The Frederick County economy is stirring to life, lifting some of the gloom that has fallen over our community since the pandemic swept into town in March.
Bars, restaurants, stores and gyms are all resuming operations in limited fashion. New COVID-19 cases are falling and hospitalizations are lower. People are more relaxed and business owners still standing are hopeful they will make it through. Good news all around.
If only we didn’t see such dark clouds on the southern and western horizon, and hear the low rumbling of distant thunder.
Last weekend, County Executive Jan Gardner allowed the county to move to phase two of the recovery plan written by the Hogan administration for the state. That permitted more businesses including bowling alleys, fitness centers and gyms, fraternal and social organizations to begin operating at 50 percent capacity.
All must continue to follow health and safety guidelines from the governor’s office, including requiring wearing masks and continuing social distancing.
The easing was made possible because of the data on the effect of the virus continued to improve, Gardner said. Hospitalizations in the county have dropped 70 percent since May 8, intensive care use has fallen 93 percent, and acute care bed use has dropped 65 percent.
“I still do want to express caution as we move forward,” Gardner said, according to News-Post reporters Steve Bohnel and Erika Riley. “We’ve certainly seen that re-openings have created an increase in cases and hospitalizations in some other states. ... The last thing we want to have happen is for us to take a step backwards.”
The news every day reinforces that caution. The New York Times reported this week that more than 35,000 new coronavirus cases were identified across the United States on Tuesday, the highest single-day total since late April and the third-highest total of any day of the pandemic.
Most of those cases are in southern and western states, where reopening was rushed and now infection rates are soaring. It is a cautionary tale for Maryland: We need to be careful.
Gardner again noted that Gov. Larry Hogan’s Roadmap to Recovery has stop signs in case there are spikes in hospitalizations, ICU beds, or other important data points.
She also noted that the county and the state will continue to discourage large gatherings since they are one of the leading risks for spreading the coronavirus. People need to continue to wear face coverings and social distance, she added.
We cannot stress enough the need to keep the rules on mask-wearing. It is the single most important measure ordinary citizens can take to protect themselves and others. Everyone should want to wear a mask, but unfortunately it has become a political issue, so the rules must remain in place.
Hogan and Gardner have wisely stressed the need for widespread testing, to find outbreaks and track possible spread. We are greatly encouraged that our state and county leaders will be careful and smart as our reopening proceeds.
Meanwhile, the county is trying to give a boost to businesses who have been hurt by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic closures.
Frederick County soon will be awarding $5 million in Jump Start grants to small businesses and farmers. A total of 885 applicants will receive funding. Seventy-seven full-time farmers will receive grants of $6,000, 279 small businesses will receive grants of $10,000 and 529 micro businesses will receive grants of $3,300.
It is not a lot of money, but we hope it will be enough to tide over the recipients until better days arrive.
The federal government has devoted more than $2 trillion to help individuals and businesses, but the crisis is not over yet. A new round of aid has been passed by the Democratic House of Representatives, but it is bottled up in the Republican Senate.
While we wait on federal lawmakers to come to their senses on the need and agree on a new bill, we will have to look to our state and local leaders to do what they can. This pandemic is far from over.