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Trooper 6 Medevac station dodges closure

EASTON — After months of uncertainty concerning the fate of the Trooper 6 medevac station in Easton, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday the base will remain operational despite the Board of Public Works’ previous vote to slice its funding among a scad of other pandemic-spurred, statewide budget cuts.

Hogan’s announcement came in response to the results of an independent helicopter basing study on which state leaders were waiting to determine the impact of a Trooper 6 closure.

The study, according to a news release from the governor’s office, found that the base’s elimination would “significantly and negatively affect both the response rate and the response time” of emergency personnel deploying by helicopter.

“Analysts estimated that closing one base would decrease the response rate to less than 83 percent and increase response time by eight minutes,” Hogan’s news release stated. The current response rate from all bases is at least 95% and response time is within 25 minutes.

Trooper 6, which primarily serves Queen Anne’s, Caroline, Talbot and Dorchester counties, is one of two state police helicopter sections on the Shore, and one of seven in all of Maryland. The Shore’s second base, Trooper 4, is in Salisbury.

The Easton base’s central location allows rescue crews to transport patients by helicopter to Baltimore’s Shock Trauma Center in 20 minutes and Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury in 15 minutes, according to the Maryland State Police website.

Hogan said the MSP Aviation Command, which operates the state’s seven helicopter sections, has been conducting lifesaving medevac flights for more than 50 years. The governor’s administration, he said, is “committed to making sure Maryland’s Finest have all the resources they need to continue their excellent service to the state and the region.”

The BPW’s undoing of the $1.3 million cut to MSPAC its three members approved in July initially came in response to backlash from Shore residents and lawmakers who said the helicopter station’s closure would jeopardize the rural region’s safety when it comes to those in need of emergency medical care.

Sen. Steve Hershey, R-36-Upper Shore, said in a statement Wednesday that the public’s participation in fighting to keep the helicopter base was a “difference-maker as we spoke with the Governor and Budget Secretary (David Brinkley) about the importance of these lifesaving helicopters.”

Talbot County Councilwoman Laura Price said she was “certainly pleased” to learn the Easton station would be staying open.

“These resources are critical to Talbot County and the Mid-Shore,” she said. “Working together with our emergency medical services teams, the MSP helicopters save lives by delivering critical patients to specialty care quickly.”

Of the MSPAC bases’ dodging closure, State Police Superintendent Col. Woodrow Jones III said, “Based on the governor’s commitment to do all we can to provide the best in public safety services, the Maryland State Police will keep all bases open and all helicopters in the current fleet.”

“We look forward to continuing our work in partnership with Maryland’s first responders and hospital providers,” Jones said.

COVID positive rates dip, four new cases but fewer active ones locally; Delmarva Dems criticize Trump after White House return

EASTON — New COVID-19 numbers released Wednesday indicate improvements to the virus’ impacts on Maryland and in Talbot County where the number of active cases are down significantly since reaching 51 on Monday.

Still, four new COVID cases were reported in Talbot County on Wednesday, Oct. 7, and Delmarva Democrats are criticizing President Donald Trump after his positive coronavirus test and return to the White House.

The positivity rate for COVID-19 tests has dropped in Maryland. The Maryland Department of Health reported Wednesday the positive rates for COVID-19 tests are down to 2.9%.

Positivity rates for coronavirus tests are a key indicator to when and how the economy and schools will continue to reopen. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has been pressing school districts, including on the Eastern Shore, to bring more students back to classrooms.

The Maryland health agency also reported 460 new COVID-19 cases and six new deaths on Wednesday. Those bring the statewide case total to 128,664 and the fatalities from the pandemic to 3,829. There are 391 COVID patients currently hospitalized statewide.

In Talbot County, the local health department reported four new COVID cases Wednesday. That brings the county’s total cases to 583 with nine COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began in March.

But the number of active coronavirus cases stands at 23, according to the county health department. That number was as low as 19 on Tuesday after standing at 51 on Monday, Oct. 5.

The positivity rate for Talbot County coronavirus tests stands at 1.21%.

