Tag Archives: COVID-19

State Legislators to Hogan: Send MoCo More Vaccines

By Adam Pagnucco.

Voicing concerns that MoCo is not receiving its fair share of vaccines from the state, the county’s state legislators have written to Governor Larry Hogan asking for more doses. The letter was signed by all 8 state senators and all 24 delegates who represent MoCo in Annapolis. It is reprinted below.


February 8, 2021

Governor Lawrence J. Hogan, Jr.
100 State Circle
Annapolis, MD 21401

Dennis Schrader, Acting Secretary
Maryland Department of Health
201 West Preston St.
Baltimore, Maryland 21201

Rona Kramer, Secretary
Maryland Department of Aging
301 West Preston St., Suite 1007
Baltimore, MD 21201

Dear Governor Hogan, Acting Secretary Schrader, and Secretary Kramer:

We are writing to express significant concern that the DC Metro region is falling behind the rest of the state in terms of vaccination. We must address this immediately before the disparity becomes worse. We appreciate the work you are doing, and know there are many competing interests to balance. Although there are many concerns that need to be addressed at the statewide level—such as the volume and complexity of registration options—the concerns expressed here are of particular concern to Montgomery County.

As of February 8th, the statewide rate of vaccination is 9.0%. Montgomery County is nearly a full percentage behind the state average, at 8.2%. Prince George’s County is at only 4.1%. Baltimore County has 10.5% of their population vaccinated, and some rural counties have vaccination rates of more than 14%. This is especially concerning because the DC Metro region leads the state in COVID infections and deaths.

In order to address this disparity we request that the state:

1) Send a larger share of vaccines to hospitals and Health Departments in the areas of the state that have the greatest COVID spread and highest COVID death rates.

Three of the top five zip codes for COVID case counts in the state are in Montgomery County. A fourth is in Prince George’s County. Montgomery County has the most COVID deaths in the state, followed closely by our neighbor Prince George’s. These numbers should be a part of the basis for allocation. The fact is more Marylanders are infected and dying in the DC Metro area.

2) Send a larger share of vaccines to the hospitals and health departments in jurisdictions where more people are eligible for the vaccine.

In addition to lagging in percentage vaccinated, Montgomery County is also leading in the length of our waitlist and competition for the vaccine because Montgomery County has among the highest percentage of people eligible for the vaccine. That includes Montgomery County’s disproportionate share of essential workers who live in the County and outside of the County, as well as the large share of Montgomery County residents over the age of 65. But those on-the-ground realities are not addressed by the state’s reasonable sounding but flawed per capita allocation strategy that does not take into account differences in percentage of people eligible per priority group.

One reason Montgomery County is lagging the state is that the vast majority of vaccines to date have gone to protect our essential workers. Between one third and one half of our workforce lives outside of Montgomery County. Among the Montgomery County hospital employees offered vaccines, available data indicates nearly half live in other jurisdictions within Maryland or DC. A large percentage of our police, fire, and EMS also live outside of Montgomery County, which is reflected in the fact that Montgomery County is ranked 20 out of 24 jurisdictions in Maryland for the percentage of population vaccinated. While we are fully committed to vaccinating our essential workforce, we need a vaccine allocation that acknowledges significant numbers of the vaccines administered by our hospitals and County Health Department are going to residents of other jurisdictions.

According to the State Plan on Aging, people 85+ make up 1.7% of Maryland’s population. But in Montgomery County they are 2.1% of the population, which equates to about 22,000 people. The County is above the state average for 75+ and 65+ as well. We ask the Administration to update its current allocation formula to reflect Montgomery County’s extremely large health care workforce and senior population. Both of these factors have combined to make the Montgomery County waitlist for vaccine access include over 250,000 people, which as an online preregistration is an underestimate for the total number of people eligible in priority groups 1A, 1B, and 1C. While hospitals, the Health Department, and pharmacies have vaccinated about 20,000 residents over age 75, there are still 53,000 seniors in this age range awaiting vaccination. Based on the allocation of 11,000 doses received last week, it will take 4-5 weeks for Montgomery County to vaccinate all of our 75+ population. We understand and appreciate the difficulty of balancing priorities and needs with a limited supply of vaccines. However, given that weekly bulletins from Maryland Department of Health advise vaccinators to prioritize the population over age 75, we urge you to help us make this possible by allocating more vaccines to jurisdictions with insufficient supply for a given priority phase.

