County Executive Marc Elrich has tested positive for Covid-19, according to a statement he released via social media earlier this evening.
In the statement Elrich refers to mild symptoms and feeling tired.
In the last update of the Montgomery County Covid Dashboard, on December 30th prior to the holiday, transmission of Covid-19 was at the highest it has ever been with just over 995 cases per 100,000 residents in the county.
Percentage of hospital inpatient beds in the community that are occupied and percentage of all ICU beds in use remain at low utilization, while percentage of hospital inpatient beds in the community that are occupied by patients with Covid-19 is a high utilization.
Below you’ll see Elrich’s full statement:
“Today, I tested positive for COVID-19. I have mild symptoms, just feeling tired, and l am grateful to be vaccinated and boosted. I will be isolating but will continue to work from home.
The dangers of the Omicron variant are real, and I encourage everybody to take necessary steps to stay safe.
Our community’s high vaccination rate is critical to ensuring our ability to make it through this. Please remain vigilant, wear a mask, and get vaccinated and boosted!”
County Executive Marc Elrich announces the County has entered “Moderate Transmission,” while reminding us to remain vigilant.
He provides an update on the County’s COVID-19 vaccination status including Booster shots and preparing for shots for children ages 5 through 11.
County Executive Elrich also highlights his partnership with members of the County Council in the Guaranteed Income Pilot; his discussion on Critical Race Theory; and his gratitude for the venerable work of departing County DEP Director Adam Ortiz.
Finally, County Executive Elrich reminds that October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month – a subject near and dear to his heart.
The full letter can be seen below:
This morning, Montgomery County lifted our indoor mask mandate due to our case rates declining into the “moderate transmission” category from “substantial transmission.” Even with the good news of the declining case rates, I would still encourage everyone to wear masks indoors, even if you are vaccinated. We are still seeing more than 50 cases on some days – these are people getting exposed to COVID-19 from person-to-person contact – as has been the case from the beginning. COVID-19 is definitely not over, and we shouldn’t act as if it is – that will only put more people needlessly at risk.
Even as the mandate is lifted, I want to remind people that indoor masking is still required in our schools and on public transportation. Additionally, any business or entity can still require indoor masking if they wish, and they have the right to refuse entry or service for lack of compliance.
I want to thank everyone for the vigilance and adherence to our guidance that allowed us to get back to “moderate transmission” levels. This is quite an accomplishment that needs to be noted and appreciated. Very few jurisdictions in the country are doing as well as we are and that is due in great part to your respect for science and for following guidelines.
VACCINATIONS FOR 5–11-YEAR-OLDS
We are looking forward to and preparing for pediatric vaccination of our 5–11-year-old kids, which could begin as early as next week. The County’s Health and Human Services Department is expecting over 13,000 doses initially and about 40,000 total doses will be available in Montgomery County in our first shipment. We expect that vaccine will be available through many resources, including pediatricians, pharmacies, and community clinics.
Many Montgomery County parents are anticipating, planning, and learning about the pediatric vaccinations which are about to begin shortly. Other parents may be more hesitant and have questions. We are working with Montgomery County Public Schools, our community partners, and health outreach teams to make sure that these vaccines are easily available to our 5-11-year-olds, as well as answer questions and clearly communicate their efficacy and importance. Parents are encouraged to check with their pediatricians and monitor updates from the County on the timing and locations where vaccines will be available.
As important as getting our children vaccinated, we also are working on making sure the rest of us get our booster shots. On Monday morning, I got a Moderna booster shot. I originally received the one-dose of Johnson & Johnson. As was announced last week, you do not have to receive the same vaccine as you received originally. I have been feeling fine and glad to have the extra protection. I encourage everyone who is currently eligible to receive a booster to please go out and get one. We now have the supply and distribution system in place to easily get this shot if you qualify. They are here, they are available, and they are easy to receive. The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have determined these booster shots are safe and effective, after a thorough, independent, and transparent review process. You can learn more about eligibility and accessing booster shots here.
TRYING A NEW APPROACH TO INDEPENDENCE
This week I joined County Council Vice President Albornoz, and Councilmembers Jawando and Glass to announce our Guaranteed Income Pilot. This pilot will be introduced at the Council and funded by a special appropriation of nearly $2 million with additional financial support from the Meyer Foundation. Expected to launch in 2022, the program will provide direct cash payments of $800 per month to 300 randomly selected, low-income County households for 24 months. Area university partners will evaluate the program’s impact on participating households with anecdotal, qualitative, and quantitative data. I am very excited to see this Pilot program take off and I look forward to reviewing the results. This legislation is an important part of governing and creating smart policy through an equity lens. This income will help alleviate poverty, provide a form of financial stability, and give people the ability to make their own choices to improve their economic position.
YOUNG PEOPLE ARE NOT INVINCIBLE
Also, this week I joined other elected officials from around Maryland to promote new subsidies to make health insurance more affordable for young adults. Too many young adults think that they don’t need health insurance enough to spend their money on it; according to the CDC, adults ages 19-34 have the highest uninsured rates of any group. Legislation sponsored by Montgomery County Senator Brian Feldman and Delegate Ken Kerr is helping bring down the cost of health care for young adults ages 18-34 as Maryland’s Open Enrollment period launches Nov. 1. With these new subsidies, a 28-year-old earning $30,000 per year can sign up for a gold health care plan for 2022 for as little $1 per month, which now costs $70 per month. While Maryland has previously brought down the rate of people without health insurance significantly, the young adult age group continues to have higher uninsured rates, with disparities by race and ethnicity. The new state financial assistance will bring down premium costs significantly for people in that age group. I encourage any young uninsured young adult or their parents to please look here for more information on enrollment.
My administration is committed to governing, budgeting, and prioritizing our goals through an equity lens. To understand why we must move forward under this paradigm and no longer accept the status quo, having discussions about and understanding the truth and importance of Critical Race Theory is important. This week, I joined Montgomery College Interim President Dr. Charlene Mickens Dukes, and Universities at Shady Grove Executive Director Anne Khademian to host a forum on Critical Race Theory. This discussion was timely, important, and an issue that I believe we need to engage due to the misinformation that has become prevalent surrounding this issue. During this forum, keynote speaker, Dr. Traci Dennis defined Critical Race Theory in the most accurate, direct way I have heard. Her definition is “Racism is pervasive. Racism is permanent. And racism must be challenged.” I am so proud that we hosted this forum and thankful to Montgomery College and the Universities at Shady Grove for their partnership.
