@BryanRenbaum

The first phase of Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to reopen businesses shuttered by restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus is not moving fast enough, according to the co-founder and chairman of the protest group Reopen Maryland.

“Let’s get people back to work because the cure is going to be worse than the virus. And the morbidity and mortality rate of this virus is dropping like a rock. We can solve this as Americans. That’s our position. Give us the data and let us make informed decisions,” Tim Walters told MarylandReporter.com in a phone interview on Tuesday.

The first phase of the plan went into effect on Friday at 5 p.m. EDT. It gave local governments broad flexibility to determine how and when they reopen. Because of that, some jurisdictions have decided not to reopen while others have decided to fully implement Phase I or adopt a modified version of the plan.

About 300 people attended an Annapolis rally to reopen the state on Friday afternoon. Several lawmakers were included among the attendees. Reopen Maryland has over 26,000 members, according to the group’s Facebook page. Walters said another rally is being planned but the details are still being worked out.

Walters said Marylanders should not comply with regulations that mandate wearing masks and practicing social distancing when visiting retail establishments.

“It doesn’t do anything…Again, what they are trying to do is remove accountability. It used to be when we sneezed we covered our mouth. We don’t do that anymore?  We don’t wash our hands when we’re sick or when we go to the bathroom or we’re doing something more or we’re handling food? This is insane. And social distancing isn’t going to do anything. We see that time and again in Wal Mart.”

A recent study by a team in Hong Kong found that wearing a surgical mask can reduce Covid-19 spread by up to 75 percent.  Several other studies also found wearing face masks prevents the spread of Covid-19.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with PBS News Hour in April that all Americans should wear face masks to prevent the spread of the virus. “If everybody does that, we’re each protecting each other,” he said.

When Walters was asked why surgeons wear masks, if he believes masks do not help prevent infections, Walters said there is no comparison.

“That’s a bad straw-man….when you slice into a human being’s body you’re opening the space that wasn’t normally there. And you’re exposing an internal organ or whatever the surgery is to outside influences. So, of course, you’re going to do everything to minimize that. Why would we not do that in an elderly home or a rehab facility now that we know the virus is here. That’s a false straw-man. We’re not suggesting that. We’re suggesting people make informed decisions.”

Walters said many of the Covid-19 restrictions that Hogan issued are unconstitutional. Earlier this month state lawmakers and religious leaders filed a federal lawsuit that challenges the legality of the governor’s stay-at-home order. The order was lifted on Friday evening along with other related restrictions. But some jurisdictions have decided to maintain the order.

Sen. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City) said the decision to begin reopening the state was “premature.”

“It’s too fast. It’s premature. I understand that the numbers were appearing to decline but we never had 14 days of the steady decline of all categories…hospitalizations, ICU beds and deaths.”

Carter said Walters’ assertion that wearing face masks and practicing social distancing are not effective ways to prevent the spread of the virus is simply not true.

“It’s only common sense that people would want to protect themselves and others. And, the point of wearing the mask, of course, is more to protect other people than yourself. And to me it’s a selfish proposition to suggest not wearing a mask.”

On Tuesday, Hogan said he directed the state’s Department of Health to make appointment-free Covid testing available-even for those without symptoms-and issued an order to allow licensed pharmacists to directly order and administer tests.

“Beginning this week, we are able to offer appointment-free Covid-19 testing across the state, including for those who do not have symptoms, marking a critical milestone in Maryland’s long-term testing strategy,” Hogan said in a statement. “This will help doctors diagnose and treat new cases more quickly, and it will further increase the safety of our state for all citizens. In addition, we are authorizing and actively encouraging the state’s hundreds of pharmacies to directly order and administer COVID-19 tests, another way we can make testing more widely available in our communities.”

Hogan noted that more than 200,000 Marylanders have been tested for the virus, which is about 3.5 percent of the state’s total population.

There are 41,546 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland as of Tuesday morning, according to the state’s Department of Health, and 1,963 people in Maryland have died from the virus.