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Snail mail: USPS package delays frustrate Shore residents

EASTON — David Taylor recently waited 19 days for a package to be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. He’s been waiting for another package much longer, which arrived at the USPS facility in Easton — just 45 minutes from his house in Barclay — on Dec. 10.

In response, Taylor mailed a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, pointing out the delays and inefficiency of USPS compared to other delivery companies such as FedEx and UPS.

“Seven days later and still no package,” he wrote on Dec. 12. “Why is my package still in Easton seven days later? I received a package (from) FedEx and it took no longer than three or four days.”

Taylor’s letter itself has still not been delivered by USPS to the postmaster general, as of Dec. 31.

“This is a national disgrace,” said Taylor. “UPS and FedEx do not seem to be having this many problems.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced or encouraged many to stay home and avoid traditional shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, an unprecedented surge of online orders have inundated delivery workers and companies, leading to a massive backlog of package delays across the country.

It was expected that more than 1 million packages in the U.S. would not arrive by Christmas as orders skyrocketed during the holidays.

Ahead of the holiday season, private companies FedEx and UPS cut off a chunk of new deliveries, sending all of those to USPS, which further hamstrung the public mailing and delivery company.

That, along with a shortage of employees tied to COVID-19 outbreaks and social distancing protocols, have forced an ongoing delivery struggle for USPS as the holiday season wraps up.

“The Postal Service leadership team, the unions and management associations are all working in close collaboration to address issues and concerns as they arise as we focus on delivering ... for the nation,” the agency wrote in a press release ahead of the holidays.

USPS declined to comment in time for this story, though the agency has pointed out how it has addressed the delays: they hired thousands of seasonal workers, delivered packages on Sundays in some regions where they usually did not, and have employees working nearly double overtime in some cases.

But the delays have continued, and, in Talbot County, there is no shortage of complaints.

Residents on Facebook have pointed out the sometimes ridiculous inadequacy of the postal service in angry or sometimes mocking posts.

“Only took a month for USPS to send me one of Easton’s Santa presents from our neighboring state of (Pennsylvania),” one person wrote.

The postal service, which is supposed to be largely self-funded and independent, has struggled for years with its finances. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reported in 2019 that USPS’s total debt, $143 billion, is more than double its annual revenue from stamps, shipping orders and mailing.

DeJoy was appointed to the postmaster general position in May by President Donald Trump, and quickly decided to cut costs and save the mailing business from its financial ruin. Many of his policies, including eliminating thousands of mail-sorting machines ahead of the 2020 election, did not come to fruition and the election ran smoothly.

DeJoy still removed hundreds of mail-sorting machines across the country and politicized the public agency, further heightening difficulties with USPS during a pandemic that has led to an extraordinarily busy season, according to Jason Parker, a delivery driver at the Easton facility.

FedEx and UPS have not seen the same backlogged delays as USPS, but they have put out regulatory alerts warning of some delays amid a historic volume of online orders.

But those companies still rely on USPS for deliveries to more remote areas or to deliver the packages they won’t take, such as the surge of holiday deliveries this year.

Taylor did not have a choice when he ordered his two packages. He had to go through USPS.

In his letter, Taylor questioned why USPS — formed in an archaic version in 1775 when Benjamin Franklin was appointed as the first postmaster general — is so behind these private companies.

“Where are my packages!?” Taylor wrote in his letter. “The USPS has been around much longer than UPS and FedEx combined. Maybe it is time the USPS learns from other delivery experts how to deliver packages.”

Even health care, frontline workers are split on COVID vaccinations

EASTON — COVID-19 vaccinations are rolling out across the Mid-Shore and many are taking advantage of the opportunity to get immunized. But just because it’s available now doesn’t mean all frontline health care workers and residents are anxious to receive the vaccines.

A majority of those health care workers interviewed were pleased to have it offered. But many others have reservations about the vaccines which were developed at lightning-fast speeds.

One teacher said on Wednesday, Dec. 30, Caroline County was already moving to stage 1B of the vaccinations, so she has already received her vaccine. “Since I’ve had half a dozen or more kiddos in my room with no windows and one door every day since September 13, I’m very excited to have some protection and am taking the opportunity to protect myself and hopefully my family,” she said.

