Showing posts with label coronavirus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label coronavirus. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Office work, transit use aren't recovering in Montgomery County, new data show

New Google Mobility data for Montgomery County show that transit use has only picked up by 1% since spring 2022, and that fewer workers are toiling in on-site offices than were this past spring. The data use a five-week period just before the pandemic hit the United States, January 3 - February 6, 2020, as the baseline. In reports I've posted over the last two years, numbers for office and transit use have been poor, as expected. But we've also seen some surprising shifts in behavior, which continue in the latest period examined here, from June 23 - August 4, 2022.

For starters, with the overwhelming message from governments and the media being to drop precautions and go back to business as usual, it's intriguing that there's been no significant increase in transit use in Montgomery County since President Joe Biden's State of the Union address. And would you have expected that the number of residents going into an office in Montgomery would actually decline by 12 percentage points since then, as well? Time spent in offices of employment in spring 2022 was 30% less than the pre-pandemic period; this summer it was 42% less than early 2020. The return of vacation travel may have been a factor - but not entirely, as summer 2021 office use was only 2 percentage points higher at 44% below the pre-pandemic period.

Use of public parks in Montgomery County has bounced back since spring. This summer, residents were 19% more likely to be in a park than they were during the pre-pandemic period of 2020. Shopping in stores and supermarkets has picked up since spring, too. The percentage of people going into retail stores compared to this past spring has doubled, but still remains 16% below pre-pandemic shopping levels. Residents' patronage of grocery stores is up 5% from spring 2022, but is 1% less than the pre-pandemic period. 

Montgomery County residents this summer are spending 10% more time at home than they did in the January-February 2020 period, the new data show. The data collected by Google is limited to those users who have opted in to allowing the tech giant to track their phone's location. It measures both the frequency of visits, and the amount of time those users stay in the places categorized in the results, such as grocery stores, transit stations and parks.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Montgomery County transit use, return to offices remains far below pre-pandemic numbers, new data show

Park use and grocery/pharmacy shopping
now less than during pandemic

New Google Mobility data show life in Montgomery County has yet to resume pre-pandemic patterns over the first three months of 2022, and some activity categories have even declined below their pandemic numbers. Transit use in the county has been even worse this year than it was last fall, dropping from 43% below early 2020 ridership numbers to 48% below in early 2022. Workers are heading back to the office only 1% more so far this year than they were last fall, with residents working on-location 30% less than during the same period before the pandemic in 2020.

Wheaton Claridge Local Park

County residents in 2022 so far are still staying home 10% more than they did in early 2020. In a troubling change, residents have actually reduced their time in parks and in grocery and drug stores. Google data during the pandemic months of 2020 and 2021 had showed residents were actually spending more time in parks, grocery stores and drug stores than they were before the pandemic. Now even those categories have gone negative.

Buses lined up at
Rockville Metro station

Residents spent 5% less time in parks between January 21 and March 4, 2022 than they did over the same period in 2020. They spent 6% less time in grocery and drug stores so far this year than they did in early 2020, which is odd considering that Covid-19 cases were way up when the year started, and shelves were bare for several weeks at grocery stores. And they've spent a whopping 30% less time in other types of retail stores and in recreation activities this year than they did in January - March 2020.

County residents spent less time
shopping at CVS Pharmacy so far
this year than they did over the same
period in 2020

The data collected by Google is limited to those users who have opted in to allowing the tech giant to track their phone's location. It measures both the frequency of visits, and the amount of time those users stay in the places categorized in the results, such as grocery stores, transit stations and parks.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Masks now optional inside Rockville government facilities

Rockville City Hall is preparing to welcome the general public back on March 28, 2022. But, effective immediately, masks are no longer required for employees or visitors inside City of Rockville facilities. City Manager Rob DiSpirito rescinded the indoor mask mandate this week, based upon the latest Covid-19 statistics in Montgomery County. 