3) As soon as possible, add a mass vaccination site in Montgomery County.

While we appreciate the mass vaccination locations being opened in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City and understand the current limits in our state’s supply from the federal government, there is also a desperate need for a mass vaccination site in Montgomery County. It is our understanding that the County Government has offered the County Fairgrounds as a possible site. If a mass vaccination site cannot be established in Montgomery County as sites expand across the state, we request the doses that would go to such a site be sent to the Montgomery County Department of Health for more equitable distribution.

We believe addressing the above mentioned disparities are urgent because our delegation members are hearing daily from people in their eighties who still have not been able to secure vaccination appointments through any of the currently available options. Of course, long waitlists across the County of seniors and essential workers also makes it harder for smaller eligible groups to get vaccinated, like the immunocompromised and people with developmental disabilities. If changes are not made to the state allocations, Montgomery County’s vulnerable seniors and our essential workers will be waiting much longer for vaccine access than our neighbors in other parts of Maryland. While a simple per capita allocation was efficient in the early weeks of the rollout, it has become clear through the data that this approach is not equitable or effective, and leaves too many of our most vulnerable Maryland residents unprotected. It’s now time to have an updated formula with these factors in mind to ensure the DC Metro region does not fall further behind. Independent living facilities have also been a major concern given the difficulties with the Federal Long-Term Care Partnership. We’re particularly appreciative of Secretary Kramer and the Administration for making this a top priority and hope we can quickly begin to vaccinate some of the most high risk residences.

Thank you for your attention in this matter. We also look forward to discussing this further when the Maryland Department of Health joins the Montgomery County Delegation at our February 12th meeting.

Senator Craig Zucker
Senator Susan Lee
Senator Brian Feldman
Senator Cheryl Kagan
Senator Nancy King
Senator Ben Kramer
Senator Will Smith
Senator Jeff Waldstreicher

Delegate Marc Korman
Delegate Al Carr
Delegate Gabriel Acevero
Delegate Kumar Barve
Delegate Lorig Charkoudian
Delegate Charlotte Crutchfield
Delegate Bonnie Cullison
Delegate Kathleen Dumais
Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo
Delegate Jim Gilchrist
Delegate Anne Kaiser
Delegate Ariana Kelly
Delegate Lesley Lopez
Delegate Sara Love
Delegate Eric Luedtke
Delegate David Moon
Delegate Julie Palakovich Carr
Delegate Lily Qi
Delegate Pam Queen
Delegate Kirill Reznik
Delegate Emily Shetty
Delegate Jared Solomon
Delegate Vaughn Stewart
Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins


Is MoCo an Anti-Restaurant Island?

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM) has gone on the warpath against Montgomery County, claiming that its restrictions against indoor dining have made it “an island all by themselves.” RAM points out that MoCo is now the only jurisdiction in the region to prohibit indoor dining and is seeking to have that policy overturned.

Are they right?

RAM blasts MoCo on Facebook.

RAM bases its case on MoCo’s declining COVID statistics. Its president told WTOP, “When you’re really looking at all the metrics that Montgomery County claims to be watching, we see good news and good signs.” And it’s true that the county has seen improvement on some measures according to its COVID dashboard.

RAM notes MoCo’s declining COVID stats.

But there are two caveats here. First, any improvements are coming from huge peaks. For example, the county’s COVID case rate has been falling for a couple weeks but it is still higher than it was in the spring, when restaurants were last shut down for indoor service.

MoCo’s COVID dashboard shows recent progress in case rate but it’s still high.

Second, RAM is comparing MoCo to other jurisdictions, alleging that the county is unusually harsh on restaurants. Well, if MoCo were unusually overrun by COVID, it might be justified in being more restrictive. Let’s test that.

