We are beginning February in a better place than we were a month ago in terms of our COVID-19 case rates. We are clearly on the other side of our recent surge, which is great news as we celebrate Black History Month and the Lunar New Year. However, we must not let ourselves be lulled into a false sense of security about this virus.
We have been dealing with COVID-19 for 23 months now, and we have weathered the pandemic as well as we could and much better than most places. Some of our successes have been due to our approach to mitigating community transmission by mask wearing, continuing to get tested, and most importantly, getting vaccinated and boosted. Omicron arrived and spread quickly and had a big impact here in Montgomery County, as well as, across our nation and world.
We already know there is a new subvariant of Omicron out there lurking. Nearly half of our states have confirmed the presence of BA.2, including here in Maryland. This subvariant is 1.5 times more transmissible than the original Omicron strain. Although it is transmitting at low levels, it is here, and we must be prepared for it.
SLOWDOWN IN PEOPLE GETTING BOOSTED
While about half of our eligible population has received boosters, we’re seeing a slowdown in the number of eligible people getting boosters.
There is a clear correlation between vaccinations and the impact of severe COVID-19 symptoms. The bottom line is that vaccines work. Data show that unvaccinated adults (ages 18+) had 13 times the risk of testing positive for COVID-19, and 68 times the risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to fully vaccinated adults with a booster. People who were boosted were more protected than those who had not yet received a booster.
We are going to continue aggressive outreach, marketing campaigns in communities and targeted zip codes where our booster rates are lower. Whether it is more pop-up clinics or other direct outreach, we are going to get the word out and hope you will help us as well with this important message to get vaccinated and boosted.
If you or anyone you know needs their booster, please visit govaxmoco.com to find a location. Please don’t delay getting this extra protection if you still need your booster.
COVID-19 TESTING DROPS 50 PERCENT
We have also seen a significant drop off in testing as well. Testing at all County providers has dropped 50 percent. We appreciate our partnership with the State for a drive-thru site at Montgomery College Germantown, and they have seen quite a slowdown. Our libraries and other distribution locations report that the lines are short, and the take-home rapid tests are more plentiful.
Our rapid test distribution has continued to be quite successful. We are approaching one million kits being distributed in just under a month. That is incredible. I just want to reiterate my appreciation to our County libraries and all our staff members and volunteers who have worked so hard to get these tests in the hands of our residents.
I do encourage everyone to continue to test, whether at home or at any of our sites. This is especially important for people who feel unwell or believe they may have been exposed to COVID-19. It is quick; it is easy; and it is important as we move forward. Please visit https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/covid19/testing.html to find a COVID testing site as well as access to free rapid, take-home tests.
COUNTY COMPANIES CONTINUE TO HELP COMBAT COVID-19
This week Novavax, headquartered in Gaithersburg, announced that it had formally filed a request for emergency use authorization of its protein-based COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. If greenlighted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Novavax's shots could be the first COVID-19 doses available in the U.S. based on a kind of "protein sub-unit" technology that has been used for decades in other routine vaccinations. This is different than the mRNA-based vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer.
I was also happy this week to visit Maxim Biomedical in Rockville. Maxim is a 17-year-old company whose take-home rapid test was recently approved by the FDA.
Montgomery County is proud to be home to Novavax, Maxim, and many other critical bio and life science companies. Immunology companies with groundbreaking vaccine, cell and gene therapy work are thriving in Montgomery County. We are home to the National Institutes of Health, the FDA, and dozens of federal labs. The County’s bio and life science ecosystem supports companies fast tracking to develop and commercialize products.
Additionally, these companies’ hardworking employees who are saving lives everyday are also our residents and neighbors. They are boosting our local economy and cementing our County’s reputation as the epicenter and global leader for this growing industry. For more information about our bio and life sciences, please visit: https://thinkmoco.com/built-for-bio
STATE OF THE STATE
This week, Governor Hogan delivered his annual State of the State address. The State currently has a $4.6 billion surplus and an unexpected, additional revenue stream of roughly $2 billion over the next five years. This is an incredible opportunity for the State to make investments that have been needed for years. I am concerned that the Governor is favoring tax breaks rather than providing needed funding for transportation infrastructure, climate change efforts, and for our schools.
