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Gov. Hogan needs to reopen the state | COMMENTARY

Kyanne Garrigan, owner of Full Heart Solutions, placed flowers on a planter outside her store as she prepared to receive customers at her establishment on Main Street in Bel Air last Friday, when some small business and retailers were allowed to reopen with some guidelines after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan lifted the state's stay-at-home order.
Kyanne Garrigan, owner of Full Heart Solutions, placed flowers on a planter outside her store as she prepared to receive customers at her establishment on Main Street in Bel Air last Friday, when some small business and retailers were allowed to reopen with some guidelines after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan lifted the state's stay-at-home order.(Julio Cortez/AP)

The emperor has no clothes, but Gov. Larry Hogan wants us to pretend otherwise, rather than point out the embarrassingly obvious. Data indicates COVID-19 is a manageable disease. He needs to accelerate Maryland’s reopening, not pass the buck to county governments. One emperor is bad enough; 24 is worse.

Initially, Marylanders gave Governor Hogan’s March business closure and stay-at-home order the benefit of the doubt. The governor said closures of all but essential businesses were necessary “to flatten the curve” so hospitals wouldn’t be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients dying in hallways without respirators. Experts, whose models took social distancing into account, projected that might happen. Governor Hogan plausibly claimed,” In two weeks, around Easter, we’re going to look more like New York.”

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However, Maryland has not looked like New York, despite similar exposure and response timelines. As of Monday afternoon, New York state had 27,232 COVID-19 deaths; Maryland 1,903. The “experts” and their models were wrong. We haven’t run out of hospital beds or respirators anywhere in the United States. The curve was flattened.

Maryland has 9,400 hospital beds and 1,200 intensive care beds. As of Monday afternoon, 1,447 were hospitalized with COVID-19, with 555 in the intensive care unit. COVID-19 hospital bed usage never topped 1,700. We’ve had plenty of capacity. Hospitals have laid off staff and cut pay because they haven’t had enough patients.

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Consider this data. Maryland’s population is around 6 million. As of Monday, 161,744 Marylanders have tested negative for COVID-19 and 39,762 have tested positive. Over half (984) of our 1,903 deaths were assisted living residents. Among the dead, 1,317 were over 70, and 1,619 were over 60. Only 210 Marylanders under age 60 have died of COVID-19. No Marylander under 20 has died of COVID-19 at all.

Every death is tragic, but statistically, you could fit working age Marylanders who’ve died of COVID-19 on the head of a pin. This is reality, despite the headlines and the hype; and it’s the most critical factor to consider in deciding when to go back to work, when to go back to school, and who should stay at home.

Yet Governor Hogan treats Maryland like New York, and acts like he’s saving us all from COVID-19. It’s not, and he isn’t. New York state deaths, at 145 per 100,000 are nearly five times Maryland’s. Governor Hogan’s failure to test nursing home residents and staff for COVID-19 until late April contributed to over half of Maryland’s deaths. It’s myopic to close businesses and lock down healthy young people to “protect” them from COVID-19, while failing to safeguard our vulnerable elderly population. But that’s exactly what happened.

COVID-19 threatens the elderly and those with preexisting conditions, not the young and healthy. We must modify our approach to it accordingly, so we don’t end up destroying Maryland in order to save it. The young and healthy should work. The elderly and those with preexisting conditions should stay at home. Data indicate this is not only a prudent and appropriate course, but also the only sustainable one until a vaccine is found.

Some claim Governor Hogan’s business closure and stay-at-home orders, “saved thousands.” Yet Sweden, with a larger elderly population, did neither, and has a death rate of 36 people/100,000 to Maryland’s 33 people/100,000. We’ve saved few lives, but ruined many.

We are not faced with a choice between life and jobs. We are faced with a choice between life and mindless fear. The longer we remain paralyzed with fear, the more difficult recovery will be. More than half million of Maryland’s 2.8 million workers have filed for unemployment benefits since March. Maryland projects a $2.8 billion drop in tax revenue by June. Prolonging this shutdown unnecessarily harms everyone. We cannot take care of elderly COVID-19 patients without a tax base, and Maryland will not have a tax base unless the young and healthy work.

You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. Nor do you have to be an “expert” to see it’s safe for the young and healthy to go back to work now, while the elderly and those at risk stay home. This isn’t a new concept. We’ve always done it, and it works. We don’t need 24 new emperors to figure this out. We need Governor Hogan to put his governor pants back on and let us go back to work.

Herb McMillan (herbmcmillan@verizon.net) represented Annapolis for three terms in the Maryland House of Delegates.

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