Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
When Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced he was lifting the statewide stay-at-home order a few weeks ago, I was ecstatic. Hogan has repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to a data-driven approach and an opposition to prematurely reopening the state. I thought Hogan’s decision to lift this order could only mean we were beginning to slowly and safely return to normalcy.
But I was subsequently confused when I received an email from Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich telling residents that the county was still closed. After carefully rereading Hogan’s statement, I realized Hogan had cautiously added that the logistics of reopening should be left to the discretion of local leaders as not all counties are experiencing the same number of cases.
Thus, one of the only tangible impacts of this announcement was a transfer of responsibility from the state to municipal governments. Hogan’s veiled statement demonstrates a lack of leadership in this critical period that has not only jeopardized the health of Marylanders but also bred unnecessary confusion.
After spending months in quarantine, it’s only natural to expect people to become restless. Since stay-at-home orders were initially enacted in March, people across the nation have begun going outside more frequently. In the wake of several police brutality incidents, thousands around the country have even taken to the streets to protest racial injustice.
As a result, it’s extremely important that any updates regarding COVID-19 are clearly communicated and sufficiently backed by evidence. By lifting the stay-at-home order, Hogan essentially gave the green light for everyone in Maryland to resume their normal activities. Scenes from Ocean City over Memorial Day weekend show how desperate people are to go outside — even if it means risking infection. Given these circumstances, Hogan should have only lifted the statewide stay-at-home order when he had complete confidence the spread of COVID-19 has plateaued.
At the time the order was lifted, Maryland still lacked the proper resources to reopen. Counties were scrambling to stockpile critical medical resources and increase their testing capacity. In Montgomery and Prince George’s counties — which contain about 50 percent of Maryland’s cases combined — it was painfully evident that this decision was premature.
Hogan’s message has also created undue stress for local representatives. Multiple leaders have voiced concerns that Hogan’s decision generated confusion and resentment among their constituents. Elrich told The Washington Post, “People took that, in some cases, as, ‘Oh, that the governor wants to do this, but you won’t do it’ … It makes it sound like it’s an arbitrary decision.” The lack of a consistent message threatens to downplay COVID-19’s threat to the public and lull Marylanders into a false sense of security.
When the United States was first exposed to the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump failed to create a national plan, and his lack of leadership ultimately contributed to the spread of the disease. Hogan’s recent actions, unfortunately, reflect this attitude as he has, apparently, abdicated his role as the chief rule-maker. In the future, Hogan will need to take more decisive measures to contain COVID-19 in the face of a potential second wave.