Sadly, we said goodbye this week to our County Department of Environmental Protection Director Adam Ortiz. Adam was recently appointed by President Biden to be the regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and he’s the first person from Maryland to hold this position. Adam joined me this week during my weekly media briefing and discussed all of the accomplishments we have achieved and programs we are working on to reach our goal of eliminating carbon emissions by 2035. Adam has been a talented director, administrator, mentor, and friend to many. Adam introduced inclusionary practices – using an equity lens for our environmental work and developed an equity map to assist us in evaluating our processes to address innovation and equity in program delivery and community engagement. And you’ll find equity front and center in our climate plan.
Adam’s appointment is yet another example of the caliber of people we have here working in the County government. Although we will miss his leadership and innovation inside County government, I am happy that Adam will still be working daily to protect the local environment as our region’s EPA administrator.
NATIONAL DOWN SYNDROME AWARENESS MONTH
Finally, I wanted to take a moment of personal privilege and note that October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Down syndrome is a condition in which a person has an extra chromosome. According to the CDC, approximately one in every 700 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome, making Down syndrome the most common chromosomal condition. As a father to a foster son with Down syndrome, I witness and experience my son’s trials and triumphs every day. His presence in my life has been a great gift.
Down syndrome occurs in people of all races and economic levels. People with Down syndrome have an increased risk for certain medical conditions such as congenital heart defects, respiratory and hearing problems, Alzheimer’s disease, childhood leukemia and thyroid conditions. Every person with Down syndrome is a unique individual and may possess these characteristics to different degrees or not at all. And many conditions are now treatable, so most people with Down syndrome lead healthy lives. Life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has increased dramatically in recent decades – from 25 in 1983 to 60 today.
People with Down syndrome attend school, work, participate in decisions that affect them, have meaningful relationships, vote, and contribute to society in many wonderful ways. To learn more or access resources for Down Syndrome, please contact the National Down Syndrome Society, the leading human rights organization for all individuals with Down syndrome at www.ndss.org or call 800-221-4602.
Wishing a festive and safe Halloween to all who participate.
With appreciation for all of you,
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has released his weekly message. The message can be seen below in it’s entirety:
One of the greatest joys I have as County Executive is travelling throughout Montgomery County, talking – sometimes virtually – to residents, meeting business owners, and getting to hear about the issues, complaints, problems, as well as compliments.
Hispanic Heritage Month
Last Friday, I joined residents, business owners, and community-based organizations in Silver Spring in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month. At a Latina-owned establishment, we highlighted honorees’ contributions to Long Branch and the broader Silver Spring region throughout the pandemic. It was an evening of uplifting stories and a testimony to how this County has united and persevered over the last 20 months. We will continue to honor and pay tribute to our Latino community throughout Hispanic Heritage Month, which ends on Oct. 15.
African Heritage Month
Earlier this month, we proclaimed September as African Heritage Month, which we have celebrated in various venues around the county. We are home to more than 54,000 Africans, who make up 15 percent of the overall immigrant population. Montgomery County has a wonderfully diverse African immigrant community that is part of the diverse tapestry of cultures from every corner of our world that call Montgomery County, “home.” Our African brothers and sisters own businesses, teach our children, serve in our government, and are engaged residents throughout our neighborhoods.
Our young people are engaging in climate change issues
I was delighted to participate in a panel Wednesday night to hear from and talk with high school students from all over the County who are part of a group called, “SAPPlings” (Student Advocates Protecting the Planet). SAPPlings was created by and for high school students in Montgomery County. I loved engaging with these energetic and active students; they understand that it’s their generation that is facing the gravest consequences if we don’t take meaningful steps to address climate change immediately and comprehensively. You can watch the event here.
As a reminder, you can read about our Climate Action Plan here. I am pleased that the County Council approved our proposal for the International Green Construction Code, which requires that new buildings use less energy, generate more renewable energy, and create healthy spaces for our residents. We also sent over Building Energy Performance Standard (BEPS) legislation that will require owners of the largest and most energy-consuming buildings to take action to improve their buildings’ energy performances. We continue our work to increase the availability of transit, including electric-powered buses, electric vehicles for our police fleet, and additional solar energy on both public and private sites.
Better numbers regarding COVID-19 transmission
I am glad that we are starting to see some good trends as this latest wave of cases over the summer due to the delta variant has begun to plateau and subside. Our test positivity rate and case rates are the best in the state and our case rate is almost half of the state’s overall average. We are now hovering between substantial and low transmission rates in Montgomery County, which is good news. And 98 percent of our eligible population (those who are 12 and older) has received at least one dose.
However, this pandemic is far from over. The vaccines have helped to reduce deaths and hospitalizations, but the virus continues to spread. Our case rates this week are about where they were at the end of February after last winter’s surge – that was a time when vaccines were scarce, and we were spending most of time indoors. When we look at who is becoming significantly ill and hospitalized it is predominantly those over the age of 50. We hope that boosters may help with immunity response. Last week, the CDC recommended certain populations receive a booster shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine at least six months after being fully vaccinated. Those include people 65 years and older and residents in long-term care settings, people aged 50 to 64 with certain underlying medical conditions, and people 18 to 49 who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 due to certain underlying medical conditions or are at increased risk for COVID-19.
We are currently engaged in an effort to determine how many of our employees are not yet vaccinated. While the vast majority are vaccinated, we do not yet have all employees reporting their status and are working to get that information. While some are advocating for a vaccine mandate for all county employees, I am not yet ready to embrace that strategy because it will lead to staffing shortages, diminished public safety, additional financial costs to our taxpayers, and time-consuming legal entanglements. You can read my statement here.
And you can read about the issue here.
