By Len Lazarick
I got a haircut Saturday. That would be a totally unremarkable event until these last nine weeks of shutdown due to the pandemic.
Gov. Larry Hogan’s press conference on Wednesday was not even over when I called my barber. Turns out Bill had been cutting hair for first responders and military personnel during the whole length of the shutdown that Hogan was easing. He had all the necessary measures to keep us both safe.
I went to the same old shop in Columbia’s first village that I’d be visiting for over 45 years, the town’s oldest surviving merchant. But for the first time, I had an appointment, as required, and a mask, as Bill required. When I walked in the door, Bill, a Marine veteran in his own mask, had me use the hand sanitizer, and then his partner, also in a mask, took my temperature. They were being seriously compliant.
The crowd at the State House on Friday afternoon for the Reopen Maryland protest was being seriously noncompliant.
Based on my count on the ground and from aerial photographs, the crowd amounted to about 300 people – mostly white, mostly without masks, with handshakes and hugs and minimal social distancing. It seemed like only the photographers and reporters were wearing masks. Half of the two dozen or so Capitol Police on hand went unmasked and made no attempt to interfere or enforce social distancing.
The police had blocked off a section of State Circle at Maryland Avenue for the demonstration. It was the same area where the public gathered to watch Hogan’s second inauguration last year. Friday’s much smaller crowd was there to jeer, not cheer, the Republican governor.
“Hey, hey, ho, ho, Lockdown Larry has got to go,” went one of the chants. “Coward,” “Tyrant” were other popular slogans. “Heil Hogan,” said one sign. “Shutdown the shutdown,” said another, with many similar themes. Some of the demonstrators were visibly angry. The restrictions on freedom was the theme. “Freedom over safety,” one sign insisted.
The governor had announced a lifting of the stay-at-home order and limited reopening of business and churches because the curve of hospitalizations and deaths due to Covid-19 had gone down statewide. But he kicked those decisions down to the county executives, who decided to maintain stricter limits. So, in Howard and Anne Arundel counties you could get a haircut, but in Baltimore, Frederick, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties you could not.
The speeches lasted an hour, with several emphasizing the populace was being cowed by fear whipped up by officials and the mainstream media – fake news, at least one said. The wrap-up came from Republican Del. Dan Cox who with others filed a federal lawsuit asserting that Hogan’s lockdown and restrictions on business and religious services are unconstitutional. (Republican Dels. Warren Miller, Howard-Carroll, and Brian Chisholm, Anne Arundel, were also at the rally, as was former St. Mary’s County Del. Deb Rey, all some of the most conservative of GOP legislators.)
Cox said the pressure from Reopen Maryland led first to Hogan’s opening outdoor activities on May 6 and then the broader reopening decree Wednesday.
Other speakers emphasized how few cases of the virus occurred in much of Maryland, except nursing homes. But of course, Hogan retorts, the lowering of case numbers was due to the shutdown, not evidence that it was unnecessary.
As State House demonstrations go, Friday’s was moderate in size. On Facebook, Reopen Maryland has 26,000 members yet only 300 plus people showed up on a warm sunny day.
The silent majority remains voluntarily compliant – some reopening advocates call them “sheep” — but they too are eager to shop and dine again, but anxious to do it safely.
Witness the lines at the Columbia Home Depot Saturday, where the parking lot was fuller than it had been for weeks.
“Some people think we’re moving too fast and some people think we’re moving too slow, so it’s probably the right move,” Hogan said Wednesday.
We’ll see in a few weeks if that’s true.