Comptroller Peter Franchot slammed Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent decision to lift capacity restrictions on restaurants, bars, and retail establishments, saying the decision was based on politics rather than science.
Hogan announced the decision at a news conference on Tuesday. Hogan said the restrictions will be lifted on Friday March 12 at 5:00 p.m. Hogan said large outdoor venues such as those that host sporting events will be allowed to resume operations at 50% capacity. Hogan said his decision was based on declining coronavirus positivity rates and improved vaccine metrics. Hogan emphasized that Marylanders will still be required to wear masks and practice social distancing.
Under current law, restaurants, bars, and retail establishments cannot exceed 50% capacity. Some jurisdictions have even decided to limit capacity restrictions below that figure.
“Its nothing done for scientific reasons. It’s done for political reasons,” Franchot told MarylandReporter.com on Wednesday.
Franchot is a Democrat and a candidate for governor in 2022. He added: “Just like the opening of schools. And I’m sorry to say that. But that’s the situation. I think people that go back to eat indoors are taking a big risk right now. And I think people that are going back to schools that are not properly safe as far as air circulation are taking a big chance for their kids.”
Franchot said the state should wait a few more months before loosing restrictions.
“I think in several months at end of the summer-I think we could be back in school and could open up possibly the restaurants if we get from 50,000 cases down under 10,000 cases a day (nationally)-and everybody is vaccinated-teachers, kids, and restaurant goers. But otherwise it’s 90% politics and 10% science.”
Most of Maryland’s public schools reopened on March 1 after Hogan had implored local school boards to begin to return kids to the classroom by that date.
Franchot predicted that it may be necessary to reinstate capacity restrictions at a later date if positivity rates begin to soar due to variants of the virus.
“If there is a resurgence of these variants-they can open up the schools and open up the restaurants all they want-but people are not going to go…People understand when something is political and when something is fact-based.”
Hogan’s communications director, Michael Ricci, dismissed Franchot’s comments as campaign speak.
“We fully recognize the comptroller is campaigning for governor, so we’ve chosen to ignore his political statements while we focus on bringing the pandemic to an end.”
Frederick County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Weldon said Hogan’s decision to lift capacity restrictions is somewhat limited because local jurisdictions still will have the final say.
“As long as local jurisdictions are empowered to enforce local health orders, I’m not exactly sure what has or will change. In Frederick County, we’re currently governed by an order from our local Board of Health. The Governor’s order didn’t lift that, so we’re still facing capacity restrictions on outdoor gatherings, weddings, concerts and sports activities. As far as the capacity of restaurants, maintaining the 6-foot distanced seating means that only the larger operators will benefit. Small restaurants won’t really benefit much from the change.”
Howard County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Leonardo McClarty praised Hogan’s decision.
“The Governor’s Executive Order is positive news and encouraging for the retail, restaurants, and related industries. These industries have been severely impacted over the last year and in some instances unfairly targeted. What will be of particular importance is what these establishments do and communicate in regards to safety so that patrons continue to feel comfortable as they return to their favorite eateries and entertainment venues.”
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said in a statement on Wednesday that he was disappointed that Hogan did not give county leaders advanced notice of his decision. Ball said he is “reviewing (Hogan’s) revised executive order to understand its full implications.”
There are 389,566 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland as of Wednesday morning, according to the state’s Department of Health, and 7,820 people in Maryland have died from the virus. The state’s positivity rate is at 3.61%, which is within CDC recommended guidelines for containment. Maryland has conducted more than 8.1 million COVID-19 tests.
Maryland’s health care providers have administered 1,653,670 doses of the coronavirus vaccine. That includes 1,069,281 (17.687%) first doses and 584,389 (9.666%) second doses.