Earlier today, a terrible explosion and fire happened at the Friendly Gardens apartments in Silver Spring. We don’t have all the details yet, but our hearts are with everyone affected, and I want to thank all our emergency personnel, the Red Cross, and other partners who are working to address this terrible situation. A donation page has been set up to help the residents impacted.
Remembering those we lost to COVID-19
Tonight, I participated in a vigil remembering the people we have lost to COVID-19. Two years ago we learned of the first three cases in Montgomery County and in the State, and since then too many have suffered so much loss. Our fight against this deadly virus continues, but as we approach the second anniversary of our first COVID-19 case, we are taking time to remember those we lost and acknowledge the countless residents and organizations who have been working tirelessly to help save lives. We have lost nearly 2,000 people, and each of them has a story. This is our time to honor them and their legacy. For the rest of this week, I am asking County residents join our tribute to those we lost and share your stories and pictures on social media. Please use the hashtag #MoCoRemembers.
All month, we will take time to remember the friends, neighbors, co-workers, and loved-ones who died from COVID-19 and reflect on the challenges we have faced as a community these last two years. We are stronger now because the people of this County did what we had to do to protect ourselves and our families, and I can’t thank you enough for that. And we’re stronger because we’re better prepared if another wave should come – that is a far better place than we were in when this started. We’ve learned a lot and have a good sense of how we can control community spread because we’ve been able to do it successfully. We would not be here today without our collective efforts, and we are taking this month to say thank you.
Standing in solidarity with Ukraine
Although the fighting in Ukraine is far from us, I think many have been watching the invasion with great dismay and apprehension. We wanted to take a stand locally to demonstrate our solidarity with the people of Ukraine, which is why we have removed all the products produced in Russia from the County’s Alcohol Beverage Services (ABS) stores until further notice. I also appreciate that the union that represents the employees at ABS made this suggestion.
And I’ve asked our team at the Department of Health and Human Services to look into ways we can prepare for and help Ukrainian refugees should they seek refuge here in our County.
CDC issues new COVID-19 metrics
Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has outlined new community level indicators and based on these new indicators, our community level is now low. You can read more about the indicators here. Additionally, our case and positivity rates continue to drop. The declines are great news, and we are focusing on vaccinations and boosters. While more than 85 percent of people who are eligible for vaccinations have gotten their shots, only about 55 percent of our eligible population (those aged 12 and older) has been boosted.
Boosting makes a difference. It especially makes a difference in alleviating severe impacts from COVID-19. We saw that with the Omicron surge. Boosters dramatically reduced the odds of being hospitalized. You can read about it here and here. And boosting is especially important for people over 65 years old.
Meeting with US Secretary of HUD Marcia Fudge
Yesterday, I participated in a roundtable discussion with leaders from around the region, which was convened by Secretary of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Department Marcia Fudge. We came together to discuss housing supply and affordability. It was clear that affordable housing is a regional issue that we are all grappling with; we had a great discussion with Secretary Fudge, and she recognized the importance of investing in affordable housing and indicated a willingness to make those investments. Our discussion touched on the whole range of housing issues from homelessness to ownership and Secretary Fudge had some progressive ideas and recognized that we need multiple approaches to solve the problem. I want to thank Councilmember Craig Rice, who serves as Chair of Human Services and Education for the National Association of Counties, for helping facilitate this event. I look forward to working with Secretary Fudge and our other partners on these efforts.
Bringing dignity to those without permanent shelter
This Saturday we will join with the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Nebel Street Shelter in Rockville.
The Nebel Street facility is a critical project that will provide temporary shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness. The shelter will also offer services to help people in this time of transition. This shelter represents a major shift in County policy – we are now committed to housing those without shelter every month of the year. Before COVID-19, the County was only able to provide shelter during the winter months. With this shelter, we will offer the homeless the dignity of a bed every night and place to be during the day. I am proud of our efforts to respect everyone in our County.
Marriott opens its 8,000th hotel – in Bethesda
Earlier this week, I was pleased to join Marriott executives for a ribbon-cutting for their 8,000th hotel, which is in Bethesda. The new Marriott headquarters will be adjacent and open later this year.
Honoring Tuskegee Airman Brigadier General Charles E. McGee
We ended the month of February and Black History Month on Monday with an uplifting moment as I signed an Executive Order to rename the Silver Spring Library after Tuskegee Airman Brig. Gen. Charles McGee. I want to thank Councilmember Will Jawando for leading this effort and for joining me at the event.
Brig. Gen. McGee died recently at the age of 102, and this was an opportunity to honor his life and his legacy. He served as a fighter pilot and member of the 332nd Fighter Squadron, famously known as the “Tuskegee Airmen,” an all-Black unit in World War II, followed by combat missions in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He fought against racism and for equality his entire career and paved the way for many African American service members.
It was a special moment because we were joined by his family, members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the Montgomery County Commission on Veteran Affairs, and his fraternity brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. This was a great way to conclude Black History Month by memorializing a Montgomery County resident who was an American hero and a trailblazing African American.
Women's History Month
This month, we celebrate Women’s History Month and honor the women in our County - and in our nation - for their invaluable contributions and selfless service to others. This is also the 50th anniversary of Montgomery County’s Commission for Women. The commission is partnering with Montgomery Women on the "Women Making History" awards, a program that honors 31 women throughout the month who have made extraordinary inroads in Montgomery County. The Commission is also holding its "Girl Power Contest", asking County residents five years and older to answer questions related to the accomplishments of women. You can get more information here.
As we honor the women who have made history, we must also continue to build a culture of empowerment and opportunity for the next generation of female leaders. For the last half-century, the Montgomery County Commission for Women has helped women in our County by establishing networks, mentors, and resources enabling their success.
I appreciate all the work of the Commission to ensure that ‘her-story’ is told in Montgomery County.
Remembering Phil Alperson and keeping pedestrians safe
Last week, I was pleased to join with Senator Chris Van Hollen and other elected leaders to announce the completion of the MD 355 Crossing project in Bethesda. This long-planned project improves use and access to the Medical Center Metro station and makes it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists to use both sides of 355 near NIH and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
This is one of the most important improvements to pedestrian safety in Montgomery County in recent years. MD355/Rockville Pike at the NIH and Walter Reed Metro station has been a dangerous intersection for generations, and the employees and visitors of these critical institutions deserved better. I am grateful for all the partnerships and hard work that went into completing this project.
And it is appropriate that this pedestrian underpass is named after the late Phil Alperson, who worked diligently with the community to help make this project a reality. Phil was a former Montgomery County Government employee and key Capitol Hill aide, well-known for getting things done for his County and country.
From honoring our residents and local heroes, to helping the homeless, to improving safety for pedestrians, and finding a new path forward from COVID-19, we are here to serve you - our residents, businesses and everyone who calls Montgomery County home.As always, my appreciation for all you do.