Fewer quarantines for MCPS students
I am happy to report that the number of students in quarantine has declined due to rapid testing and revised procedures. During the first week of school, over 2000 individuals in MCPS were quarantined; last week it was 374. This is incredible progress. And the low 1.3 positivity rate is lower than the general community rate. I appreciate all the work of MCPS staff, school health staff, and others over this first month of school. Managing this situation in our classrooms while also returning to in-class learning has been an enormous challenge, but everyone has adjusted quickly and adeptly. There are going to be tough times ahead as colder weather means more time indoors. We are going to need patience and partnerships with everyone as we focus on ensuring that our students get the education they deserve. I am concerned about the recent learning loss data that MCPS published. We must work hard to get these kids caught up, but as safely as possible for them and their families.
Our COVID success is due to the hard work of thousands of Montgomery County employees. One of our County’s COVID leaders, Dr. Earl Stoddard was unanimously confirmed by the County Council to be our new Assistant Chief Administrative Officer focusing on our health and public safety operations. Dr. Stoddard has been a key figure during the County’s response to the COVID-19 efforts, serving as the Director of the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management & Homeland Security. I have appreciated his advice and we’re fortunate that he accepted these increased responsibilities.
Supporting our small businesses
This week, the Council overrode my veto of legislation to create a Silver Spring Business Improvement District or “BID.” I vetoed this legislation at the request of small business owners, minority business owners, the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, Fenton Village Inc., the Maryland Black Chamber of Commerce, and the African Advisory Board among others. As I wrote in my veto message, downtown Silver Spring offers much of what is best about Montgomery County but it also has problems that we can and should address. The BID “shifts the power of public district decision-making from a stakeholder group representing diverse culture and income backgrounds to a stakeholder group that predominantly represents the interests of medium and large businesses,” according to the Council’s own Racial Equity and Social Justice impact statement.
I had sent the Council an alternative proposal that would have created an independent structure that reflected the diversity of Silver Spring – large and small business owners and property owners as well as residents. We have a similar, successful model in Bethesda, the Bethesda Urban Partnership. I was disappointed that the Council did not even consider this alternative, which addressed the concerns raised by small business owners, residents, and elected state leaders.
I appreciate Councilmember Will Jawando for supporting the veto and for explaining the importance of moving forward to address these problems together rather than using a flawed approach. It is my hope that going forward we will find a more equitable way to give voice to the diversity of the Silver Spring community.
A good place for your bikes!
Another important event next Friday, Oct. 8, is the Montgomery County Department of Transportation bicycle donation event for kids and adults in need. MCDOT will be collecting bikes from 7 a.m. – 2 p.m., outside of the Council Office Building parking garage at the corner of East Jefferson Street and Monroe Street in Rockville. Donated child and adult bikes will be accepted; however, the drive will not accept bike parts or bike helmets. Bikes are good for exercise as well as an efficient, sustainable transportation method, but unfortunately, many of our fellow residents cannot afford to own their own bikes. We were unable to collect donated bikes last year due to the pandemic and our demand for bikes is great. If you have a bike that is sitting around collecting dust or if you are buying a new one, please donate your bikes to MCDOT next Friday.
As always, my appreciation to all of you.
Earlier today Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich released a statement on a vaccine mandate for county employees.
The statement can be seen below:
Let me be clear – every person in Montgomery County and every employee of the Montgomery County government who can be vaccinated should be vaccinated. It is the right health-care decision for you, your family, friends, co-workers, and community.
Currently, 78 percent of our County workforce is vaccinated and 16 percent have yet to report their vaccination status. https://montgomerycountymd.gov/covid19/data/case-counts.html#mcg-vaccinations. To put this vaccination rate in perspective, if our County workforce was a state, it would be in the top 10 in vaccination rates. But we can and should do better, which is why we are working with the remaining employees and their union representatives to get every employee vaccinated and to register their vaccination status with the County. We are also looking at anomalies in the reporting data, which may also explain some of the lack of reporting. We are fortunate in Montgomery County to have union leaders who also agree that vaccinations are critical to the health and safety of our workforce and the public. Just last month, the County Council supported my effort to create a mandatory testing requirement for all unvaccinated employees – a constructive and collaborative approach embraced by our unions.
Unfortunately, several County Council members now want to rip up this plan and upend the collaborative approach we have developed with our employees. The recently proposed legislation to mandate vaccinations or be terminated is unneeded. This brinkmanship legislation is not smart policy. It will lead to staffing shortages, diminished public safety, additional financial costs to our taxpayers, and time-consuming legal entanglements – all outcomes I have successfully worked with our employees to avoid since the beginning of the pandemic.
Additionally, we know that there are activities that are high-risk – like eating indoors at restaurants – but the County has not mandated vaccination to address those high risks. To date, we have made a decision to focus our efforts on getting as many people vaccinated as possible and requiring masks when indoors in public spaces (except when eating or drinking).
It is hard to build enough trust to encourage any vaccine-hesitant employee to get vaccinated. Making threats and resorting to a “get a vaccine or else you’re fired in 40 days” policy is not the right approach considering the progress we have made in Montgomery County. Additionally, many of our employees served the community from the beginning of the pandemic when we didn’t have adequate protective equipment and when we knew so little about the virus. These employees put their lives – and the lives of their families – at risk throughout this pandemic. We owe it to them and to ourselves to continue our current efforts. I encourage the County Council to table this legislation and work constructively with me, our employees, and our union partners on a solution that is right for our community.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich released a statement on the passing of Board to Education member Patricia O’Neill. The full statement can be seen below:
We are saddened to learn about the passing of Montgomery County Board of Education Member Patricia O’Neill. Her love of our children was only matched by her commitment to the constituents she served for nearly a quarter of a century.
Montgomery County lost a leader, public servant, and compassionate resident who was determined to make this County a better place for current and future generations. To honor her legacy, we need to continue the work she dedicated her life to.
I join all Montgomery County residents this evening in extending our thoughts and sympathies to Mrs. O’Neill’s family and friends as well everyone in our Montgomery County Public Schools community.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and current Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles both advocated for implementing a vaccine passport in Montgomery County during yesterday’s media briefing.
Below you will see notes and quotes from the briefing:
• Positivity rate is 3.51% and case rate is 15.04 per 100,000. Montgomery County’s 7-day community transmission has gone from substantial to high, according to the CDC, joining most of the other jurisdictions in Maryland (“we’re at the low range of the high range”).
