February 24, 2022

Message from the County Executive

Dear Friends:

Winston Churchill famously said, “When you are going through hell, keep going.” These are important words to remember as we continue into our third year of combatting the COVID-19 virus.

Next week marks two years since the beginning of the COVID-19 health crisis in our County. On March 5, 2020, the first three cases of COVID-19 in the State of Maryland were identified in Montgomery County. Since then 1,980 Montgomery County residents have died due to COVID-19, and the vast majority died before vaccines were widely available.

There are few among us who has not been touched by this virus and the tragedy it has inflicted. Reflecting on all those who perished from this virus is a solemn reminder of the seriousness of this virus, as well as our personal responsibility to mitigate future fatalities. We must also remember the thousands of residents who will be impacted by long-term medical conditions, some of which may seriously compromise their health. 

Throughout the next month, we will take time to remember those who have died from COVID-19 and recognize the many residents and organizations who helped save lives over the last two years. While this pandemic is not over, the month-long recognition effort will also be a look back at all we have done over the last two years and thank those who have helped get to where we are now. Each week, we will focus on a different theme.

Next week will be our “Memorial Week” from Feb. 28 to March 6. We will remember the nearly 2,000 residents lost over the last two years to COVID-19 and we are encouraging County residents to share their stories using the hashtag #MoCoRemembers. I hope you can join us for a vigil to honor them. We will gather at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 3, at the Marian Fryer Town Plaza in Wheaton.

We will continue to use what we have learned over the last two years in our ongoing response, monitoring the situation daily and continuing to do everything we can to reduce risk, including encouraging vaccinations and getting boosted.

March will be a time of remembrance and reflection of the loss and hardship, as well as a renewal of our resolve to end and recover from this pandemic.
Montgomery County Case Numbers Keep Us in the Category of Having ‘Substantial Transmission’ of COVID-19

Although our case rates are dropping, we currently remain in the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s defined category of “Substantial Transmission” for the second straight week. Our test positivity rate continues to drop as well as we are about one-third lower than the State’s test positivity rate. Hospitalization and deaths also continue to decrease.

We have made great progress over the past month, but we are still seeing higher rates than last fall. And with the proliferation of rapid take home tests, many active COVID cases are not being reported to either the County or the State like they used to. Take-home rapid tests have been a great help to our residents, but they also make it much harder to figure out how prevalent the virus is in our community.

I encourage all those who test positive on a take-home rapid test to please report positive cases to the website. It is important to the contact tracing process and our efforts to mitigate and contain spread of this virus.

County Indoor Mask Mandate Lifted

The indoor mask mandate in Montgomery County was lifted this week in accordance with the decision by the County Council. Nevertheless, I will generally continue to wear a mask in indoor public spaces because wearing a mask, as well as being fully vaccinated and boosted, are the best ways to reduce the risk of transmitting and getting COVID-19. With substantial transmission, people who are unvaccinated or not boosted should continue wearing masks in order to stay as safe as possible.

It is also important to remember that businesses and other organizations can continue to require customers or visitors to wear a mask in their establishments. The County also is strongly recommending that front-facing staff, who have not received their booster, and visitors in County Government offices and facilities, continue to wear a masks or face coverings in publicly accessible areas. We will continue to monitor the situation, and if there should be another surge, our experience over the last two years has shown us, we know what we need to do to reduce risks to our residents. To read the updated face covering guidelines, go to https://montgomerycountymd.gov/covid19/face-coverings.html.

Face Covering Policies in Our Public Schools

The lifting of the indoor mandate from the Board of Health does not change the mask requirements in Montgomery County Public Schools. The Maryland State Department of Education and Montgomery County Board of Education set policies for public schools in the County. This week, the State Board of Education voted 12-2 to allow local school districts to make that decision. On Friday, Feb. 25, the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review will consider that decision and take the final vote. Additionally, the Montgomery County Board of Education is discussing this issue today.

I believe removing the mask requirement throughout our school buildings at this point would be premature given the transmission rates and the fact that children have the lowest vaccination rates. It would be better if the County was clearly at or below a “moderate rate” of transmission. Even then, masks should be highly encouraged. I do think we will get to a point where masks can be optional, but if we are in substantial transmission—as we are today—we are not there yet.

I think we also need to take into consideration guidance from the CDC. The CDC found that COVID rates dropped in schools that required teachers and staff to wear masks. In 2021, COVID-19 took the lives of 539 children in the U.S., most of which happened in the second half of the year. With so many students still unvaccinated, we should continue to be cautious and consider the health and safety of our children, staff, teachers and administrators in our schools.

We have worked very hard with MCPS to reduce quarantining and I am concerned that by removing the masks prematurely, we could unnecessarily increase the spread and potentially impact learning loss of our students.

Boosters Continue to Make a Difference

Despite our overall high vaccination rates, vaccinations and boosters continue to slow down. Currently only 51.5 percent of eligible County residents have received their booster shots and this number is increasing very slowly.

However, being boosted greatly reduces the rate of hospitalization. Before omicron, unvaccinated people were 15 times more likely to be hospitalized than fully vaccinated people. With the Omicron variant, the biggest difference has been the booster. Unvaccinated people are 23 times more likely to be hospitalized than those with a booster and 5.3 times more likely compared to those who are vaccinated but not boosted. Getting boosted is the best protection we have to reduce severe symptoms and deaths.