The table below shows five data points from two sources. Johns Hopkins University compares counties across the nation on 14-day case rate per 100,000 residents, inpatient occupancy and intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy. The table shows how MoCo compares to twelve other major jurisdictions in the region on these measures. The State of Maryland tracks 7-day case rate per 100,000 residents and test positivity rate for its 24 local jurisdictions. The table shows how MoCo compares to six other large jurisdictions in the state on these measures.

On the three stats tracked by Johns Hopkins, MoCo is above average on inpatient occupancy and below average on ICU occupancy and 14-day case rate. On the two stats tracked by the State of Maryland, MoCo ranks 5th out of 7 peer jurisdictions. In other words, MoCo is not an outlier. It has not been hit unusually hard by COVID in comparison to the rest of the D.C.-Baltimore region.

That calls into question whether the county’s now-unique prohibition on indoor dining is justified. It also occurs in the historic context of the restaurant industry’s long-time frustration with the county’s unique wholesale monopoly on liquor sales, which is not currently the industry’s biggest problem but has nonetheless damaged the county’s reputation among restaurateurs. MoCo should consider revising its restaurant restrictions if it continues to make progress on its COVID metrics. If not, its reputation as a tough place to operate restaurants will only continue to grow.


Top Seventh State Stories, January 2021

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in January ranked by page views.

1. Raskin Chief of Staff Writes About Attack on the Capitol
2. Are Maryland Vaccine Deliveries Fair?
3. State to Counties: Vaccinate Private School Staff or Else
4. What Happened to White Flint?
5. MoCo Solar Power Company Throws in the Towel
6. How Does MoCo’s Vaccination Rate Compare to the Rest of Maryland?
7. State Legislators Call on Harris to Resign
8. Political Awards 2020
9. MoCo’s Hero
10. Mizeur Threatens to Run Against Harris

This is a pretty concise list of what has been on the minds of MoCo’s political community: the attack on the Capitol, Jamie Raskin, vaccines and the movement to throw out Andy Harris. The story on the solar zoning text amendment reflects a split among environmentalists that is bound to resurface on future issues. As for White Flint, which was also the top story in December, that article demonstrates a major challenge that MoCo will face as it emerges from the pandemic: how to rebuild its economy and not lose any more ground to the rest of the region. Economic competitiveness was a big issue before COVID and it will return to that pedestal as the next election approaches.


State to Counties: Vaccinate Private School Staff or Else

By Adam Pagnucco.

Phase 1B of the state’s COVID vaccination schedule includes “education staff, including K-12 teachers, support staff and daycare providers.” Some counties are now starting vaccinations of school staff. The state’s Department of Health has just issued a warning to all county health officers and other vaccine providers that they must include private school staff in their vaccination programs or risk having their vaccines reallocated to other vaccine providers who comply. The state’s warning follows Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich’s announcement that his county is working with Johns Hopkins Medicine to vaccinate MCPS employees, a statement that makes no mention of private school staff.

The memorandum from Acting Secretary of Health Dennis R. Schrader to vaccine providers is reprinted below.


To: All Local Health Officers and all COVID-19 Vaccine Providers

From: Dennis R. Schrader, Acting Health Secretary
Dr. Jinlene Chan, Acting Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services

Cc: Dr. Karen Salmon, Ph.D., State Superintendent of Schools
Nonpublic Schools

Subject: Phase 1B: Educators – Vaccination of Nonpublic School Faculty and Staff

Date: January 30, 2021

It is the health policy of the State of Maryland that nonpublic schools may not be excluded from any COVID-19 vaccine provider who is administering COVID-19 vaccine to educators.

Any COVID-19 vaccine provider who refuses the vaccination of nonpublic school staff while administering vaccines to public school system employees will have future vaccine allocations reduced or reallocated to providers that comply with the MDH Vaccination Matters Order and COVID-19 Vaccine Provider Bulletins.

Please see the attached Week 8 bulletin, which states that “local health departments should set aside at least 100 doses per week from their overall location for Phase 1B educators in their jurisdiction. This allocation should be set aside until jurisdictions have vaccinated all of their educators.”