Quotes from County Executive Marc Elrich:
“If people were vaccinated, this would not be happening.”
“Like the rest of the country, our numbers are going in the wrong direction.”
”I know they like to talk about the vaccinated getting sick, but the beginning of the line of exposure of any vaccinated person getting sick is…they’re getting it from somebody else who’s unvaccinated.”
“Our vaccination rates are really strong. Our hospitalizations and deaths remain lower than when we had similarly high rates before the vaccine.”
”73.3% of our total population are fully vaccinated and that’s 20 higher than the National average. When we say total population, this means everybody under 12 who can’t be vaccinated is included in that total.”
“86.4% of eligible population is fully vaccinated.”
“It’s clear to me that if we are going to avoid these cases, and avoid watching this spin out of control like it did last winter, we have to implement a vaccine passport program.”
“When cases are higher, there’s more anxiety about possible exposure. This hurts businesses who have already had a miserable 18 months.”
“…restaurants aren’t even close to capacity. I talk to people about going out to dinner…so many people I know will not go to indoor dining and the reason they give it is they don’t know who’s sitting next to them.”
“The vaccine passports would give customers the assurance that if you go into a restaurant the person sitting in that same room with you is either vaccinated or has a negative test that was done I the last 72 hours.”
”Vaccine passports aren’t gonna keep customers away. What they may do is tell more restaurants to come to your restaurant because they’ll know, with the vaccine passport, that the people who could infect them aren’t gonna be in the restaurant.”
”I’m encouraging this [vaccine passport]. Voluntarily, we’ve had a bunch of restaurants moving in that direction, and we’re also gonna consider that the council consider doing it.”
”If I was more restrictive, people would worry that they [customers] would go to a less restrictive place. By allowing us to maintain our capacity, and ability to serve people, we actually could become the destination to go to…when people have the co ride de level that dining in Montgomery County, being in Montgomery County, is safer than it is in other places we may actually see more customers rather than fewer customers.”
Quotes from Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles:
“From a public health perspective, that [vaccine passport] is something we would feel comfortable recommending and supporting.”
”It avoids having to potentially put in restrictions around capacity limits and things like that.”
“We look forward to continuing those conversations and exploring those options to put that forward as an option for our residents within our county.”
The full 46 minute media briefing can be seen here.
Late this morning, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich released a statement on Dr. Travis Gayles stepping down as the county’s Public Health Officer.
The full statement can be seen below:
Earlier today, Dr. Travis Gayles informed me that he will be leaving his position as our County’s Public Health Officer on Sept. 12.
I want to thank Dr. Gayles for his guidance, expertise, and professionalism over the last four years, and particularly the last 18 months. His service to the residents of Montgomery County has been exemplary, and we are a healthier and safer County thanks to his work.
Throughout this pandemic, Dr. Gayles has been a voice of reassurance and reason that our residents have counted on during the worst public health event in modern American history. I have relied on him because I trusted his decisions would be guided by science, not politics. His calm demeanor and sound leadership have been invaluable and helped Montgomery County become one of the most vaccinated jurisdictions in the nation.
Our community has benefitted from his advice and knowledge, and he will truly be missed. I want to thank Dr. Gayles for his unwavering commitment to our County and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.
We are fortunate to have a strong team in the Department of Health and Human Services, the Division of Public Health Services, the Board of Health, and across my administration to continue our COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. Dr. Raymond Crowel will immediately begin working with the Maryland Department of Health on filling this important position.
In this week’s message, County Executive Marc Elrich talks about the continued need to stick with tough measures against the COVID-19 variant. He also expresses his disappointment with this week’s vote of the Maryland Board of Public Works regarding the State’s plan to expand I-495 and I-270. He discusses the Climate Action Plan of the U.N. And he also joins the many County residents who are glad historic Hank Dietle’s Tavern is back in business on Rockville Pike.
The message is available below:
Unfortunately, we are continuing to see COVID-19 cases rise around the County and the State. The Delta variant, which is dominant right now, is highly contagious. The good news is that the cases among the vaccinated is very low and hospitalizations for that population is even lower. Montgomery County continues to have one of the highest vaccination rates in the country.
The County face covering mandate for everyone in indoor, publicly accessible areas continues to be in effect. The mandate makes good sense for many reasons. We still have unvaccinated people, and even with vaccinations, the virus can spread. Of course, there are certain populations—children under 12 and some immune-compromised individuals—who are not eligible for a vaccine.
Unfortunately, the Delta variant transmits five times faster than previous variants of COVID-19, so we need to get more people vaccinated. From the beginning we have done everything we can to keep our County’s residents as safe as possible and to distribute vaccines as far and wide as possible. We will continue our efforts to get everyone vaccinated. In the meantime, masks are an important tool against the spread. We can win this fight, but we need every eligible person to get vaccinated and for everyone to wear face coverings indoors.
STATE BOARD OF PUBLIC WORKS VOTE ON GOVERNOR’S PLAN TO EXPAND I-270 AND THE BELTWAY
I am sorry to report that on Wednesday, the state Board of Public Works (BPW) voted (2-1) to approve the “predevelopment agreement” with Australian firms Transurban and Macquarie to develop toll lanes on the American Legion Bridge, I-495, and I-270. (The Governor, the State Comptroller and the State Treasurer are the members of the BPW. The board is chaired by the Governor and makes decisions on how state funds are spent on capital projects such as roads, school construction, and more.) This a costly setback to residents. I – along with State legislators, the County Council, environmentalists and residents – had argued that this was not the right approach because it does not solve the congestion problem and it lacked an essential financial analysis, putting taxpayers at risk of spending more than necessary on this project.
I testified in person before the Board of Public Works on Wednesday. I explained that the project before them did not provide a complete solution – it only addressed I-270 up to I-370, so that for northern Montgomery and others up to Frederick, traffic going north will actually be worse than it is today as the state’s own study showed.
This map shows the bottlenecks that remain even if the project were built.
|Map of bottlenecks|
We need a complete solution that addresses congestion all the way from the American Legion Bridge to Frederick and we need reversible lanes as I have explained.
