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OPINION: The Painful Truth

| February 03, 2021, 09:00 AM

Will Rogers famously noted that, “A remark generally hurts in proportion to its truth.” This became apparent last week, when Governor Larry Hogan said that County Executive Steuart Pittman’s Health Officer, Nilesh Kalyanaraman, “Didn’t know what he was talking about,” regarding public school reopening. Pittman’s indignation was an indication of the remark’s painful truth, as is his lockdown record, and the actual data we have on school re-openings.

This isn’t the first time Pittman’s been hurt by the truth. He’s failed to base his excessively restrictive executive orders on data, and chosen his political alliance with other Democratic County Executives and the teachers union over science. When told of Pittman’s decision to completely lock down both indoor and outdoor dining last December, Hogan literally rolled his eyes, and noted there was, “no data or evidence his team has seen that warrants the closure of indoor dining.” Judge William Mulford agreed, halting Pittman’s restaurant lockdown with an injunction that called it, “arbitrary and capricious.” During the course of the trial, the testimonies of Dr. Kalyanaraman and Pittman indicated they really didn’t know what they were talking about. Dr Kalyanaraman testified the county had actually stopped contact tracing on November 14th, almost a month prior to Pittman’s December 16th order. There was no current county data to justify it. Dr. Kalyanaraman  also testified Pittman’s lockdown order, which would’ve cost 65,000 county food-service workers their jobs, was based on hospitalization “projections” that were wrong by 5,000 beds. Pittman testified his order was necessary to “save lives.” During closing arguments, Judge Mulford pointed out that Pittman’s executive order was, “based on completely flawed data that did not play out in reality.” At that point, Pittman’s focus shifted from “saving lives” to saving face. With Judge Mulford signaling he would overturn his lockdown, Pittman agreed to end it if the restaurant owners withdrew their case.

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Which brings us to Hogan’s latest painful truth about Pittman’s administration. Pittman says he agrees with the Governor’s “goal” of reopening schools for at least hybrid learning by March 1st. But Pittman’s flip-flopped on school reopening before, when cases were far lower than they are now. Dr Kalyanaraman’s argument that public school teachers must all be vaccinated before returning to class ignores data and science . It simply gives Pittman an excuse to flip-flop on re-opening again, to satisfy his political supporters and financial contributors at the teacher’s union.

At that point, Pittman’s focus shifted from “saving lives” to saving face. (Herb McMillan) Click To Tweet

Which is exactly why Governor Hogan said Dr. Kalyanaraman, “didn’t know what he was talking about.” The data on school re-openings is clear, and so is the science. You don’t have to look hard (or far) to find it. There are over 16,200  private and religious school students and teachers in Anne Arundel County who began in-person/hybrid classes in September/October, even as the teacher’s union claimed it was “unsafe.” After Christmas break, they resumed classes as COVID-19 cases peaked. This school year, they’ve had 80 students and teachers test positive for COVID-19, with no hospitalizations or fatalities. Across the United States and Europe, other public and private schools have been open for months, many in places with higher case rates than Maryland or Anne Arundel County, with similar, safe results. Vaccinating all teachers, as a pre-condition to in person classroom instruction, without reference to their age or pre-existing conditions, is neither necessary, nor good public policy.

Why? Because we don’t have enough vaccines for everyone right now, and we are not all equally at risk from COVID-19. While it is deadly, it is not equally dangerous for everyone. People over the age of 65 account for 8 of 10 COVID-19 deaths. If we really care about “saving lives,” they should be vaccinated before anyone else.

This is not a binary decision. Science and data show we don’t have to take vaccines away from those most at risk from COVID-19, to restore the lives of those who’ve suffered most cruelly because of it-our children. It’s safe for them and their teachers to go back to school before they’re vaccinated. That’s the data and the  science; and anyone who tells you it isn’t, “doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”

Herb McMillan represented Annapolis in the Maryland House of Delegates for 12 years. He may be reached at [email protected]


EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman has denied that the County had ceased contact tracing, and also that he stated teachers needed to be vaccinated prior to a return to school.

Herb McMillan stands by the accuracy and veracity of his editorial.

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