Additionally, please see Section 8, Education: page 9 of the bulletin, “Educational facilities include: licensed childcare facilities; K-12: both public school systems and nonpublic schools; and higher educational institutions.”


Why is West Virginia Doing a Better Job on Vaccination Than Maryland?

By Adam Pagnucco.

William A. Galston, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, has written an eye-opening piece on vaccine distribution comparing West Virginia to Maryland. In it, Galston notes that West Virginia ranks high on poverty rate, low on education rate and low on median income among U.S. states while Maryland is on the other end on all those measures. Yet, West Virginia “ranks 2nd in the share of its population that has been inoculated and has turned 83% of the doses received from the federal government into actual inoculations” while Maryland “ranks 35th for its inoculation rate and has delivered only 46% of doses received into its people’s arms, well below the national average of 53%.”

What accounts for the disparity?

Galston identifies two factors. First, he credits West Virginia for relying on a network of independent pharmacies to vaccinate nursing home residents rather than using CVS and Walmart, which the rest of the nation has done. Galston believes local pharmacies have more penetration into rural areas and closer relationships with nursing homes than national chains, resulting in better vaccination performance. The second factor has to do with the governance structures used by West Virginia and Maryland. Galston writes:

The second apparent explanation for West Virginia’s superior performance: decisions have been made by the governor at the state level, eliminating confusion and competition among localities. Starting January 25, a state-wide online site will allow all residents to register for vaccinations and will direct them to facilities with doses available. A week later, on February 1st, the state will expand its network of community clinics to cover all 55 of its counties.

In Maryland, by contrast, most of these issues have been left to its counties, each of which has established its own priority lists and facilities for administering the vaccine. Maryland’s system of strong county governance works well in normal times but is impeding vaccine delivery during this pandemic. As Maryland residents know, this diversity has created confusion and has given residents with access to multiple information sources advantages over those with weaker networks and less Internet access. A bewildering maze of online sites—some from counties, others from hospitals–has sprung up. Prince George’s County has closed its vaccination facilities to Marylanders who live outside its borders.

Galston has a point. One cannot overstate the level of confusion in Maryland about how to get vaccinated. Take a look at the state’s vaccine website, which says that we are in Phase 1C, which includes adults age 65-74 and essential workers in lab services, agriculture, manufacturing and the postal service. Now take a look at Montgomery County’s vaccine website, which says we are in Priority Group 1B, which includes adults age 75 and older. Prince George’s County’s site aligns with the state while Anne Arundel County’s site says, “Currently, the Anne Arundel County Department of Health is NOT in Phase 1C. The Department is providing vaccine appointments ONLY to the Phase 1A group and Phase 1B’s county residents who are age 75+.” Frederick County’s site says it is vaccinating “1A and people 75 years and older who live or work in Frederick County.” Baltimore County’s site says it is in Phase 1C. Howard County’s site says that Phase 1C has not begun and vaccinations for adults age 65-74 will begin in February. And so on. Baltimore City’s site seems to resemble the state’s but says that phases are “as of Jan. 25th, 2021. Phases subject to change due to CDC, MDH or FDA updated guidance.” So what’s true now might not be true tomorrow. Add to this the assorted residency and work requirements being imposed by counties and the disarray gets worse.

Then there are the hospitals, who as of last week had received twice as many vaccines as county health departments. Hospitals are responsible for vaccinating their staff and associates but what happens if they have left-over vaccines? I was recently forwarded an email that originated with a doctor at one of MoCo’s hospitals stating that they had a surplus of vaccines and had 16 appointment slots. The email spread like wildfire and the slots promptly filled up. Who knows who signed up? Enthusiasm quickly dried up when the hospital sent notice to those who registered that they had to provide proof of health care employment and had to sign legal attestation of eligibility.