“The City will continue to monitor changes in public health requirements and recommendations and may need to adjust our face-covering requirements as recommendations change from the CDC, Maryland Department of Health, and for certain programs licensed by the Maryland State Department of Education,” DiSpirito said in a statement. Along with the change in mask policy, visitors will now be able to use all publicly accessible entrances and exits at City Hall when it reopens on March 28; the city had previously planned to open only one entry/exit point in the building. Mayor and Council meetings will continue to be hybrid/virtual meetings until further notice.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Rockville City Hall to reopen to public on March 28

Rockville City Hall at 111 Maryland Avenue will reopen to the public on March 28, 2022, the City announced this morning. City Hall has been closed to the public for almost two years this month, due to the pandemic. The City will continue to require masks for all employees and visitors aged 2 and older at City Hall, and in all other Rockville government facilities, according to the announcement. When City Hall reopens, the 3rd-floor Vinson Street entry will be the only entrance and exit for the general public until further notice.

The Mayor and Council will continue to hold "hybrid meetings" when City Hall reopens, the statement said. Meetings have been held virtually while City Hall was closed.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Maryland School Board votes to rescind statewide school mask mandate

The Maryland State Board of Education voted overwhelmingly yesterday to rescind its statewide mandate that required masks to be worn inside of public schools. However, the masks won't be coming off immediately in Montgomery County Public Schools. First, the Maryland General Assembly committee that originally approved the Board mandate must approve the decision to rescind it. Then the Montgomery County Board of Education will have the power to decide its own mask policy.

Photon via State of Maryland

Monday, February 21, 2022

The People's Convoy trucker protest scheduled to pass through Rockville via I-270 to Capital Beltway March 5

Traffic alert: The People's Convoy, a cross-county trucker protest scheduled to begin Wednesday, February 23, 2022, in California, is scheduled to pass through Germantown, Gaithersburg and Rockville on I-270 on March 5. Truckers participating in the mobile rally are expected to arrive in Hagerstown a day earlier via I-70, then take I-270 south to the Capital Beltway on the morning of March 5. The resulting traffic is expected to cause delays around the entire Beltway on that Saturday.

Organizers for the convoy characterized the event as "a peaceful and law-abiding transcontinental journey toward the east coast" in a press release, inspired by the recent trucker protest in Canada. Participating organizations and leaders identified in the press release include Dr. Pierre Kory, attorney Tom Renz, Nevada gubernatorial candidate Joey Gilbert, Pastors Rob McCoy and Rick Brown, transportation workers, railroad workers, airline pilots, The Unity Project, The America Project, Advocates for Citizens' Rights, U.S. Freedom Flyers, The American Foundation for Civil Liberties and Freedom, and faith groups from across the country.

What organizers seek is the lifting of all coronavirus mandates and restrictions nationwide, and the cancellation of the national emergency regarding Covid-19. What they will do upon arriving in the D.C. area is the subject of conflicting reports. The People's Convoy website states that the convoy will peacefully disband when it arrives in the D.C. area, and will not enter the city of Washington, D.C. Fox 5 reports that the truckers plan to shut down the Capital Beltway using the convoy, but that is not stated on the People's Convoy official website. What is clear, is that there will very likely be a traffic impact on that day, and you may want to make plans accordingly.

UPDATE: February 21, 12:35 PM:

The Maryland State Police has issued the following statement regarding the trucker convoy:

Maps via

Friday, February 18, 2022

Montgomery County indoor mask mandate to expire next week

Montgomery County's indoor mask mandate will expire on Monday, February 21, 2022 at 11:59 PM. The expiration was triggered by the meeting of targets for improvement on three health metrics: the number of cases per 100,000 residents, the test positivity rate, and the percentage of County hospital beds filled by Covid-19 patients. 

However, even after Monday night, masks are still required in Montgomery County Public Schools, in government buildings, and on public transportation. School mask requirements may change after the Maryland Board of Education meets to discuss the matter on Tuesday, February 22.

