On the anniversary of the arrival of COVID-19 locally, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich gave the annual State of the County address, looking back at the past year and the impact of the pandemic.
In the 21-minute prerecorded message, Elrich reflected on the “human toll” of the pandemic — the deaths, illnesses and economic fallout — and a frustrating vaccine rollout.
But he also celebrated people’s resilience, generosity and innovation, and that the county’s case counts have remained low compared to other nearby jurisdictions, thanks, in part, he said, to restrictions on social activities.
Over the past year, Montgomery County has been slower to reopen amenities than others across the state.
“Some people say to me that we should open things back up because our numbers have come a long way down from the peak of the last wave,” Elrich said. “And I try to remind them that those numbers are low because we implemented the necessary restrictions, and they are low because of our residents who have been willing to follow the guidelines, even as their lives have been severely disrupted.”
As of Friday, there had been nearly 64,000 confirmed cases of the virus in Montgomery County and 1,379 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.
Now, he said, the arrival of vaccines against the virus is “shining a light at the end of a very long tunnel.”
But the limited availability means “it will take some time” before everyone who wants a vaccine can receive one.
Elrich said community members’ generosity has been integral in navigating the pandemic. People and groups made face coverings, donated personal protective equipment and distributed free meals, Elrich said. The Montgomery County Food Council has distributed 14,000 tons of food since the start of the pandemic.
Over the past year, Elrich said, Montgomery County has accomplished a suite of goals, including:
• Launching the Flash bus rapid transit network
• Beginning to switch the county’s RideOn bus fleet to electric vehicles
• Eliminating late fees for book returns at county libraries
• Conducting a census count with a 78% self-response rate, 2 percentage points higher than the rate in 2010
• Improving permitting and licensing systems
• Releasing a draft Climate Action Plan to combat climate change
• Passing legislation to ban plastic straws and non-recyclable plastic containers
• Beginning a review of Montgomery County policing to “deliver services in a more equitable manner.”
Elrich said that this year, the county will install solar panels at a closed landfill to provide cheaper energy for low-income households. The county is also exploring “the feasibility of commingling agriculture with solar arrays” to address the “pressing need to move toward renewable energy sources while also recognizing food security issues.”
And, this year Elrich hopes the county can begin returning to a lifestyle that more closely resembles the pre-coronavirus world.
“I remain hopeful that better days are ahead,” Elrich said. “But we must be patient and vigilant and continue with the guidelines. We will get to a point when we can spend time with family, friends and co-workers and not worry about contracting the virus.”