Confusion and multiple opportunities for registration and preregistration have tempted some to sign up at every outlet they can find, reasoning that if just one of them pays off it will be worth it. In a briefing with the media yesterday, Montgomery County officials tried to persuade the public to avoid this practice because it would overbook appointments and clog the system. But with different entities administering vaccines and apparently different criteria and rules in place among them, why wouldn’t folks sign up everywhere they could hoping to get lucky?

The biggest single problem afflicting all states and counties is the nationwide shortage of vaccines, which the Biden administration is trying to fix through buying 200 million more of them. It’s also understandable that Maryland is relying on its existing system of counties and health care providers rather than trying to reinvent it in the middle of a huge vaccination push, which would undoubtedly create a whole other category of problems. But the conflicting information coming out of the state, its 24 local jurisdictions and other vaccine-administering entities is problematic. If it continues, it will hinder the efficiency of vaccine distribution and prolong the pandemic.


Are Maryland Vaccine Deliveries Fair?

By Adam Pagnucco.

COVID vaccine distribution is a hot issue in Maryland. COVID case rates have spiked since October and death rates are at their highest levels since the spring. Elected officials’ inboxes are filling up with inquiries from residents and the press is paying attention. Lots of folks are looking to their local governments but the vaccines are delivered by the state. How is the state doing?

Vaccine distribution in the U.S. is a multi-tier process. Pfizer and Moderna manufacture the vaccines. The federal government determines their allocations to states. (You can see open data on distribution of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by state.) State governments then distribute the vaccines they receive to their local jurisdictions.

Maryland has established a three-phase hierarchy for determining the order in which groups receive vaccines. The state has progressed through Phase 1A (health care workers, residents and staff of nursing homes and first responders, public safety, and corrections staff) and is now in Phase 1B (assisted living, independent living, behavioral health and developmentally disabled group homes, and other congregate facilities; adults age 75 and older; and education and continuity of government). Further phases will expand to larger populations.

The state is currently distributing vaccines primarily to three different kinds of entities. Hospitals, who are expected to vaccinate their own staff members and associates, received 320,200 vaccines as of 1/18/21. Pharmacies, including CVS and Walgreens, are responsible for vaccinating nursing homes and received 73,125 vaccines as of 1/18/21. Local health departments are responsible for vaccinating other people in Phases 1A and 1B, especially health workers and first responders, and received 137,425 vaccines as of 1/18/21. Other agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the D.C. Department of Health and a few state agencies, received another 20,950 vaccines.

And so the counties, hospitals and pharmacies don’t control how many vaccines they get. They do control the rates at which they administer vaccines to residents. As of 1/18/21, vaccine administration percentages were 61% for local health departments, 40% for hospitals, 39% for pharmacies and 69% for other agencies.

The table below shows administration rates by county health department. Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s and Montgomery counties have all administered more than 90% of the vaccines they received from the state as of 1/18/21, the best in Maryland. Baltimore City and Charles, Prince George’s, Somerset and Washington counties have administered less than 30% of the vaccines they received as of 1/18/21.

Administration rate is one factor in vaccinating a population. The other factor is deliveries relative to population. It’s hard to know the location of residents being vaccinated by hospitals and pharmacies. However, local health departments are presumably vaccinating residents who live (or at least work) mostly within their jurisdictional boundaries. The table below compares vaccination deliveries to local health departments with U.S. Census estimates of their populations in 2015-2019.

There are large discrepancies in the state’s delivery of vaccines to local health departments on a per capita basis. Relative to their populations, Kent, Somerset, Garrett, Talbot and Caroline counties – each having less than 40,000 residents – received the most vaccines, varying from 4.5 to 8.2 per hundred residents. Montgomery County (1.9 vaccines per hundred residents) and Prince George’s County (1.6 vaccines per hundred residents) are at the bottom. Baltimore County and Baltimore City are also below the state average delivery rate per capita.

A county with an excellent vaccine administration percentage but a low delivery rate from the state could wind up with a low vaccination percentage of its population. In fact, that’s what the table below shows for Montgomery County. Despite having one of the best administration percentages in the state, MoCo is below average on the percentage of its population receiving a first and second shot because of its low per capita delivery rate.

