October 27, 2022

Message from the County Executive

Dear Friends,

It was an honor this week to introduce my nomination for Montgomery County Health Officer: Dr. Kisha Davis.

Dr. Kisha Davis

Dr. Davis is a family physician who is currently vice president of Health Equity at Aledade, here in Montgomery County. She also has served as a medical director at CHI Healthcare, a primary care center in Gaithersburg. Dr. Davis has been engaged in many projects including serving as a White House Fellow and currently serving as the vice chair of the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission. She earned her Masters of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University and her MD from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

Dr. Davis is a Montgomery County native and a graduate of Quince Orchard High School. This week she joined me on my weekly media briefing and said she sees herself as a family physician for all of Montgomery County.

She also spoke highly of her predecessor—Dr. Travis Gayles—and said she was encouraged by the support he received from County leaders and residents as health officer. She also complimented the County’s success during the pandemic in achieving the one of the nation’s highest vaccination rate and lowest death rates.

I am thrilled she will be joining us. The County Council will consider her nomination on Nov. 15. I am looking forward to welcoming her officially and working with Dr. Davis in her new position.

I also want to thank Dr. James Bridgers for the work he did filling the dual role of acting health officer and chief of Public Health Services for the past 13 months. Dr. Bridgers will continue as division chief.

Disappointed and Concerned Over Passage of Thrive 2050

The County Council is moving forward with a well-meaning but ill-designed Thrive 2050 plan.

As many of you know, I had asked that this vote be delayed because of multiple errors, unanswered questions and insufficient attention to racial equity. Time was needed to get this right.

Instead, some of the leading supporters of Thrive argue that the plan must move forward now in order to house the people who are coming here in the future. That is not true and their persistence to lean on this argument is frustrating. All the growth projections are based on zoning already put in place. We have done more than 20 master plans in 16 years that have created the zoning capacity for the future growth of this County. Our biggest issue is that 85 percent of housing that could be built would be market rate housing. The County can expect 12 ½-15 percent of the total units being affordable to residents with incomes between $60,000-$75,000 dollars. These are not nearly enough units that will be priced to address existing needs in the County, let alone the projected need for affordable units in the future

People have also been misled that Thrive is necessary for affordable housing. Sadly, it does very little to help. I don’t how you call something the future plan if you are not doing anything to address the housing gaps that exist today and the housing gaps that are likely to be created without a concrete plan to create more affordable housing.

I think one reason Thrive 2050 falls short is because it is not organic. Thrive 2050 was not born from the community, but instead was derived in a board room without the proper input from Montgomery County residents. Years ago, this plan would have come from what we called “citizens committees.” Residents took the time to work with professional planners and elected officials to develop long-term plans. I was on sector plan committees for Silver Spring—a broadly representative group. This time. planning staff told community members why they should like Thrive rather delving into problems and creating solutions together.

There are steps we can take to address affordable housing, economic development and racial equity despite Thrive.

Going forward, I am looking forward to working with a new Council, a new Planning Board and with residents to address the important issues that were not addressed by Thrive. I encourage you to send me your thoughts, ideas and feedback on the Thrive process, land use and affordable housing. You can contact my office here.

Potential “Tri-demic” Is a Cause of Concern

Health experts are warning this week of a potential “tri-demic” with concerns about a potential surge of COVID-19, influenz, and RSV rates all occurring at the same time sometime this winter.

Illnesses with flu-like symptoms have already been driving up visits to doctors’ offices and hospitals nationwide. In some areas of the country, the situation is alarming. Children’s Hospital in the District is among several area facilities for kids that are at or near capacity because of these respiratory illnesses.

Health experts say the rise in cases at hospitals does not have as much to do with COVID-19 as you might think. They report that flu cases are already on the rise along with RSV. With all three viruses in play health experts say it makes sense that there would be a strain on some hospitals even this early into a typical flu season.

As for COVID-19 this week, our current case and hospitalization rates remain “low” and we want to keep them that way. I am concerned for the upcoming winter. There is already a surge happening in Europe. And when Europe surges we are never far behind. Wastewater detection surveillance is starting to see upticks in cases nearby in Pennsylvania. We must be deliberate in our efforts to protect ourselves and our families. We must keep severe cases at a minimum and our hospitalization rate in this County as low as possible.

The new bivalent booster is our best defense from any potential surges in COVID cases this winter. It has been available since the beginning of September and only 8.5 percent of eligible Americans have received this shot, according to the CDC. This article published this week in The Atlantic explains the slow uptake of this latest vaccine and the consequences for our inaction.

Montgomery County is performing slightly better than national average. Our estimates have us north of 12 percent of all Montgomery County residents have received the bivalent booster. And approximately 21 percent of our 50-and-over population has received this new shot. This is concerning, as this new booster is critical for the health and wellness of our older adults. We must quickly increase these numbers before holiday gatherings, such as Thanksgiving, that will be occurring in just few short weeks.

To date, more than 407,600 booster doses have been given at County-operated vaccination clinics. This number represents more than 20 percent of all boosters given throughout the State and just last month Montgomery County became the largest jurisdiction to become 90 percent fully vaccinated.

“Shops & Shots”: BOO!STERMA Happening at Westfield Wheaton on Saturday

We cannot be lulled into expecting a surge-less winter, and by taking the bivalent booster, we are not only protecting ourselves, but our families, schools and communities. As a government, we are going to continue to make concerted marketing and public engagement efforts to increase our bivalent booster rates.

