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Will Md. end up with a patchwork of pandemic rules?

John A. Olszewski Jr.

Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. (File Photo/Bryan P. Sears)

The leaders of Maryland’s four largest jurisdictions are indicating that they may not line up with all of Gov. Larry Hogan’s plans for easing pandemic restrictions, raising the possibility that a patchwork of rules may exist from one community to the next.

Leaders of those jurisdictions – Baltimore city and Baltimore, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties — said they would act according to the best interests of their residents and that a “one size fits all” approach isn’t to their liking.

But business organizations expressed dismay at the prospects that they would be dealing with a quilt of guidelines – that dry cleaners or florists or restaurants just a few blocks apart from each other would be operating under different rules.

“This patchwork approach could prove detrimental for employers and their employees, who are already in the midst of navigating a difficult and evolving crisis situation,” said Christine Ross, president and CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

“I’m sure there will be some small business owners relieved by today’s announcement,” said Mike O’Halloran, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, of Hogan’s action. “Others, namely those in jurisdictions where local leaders now get to call the shots, continue to have their fate tied to the mercy of this shutdown. Those small businesses are faced with a new challenge and now are asking, what is my local government going to decide?”

In a joint statement, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski and Baltimore City Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said they would decide in the next 24 hours which approach their jurisdictions would take.

“As Governor Hogan has acknowledged, there is not a statewide, one-size fits all approach to achieving that goal, and just four jurisdictions have 72 percent of the state’s COVID-19 cases,” the two men said. “Baltimore city and Baltimore County are two of those jurisdictions. A flexible, community-based approach is necessary to empower individual jurisdictions to make decisions regarding timing of Phase One re-openings.

“We acknowledge that this will not be welcome news to all of our residents,” they added. “Individuals and businesses continue to make real sacrifices, and those sacrifices are preventing the spread of a deadly virus. However, rushing to reopen in our large, densely populated jurisdictions jeopardizes the lives of our neighbors and loved ones.

Even before Hogan’s announcement, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks had said her county – the hardest-hit of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions – is not ready to roll back restrictions. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich made similar comments Wednesday, saying he would consult with county health officials about how to proceed.

In general, Hogan’s announcement was applauded. Greater Baltimore Committee President and CEO Donald C. Fry said it was a welcome step but noted that it was “critically important that we continue to adhere to the advice of public health experts as we deal with this pandemic.”

Murmurs of discontent from the business community and from pockets of residents who have wanted a swifter return to normalcy raise the specter of businesses flouting orders from government officials. In a smattering of states – California, Texas and Pennsylvania, for instance – some businesses have reopened their doors or resumed operations and defied authorities to enforce shutdown rules.

Earlier this month, a small coalition of religious leaders, conservative Republicans and civic activists filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn Hogan’s pandemic orders.

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