The coronavirus crisis has hit Maryland hard like it has other states––no, not the number of cases which totals only 8,225 as of April 12 or deaths which number only 235, but in terms of the shutdown of the economy. The pain Marylanders feel is in the number of people out of work (more than 125,000 have applied for unemployment), the number of businesses whose existence is threatened and the closure of schools, parks and other public facilities.
Any death due to the illness is sad and unfortunate, but Maryland is not a hot spot and is unlikely to become one. The state’s number of new cases started to decline this past week and only 1,709 people are currently hospitalized due to the virus. The disease is not overly taxing Maryland’s healthcare system.
Assuming the numbers will continue to decline, it is incumbent on state, city and county officials to begin to put in place concrete plans to remove restrictions and allow people to begin to resume normal activities while still exercising caution and common sense.
I’m calling for the governor to set up a bi-partisan body of public officials to put in place guidelines for when restrictions can be lifted. Right now only businesses designated as essential may remain open and these must enforce distancing and other safety measures.
What would resumption recommendations look like? Here’s an example: When the number of new cases in a county drop below 60 for two or three days in a row, there should be a list of businesses that are allowed to re-open. Then when the number drops below 40 a day in that jurisdiction, the list should include other businesses that can re-open. For example, retail establishments where the same safety measures employed now by pharmacies and grocery stores would apply might fall into the first camp. The first list might also include dentists who were forced to close under the assumption their masks would be needed. Restaurants, hair salons and the like might be allowed to reopen after the second milestone is reached.
When number of new cases in a county drops below 25 a day, public parks, golf courses, basketball courts and other sports settings should be allowed to re-open and education officials should be strongly advised to resume normal school activities.
Fourteen Maryland counties have had fewer than 100 cases. All social restrictions should be removed in those counties immediately.
Until a vaccine is developed and distributed widely, it is likely we will continue to see coronavirus cases resulting in hospitalizations and death. There has to be a point, however, when we as a society determine the fear of the disease should not result in the destruction of our economy. Each year tens of thousands of people die from the flu in the U.S. We don’t ask our public officials to restrict our behavior as a result of the flu. We recommend that people get flu shots and act intelligently when ill.
The president has stated that the cure should not be worse than the disease. For Maryland that means public officials need to act now to enable residents to resume normal activities sooner rather than later.