2021 | Opinion

Opinion: Leaders’ decisions on schools, restaurants, vaccinations made suffering worse

It's time to get past failed strategies, proceed to reopening

It’s time to open up the county, and open now.

I’m a frustrated Montgomery County mother here to point fingers. Yes, I’m looking directly at County Executive Marc Elrich, Gov. Larry Hogan and the Montgomery County school board.

A county that once prided itself on education, community and established businesses is now one of the last counties in Maryland to release a cohesive reopening plan. And it’s the only county that continues to sacrifice our children’s mental and academic health for political power plays.

In August, Hogan intervened after the ridiculous attempt by Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, to keep private schools closed — the same schools that are currently thriving.

We are fortunate to have our kids in a private school where we can proudly say their health and safety have been top priority. And so have their smiles. They have had an opportunity to learn, laugh and socialize daily.

It’s worth noting that there has not been a single transmission of the virus in their school since it reopened in August 2020.

We, as a county, have the tools and resources to do this right. Yet here we are, nearly 12 months into the pandemic, only to find out that Montgomery County Public Schools has delayed the return to classrooms for many students to mid-March.

In a few short weeks, we will carry the badge of having kept more than 160,000 children out of school for a full year without choice.

Where is Hogan’s influence now? It’s time to open the schools. All of them.

As for the county-run vaccination registration and rollout, it’s one of the most complicated and poorly managed systems in the country.

My 74-year-old father with a pre-existing heart condition was on six waiting lists and denied a vaccination in his own county after arriving at Quince Orchard High School for his state-authorized vaccination time slot.

Finally, after several stressful weeks, he drove to Prince George’s County and was able to receive his first vaccination dose.

The lack of a coordinated state and county strategy, the underutilization of vaccines by hospital staff and the confusion over how to reallocate 208,000 doses that were sitting in freezers untouched at the end of January — while our parents sat locked inside, staring at computer screens, scrambling for cross-county vaccination time slots — is infuriating.

As for the food and beverage industry, our local restaurants are closing weekly. I’m genuinely stunned by how Elrich has used his power.

He closed indoor dining in March. Then reopened it in May. Then closed it again in November.

There was take-out only. Fifty percent capacity. Twenty-five percent capacity.

Sixty-minute dining. Ninety-minute dining. A 10 p.m. cutoff.

How are we allowing this man to arbitrarily and singlehandedly crush the entire food service industry in this county? All while manicurists and facial aestheticians continue to see clients and public gyms remain open. Where was a coherent plan that was equally applied to all business owners?

While there’s plenty of finger pointing that could still be done, I hope one of our leaders will step up and start problem solving.

We cannot escape unharmed in the destructive path of COVID-19. The question is, what is our least costly path forward? It’s fair to say Elrich hasn’t updated his cost-benefit analysis since April.

We know how many people in our county have died from or with COVID-19. That information is readily available.

But how many young people have we lost to deaths of despair? What effect will the educational setback of our young children have on their development?

What about increased incidents of depression, anxiety and child abuse? How does all of that fit into our county executive’s model?

I am not asking for life back to normal. I’m a daughter and a mother, and I’m doing my best to weigh the risks to both elderly parents and young children.

But it’s well past time to get children back in school, to let healthy people selectively gather, and to prioritize mental and emotional well-being as the most powerful tool in our battle against COVID-19.

If you’re looking for a merry land right now, perhaps avoid Maryland.

Lauren Billings of Potomac is a mother of three daughters.

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