July 21, 2022

Message from the County Executive

Dear Friends,

We are in a middle of heat wave this week and expect high temperatures into the weekend. It is a time for everyone to take precautions, limit exposure, and drink plenty of water. Heat related fatalities have been the most common weather-related deaths over the last thirty years.

Even though we may hear that it’s “just that time of the year,” the extremes in weather we are witnessing locally and globally are increasing due to climate change. As the planet warms, it increases serious risks to our health. You may be interested in this Time magazine article written by cardiologist Dr. Sameed Khatana. Dr. Khatana and his colleagues “found that between 2008 and 2017 between 13,000 to 20,000 adult deaths were linked to extreme heat, with approximately half of them due to heart disease.” And they call for “urgent interventions to make neighborhoods more resilient to extreme heat.”

We are doing what we can in Montgomery County through the goals and actions of our Climate Action Plan. One important component of our plan that helps reduce impacts from the heat is our Tree Montgomery program. Please check out this site and learn how you can get a free shade tree for your home and community.

Please take care of yourself, your family, and your neighbors (especially the elderly) during this heat wave. And, please sign-up for Alert Montgomery text alerts to be notified when weather and air quality is bad.

Primary election results in limbo

Election Day for the 2022 primary is behind us, but we still have at least 10 days (if not more) to wait for the final results. I want to thank everyone who voted as well as our Board of Elections and their judges, poll workers, and volunteers. Before a winner is declared in many of the contested races there are tens of thousands of mail-in and provisional ballots to verify and count. As votes are counted, we are all going to have to be patient.

This year 115,677 mail in ballots were requested and as of Election Day only 29,388 had been received. By law, the counting of those ballots does not begin until two days later and will likely take between 10 days and 2 weeks for final results. So, we wait. By its nature, this is not a quick process.

To stay up to date with Board of Elections progress and voting results, please visit 777vote.org for more information. To see the schedule of the ballot canvass and watch online, please click here.

Covid cases increase again:

This week’s Covid case rates have gone up again. We continue to see our positive tests hover around the 250 cases per 100,000 people mark. The CDC uses cases per 100,000 people along with hospital admissions and bed space to determine the community level status. Montgomery County is considered ‘medium’ as it has been for several weeks.

One reason our case count hasn’t gone down is because of the B-A 5 variant, which is also behind the nationwide rise in Covid cases. It accounts for more than 70 percent of all new cases across Montgomery County and America. Health experts say the B-A 5 variant is highly contagious and we’re seeing it infect people who are fully vaccinated and boosted. 

Our public health experts have expressed concern that our COVID hospitalizations continue to rise. The percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by those who have tested positive for COVID is at 9.4 percent and the hospital new admission rate is just above 8 per 100,000 people. If those figures rise above ‘10’ the County would likely meet the CDC's High Community Level for COVID. At this level, the CDC recommendations would include community use of facemasks in all indoor public settings.

The CDC and Montgomery County DHHS recommends the following to help protect you and slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community: 
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations, including booster-shots.  
  • Booster shots are the best way to minimize the risk of serious illness from COVID-19.  
  • CDC data shows that since January, people 50 years and older who were vaccinated but NOT boosted were 2 to 3 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 than those who were fully boosted.  
Wear a well-fitting mask around others:
  • if you have symptoms or been exposed to someone with Covid.
  • When on public transportation
  • As an additional precaution to protect yourself and others, during visits to congregate indoor spaces with limited social distancing and ventilation
Get tested if you have symptoms or are exposed.  
  • Consider rapid or PCR testing after returning from travel or large gatherings. 
  • If you have a positive test result let your recent close contacts know.   
If you are at high risk for severe illness from Covid, wear a mask indoors in public settings and talk to your healthcare provider about additional precautions and whether you are a candidate for treatments like oral antivirals, PrEP, and monoclonal antibodies.

I’m glad to see we’ll also have a new vaccine option soon from Gaithersburg-based Novavax. It just cleared the final hurdle this week for Emergency Use Authorization and in the coming weeks will offer the first vaccine in the U.S. that uses a “traditional virus-blocking technology.”

This pandemic is far from over, we must continue to be vigilant and help keep our families, workplaces, and communities safe and healthy.

It was announced this week that President Biden tested positive for COVID. We wish him well and speedy recovery. But this is a reminder that anyone can still catch this virus and how important it is to take precautions, get your booster, and test regularly.

MCPD addressing protests in neighborhoods of Supreme Court justices:

People continue to protest outside the homes of conservative Supreme Court justices in the wake of Roe v Wade being overturned and federal protections being lost. While I support peaceful protests in general and understand voluntary arrests for a cause to make a point, there are limits to what you can do in the name of demonstration. Some demonstrators want to trip the line to get arrested.

Our police department tells us they've talked openly on social media about ways to push the envelope like screaming curse words repeatedly through a bullhorn or speaker. No one needs that in their neighborhoods even if these protests are legally allowed. Fortunately, at the most recent demonstration, the protestors were civil while making their displeasure known. I appreciate the police providing clear guidance on what as permissible and I appreciate that protestors are obeying the law. Police continue to be there should any issues that arise.

Fire and Police investigators identify suspect involved with church vandalism

Earlier this week, police identified someone suspected of setting two church fires and vandalizing another Bethesda church earlier this month. Police say the case will be handled in juvenile court. They didn’t name their suspect or any accomplices, but police don’t believe there’s any further threat of similar break-ins and arsons. All three churches along Old Georgetown Rd. were targeted overnight, just ahead of Sunday services on July 10. A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Washington says a few pews were burned, books were shredded, and crosses were removed from the wall and thrown on the floor. At the third church, headstones were damaged.

We're grateful for the work done by the Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service and the Montgomery County Police Department in closing this case quickly. Attacks on houses of worship in Montgomery County are completely unacceptable. The criminal activity that took place does not represent our values of inclusion and equality. A hateful incident against one community impacts us all.

Police accountability efforts move forward:

I'm pleased to announce that the final draft of the Effective Law Enforcement for All (ELE4A) audit is nearly complete. Yesterday at my weekly press briefing, ELE4A discussed some of their findings. You can watch it here: https://youtu.be/gJ33O5VlIOM?t=1363 The complete report will soon be shared with the public.

More than 70 recommendations are being made by ELEFA. They include new use of force recommendations for training officers, expanding County resources to offer aid mental health crisis calls, and changes to internal investigation processes. There are also guidelines for programs to reduce officer bias, improve cultural sensitivity and to get the most out of body worn cameras.

EL4A discussed the need to change from a ‘warrior’ mindset to a ‘guardian’ one.

These changes and others are critical in earning public trust from the community. It is important to do the research into what's happening within the department before we propose the changes we think might work to improve policing. These recommendations will go beyond the surface changes and will help us build a stronger department. I look forward to sharing details from this comprehensive report that’s been two years in the making and hearing your ideas for improvement as well in the days and weeks to come.

Montgomery County is committed to Fair Housing

Montgomery County set the tone for the nation when it passed its Open Housing Law on July 20, 1967 to commit to fair housing for everyone. That was almost 9 months before President Lyndon B. Johnson made the same promise with the Fair Housing Act.

For 55 years Montgomery County has kept its promise to develop outreach programs so families don't face discrimination. Our law protects everyone who buys or rents a home from discrimination because of their age, race, color, religion, or national origin. Sex, disability, sexual orientation, source of income, gender identity, marital status or familial status and most recently criminal history are also protected by fair housing laws. That’s especially important in an area as diverse as ours.

In our weekly media briefing County Council President Gabe Albornoz and I presented a proclamation honoring the County’s efforts and the work done by Jim Stowe and the Office of Human Rights to educate the public and ensure these laws are followed. We also heard from Jackie Simons, who was among the activists there for 5 nights of hearings which preceded the groundbreaking new law for Montgomery County. It takes a team effort which is why we are grateful to all who are involved in fair housing enforcement efforts and activities.

Celebrate our parks and recreation offerings this July:

In July, we celebrate Parks and Recreation month. Our Recreation leaders have been busy this summer opening and maintaining pools, organizing camps and arranging classes for kids, adults and seniors. It’s hard to imagine a summer without cooking classes, arts and crafts workshops and dancers filling up our activity and community centers. We encourage you to visit our recreation department website for fun ways to be active, be creative and be social over the summer and beyond.

This week we have twice as many reasons to celebrate because it is also Latino Conservation Week. Montgomery Parks celebrates the 9th annual Latino Conservation Week with a series of events that include workshops and fun activities. On Saturday, a Fiesta honoring Latino Conservation Week will take place at Wheaton Regional Park from 5 until 10 pm. Free shuttles will be available on Saturday from the Wheaton Metro and Glenmont Metro stations.

Montgomery County is a more welcoming, stronger, vibrant, and resilient community because of our outstanding parks and recreation programs and services. For more information about the activities, events and resources provided by our Recreation department, please visit mocorec.com.

Farm Tours return to Montgomery County

Speaking of having fun outdoors this weekend will be Montgomery County's Annual Farm Tour and Harvest Sale. It’s been 30 years since the very first event and the first in-person tour and harvest sale since 2019.

Despite its fast growth over the last few decades Montgomery County remains rooted in its agricultural background. One third of the county, 93,000 acres, are designated as the Agricultural Reserve. More than 450 farms still produce food or other products even in a county with 1.1 million people.

This year 20 farms will open to the public on Saturday or Sunday. You can check out an interactive map right now on the Office of Agriculture website to learn more about participating farms. If you miss out this weekend, we invite you to explore self-guided adventures through the County, which include the Grape and Grain, Farms 2 Feast and Revive the Sunday Drive tours.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich