We often think of heroic actions as a moment in time captured on the news or on social media. But, two years ago, as we were trying to figure out what the COVID-19 virus was and how to best respond to it—we needed our essential workers to show up and provide critical services and items such as groceries, goods, fuel, transportation, healthcare and protection of people and property. And they did it: they showed up at a time when none of us knew much about this virus, the risks of exposure and the best ways to protect ourselves and our families. And despite the potential danger they might face, they went to work and did their jobs. They saved our lives, our economy, our country, and this County. This was heroic and we will always be indebted to them.
I would like to thank our essential workers for their hard work and dedication serving our communities over the last two years. They went to work, and they interacted with the public at a time when personal protective equipment was in short supply (and much of it was poor quality) and before vaccines were available. They continued to do their jobs throughout the pandemic. Their work kept our government running and kept services available for our residents. As we honor all of the County’s essential workers, from our grocery and retail store employees to our Police, Fire and Rescue Services, healthcare workers in the public and private sector, teachers and all the support in the schools that made it possible for schools to be safe and open, child care providers and government employees, I encourage all residents to take a moment this week to thank these workers for their service and to appreciate their risks and sacrifices to ensure that our essential needs were met throughout this pandemic.
I encourage everyone to share pictures on social media and show appreciation in other ways to acknowledge your family, friends and people who made a difference in our lives over the last few years. Please remember to tag Montgomery County on Twitter, @MontgomeryCoMD and on our Facebook page in order to boost this celebration of our essential workers.
Dr. Fauci Predicts Potential Uptick of COVID-19 Cases
This week our COVID-19 positivity rates, case rates and hospital rates remain low. However, as I noted last week, COVID-19 cases are surging in Europe, Asia, and Australia from the BA.2 version of the Omicron variant and increasing hospitalizations there. This past weekend, Dr. Fauci said that we were likely to see an uptick in cases in the United States but is hopeful that we won’t see another surge.
The bad news about the BA.2 subvariant is that it is about 50 to 60 percent more transmissible than the first omicron strain. The good news is that this strain does not appear to cause more severe illness or evade immune responses from vaccination or prior infection.
The bottom line is that there is no reason for anyone to die of COVID-19 anymore. We have vaccines, anti-virals and treatments now that we didn’t have even a year ago. But, if we ignore this new subvariant, think that this pandemic is over, not get regularly tested, and refuse to get vaccinated or boosted, then we should expect and be prepared for another surge and the possibility of straining our healthcare system yet again.
Vaccine and Booster Rates Slowly Increasing, But Disparities Persist
One of the main reasons Montgomery County has a death rate that is one-third lower than the national average is because this government, our residents, and our businesses have taken this virus more seriously than other jurisdictions around our state and nation. But we are far from perfect. Even though 86 percent of our population is “fully vaccinated,” only 56.6 percent of our eligible residents have received their booster or an additional dose.
In better news, we have reached about 60 percent in terms of pediatric vaccination. The national average is only 27 percent—we are more than double the national rate. That is incredible. And I am glad that we are up to 76 percent of our 65-and-older population have received their additional doses, but these are residents that we must make sure are boosted. I encourage everyone to check in on their parents, grandparents, friends, and neighbors in this age group.There was a significant increase in residents receiving boosters during the Omicron Surge. Between Dec. 15 and Feb. 28, there was a 17-percentage point increase in boosters among White residents, a 25-percentage point increase among Asian residents and a 21-percentage point increase among Black and Latino residents. But there is a 21-percentage point gap between white residents and Black residents who are boosted currently. We have 71 percent of White residents who are boosted, but only 50 percent of Black residents. And there is a 27-percentage point gap between white and Latino residents – as only 44 percent of Latino residents are boosted. This is a big problem and, as we have noted week after week, those currently showing up to get boosted continue to decrease.
|% of fully vaccinated 12+ year olds who are boosted as of 12/15/21
|% of fully vaccinated 12+ year olds who are boosted as of 2/28/22
This government has made a concerted effort since the beginning of this pandemic to emphasize equity in all our COVID operations and outreach. And we will continue to concentrate our efforts in communities and zip codes that are underperforming in terms of vaccination and booster rates. If you need to be vaccinated or boosted, please go to www.govaxmoco.com and find out where to get your shot. Vaccines and boosters are available, convenient, and can save your life.
Recent COVID Omicron Surge Disproportionately Impacted Black County Residents
Over the past weekend, the New York Times featured a story that highlighted that nationally, adult Black Americans were hospitalized at higher rates than whites during the latest Omicron surge this winter. We are seeing the same disparities here in Montgomery County.
During the peak of the Omicron surge in January, Black Montgomery County residents were three times more likely to be hospitalized by COVID than our Asian population, and twice as likely as our white population. This disparity is not acceptable, and we must do better.
