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While the president peddles pandemic fiction, the nation’s governors lead | COMMENTARY

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, shown here at a news conference in Annapolis Friday, has asked the Trump administration for help in securing federal aid for states as they battle the novel coronavirus and its effects.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, shown here at a news conference in Annapolis Friday, has asked the Trump administration for help in securing federal aid for states as they battle the novel coronavirus and its effects. (Susan Walsh/AP)

President Trump has made clear that he intends to push the country toward re-opening “sooner rather than later,” assembling a team of advisors to study when and how to restart the economy amid a pandemic, and declaring that he alone “calls the shots” on lifting lockdown restrictions. “When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total,” he said this week, claiming there were “numerous provisions” in the Constitution that made it so.

But really, there aren’t.

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Ours is a government of split powers, and while the president can dictate international travel restrictions and limits on federal agencies, as well as offer (or withhold) guidance and aid, the individual states largely have control over how they handle this public health crisis. And that’s as it should be. Progression of the novel coronavirus varies wildly by region — right down to ZIP code, as we’ve seen in the Baltimore area — as does compliance with recommended social distancing measures, and a one-size-fits all approach will undoubtedly lead to disaster. Trump gave a nod to this Tuesday, announcing he will authorize individual state plans, and acknowledging that “certain states... are in much different condition and in a much different place than other states.”

We understand that urge to get back to business, however, and that the pressure to re-open the country mounts with each passing day. In just a few weeks, millions of Americans have lost jobs or been forced to take pay cuts, and the economic expansion of the past decade has been abruptly cut short. COVID-19 is both a human tragedy and an economic one, with devastating personal consequences that some would put on par with death: the inability to support a family, pay bills or put food on the table.

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But regions that reopen businesses while COVID-19 cases are escalating will only increase transmission and likely overwhelm their health care systems. Cases and hospitalizations must be well managed before an area can consider even gradual reopening, and there must be a rapid and robust testing system in place first. That’s necessary to both identify those who might have some limited immunity — and thus can more safely return to work and play — and to diagnose the newly ill, while also tracking down their recent contacts in order to implement a quarantine. Nationwide, that’s going to take a workforce of roughly 100,000 “contract tracers” at a cost of about $3.6 billion, according to a recent report from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

President Trump is more than welcome to recommend the allocation of those funds now if he’d like to speed up the process. But in the meantime, it’s best left to the governors, working with officials at the municipal level, to determine what’s best for the residents of their states — assuming they’re basing decisions on actual data and well-thought-out plans, rather than fantasy (like, say, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who on Monday declared Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment an essential business allowed to operate).

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, also a Republican, appears to recognize this. He told CNN Monday that coronavirus decisions should be made by “individual governors” and “based on the facts on the ground, talking with doctors and scientists."

We’re surprised he didn’t go further, however, and outline the steps he’s taking to prepare for the eventual loosening of restrictions in his state. We don’t know what criteria Maryland will set for its own reopening, which we hope is still some time away, nor exactly how the state is coordinating efforts with surrounding areas.

At least seven Northeast states, two of which border Maryland have developed a “regional advisory council” to guide efforts (Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island). And California, Oregon and Washington have organized a similar pact on the West Coast. Though Maryland is at a different stage in its own coronavirus curve, we would have expected Governor Hogan, as chairman of the National Governors Association, to be leading the way in such coordination efforts, helping set guidelines, standards, best practices and the means for information sharing. Thus far, however, his administration has only said it continues to work closely with Washington, D.C., and Virginia leaders.

Perhaps he doesn’t want to rock the boat just yet. Governor Hogan asked the Trump administration Monday for help breaking up a “logjam” in the Senate that’s holding up $500 billion in federal aid to states. If he angers President Trump, such help is unlikely to materialize; in fact, Maryland would likely be punished for it.

Still, he and his counterparts must stand strong. While President Trump is peddling fiction about how the country’s “Economy will BOOM, perhaps like never before!!!” upon reopening and that reopening could could occur “maybe even before the date of May 1st,” we’re trusting America’s governors to make reasoned decisions regarding our livelihoods and lives.

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.

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