Caroline has quickly worked through the process, receiving and giving over 550 doses to county staff under Group 1A — including all healthcare workers, social services, law enforcement, public works, and fire department employees, private physicians, morticians, physical therapists, and optometrists — and also CCPS health room nurses who are now assisting with vaccine clinics. — were given the option to receive a vaccine.

According to Sandi Barry, Caroline County Public Schools, after direction from the health department, on Tuesday CCPS sent an email to all staff advising that the vaccine was being offered to employees on Dec. 30 at the health department and gave them the link to sign up through the health department.

Barry said they also let staff know another clinic is planned for next Wednesday, but clarified sign up is not yet open as they await the next shipment of vaccine. Barry said she did not yet have numbers on how many staff received the vaccine, but by midday of the email all available appointment slots were filled.

With relatively little time lapsed since the vaccine against COVID-19 has been released, those with reservations, said they were based largely on possible side effects or complications. Said one health care worker, “I won’t be able to get the vaccine at all as I have allergies to foods and medications,” the decision was made on advice of her doctor, she said.

“I work in ICU, but am pregnant and since they excluded pregnant women from vaccine studies, I will not be getting it at this time,” said another health care worker.

She said she looks forward to forthcoming studies including pregnant women and reading additional vaccination research. She anticipated people weighing in on her decision, but politely and firmly said she was aware of recommendations issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other medical group but had discussed the decision with her obstetrician (OB) and they agreed it was the best decision to make for her health at this time.

Another woman also in health care said she was pregnant as well and her OB office was strongly recommending that she get the vaccine, “I’m not going to,” she said.

And making that decision is personal. Elizabeth Ambrosini said she was very hesitant to get the vaccine. “I was definitely on the fence about it but ultimately I decided to do it. I feel fine so far,” she said.

Trish Wells said she will get the vaccine, but with trepidation. “I have RA [rheumatoid arthritis], on Humira,” said Wells, “[and the effects have] Not [been] studied yet with immunosuppressants....and CDC recommends it.” Still, Wells believes her company could mandate the vaccine as well.

Nursing student Krista Brown said she can’t wait for her turn to receive the vaccine, and Heather Efland, a former teacher in Queen Anne’s said she has three sisters in health care, who got their vaccine last week and have had no problems. “Seems to me the choice is the getting the vaccine or getting the virus,” Efland said.

Another woman said she had the coronavirus and still plans to get the vaccine.

Others want to see more conclusive evidence the vaccine is safe before receiving it, said one man, “Nope, not getting it now. I will wait for my wonderful fellow Americans to get it and be the test mule. We shall see how everyone is doing several years down the road who took the vaccine and if all [is] well. I’ll take it.”

While some employers may eventually choose to make the vaccine mandatory, the state’s largest health care employer on the Mid-Shore is not following that path.

Media Relations Director for the University of Maryland Medical System Michael Schwartzberg said it is absolutely not mandatory for their staff to receive the vaccine, and is totally voluntary as clearly outlined in their policy and has been reiterated multiple times in staff webinars.

“Certainly achieving high-level immunization coverage throughout the University of Maryland Medical System to ensure the safety of all of our staff and patients is our goal,” Schwartzberg said, “While we are encouraging COVID-19 vaccination, it is voluntary and not mandatory for all UMMS employees. We are continuing to make excellent progress across the System with vaccinating frontline healthcare workers.”

Schwartzberg did not have exact numbers of those who had received vaccine by hospital and outpatient center but said by mid-January, they expect that all UMMS staff who wish to receive the COVID vaccination will have received their first dose, and some will have received their second dose.

