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Editorial Advisory Board: The price of liberty in a pandemic

Around the country multiple states, both red and blue, and with Republican and Democratic governors, have had difficulty with reopening during the coronavirus pandemic.

Most Marylanders have been taking the suggested steps to reopen our state. Owners of bars and restaurants throughout the state, including in Canton and throughout Baltimore city, and in Ocean City, have taken steps beyond what’s recommended in the federal Center for Disease Control guidelines by temporarily closing when one of their employees tests positive for the virus. Numerous grocery stores, retailers and other enterprises in Maryland have adopted various types of precautionary measures to keep safe their customers and what have come to be known as “essential employees.”

State, county and local agencies have conducted “virtual” and on-site inspections of many Maryland workplaces to check if they’re safe. And assisting those who have not yet returned to work, the Maryland Department of Labor had (as of July 15) processed 96.4% of unemployment claims, which Gov. Larry Hogan announced is consistent with prepandemic processing rates.

In addition, that department assisted taxpayers in Maryland and multiple other states by unearthing and investigating a “massive identity theft” scheme that involved more than 47,500 fraudulent unemployment benefit claims throughout the country that would have cost more than $500 million to pay out.

Hogan has also announced that a small percentage of enterprises and persons are not complying with safety guidelines, and that if such non-compliance reverses Maryland’s progress in addressing coronavirus that could also impede his plans to continue reopening more locations and activities in the state.

All the caution taken by the overwhelming majority of Marylanders will be for nothing if a small percentage fail or refuse to take precautions, such as wearing masks and observing social distancing — or failing to instruct their employees, customers and clients to do those things.

Compliance with the safety guidelines is challenging to businesses and other organizations, especially given the loss of revenue that so many have suffered.

These challenges, and the legal rules that now or might in the future set the conditions required for reopening, will be discussed and questions answered at a July 29 webinar, starting at 5 p.m., sponsored by the University of Baltimore School of  Law and titled “COVID and the Workplace.”

That webinar is one of just many ways that employers, workers and others can seek guidance and even assistance as they resume, or seek to resume, what they were doing prior to the pandemic. The federal website www.cdc.gov, the Maryland Department of Health website, coronavirus.maryland.gov, and the Maryland Department of Labor website, www.dllr.state.md.us/, are just a few of the sites where you can find valuable information.

Whether you access those sites or other resources or not, think of others and not just yourself, even when that’s very difficult as it is during these times. For anyone who retains and pays workers, think of these persons and their families. For anyone who shops or pumps gas at a self-service station, or knowingly interacts with anyone anywhere, think of those around you and those who will shortly follow you.

Someone (actually it’s now debated who) said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Many think that the “vigilance” applies to foreign country enemies or internal human subverters. But we know now that vigilance should be applied to fast-spreading new viruses.

Hardly anyone in February or early March of this year knew how much vigilance should be taken for coronavirus. But now we have a much better idea. And, ironically, some liberty has to be forsaken to get through this.

So for now, as most Marylanders are doing already, let’s take what steps we can to keep ourselves and others safe and healthy.

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS

James B. Astrachan, Chair

James K. Archibald

Arthur F. Fergenson

Nancy Forster

Susan Francis

Leigh Goodmark

Michael Hayes

Julie C. Janofsky

Ericka N. King

Stephen Z. Meehan

C. William Michaels

Angela W. Russell

Debra G. Schubert

H. Mark Stichel

Vanessa Vescio (on leave)

The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.

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