Montgomery County is home to a diversity of cultures and customs from around the world to see, experience, and learn about during this season. Whether it is Hanukkah, Diwali, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year, and more, this is the time of year for gathering with family and friends, celebrations, and parties; and it is a time when many reflect on the past year and anticipate the coming year. As you enjoy this time of year, please keep in mind those among us who do not have a lot to celebrate. We promoted “Giving Tuesday” this past week, and I encourage you and your family, if you’re able, to give back to your neighbors, your community, and especially those in need every day of this season and throughout the year. I know that so many of you already do that, and your dedication is remarkable. And, as we know sometimes this season can be too focused on consumerism, so I’d like to highlight the importance of putting the “green” in holiday festivities. Check out our Department of Environmental Protection’s “Gift Greener” challenge.
COVID-19 VACCINATION MILESTONE
On the COVID-19 front, this week, Montgomery County hit a major milestone. We achieved 80 percent of our total population fully vaccinated – this is a big deal. We are the first in the State, the region, and among very few jurisdictions throughout the nation to get to this 80-percent fully vaccinated threshold. To put this in context, Howard County, who has done equally well at vaccinating their residents, is second at 76 percent - 4 percentage points behind us. However, despite this wonderful success, we continue to see more than 100 new COVID-19 cases per day. We now have a higher case rate than our neighbors in Prince George’s County who did not lift their indoor mask mandate over the past month like we did. Prince George’s announced they are keeping their indoor mask mandate in place until at least the end of January. I hope that the County Council, sitting as the Board of Health, makes a similar decision.
I want to thank the State for providing the County with 1000s of rapid test kits. We are providing these kits to our minority health initiatives and community partners, and we are also reaching out to the restaurant, food and building trade industries to provide them for some of our frontline workers. Going into the upcoming holidays and, quite frankly, our path forward is going to be determined by how well we can vaccinate, test, contain, and mitigate this virus.
We are also up to over 202,000 booster/3rd shots provided.
Although, this number is the most in the State, I would like to see more people getting their booster, especially over the holidays. Every eligible adult who received their two doses of Moderna or Pfizer more than six months ago or Johnson & Johnson more than two months ago can get a booster. Boosters are available at pharmacies and through other private providers, and they’re also available at County-operated clinics as well as at our partner clinics. You can read more about eligibility and locations here.
We are also continuing to vaccinate our 5–11-year-olds. We are currently more than one-third of the way through this population, and we are far ahead of everywhere else in the State in the number of children vaccinated. In fact, this week the State has sent us additional doses because of our success at vaccinating children.
If you need a vaccine, a booster, or a vaccine for your child – getting your shot is simple, easy and available. Please go to GoVaxMoCo.com to locate the nearest provider locations.
ANOTHER VARIANT EMERGES
Last week, we were made aware of the new Omicron variant. This variant had been found in 20 countries and just this week was found in our country. This is similar to the trajectory of the Delta variant. Delta, first detected in India at the end of last year, was not named “Delta” until the end of May this year and began seriously affecting our country by mid-summer. We hope that we can get through the holidays without experiencing what happened last summer; but, we need to be very clear: Just as Delta was different than the original COVID-19 virus, Omicron is not Delta. This mutational profile is different from other variants and has a large number of mutations, some of which experts have said are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant. We are better prepared and to some degree less vulnerable than we were to earlier surges (assuming that the vaccines retain some moderating effect on the severity of the infections from Omicron). Omicron’s emergence should not cause panic, but it should cause us to review our current preparedness and continue to promote vaccinations, boosters and testing, all of which we are doing.
CELEBRATING AND SUPPORTING BUSINESSES LARGE AND SMALL
We all know that there are longstanding issues in the County that at times impede our economic success, but we have worked over the last two years to reform and address many of the issues that have been raised. We have also had some amazing recent successes and potential opportunities. I have been engaging with businesses large and small over the past months; and, although many are still recovering, there is a lot of optimism and anticipation of better days ahead. As was announced a few weeks ago, 76 Montgomery County companies received record funding of more than $18 billion in private investment during the first three quarters of this year, which is great news!
On Monday, I received a tour of the new Marriott corporate headquarters, and the soon-to-be opened hotel on the adjacent properties in downtown Bethesda. This 785,000 square-foot office building, will have more than 3,500 Marriott employees, be LEED Gold certified, and have state-of-the-art technology throughout. Marriott considered dozens of relocation options around Maryland, DC, and Virginia, and chose to stay in Montgomery County due to the walkability, transit access, and host of amenities in the Bethesda area. As I toured this building, I was impressed with the sustainable construction practices being used. For example, this new building will be heated with electricity, not natural gas. This is an important environmental step, and it is why electric heating of commercial buildings is part of our Building Energy Performance Standards legislation that we sent to the Council last spring. It is an important part of our efforts to address climate change. We are hoping the Council will act on this legislation before the end of the year.
Additionally on Monday, I was pleased to join Councilmember Evan Glass along with Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, Del. Lorig Charkoudian, and Del. David Moon to announce $231,000 in State funds that will be distributed as grants for businesses affected by Purple Line construction. At this event, I talked to several of these small business owners that are being severely impacted. These grants will be some help, but more is needed. We must keep fighting for more funding to assist businesses along the Purple Line. The Purple Line Construction Zone Grant Program - Maryland House Bill 114 - could mean more support for small businesses through the Purple Line Construction Zone Grant Program. It was vetoed during the last session, but the veto could be overridden during the upcoming special session next week. Overriding the veto would mean $2 million more that would be made available to the businesses in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. This is important for many of our small and minority-owned businesses who are not only facing the challenges of the pandemic, but also the disruption of Purple Line construction. I support the Maryland General Assembly’s effort to override this veto and hope it succeeds.
For Small Business Saturday last weekend, I stopped by several small, family owned, and minority and woman owned businesses. It was great to shop local and I also really enjoyed talking with and listening to the owners and employees who have such pride in their stores. I also heard how tough the past 22 months have been for them. We want to encourage everyone to shop small and local throughout this holiday season. If any residents are shopping at a local store this season, we are encouraging them to share a picture or experience on your social media under #KeepingMoneyInMontgomery.
You could actually visit our beautiful Agricultural Reserve and at the same time shop local this weekend at the Countryside Artisans Studio Tour.
COMMEMORATING WORLD AIDS DAY
I attended a World AIDS Day Solidarity Breakfast that was part of our implementation of Montgomery County’s Plan to End HIV. It was a wonderful event where we discussed the importance of helping our residents get tested for HIV and were also able to get tested ourselves. Our Health and Human Services Department also hosted a Reflection & Resilience Vigil & Open House at the Dennis Avenue Health Center in Silver Spring with an outdoor candlelight vigil to honor and memorialize those who have passed away from complications of HIV/AIDS and COVID-19. Montgomery County is home to NIH as well as some incredible biotech companies that are working on HIV/AIDS cures and treatments. We are also an inclusionary and compassionate community that treats all individuals who contract HIV/AIDS with assistance, respect, and dignity. We have a lot to celebrate in terms of progress made in combatting with HIV/AIDS over the past 40 years, but we still have many who are dealing with the physical, mental, and financial health impacts of contracting this virus.
STANDING UP TO REMEMBER ROSA PARKS
Also on December 1st, I proclaimed “Rosa Parks Day” in Montgomery County, recognizing Rosa Parks’ heroic refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus on Thursday, December 1, 1955. This courageous act helped galvanize the Civil Rights movement and triggered the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott that lasted for 381 days. To mark the occasion and this historic anniversary, we have installed a placard on each County-operated bus that states “Dedicated to the memory of Rosa Parks. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks took a seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and changed the course of American history.”
These placards will remain on every bus in a visible location to bus passengers throughout the month of December. It is regrettable to note that as we celebrate Rosa Parks month that there are states and politicians that want to limit and repeal civil rights victories. It a travesty that we have to refight these battles today. We need to restore this country on the path of expanding civil rights, not regressing them.
As always, with appreciation for all of you,