OCEAN CITY – Gov. Larry Hogan showed no immediate inclination to roll back some of the COVID-19 restrictions currently in place in Maryland despite a recent slight uptick in some of the numbers, although he did not rule out taking further action if necessary.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Hogan said most of the key metrics in Maryland continued to decline, or at least flat line, particularly the key positivity rates. However, the state has seen a steady increase in new positive cases over the last week. Perhaps most concerning is the increase in positive cases among Marylanders under the age of 35. Hogan said the gap is widening daily between those under 35 and those above that benchmark.
Earlier this week, a coalition of populous counties on the state’s western shore fired off a letter urging Hogan to urging the governor to roll back some of the restrictions on bars and restaurants in particular, including closing indoor dining area, further restrictions on gathering sizes and mandated face coverings in all public areas. On Wednesday, the state’s Republican Senators from all over Maryland, including Senator Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) fired off a letter to Hogan in response, urging the governor not to make a knee-jerk reaction on some of executive orders under pressure from a handful of largely Democratic-controlled counties on the western shore.
It’s important to note at this point local jurisdictions have the flexibility to carefully tailor their recovery plans based on the situations in the individual counties. However, the local orders can be more restrictive than the governor’s executive orders, but not less restrictive. For example, just this week, Baltimore City reverted back to closing indoor dining at restaurants and went back to the outdoor only and carryout model.
During his press conference on Wednesday, Hogan said he was aware of the concerns from both sides, but was not inclined to take any further action at this point.
“We are monitoring the numbers very closely and frankly, we’re a little concerned about some of the trends,” he said. “We are going to follow the advice of our task force and our healthcare professionals and we won’t hesitate to take further state action if necessary. We do not intend to close small businesses and put employees out of work. We do not want to punish the 95% of our businesses that are complying and doing the right thing, but we need stronger enforcement on that 5% that aren’t.”
Hogan said despite the recent uptick in new cases, particularly the trend with new cases in the under-35 age group, he would continue to monitor the numbers and take appropriate action if necessary.
“All of our key metrics are declining or flat and we don’t feel the need to impose any new restrictions today,” he said. “If we see a spike in some of those metrics, I won’t hesitate to take the appropriate action to protect the public health.”
Hogan specifically mentioned Ocean City and Worcester County in his press conference on Wednesday. In the last week or so, a dozen or more businesses in Ocean City have responded to potential positive cases by closing voluntarily to have staff tested and deep-clean and sanitize facilities.
“We’ve been in touch with the folks in Ocean City and I’ve had conversations with Mayor Meehan,” he said. “Worcester County has seen a small uptick in the number of cases, but it’s a small, rural county with a sudden influx of people in a small town in the summer. The Mayor of Ocean City is working with the county health department, the liquor board and law enforcement on compliance. We’ve had great compliance from the business owners. Several chose to close voluntarily when they had a staff member test positive and that’s what we’re encouraging.”
Western Shore Counties Urge More Restrictions
Again, a coalition of counties on the western shore urged Hogan this week to roll back some of the restrictions in his executive orders including a return to outdoor only dining and carryout and delivery models. The letter was sent from officials in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties along with Baltimore City.
“We are writing to share our concerns regarding the recent increase in daily cases across the state and impact of the virus over the past week,” the letter reads. “This has been evidenced throughout many of our jurisdictions by increased daily case totals, increased rates of transmission and increasing COVID-related hospitalizations and critical care usage.”
In the letter, the western shore counties wrote they are considering a range of revisions to address the trends including scaling back the restrictions on gathering sizes, face-covering mandates for indoor and outdoor activities, the closure of indoor restaurants and bars for service, while permitting outdoor seating and curbside pickup and delivery only. The letter also calls for the closure of indoor amusement facilities and indoor recreational facilities.
“We are writing to ask that the state take action to curb these trends, including revisiting the activities allowed under the current phase two executive orders,” the letter reads. “Our jurisdictions are prepared to act quickly to address these concerns, but would prefer for the state to take action to create a unified, standardized approach to address this resurgence of cases.”
State Republican Senators Fire Back
Everyone of the state’s Republican Senators including Carozza fired off a letter to Hogan this week in response to the western shore counties.
“We write in response to recent demands by numerous Democratic elected officials that you reapply significant statewide restrictions on Maryland’s restaurants and bars,” the letter reads. “The misplaced assumption behind these demands is that these businesses are the cause of the recent increase in COVID positive test results among the low risk population of young adults under the age of 35. These demands are double misplaced.”
The letter from the state Republican Senators urges Hogan to stay the course with his Roadmap for Recovery.
“First, now is not the time for irrational, punitive actions,” the letter reads. “We should maintain the steady course you have set. We are significant and consistently favorable COVID-related data in Maryland. Death rates have declined from a daily high of 160 in May to under 10, hospitalization rates have been cut by two-thirds and we have relatively low positivity rates across the board.”
The state Republicans’ letter pointed out the apparent hypocrisy of singling out bars and restaurants while turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to the protests and demonstrations in those counties in recent weeks where large groups of individuals have gathered.
“Second, the Democratic leaders’ demands completely ignore the reality of their own actions over the past month and seek to scapegoat small business owners,” the letter reads. “While imposing crippling restrictions on employers and citizens engaged in necessary daily activities, these politicians have supported, encouraged and attended mass gatherings of those most impacted by the recent increase in positive tests. While we strongly support the 1st Amendment rights of all who demonstrate peacefully, it is clear that the state’s prohibition on mass gatherings has been completely ignored since at least Memorial Day when it involved protests. All the while, the vast majority of restaurant and bar owners have been carefully complying with all COVID-related rules and regulations.”
The letter to Hogan from the state Republicans points out the large majority of the state’s restaurants and bars are complying with the current regulations and urged the governor not to take any more action at this time.
“In our collective experience, the establishments we have patronized or seen in our communities have been operating responsibly,” the letter reads. “Local leaders should continue to respect the right of peaceful assembly, but with the common sense understanding that large gatherings will increase coronavirus numbers and young people should be made aware of the health risks. We respectively ask you to resist short-sighted demands to re-enact further restrictions or closures of bars and restaurants and ignore partisan attempts to scapegoat them.”