June 9, 2022

Message from the County Executive

Dear Friends,

We were all shocked by the planned attack on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh at his home in Montgomery County this week, and I want to thank the Montgomery County Police Department, the U.S. Marshals, and the FBI for their work to keep the Justice, his family, and the community safe. Violent behavior, or even the threat of it, is never acceptable regardless of any ideological differences. Violence in any form will not be tolerated in this County.

Our police arrested the man who was armed and traveled from California before arriving in the neighborhood and calling for help. We’re all grateful that this didn’t end with bloodshed or the loss of life, and it’s an opportunity to highlight the great need we have for mental health help in our nation. While the man will likely face federal charges of attempted murder and carrying a weapon, the judge will likely order a mental health evaluation as well.

We have a mental health crisis in this nation and the County. We are working to address these issues here in Montgomery County in our schools and elsewhere.

In schools throughout the County, we have student support teams that consist of school counselors, school psychologists, pupil personnel workers, and school nurses to help all children work through issues they come forward with. Following an individual or school-wide crisis, these teams provide the necessary support, care and interventions needed to help students, families and staff feel safe and secure. Our recently approved Fiscal Year 2023 budget expands these programs to give even more Montgomery County families access to this help.

People can reach out for help by calling or texting the hotline 301-738-2255.

Additionally, there is Access to Behavioral Health Services, which is a mental health screening and referral program that provides assessment and helps low-income adults living in Montgomery County who have no insurance. The program also helps people who abuse drugs as an attempt to cope. Infomontgomery.org is a wonderful resource to explore online that covers topics like mental health.

We believe in the hope and promise of science and research

Since taking office, I have been focused on building on our strengths in biosciences. The sector is booming I’m proud of the fact that we have 3 million square feet in lab space under development in Montgomery County right now and we are the heart of the fourth largest cluster for biotech companies in our region.

This week I attended the opening of the Manufacturing Innovation Center at REGENEXBIO. It’s hard to capture in a few words how exciting their work is and the promise it brings to people with rare diseases. They are focused on developing gene therapy products for retinal, metabolic and and neurodegenerative diseases. With more than 400 employees working together in one building on manufacturing and all the other activities required to get their products to patients, their headquarters reflects the future of gene therapy manufacturing and a reflection of the growth we are seeing in our economy from this industry. I wish them continued progress and success in saving lives with their research in this new facility.

The REGENXBIO opening comes on the heels of an exciting announcement for Montgomery County-based Novavax. This week they were given Emergency Use Authorization by federal regulators to develop the fourth COVID-19 vaccine available in the U.S. They developed a protein-based vaccine that is potentially cheaper to manufacture at scale than the current mRNA vaccines and may not require ultra-cold storage. This clinical approach could help get more vaccines to areas where vaccination rates are currently very low. Additionally, it is hoped that the different formulation of this vaccine will convince vaccine skeptics to trust this new product after passing on the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson versions of the vaccine.

We are proud of these companies and the many others that makeup Montgomery County’s vibrant biohealth cluster. Our biotech economy is booming because we are deliberately and strategically growing this industry and it is being noticed around our region and throughout the nation. More importantly, our local companies are developing lifesaving products for patients in Montgomery County and around the world. We are going to continue to have more good news from this industry in the weeks to come.

Covid cases decline in County, BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants on the rise

This week’s COVID-19 numbers show a decline in new case rates. For the first time in nearly a month we are once again below 300 cases per 100,000 residents, a more than 20 percent drop from last week. The hospitalization rate has also decreased slightly, and CDC community level status remains at medium.

The B-A 2 strains continue to make up nearly 90 percent of new cases reported in our region; however, the B-A 4 and 5 strains now account for about 10 percent of new cases—a significant jump over the last two weeks. The threat of new variants only emphasizes the need for people to continue to take safety measures seriously like cleaning your hands frequently, wearing a mask in crowded indoor spaces and on public transportation.

Vaccination status matters

Our unvaccinated COVID-19 case rates are four times higher than those that are vaccinated. And if you are vaccinated, you need to be boosted. The efficacy of these vaccines wanes and even if you caught COVID-19 before, you could still catch it again.

And through all of this, long covid remains a real “thing”. Covid can have both long-term and short-term health impacts that can be serious. According to an April report from the Journal of Infectious Diseases, 49 percent of COVID-19 survivors reported persistent symptoms four months after diagnosis. We want to remain vigilant and serious about COVID-19 in this County, and we continue to remind you to follow the guidance and best practices we know that work to help keep you and your family safe this summer.

Calling for FEMA assistance to be extended

Assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has been crucial to our community safety efforts since the beginning of the pandemic – it has helped us set up clinics, test for Covid and keep Montgomery County safe. However, these funds are expiring and expected to run out at the end of the month. We are calling on the Federal government to extend this assistance past June 30.

An extension makes great sense with a new round of vaccine clinics anticipated for children younger than 5 and the potential threat of another surge with the BA.4 and BA.5 variants. It is premature to cut off these funds at this time. We are still not out of the woods on COVID-19 yet.