It’s still an early moment in the state’s vaccination program. There is time to improve. But there is also a role for elected officials who represent counties with low vaccine delivery rates and their constituents to press the state to do better.


Two Negotiating Strategies, Two Outcomes

By Adam Pagnucco.

In justifying the county’s creation of a $4 million per pay period emergency pay liability, representatives of county government depict it as a good deal for taxpayers. They say that the county’s collective bargaining agreements set much higher levels of emergency pay than the amount the county is now paying, so $4 million a pay period is actually a bargain. Setting aside whether the county’s existing emergency pay provisions actually apply to a pandemic – there is some doubt about that – the county’s claim is called into question by the emergency compensation program of one of its sister agencies, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, commonly referred to as Park and Planning.

MCGEO is the largest county employee union of both Montgomery County Government and Park and Planning. It is led by the fearsome Gino Renne, who has a long and famous history of playing hardball with politicians. The union’s prior collective bargaining agreements with both the county and Park and Planning had preexisting emergency pay provisions which the county cited in providing COVID pay. Unlike MCGEO’s preexisting agreement with the county, its preexisting agreement with Park and Planning has an emergency pay provision explicitly referring to “epidemics.” Despite that fact, negotiations between MCGEO and the two agencies yielded outcomes that were worlds apart.

MCGEO’s agreement with the county

Signed on April 3, the agreement gives employees in “front facing onsite work” an extra $10 per hour and employees in “back office onsite work” an extra $3 per hour. Teleworking employees do not receive extra pay. The differential counts for the purpose of calculating overtime pay.

The agreement is indefinite. Here is its language on duration:

This Agreement may re-open on June 20, 2020. However, if the declared Maryland State of Emergency related to COVID-19 extends beyond that time, the terms of this Agreement shall continue, or after collectively bargaining with MCGEO, will be modified based upon the circumstances at the time. In the event that the declared Maryland State of Emergency related to COVID-19 is rescinded before June 20, 2020, the date of the Declaration’s rescission shall be considered the last day of this Agreement, notwithstanding the pay periods indicated above defining when the COVID-19 Differential will be paid.

The county could renegotiate the agreement if MCGEO agrees to do it. Otherwise, the agreement lasts as long as the state’s declared emergency does. As of this writing, the emergency continues and so does the agreement. County council staff has previously noted that it provides by far the most generous COVID pay of any jurisdiction in the region.

MCGEO’s agreements with Park and Planning

MCGEO has had two memorandums of understanding and six agreements on the COVID emergency with Park and Planning through late January. Their effective dates are:

MOU signed 3/15/20
Agreement 1: 5/4/20 – 6/30/20
MOU signed 7/2/20
Agreement 2: 7/10/20 – 8/8/30
Agreement 3: 8/5/20 – 8/29/20
Agreement 4: 9/8/20 – 10/3/20
Agreement 5: 10/5/20 – 11/28/20
Agreement 6: 11/25/20 – 1/30/21

Of the agreements, only the first (lasting through June 30) contained extra pay. That agreement gave an extra $2.75 per hour for “onsite work” and an extra $4.50 per hour for child care aides performing “front facing onsite work.” Unlike the county’s agreement, emergency pay was not included in the calculation of overtime pay. The later agreements provided varying levels of leave and paid time off and have other language on health and safety, teleworking and scheduling but they do not provide emergency pay. Let’s note that time away from work does more to protect employee health than requiring them to report on-site with a pay differential.

No one will ever accuse MCGEO President Gino Renne of being an ineffective negotiator. He has delivered outstanding value to his members for many years. The difference here is in the negotiating strategies taken by the two agencies. Park and Planning utilized a series of short, time-limited agreements to adjust its compensation to changing circumstances. The county signed one open-ended agreement that locked in extra pay negotiated during the height of COVID’s first wave. Gino signed the agreements with both agencies despite their vast differences.

That’s not all. The county’s agreements with the police and fire fighters both provide indefinite emergency pay of $10 per hour for onsite work, with the extra pay counting for calculations of overtime. Of Park and Planning’s five agreements with its police union through late November, only one – lasting through June 30 – provided emergency pay and that was for $4.50 an hour. Once again, Park and Planning got a different result with a different negotiating strategy.

