xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Hogan’s COVID order: incautious, uncoordinated, unwise | COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert Redfield, former CDC director under Donald Trump, is now an unpaid health adviser to Gov. Larry Hogan. Governor Hogan announced Tuesday he is lifting capacity limits at restaurants and opening up large indoor and outdoor venues at 50% capacity, while keeping in effect the state’s mask mandate. (Bryn Stole/Baltimore Sun).
Dr. Robert Redfield, former CDC director under Donald Trump, is now an unpaid health adviser to Gov. Larry Hogan. Governor Hogan announced Tuesday he is lifting capacity limits at restaurants and opening up large indoor and outdoor venues at 50% capacity, while keeping in effect the state’s mask mandate. (Bryn Stole/Baltimore Sun). (Pamela Wood/The Baltimore Sun)

Gov. Larry Hogan’s biggest mistake in his decision to lift many coronavirus restrictions statewide is not so much in the details — although lifting capacity limits on restaurants and allowing people to gather indoors unmasked seems particularly risky when less than 10% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated — but in his failure to consult or even inform local governments first.

The governor’s executive order, for the first time, specifically renders null and void existing local restrictions — made based on the particular COVID conditions within a jurisdiction — as of 5 p.m. Friday. That left leaders from Towson to Rockville scrambling after the Tuesday announcement to meet with their lawyers and health experts to decide what actions they can legally take to protect the health and safety of their residents.

Advertisement

This is no way to run a pandemic response.

This lack of coordination with local governments — a discourteous political gotcha — and one-size-fits-all approach to reopening could carry serious consequences. If there is a lesson to be learned in this terrible year of pandemic lockdowns, mask orders, treatment confusion and vaccine rollout missteps, it’s the need for all of us to work together at all levels and make decisions based on circumstances and fact.

Advertisement
Advertisement

“State law does grant local jurisdictions some powers to take actions that are more restrictive than the state is. But my advice would be that they should follow the state guidance and get in line,” Mr. Hogan said at his Tuesday conference. That last bit — the “get in line” directive — may be all we need to know about why he cut out local leaders. They’ve lobbed a lot of well-deserved criticism his way over the vaccine rollout, especially how it’s been failing minorities and the state’s most populous counties. This looks a lot like petty payback, and a pattern of it, at that. The governor has largely kept local governments and school systems in the dark regarding his pandemic pronouncements.

The governor made another point Tuesday worth noting: “It’s been very confusing,” he said, “with a patchwork of different people changing rules or not being in alignment with one another.”

Perhaps we could remind him that this was his design. Back in May he essentially washed his hands of decision-making regarding the city and counties, putting the onus on them to decide whether to participate in reopening at the pace he set. At the time, he called it a “flexible and community-based approach which empowers individual county leaders.” But today it’s a confusing patchwork.

It’s telling that Governor Hogan’s acting health secretary wasn’t front and center at the announcement. Nor were leading health experts from Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland. No, the governor was joined by none other than new adviser Robert R. Redfield, the former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Redfield is familiar to most Americans for standing unflinchingly behind then-President Donald Trump as he spouted all sorts of nonsense about the coronavirus. That hardly bolsters the impression the governor wants us to have that science is on his side. In fact, the dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Health suggests it’s not. Boris Lushniak told The Washington Post on Tuesday that Mr. Hogan’s announcement came “about two to four weeks” early by his estimate.

Advertisement

The net result is uncertainty. And that’s not good. It’s not good for business owners, who can’t yet be sure what happens at 5 p.m. Friday when the governor’s order goes into effect but still could be countered by local restrictions. And it’s not good for the rest of us, who are left wondering: Is it safe to dine indoors? To attend an outdoor sporting event? To go to a local bar or theater? Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect elected officials to speak with one voice on such difficult matters, but to not even discuss it? That is unacceptable, particularly in a state like Maryland with its vast health expertise, its educated populace and an economy clearly superior to many of its peers. At least the governor left the mask mandate in place, we’ll give him a pat on the back for doing that much.

This isn’t the first time Governor Hogan has bypassed local officials, but it may be the most egregious and potentially destructive to date. Given the real dangers involved with vaccines not yet in nearly enough arms and highly contagious variants on the move, one can only hope that the cost of this too-far, too-fast relaxation of rules and loss of public health credibility won’t some day be measured in lives lost.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement