Gov. Larry Hogan has done an excellent job of instituting protective policies to reduce the numbers of people in Maryland requiring hospitalization and dying of COVID-19. He may have flattened the curve by early and aggressive emergency actions protecting health care workers as well as most Marylanders. He has aggressively dealt with the problem of the virus spreading in nursing homes. We are grateful. But there are three populations that he has failed to address. The neglect in dealing aggressively with these populations could cause COVID-19 to flare and spread like wildfire endangering many minority people primarily and endangering the rest of Marylanders secondarily, wiping out the protection that his good policies have heretofore allowed Marylanders to enjoy.
The homeless, ICE detainees and all other prisoners housed in Maryland are largely minority and totally unable to comply with the 6-feet distance order, to wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water and to do so often. As a consequence, they and the Marylanders who serve them will spread infection, and many likely will die though this could have been foreseen and prevented.
Governor Hogan could institute coronavirus testing of all persons homeless and detained in the state using the test the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene deems the most sensitive and specific. Following the department’s recommendations using results and clinical guidelines, he could institute further hospitalization versus quarantining for 14 days when releasing all non-violent prisoners, all elderly prisoners and those with chronic illnesses as long as these people are considered no threat to the community. Amnesty International urges U.S. governors and local authorities to utilize their authority to instruct immigration detention facilities, as well as county and local jails, to reduce their immigration detainee occupancy, which could be done by urging ICE to release all non-violent detainees housed in Maryland under state of emergency regulations.
Finally, Governor Hogan and Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young could work together to try to find housing (for example, in empty motels) and food for homeless especially families, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses. All lives matter and what happens to one population during a pandemic will put all lives at risk. Is it too late to institute these policies? It surely would have been better to have made these changes weeks earlier but it may not be too late to save lives.
While the governor deserves much respect for his actions at this time, I hope and pray he will reach out to the most vulnerable Marylanders with policies that protect them and benefit us all. Furthermore, let us hope this leads to permanent policy changes that address the disparity in access to health and wealth this pandemic is exploiting.
Gwen L. DuBois, Baltimore
The writer is president of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility.