The news on the pandemic has been so positive recently – from economic recovery to the end of the general mask mandate — that a cynic might fear the good times just cannot last.
A bit of skepticism is usually justified in a health crisis none of us has ever endured, but we have come to believe that if the pandemic is not ending, we can see the finish line from here.
The number of new cases of COVID-19 has been in a steady decline here and around most of the country, as have the number of deaths and hospitalizations from the virus.
Nearly half of Frederick County’s population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 40 percent are fully vaccinated.
Children as young as 12 are now permitted to receive a vaccine, increasing the likelihood that, in Maryland at least, vaccinations will increase to the point at which most people and many children will soon be fully protected
With better numbers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased its guidelines on wearing masks, saying that fully vaccinated people need not wear one indoors or out, except in rare circumstances.
Gov. Larry Hogan and County Executive Jan Gardner have lifted almost all restrictions on indoor dining and shopping, leaving the continuance of the rules to the retailers and restauranteurs.
Hogan, following closely to the CDC guidelines, said the only exceptions to the end of the mask mandate will continue to be public transportation, health care settings and schools.
“Today is the day that so many of us have been waiting for and working towards: We finally do clearly see that light at the end of the tunnel,” the governor said.
The good news continued to build with the latest financial projections from the state. While Maryland lost 400,000 jobs during the pandemic, the doomsday scenario that analysts also feared never materialized.
Andrew M. Schaufele, director of Maryland’s Bureau of Revenue Estimates, explained to the Washington Post that the picture is rosier than anyone could have predicted.
“We knew [COVID-19] was going to directly impact the service industry and retail, but we thought that it would spread out to other industries, which is what happens in most recessions,” Schaufele said. But the financial contagion did not happen.
Last May, analysts had predicted our state revenues would fall short by $925 million by the end of June. Instead of crashing over the financial cliff though, the state economy rebounded nicely, in large part because of the stimulus package passed by the federal government.
Expanded unemployment benefits saved many lower-income families from disaster because job losses were concentrated in lower-paying industries and that money also helped to keep the economy afloat.
Schaufele told the Post that projections now call for a $161 million surplus over expectations for next year’s revenue, with tax collections strong among higher-income workers. Low-wage jobs have still not recovered, he said, but they account for just 6.1 percent of Maryland’s income tax revenue.
Schaufele said Maryland expects to receive $55 billion to $60 billion in total federal stimulus spending. That is about 11 percent of the state’s entire economy and similar to the revenue generated by the state’s largest industry — professional and business services.
“It’s like we created another industry in our state. The amount of money is staggering,” Schaufele said.
In addition, the federal government was able to move fast to help, quickly injecting stimulus money into the economy.
“If that money had leaked out slowly, the recession would have leaked out and impacted other sectors, almost certainly,” Schaufele added.
Now, we all need to finish the job of defeating the pandemic. Gov. Hogan noted the state of emergency remains in place, even with restrictions lifted.
Vaccine hesitancy is the only fly in the ointment of positive news. As many as a third of Americans say they are waiting to see how the vaccines perform or they are not planning to ever get their shots.
Hogan said the state would not be checking to see whether people not wearing a mask had gotten their shot. But it just makes sense for everyone to be vaccinated if they can get the shots.
Yes, it is a personal decision, but any new surge of hospitalizations and deaths would take a toll on our health care system and on society in general.
It still needs saying: Get the damn shot.