Currently the United States makes up less than 5% of the world’s population but has over 20% of the world’s COVID-19 deaths. Out of the 31 million reported cases worldwide, the U.S. surpasses every other country with over 6.8 million. If trends continue as experts predict, with deaths rising to almost 400,000 by the end of 2020, the virus will become America’s “third-leading cause of death, after heart disease and cancer.”
With cases rising in other regions of the U.S. and still no vaccine, Governor Larry Hogan still decided to move Maryland into Phase 3 on Sept. 4 (excluding some areas like Montgomery County and Baltimore City) which included the opening of indoor theaters and concert venues to 50% capacity, or 100 people, outdoor events to 50% capacity, or 250 people, and retail and houses of worship establishments to 75% capacity.
Given the United States’ current track to reach almost half a million COVID-19 deaths before the end of 2020, Phase 3 is a hasty decision that represents a selfish ruling and ignores the ongoing health crises here, as well as in other states.
Time and time again in the past few months we have seen renewed outbreaks across America where the money associated with the rapid opening of businesses has been valued over the health and safety of citizens.
Despite the current lowering rates of infection and death in Maryland, without continued caution or an effective vaccine, it’s only a matter of time until rates increase. If you need further proof, just look at Europe currently struggling to ward off its “inevitable” second wave of coronavirus.
In the past two weeks, the European Union and United Kingdom daily case numbers have “reached record highs of more than 45,000,” with cities like London and Madrid seeing dramatic increases in infection and death rates. Just when Europe thought they had stabilized the virus, the push for stricter regulation wore off and widespread caution became less encouraged, consequently resulting in another spike in cases. Now, discussion about another possible lockdown is circulating the continent — a perilous fate that, in all likelihood, could plague the United States as well.
Proponents of accelerated reopening often argue that Phase 3 allows small businesses to begin recovering from the economic impacts of the pandemic. While it is true that small businesses have been hit hard by the virus, a premature move into Phase 3 is not the answer.
Maryland must act prudently and prioritize the well-being of its citizens because, without that, there is no economy to fix. Hogan’s ill-advised decision to enter Phase Three before the introduction of a vaccine only illustrates the government’s pernicious mindset of valuing money over human life.
Furthermore, Phase 3 supports the reopening of larger businesses, like indoor theaters and concerts, more than small businesses. Closely connected is the fact that Phase Two already allowed reopenings for many small businesses at lower capacities so that they could begin bringing in profit again. After months of state-regulated quarantine, small businesses in Maryland have already been forced to seek out creative solutions to bring in business or risk closing permanently.
While Maryland’s limited operating capacity is undoubtedly unideal for businesses financially, it is more essential to protect the health and well-being of our citizens by reimposing stricter regulations. If we ever wish to successfully rebuild our economy, we must first get this virus under complete control; otherwise, we risk extending recovery and jeopardizing everyone’s health and safety in the long run.
It is also important to note that COVID-19 impacts have heightened existing social inequalities. Therefore, if another spike or a second wave occurs because of premature opening, minority communities will be further disproportionately affected.
Across America, the COVID-19 death rate among Black people is “2.1 times higher than white people,” with Latinos and Native Americans also having higher death rates. In Maryland, Blacks and African Americans only make up 31.3% of the population yet comprise 41% of covid-19 deaths, while whites make up 58.5% of the population and only account for 42% of the deaths.
So, even though Maryland may seem in control of the virus now, strict regulations must still be kept in place until a vaccine is able to protect all citizens equally.
Instead of rushing to reopen for our own greed and self-interest, Maryland needs to become a strong source of leadership that encourages the rest of the country to remain restricted until a concrete solution arrives. As Joe Biden said in the first presidential debate, “You can’t fix the economy until you fix the COVID crisis.”
Written by Isabel Taylor, English Literature and French major, Class of 2024