The results of these differing agreements are two-fold. First, there is a huge gap in the costs faced by the agencies. The county has about 9 times the employees of Park and Planning. The county has paid $4 million per pay period since April, which translates to $78 million as of last week. Park and Planning paid a total of $400,917.

Second, there is a tremendous inequity between county employees (many of whom are receiving an extra $3 or $10 per hour) and Park and Planning employees (who are getting paid time off and leave but not extra pay since June 30). That inequity extends to employees of MCPS and Montgomery College, who are not getting anything resembling the county’s pay. Expect these employees to ask – with justification – why they aren’t getting the same extra money as county workers.

The question of how to pay for the county’s huge new liability – one that was avoided by Park and Planning – will be a big factor in writing the next operating budget. We shall find out the consequences of all this when it arrives on March 15.


How Does MoCo’s Vaccination Rate Compare to the Rest of Maryland?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Last night, Montgomery County Government sent out a blast email claiming, “Montgomery County is has [sic] taken swift steps to administer the vaccines it has received—proceeding at one of the highest rates of vaccine administration in Maryland.” The same claim is repeated on the county’s website.

Is this true?

The county doesn’t elaborate on this claim in great detail but it has support from the slide below from its Department of Health and Human Services. The slide shows the percentage of received vaccines that has been administered by each county in the state. As of January 13, MoCo administered 63% of the vaccines it has received, trailing only Caroline County (68%) and far above the state average (36%).

However, the county trails badly on another key measure: the percentage of population vaccinated. Another slide from the same presentation shows that just 2.2% of MoCo’s population has been vaccinated with at least one dose, a rate that trails 20 of the state’s 24 jurisdictions.

To be fair, MoCo doesn’t have full control of its population vaccination rate because the state allocates vaccines by county. At this point, Baltimore County has received more vaccines than MoCo even though its population is smaller.

County Executive Marc Elrich has posted a good explanation of the complications in distributing vaccines, especially the role played by the need to vaccinate people twice. It’s very informative for folks who would like to understand how the process works and what bottlenecks lie within.

In any event, by one measure, the county is exceeding the state’s vaccination rate and by another, it is falling short. The story is a complex one and, at this point, not reducible to emailed success stories.


MoCo Seeks Feedback on COVID Vaccine

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County Government is seeking resident feedback on how and whether they would like to receive COVID vaccines through an online survey. The county’s press release is reprinted below.


Montgomery County Seeks Feedback on Residents’ Demand for Receiving COVID-19 Vaccine

For Immediate Release: Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021

Montgomery County today launched an online survey to hear from residents and get an informed understanding of how residents feel about taking the COVID-19 vaccine. The survey is not scientific but will help to identify any possible concerns residents may have about the vaccine. With a goal of vaccinating 75 to 80 percent of the community, County employees will use the feedback to address questions and to better reach communities hit hardest by COVID-19 and who have historically been apprehensive about trusting vaccines or medical research. The County plans to incorporate the feedback from the survey into its robust outreach plan and communications efforts to educate the public on the importance of taking the vaccine.

The survey is open from Jan. 14 through Feb. 4, 2021 and is on the County’s COVID-19 vaccine website. The survey is anonymous and is available in the top seven spoken languages in the county. It is also available on the County’s Facebook page and Twitter feed. With 12 multiple choice questions, the survey takes approximately five minutes to complete. In addition to the survey being available online, the survey will also be offered to residents at several of the County’s COVID-19 testing sites.

For the latest COVID-19 updates, visit the County’s COVID-19 website and follow Montgomery County on Facebook @MontgomeryCountyInfo and Twitter @MontgomeryCoMD. Residents can also sign up to receive text or email updates about COVID-19 vaccinations.


The Top Twenty Seventh State Posts of 2020, Part Two

By Adam Pagnucco.

Yesterday, we listed posts 11 through 20 in terms of page views for the year 2020. Here are the top ten.

