Lifting of virus-related restrictions must be done very carefully

Thousands of Marylanders — remaining in their vehicles to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 — rallied in the state capital of Annapolis Saturday, demanding that Gov. Larry Hogan relax epidemic-related orders that have restricted the economy and forced many people out of their jobs. Similar protests have occurred in other states.

Hogan should not “open up” Maryland. His counterparts elsewhere should not lift similar restrictions in their states.

But Hogan and others should begin getting back to “normalcy” in measured, careful ways.

Governors have been vested with primary authority to deal with emergencies such as COVID-19 or other natural disasters. Quite rightly, they acted decisively in closing down some businesses, limiting social interactions and ordering other steps to limit the coronavirus’ spread. Whole-state restrictions were not inappropriate.

Within weeks, however, times have changed dramatically. We have seen that some places — urban areas, mostly — have suffered terribly. But many more rural regions have escaped widespread, pervasive infections.

Maryland is an excellent example. There, 12,308 cases of COVID-19 had been diagnosed by Saturday, throughout the state’s 24 counties.

But in Garrett County, Maryland’s westernmost, there were just four cases. Neighboring Allegany County had only 33 cases.

Michigan, another state where protests occurred last week, offers even more striking contrasts. On Saturday, 30,023 cases were being reported from the state’s 83 counties — but in 29 counties, diagnoses were in the single digits.

Clearly, as members of the White House task force on COVID-19 have emphasized, approaches to the disease need to be on a “granular” basis. That is, policy should be directed to the local level.

Governors considering how and when to lift virus-related restrictions should begin with — very carefully — with individual counties.

That path is prudent and clear. It should be pursued in all 50 states.


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