More Than 100 Shots, 2,000 Tests and Nearly 3,000 Masks Given Out at Second BOOSTERAMA

I want to thank the County’s Department of Health and Human Services, Salud y Bienestar, Westfield Wheaton and the Maryland Lottery for coordinating our second Boosterama on Feb. 19 at the Wheaton Mall. We boosted about 120 residents, which is only a quarter of the amount that we did during our first Boosterama in December. But we also gave out more than 2,800 masks and 2,000 rapid tests while we were there, which was greatly appreciated by those in attendance.

We are going to continue to engage and find creative ways to increase our County’s booster rates. Messaging vigilance and ways to mitigate COVID is more challenging right now. It has been a hard reality that when cases are declining, people feel more secure and everyone wants to move on. I understand the desire for normalcy, but the virus is still very much with us. We have opened up most activies in the County, but care is still very much needed.

Potential of Truck Convoys in Montgomery County

Protesting truck convoys, similar to the ones that disrupted traffic and commerce in Canada over the past month, maybe heading into Montgomery County. We are currently following multiple protests that could be coming as soon as Friday, Feb. 25. It is not clear from any of their itineraries at what point they will be coming through the County. However, Montgomery County Police and the County Department of Transportation continue to work with the Maryland State Police, the State Highway Administration and the Maryland Department of Transportation about all of these potential protests as more information comes available.

I expect and hope that the organizers of these convoys are working with state highway and law enforcement officials and are being completely transparent in their routes and intentions. We are always committed to protecting the right of free speech and the right to protest, but that should not infringe on the freedoms and public safety of our residents and fellow motorists. Please continue to follow news and updates in case these convoys create any potential gridlock.

‘Just Cause Legislation’ Helps Housing Security

Earlier this week, I testified at the Maryland General Assembly in support of Delegate Jheanelle Wilkin’s Just Cause Eviction legislation. This legislation would authorize local governments to enact legislation that would require good reasons for landlords to terminate leases with tenants.

As I explained in my testimony, this bill simply enables local jurisdictions to enact just cause legislation. Any legislation would be preceded by careful deliberation, but we need the ability to have that discussion and enact appropriate legislation. We know of too many tenants who have had their leases terminated simply because they complained about roach infestations or non-working appliances. Tenants have faced retaliation and retribution for simply lodging complaints about the inadequacy of their housing. Tenants have a right to safe and decent housing, and we have a responsibility to protect that right. I also was pleased that the Maryland Association of Counties agreed to my request to also support this important legislation. Delegate Wilkins, tenant advocates and I have been working for years to pass this legislation. I hope that this is the year that it passes.

You can watch my testimony here.

Black History Month Concludes by Honoring a Trailblazing Hero

Throughout February, we have honored Black history and highlighted our work on equity and inclusion while recognizing and identifying challenges that continue to remain in our society due to systemic racism. On Monday, Feb. 28, we will conclude Black History Month with an important bill signing ceremony that will begin the process to rename the Silver Spring Library for former Tuskegee Airman and Montgomery County resident Brigadier General Charles E. McGee, who passed away last month.

Brigadier General McGee was an American hero who, despite facing prejudice and discrimination his entire life, was committed to serve his country and sacrifice his safety for our freedoms. Brigadier General McGee was honored throughout his life with numerous accolades ranging from the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Flying Cross to being profiled in feature films and flipping the coin at a Super Bowl.

His legacy in Montgomery County will be appropriately remembered and honored at one of our prominent libraries—a building that provides the tools and resources enabling future generations to follow in his footsteps. I want to thank County Councilmember Will Jawando for proposing this bill and I invite you to join us at this important community event at 11 a.m. on Monday at the library.

Women’s ‘Her-Story’ Month Begins with ‘Girl Power’ Contest

The contributions of Montgomery County women to our County, State and nation’s history need to be celebrated. As March is designated as Women’s History Month, we will honor women who have made history, and we must continue to build a culture of empowerment and opportunity for the next generation of female leaders.

The Montgomery County Commission for Women is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2022. In recognition of Women’s History Month, the Commission for Women invites residents to participate in its fifth annual “Girl Power” contest. County residents, ages 5 and up, are encouraged to submit a short story, poem, drawing or medium of their choice that addresses the following questions: What do you see as the three biggest accomplishments women have achieved over the last 50 years? What three accomplishments do you believe would make the biggest impact over the next 50 years?

Entries for the 2022 Girl Power Contest should be submitted online at https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/cfw/.

Entries typically are short stories, poems and drawings, but creativity is encouraged and alternative creative expressive submissions are welcomed. Entries will be judged on creativity and content. Winning entries will be selected in four categories: elementary school, middle school, high school and adult. Submissions will be accepted through midnight on March 31 and are limited to one per person. Written entries should be no more than 500 words. Entries should include full name, age, grade and school (if applicable), telephone number and email address. Winners will be announced in April. All contest winners will be featured in Commission for Women social media and receive a swag bag.

I encourage everyone to enter this contest so they can help highlight the great work done by women and the impact they have in our County. For the last half of century, the Montgomery County Commission on Women has helped women in our County by establishing networks, mentors and resources enabling their success. I am grateful to the Commission for all the work it has done and continues to do to ensure that ‘her-story’ is told in Montgomery County.

As always, my appreciation for all you do.

Marc Elrich
County Executive