“We’ve quickly progressed from receiving a limited supply of less than 1,000 initial doses on December 14 to standing up mass vaccination clinics at all 13 of our System hospitals, after receiving the vast majority of our vaccine supply (Moderna) last Wednesday. As of December 30, we’ve held more than 100 vaccination clinics across the System, vaccinating more than 9,100 employees, and have additional clinics with nearly 18,000 appointments scheduled over the next several weeks,” Schwartzberg said. “We are working at full-speed across the System to safely vaccinate staff, balancing logistical and operational requirements, including rigorous preparation procedures for each vaccine, ensuring appropriate monitoring of each employee vaccinated, and coordinating to ensure vaccinations for staff working within the same department are spaced appropriately. We expect to continue receiving regular distribution of vaccine from the state and will administer all vaccine as we receive supply.”

Talbot, Dorchester and Queen Anne’s counties, alongside Caroline, have all begun administering vaccines to those in Group 1A.

Each county will administer the vaccine following their designated plan. Dorchester County Health Department held its first private vaccination clinic on Tuesday for DCHD’s vaccinators and testing staff, which also allowed staff to practice providing clinics, said

Angela Grove, Health Education Program Manager. Among the 31 employees vaccinated was Roger L. Harrell, Health Officer, and Dr. Casey Scott, Deputy Health Officer, for Dorchester County. “The vaccine is another tool in our toolbox to control this virus,” said Harrell. “It’s an exciting day to have this science-based, safe vaccine to offer to our community. However, we still need to wear face coverings, social distance, and wash our hands.”

DCHD is working with the identified priority groups to coordinate vaccination efforts and held its first clinic for 42 health care providers not affiliated with the hospital on Dec. 31. Additionally, DCHD collaborated with Walgreens to coordinate vaccine administration for 136 first responders from Emergency Management Services and law enforcement and other health care professionals.

Similar clinics are taking place in Talbot and Queen Anne’s as vaccines arrive and clinics can be scheduled. Statewide, Walgreens and CVS pharmacies are working with the Maryland Department of Health to vaccinate staff and residents of long-term care facilities and hospital personnel.

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Police see dramatic rise in complaint calls related to COVID mask, social distancing orders

ANNAPOLIS — Police departments throughout Maryland have seen dramatic increases in the number of calls they have received from residents alleging violations of state COVID orders by neighbors and businesses, according to data from the Maryland State Police.

The state police reports agencies statewide have received 45,250 calls for service related to complaints about those resisting or disobeying state coronavirus orders related to masks, social distancing and business capacities.

Those numbers are through Dec. 21, according to MSP.

They are also up dramatically.

The state police previously reported law enforcement agencies had received 4,647 COVID complaints through Dec. 2.

The increase comes after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan established a new statewide tip line for residents to report neighbors, businesses and others for resisting or disobeying government pandemic orders.

Hogan has promoted the tip line and has also called for increased police and local enforcements of COVID-19 orders.

Restaurants and bars are required to close at 10:00 p.m. A number of businesses as well as churches have capacity limits. Masks are required statewide inside workplaces and other public places and outdoors when social distancing cannot be assured.

Local health departments have also received COVID order complaints resulting in inspectors being dispatched to restaurants, bars, food markets on the Eastern Shore and throughout the state and in at least one instance a church in Anne Arundel County.

The governor also started deploying the state police before Thanksgiving to conduct coronavirus “compliance checks” throughout the state — including on the Eastern Shore.

The MSP also reports that police have conducted 42,733 “compliance checks” on restaurants, bars and other businesses to make sure they are abiding by pandemic orders related to masks, social distancing and capacities.

Police agencies have issued 2,269 warnings statewide related to pandemic order and mandates, according to MSP data.

Those numbers are also through Dec. 21.

There have also been 132 persons arrested or charged with COVID-19 order violations, according to police. That number has remained unchanged since Dec. 2.

Your gifts continue to provide a brighter Christmas for kids

Your donation to The Star Democrat‘s Brighter Christmas Fund has helped over 1,600 children and nearly 700 families during the 2020 holiday season.

From Nov. 24 through Dec. 31, 2020, The Star Democrat and its sister newspapers published stories each day about families in Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester, Queen Anne’s and Kent counties who struggled to provide a Christmas for their children. These stories were the only way The Star Democrat solicited donations for the Brighter Christmas Fund.

Because of your generosity, parents and caregivers were able to provide gifts for their children. The Star Democrat donated 100% of the Fund’s administrative and operating costs.

