However, Rep. Andy Harris, the only Republican in the Maryland congressional delegation and an anesthesiologist, says low-risk businesses and churches should reopen immediately, provided they require customers and worshipers to socially distance and wear masks.
The congressman — whose district includes the rural Eastern Shore, where virus clusters in poultry processing plants have alarmed local officials — said in a phone interview Monday that he had used hyperbole Saturday while addressing rolling “Reopen Maryland” protests, when he compared the state’s business and church closures to moves by the autocratic regimes of China and North Korea.
But he said Hogan also exaggerated when claiming that the state’s recent purchase of 500,000 coronavirus tests from South Korea would save “thousands” of lives.
“Will he save some lives?” Harris said. “Yes, he will, but he’s not going to save thousands.”
“We very much wish Dr. Harris would focus on the health crisis in his district right now, where state officials are working closely with the Trump administration to address poultry plant outbreaks,” Hogan’s spokesman, Michael Ricci, said in a statement. “The Korean test kits that Dr. Harris disparages were used to test more than 2,300 people in Salisbury over the weekend as part of our multi-state response. But perhaps Dr. Harris has been in Congress too long, and has forgotten what truly matters.”
Although he never mentioned Hogan in his remarks to the protesters, Harris on Monday said he was surprised that the governor and his staff had not consulted him, as Maryland’s only physician-legislator, who has multiple degrees from Johns Hopkins University.
“I would have been more than happy to offer my opinion, but it was never solicited,” he said of Hogan, who is chair of the National Governors Association and who frequently consults with Vice President Pence, leader of the White House coronavirus task force.
While Harris said that Hogan acted appropriately by exercising caution six weeks ago, now, he said, “I’d like the governor to begin thinking more dynamically about what’s going on and look at states that have had success without stay-at-home orders.”
Governors have said that the infection rates must dictate when to restart the economy, but Harris said public health literature suggests the opposite. As people lose income, they tend to avoid spending money on doctor’s visits or healthy food, and instead increase unhealthy practices, he said.
Harris said the state could begin by reopening regions with relatively few cases, such as his home district in eastern Maryland; what he called low-risk businesses, such as golf courses, self-serve carwashes and small stores that serve only 10 to 20 customers in a given day; and recreational boating.
“I think it’s reasonable to treat different parts of the state differently,” he said. “It’s the way we do things in medicine. If someone’s at high risk, we treat them differently than someone at low risk.”
One exception should be the poultry plants, Harris said, which he argued should be treated as nursing homes have been, with focused attention on how to curb the spread of the virus.
Churches could welcome back worshipers as long as they socially distance and wear masks, but he said he would advise vulnerable people to continue to stay home.
Constituents have told him they miss their Sunday services and the ability to practice their faith as they wish, especially when places like Walmart remain open, he said.
“In my life — and I’ve been blessed because I’ve been fairly healthy — I’ve never missed church six weeks in a row,” he said. “I feel bad if I miss it one week.”