I also explained that the required financial analysis by the State needed to be conducted before the BPW vote, but that analysis has not yet happened. Treasurer Nancy Kopp was blocked from completing the required legal and fiscal analysis of the contract in advance of this vote. No analysis was done identifying whether a private partner should be used to borrow the money. This is a huge problem that will be passed to toll payers because the State can borrow at lower rates than the private company and higher rates equal higher tolls.
It is ironic that this vote came the day after the Senate passed the largest infrastructure bill in our nation’s history. These are exactly the kind of funds that are meant to be used for projects like fixing the American Legion Bridge. If we applied for, and received, Federal funds, the cost to our residents would be further reduced. The Governor’s refusal to apply for those funds makes no sense.
You can read the letter I sent to the BPW here. And you can read the piece I wrote for the Washington Post here. You can read the letter from the State legislators here. You can read the letter from Congressmen Jamie Raskin and Anthony Brown here. You can read the County Council’s letter to the BPW here. And I also explained some of the issues of concerns in last week’s letter, which you can read here.
The bottom line is that the project as approved by the BPW does not solve our congestion problems, and as I have said from the very beginning, I think there is a viable solution and I want to work with the Governor to solve this problem. In the meantime, we will continue to work with the State to minimize impacts on the lower portion of the project. Going forward, I will continue to fight for a project that serves the County and beyond.
U.S. SENATE PASSES HISTORIC INFRASTRUCTURE BILL
The U.S. Senate’s passage of the infrastructure bill earlier this week is one of the most important pieces of legislation I have seen passed in my lifetime. It will not only help us rebound economically from the pandemic, it will also help us build a more sustainable and equitable future for generations of Americans. It will create jobs, more economic opportunity, and address decades of infrastructure needs that will directly impact the lives of people all over this nation.
I want to thank Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin for their advocacy, determination and votes to get this historic bill through the Senate. I look forward to working with our Federal delegation to ensure that our County’s transportation and infrastructure priorities receive these much-needed investments.
U.N. CLIMATE CHANGE REPORT AND OUR CLIMATE ACTION PLAN
This week we experienced another week of extremely hot temperatures. The heat, fires, floods and the storms are the result of our planet getting warmer. Earlier this week, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a sobering report. This report notes that human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.
We need to bring the same kind of awareness and sense of urgency to combat climate change as we brought to fighting COVID. Humans caused this problem, and we have to fix it by changing our behavior, policies and actions.
We cannot solve it all at the local level, but we are doing our part. We are using the Climate Action Plan as the County’s strategic roadmap to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I am proud that it is one of the most ambitious plans in the country.
Our Climate Action Plan identifies 86 actions that the County must address to eliminate GHGs by 2035 and increase climate resilience. We already have 75 of the actions underway, and the strategies outlined in this plan also focus on those in our community who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and identify opportunities to enhance racial equity while reducing emissions.
In the spring, we sent two items for action to the County Council to address emissions from new and existing buildings, which are major generators of greenhouse gas emissions. The Building Energy Performance Standard legislation (BEPS) will require owners of the largest and most energy-consuming buildings to take action to improve their buildings’ energy performances. The other is for the adoption of the International Green Construction Code, which would require that new buildings use less energy, generate more renewable energy and create healthy spaces for our residents. The Council is scheduled to review these proposals in the fall.
FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF FLOWER BRANCH APARTMENTS TRAGEDY
Tuesday was the fifth anniversary of the horrible explosion at the Flower Branch Apartments. It was a tragedy that took the lives of seven people.
The devastation we experienced that day, and the impact it had on our community, is difficult to forget, but it has motivated us to act and improve how we monitor situations like this. We have put policies in place designed to protect residents so nothing like this happens again.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the failure of an indoor mercury service regulator contributed to the explosion. This led to the Council taking action and it passed the Mercury Service Regulator bill, which requires landlords to identify and report indoor mercury service regulators. At the State level, HB345 will require new gas service regulators be installed on the outside of buildings and require existing regulators in multifamily units be relocated outside of building.
Legislation cannot bring back the people we lost that day, but it can protect tenants going forward. It is our way of paying tribute to the seven victims, as well as their families and friends.
A WIN FOR HELPING THOSE IN NEED
I am pleased to report that the County has prevailed at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in the case Bauer et. al. v Elrich et. al. The plaintiffs challenged the County’s Emergency Assistance Relief Payment (EARP) program that we designed to provide a desperately needed lifeline for the County’s most vulnerable residents, who were hit hardest by the pandemic. I am grateful for the win and to the many other states and organizations who stood with us to defend this important program. This program was the right thing to do. It is not our way to turn our back on people in need.
HANK DIETLE’S REOPENS AND SMALL BUSINESS VISITS WEEK NO. 3
As part of my Small Business Summer Tour, this week I stopped by Hank Dietle’s Tavern in North Bethesda to welcome it back and present the owners with a proclamation. Hank Dietle’s Tavern had been closed since a fire in 2018 and reopened last month. Hank Dietle’s Tavern is an institution that has been around since 1916. It was the first bar in the County to receive a liquor license after Prohibition and it was the first bar where I had a drink when I could legally drink. It has always been a great gathering place, and it was nice to be among music lovers and to hear Dan Hovey, guitarist from one of my favorite bands, The Nighthawks.
I am also continuing visits to other small businesses including Happy Hands Learning Center, a company that offers a bilingual early childhood development program, and Anglo Dutch Pools and Toys, a company that sells supplies and toys for pools. It has been around for more than 35 years.
These small business visits are a great way to see the entrepreneurial energy of our small businesses.
WE LOST A GIANT IN THE LABOR WORLD
I want to note the death of Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO and a Rockville resident. Richard Trumka helped strengthen and reinvigorate the national labor movement and was a strong and powerful voice for working people all over this country. He will be missed.
And I want to acknowledge another Montgomery County resident, Robert McCartney, who retired from The Washington Post after 39 years. I have appreciated his work over the years and wish him well.
As always, my appreciation to all of you.
