For the past nine months, COVID-19 has taken the lives of more than 300,000 Americans, 5,000 Marylanders and 1,014 fellow County residents. Unfortunately, this potent virus has massively spread and has taken so much from all of us. The increased restrictions that were put in place this past Tuesday, including prohibiting indoor dining at restaurants, are difficult, but necessary. From the start of the pandemic in March, we have been following the guidance of our public health experts and now these experts are advising us to act with urgency to help drive down case rates. If COVID-19 cases continue to climb unchecked, patients will overwhelm our health care system and many more of our residents will die. Predictive models for hospitalizations show that by closing indoor dining and bars there could be a 20 to 30 percent reduction in hospitalizations. This is vitally important because in Montgomery County, 77 percent of our inpatient beds are now occupied as well as 72 percent of our ICU beds. COVID-19 patients are utilizing 20 percent of these hospital beds. If this trend continues to grow, hospital beds and medical staff will not be available for those who need them--not only to treat COVID-19 patients but for residents suffering heart attacks, strokes or other medical emergencies. The CDC, statewide and local contact tracing data, as well as international experience during the pandemic, shows that indoor dining is one of the highest risk activities. Public health experts, including Dr. Fauci and Dr. Gottlieb, have highlighted the risks of indoor dining. Factors that make indoor dining a high-risk activity include: a lack of ventilation and air circulation in the indoor environment; the inability to wear a face covering while eating and drinking; the extended time spent in one location; and contact with multiple individuals outside of one's household in the same shared airspace. Here in our County, recent contact tracing data has shown that 23 percent of COVID-19 cases are related to indoor dining. In mid-September, this was 16 percent. The numbers have only increased as the weather has cooled. Based on this data and critical projections, my colleagues and I made the difficult decision to pass the new health order measure that will help curb the surge and save lives. As elected officials, it is our responsibility to make decisions that will protect our community. While there is light at the end of the tunnel with vaccine distribution on the horizon, it will take months to administer these vaccines across our community because we will be receiving vaccine deliveries in stages. Governor Hogan announced that the state will receive 155,000 doses in the first distribution, with an initial 50,700 doses coming from Pfizer and 104,300 doses from Moderna to be divided between hospital workers and long-term care centers. This week’s announcement of the amended health order includes the following provisions:
Restricts restaurant service to outdoor dining-carry-out, delivery and drive-through service may continue. No indoor dining is permitted.
Indoor sports gatherings limited to a maximum of 10 people total.
Maximum capacity for retail establishments reduced to one person per 200 square feet of retail space—not to exceed a maximum of 150 people.
Large retail establishments wishing to accommodate more than 150 people after Wednesday, December 23 must request a Letter of Approval that includes a business plan for monitoring the number of people in the building at any given time and provide information on how social distancing will be ensured at the entrance, exit and check-out lines. All requests for a Letter of Approval must be submitted by 5 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 21. Requests can be completed on the COVID-19 website under the Executive Order portal.
To view the recent announcement of Covid-19 restrictions and economic relief from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, please click here.
A Scientific Miracle This week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, to aid in the fight against Covid-19. This recent announcement is truly a testament to the advancement of science and technologies that we have discovered and cultivated in the 21st century. The first shipment of vaccines in Maryland is currently being distributed directly to hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care (LTC) facilities for the next two weeks. Additionally, nursing homes and LTC facilities have contracted with CVS and Walgreens to administer vaccinations. As reported by the New York Times, the state expects to receive an initial batch of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, totaling about 155,000 doses, with the possibility of up to 300,000 doses before the end of the year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most commonly reported side effects include pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, and fever, which may last several days after injection. Some recipients may experience a severe allergic reaction, and if you are allergic to any of the ingredients in the vaccine, you should consult with your primary care physician or healthcare provider. In the coming months, it is our hope that these vaccines will protect and provide immunity to all of us. To learn more information regarding vaccine distribution efforts in our State and County, please click here and here. Future of In-Person Learning Earlier this week, the Montgomery County Board of Education issued its unanimous decision to delay reopening in-person learning until February 1, 2021. During the meeting, the Board of Education reaffirmed the health metrics threshold of a 14-day new case rate below 15 cases per 100,000 residents and the test positivity rate below 5 percent. The Board approved updates to the metrics framework that will allow MCPS to safely serve more groups of students when the case rate is below 15 cases. These metrics are aligned with the metrics recommended by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The delay to re-open in-person instruction to February 1, 2021 will remain on the condition that health metrics are met. The Board of Education approved the following phased-in return plan:
Accelerates the return of elementary school students, specific special education programs and students in identified career technology programs.
Allows for in-person athletics and extracurricular activities to begin when the first student group returns for in-person instruction in buildings.
Allows for individualized in-person experiences and support by appointment.
The Board of Education plans to meet on January 12, 2021, to determine if the health metrics can be met to allow a safe return for in-person learning on February 1, 2021. For more information, please visit here.
ICYMI: NIH’s Efforts to Increase Diversity in Medical Science
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently announced that it will provide support to institutions to recruit diverse groups of early-stage research faculty and prepare them to thrive as NIH-funded researchers. Progress has been made to increase participation of historically underrepresented groups in biomedical research training stages. However, according to previous studies, members of these groups are still less likely to be hired into positions as independently-funded faculty researchers.
These groups include underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, individuals with disabilities, individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, and women. Two new funding announcements were released as part of the NIH Common Fund’s Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) program to enhance inclusive excellence at NIH-funded institutions.
The program is expected to fund 12 awards over the next three years, contingent upon the availability of funds. Applications for the Funding Opportunity Announcements are due March 1, 2021, with awards to be announced in 2021. For more information on this wonderful opportunity, please click here.