officer should guide us, and I expect his replacement to do the same.

AAA bond rating saves taxpayers millions

We received great news this week: All three major financial rating agencies—Fitch, Moody’s and S&P—gave Montgomery County a Triple-A bond rating. Montgomery County continues to be one of the most financially stable jurisdictions in this nation. We are one of only 49 counties in the country with a Triple-A rating from all three agencies—and that is out of 3,000 counties.

A “Triple-A bond rating” is like having a really good credit score. It enables the County to sell long-term bonds at the most favorable rates, which saves County taxpayers millions of dollars.

We have earned Triple-A ratings for almost 50 years. I am proud that we were able to maintain this financial strength even during the pandemic. You can read more about the ratings here.

Bisnow Event: Welcome to Montgomery County and to North Bethesda!

At Bisnow’s “Welcome to North Bethesda” event last week, I gave an update about some of our efforts on economic development for the County.

Montgomery County is home to many companies in the life sciences and technology sectors. We are home to companies that are changing health outcomes for the better, and are making major contributions to the fight against the pandemic. We are also home to major Federal institutions, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Food and Drug Administration. We are using our strengths to aggressively court additional companies to locate here. We are investing in companies that strengthen our life sciences cluster and have a good return on our investment.

We also have done tremendous work in permitting and procurement to make doing business in the County more straightforward and efficient. In fact, our Department of Procurement has won multiple national awards for its work. Through our recent preference for local business procurement, we have increased spending with local businesses by 20 percent in just one year.

Even during the pandemic, we continue to make improvements to help our businesses large and small. If you want to listen to my talk with the business community during the Bisnow event, click here.

It’s official: We are the first Maryland jurisdiction with more than one million residents

The 2020 Census data was released last week, and Montgomery County officially went over a million residents. We are the first jurisdiction in State history to hit that milestone.

Our population grew 9.3 percent over the decade. We have seen a 17.9 percent rise in our Black population, a 20.7 percent rise in our Asian population and a 31.4 percent rise in our Latino population. As one-sixth of our State’s entire population, Montgomery County’s demographics help make Maryland the most diverse state on the East Coast.

This diversity enriches our communities and our lives. Everyone is welcomed in Montgomery County, and these census numbers prove it.

Bringing solar energy to low-income communities

Earlier this week, I joined Montgomery County Green Bank CEO Tom Deyo, Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission Director Kayrine Brown and Groundswell CEO Michelle Moore to launch the County’s first community solar project for low- and moderate-income families.

The community solar project is the first in Montgomery County to fall under the Low- and Moderate-Income (LMI) set aside of the Public Service Commission’s community solar pilot.

This project will save these residents $500 annually on their energy bills, and this project is intentionally designed to bring improvements that do not result in the displacement of tenants.

For far too long, equity has been missing from our energy reduction goals. I am proud of our efforts to make policy decisions and investments through both an ‘equity’ and ‘sustainability’ lens. Projects like this will be a model for more to come. You can read more about this project here.

As always, my sincere appreciation for all of you.

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