A top adviser to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan took aim at the reopening approach of several states during a live television appearance Sunday, saying the country lacks a unified message and has unnecessarily jeopardized thousands of American lives.
Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and one of a handful of individuals whom the Republican governor consults on matters central to the state’s COVID-19 response, said during an interview on “Fox News Sunday” that the U.S. has lost sight of “the basics” and has allowed the urgency of the pandemic to recede.
“It is really serious, the country is not in a good place in respect to COVID right now,” he said. “We have had insufficient attention to indoor large gatherings, and too many people are meeting for social gathering. We have to get back to the basics.”
The public health expert’s remarks come as states such as Florida report record-high numbers of positive COVID-19 cases and experience surges in hospitalizations and deaths. Although testing has ramped up throughout the country, they do not explain the new figures, as 35 states in the U.S. are reporting higher than recommended percentages of positive test results, according to Johns Hopkins data.
State officials reported Maryland’s positivity rate at under 5% on Sunday, though Hopkins recorded it slightly higher at 5.59%. The two entities calculate positivity rates differently.
Inglesby said while some states have kept the virus at bay and stabilized their case counts, others should consider tightening their restrictions until the numbers fall. He recommended people wear face coverings, maintain a safe distance apart and telecommute as much as possible.
“This idea that we could normalize large social gatherings again, that is just not right, and we are going to have to change course or we are going to continue to see these rises,” he said.
Inglesby, who has previously criticized President Donald Trump’s coronavirus messaging, knocked the Republican’s slow acquiescence to mask wearing on Sunday, saying that it sent a confusing message. He urged all public officials to unify on this point.
“I don’t think we should think of this as a personal choice. We don’t think it is a personal choice to drive through a neighborhood at 80 miles per hour; we agree to slow down because we want to protect kids. The same thing is true here — we want to wear masks to protect our neighbors,” he said. “The president, vice president and governors wearing masks in public is the right thing to do.”
On the topic of reopening schools, Inglesby advised against issuing an “ultimatum,” alluding to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Trump’s push to resume in-person learning at schoolhouses and institutions of higher education this fall despite the high risk factors involved, as described in a new report from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention leaked by The New York Times last week. Rather, he said schools should follow CDC guidance and receive financial assistance to safely reopen.
“All Americans share the goal of opening schools safely as soon as they can be. I don’t think that is a matter of debate for the country,” he said. “We do know that kids are at much lower risk of serious infection compared to adults but they are not at zero.”
While schools in other parts of the world have reopened, they had lower levels of transmission than the U.S. currently has, he said, adding that countries such as Israel experienced outbreaks after kids went back to in-person learning. And while children have less risk of contracting serious illness as a result of COVID-19, some have died as a result, he said, or passed the virus on to their relatives.
On the same Fox program, Hogan also discussed reopening schools, saying Maryland was “not going to be rushed into this” and would continue to follow the advice of medical and public health professionals. The governor said he has previously clashed with the president over the coronavirus and feels comfortable speaking up when he felt the White House went out of bounds.
“There is no question that things could have been done better from the beginning of this crisis,” he said. “We have got to deal with the situation at hand. We also have to do the best job we can because this thing is out of control, it is by no means behind us, and we are all in it together.”
Hogan said he will meet with state schools superintendent Karen B. Salmon this week to coordinate a reopening plan for schools “that is probably going to be hybrid” of in-person and virtual learning.