And our State still needs help to address the damage from COVID for our residents and the economy. Thousands of Marylanders still have months of unpaid rent. Our businesses need more support to get back on their feet, and our hospitals across the State are facing staffing shortages and high costs. These are real problems that need a State solution.
Our schools and other public projects face large cost increases due to supply chain problems. We also have major transportation and climate actions that we wanted to fund and now is the time to make one-time investments in programs and projects that will build our future and strengthen our communities.
To view our State legislative priorities, please click here.
This week the County Council passed a bill mandating 10 percent of the Fuel Energy Tax revenue go to the Montgomery County Green Bank. I am a strong supporter of the Green Bank as it plays an important role in helping the County meet our aggressive climate goals, and I look forward to signing this bill.
But this legislation only works if it is paired with a regulatory requirement like our Building Energy Performance Standards or BEPS. Just last week, we joined forces with State and local governments across the country—including Prince George’s County, Annapolis, and Washington, D.C.—in the National Building Performance Standard (BPS) Coalition. It is a collaboration launched by The White House Council on Environmental Quality.
I sent our BEPS legislation to the County Council 10 months ago, and I am proud that our legislative efforts not only got the attention of The White House, but also the City of Denver who worked off of our proposed legislation, introduced their draft in July and passed it in November. Unfortunately, despite the national acclaim for our efforts, our legislation remains stalled here.
I also sent amendments to expand the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) program. C-PACE is a critical program offered by the County for building owners to make their buildings more energy efficient, reduce operating costs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The amendments would expand the access and scope of this existing financial tool to help achieve our climate goals and improve the resiliency of properties in the County.
These two bills would make a meaningful difference to addressing the climate change in the county. I urge the Council to move both as quickly as possible.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH
This month, I urge you to research, recognize, and appreciate Black History and share it with your family and friends. The history of Black people in American is often uncomfortable. It is filled with stories of mistreatment, disrespect, oppression, violence, and injustice. As hard as some of it is to learn, it does much greater harm to our society if we refuse to deal with the truth. We cannot obscure the past: People need the necessary information to connect the past to the present and to understand what we must do to redress our sad legacy of systemic racism and inequities because of it.
You may be interested to listen to a talk I gave about critical race theory as part of a forum that we co-hosted with Montgomery College and the Universities at Shady Grove; you can listen to it here.
Throughout the month, there are many Black History events and exhibitions to honor and learn and more about the County’s African American heritage. Please visit this page on the Visit Montgomery website for more information.
THE YEAR OF THE TIGER
I want to wish a prosperous Lunar New Year to all those celebrating and honoring this special time in Montgomery County. This is the Year of the Tiger. Tigers are commonly associated with bravery, courage, and strength – important attributes needed during these challenging times.
Lunar New Year is a special time throughout our Asian community to bring friends and family together for feasting and festivities.
Please join me at the Chinese Culture and Community Service Center’s Lunar New Year Celebration at the Westfield Montgomery Mall this Saturday, Feb. 5, at 1 p.m. For more information about Lunar New Year events and activities please check out https://mocoshow.com/blog/ccacc-lunar-new-year-performances-at-montgomery-and-wheaton-malls/
WE LOVE OUR LIBRARIES
Cold February weather is a great time to curl up with a new book or reread one of your favorites, which is a good reason that it is “National Library Lovers Month.”
Library Lovers Month is held annually to celebrate and showcase the importance of libraries in Montgomery County. This year we’ve been especially aware of our libraries that have been central to our rapid test and mask distribution efforts. Throughout the month of February, Montgomery County Public Library (MCPL) branches will host special virtual events and activities to celebrate libraries and highlight the variety of resources and services MCPL provides year-round.
Library customers are also encouraged to fill out and submit an electronic form about why they love their library. These comments will be shared with me and other elected officials so we can properly budget and prioritize library funding.
For more information about Library Lovers Month activities, please click: https://www2.montgomerycountymd.gov/mcgportalapps/Press_Detail.aspx?Item_ID=39944
As always, my appreciation for all of you.