Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman recently chastised those who challenged his December 10th lockdown order in court with the admonition, “Division delays recovery.”
Pittman seems to have forgotten that disagreement with a County Executive who’s dictated every facet of our lives by decree for nine months is not “division”; it’s democracy. Pittman got a big dose of it last week when Judge William Mulford called his restaurant lockdown, “arbitrary and capricious,” and noted that the Pittman administration’s data didn’t support it.
Pittman’s retort that, “protecting public safety and health is the most fundamental obligation of government,” is a view we all share. The issue is how best to do it. Shutting down every single restaurant, despite masks, distancing, and capacity restrictions, so that no one could ever possibly be exposed to COVID-19, makes about as much sense as shutting down every bank, so that they can never be robbed.
There is a reasonable middle course, and Governor Hogan is following it. Pittman is not. When told of Pittman’s decision to completely shut down both indoor and outdoor dining, Hogan literally rolled his eyes, and noted there was, “ no data or evidence his team has seen that warrants the closure of indoor dining.” Hogan has made it a point to follow guidance from the CDC and Johns Hopkins. Even Pittman has admitted that, noting, “Hogan is wise to leave decisions to health professionals.”
That’s why it’s ironic that Pittman, who insists, “division delays recovery,” has always divisively insisted on more extreme restrictions than Hogan’s in every phase of our recovery.
Pittman claims he issued his lockdown order because Anne Arundel’s hospitals, “are on the verge of being overrun” by COVID-19 patients. That isn’t true now, and wasn’t true when Pittman issued it. Based on 2019 Maryland Health Care Commission and current Anne Arundel County data, Anne Arundel County has 634 acute care beds (PDF) and a total occupancy rate of 72.7%. COVID-19 patients occupy 107 acute care beds. Overall, acute care hospital occupancy has dropped 10.5% since Pittman announced his restaurant lockdown on December 10th. Keep in mind that his restaurant lockdown order was suspended by Judge Mulford’s injunction, and never went into effect. The drop occurred without his restrictions. ICU occupancy dropped over this period as well. It’s worth noting our hospitals could also increase capacity by reducing elective surgeries, opening hundreds more beds for COVID-19 patients if necessary. Our hospitals are designed to operate at capacity, and frequently have in flu season.
Pittman acts as though we are all equally at risk from COVID-19. We are not. While it is deadly, it is not equally dangerous for everyone. People over retirement age (65) account for 8 of 10 COVID-19 deaths, and the average age of death is 78. COVID-19 deaths for those under 30 are less than 1 in 100. This is data that should inform our response; and it is a response that calls for balance and common sense, not drama and overreaction. We are managing a pandemic, not a panic-demic.
With Hogan’s capacity limits, masks, and social distancing, what do we gain with a Pittman lockdown? Nursing homes are already effectively locked down. With staff testing and other protocols, we should be able to effectively protect residents. Retirees, people over 65, and those with pre-existing conditions have a responsibility and desire to protect themselves. What specific policies/programs does Pittman have to require/help them do that? None. Instead of sheltering/protecting those most at risk, Pittman’s lockdown treats everyone as if they’re equally at risk, and incapable of making rational decisions that affect their health, and the health of their loved ones.
Governor Hogan delegated his emergency authority to County Executives in March, and they’ve clearly abused it. It’s time for Hogan to render this court case moot, by reclaiming his delegated authority, and unifying our State’s COVID-19 response. After all, “division delays recovery.”
Data current as of December 22,2020. Herb McMillan represented Annapolis in the Maryland House of Delegates for 12 years. He may be reached at email@example.com