Below you’ll see this week’s message from County Executive Marc Elrich:
This week I recommended that Montgomery County follow the Center for Disease and Control (CDC) COVID-19 guidelines for indoor masking in areas where the transmission rate is “substantial.” CDC defined substantial as at least 50 new cases per 100,000 persons in the past seven days. Unfortunately, we are now in the substantial category. Today, the County Council, sitting as the Board of Health, agreed and passed a regulation implementing my recommendation. You can read more about it HERE.
The rise in cases has happened rapidly. A little over a month ago, our case rate per 100,000 residents was below one. Now it is at almost seven. This increase has happened quickly all around the State as these two maps show:
This is a month ago with many counties shaded green, which is a very low rate.
This map is from this week – no more green and case rates are up everywhere.
What does the data show?
The vast majority of our new cases are popping up among the unvaccinated community. In addition, the age group that is experiencing the highest percentage of cases is people 20 to 49. Our younger adults are really driving our numbers up. The “breakthrough” cases (cases for people who are fully vaccinated) are about 20-25 percent of the total cases in the County. However, the good news is that very few of the “breakthrough” cases are hospitalized. Nevertheless, it is a caution to all of us.
If everyone were to get vaccinated, it would be a huge help to get control of this Delta variant. We have managed to fully vaccinate 94 percent of adults over 65 and 85 percent of our population over 18. We are so close to being able to shut down the opportunities for the virus to spread—we need to finish the job, which can only happen with more people being vaccinated.
But in the absence of a higher vaccination rate in the community, masking is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus. We need to implement protective measures now so we can prevent further spread. This will help keep businesses open and welcome our children back to school at the end of the month.
Board of Public Works and I-270/I-495
Next Wednesday, the State Board of Public Works will vote on whether to approve a very long-term (50-year) expensive commitment with a private partner for Governor Hogan’s plan to add four private toll lanes to I-270 and I-495.
While I support improving these corridors and believe there is a viable path to a consensus based project, I—along with 78 state senators and delegates, including the majority of the Montgomery County delegation—am urging the Board of Public Works to reject the proposal at this time. Here are some of the reasons why:
- The Governor denied funding to our State Treasurer so she could not complete the essential legal and financial review of the contract; the absence of this review puts taxpayers at risk.
- Despite its own work on this project for four years, the State has failed to adequately engage with the community, local elected officials, federal agencies, state agencies, and other stakeholders to develop consensus around this project. Last November, together with the County Council, we sent a letter to the State outlining our concerns and expressing our willingness to work together.
But here is the bottom line: the project will not solve traffic problems for most of our residents using I-270.
The tolls are designed to keep congestion in the no-toll lanes so that most commuters will remain stuck in traffic. The tolls are projected to be extremely high, so if you cannot afford the tolls, you will be stuck in what the Governor likes to call “soul-crushing” traffic. The tolls are set, not to repay construction costs, but rather to prevent too many people from using the toll lanes. They need to keep congestion bad enough that people will be willing to pay a lot of money to get out of it, but at the same time, they need to limit the number of drivers on the toll lanes so that those lanes flow freely. Additionally, with this plan, there will be one less free lane than there is now. If you are stuck in the general (no-toll) lanes, as most of us will be, you will be remain stuck in traffic. The Governor’s premise that this is a great benefit to county residents is completely bogus.
The project simply shifts traffic slightly north in the County. The State’s proposal only goes between the American Legion Bridge and the ICC. There is no funding to complete these improvements to Frederick or to provide a real transit alternative. This means that in the evening rush hour, commuters who need to go north of the ICC will face a huge bottleneck as the toll lanes disappear and are projected to have worse congestion than drivers experience today as the toll lanes disappear and all the traffic merges into the general traffic lanes. Under the State’s plan, many County residents, particularly in Germantown and Clarksburg, will start and end their commutes mired in congestion. The State has yet to say how and when it will extend the project to Frederick—without it, the problems are not solved – just shifted slightly north in our County.
What can be done to actually address congestion?
- Begin with fixing the American Legion Bridge, which is what I have said since the beginning (and before the Governor even talked about it). We all agree that needs to happen.
- Make a comprehensive plan that will actually go to Frederick and not just move the miserable traffic a little further north in Montgomery County. At the recent Transportation Planning Board (TPB) meeting, I proposed to amend the plan to require the state to commit to building I-270 complete to Frederick as a single project – and the State refused to accept that amendment. Why reject it if this is what you’re telling people you’re going to do?
- Analyze funding options that would provide congestion relief for all commuters, not just a select few who will pay extremely high tolls. This includes going after federal funding at a time when our federal government is supporting big infrastructure projects.
- Provide funding (not just words) for meaningful transit. If an additional track were added to the MARC rail line, train service could operate throughout the day in both directions, which is not possible currently.
- Provide funding and specific plans for transit, not just vague promises that do not have any funds attached. Although five members of the County Council sent a letter of support for the project last week because of alleged additional funding for the Corridor Cities Transitway, this agreement does not provide anything new for the CCT except some early planning money. But nowhere in the deal the five councilmembers made does the state agree to provide enough money to build the project. As anyone who knows me at all knows, I have long advocated for a countywide transit system, including the CCT, and am working hard to find ways to fund and build it.
We want to work together
I appreciated the Baltimore Sun’s clear explanation that “ . . . there’s also something to be said for the just-as-vital process of building a regional consensus over such a huge, potentially disruptive and controversial project as the Capital Beltway/I-270 plan. Better to seek further compromise than jam this down Montgomery County’s throat.”
I have always supported efforts to improve these corridors and believe there is a viable path to a consensus-based project, but that is not the project that is before the Board of Public Works. The risk to Maryland from proceeding without complete information is too great and the benefits of this version of the plan are too limited. Our residents and businesses deserve solutions that have been fully vetted. We hope that the Board of Public Works recognizes this and votes against approving this project.
Business around the County
In some good news, I have been pleased to celebrate some businesses large and small.
Last week, I was thrilled to join a celebration at American Gene Technologies. It was celebrating a major milestone in its work to find a cure for HIV. It celebrated the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) unanimous vote to continue American Gene Technologies’ HIV cure program without modification. AGT’s HIV cure program is based on a platform that has the capacity to treat other chronic viral infections, as well as monogenic disorders and cancers.
