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,