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Local leaders make tough coronavirus decisions Maryland governor won’t | COMMENTARY

Baltimore Mayor Jack Young, shown here at a press conference in June, announced restrictions Wednesday to slow the spread of coronavirus in the city, including the suspension of indoor dining, after COVID-19 cases began climbing.
Baltimore Mayor Jack Young, shown here at a press conference in June, announced restrictions Wednesday to slow the spread of coronavirus in the city, including the suspension of indoor dining, after COVID-19 cases began climbing. (Jerry Jackson/The Baltimore Sun)

As coronavirus cases spiked in Maryland, health officers from the state’s five largest counties and Baltimore City asked the state to step in and renew restrictions on restaurants, bars and other venues that Gov. Larry Hogan lifted in June. But the governor, during an appearance on CSPAN-2 on Tuesday, said he planned to “keep business open, and the economy, unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

That forced local leaders to make the tough decisions to keep citizens safe that Maryland’s governor won’t. And they’re to be commended for it, though we urge them to coordinate their efforts to the extent possible, particularly among neighboring jurisdictions. Otherwise, they put themselves in a position where residents might cross into a nearby county for a less restrictive experience — then bring whatever they pick up there back home, further prolonging the need for shutdowns.

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On Tuesday, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. put a public mask requirement in place. Baltimore Mayor Jack Young followed with a similar order a day later, but he also announced that indoor dining at restaurants in the city would be banned for at least the next two weeks. And Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman on Thursday imposed late-night restrictions on restaurants and bars in that county, capped social gathering sizes and limited food courts to carry out sales. Violations will result in a $500 fine.

The tightening came as hospitalizations continued to tick upward in the state, and new, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Maryland clocked in at more than 500 per day for a sustained period, and close to 1,000 on several occasions. This suggests a troubling trend that could lead to much worse than temporary reversals in lifted restrictions if not addressed. Hospitalizations are among the top indicators of the state’s containment of coronavirus; their recent rise comes after weeks of declines and could signal that another wave of COVID-19 is in the works.

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“Rates of infection are a direct function of our behavior,” Mr. Pittman told reporters. “Two weeks after the last reopenings, our rates surged to a level that could eventually require a devastating shutdown of economic and personal activity.”

While the total numbers of hospitalizations are far lower than those we saw at the coronavirus peak this spring, the rate they’re increasing suggests the need for action according to Governor Hogan’s own Roadmap to Recovery reopening plan. It notes that an unexpected increase in hospitalizations — defined in a footnote as “three days of current COVID hospitalization rate percentage increases over the seven-day rolling average of current hospitalizations” — is one of several scenarios “requiring the easing to slow, stop, or even be reversed.”

As Baltimore Sun reporter Meredith Cohn noted in a story Friday, “that bar appears to have been met.”

We urge the governor to follow his own outline and set the standard throughout the state, rather than allow for a patchwork of confusing restrictions by jurisdiction. After initially implementing statewide precautions in March, the governor’s coronavirus strategy has since largely shifted to lifting them and leaving the locals to determine whether they should follow in their regions.

Governor Hogan has urged local leaders to crack down on individual businesses that aren’t following social distancing guidelines and slowed the pace of reopening, spokesman Mike Ricci told The Sun. But the recent rise in numbers suggests that’s not working. We hope he acknowledges this before it’s too late.

Mr. Ricci said the governor “will not hesitate to take statewide actions if and when we deem them to be necessary.” That time has come.

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

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