This Saturday, Oct. 29, we will be hosting our third Boosterama event at the Westfield Wheaton mall. I want to thank Westfield for its support of our outreach efforts and for offering five $50 gift certificates to be raffled off to those who are boosted.

Please join us in Wheaton and help keep your family and the community safe.

Recognizing Our Volunteer Heroes

The Montgomery County government is very grateful to all those individuals, organizations and businesses who have volunteered their time and efforts during this pandemic. This week, I attended our Medical Reserve Corps Volunteer Appreciation event to meet and thank them in person.

As of the end of August this year, our volunteers have worked 82,155 hours and saved the County and our taxpayers more than $3 million This reflects the compassion and commitment our residents have for their neighbors during the toughest of times. There are so many people to thank but I did want to acknowledge one volunteer in particular.

Dr. Joseph Chui, a resident of North Potomac gave more than 500 hours, mostly as a vaccinator or doing COVID testing. He is an infectious disease doctor and knows how important public health is and volunteering was a way for him to use his medical training to help the County. His efforts were quite the gift.

I hope that you consider volunteering yourself— whether it is to assist our COVID efforts or other needs. If interested, visit the Montgomery County volunteer center website.

Only One Monkeypox Case in Last Two Weeks in County

Our efforts focusing on Monkeypox, or MPX, are paying off. There has only been one new case reported in Montgomery County in the last two weeks. This is great news and demonstrates how our outreach and communication efforts are working. But we must continue to vaccinate high risk individuals.

Hundreds of people have asked for, and have now received, a vaccine for MPX in Montgomery County. We will continue sharing information about how it spreads from heavy skin-to-skin contact because education about the disease is one of our best tools in preventing more cases. We have made great progress here, but we must not lose our vigilance.

Electric Buses Are Our Future

We began this week with an important announcement from Montgomery County Public Schools. It is now home to the largest electric bus fleet for public schools in the nation. I want to thank the school district for adopting the County’s climate goals and acting on them.

Electric buses cost more until you factor in the tax breaks our contractors get, and then it becomes comparable to buying a diesel bus. In the future, changing to electric buses will pay big dividends for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They are cheaper to repair and refuel. Students also deserve credit for holding school and County leaders accountable. We are creating the world they are going to inherit and if we don’t create the right world, they are going to inherit an even bigger mess.

This announcement comes just one week ahead of another important milestone. This coming Monday, we will hold a grand opening for our Brookville bus depot, which is the new standard for sustainable public transportation. It will have its own energy source with solar panels serving a microgrid fueling what will eventually be an all-electric fleet of Ride On buses.

Here is a video produced by of our partners that gives a good sense of what to expect from this new County resource.

Electrifying our buses keeps hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon monoxide out of our atmosphere, reducing pollution. Creating our own energy helps reduce our carbon footprint. These are two great updates for our community that fit in nicely with Montgomery County’s Climate Action Plan.

Stay Tuned: $15 million Requested for North Bethesda Metro Area

The former White Flint Metro Station officially became the “North Bethesda” Metro Station last month. The properties around this station are one of the region’s most valuable development opportunities. This area is going to redevelop quickly, and will likely become a national epicenter of bio, life sciences and quantum computing industries, companies and jobs.

This week I sent a $15 million supplemental appropriation request to the County Council to prepare the North Bethesda Metro area for an exciting project with education research partners to bring an advanced computational research capability to the county.

The money will be spent on essential start-up costs and operational needs that will focus on virtual reality and artificial intelligence with a strong focus on life sciences and hospitality.

We will have more details in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Down Syndrome Awareness Month

This week is the final week of October and gives us a chance to recognize Down Syndrome Awareness Month. It gives the public an opportunity to learn about what makes the more than 400,000 Americans living with Down Syndrome special.

Down Syndrome is the most common chromosomal disorder that children are born with in the nation. Treatment and introducing life skills early go a long way toward helping adults live on their own or enjoying a good quality of life.

Over almost 50 years, I have watched my own foster sons with Down Syndrome become adults. They have found the support and encouragement from our community to strive for independence. That is what we want as parents and as a community: for everyone that calls Montgomery County home to feel at home here.

I am thankful for the nonprofit organizations, businesses and groups that help families like mine. It takes a lot of resources to provide support for those afflicted with Down Syndrome. Many families do not have the money, education and information to succeed. Support networks are critical.

A few weeks ago, the Down Syndrome Network of Montgomery County held a celebration and walk at Hadley's Park in Potomac. The group facilitates social activities and provides support for new parents and those supporting adults with Down Syndrome.

I encourage you to recognize the important work done by groups like the Down Syndrome Network of Montgomery County and support them and anyone in your family or among your friends who are dealing with Down Syndrome in their lives.

Happy Diwali!

Diwali, one of the most important festivals in Hinduism, was recognized this week. The five-day holiday signifies the beginning of a new year and symbolizes the victory of light over darkness.

I attended a Diwali celebration at the Guru Nanak Foundation in Silver Spring earlier this week and the County also continued its tradition of honoring Diwali with a community event at the Executive Office Building in Rockville on Friday.

I hope our Hindu community had a wonderful Diwali this year filled with big feasts and lots of gifts.

Have a great week.

Marc Elrich
County Executive