April 20, 2022

Message from the County Executive

Dear Friends,

Environmental author and activist Paul Hawken wrote, “if you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.”

These words are an appropriate reminder as we celebrate Earth Day this week. Many of us share in this emotional dichotomy over protecting our planet. We worry and fear for future generations over the consequences of our actions, or lack thereof, when it comes to environmental sustainability and resilience. But we are also energized and empowered by the enduring perseverance of those who have been in this fight for decades as well the passion of our students and young adults.

When I think about all the government employees, community activists, student advocates, nonprofit organizations and neighborhood groups who work to make our County eco-friendly every day and month of the year, I am optimistic that we can make a difference. Margaret Mead is quoted as saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Earth Day is a great reminder to think about our own habits and responsibilities and (re-)commit ourselves to actions that help ensure that our planet is saved for future generations.

Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) Passes Unanimously

Since taking office, I have insisted that policies and budget decisions of the Montgomery County Government be viewed through an equity lens as well as sustainability lens. I am proud of the progress we are making, and this week, I was pleased that we took a significant step forward toward our efforts to combat climate change.

One year ago I sent Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) legislation to the County Council and this week, the Council passed it. I am looking forward to signing it into law. I want to thank Council President Gabe Albornoz for bringing this bill to a vote and the entire Council for its unanimous support.

When I submitted this legislation to the County Council last April, we were among the first local jurisdictions in this nation to embark on this type of legislation. BEPS garnered the attention of President Biden and environmental activists across the country. Other jurisdictions, like Denver, Colorado, credited this proposal as the model for their own BEPS legislation.

We are proud to have collaborated with the commercial and multi-family building sector in developing this legislation. The new law will lead to energy improvements for residential and commercial buildings that will not only help the environment, but also will save money and create new local jobs. I also want to thank the many residents, activists and community groups who advocated for this bill. They are an example that the voices of everyday people can influence positive change.

BEPS is critical for us to reach our goal of a 100 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. We have expanded financing options, including Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) financing, and allocated funding for upgrades and retrofits of existing buildings. It will not be easy. We will be working closely with our building owners to educate and engage them on these new requirements. The County cannot do this without them, and I look forward to their partnership and collaboration to effectively implement this new law.

I knew from the beginning that combatting climate change and achieving our goals outlined in the Climate Action Plan would be difficult. But I also knew that we need to address climate change with a sense of urgency, and BEPS is one part of our ambitious efforts to reduce emissions.

Celebrate Earth Week at “GreenFest”

The County will hold its Seventh Annual "Greenfest" this Saturday, April, 22, from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton. It will be an in-person event for the first time since the COVID-19 health crisis began.

GreenFest gives residents, businesses, nonprofits and visitors an opportunity to share ideas, learn together and have fun. This year’s event will feature 60 vendors, a green crafts fair and an electric car show. GreenFest will include green businesses, environmental nonprofits and family friendly educational games and events.

There will be children’s activities including tree climbing, kid’s yoga, face painting and plant giveaways. Visitors can shop for locally made products at the arts and crafts fair. The electric vehicle car show will feature the latest models and technology. The world’s first electric truck, the Rivian, will be on display. Come check it out if you can.

County COVID-19 Cases Increase 23 Percent Since Last Week

COVID-19 cases have increased 23 percent since last week. Our test positivity rate has surpassed 5 percent, which is two percentage points higher than the State average. Currently, 94 percent of our region’s cases are the new BA.2 variants.

Our current case rates and positivity are higher than what we saw with Delta last year, but hospitalizations remain significantly lower. However, we have begun to see increases in patients showing up at our hospital emergency rooms with COVID-like symptoms. COVID inpatients counts have risen 56 percent in the past week.

Our CDC community level remains “Low,” which is good news. However, our neighbors in the District of Columbia and Arlington County have recently had their status moved up to the “Medium” community level. Be aware that cases are ticking up and please: wear masks to reduce your exposure, test if you don’t feel well, isolate if you test positive and, most importantly, get a booster vaccine.

Being ‘Fully Vaccinated’ Is Not Enough to be Fully Protected

Many of our residents are coming up on their anniversary of being vaccinated. But we are still at only 54 percent of residents having been boosted. It is critical that everyone remains “up to date” on their vaccinations—although 54 percent is much better than the national average of 30 percent.

Being “fully vaccinated” at this point is not being completely protected. For us to weather future upticks and surges without mandates, virtual learning or restrictions, we must increase our booster numbers.

This weekend, Salud Y Bienestar – our Latino Health Initiative, will be conducting a vaccination clinic at the UpCounty Regional Services Center in Germantown from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you or anyone you know needs to be vaccinated or boosted, stop by. It is easy, it is quick, it is free, you do not need insurance and immigration status does not matter.

Masking Policy on Ride On Changes from Required to Highly Recommended

We changed our masking policy on Ride On buses from required to highly encouraged this week. This decision was made following the federal suspension of the mask mandate on public transportation, which came after a Federal judge’s ruling that the mask mandate on public transportation was unconstitutional.

I am not pleased that we were forced to make this change, but we did it to provide passengers and operators consistency with Metro and other regional transportation systems. This was a bad ruling by a Trump-appointed judge who has no expertise in public health in overruling our nation’s public health experts. As I mentioned during my weekly media briefing, this ruling was nuts.

This decision undermines potential tools available for public health officials for future surges or future diseases, and I am glad that the Federal Justice Department will appeal the decision.

We highly encourage riders to wear masks on our buses.

New Research: 30 Percent of Those Who Catch COVID Develop ‘Long COVID’ Symptoms

New research on “Long Covid” is one more reason to get vaccinated and boosted.

New University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) research finds that 30 percent of people treated for COVID-19 developed Post Acute Sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC). This is more commonly known as “long COVID.”

According to the study, patients with a history of hospitalization, diabetes and higher body mass index were most likely to develop the condition. Surprisingly, demographics that are linked with severe illness and greater risk of death from COVID-19, such as ethnicity, older age and socioeconomic status, were not associated with long COVID syndrome.

I have directed our Department of Health and Human Services to continue to review and analyze all the research and data that is now coming out on long COVID so we can better adapt our understanding and response to handling this condition moving forward. As a County, we do not have the infrastructure or financial resources alone to address these issues. But we are willing to advocate and support all efforts at the Federal and State levels to ensure that we are paying attention to the long-term health impacts of COVID now so we will not be caught by surprise in the future.

Seeking Diverse, Fair-Minded Residents for the Police Accountability Board and for the Administrative Charging Committee

I want to thank the Council for its collaboration in getting the Police Accountability Board (PAB) and the Administrative Charging Committee (ACC) legislation passed this week. I am glad we got this through to meet the State’s July 1 deadline.

We are hoping to get many applicants so that the nominations reflect the diversity of the County and we are looking for fair-minded residents who believe in procedural justice. PAB and ACC members will be compensated. PAB compensation is $10,000 per year, ACC members get approximately $16,000 per year. The chair of the PAB, who also will serve on the ACC, will receive $22,000.

Visit our website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/boards for more information.

Interfaith Works Turns 50

I was proud to join Council President Albornoz and Vice President Glass this week to present a proclamation to Interfaith Works recognizing 50 years of service and commitment to the residents of Montgomery County. I have been involved with Interfaith Works for decades and previously served on its board.

When this organization first started providing services to the community, it focused on addressing immediate concerns, such as clothing and food. As it has grown over the years, it expanded services to address the root causes of poverty and homelessness. Today, Interfaith Works offers wraparound services to more than 35,000 individuals each year and has more than 7,000 volunteers to assist in these efforts.

On behalf of the most vulnerable residents of Montgomery County, I thank and appreciate Interfaith Works for a half of a century of ensuring that all our residents have access to shelter, food, clothing, medical care, employment support and emergency resources.

Take a Stroll with the Bard in Gaithersburg

One of the wonderful benefits of living in Montgomery County is having plenty of options for arts and culture. Gaithersburg’s Arts on the Green is hosting its second “Walking with Shakespeare”event from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 23, at Observatory Park. It is located at 100 DeSellum Ave. in Gaithersburg. 

This year would have marked William Shakespeare’s 458th birthday. Like all great art, the timeless works of Shakespeare must continue to be shared and exposed to the next generation of playwrights, poets, and performers. Check out this short video of one of my favorite Shakespeare passages. 

As always, my appreciation for all you do.

Marc Elrich
County Executive