Maryland’s COVID state of emergency is set to expire Sunday, but top state lawmakers are urging Gov. Larry Hogan to reverse course and keep it in place.
“Now is not the time to end the stated public health emergency — not only because of the limitations it will put on our State response but also because of the message that it sends to the public at large about the urgency of this situation, particularly as we prepare to send our children back to school,” House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and several of her top lieutenants, all Democrats, wrote to Hogan on Friday.
Hogan, a Republican, said in June that he would end two legal states of emergency Aug. 15. They have been in effect since March 2020, when Hogan announced the state’s first confirmed coronavirus cases.
Hogan and his team have maintained that the state remains well-positioned to weather the pandemic, even without a state of emergency in place. A spokesman for the governor acknowledged the lawmakers’ letter, thanking them for noting that Maryland is a leader in pandemic response.
“Part of what has kept us a national leader is how we have incorporated our public health response — and all of the testing, tracing, surge capacity, and vaccine distribution infrastructure the state built from scratch — into the day-to-day operations of state government,” Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci said in a statement.
At the time of Hogan’s announcement earlier this summer that he would end the states of emergency, coronavirus vaccinations were going strong and case counts were easing. Hospitalizations were on a steady decline.
Since then, the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has taken root in Maryland, and across the nation, spurring a wave of infections and hospitalizations. On Friday, nearly 500 people were being treated for the coronavirus in Maryland hospitals, a patient load that has climbed steadily since reaching a pandemic low of 97 patients in early July.
Some local governments and private businesses have taken steps intended to slow the spread of the delta variant, including the city of Baltimore, which reimposed this week a mandate for everyone to wear masks indoors in public places.
Jones and other Democratic lawmakers argue that the rise of the delta variant requires a course correction, one that would keep the state of emergency in place.
“Just as you were able to end the State of Emergency earlier than expected as COVID-19 infections declined, the unknown nature of the virus and its variants requires that we change course once again,” the delegates wrote.
The state of emergency has enabled the governor and his team to take actions ranging from expediting the purchase of pandemic supplies and setting up treatment units to closing down schools and ordering people to wear masks.
It also allows for such things as flexibility for health care providers and the ability to tap the resources of the Maryland National Guard — which may be needed again if the virus continues to get worse, said Sen. Clarence Lam, a physician who has watched the governor’s public health actions closely.
Having the state of emergency in place gives the government greater flexibility in responding to the pandemic, a flexibility that shouldn’t be given up now, Lam said in an interview.
“Given the current environment we’re in, I would be loathe to take tools off the table,” said Lam, a Democrat who represents parts of Howard and Baltimore counties.
He added: “I think it’s premature to wave the flag and say: ‘We’re done.’”
Ricci noted the state health secretary can issue many types of public health orders, such as a recent one requiring certain state employees be vaccinated or else wear masks at work and submit to regular tests.
He also took a dig at the House Democratic leaders for their letter, saying: “This is some very inconsistent messaging, since usually the legislature is so focused on taking power away from the governor.”
Hogan last week defended his decision to end the emergency order.
“We have now transitioned from the crisis phase of the state of emergency to a more sustained, ongoing, long-term public health management response,” Hogan said then.
The letter also was signed by Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes, the House speaker pro tem from the Eastern Shore; Del. Eric Luedtke, majority leader from Montgomery County; Del. Talmadge Branch, majority whip from Baltimore; Del. Shane Pendergrass, chair of the Health and Government Operations Committee from Howard County, and Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, vice chair of the Health and Government Operations Committee representing Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties.