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Wow: I'm reopening most of my blue state's businesses to full capacity, says ... Larry Hogan

Didn’t see this coming. Yes, sure, he’s a Republican, but one of the most moderate Republicans in the country. And he answers to a deeply Democratic electorate. And we know how Democrats feel about taking risks with pandemic precautions, even when those risks are small and the benefits far exceed the costs.

What’s Hogan’s angle here?

It … it can’t be that he seriously believes he’s a contender for the GOP nomination in 2024, can it? That he’s pandering to national Republican primary voters by reopening aggressively? Even if Trump doesn’t run, he’d be steamrolled by any populist in the field.

Still, this decision is noteworthy on the merits. Democrats had a field day when Texas decided to lift capacity limits on its businesses and rescind its mask mandate last week in response to declining COVID cases in the state. That contradicted the guidance from Anthony Fauci and Rochelle Walensky not to celebrate the progress the country has made by easing regulations prematurely. Infections are still happening at a high enough level to seed another major outbreak and variants are propagating that could push us into the sort of surge the UK had to cope with this past winter. The prudent thing to do, they insisted, is to be cautious for another month while vaccinations proceed and then consider reopening some things in April, after we’ve crept a bit closer to herd immunity.

Democratic governors — and RINOs — are supposed to do the “prudent” thing. Yet here was Hogan this afternoon opening up, well, everything. Full capacity for most businesses and even major venues like Camden Yards will be allowed to move to half capacity. The pandemic’s mostly over in Maryland, it seems.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday eased several coronavirus restrictions in the state, including lifting all capacity limits at restaurants and opening up large indoor and outdoor venues at 50% capacity, while keeping in effect the state’s mask mandate…

The removal of capacity restrictions designed to curb the spread of COVID-19 also applies to retail businesses, religious facilities, gyms, casinos, personal services and indoor recreational establishments. Theaters as well as venues for live music, conventions and weddings and outdoor sporting venues will be allowed to operate at half-capacity…

“The time is right” to lift restrictions, the Republican governor said, adding that his administration has been balancing keeping residents health and building the economy back. “Our health metrics are great and it’s time to get our economy going.”

“The sun is shining. Spring is coming. And the weather continues to get warmer. We want to stress that outside is safer than inside,” Hogan said at a news conference at the State House in Annapolis.

There are caveats. Local officials have some authority to impose restrictions if they so choose, which means whether Camden Yards opens at 50 percent depends in part on Baltimore’s mayor. Businesses are required to distance patrons as much as possible; no crowding around the bar if you’re out for a drink. And most notably, the mask mandate remains in effect, with masks still required in indoor spaces open to the public like grocery stores. That’s the key difference from what Texas did and puts Maryland in line with another blue state that recently eased restrictions, Connecticut. The mask mandate still applies there too. You’re left to wonder if Hogan would have proceeded as he did today if not for the political cover CT’s move had given him.

But maybe he would have. Look who one of his advisors is.

Trump’s CDC chief! Maybe he really is thinking of running in three years.

Here’s the state of play with cases in Maryland. Their seven-day daily average is the lowest it’s been since late October. To which one might reply: If they weren’t at full capacity with businesses then, why would they move to full capacity now?

One obvious answer to that question is that we didn’t have vaccines in October. Maryland’s smack dab in the middle of the pack among the 50 states when measured by the share of the population that’s received its first dose and slightly better than average (17 out of 50) in terms of who’s received their second. Just 10.8 percent of residents have received both shots, though, which means they’re still a ways away from herd immunity even if you assume that, say, a quarter of Marylanders have already been immunized from COVID the old-fashioned way.

Here’s a colorful sample of liberal reaction to today’s move on Twitter. Much of it is more profane than this:

Former Dem Rep. Donna Edwards put it this way:

A *lot* of pressure will be brought to bear on Democratic mayors and county officials in Maryland over the next three days to impose their own restrictions on gatherings to replace Hogan’s, assuming the governor allows it.

I wonder if Hogan’s order won’t end up influencing other Republican governors. Rarely if ever does he do something that might cause leaders in conservative strongholds to pay attention, but by opening up aggressively today he’s suddenly made it harder for members of his own party to take the cautious Fauci/Walensky approach if they’re so inclined. You know what their constituents will say: “Larry Hogan is willing to defy his state’s Democratic majority to help small businesses by reopening. Why aren’t you?” No one in the GOP wants a rap for being to Hogan’s left on a policy matter as salient as this.