Opinion: We Need Another Lockdown. But This Time We Need to Do It Right
By Adam Cunningham
The writer is a Germantown resident, activist and Democratic candidate for the District 39 state Senate seat in Montgomery County.
When the pandemic first hit Maryland in 2020, it sent us all into a tailspin from which we have yet to recover. In the wake of rising cases and deaths, a statewide lockdown was declared, though due to the lack of information we had at the time due to its spread, after Gov. Larry Hogan’s state of emergency declaration, the extent of the lockdown was piecemeal and took too long to fully implement. As such, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people were left scrambling to stay safe while also making sure their livelihoods were kept intact and they could keep a roof over their heads.
All in all, Maryland’s response to the pandemic, like most other states and countries, was haphazard, lackluster, and ended up hurting a lot of people in the long run. Almost two years into this pandemic, and with the omicron variant raging through our populace, it is time for more drastic action to come from Maryland’s government, especially given how the Biden administration does not seem to have a plan to tackle the ongoing outbreak, using the lessons we’ve learned so far from the pandemic.
Truthfully, the way we went about the lockdown and subsequent measures was terrible. In the month following the first 105 cases of coronavirus in this state, we graduated from limited group events and closing public places to a fully-fledged stay-at-home order and partial lockdown. During that initial period, we saw many things happen: for one, the coronavirus cases began to peak and our hospitals were not overrun with affected patients, unlike other states that decided against lockdowns, or even mask mandates.
However, this wasn’t a perfect scenario. Even before the pandemic, there were major issues with Maryland’s social safety net that left many people without the funds they needed and were entitled to having paid into the system. Activists for years up to that point had been pressuring the General Assembly and governor’s office to fix these, but to no avail.
As such, when millions of people suddenly were furloughed and unable to work due to the stay-home order and had to apply for unemployment benefits, among other things, the system could not compensate and people were left without the means to afford living expenses, an issue that affects people to this day.
Speaking personally, I had a small computer repair business that was absolutely destroyed by the pandemic due to my being unable to meet with clients because of the stay-home order. After the order was lifted, my clientele shriveled up and I had no choice but to apply for unemployment benefits to keep our family from becoming homeless, but then Governor Hogan started attacking vulnerable Marylanders by trying to end federal unemployment benefits and reinstituting work requirements to receive any funds, causing me and hundreds of thousands of others to be unjustly kicked off the program.
Unfortunately, the negative experiences I’ve had with our system are common among Marylanders. These issues could have been resolved within the span of a single legislative session as well, but our sitting legislators and leaders missed the mark.
The omicron variant has given them a chance to do the right thing this time around. As we speak, the confirmed cases of the omicron variant have reached levels unheard of in Maryland since the start of the pandemic. It has gotten to the point where our hospitals are nearly overrun with COVID patients, and the cases are ever-increasing due to the lack of coherent messaging and planning to tackle this pandemic. The time has come for the General Assembly to take the lead and do what needs to be done to fight against the pandemic.
But what would that look like? Well, to start, they could mandate or pressure Hogan to declare another stay-home order. There was precedent for it at the start of the pandemic when we only had at least 105 confirmed cases in the state, so we surely have precedent for shutting down in the face of more than 15,000 cases today.
There have also been studies saying that lockdown measures can be beneficial if done correctly, but it can’t end there. Lockdowns aren’t without their pitfalls, both socially and economically, and it would be up to our leaders in the state legislature to enact policies that make sure that everyone is properly protected during this time. That means doling out more stimulus checks, a measure proposed by Peter Franchot, a relatively moderate-to-conservative Democrat and current comptroller of Maryland who is running for governor.
That means using the state’s budget surplus to ship at-home test kits to every available address, and rapidly ramp up COVID testing and vaccination efforts. It means overhauling our unemployment insurance and welfare benefits systems to make sure that every person who will inevitably need financial assistance gets it in a timely manner. It means protecting unhoused people by ensuring they have a place to go during the lockdown – especially during these harsh winter months – that isn’t a jail cell because they committed the crime of not having a home during a stay-home order.
It also means getting Maryland’s Board of Education to set up a coherent and comprehensive virtual learning curriculum to meet the needs of students who will be heavily affected by the lockdown. That means instituting a fair and just statewide eviction moratorium and properly funding eviction lawyers for vulnerable tenants and families. That means implementing all the things that activists, organizers and leaders have been demanding of the General Assembly since the pandemic started, but they’ve largely ignored or refused to do.
And if anyone is unwilling to meet the moment we’re in with the strength and conviction necessary to get things done, then they need to be voted out this year. It’s as simple as that.