Nine residents nominated to County’s first Police Accountability Board

I am proud to share the names of nine people who we hope will comprise the County’s first Police Accountability Board. A review panel reviewed close to 60 applications, and the following people are being recommended for consideration by the County Council.

They are Bishop Paul Walker (nominated as chair), Alicia Hudson, Kenneth Kellner, George Lluberes, Rudy Logan, Katharine Manning, Alvin McCray, Thomas Williams Jr. and Christopher Zatratz.

We selected fair-minded people that believe in procedural justice. We believe these individuals will bring increased accountability, transparency and oversight to the police department and their work will improve both the community's relationship with police officers and public safety throughout Montgomery County.

These individuals reflect a diversity of backgrounds, cultures, and community engagement experience. We are hopeful they can help address the kind of issues that will be brought before them.

In accordance with State Law, this Police Accountability Board needs must be established by July 1, 2022. The County Council will confirm nominations by June 28.

I want to thank these nine individuals for their willingness to serve on this Board. I also want to thank the many applicants for their interest in serving – I encourage them to stay engaged. I also appreciate the partnership and cooperation of our State delegation and County Council members for their work to implement this Board.

A survey that will help us serve our LGBTQ+ community

We are celebrating Pride Month and earlier this week I was part of a flag-raising ceremony here in Rockville led by Montgomery County Council Vice President Evan Glass. I want to thank Vice President Glass for his advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community. I thought Councilmember Sidney Katz said it best at this ceremony when he mentioned that in Montgomery County, we don’t just celebrate a Pride Month, but we live a “Pride Life” every day.

Montgomery County strives to be a “safe space” for our LGBTQ+ residents – a place where these individuals do not and will not live-in fear. For us to serve this community best we must listen to their concerns. Montgomery County LGBTQ+ Liaison and Advisory Board has launched a new online survey.

Their goal is to gather information on a range of issues tied to health and wellness. This is the first time Montgomery County has used a questionnaire to identify and ultimately address unforeseen barriers faced by the LGBTQ+ community. The survey will be open through mid-July and available in several different languages including English and Spanish. The idea is to be as broad as possible and use the information gathered to help inform the work of advocates and potentially other County resources and services.

We are also making a concerted effort to reach out through MCPS to make sure teenagers who identify as LGBTQ+ participate as well because we know from anecdotal evidence that their needs can differ from those of adults. Advocacy groups plan on using events like the upcoming Pride in the Plaza festival in downtown Silver Spring on June 26 to promote this effort.

I encourage anyone in our LGBTQ+ community to please take this survey and help us serve you better. Please share this survey on your social media networks. https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/partnerships/community-survey.html.

Lend your voice for common-sense gun laws

This Saturday, June 11 at 9:45 a.m., at the Marian Fryer Memorial Park in Wheaton, I will be joining Council President Albornoz, Representative Jamie Raskin, Delegates Jared Solomon and Emily Shetty, and gun violence prevention advocates, survivors and student organizers to rally before many head to downtown D.C. for the “March 4 Our Lives.”

Too often, we have seen in action after previous tragedies and watched as efforts to pass common-sense gun reforms fall short. We must not let this happen again. Montgomery County is a community that overwhelmingly supports Congressional action on this issue. We must be louder and more persistent than ever.

Please join us.

A summer to learn

We all look forward to the summer, but I want to remind parents that it is also an excellent opportunity to help struggling students catch up with their classmates. Recovering from learning loss due to the pandemic is a priority for all our students.

We are fortunate that we have been able to fund more MCPS summer school programs as well as career and mentorship opportunities to help students make up what they have missed. Most programs will not start until July, but they run the gamut from early college classes to elementary school lessons.

The curriculum is designed to support students who need additional or repeated instruction in the major work of the previous grade level and/or are currently below-grade level in reading or math, with an emphasis on foundational skills. Some students may receive specific outreach from their local school based on need. And most importantly all summer classes are free to families.

Furthermore, our Recreation Department, County municipalities, Montgomery College and community partners, such as recently opened IgniteHub and Kid Museum in Bethesda, are also providing our youth engaging educational offerings throughout the summer.

But the most important educational engagement a child can have over the summer is the encouragement and engagement of parents, grandparents’ guardians, and peers to continue to read, learn, and explore throughout their summer break.

Taste of Wheaton is this weekend!

The Taste of Wheaton is back this Sunday, June 12, after a two-year hiatus. You can expect a full day of food, music, and activities for all ages. A beer garden, dance floor and rides will all be available. It runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Marian Fryer Plaza in Downtown Wheaton.

Some of the participating Wheaton restaurants include Frank's Burger Place, Green Plate Catering, Hollywood East Café, Los Cubanos, Methi Indian Restaurant and many more. Bring your appetite for cultural diversity of culinary delights.

As always my appreciation for all you do,

Marc Elrich
County Executive