June 9, 2023

Message from the County Executive


Dear Friends,

For this week’s video, we selected a portion of a long interview I did with the County’s Chief Administrative Officer, Rich Madaleno, for Pride Month. We discussed the ways in which Montgomery County has been on the forefront of change on LGBTQ issues for more than 20 years. I am proud to be a part of the effort on the Takoma Park City Council when it became one of the first places in the nation to force hospitals to recognize same-sex partners so they could visit loved ones. Rich is a former Maryland lawmaker who fought proposed gay marriage bans in Annapolis and led the effort that resulted in Maryland becoming the first state to pass a gay marriage law by popular vote. The longer version of our conversation is on the Montgomery County YouTube page.

Air Quality Triggers Code Red & Purple Alerts

Who could have foreseen our area impacted the way we have been by these wildfires in Canada? It seemed to blow in gradually and get progressively worse toward the end of the week. This

Airnow Fire & Smoke map from Thursday is produced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Park Service, NASA, Centers for Disease Control, and other partners. It shows a heavy concentration of unhealthy air over the DC region.

This week we responded as needed with the extremely bad air quality. MCDOT dropped bus fees to help people avoid walking as much as possible. The Recreation Department canceled all outdoor activities when our air was considered unhealthy or very unhealthy. A reminder went out to our community to utilize recreation centers, senior centers, libraries and regional service centers during normal operating hours to limit exposure to the air on Thursday. Outreach teams from the Department of Health and Human Services helped spread that word to our homeless community.

MCDOT also limited its work crews and temporarily halted all outdoor projects currently being worked on for the day except for those handling emergency situations.

I appreciate how quickly our teams responded and coordinated our response and coordination alert the public to the risks, providing support and reacting in ways to protect our employees and residents is a testament to how well this government works together in response to incidents that require immediate action.

If air quality conditions worsen again, use the airnow.gov website to determine what the air quality is like in your zip code. Here are some tips for staying safe when conditions are code red, purple or maroon:
  • Wear a high-quality (N95 or KN95) mask when outdoors. This is especially important for people with respiratory illnesses, as well as older adults, children and teens.  
  • Those with heart or lung disease, older adults, children and teens should avoid all outdoor activities. Outdoor activities should be moved indoors or cancelled. 
  • Everyone, regardless of age or health status, should avoid long or intense outdoor activities. Consider moving activity indoors or rescheduling. 
  • Those that must work outside should reduce work if possible and wear a mask while working.
No matter the air quality reading, if you are feeling lightheaded, dizzy or having trouble breathing while outdoors, go inside and see if that helps you feel better. If you continue to cough and do not feel better, contact your doctor or call 911. Do not drive yourself to the hospital because prolonged exposure yourself to harmful elements in the air may cause you to pass out. Remember, in some cases, these air conditions are hazardous so anyone who already has health challenges like asthma, heart disease, COPD or is pregnant, could be more susceptible to serious complications. Children and the elderly are also more likely to be impacted by unhealthy air than adults in good shape. 

All Signs Point Toward Strong Tourism This Summer

The summer season will be in full swing in just a few weeks once school is out. Even though it may seem like the beaches have an advantage over Montgomery County during the summer months it is important to remember how important tourism is to the local economy. 

In 2019, Montgomery County was the most visited county in Maryland with more than nine million visitors. They left a nearly $2 billion impact on the local economy. We are trying to get back to those visitor numbers and surpass them now that the emergency phase of COVID-19 is behind us. Initial signs are good with occupancy rates up nearly 10 percent statewide in 2022 and room reservations up 28 percent across Maryland.

Sports like soccer help contribute to Montgomery County’s tourism revenues. It is the No. 1 reason families get a hotel room for the night in Montgomery County with more than one million rooms booked last year.  Kelly Groff, president & CEO of Visit Montgomery, joined me on my weekly media briefing to talk about the effort to attract new visitors to our area now that more people are traveling again. 

In the three years since that high watermark for visitors, we have added the Tastemakers Trail to give anyone with an adventurous palate many reasons to venture into Montgomery County to discover wineries, distilleries and breweries that have been overlooked. Ms. Groff said information about the Tastemakers Trail is the third-most visited section of the visitmoco.com website, with the most interest coming from the Baltimore area and New York City. 

Next week we will be adding to the Tastemaker’s Trail with Crossvines in Poolesville. It will offer a unique opportunity for visitors to learn to make wine, participate in the process or just enjoy the fruits of everyone’s labor. 

I proposed this project about a decade ago as a way to help support economic development in growing grape and wine production industry as well as the Ag Reserve. It will also provide educational opportunities for visitors and students Montgomery County develops “wine country” and Agri-tourism industry. When you visit you might see people golfing or enjoying dinner or celebrating a wedding. Crossvines will be different things to different people. The grand opening ceremonies will be Monday, June 12, and the facility will be open to the public soon afterward.  

Another important update to pass along comes from our Alcohol Beverages Services. The department will open a new store in Gaithersburg Square on Thursday June 15, under the Oak, Barrel & Vine concept. This is the third Oak, Barrel & Vine store to open in Montgomery County. Some of the features of these redesigned stores include large wine tasting areas, event space, expanded selections of small format items and a dedicated space for non-alcoholic beverages. 

ABS will celebrate by offering special tastings and sale prices on Maryland made products from the day it opens through the weekend of Juneteenth.

Two weekends from now, we will be in the middle of a multi-day Juneteenth celebrations that span across the County and include the Silver Spring Blues Festival in Downtown Silver Spring on Saturday June 18. On that same day Freedom at the Rock, a special event at the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown, will have live music, films and awards from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. We will have more on all the Juneteenth events in my update next week.  

Community Grant Award for Long Branch 

Earlier this week, I, along with Council President Evan Glass and Councilmember Kate Stewart, celebrated a grant for the Long Branch Business League to help promote businesses in the Long Branch community.

The money comes from the County’s Office of Grants Management and are intended to help with things like community events, self-promotion and unifying the look of the area. 

The $125,000 provided through this grant will help enhance the Long Branch area and add to what makes areas like this so special.  

The effort to help promote and encourage more people to discover Long Branch began more than a decade ago. Our community partners like MHP have brought businesses together to help them help each other. Since then, we have seen community gatherings consistently fill the calendar for the mutual benefit of business owners and the surrounding community. 

More than 95 percent of all businesses in Montgomery County are small businesses. This grant is a way to support them and encourage them to continuing investing in our community. We want to follow the models that have worked elsewhere to help create more than just one main street in Montgomery County. It is better if each community has its own area that is drawn to for concerts, festivals and block parties. 

I want to thank the County Council for supporting this idea and the small businesses of Long Branch. This helps us be an affordable and welcoming community today and for a lifetime. We plan on awarding similar grants elsewhere in the county later this summer. 

Measles in Montgomery County 

You may have heard that late last week Montgomery County Health and Human Services Department leaders notified the public about a  confirmed case of measles.   

While measles is highly contagious, it is also preventable via vaccination. Fortunately, the vast majority of Montgomery County residents are vaccinated, except for infants under the age of 1 as they are not eligible yet for the measles vaccine. Pregnant women, infants younger than 1 and those who are immune compromised are most at-risk of serious complications from the measles.    

Measles symptoms include a fever more than 101 degrees Fahrenheit; runny nose; cough; and red, watery eyes. Usually, one to four days after the early symptoms, a red rash appears on the face and spreads to the rest of the body.   

There were five confirmed measles cases reported in Maryland in 2019 (part of a nationwide trend of outbreaks), but there have been no measles cases reported since then. People are considered immune to measles if they were born in the United States before 1957, previously had measles or have had two measles vaccine shots.   

While the window for transmission of measles has passed for this situation, it is a good reminder of the importance of vaccinations. The public health team has been in contact with exposed individuals, and it appears there has not been any spread. This is a testament to the effectiveness of vaccines and the importance of having high rates of vaccination in a community. It is also a peek into the world of our Department of Health and Human Services staff who track and investigate communicable diseases such as measles. We applaud their swift response.  

COVID Update 

Our COVID-19 count continues to be quite low. At last count, there were less than a dozen people hospitalized with COVID-19 in our local hospitals and no one was in intensive care. This is something we will continue to monitor it and hope to keep sharing good news with you on the COVID front. 
As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich

County Executive