Coronavirus in Maryland: 5 takeaways from the week

The coronavirus starred, once again, as the main point of Thursday night’s presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in Tennessee. The candidates sparred over the severity of the virus and how best to address it, with the president saying the public is “learning to live with it.”

“People are learning to die with it,” Biden replied, reminding viewers that at least 220,000 people in the U.S. have died from the coronavirus since March.


Republicans and Democrats have clashed throughout much of the pandemic over these same ideas: COVID-19′s severity, how to mitigate it, and when and how quickly to reopen parts of the economy.

In Maryland, the Republican governor and the slate of Democratic county executives have frequently diverged since Maryland’s reopening process started this spring, though the electorate remains overwhelmingly supportive of Gov. Larry Hogan and his handling of the public health crisis.


To catch Marylanders up on the stories they may have missed, here are five key points from The Baltimore Sun’s coronavirus coverage this week.

Hogan pulls from Rainy Day fund for small business relief

In an Annapolis news conference on Thursday, Hogan chided Washington lawmakers for failing to pass a second stimulus to support flailing business owners and unemployed workers. Then, he moved forward on an idea that lawmakers and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot had previously lobbied for — pulling from the state’s Rainy Day fund and infusing that into small business aid programs.

The state had previously launched economic recovery appropriations, including one designed to provide $10,000 grants to small businesses that quickly ran out of money. Other programs were slow to roll out.

Hogan said the state will offer $250 million more in financial relief, with the biggest chunk of the money — $100 million — to be used to create an “emergency rapid response fund” for small businesses. Another $50 million will go specifically toward restaurants and $20 million will target small businesses in “main street” environments.

“Our economy is doing better than the rest of the country and most states, but it’s still really bad,” the Republican governor said. He urged Marylanders to act responsibly and abide by simple, safe hygienic guidelines to maintain the state’s economic recovery pace.

Maryland rolls out draft of vaccine plans

All states were tasked with submitting draft plans of how they would roll out COVID-19 vaccines once they become available. Maryland’s plan, made public Tuesday, calls for administering the vaccines in two phases — with health care workers, some essential employees and “vulnerable” citizens in the first group, and the general population in the second.


The plan says that “final decisions are still being made” about exactly who would be eligible first for a vaccine, but it estimates having about 14% of the population in the first phase.

Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an adviser to Hogan on his coronavirus task force, said the draft lacked critical details about the logistics and costs of such a venture, which will likely take months to accomplish and millions of dollars to execute. He said the state should have proactive planning in place that prevent against “vaccine deserts” and other barriers to access for people of low income or without health care and primary care physicians.

The draft states that “equity” should be considered in distributing the vaccine, but did not give specifics. Dr. Tumaini Rucker Coker, director of research at Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Center for Diversity & Health Equity, said health care interventions have to explicitly emphasize disadvantaged populations first — rather than adapt neutral plans — to suit at-risk populations.

“We create things for the advantaged, for people who have access to primary care or transportation, can take time off work during business hours and who have health literacy,” said Coker. “If we want to reduce disparities, all the plans and processes should be designed with the most underserved populations in mind.”

Ravens get green light to host fans

Last week, Hogan surprised Baltimore City officials when he announced the state would enable jurisdictions to open sports stadiums to up to 10% capacity excluding athletes, coaches and other team personnel. Outgoing Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who has authority over both the Ravens' M&T Bank Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards, said Friday that the city has OK’d the move.

Roughly 3,000 people will be allowed into the lower bowl seats. Another 800 fans will have access to club-level seats, while 500 people will be seated in suites, the mayor’s office said.


Other states have already opened their stadium doors back to fans and at higher capacities than M&T Bank would allow. In Texas' AT&T Stadium, for example, the Dallas Cowboys can play with 25% attendance at its home games and has averaged about 24,000 fans so far. In Kansas City, as many as 16,000 fans have come to watch home games.

Public health experts said outdoor stadium environments make the transmission risk lower — but don’t eliminate it altogether. Dr. Leana Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner and an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, said people should avoid crowded tailgates, bars and restaurants and other high risk settings before and after the game.

The Ravens will not allow tailgating on-site and will have guests complete a health screening before entering the stadium.

On Thursday, Hogan again cautioned against gathering in large crowds and “congregate settings” to ensure the state stays on track in its reopening.

Neurodiverse children in a ‘no-win’ situation

Remote learning has caused a slew of problems for students, especially those lacking access to technology and broadband internet service, kids in unstable home environments, and children without parents, tutors or aides at home to help them navigate the rigor of virtual coursework. But for special education students, the challenges of remote instruction might have even caused regression in certain skill areas.


About 1 in 8 Maryland students has a disability and is guaranteed access to specialized education services by law. But many of those services were altered or cut off when school districts closed buildings in response to the pandemic.

Some of these kids will qualify as part of the initial waves of students eligible to return to in-person learning when schools systems reopen to limited groups in the coming weeks. But often those same students have underlying health conditions that put them at a higher risk for COVID-19, and some teachers and parents worry that returning to schools is too dangerous.

Special educators tend to be much more hands-on than those in a mainstream setting, which poses a challenge for social distancing. They also have a breadth of knowledge and resources to aid neurodiverse students in their studies, a fact that many parents cite as a reason for why their kids should go back to the physical classroom.

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Leslie Margolis, an attorney with Disability Rights Maryland, represents both families who are desperate for schools to reopen and those who are fearful of the health risks to their children. School systems and state education leaders should consider reopening plans that reflect that dichotomy, she said.

Trouble ahead for oyster season?

Maryland’s wild oyster season typically starts in October and extends deep into the fall, as the treasured seafood item will often make an appearance on some Thanksgiving tables. But the state’s watermen and some restaurateurs say they have lowered their expectations for this year due to the pandemic, especially as fewer people dine at restaurants.

“Most people don’t know how to shuck oysters without cutting themselves up real bad,” said Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association. “Normally you have big oyster festivals, you have your church dinners … you’re not seeing that this year.”


Oyster prices are considerably lower than at this time last year, according to the Watermen’s Association. Oyster farms, which sell oysters beyond the wild oyster season, already have felt the effects.

On top of it all, scientists say 2020 is poised to be a fairly good oyster season in the bay, scientists say, compounding worries that more oysters will be harvested than can be sold.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture’s seafood marketing team has pivoted to encouraging locals to cook Maryland seafood at home.

Baltimore Sun reporters Pamela Wood, Daniel Oyefusi, Lillian Reed, Angela Roberts and Christine Condon contributed to this article.