Friends, families and supporters:
Welcome to nearly-May! Warmer temps (downright hot this week), tree plumage and the promise of a new phase in our struggle with the pandemic. Let’s get right to it.
Just this week, the CDC has issued new guidelines on masking outdoors. This, added to our growing sense of optimism overall, has prompted many of you to ask questions of us about easing restrictions. Our responses aren’t always satisfying, we realize. Some of you have asked what metrics and information we’re using to inform the evolution of our protocols. I thought I’d share some of those metrics.
As you’ve read in this space in the relatively recent past, we are watching community vaccination rates very carefully. As I write this, 33.5% of Marylanders and 32.1% of Virginians are fully vaccinated. Just about one-third. In DC, its 29.2%. In Montgomery County, 35.6% of residents are fully vaccinated. (And just because it’s well worth repeating and celebrating, for people supported by JFGH, 97.5% are fully vaccinated. For staff, about 88% are fully vaccinated.)
To achieve herd immunity through a combination of vaccine and people who have contracted and recovered from COVID-19, it is believed that we need at least 70% of the community to be immune. So, best case scenario, in Montgomery County, we’re about half way there. As with most dynamic situations, however, it’s complicated. (See THIS ARTICLE from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.)
We’re also watching COVID-19 positivity rates and related metrics closely. In Montgomery County, for example, many of the indicators point to low to moderate levels of risk—a very good thing, especially considering where we’ve come from. We note that these data are a reflection of community residents in general and do not reflect indicators of risk for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
A recently published article from the New England Journal of Medicine (Catalyst) puts this into critical perspective and is a timely reminder that we do indeed need to remain cautious. Among other things, the article asserts the following: “Having an intellectual disability is the strongest independent risk factor for having a COVID-19 diagnoses among a large patient population in the US” (Gleason, et al., 2021, p. 9). Further, “if diagnosed with COVID-19, patients with intellectual disabilities [are] more likely to be admitted to hospital…and more likely to experience mortality due to COVID-19…” (ibid, pp. 9-10). In Virginia, the reality of mortality rates among people with IDD far exceeding that of people without IDD persists (as of data yesterday, Virginians with IDD who contract the virus are nearly 3 times more likely to die [2.92] than Virginians without IDD).
Fortunately, we are living now, at least for the overwhelming majority of people supported by and working for JFGH, in what I’ve taken to calling the post-vaccination era of this pandemic. And yes, vaccination really, really matters. We are indeed getting back to social connections, to work, to enjoying the fullness of community life, and we are absolutely dedicated to continuing to expand this work. We are anxious—perhaps even desperate—to resume our lives. Just this week, we engaged our Medical Advisory Panel (MAP) in an examination of post-vaccination risk. The news is very good. Even acknowledging the substantially greater risks faced by people with IDD to becoming infected and experiencing substantially more severe outcomes from infection, there is good reason and ample evidence to justify continuing to ease restrictions and resume activities and interactions that we’ve all missed so desperately for more than a year.
Even as I type this note, we are working on the next evolution of our Safe Return to Work and Risk Mitigation (SWARM) plan and related protocols. Our commitment, first and foremost to people we support, is to re-engage and re-connect, to get back to the things that bring us joy—jobs and relationships, fun amidst our fellow humans that fulfill us, good health and quality of life—and to do so safely, anchored to legitimate science, metrics and best practices as they emerge.
Even though we're all chomping at the bit to meet in person, we are looking forward to seeing many of you and your siblings at our virtual annual Bruce K. Smith Sibling Network brunch to be held on Zoom, Sunday, May 16, at 10am. Once again, this joyful moment to connect is graciously sponsored by Nick Cibel and the Cibel family. All siblings should have received a separate message about it (and if you didn't, please respond to this email and let us know). Please register here!
David Ervin, JFGH CEO,

Gleason, J., Ross, W., Fossi, A., Blonsky, H., Tobias, J. & Stephens, M. (2021).The devastating impact of Covid-19 on individuals with intellectual disabilities in the United States. NEJM Catalyst, March 5, 2021. DOI: 10.1056/CAT.21.0051. Avail at: The Devastating Impact of Covid-19 on Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities in the United States ( Retrieved April 21, 2021.