This news is significant for the approximately 37.9 million people worldwide, including 1.2 million people in the United States, who are living with HIV/AIDS. The work of American Gene Technologies is important to so many who are affected by HIV/AIDS, and I am proud that such important work is being done right here in Montgomery County.
I have also been visiting local small businesses, and last week I visited three businesses in the Olney area. I visited O’Connell and Lawrence, a civil engineering firm; the Backyard Naturalist, a leading bird feed supply store and gift shop; and the Brookeville Brewery. This week, I will be visiting Parkway Deli & Restaurant and Bankers Business Management Services, Inc, in Silver Spring. Parkway holds a special place in my heart because it is where my daughter had her first bagel.
These visits are important to me, and I will continue devoting time on Fridays for the rest of the summer to stop by establishments and learn more about the difficulties and challenges they faced this past year. We also will celebrate the revival of businesses in our community. And we want to know how we can assist them going forward.
I encourage everyone to continue to shop local, shop small businesses and shop often. Our small, minority and family-owned businesses have had a difficult 17 months. They really need our support. My visits are intended to call attention to our wonderful business community. The products and services they provide are part the fabric of this County. The more we support them, the stronger they become. So please, go out and support our small and local businesses.
National Night Out
Finally, I want to thank everyone in the community and our departments for hosting a great National Night Out this week. There were 44 community events throughout our County, and I attended several of them along with the Chief of Police, the State’s Attorney, the Fire Chief and the Sheriff.
We were not able to do National Night Out last year due to COVID, so it was good to be able to participate this year. National Night Out is a great opportunity for people to connect with the first responders, County service agencies, and elected officials. One of the primary focuses of my Reimagining Public Safety Initiative is community engagement, and as part of that initiative, I hired our first-ever civilian assistant chief police officer to focus on police and community relations. I want to thank the community and our departments for organizing this year’s National Night Out. I could not make it to all the locations, but where I did go, it was great to be with people again.
I want to thank the community and our departments for organizing this year’s National Night Out. I could not make it to all the locations, but where I did go, it was great to be with people again.
As always, thank you for your support and your understanding.
The weekly message from Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich can be seen, heard, and read below.
Message from the County Executive
We are continuing to see increases in the spread of the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus in the County and around the country. We are also seeing an increase in case and positivity rates. It is important to note that 77 percent of our newly confirmed COVID cases are unvaccinated individuals. And our local data indicates that people 20 to 40 years old who are unvaccinated are driving our new cases. To break that down, 36 percent of the cases are among people aged 20 to 39 and 12 percent of the cases are aged 10-19, meaning that 48 percent—or almost half—of the cases are among people aged 10 to 39.
Vaccinations are clearly protective, and Montgomery County continues to be in a good place with vaccination rates. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, 70.5 percent of our entire population is fully vaccinated and 83 percent of our eligible population (12 and older) is fully vaccinated. More than 90 percent of people 12 and older have had at least one dose of vaccine.
This is all good news, but it highlights the fact that the worrisome numbers are concentrated among the unvaccinated who are at great risk and are putting others at risk. The spread of the delta variant puts not only the adults who do not want to get vaccinated at risk, but it puts children under 12 and vaccinated adults with compromised immune systems in harm’s way. So, we will continue our efforts to increase vaccination rates.
This week, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) decided to mandate masks for students, faculty, staff and visitors in all schools. I support this decision. It is the best approach to minimize transmission of the virus and to keep our students, their families and MCPS staff safe. This school decision follows guidance from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Earlier this week the CDC recommended universal masking in indoor public spaces in jurisdictions that are experiencing “substantial” transmission rates. At this point, our transmission rate is “moderate,” not substantial. However, some nearby jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia and City of Alexandria, have hit “substantial” transmission rates. Today, the District renewed its indoor mask mandate. That is why our public health officer, Dr. Travis Gayles, and I will recommend to the County Council that we reinstate an indoor mask requirement if transmission rates hit a “substantial” level here in Montgomery County.
We could see these rates growing worse before they plateau and decline. Our high vaccination rates are not going to fully protect us. So, masking in schools and ensuring that all our friends, family, co-workers and neighbors are vaccinated, are important for everyone’s safety. Do it for you, but more importantly, do it for the people you care about.
Providing Rental Relief
We are making good progress getting much needed funding out to residents who need assistance. We have distributed almost $29 million since May 2020 to residents in need. Now we are actively working with the County’s Sheriff’s Department, which is providing a weekly list of those facing imminent evictions so that we can prioritize assistance to these most at-risk households.
Police Release Video From Tragic Police Shooting Of Ryan LeRoux
As you may know, earlier this week the Police Department released video footage of the police-involved shooting of Ryan LeRoux. Like many residents, I have questions about this incident. I am trying to understand how an incident that began calmly suddenly turned violent. I also want to determine whether there are tactical approaches that would minimize the creation of situations where officers find themselves at-risk and have to make split-second life or death decisions. We need a careful review of how this outcome might have been averted. My concern is that even if an event is deemed justifiable in that moment, it may not have been inevitable.
As County Executive, I have the responsibility of doing everything I can to prevent this from happening again. I have asked our partner, Effective Law Enforcement for All, Inc., an organization that is working with us on the Reimagining Public Safety Initiative, to work with the County as we conduct an “after-action” review of this and other incidents. These reviews will provide additional recommendations for policy and procedures, as well as any training needed to avoid similar situations.
This will not be a separate investigation into this incident, but a set of “case studies” in how we respond to situations and whether our tactics and procedures before, during and after incidents can and should be improved.
I continue to express our condolences to Mr. LeRoux’s family and friends. I also want to make it clear that we will continue to be transparent by communicating and engaging with the community about this incident throughout the legal process. It is important for every resident to have confidence that the police and other public safety professionals are committed to protecting them. Transparency builds trust, and trust is essential in our efforts to reimagine public safety.
The County Council earlier this week approved Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 19-07 to revise the procedures for the installation of telecommunications towers and antennas that can accommodate 5G technology. While I understand that some revisions to those procedures may be necessary, this ZTA does not provide the right balance, nor did the process address multiple community concerns. I had proposed, and continue to believe, that a workgroup of residents, industry and other representatives is needed to allow an opportunity to understand the complexities of the issue and to provide for meaningful community participation. You can read my entire statement here.
