The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author.
On June 19, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich announced that Montgomery County, Maryland, will launch into Phase Two of reopening. While thousands of teens across Montgomery County, along with the rest of the world, have had to endure quarantine for over three months, individual liberty should not be prioritized over the health and safety of the common good.
The motion to move into Phase Two comes right as states such as Texas and Georgia, which were some of the first states to reopen, reach a record-high number of cases. In fact, confirmed cases in Georgia increased from 22,491 to more than 45,000 in just six weeks, and the number of COVID-related deaths in the state have jumped from 899 to almost 2000 in the same amount of time.
There is a clear and direct link between states that have reopened and a dramatic increase in the number of reported cases. While Montgomery County has not had time to experience a vast increase in the number of citizens with COVID-19, there has already been an increase in cases since Phase Two was announced.
On June 22, the Maryland Department of Health reported that there were 14,141 confirmed cases of COVID-19 within Montgomery County, 62 more cases than just one day prior. If Montgomery County is anything like the other regions that have reopened so far, the number of cases, and unfortunately deaths, will increase at an exponential rate.
To me, it is clear that Montgomery County reopened too quickly, and safety was not prioritized when making the decision to enter Phase Two. As of June 22, only 7.8 percent of Montgomery County residents have been tested for COVID-19, which means that it is almost certain Montgomery County has more cases than those that have already been reported.
A significant number of individuals in Montgomery County concur that the county is reopening too fast. “I believe that, while Montgomery County is taking more precautions than most surrounding counties, it is still going through the motions a bit quickly. Ever since the reopenings, coronavirus cases spiked drastically,” Poolesville High School senior Liz Attumalil said.
I understand that people need food and supplies, which was all accessible during Phase One. However, it is imperative that gyms, outdoor camps, and pools, all non-necessary places now open in Phase Two, remain avoided for the foreseeable future.
This, however, is my opinion, and by no means is meant to be regulatory. Jordan Kelly, a sophomore at Wootton High School, explains how his pool is taking extra measures to ensure the safety of all of its athletes. “These last two weeks my swim team has started training again. We’ve been social distancing and staying six feet apart and starting at opposite ends of the pool. At most we have had a practice with 28 people in the pool and on deck (while keeping six feet distance). From my understanding I feel like my club team has done a pretty good job with slowly reopening,” Kelly said.
Nobody enjoys staying trapped in their homes for months on end, especially now during summertime when teens and adults alike enjoy spending time together without the stress of homework and tests. “My least favorite part of quarantine is definitely not being able to see my friends as much as I’d like to, although I’ve been able to spend time with them while social distancing,” Wootton High School senior Ellie Helgeson said.
While I would very much rather be running Cross Country with my peers or going to swim meets as part of my swim team, the world is currently experiencing a pandemic, and as much as an inconvenience to some people that this might be, I am willing to sacrifice some fun times to uphold the safety of the community and myself. However, it is still possible to be with friends while practicing safe social distancing as Helgeson, as well as many other Montgomery County residents, knows.
As for those who would like to make the argument that not reopening Montgomery County as quickly as possible will hurt the economy, the opposite is in fact true. In an interview with MSNBC, New York governor Andrew Cuomo stated that keeping people under lockdown actually helps the economy because less cases of COVID-19 equates to more faith in the economy (which leads to markets going up).
Numerous people across the country, from Montgomery County to the Oval Office, have stated that minors should be allowed to freely go out and about with whomever they choose since they have the strongest immune systems. While I would most likely not be impacted by COVID-19, the same cannot be said about my mother who has a compromised immune system.
You see, the major flaw with the ideology that those with weaker immune systems should simply stay inside while kids should be allowed to resume their normal lives is that minors are still capable of transmitting the disease to relatives and friends. “Both my parents have underlying health issues, . . . so we have been really careful. I think for me having two of my family members with compromised immune systems and seeing others who are so careless is a shame,” Wootton High School junior Lizzie Nelson said.
Another prominent debate is that Montgomery County regulating where and when residence can go out is an infringement on personal liberty. However, as I’m sure everyone who has taken a high school government class knows, in times of crisis, the government is allowed to overstep its Constitutional powers in order to protect its citizens.
An individual’s right to go lift weights at the gym should not justify the increasing number of deaths within Montgomery County (which, as of June 23, was numbered at 691 COVID-related deaths). Connor Combs, a Junior at The Heights, says it best when he states, “when you get rid of individual liberty and prioritize safety, you lose the free aspect of the county, but when you take away safety, many people will lose their lives.”