We are pleased to continue acknowledging all those who have generously donated to the Fund in 2020, as we are still receiving donations through the mail.

The Brighter Christmas Fund is a 501(c)(3) charity, and tax-deductible donations, which also help other families in need on the Mid-Shore, may be sent to The Brighter Christmas Fund, c/o The Star Democrat, P.O. Box 600, Easton, MD 21601. Donations also may be made online via credit card or Paypal at www.brighterchristmasfund.org. Click the “Donate” button. For more information about the Fund, call 410-200-1884 or email bcf@chespub.com.

The total to date is: $91,850.75

Those sharing the spirit of giving with others this holiday include:

Gabriel Houghton

In memory of Arabella Hogentogler

Roger Maki

Beverly Shea

In memory of Peter Wood

Karen Fisher


Thomas Ledvina

Anne Stalfort

Raymond Diedrichs

In memory of Ned Harrison

Mary P. Barry

In memory of Frank and Agnes Lorenz

Mike Rajacich

Merrie Peddicord

Laura Zagon

In moving memory of Cal and Fran

Karen Lust

Janice and Larry Pifer

Jacqueline Smith

In memory of my wife Lee Anderson

In honor of our grandchildren Brianna Stafford, Alayna Stafford and Brendan Aviles, and great grandchild Colton Graff

In loving memory of Helen Virginia Blackwell

In loving memory of Eileen and Frank Cummings and Aunt Helen

In loving memory of Irma and Sam McQuay

In memory of Forest Wells

In memory of our parents Vernon and Mary Handel, and Harry and Frances Welch, and sister, Bonnie Coultas

In memory of Captain Rob Cook

In memory of Clifton and Cecelia Sullivan

In memory of Ben and Betty Pleasanton

John and Ruth Sullivan

Beth and Hoyle Ragsdale

Mrs. Jean T. Brown

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COVID deaths skew older but vaccinations are not going to seniors

ANNAPOLIS — The vast majority of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Maryland are among seniors.

The state has seen 5,799 deaths attributed to the coronavirus since the pandemic began, according to the Maryland Department of Health.

Marylanders age 70 or older have made up 4,178 of those deaths — or 72% of the state’s total fatalities attributed to the virus.

Breaking it down even more, those age 80 and older have made up 2,711 of Maryland’s reported COVID deaths or 48%.

But the first waves of vaccinations are not going to seniors and are skewing younger.

Gov. Larry Hogan and state health officials have prioritized health care workers, nursing home staff and patients and first responders in the first phases of mass COVID vaccinations.

There have been 56,151 COVID vaccinations so far statewide including 5,191 on the Eastern Shore, according to the Maryland Department of Health.

Those age 70 and older make up 6.6% of Maryland’s total COVID vaccinations, according to a dashboard set up by the state health agency. Of those total vaccinations, 1,523 have gone to those age 80 or older (or 2.7% of the state’s total vaccinations).

There have been 2,167 vaccinations given statewide to those aged 70 to 79 (or 3.9%).

Conversely, 31,804 coronavirus vaccinations have gone to those aged 49 or under. That translates into 57% of the total vaccines given so far, according to MDH.

Of Maryland’s 5,799 COVID deaths, 264 have been among patients aged 20 to 49. That translates to 4.6% of the state’s total COVID deaths, according to MDH.

Who gets offered COVID-19 vaccines has been a dilemma for other states and countries.

A number of European countries have put seniors at the top of their vaccination lists. The first person to get a COVID vaccine in Germany, for example, was a 101-year-old woman who survived the Spanish Flu in 1918.

In the U.S, the Centers for Disease Control and a number of states have prioritized health care workers and first responders as well as nursing home staff and patients but not wider populations of seniors and others with underlying medical conditions that make them most vulnerable to the virus.

Some states, including Delaware, have announced that those age 65 and older will be in the next COVID vaccination groups after its first wave focused on health care workers and nursing homes.

After a similar initial focus on health care staff, first responders and nursing homes, Maryland’s next vaccination group will focus on “people at significantly higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness.”