This week, I was proud to proclaim the first-ever Montgomery County Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Questioning (LGBTQ+) History Month. This is an opportunity to celebrate our diversity, affirm our commitment to full equality, and to take a moment to learn some of the history of the LGBTQ+ community in the county and around the world. I am also proud to have created the County’s first LGBTQ+ Advisory Group and I look forward to working with them and appreciate their willingness to engage.
Vaccination Rates Are High, and Transmission Remains Substantial
We continue to have one of the highest vaccination rates in the country. I cannot repeat enough how fortunate we are in Montgomery County to have residents, and businesses who accept and adhere to the best practices derived from the science and follow the guidelines.
I am proud to report that the high vaccination rates are across our Latino, African American, and Asian populations as well as among White residents.
Our White and Black populations are only 2 percentage points apart for first doses, and our Latino population has the highest first-dose vaccination rate. From the very beginning, we knew that getting the harder to reach communities to buy-in was essential. We put a strong emphasis on outreach and meeting all our residents where they are. We partnered with community-based organizations, took the vaccine to places where people were comfortable, communicated with them via channels they knew such as What’s App, Facebook, Instagram, text messaging, etc. We purchased advertising and created campaigns specifically to connect with the communities that we were trying to reach. We built trust with our communities, and that was the key to them taking the important step of getting vaccinated.
Tracking Community Transmission
While our vaccination rates are some of the best in the country, our transmission rates are still in the substantial level according to CDC data. Per the Board of Health regulation that you can read here, face coverings are required indoors in publicly accessible areas when the level of transmission is substantial. The transmission rate is calculated based on the total number of cases for the previous seven days, and it is standardized per 100,000 people. According to the CDC guidelines, substantial transmission means between 50 and 100 total new cases per 100,000 people. The CDC defines moderate transmission as 10 new cases/100,000 to under 50 new cases/100,000 for seven days. We are trending in the right direction to moderate transmission (as you can see from the graph below), but we are not there yet. In the meantime, I appreciate your understanding on continuing to wear face coverings indoors in public areas.
Assessing The Impacts of a Vaccine Mandate for County Employees
Last week, I wrote about vaccinations for our employees and explained that a proposed vaccination mandate is premature because first we need to understand the potential consequences for staffing in our public safety departments. I further explained the issues in this piece I wrote for the Washington Post.
I directed those departments to assess potential impacts, and I’ve just received those from Police, Fire and Rescue, and the Correction departments and will soon be sharing it with the Council and then with all of you, so that we can all understand how service delivery may be affected. Delays in getting service in a restaurant because they’re short-staffed is not the same as not being able to ensure that ambulances arrive on time – the first is an inconvenience, the latter may have health impacts. So, despite my support for vaccine mandates generally, I must first understand the potential consequences of such an action.
Vaccines for Children Under 12 Years Old
As you may know, Pfizer recently submitted emergency use authorization (EUA) request for ages five through 11, and the FDA will meet later this month to determine whether they recommend use for this age group.
A County Tree
Earlier this week, I recommended that the County Council designate the black tupelo tree to be the County tree. My selection of the black tupelo to be our County tree is based on a selection process conducted by the Forest Conversation Advisory Committee at the request of the Department of Environmental Protection.
We celebrated this recommendation at the foot of an amazing State and County Champion black tupelo tree in Silver Spring believed to be the largest known black tupelo tree in Maryland! Experts believe this tree is at least 120 years old.
The black tupelo is resilient, beautiful, and critical to our County’s ecosystem and tree canopy—a perfect symbol for Montgomery County as our official tree. Trees have a positive influence on nearly all aspects of our lives. From lowering summertime temperatures—thereby reducing the need for energy and reducing air pollution—to improving our health and sense of well-being, trees are a key part of our climate action plan. You can read more about this effort here.
Reimagining School Safety and Student Well-Being
In May, I announced the creation of the Reimagining School Safety and Student Well-Being Committee, and since then we’ve received an interim report.
The committee is made up of many stakeholders, including students, teachers and principals; representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Montgomery County Department of Police, the County Council and my office.
The committees reviewed the issues of police officers in our schools and how to better provide mental health supports and restorative justice programs for our students. As I announced in August, we no longer have police officers in our schools and instead have Community Engagement Officers in the neighborhoods. This is one change in our holistic approach to keeping our children safe while they are in school. The Committee has submitted their interim report after months of collaboration and discussion.
The interim report is comprehensive and thoughtful. I want to thank all the partners for their engagement and commitment. I also want to thank the County Council for their collaboration. We have come a long way together, and I am confident that the result will be a national model we can be proud of. The report has immediate, medium and long-term recommendations that represent a substantial investment in the well-being of our students, and I greatly appreciate the work and commitment of acting superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight and her staff in breaking new ground here in the County.
As a former teacher, I understand the importance of addressing the social and emotion well-being of our students and the work that we have done, and will continue to do, is about putting the welfare of our children first and fostering an environment where they can safely learn and grow.
Our Environmental Director Gets Federal Appointment
Earlier this week, the White House announced that Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Director Adam Ortiz has been appointed as Regional Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the Mid-Atlantic Region. Adam will be the first Marylander and Montgomery County Director to serve as EPA Regional Administrator.
Adam Ortiz has been at the forefront of our aggressive efforts to combat climate change and has implemented key reforms within DEP to better serve our residents and protect our environment. Combining these accomplishments with an already impressive career, I am not surprised President Biden has selected Adam for a national leadership role. His 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 he will still be working daily to serve us as our region’s EPA administrator.
Unanimous Confirmation of Sonia Mora and Jake Weissmann to Assistant Chief Administrative Officers
I want to thank the County Council for their unanimous confirmation of Sonia Mora and Jake Weissmann, who will fill the two remaining assistant chief administrative officer positions in my administration.
Sonia Mora will oversee the Early Care and Education Initiative, children and families related matters and issues related to Montgomery County Public Schools and Jake Weissmann will have responsibility for economic development and business advancement activities.
Sonia and Jake are both highly qualified and bring decades of experience to their respective positions. I look forward to working with them as they help to further my vision for a more equitable and inclusive Montgomery County that will create a brighter and more prosperous future for everyone.
Join Me at One or Both of The Last Two Budget Sessions
There are two more hybrid budget sessions left next week. These forums are important to both update you on our upcoming FY23 budget process and outlook as well as provide opportunities for you to give input and feedback. Please attend or tune in to one or more of these forums and if you participate virtually, we also provide captioning in six languages. Our County website has the information on how to view or participate in these budget forums.
Support the Family Justice Center
Earlier this month, I joined with the Council to proclaim this month as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and it is a great moment to recognize the Family Justice Center and their excellent work to help victims of domestic abuse. The Family Justice Center Foundation is holding a virtual 12K run to support the Center.
As always, with appreciation for all of you,