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Editorial

Lack of coronavirus transparency a troubling trend in Hogan administration | COMMENTARY

Local leaders in Maryland have once again had to call for more transparency from the Hogan administration regarding its coronavirus response, this time sending a letter asking for details about the state’s contact tracing program, which Gov. Larry Hogan launched in May. He claimed at the time it would be “a partnership across all 24 jurisdictions.” But thus far, at least six of those regions feel a little left out.

“As we continue our COVID-19 planning efforts, we request data and information that are critical to preparation in our respective jurisdictions,” the Aug. 14 letter began. It was signed by Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, Baltimore City Mayor Jack Young, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball and Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich.

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The Democratic leaders are seeking details on the time it takes to get lab results back, where contacts are occurring and what occupational transmission looks like, as well as the raw data from each jurisdiction, the source material for fall and winter projections, testing deployment plans and specific definitions for indicators being studied, such as a “family gathering.” They’re also asking that the symptom list contact tracers use be expanded to include all the characteristics listed by the Centers for Disease Control or that justification be given for why some signs — including diarrhea, congestion, nausea and fatigue — are being excluded by tracers.

The information request follows a string of similar inquiries from Democratic leaders throughout Maryland. It’s part of a troubling trend we’ve seen over the past several months of the Hogan administration failing to provide details or outright refusing to answer questions from both legislators and media about how resources are being allocated and COVID-19 spread throughout the state. And it’s got to stop if we’re to have any hope of effectively managing coronavirus, particularly with schools resuming shortly — some in person — and the fall cold and flu season just around the corner, adding to the viral threats Maryland faces.

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On April 23, AARP called on Maryland to share nursing home data after The Sun reported that state health officials were refusing to detail which facilities had outbreaks, claiming such “disclosure serves no public health purpose.” Under pressure, Gov. Hogan complied several days later.

On April 24, U.S. Rep Anthony Brown sent the Republican governor a letter asking for information on how and where half a million coronavirus tests acquired from South Korea — at a cost of $9 million in taxpayer funds — were being used. On May 9, Del. Kirill Reznick of Montgomery County also wrote a letter to the administration asking about test deployment. On May 14, Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones implored Governor Hogan to “provide full transparency and daily updates.” And on May 29, the Democratic members of the Maryland delegation to Congress asked that he publicly release his testing plan. It had been earlier revealed that Maryland Health Department officials had repeatedly declined to brief lawmakers or answer questions from reporters on the topic.

And last month, a fiscal policy analyst with the Maryland Department of Legislative Services told lawmakers that the Hogan administration was being “not terribly forthcoming” at the time about how it planned to spend nearly half a billion dollars in federal COVID-19 relief money the state received.

Why all the secrecy? Especially from an administration that has repeatedly passed responsibility for curtailing COVID-19 to county and city leaders. How are they to make informed decisions about the best way to proceed in their regions if the state won’t share basic details about the spread and its containment without prodding?

Robert R. Neall, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health sent a detailed response to the local leaders’ latest request Thursday, urging their respective health departments to work with the state, “rather than talking about it through a correspondence campaign.” It would be a fair point if there weren’t an established pattern of withholding information. Given the administration’s history, documenting each request publicly and in writing seems prudent.

The first line on the Hogan administration’s coronavirus website says they’re “committed to being transparent [and] keeping Marylanders fully informed.” Their actions thus far suggest anything but.

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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