February 18, 2021

Message from County Executive Marc Elrich

Dear Friends:

I know that many questions exist over the availability of COVID-19 vaccinations. And I share your frustrations. Like many of you, I had hoped to have received my vaccinations by now. I have not yet, but I know I will be vaccinated eventually.

This week, there are some real signs for optimism on two fronts: getting better control of the spread of the virus and having an increased number of people receiving at least one vaccine. I share this news with caution: significantly reduced numbers in spreading COVID-19 will not continue if we relax or abandon all of the good behavior that it has taken to power this trend. While the number of people receiving vaccines increases every day, those who have not received vaccines must remain patient. Our time is coming.

On the encouraging front, more than 115,000 Montgomery County residents have received at least one dose of vaccine as of today, one of the numbers you can find on the County Vaccine Dashboard. Overall, that is more than any jurisdiction in the State and represents 11 percent of our population. Second doses have gone to more than 37,000 residents (3.5 percent of the population). It is slower than we want because we are getting fewer vaccines each week than we want, but we are making progress.

We also like the direction we are going in reducing the spread. The number of new positive cases averaged 4.1 percent over the last 14 days. That is the lowest rate we have recorded since November. And our number of new cases, as shown on our dashboard, averaged over the last week is 12.8. That is the lowest it has been since Oct. 29.

The difficult moves we had to take to limit activity—and the efforts by residents to follow the basic steps of wearing masks, keeping safe distances and washing hands often—are proving to be worthwhile. But we cannot ease up. We are far from where we need to be. All strategies to fight COVID-19 must continue.

We are doing better organizing vaccine centers. Television stations that were critical of some County-operated clinics just a week ago produced reports in last night’s newscasts of how our operations have become smooth and efficient this week. And that is how they will remain. A large part of this is that many more people now understand that vaccines are being given at County-operated centers by appointment only and that we are concentrating on giving vaccines to the first priority groups (1A and part of 1B). The people in these priority groups largely are frontline workers, health professionals and residents 75 and over. These are our residents who have been hit hardest by the virus—in the severity and the number of deaths.

One of the outcomes of our adherence to following priority guidelines is that approximately half of our 78,000 residents age 75 and over have received at least a first dose. (You can see the data here.) When we receive vaccines from the State, we are getting them to the people who are most vulnerable.

So what should you do to be in line for vaccines once we receive more—and when will the County start getting an increased number of vaccines each week?

The Biden Administration again has pledged to acquire more vaccines each week and we are hopeful that those will find their way to Maryland, and eventually, to Montgomery County. Governor Larry Hogan has established mass vaccination sites—but the closest one to our County is at Six Flags amusement park in Prince George’s County. We have identified available locations in the County where we could have a mass vaccination site and we have conveyed this to the Governor.

If you are willing to travel, you can preregister for the State mass vaccination sites at https://coronavirus.maryland.gov/pages/vaccine. In fact, a number of our residents have received vaccines at Six Flags. You can also text “MDReady” to 898-211 to get alerts from the State, which should include a notice of when there are available appointments at the mass vaccination sites. Just realize that a lot of people are competing for those limited vaccination appointments. I wish I could tell you that you could preregister for these sites or that there was a consolidated registration site, but one does not exist. I am asking the State to provide an easier, more streamlined, process, but I am unsure whether it will do that.

There also are many people competing for the approximately 4,500 weekly vaccines the Montgomery health department is currently being given. If you are in an eligible priority category, make sure you are preregistered at montgomerycountymd.gov/covid19/vaccine. If you know someone who has difficulty preregistering online, we have a phone number to call: 240-777-2982. We will be offering an appointment to everyone on the list, but we may not be able to offer you that appointment for a while. Availability will depend on how many vaccines the State sends us each week.

There also are numerous hospitals, health clinics and private pharmacies receiving vaccines in our County. They receive their doses directly from the State and operate independently of the County health department. You can find more information about these sites at the County COVID-19 website.

With the progress we have made recently, many want to know when will we reopen even more—and how quickly will we do it?

We have learned from some reopening efforts in the past. We reopened after recording good numbers—and then, we had bad numbers again. This time, we are going to do our best to be very cautious before we move ahead with reopenings. We will look at our current state—and we will reevaluate. We will urge everyone to be cautious and careful—and we will reevaluate again. We will do everything safely—and based on data.

We want our sense of optimism to translate to more progress in helping our businesses reopen and our residents gradually return to the lifestyles that now seem so long ago. This has been a pretty good week. We want the weeks ahead to be even better.

Marc Elrich
County Executive