  1. Volcano in Rockville

In the wake of former Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Andrew Kleine’s admitted ethics violations, County Executive Marc Elrich wanted him to stay in his job. But the county council was outraged by the scandal and exploded in public fury. The council’s anger wound up forcing Kleine out and opened the door to the ascension of the new CAO, former county budget director and state senator Rich Madaleno.

  1. Repeal the Linda Lamone for Life Law

The problems with the 2020 primary election prompted this historical post summarizing why the state has a law protecting its elections administrator, Linda Lamone, from accountability. Comptroller Peter Franchot and Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford called for Lamone’s resignation but she survived for the thousandth time. Thankfully, the general election was a smoother affair than the primary.

  1. Sitting Judges Get Temporary Restraining Order Against Pierre
  2. Progressive-Backed Judge Candidate Courted, Donated to Republicans
  3. Judge Candidate on Floyd Cops: “Lock Em Up”

It’s fitting that these three posts finished back-to-back-to-back because they all concern the nastiest judicial election in recent MoCo history: the challenge by attorney Marylin Pierre to four sitting judges. This one had a LOT going on: partisanship, charges of racism, charges of lying and even a temporary restraining order. The whole thing cast a foul odor over the ballot box and led me to conclude that judicial elections should mostly be abolished.

  1. Harris Blasts MCEA Over School Reopening

School board elections are mostly sleepy affairs in which candidates agree at least 90% of the time and the only difference between them is which ones are endorsed by the Apple Ballot and the Post. Not this year! MCPS’s boundary study dominated the primary and school reopening took the spotlight in the general, with Lynne Harris (the Post’s candidate) blasting the teachers union for allegedly resisting reopening. Harris told Blair High School’s Silver Chips newspaper that the teachers “were obstructionist, inflammatory, and just said ‘no’ to everything.” That provoked a furious response and the teachers are unlikely to forget it.

  1. What’s More Important? The Liquor Monopoly or a Thousand Bartenders?

Early in the COVID crisis, Governor Larry Hogan gave counties discretion to allow restaurants to offer takeout and delivery of mixed drinks. Many other states and the City of Baltimore allowed it, but MoCo’s liquor monopoly did not. The issue prompted a mass revolt by restaurants and consumers and the county ultimately allowed it.

  1. IG Investigates “Overtime Scam” in the Fire Department

County Inspector General Megan Davey Limarzi blew the lid off county government with her landmark report on an overtime scam in the fire department. The scandal involved more than $900,000 of overtime which exceeded limits set by the fire chief and was scheduled outside of the system usually used by county public safety agencies. Readers were all over this but I have not heard of anyone being disciplined for it. As of this writing, this is the sixth most-read post in the history of Seventh State measured by page views.

  1. Restaurant: My Staff Will Not Wear Face Masks

Last July, The Grille at Flower Hill in Gaithersburg posted this on Facebook: “Let me be very clear…my staff will not wear face masks while working here at the Grille. If that bothers you then please dine elsewhere and please try to find something more important to occupy your time such as volunteer at a nursing home or soup kitchen. Whoever you are that filed the complaint, you need to take a good look in the mirror and try to find some real meaning in your life.” The post provoked a huge firestorm from irate customers resulting in the permanent closure of the restaurant four days later. As of this writing, this is the fifth most-read post in the history of Seventh State measured by page views.

  1. MoCo Democrats Issue Statement on Ballot Questions

This post reprinted the Montgomery County Democratic Party’s statement on the four ballot questions. It was originally published on September 17 and initially attracted little site traffic. But it started to pop in early and mid-October and dominated page views in the latter part of the month. Most of the traffic was generated by Google searches. This provided valuable intel: thousands of people were seeking out what the Democratic Party had to say about a group of arcane and confusing ballot questions. And if they were coming to Seventh State, they were no doubt also visiting other sites with similar information like news outlets and the party’s own site. In the end, it seems likely that the party was the dominant force in driving voter reaction to the ballot questions as its positions carried the election by double digits. It was also a huge boon to us as this post ranks third in page views in the history of Seventh State.

On to 2021!