While I feel strongly about where the limitations of “freedom of choice” end, I also acknowledge that others have different opinions and I am willing to accept that.
As a scientist, I have a much stronger opinion on how much leeway we should be giving those who choose to have their own facts. What we have to acknowledge is that it is dishonest to allow misinformation to drive the “freedom of choice” argument.
“Everyone I know that is in the hospital with COVID is vaccinated.” Actually, the extreme minority of Maryland adults that are not vaccinated account for more than 75% of the hospitalizations.
“We have seen that masks don’t work.” Nope. Many studies on the effectiveness of masks show that stopping respiratory droplets at the source is the most effective way to limit the amount of virus in real-world situations.
Even though Maryland boasts the highest percentage of advanced degree holders in the country, we have a disparity in how various counties in the state have handled the pandemic since Gov. Larry Hogan lifted most of the COVID restrictions on July 1.
While Maryland touts the fact that 93% of those 18 and over have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, this number is only 86% in Harford County. While at first blush those seven points may seem insignificant, let’s look at it a little differently. In Maryland, 7% of residents have completely rejected the vaccines, but in Harford County that number is twice as high.
This obviously doesn’t just extend to vaccines. We also have noticeably less frequent mask wearing, and a general apathetic attitude toward pandemic solutions.
What this has led to, is since the statewide COVID restrictions were lifted, there is significant disparity in how each county has fared. Residents in Harford County have died from COVID at a rate that is 40 percent higher than the rest of the state, and more than triple that of the most vaccinated counties, Montgomery and Howard.
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Indirectly, we are all victims as well. It was four weeks ago that Harford County declared a hospital disaster for both of its hospitals. We have COVID patients waiting in the ER for a bed to open up, and sometimes they are transported to other areas of the state that are less overwhelmed. We have effectively turned Harford’s problem into someone else’s problem.
What this means for the rest of our residents is a diminished health care system that cannot meet the standard of care that we are accustomed to. Personally, we nearly lost a family friend last week when a COVID-induced cardiovascular condition landed him in the ICU. They could not get him a bed quickly in Harford County and his wife had to scramble to find him medical care outside the county. The selfish group of unvaccinated individuals clogging up the ICU beds in Harford County nearly claimed another victim.
While the highly vaccinated (educated) Maryland counties moved into a maximum protection posture with mask mandates during this most recent wave, Harford County leaders decided to roll the dice, despite our low vaccination rates. Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and the County Council say it is because Harford County residents want “freedom of choice.”
Do we? Which residents? I assume they mean the 14% of vocal science-denying, “freedom of facts”, residents that are clogging up our hospitals. Do other counties that are taking our overflow patients want our “freedom of choice?”
At a recent County Council meeting, medical professionals were met with questions like this one from council member Tony Giangiordano: “Have we had anybody die in the last couple of weeks with this?” And this one from council member Robert Wagner: “The PCR test really doesn’t differentiate between influenza and coronavirus, is that true?” These are questions from elected leaders who have been in these positions throughout the pandemic, they know better. These are the same men who fired the Harford County health officer in a partisan fashion last October.
The natural question is, which came first, the vocal anti-science groups or the partisan politicking stemming from the anti-science rhetoric. The answer is that it really doesn’t matter. But the narrative needs to change. Facts, not feelings, need to drive decision making at all levels of government. The COVID pandemic has brought to light what our leaders are made of, and it is time to hold each of them to that in November.
Jared DeCoste is a Harford County parent and scientist with a Ph.D. in materials chemistry. He has worked 11 years for the U.S. Army’s Chemical Biological Center in the Protection Division developing materials for masks.