We had good news at the beginning of the week with the announcement that the Pfizer-BioNTech’s’s COVID-19 vaccine has been granted full approval for people 16 and older. I hope that will convince more of the unvaccinated to now get vaccinated. For now, however, our cases remain at “substantial transmission” level, according to the CDC.
In fact, the number of cases per 100,000 is double what it was last year at this time (when no one was vaccinated).
Even though we lead the nation with 85 percent of our eligible population fully vaccinated, our fight to beat the virus continues.
Last week, I attended the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) conference in Ocean City; it was a productive conference where I had important conversations and attended informative sessions with colleagues across the state. From COVID-19 response and vaccinations to economic recovery efforts, this was an important time to have these discussions. I received compliments throughout the conference about our County’s performance during the pandemic, and I expressed my pride in the work of our government and our residents who have supported and understood our efforts to protect the public health. I was dismayed that face coverings were not required at the conference (of course, I wore one indoors); and a few days ago, conference attendees were notified that several attendees, including staff to the Governor, had tested positive for COVID-19. I am happy to report that my test results came back negative.
The transmission of the virus at the MACo Conference is an example of how easily COVID can move in a large group. From what I saw, probably less than 50 percent of attendees wore their masks indoors so the outbreak is not surprising and illustrates the importance of face coverings (which despite CDC guidance were not required). The cases at MACo reinforce the importance of following CDC guidance and the importance of testing after travel.
I continue to be concerned about the number of unvaccinated because the unvaccinated are making both vaccinated and unvaccinated people sick. I continue to support efforts by performance venues, restaurants, and other establishments to require proof of vaccination or a recent negative covid test. With almost 95 percent of our over-12 population having one dose and around 86 percent fully vaccinated, the number who may not be able to enter is small and the number who will feel safe entering is substantial. These requirements are good for business and for the community.
COUNTY EMPLOYEES MUST PROVIDE PROOF OF VACCINATION
As cases of COVID-19 have been increasing, I want to make sure that County employees and visitors to County facilities are as safe as possible. After discussions with our labor groups, this week I announced that by Sept. 18, County employees will be required to submit documentation that they have been vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing. I appreciate the hard work and collaboration that went into developing this policy. Our goal was to respect the rights and privacy of our workers as well as the health and safety of all our employees and the public. We were able to accomplish this, and I am proud of the result.
FIRST WEEK OF SCHOOL
Next week, approximately 160,000 students return to Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). This week, MCPS Interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight joined me at my weekly media briefing and presented the preparations the schools have made to protect the health and safety of our students. You can listen to the briefing here. It is an exciting time for students, teachers, and staff as they return to in-person learning. After nearly a year and half of online or hybrid learning, the school halls and classrooms will once again be filled with people, and their safety is our first priority. This is not going to be easy, and we must be ready to face challenges from COVID-19 outbreaks. MCPS has been working diligently to create a safe environment for students as well as plans for disruptions from potential outbreaks.
Everyone needs to be prepared for a world where masks are required at all times in the buildings. MCPS is working with County health officials to ensure that every precaution is taken to keep students safe. For more information on MCPS plans click here and also, please visit its website.
SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS UPDATE
During the media briefing, we also provided an update about the future of School Resource Officers (SROs) who are police officers detailed to school buildings. With the start of the new school year, we will no longer have SROs in our schools. Over the last few months, a task force, including representatives from MCPS, the police department and other departments have discussed how to address school safety without SROs. We will now have Community Engagement Officers, and this is not just a title change. These officers will not be in the schools, and they will not enforce school policy. When issues do arise that require law enforcement, school administrators have been instructed to contact 911 for any issues and not the Community Engagement Officers. Additionally, police and schools will meet once a month to discuss issues that may arise.
We will also continue to gather feedback and recommendations to provide a broader range of services to students and families in areas such as mental health and conflict resolution. This work is an important first step at providing a more holistic approach to address the needs of students.
IMPLEMENTING OUR CLIMATE CHANGE PLAN
As I have reported earlier, we have released a comprehensive Climate Action Plan, which is one of the most ambitious plans in the nation. We have already begun work on a number of initiatives in the plan, and I am committed to a continued focus on the work. This week I announced that Adriana Hochberg, currently serving as an Assistant Chief Administrative Officer, will now be our County’s first Climate Change Officer. In this new role, Adriana will lead the implementation of our Climate Action Plan and promote sustainability efforts of the County. Adriana spearheaded the development of the County’s Climate Action Plan and is perfectly positioned to lead this effort.
Among other efforts, Adriana will help with two important initiatives that we sent to the County Council in the spring to address emissions from new and existing buildings, which account for approximately 25 percent 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. You can read more about BEPS here. The other is 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. You can read the memo I sent to the Council here.
The Council is scheduled to review these proposals in the fall, and we hope that they will quickly implement these important actions.
CONDOLENCES AND ASSISTANCE
Sadly, I would like to offer my condolences to the family of Axel Trejos who was tragically killed last Wednesday night near the Plum Gar Recreation Center. I want to thank and acknowledge our UpCounty Regional Services Center staff for supporting Mr. Trejos’ family and community and for helping raise $1,200 to assist the family during this difficult time. Our Regional Services Centers provide important outreach and resources to our communities. There are five regional services centers in the County. If you don’t know where your regional service center is, you can go here to learn more about them.
As a community of compassionate global citizens, our heart breaks for those in Haiti and Afghanistan. Our Office of Community Partnerships has identified several nonprofit organizations assisting these countries and their residents. For more information on their work, go here.
As always, my sincere appreciation for all of you.