Friday, January 7, 2022

MCPS drops 5% threshold for virtual learning

MCPS Interim Superintendent 
Monifa McKnight

Montgomery County Public Schools announced its latest coronavirus policy about-face this afternoon. After starting the spring semester with a 5% threshold for Covid-19 cases that would trigger a school to switch to virtual learning, eleven schools were forced to go online. But when more than 100 schools met the threshold days later, MCPS canceled a scheduled Thursday email update to parents. It then announced in the past hour that it is dropping the 5% threshold for virtual learning.

"Moving forward, MCPS and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will examine schools on a case-by-case basis to determine if any particular school needs to transition to virtual learning for a designated period of time," Interim Superintendent of Schools Monifa McKnight and Acting Chief Health Officer James Bridgers wrote in this afternoon's statement. "Factors considered will continue to include the number of students and staff who have tested positive; the number of students in quarantine; the number of staff absent for COVID-related reasons; and the level of spread of the virus in the school."

McKnight and Bridgers cited the fact that the state of Maryland does not call for a specific threshold to suspend in-class learning. Their statement did not explain why the threshold was adopted if not recommended by the state. It said the Thursday emails will resume next week. Take-home rapid test kits will also be distributed to all students and staff next week, the statement added. Students who test positive will have to isolate for 10 days from the date of the positive test.

Photo courtesy MCPS

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

11 Montgomery County Public Schools switching to virtual learning for 2 weeks

Montgomery County Public Schools are closed today, but students at eleven schools won't be returning to the classroom anytime soon. MCPS announced this morning that the following schools are switching to virtual learning for two weeks, due to student coronavirus case numbers:

Cannon Road ES

Forest Knolls ES

Hallie Wells MS

Monocacy ES

North Chevy Chase ES

Roberto Clemente MS

Rock Terrace School

Rosemont ES

Seneca Valley HS

Sherwood ES

Waters Landing ES 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich tests positive for Covid-19

The omicron wave has hit the top of government in Montgomery County. County Executive Marc Elrich (D) announced Saturday that he has tested positive for Covid-19. Elrich had received two doses of an RNA vaccine, and a booster, as had many victims of the omicron coronavirus variant in recent weeks. He credited those shots for his relatively mild symptoms so far.

"Just feeling tired," was Elrich's characterization of his condition as of yesterday. In a statement, he encouraged everyone to get vaccinated and boosted. Elrich said he is isolating, and will continue to execute his duties from home.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Rockville City Hall reopening delayed due to omicron variant

The City of Rockville will delay the planned January 3, 2022 reopening of City Hall to the public, due to the omicron variant of the coronavirus. City Hall has been closed since March 14, 2020. The Mayor and Council will consider the timeline for reopening again at their January 10, 2022 meeting.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Rockville City Hall to reopen in January 2022

Rockville City Hall will reopen to the public on January 3, 2022, City Manager Rob DiSpirito announced. The building has been closed since March 14, 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic. “I strongly believe that employee collaboration and level of service to customers will benefit by reopening all city offices, including bringing employees back on site at City Hall,” DiSpirito said in an email that informed city employees of the planned reopening.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Transit, office use still haven't recovered in Montgomery County, mobility data show

Use of parks continues to surge

New mobility data released by Google indicates Montgomery County residents still aren't riding transit or going to the office in pre-pandemic numbers, despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the country. Google compared data acquired from devices between September 29 and November 10, 2021 with pre-covid-outbreak data collected between January 3 and February 6, 2020. 

Transit use is still down 43% from early 2020 ridership numbers, the new data show. Employees are traveling to office workplaces 31% less this fall than in early 2020. 

Montgomery residents are still spending
more time in pharmacies than before the
pandemic, but less than they did this summer

County residents are still shopping in grocery stores and pharmacies more than they did before the pandemic, but only 2% more often, down from 7% more at the time of my last report. Shoppers are still not going into other types of retail stores or recreation facilities as often as they did pre-covid; those numbers are still 11% below the early 2020 baseline.

Use of Montgomery County parks during the
pandemic continues to surge

Montgomery County still has a new appreciation for the great outdoors, though. Fall use of parks countywide shot up to 42% higher than that of early 2020; that number was up only 28% more in warmer July and August 2021, by comparison. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Rockville approves mandatory vaccine policy for City employees

Rockville's Mayor and Council unanimously approved a resolution mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all City employees at their meeting last night. Exceptions for documented religious or medical reasons will be allowed; those receiving approved exemptions will have to be tested weekly for the virus. Those not fully vaccinated or exempted by November 15, 2021 will face disciplinary action, or termination.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Montgomery County residents in parks, grocery stores more than before the pandemic, data shows

Residents still not going back to the
office, transit, or general shopping 
in great numbers

Montgomery County residents are shopping inside grocery and drug stores in larger numbers than they were before the pandemic, the latest Google Mobility data show. They're making even greater use of parks than before Covid-19 officially arrived last spring. Other travel hasn't bounced back as strongly, such as going into the office, or commuting there by transit. And in-person retail shopping for items other than groceries and medicine remains sluggish, in relative comparison.

Using a baseline of mobility data Google collected from Montgomery County residents' devices between January 3 and February 6, 2020, behavioral changes are evident. The latest Google data covers the period between Monday, July 19, 2021, and Monday, August 30, 2021.

Hillwood Manor Park in Takoma Park

Over the last half of this summer, County residents were using parks 28% more than they were at the start of 2020. One caveat to that: the new data covers a warm, summer period, while the baseline was taken during the height of winter.

Safeway in Damascus

A more apples-to-apples comparison is in grocery and pharmacy shopping; the latter surges during winter months. But during late summer 2021, County residents were going into grocery stores and drugstores 7% more than they were during the height of cold and flu season in early 2020. There has been an increasing strain on grocery supply lines again in recent weeks, as evidenced by Costco reinstating limits on the number of some items that may be purchased, such as paper towels and toilet paper. Business Insider reports that shortages are the result of panic buying over the Delta variant, and of labor shortages affecting the ability to produce, ship and restock merchandise.

CVS Pharmacy

Residents aren't shopping in other types of retail stores, or traveling for non-park recreational activities as much, though. "Retail and recreation" travel was down 12% in late summer this year, compared to early 2020. One would expect recreation to be higher in summer than in midwinter, so that is a notable decline.

Metro Red Line train in Rockville

Travel to workplaces looks better than it was during the lockdowns and peaks of the pandemic, but still follows the national trend of those working from home continuing to do so where possible. Workplace travel was 44% lower in late summer 2021 in Montgomery County than it was in January-February 2020. Those traveling for any reason are often still wary of using public transit. Bus and rail commuting was down 42% in recent weeks, compared to early 2020.

One thing many residents are doing is continuing to stay home. Despite warm weather, County residents stayed at home 11% more over the last six weeks than they did in frigid January-February 2020.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Montgomery County executive appears maskless in Montgomery College classroom

Montgomery County has been under an indoor mask order for several weeks. When County Executive Marc Elrich (D) was caught on camera without a mask in a classroom at Montgomery College on Monday, his critics pounced, calling it hypocrisy. Elrich was attending a "5G Bootcamp" at the community college with Congressman David Trone (D - 6th District).

Trone posted several photos of the event on Twitter. In all but one, Elrich is wearing a mask. But in the maskless photo, everyone but Elrich in the classroom is wearing a mask. "Rules for thee, and not for me," tweeted @justhefactsmo1, sharing Trone's tweet. "What's the ticket for doing this in the grocery store? $500?" asked @jensreesman.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Rockville Mayor & Council to consider changes to remainder of 2021 event schedule

While the Biden administration earlier this year targeted July 4 as a symbolic ending to the pandemic, new virus variants, debates about the necessity for booster shots, and a failure to reach vaccination targets have made it hard to make such a declaration. In this context, the City of Rockville is now re-examining events that had been anticipated to take place over the remainder of 2021. "The pandemic is better, but not quite over," a staff report prepared for the Mayor and Council meeting for July 19 summarizes. 

Staff recommendations include postponing a planned Post-Covid 19 Pandemic Celebration until next year, as well as the State of the City address and the annual Volunteer Appreciation Party. The report notes that, in addition to health concerns, staff shortages at security firms have massively increased costs for hiring event security this year.

