Happy New Year.
“There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.”
I wanted to start my first letter of the year with this hopeful quote from Malcolm X because these are encouraging words that we should note and remember as we deal with the latest surge from the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. This surge has sent our case rates higher than they have ever been, but the silver lining is that, because we are so highly vaccinated (and boosted), this variant is generally less severe for our residents.
Omicron Surge Sets Record Number of Cases
Currently, we have a case rate of more than 1,800 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over the last seven days. To put that number into perspective: That is five times higher than our previous case-rate peak, which occurred during last winter’s surge of cases. The latest data from the State’s lab partners show that 88.5 percent of recently analyzed samples tested positive for Omicron and of samples that were from hospitalized COVID patients, 91 percent have the Omicron variant.
As you may already know, over the New Year’s weekend, I tested positive for COVID following others in my household who had tested positive the previous week. I appreciate the many well wishes I have received. I am really touched by the outpouring. My situation reinforces the reality that if you are vaccinated and boosted, you are much less likely to get seriously sick and end up in the hospital.
Boosters Appear to Drastically Reduce Severity
New data from University of Maryland Medical System shows that over the last 30 days, 74 percent of its hospitalized COVID cases were unvaccinated patients and 24 percent were fully vaccinated. However, only 2 percent were boosted.
Governor Declares State of Emergency
Even though the boosted and vaccinated are mostly staying out of the hospitals, our hospitals are still strained.
For more than a week. I echoed the call by the head of the Maryland Hospital Association for Governor Hogan to declare a state of emergency. He did that this week, and I thank him for that. The Governor said this decision was made to alleviate pressure on the State’s hospitals, which are being overwhelmed with an increase in COVID-related hospitalizations and an increase in deaths. The State hit a record high in hospitalizations this week, and projections show that it could go significantly higher.
We need to slow the spread of this disease. I am also asking the Governor to implement a State-wide indoor masking mandate, as we have here in Montgomery County. I appreciate the County Council’s vote this week to maintain the mask mandate at least until the end of January. It would have been irresponsible to end this mandate at a time when we are at our highest rates of spread.
As the emergency declaration demonstrates, we are in a crisis—and we are treating it as such. We are taking a three-pronged approach:
- Stepping up testing.
- Doubling down on our efforts to get residents vaccinated and boosted.
- Mitigating community spread.
Testing hit record highs last week, and we are now testing three times as many people as we did at the height of the Delta variant surge. We have also received 400,000 home-based rapid tests this week. Half of this shipment is being given to our public schools for them to distribute.
The remaining kits will be distributed to highly impacted communities, essential workers and the general public. The distribution plans are currently being finalized and I encourage you to check our website over the weekend for more information.
We are also currently working with our state partners to establish another testing site at Montgomery College’s Germantown campus that we hope to have up and running as soon as possible.
I know how tough and frustrating it has been recently to get a test and quick results. I ask for your patience and understanding as we continue to work to increase access to tests and as our lab partners address their staff shortages. If you have symptoms and have no access to a test, please limit your exposure to others out of an abundance of caution. For everyone: masking indoors and frequent handwashing is still extremely important.
Take Your Shot
The best way to reduce the stress on hospitals right now is to continue to get vaccinated and boosted. Our County’s vaccination rate is among the highest in the country. We are seeing just how effective it is in protecting us from severe illness and death: Montgomery County is almost 20 percent of the State's population and yet we had less than 5 percent of Statewide deaths over the last month.
Boosters are where we need to do more. About 55 percent of our eligible population still needs to be boosted. If you are eligible, please sign up immediately for your booster. Unlike with testing, vaccines are plentiful. For more information, go to our website. And our health team has begun giving out Pfizer boosters to children ages 12-15 following the CDC’s recent approval for their use.
Additionally, taxicab companies operating in Montgomery County--including Action, Anytime, and Regency/Barwood--are now providing FREE roundtrip transportation for seniors 65-and-over and residents with disabilities to COVID-19 vaccination and testing locations.
To schedule a trip, riders should call Connect-A-Ride at 301-738-3252 and provide their name, address, phone number and age to receive a “Free COVID Taxi Code.” Riders can then contact one of the taxicab companies to schedule a free trip. They should just know that they will be asked to provide this COVID Taxi Code along with their trip information.
Mitigating Community Spread
We are also taking other steps to slow the spread to help prevent our health care system from being overwhelmed. Last week, I submitted legislation to the County Council to implement a vaccination passport program for restaurants, entertainment outlets and gyms. This legislation mirrors the program that the District of Columbia is implementing.
I believe a vaccination passport will help businesses during this surge and will enable patrons to feel more comfortable going to these places. The County Council will be conducting a hearing on this legislation next Tuesday, and I hope it will support this measure that will help reduce the spread and help the restaurants and other establishments.
Our school system is also working to slow the spread while trying to preserve as much in-person learning as possible. As a former teacher and as a parent, I know how difficult this is for parents, teachers, staff and students. For some parents, sending your child off to school at a time like this is fraught with anxiety. For others, there is great difficulty navigating the world of virtual learning with children. Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution, but our team is working with the school system as they make these difficult decisions.
I was on WBAL Radio this week to talk about the vaccination passport and keeping our kids in the classroom. To listen to this conversation, click here.
First Snow of the Season
We had our first snow of the season on Monday and it was one of the more significant ones in recent years. I want to thank our clean-up crews and the contractors of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation for clearing our roads and sidewalks throughout the County. This is not an easy job, and we appreciate their hard work. I also want to remind residents to be “salt-wise.” Protect the environment and do not overuse salt on your walkways and driveways. Learn more about the program here.
I also want to thank our teams for keeping our COVID testing sites open during the snow. With the State sites closed, this effort was much appreciated by our residents who were in great need to get tested.
We are expecting more snow this week and I encourage all residents who want to stay up to date with the latest on weather conditions, closings and other important breaking news and information happening in Montgomery County to sign up for our text alerts at alert.montgomerycountymd.gov.
Anniversary of the January 6 Attack
This week, we marked the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and Congress. Like most people in Montgomery County, I was deeply troubled by what happened. This was a coup attack against the government of the United States. It was organized and promoted by the former President.
As someone who has been involved in many protests, I support the right to protest government policy. However, it is unacceptable to try to seize the government and overturn an election. This was a horrible moment for American democracy and I continue to be stunned that there are people who pretend this didn’t happen and have no appreciation for the democratic process.
On this anniversary, I appreciate our Montgomery County Police who went to the Capitol to help with efforts, and I am thankful that there is a full hearing and investigation of what happened. I also want to acknowledge and thank my U.S. Representative, Jamie Raskin, for his leadership during this difficult time. We need to understand what happened, we have to make sure it doesn’t happen again and we need to restore a faith in the election process. As troubled as I am by what happened, I am hopeful that our country can move forward into a more productive and unified place where we express our opposition and protests within the context of our democracy.
As always, my appreciation for all of you.