This week we also formally launched our new public safety radio system, which will improve public safety communications across the County and with neighboring jurisdictions. This system will increase reliability and connectivity. You can read more about it here.
Helping Businesses in Silver Spring and Valuing Our Diversity
In a 7-1 vote on Tuesday, the County Council passed legislation to allow the creation of a Business Improvement District (BID) in the downtown area of Silver Spring. Despite the positive sounding name, the proposal was strongly opposed by many small business owners in downtown Silver Spring. The BID, which would be financed by a mandatory tax on all businesses, is structured to give the power to property owners with the largest and most expensive property. That is why many small business owners have expressed great alarm about it. The Racial Equity and Social Justice Impact statement from the Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight explained it this way:
“The exclusion of residents from the SS BID Board, and the concentration of voting power for board members with the largest assets, shifts the power of public district decision-making from a stakeholder group representing diverse culture and income backgrounds to a stakeholder group that predominantly represents the interests of medium and large businesses. Granting greater voting power to board members with larger businesses also shifts decision-making power from People of Color-owned businesses to White-owned businesses as the later on average are larger than the former.”
You can read more about that here.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Councilmember Hans Riemer, when trying to make the case for the bill, said, “Who would want to join into an association where the people who are paying the most expense don’t have greater control?” I don’t believe that wealthier people or businesses should have greater control. I believe we can have an organization that represents and values the diversity of Silver Spring and that we can work together to address the issues in the area. This week, I joined Councilmember Will Jawando at a press conference to express our opposition to this bill and to announce that I will veto it. You can listen to the event here.
The Olympic Stars
We congratulate Montgomery County’s own Katie Ledecky on her multiple medals at the Tokyo Summer Olympics. We will continue to cheer for her and the other Montgomery County athletes competing in this year’s Olympics.
Weekly Message From County Executive Marc Elrich (7/8/21)
In County Executive Marc Elrich’s weekly message, he says he hopes Maryland courts will uphold a decision that overruled Governor Larry Hogan’s attempt to block additional Federal payments to unemployed Marylanders.
Elrich also wants residents to know more about the County’s efforts to Reimagine Public Safety and he thinks a program now in place at the Halpine Apartments in Rockville is an important step in preserving and producing affordable housing in the County.
Full message is available below:
I hope that everyone had an enjoyable and relaxing 4th of July weekend. For me, reviewing our COVID-19 status and vaccination rates is much more pleasant these days. Eighty-one percent—81 percent—of all eligible residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated.
Here’s the information on County residents who have been vaccinated:
- 12 and older – 81 percent
- 18 and older – 83 percent
- 65 and older – 92 percent (and 98 percent have received at least one dose)
We should all be very proud of these numbers. All of our efforts combined—from all of you – have made us #1 in the country for large jurisdictions. This success did not (and does not) come easily. We have had enormous outreach efforts into hard-to-reach communities. (In fact, some of those efforts just won an Emmy!) We have also worked with students who have created videos to convince their peers to get vaccinated. You can check out some of the amazing videos. As a former teacher, I am always excited to see our young people get involved in important issues like this.
As you may know, we closed the Mass Vaccination Site on the Germantown campus of Montgomery College last week and we opened a new clinic at the UpCounty Regional Service Center beginning on Tuesday. We continue to make sure vaccinations (and testing) are available.
COVID-19 Unemployment Benefits Remain in Place
I am happy to report that the courts temporarily blocked Gov. Larry Hogan’s order to prematurely end federal unemployment benefits. This ruling will allow hundreds of thousands of jobless workers in Maryland to continue to collect this important benefit, which does not cost the state or counties any money. Even though the problems related to COVID-19 are slowly receding, at least some businesses and workers are still struggling and in need. There is another hearing on this issue tomorrow, and I hope that working people will prevail.
Halpine View/Preserving Affordable Housing
This week I announced an exciting new project at the Halpine View Apartments in the Twinbrook neighborhood of Rockville. This project is an important part of our effort to preserve and increase affordable housing in Montgomery County. As the County grows, development pressures threaten our existing stock of affordable housing, and we need to support efforts to preserve existing affordable housing as well as produce additional affordable housing. I appreciate the willingness of the property owners to work with us to preserve and improve access to affordable housing. This agreement requires that, for any new redevelopment of the property, existing residents will have access to the new units at affordable rates, and that all 564 affordable units at Halpine View will continue to be available and include two- and three-bedroom units. It also creates some “deeply affordable” units for people earning 30-50 percent of the area median income (AMI). This project is a win for all of us.
Reimagining Public Safety
Last week I announced the preliminary results of an audit that was conducted to review our police department. This week, we shared the report during a community forum and heard from community members. These efforts are part of our Reimagining Public Safety Initiative. When we started this initiative, I promised to provide regular updates to the community and this week’s forum was the latest update. We have also begun a data dashboard to track our progress on recommendations. If you missed the forum, you can listen. I appreciate your input as we continue this progress.
There has been a lot of conversation about Governor Hogan’s proposal to widen the Beltway and I-270, known as the managed lanes proposal. Since he first announced his proposal, I have expressed my appreciation for his willingness to try to tackle some of the congestion issues. We agree with his concern; we don’t agree with his solution, which is unnecessarily expensive and impactful. We agree that we need two additional lanes from the American Legion Bridge up I-270 in the rush-hour direction, but they can and should be reversible lanes. They would provide two additional southbound lanes in the morning and two additional northbound lanes in the afternoon. Reversible lanes would solve the problem and it would greatly reduce the cost. Contrary to misinformation, the Governor’s proposal does not offer any relief north of I-370; it just moves the traffic choke point. People driving to Germantown, Clarksburg and Frederick will be stuck in soul-crushing traffic, made worse by the current proposal. Additionally, the private financing mechanism is unnecessarily expensive. We have been advocating since the beginning for a complete solution from the American Legion Bridge to Frederick. We want a resolution that is good for the State, County and region and the approach that I have proposed does just that. I look forward to meeting with the Governor’s team very soon as we continue our discussions to best address this issue. I will certainly keep you posted on our progress.
With my ongoing appreciation.