Other recommended changes are to move the Rocktobierfest from Rockville Town Square to RedGate Park, and to proceed with the 9//11 ceremony, the Rockville Antique and Classic Car Show, and Veterans Day ceremony at Veterans Park as scheduled, as all of these events are outdoors.

The Mayor and Council will review the recommendations at Monday's meeting, and instruct staff to implement any schedule changes.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Montgomery County Council bucks state advice to lift covid restrictions on business

While most of Maryland reopened for business without restrictions yesterday, the Montgomery County Council resisted Gov. Larry Hogan's call to end restrictions on business. The Council met as the Board of Health Friday, after debating its authority to rebuff Hogan's statewide lifting of limits on retail and restaurants all week. Councilmembers ultimately chose not to lift capacity limits on indoor dining and shopping, which will remain at 25% capacity (although some large retailers have been able to get a waiver for the 25% cap for months), and only rise to 50% on March 26. The updated guidelines unanimously approved by the Council include the following:

As of yesterday at 5:00 PM:

  • removing local restrictions on capacity at child care facilities, which follow state requirements
  • increasing outdoor gatherings to a maximum of 50 people
  • increasing indoor gatherings to a maximum of 25 people
  • eliminating the limit of one person per 200 square feet
  • eliminating alcohol limits on food-service facilities; alcohol can be sold after 10 pm
  • eliminating the restriction on buffet service for food-service facilities
  • increasing the capacity for religious facilities to 50%

The following changes will go into effect on March 26:

  • increasing the maximum capacity to 50% for indoor dining, retail shops, fitness centers and other businesses
  • permitting arts and entertainment facilities to open at 25% capacity, provided they do not sell or permit food for consumption in the facility

The guidelines for entertainment venues as written do not immediately appear to apply to movie theaters, which serve food. Only "theaters" that don't serve concessions may reopen at 25% as of March 26. Given that concessions are key to profits for cineplexes, it seems unlikely they would forgo sales of food just to reopen.

County Executive Marc Elrich cited the low percentage of Montgomery County residents who have received a coronavirus vaccination as a primary reason to not lift covid restrictions to the degree the state did Friday. "County leaders will continue focusing on what works, listening to our public health experts and acting based on the needs of our community because public health is the key to a sustained and robust recovery for all," Elrich said in a statement yesterday after the Council vote.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Fallsgrove Liquor & Wine employee tests positive for Covid-19

Store closes for cleaning

Montgomery County government-operated Fallsgrove Liquor & Wine in Rockville closed temporarily after an employee tested positive for Covid-19 on Tuesday. County officials say the employee was last in the store on Monday, December 14. A specialized team is being brought in to disinfect the store, which will reopen once it has the go-ahead from County health officials.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Maryland Gov. limits travel to essential purposes only, requires out-of-state travelers to quarantine or provide negative test

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) held a press conference late this afternoon, announcing several executive orders and coronavirus protocol directives. Hogan announced he is lowering the state's public gathering limit from 25 people to 10. The governor also issued an emergency order limiting travel to essential purposes only. Travelers from out-of-state (or Marylanders returning from out-of-state) must self-quarantine for 10 days, or provide a negative Covid-19 test, upon arriving in the state. 

Mandatory telework has been proscribed for all state employees who can. Hogan said that starting December 21, front-facing government offices will be temporarily suspending all in-person interactions with the public for two weeks.

Echoing New Zealand's exemption for the Easter Bunny earlier this year, Hogan exempted Santa Claus, elves, and reindeer from travel restrictions. He said Dr. Anthony Fauci told him in a Zoom conference earlier today that Santa Claus has immunity to Covid-19.

Hogan said the state will provide $30 million in assistance for restaurants, and $15 million more for entertainment venues, hurt by the pandemic. He also announced $40 million being added to the Temporary Assistance Program, and $40 million to care providers for the developmentally disabled.

The governor asked residents to do their part to reduce the spread of the virus, and to look forward to "a better, healthier and happier 2021."