I want to begin by noting that Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorists’ attacks. Although it has been 20 years, the tragedy of that day remains in our hearts. Tomorrow, Friday, Sept. 10, I will be at 9/11 Memory Garden in Rockville, along with many others, to honor and remember the 11 County residents and other who perished that day and the courage of the first responders who rushed to help with the rescue efforts. You can read more about the event here.
Transmission Rates and MCPS Students Return to School
Regarding COVID-19: last week, our community transmission rate had gone into the high category and this week we are back to “substantial.”
As you can see from this map, we are one of the few jurisdictions in the entire mid-Atlantic that is not in the “high transmission” category.
The indoor masking requirement is still in effect, and we continue our efforts to reach the relatively small number of residents who are not yet vaccinated.
We also continue to have the highest vaccination rate for all jurisdictions with more than 300,000 people. Of our eligible population – people who are 12 years or older—87 percent are fully vaccinated. That is 15 percent higher than the U.S. average.
For the past month, I have emphasized vaccinations and the importance of indoor mask mandate specifically to prepare for the start of the school year.
After almost 18 months, all the Montgomery County Public School students—about 160,000 students—are back at school. As to be expected, there are some issues and concerns that have come up regarding minimizing exposure for students—especially those under 12.
We are working with the school system to try to help them revise their plans. Some have expressed concerns that the quarantine guidelines are overly strict, and others have been appreciative of the abundance of caution. We have now worked with MCPS to identify rapid test kits for students who go to the health room with symptoms that might indicate a COVID-19 infection. These students can be tested and get results within about 15 minutes, and we believe this will be an enormous help to determining whether “close contacts” to the child should be sent home. These rapid tests do have some false positives, but the rapid tests are about 97 percent accurate so the vast majority of the test results will be accurate and resolved quickly. Any positive test on the rapid test will be followed up by a different type of test, known as a PCR test, and generally results will be available within two-to-three days. (The timing varies based on how many people are getting tested. At the beginning of the pandemic, getting test results took longer because there were fewer tests and many more needing tests). According to MCPS, every school will have access to rapid tests next week.
As a former teacher, I understand how disruptive it can be to have children sent home for quarantine. I also know that back-to-school is always a huge logistical challenge. This year, it is unprecedented. In fact, schools everywhere are struggling with how to manage prevention combined with as much education as possible. It was remarkable that out of more than 160,000 students, only about 1,000 were sent home the first week. School systems one-quarter the size of MCPS sent home almost as many students. We are all working as hard as we can to keep students, teachers, staff and families as safe as possible. Please be patient with our school system as we make the necessary adjustments.
Unemployment, Job Fair in East County and Homeowners Property Tax Credit
This week, federal COVID unemployment benefits expired for more than 7 million Americans, I did not want to see this happen and believe it is going to negatively impact our economy. I am proud of the assistance that we have provided our residents in Montgomery County such as our Working Families Income Supplement and distributing rental relief funds, but these funds are still necessary.
Montgomery County’s latest unemployment rate record is from July was 5.7 percent, nearly double from when pre-pandemic levels in 2019 when it was 2.9 percent. The end of the unemployment benefits will hurt these individuals and it may also hurt businesses where people were spending their unemployment. We are going to continue to work hard to support every Montgomery family who needs help.
If you are unemployed or know of anyone looking for work, I encourage you to attend the East County Regional Job Fair from 3-7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 13, at the East County Community Recreation Center in Silver Spring.
We are also working to make sure low-income homeowners are aware of the Homeowners’ Property Tax Credit program. You can read more about it here. The deadline to apply is Oct. 1. To qualify for the tax credit program, applicants must own their primary residence and have a gross household income of less than $60,000 annually. According to the State website, the credit is based on how much property taxes exceed a percentage of a household’s income.
Protecting Our Water Quality – Ten Mile Creek
Earlier this week, I sent a memo to Montgomery County Planning Board members urging them to reject a 400-acre development in the environmentally sensitive Ten Mile Creek watershed in Clarksburg. Many residents, as well as the Sierra Club, also urged the Planning Board to reject this proposed development. Ten Mile Creek is the cleanest tributary flowing into the Little Seneca Reservoir, which is the closest backup emergency drinking water supply for 4.3 million people in the Washington, D.C. region.
Despite our pleas, the Planning Board voted, 3-1, today to approve the development, with board member Tina Patterson voting against it. There is no doubt that the proposed development will destroy the two most sensitive high-quality tributaries in Ten Mile Creek. In addition, the Planning Board approval signals a total disregard for the explicit recommendations adopted by the County Council in 2014 – with guidance and advice from environmental experts, including experts from the Planning Board's own staff. As a Councilmember at that time, I was actively engaged in the years-long scientific review that led to those recommendations, codified in the Ten Mile Creek Area Limited Amendment and the Clarksburg West Environmental Overlay Zone. The Council and the experts were clear about the “extraordinary protection” needed for these tributaries, identifying the need to limit the impervious surface in these two tributaries. Yet the Planning Board approved a project that concentrates development entirely within these tributaries, based on the indefensible notion that the amount of impervious surface could be averaged across the entire 400 acres.
Their decision will lead to irreversible degradation of tributaries recognized as being among the highest quality streams in Montgomery County, at a time when climate change is threatening our water resources and in direct contradiction to the Council's years-long work on water-quality preservation efforts. There is absolutely no need to accept such a destructive development plan.
Advancing Clean Energy Production
We broke ground this week on the Brookville Smart Energy Bus Depot, an integrated microgrid and electric bus charging infrastructure project. A microgrid is a local power system that uses clean and renewable energy sources on an ongoing basis. This project is an important part of our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide resiliency in the bus charging infrastructure. This state-of-the-art project is a great example of work that we are doing to support our ambitious environmental goals. You can read more about this project here.
In closing, I want to wish a Shana Tovah/Happy New Year to our residents who observed Rosh Hashana. Here is wishing for a sweet New Year that brings an end to the pandemic and increased social and economic justice.
As always, thank you for your support.