Rising with the mercury these days appears to be frustrations over government mandates and the inconsistences associated with implementation and reality. It’s understandable, as the phrase “pandemic fatigue” has now become cliché and aggravations are boiling over amid fears this summer could be even more challenging for many businesses than last year.
An example was this week’s so-called big announcement from the CDC about masks no longer being required outdoors for fully vaccinated individuals. If social distancing is not possible, those who are not vaccinated should still wear masks. A couple days after the CDC’s announcement, Gov. Larry Hogan held a press conference to announce he was removing the outdoor mask mandate for vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals except at large sporting events and concerts.
Both these mask announcements were odd (and confusing) because they were anti-climactic. Most people are already not wearing masks outside unless in crowded areas. As a fully vaccinated person, I am not wearing a mask outside no matter if I’m near someone or not. I have company. For example, the governor’s press conference Wednesday was held at the same time I was on the sidelines of a middle school lacrosse game in Easton. As I read the update, I looked along the sidelines and saw not one parent wearing a facial covering. The announcements masks are no longer required outside was a “duh” moment for many.
The reality continues to be there are too many inconsistences at play. The announcements of restrictions being relaxed are laudable and appropriate but in many cases not impactful for many. A prime example is the lifting of the 50% restaurant capacity restrictions last month coinciding with upholding social distance requirements. Only the large places with the ability to spread tables cheered this decision. A restaurant with a 120-person capacity can still only meet about half of its capacity if tables must be six feet apart and no bar standing is allowed.
Another example came with this week’s announcement effective Saturday outdoor dining restrictions are lifted. The result of this change is standing at outdoor bars will be permitted and outdoor tables no longer must be distanced. This is a major change for outdoor dining establishments. Though good news for open air places, Fager’s Island owner John Fager said on his restaurant’s Facebook page the announcement did little to change things at his place, specifically his covered deck area. He said the planned first deck party of the season was being delayed because of Hogan’s decision.
“Since the governor will not allow us to open fully, we cannot have dancing, food lines or large crowds so our 1st deck party is POSTPONED UNTIL MAY 17, 2021 when our outdoor beach area is fully setup for more guests to enjoy the entertainment,” Fager wrote.
It appears progress towards normalcy is being made in general, but there continues to be much dispute over the pace of the changes and the actual impact they have on decisions operators must make for their establishments. When asked by a reporter at his press conference what Maryland will look like come July 4, Hogan replied, “hopefully it’s going to look a lot like not last July 4th but the July 4th before.” This will not be the case unless the social distancing requirement is loosened.
Though it carries no legal binding, the Maryland State Board of Education issued a resolution this week in full support of school systems offering in-person instruction five days a week.
In Worcester County, approximately 70% of public school students are currently being taught in their schools. The remaining students have chosen virtual learning models. It appears public school systems will need to offer virtual learning options next year, and some administrators are looking to hire teachers to specifically teach the at-home students. This will ease the stress and workload for classroom teachers and reportedly ease the demands on tech devices in class.
Maryland Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon reported this week just 42% of public school students in the state are learning in-person, meaning about 512,000 kids are still learning from home in either a hybrid format or strictly distance learning. Although the weight it carries is questionable, the resolution comes at a critical time. It appears most school systems, including Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, are planning to return to five-day, in-person instruction, but there are others planning for a hybrid format in the fall. It’s a plan the state school board hopes to stop.
“We are trying to send a very clear signal to the school systems with as much lead time as possible to expect to be back in school,” Board President Clarence Crawford said. “What we are saying is that status quo is not sufficient. … We are talking about impacting people for a lifetime …”
Locally, Worcester will clearly be open on a five-day format, as it has been a leader throughout the last year in its commitment to in-person learning. It has not been perfect and there have been hiccups, including this week’s spike in positive cases at Stephen Decatur High School. However, positives cases will occur with teenagers assembling often. In Wicomico, though it will operate under a four-day in-person model through the end of this school year, the plan is to return to five-day, in-person learning in September.