Let’s Not Have a Panic-Demic

Mask-Mandate

This opinion piece first appeared on EyeOnAnnapolis.net and can be found here.

Listening to the media about Covid, you would think it was 2020. Predictably, some have returned to useless, failed, or harmful 2020 “remedies.” Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman reinstated a mask mandate and wants the County Council to extend it. Others call for a return to remote learning. They’re using an old Covid playbook that reads as if nothing has changed.

Fortunately, much has changed. Now is not the time to panic and return to pre-vaccine lockdowns and methodologies that treat everyone like they’re equally at risk from Covid. They are not. Let’s take a deep breath, and look at the facts.

First, with respect to mask mandates. Prince Georges and Montgomery Counties reinstituted indoor mask mandates1, 2 on August 8, and as of December 29, their seven-day case rates per 100,000 were 198 and 142 respectively. Anne Arundel County, with no mask mandate, was significantly lower at 124. 3The numbers speak for themselves.

Second, although the U.S seven-day average of Covid cases has climbed 300%, from 107,435 on December 3 to 316,277 on December 29, seven-day average deaths declined, from 1,118 to 1110, and are 66% lower than December 29, 2020. That’s good news. Covid vaccines, natural immunity, and improved treatments are working. The direct relationship between case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths has been broken. Because so many people test positive with few or no symptoms, the number of infections in a community no longer predicts the number of hospitalizations or deaths. We should no longer focus on the number of Covid infections as predictive of the need for lockdowns, physical distancing, or mask use. Hospitalizations and deaths are the most relevant decision points. 5

This brings us to hospitalizations. On December 30, 2021, despite a 300% increase in cases from last year, Covid patients occupied 191 hospital beds in Anne Arundel County out of 634 acute care beds. That’s about 30%.  Statewide, Covid patients occupied 2,454 of 7,123 beds, about 35%. In other words, 65-70% of hospitalizations are non-Covid, and we have 10,300 beds available statewide. 7, 8, 9  Yes, hospitals are crowded, and staff is working hard. This happens during winter. A 2018 Time Magazine headline reads, “ Hospitals Overwhelmed by Flu Patients Are Treating Them in Tents.”10 We didn’t panic about winter capacity surges pre-covid, nor should we now. Also, let’s be accurate and transparent. Dr. Fauci has noted a distinction between patients hospitalized “with” Covid and “because” of Covid. The state and county should too. Everyone hospitalized is tested for Covid, and admission may be “with,” not “for.”12

So why is anyone even thinking about reinstituting school closures, lockdowns, or mask mandates? 6 Parochial schools returned to classrooms, pre-vaccine, without any hospitalizations or deaths for students or teachers. Children are at extremely minimal risk from covid, even without vaccination; and teachers have had access to vaccines for a year. Currently, there are only 43 children hospitalized “with” Covid in Maryland out of a K-12 population of 882,538.  The harm caused to our children by keeping them out of class is far greater than the threat posed to them by Covid.

We do not minimize the toll Covid has taken on us. We have all been touched. We have seen Covid’s direct effects of sickness and death, as well as the indirect1 disastrous impact of educational and economic disruption, depression, drug abuse, and suicide. Now more than ever, we must weigh all these factors, and make decisions based on current facts, not fear, as we return to normalcy.

We must move beyond case counts and community-based restrictions like school closures, lockdowns, and mandatory masking. Individuals, not the government, can decide for themselves whether they need to mask or stay home. Our policy should be focused on protection for those most vulnerable, rather than treating everyone as though they are equally at risk of hospitalization and death from Covid. They are not. We must also keep our children in class unless they’re sick.

Our greater good is best served by taking advantage of medical advances, leaving harmful, failed, and outdated policies behind, and getting back to normal.

Herb McMillan served in the Maryland House of Delegates for twelve years and is a Republican candidate for Anne Arundel County Executive. He may be reached at www.herbmcmillan.com

References

  1. Prince George’s County to reinstate indoor public mask mandate (msn.com)
  2. Montgomery County reinstates indoor mask mandate (bethesdamagazine.com)
  3. Coronavirus – Maryland Department of Health seven day average case rates by county
  4. CDC COVID Data Tracker seven day average deaths and cases
  5. Why COVID-19 Case Counts Don’t Mean What They Used To | Time
  6. Anne Arundel County Announces Indoor Mask Mandate In Response To COVID-19 – CBS Baltimore (cbslocal.com)
  7. chcf_Licensed_Acute_Care_Beds_by_Hospital_and_Service_-Maryland_FY2020-1.pdf (eyeonannapolis.net)
  8. Md Hospital Capacity.jpeg OPINION: “Division Delays Recovery”, Pittman wants it both ways – Eye On Annapolis : Eye On Annapolis
  9. Coronavirus – Maryland Department of Health statewide hospitalizations chart
  10. Hospitals Overwhelmed by Flu Patients Are Treating Them in Tents | Time
  11. Coronavirus – Maryland Department of Health statewide hospitalizations chart
  12. Fauci Finally Admits Something About Covid-19 Others Have Been Censored for Saying (townhall.com)

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