There is a clear correlation between hospitalization rates and vaccination rates, and all eligible Montgomery County residents need to be vaccinated and boosted. As I announced last week, my FY23 recommended budget includes a significant funding increase of $2.9 million dollars for the African American Health Program in DHHS and $2.1 million dollars toward our Latino Health Initiative. And we are developing a new outreach campaign that will be targeted toward our Black and Latino residents and communities to better promote and encourage vaccines and boosters.
Important Information for Those Not Insured
This past Tuesday was the last day that the federal government covered the costs of COVID-19 testing and treatment for the uninsured. April 5 will be the last day they will cover the costs of vaccination for this vulnerable population.
This change in policy is being driven by the failure of Congress to provide funding to the Biden administration. This is a national embarrassment and should be addressed as quickly as possible. Now is the time that we should be prepared for potential future surges and not repeat the mistakes that were made this time last year before the Delta variant when people thought the pandemic is was over.
The uninsured are the working poor and disproportionately people of color in our communities. They are already dealing with increasing gas prices, rents, and food. This is not the time to be cutting them off from a critical health need we should be providing to them.
The important news is that testing and vaccination at County government-operated clinics are currently FREE and will remain FREE for you to get tested and vaccinated. And if you or someone you know is uninsured, there are options available. Please call or contact 311 to learn about the services provided through our Department of Health and Human Services.
Please Continue to Self-Report Positive COVID Results
I continue to be impressed with our take-home rapid test and mask distributions. More than 1.6 million take-home rapid tests have been distributed to our residents, including over 1 million at our libraries alone. I want to thank our library staff, volunteers, and the staff from the Health and Human Services, Emergency Management and Procurement departments for their continued efforts to make these resources easily and readily available throughout our County.
The proliferation of take-home rapid tests has been a game-changer for County residents and families. However, we know that many people are taking these tests, testing positive, and doing the right thing by isolating, but they are not reporting the positive case to us. This means there are plenty of COVID-19 cases circulating out there that we don’t know about. I encourage everyone to please report your take-home rapid tests, it is critically important to our efforts to contain the spread of this virus.
Streeteries Will Remain Open At Least Through Labor Day
Our Streeteries program in downtown Bethesda, Silver Spring and Wheaton, which began during the pandemic, will be extended throughout the summer and at least through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 5.
Our Streeteries program has helped reduce the transmission of the COVID-19 virus while helping keep our restaurants in business and workers employed. They have provided safe and family-friendly outdoor gathering spaces for residents throughout a challenging time. As the weather begins to warm up over the next several weeks, residents can enjoy these outdoor dining experiences and continue to support our local businesses.
Transit Drivers Appreciation Day
I was glad to visit the Silver Spring Bus Depot last week and present a Transit Driver Appreciation Day proclamation. Many Montgomery County residents rely on our transit system. Our transit operators have demonstrated dedication, work ethic and resilience and have proven themselves to be leaders in times of need, as they kept Montgomery County moving.
When you use Ride-On, please remember to be courteous and thankful to our bus operators and staff members. They deserve our appreciation and gratitude.
‘Expedited Hiring Weekend’ for the Police Department
In my FY23 recommended budget, I proposed increasing the salary for our police officers that will make their compensation among the best in the region. I am hopeful that the Montgomery County Council will approve this expenditure that will greatly help with recruitment and retention of Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) officers.
If you, or someone you know, would like to serve our community as an MCPD police officer, please register and attend our Expedited Hiring Weekend this coming Saturday, March 26, and Sunday, March 27, for the August 2022 Police Academy Class. Anyone interested in attending this event must apply online at joinmcp.com. For more information about this event contact a recruiter at 240-773- 5300.
Applicants will complete the written exam, oral interview, and background screening phases of the application process in one day and they also can take a tour of the Montgomery County Public Safety Training Academy.
Cyber Security Threats
As I mentioned during my weekly media briefing, due to increased tensions with Russia over the war in Ukraine both President Biden and Governor Hogan have put out warnings about the potential of imminent cyber-attacks. We are taking this threat very seriously in the Montgomery County government.
We average over 15 million “events” per day that are logged. Events are activities like a normal e-mail received by a County employee, an attacker checking to see if we are vulnerable to a security hole, or someone logging into the secure network. Generally, they are not malicious but need analysis to determine that. We average over 40,000 malicious attacks per day that are tracked by our automated systems. These tend to be from overseas and range from a phishing e-mail up to a nation-sponsored attack.
This is serious business, and during this time, we want all employees and residents to be mindful of an increase in the degree and sophistication of these attacks as well as be prepared for any issues that may arise due to one.
The Best Places to Live in Maryland are in Montgomery County
Niche.com recently released its 2022 list of the ‘Best Places to Live in Maryland’ and Montgomery County is home to all five places in the top five and 18 of the top 25. Congratulations to North Potomac for being named the No. 1 best place to live in the entire state.
Montgomery County is a great place to live, work and raise a family, and this recognition shows just that.
As always, my appreciation for all you do,