Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Last time I checked, the state of Maryland — and the country — is still in a pandemic. The weather may be getting warmer and vaccines may be more plentiful, but people are still getting sick and dying from the coronavirus. Now is the time for increased vigilance, not reckless decision-making. And yet, it seems Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is ready to throw caution to the wind.
Hogan’s decision to completely reopen restaurants is callous, selfish and, most of all, dangerous. Despite this state’s rising case count and inequitable vaccination policies, Hogan has deemed it appropriate for Marylanders to sit in restaurants and go to the gym without a second thought. More Marylanders will become sick and die because of Hogan’s choice to prioritize profits over people.
Starting Friday at 5 p.m., restaurants and other businesses, including “retail stores, religious facilities, fitness centers and indoor recreational centers,” will be allowed to open at full capacity. Larger venues such as concert halls can reopen at 50 percent capacity. The state’s mask mandate remains in effect.
It might feel as if removing these restrictions has happened out of nowhere, but states all around the country are eliminating coronavirus precautions left and right. As of March 10, at least 16 states have eliminated their mask mandates. More and more states are opening up indoor and outdoor dining. Theme parks and sports stadiums are gearing up for the summer rush of tourists. Restrictions are disappearing despite rising cases of coronavirus variants, increasing hospitalizations and lagging vaccination efforts.
Despite what Hogan wants his constituents to think, Maryland’s coronavirus status isn’t that different from other states. While deaths and hospitalizations are down in Maryland, its COVID-19 cases have increased two percent over the past two weeks. Only 10 percent of Marylanders have been fully vaccinated, and 18 percent of Marylanders have received at least one dose of any coronavirus vaccine.
While these numbers place Maryland close to the middle of all 50 states’ vaccination efforts, this state’s distribution of vaccine doses is far from equitable. White Marylanders have gotten almost four times the number of vaccines as Black Marylanders, despite Black people making up 31.1 percent of the state’s population.
Unsurprisingly, there’s almost no data supporting Hogan’s decision. In fact, all the available information suggests easing dining restrictions and other capacity limits will only cause more harm. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just released a study that found “on-premises dining” to be associated with an increase in “daily cases 41 to 100 days after reopening, and an increase in daily death growth rates after 61 to 100 days.” Hogan’s push to reopen restaurants could lead to an increase of COVID cases and deaths in just two to three months.
With increased cases and lagging vaccination efforts, it’s just too early to completely reopen restaurants. Last week, I wrote about how food service workers can’t receive their vaccination in Prince George’s County until at least April. Even outside of this county, food service workers are still being relegated to the end of the vaccine line. If restaurants can open at full capacity on Friday, how can staff safely provide a “regular” dining experience to customers if they aren’t protected themselves?
Hogan’s choice to completely reopen restaurants and remove other capacity restrictions will lead to a spike in coronavirus cases and deaths. This is a selfish decision motivated by personal political ambitions; it’s no secret that Hogan has presidential aspirations. His leadership during the height of the pandemic last year combined with his anti-Trump disposition make him a nationally-recognized Republican presidential hopeful, and this controversial decision will only add more to his national profile.
Reopening restaurants at full capacity and reducing limitations for other high-risk businesses is the wrong decision for Maryland. Hogan is choosing his political recognition over the health and safety of Marylanders. His nearsightedness and ignorance will only cause more heartbreak and pain for Marylanders — and it’s his worst decision yet.
Maya Rosenberg is a junior journalism and public policy major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.