Improvements to the virus situation locally and statewide are not stopping political battles between Delmarva Democrats and Trump, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 2 and returned to the White House on Monday after spending the weekend at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda.

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said he wants more information on how the White House is protecting staff from the coronavirus.

This comes after positive COVID-19 tests from President Trump, First Lady Melania Trump and a number of top aides, including Hope Hicks and Kayleigh McEnany. President Trump has received experimental medications as part of his COVID-19 treatments.

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st, credits Trump’s COVID-19 recovery with Operation Warp Speed, the federal program fast tracking new treatments and a potential vaccine for the virus. Harris is a Trump supporter.

But Van Hollen, a frequent Trump critic, is concerned about health safety protocols at the White House.

“The White House’s secrecy and lack of serious response to its COVID-19 outbreak is endangering workers and their families —many of whom are Marylanders. We need answers about what steps are being taken to protect White House workers, including Secret Service and support staff,” Van Hollen said in a statement on Wednesday.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., has faulted Trump for not wearing mask in public after his return to the White House.

“We elected a reality TV star who doesn’t take seriously the risks that he is putting others through,” said Coons.

Democrats want Trump to wear a mask in public more and abide by coronavirus guidelines.

“His unwillingness to follow public health guidelines has not only put those in the White House at risk, but set a poor example for the American people throughout this pandemic,” Coons said in a statement.

Lauren Witzke, a Republican challenging Coons for his Senate seat, responded by pointing to Joe Biden leaving the stage at a Pennsylvania campaign event without a mask.

Delaware has had 21,550 COVID cases, 649 deaths and 89 current hospitalizations, according to the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services. Delaware reported a positivity rate for coronavirus tests of 5.4% on Oct. 6 with a seven-day average positive rate of 7.5%. The state had 88 positive new cases on Oct. 6.

Trump has said he is “feeling great” and has been active on Twitter criticizing Democrats over COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions on church services in some states.

“Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!,” Trump said via Twitter.

Trump also criticized U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for not wearing a mask during a visit to a hair salon. He also applauded a Michigan Supreme Court ruling limiting Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ability to shutdown churches, events and businesses.

Trump said he would sign a new COVID stimulus bill if it was a standalone measure offering a second $1,200 to Americans. That comes after Trump said he would stop already stalled negotiations with Democrats until after the election so the Senate could focus on the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Back in Maryland, the state has 2,129 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control numbers as of Oct. 7. That ranks 29th among U.S. states in addition to the District of Columbia and New York City, which was hit hard by the early months of the pandemic. Delaware ranks 25th when it comes to COVID cases per capita with 2,220 cases per 100,000 residents, according to the CDC.

Maryland has had 65 COVID deaths per capita ranking 17th among U.S states, D.C. and New York City. Delaware ranks 16th with 66 coronavirus deaths per capita. New York City has the most virus deaths per capital with 284 deaths for every 100,000 residents.

Looking to bridge troubling digital divide

EASTON — Internet expansion in Talbot County should be a model for all rural communities throughout the state and country struggling with reliable broadband speeds, officials agreed at a Community Development Network of Maryland meeting Oct. 6.

Representatives at the meeting pointed to Easton Utilities, which was awarded a $13 million federal grant earlier this year for its Connect Talbot project. That project will expand internet service to 3,447 homes and 144 farms in the county by 2025.

Joanne Hovis, the president of engineering firm CTC Technology & Energy, applauded the Connect Talbot project at the virtual meeting. Hovis specializes in broadband technology and said John Horner, the chief technology officer at Easton Utilities, has set a standard for rural communities.

“What he has accomplished in Talbot County should be a model for the rest of the state,” she said. “We don’t have broadband solutions at the local level, so this multiyear cycle of increased services is helping to solve broadband issues.”

The Community Development Network, an organization comprised of nonprofits and businesses in Maryland, including 15 on the Eastern Shore, held the meeting to discuss internet connectivity issues in rural areas across the state.

While reliable internet has always been an issue in rural communities, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the need to address it. Many schools, jobs and services are transitioning to a virtual format, leaving rural residents with unreliable internet connection out of the loop.

CDN reported at the meeting that more than 60 million Americans lack broadband connections at reliable speeds, most of them in rural communities such as the Eastern Shore.

About half of Talbot County is currently considered “underserved,” according to a map provided by Easton Utilities at the meeting. A majority of those locations will be served by 2025 through Easton Utilities’ Connect Talbot program.

Horner said the problem in rural areas has always been the cost of service providers to expand into places with few homes, which means fewer customers.

“The cost to install (broadband) fiber — say in Easton — is about $40,000 a linear mile,” said Horner. “In order to make it feasible for a provider, you need about 40 customers available per linear mile.”

Horner said he was “trying to brainstorm and collaborate” on solving that dilemma, and he then partnered with the county and the Governor’s Office of Rural Broadband, a task force created to examine internet issues in the state.

“With additional funding opportunities at the state level, this has become an excellent partnership,” Horner said.

Kennick Gordon, a representative from the task force, said the state has increased the budget to tackle rural dead zones. It rose from $2 million in 2019 to more than $11 million in 2021.

These renewed efforts are coming at a dire time for schools, which are primarily transitioning online or to a hybrid model.

Anna Read, a research officer from Pew Charitable Trusts, said roughly 16 million students nationally lack good internet access, and 300,000 to 400,000 teachers do not have the ability to reliably teach online from home. Some students are missing online classes and others are dropping out of high school because they do not have internet access at home.

This is a pressing need, Read said.

“It’s a very significant challenge across the U.S.,” she said, adding reliable internet connectivity “is relevant to our current time and being able to participate or access services and jobs.”

Talbot judge gives man 60 days in jail for animal cruelty

EASTON — Stanley Butler, Jr. after pleading guilty to animal cruelty Tuesday was ordered to serve 60 days in jail and two years of supervised probation for leaving his dog inside a hot car in Easton in July.

Talbot District Judge Karen Ketterman handed Butler, 33, the maximum 90 days in jail but suspended 30 days of the sentence, meaning if Butler violates the terms of his probation he could be ordered to serve another 30 days behind bars.

Talbot County prosecutor Colin Carmello said Tuesday, Oct. 6, Butler’s dog, whose name is Lexi, “miraculously” survived after suffering a heat stroke from being trapped in a car for more than an hour on a 92-degree day on July 17.

Neighbors reported the abandoned dog to Easton police, who said upon their arrival the dog was “trapped” beneath a folded cage in the car’s backseat without food or water. Officers said the windows of the car, which was parked in direct sunlight, were cracked about one inch.

The officers removed the dog from the car and Talbot Humane Society personnel administered emergency medical care on site before taking Lexi to an animal hospital, where a veterinarian said the dog had a 50% chance of survival.

The dog now is “mostly” recovered, Carmello said, and remains in the custody of Talbot Humane Society, where she continues to receive care.

Despite Butler’s attorney describing Butler as “heartbroken” by the custody loss of “his child, Lexi,” of whom he will not be able to regain ownership, Ketterman appeared unconvinced that Butler felt bad about his neglecting the dog.

“Somehow I’m not feeling the remorse,” Ketterman said to Butler, who was sitting before the judge at counsel table, fidgeting and shaking his head impatiently.

Butler’s attorney, Kisha Petticolas, said Butler left the dog in the car while he went into his cousin’s house to “shower and make a few phone calls.” Petticolas said the dog was not allowed in the house and Butler “believed he took the necessary precautions” to keep her safe in the car while he was gone.

“I don’t even know what to say,” Butler said to the court. When Ketterman pressured him to comment on his relationship with the dog, Butler said, “I care about my dog deeply.”

Ketterman reminded Butler that Lexi was no longer his dog before detailing the tragedy the dog endured. “This is absolutely tragic,” she said. “This dog almost died while she was roasting, desperate to get out.”

“You right,” Butler said, interrupting Ketterman before dismissively asking her if she was done speaking yet. “Not even close,” Ketterman responded.

“She deserved better,” the judge said, adding that she’s “so glad” the dog lived and will have a change at a life with someone who cares about her.

Ketterman said one of the conditions of Butler’s probation prohibits Butler from owning, possessing or residing with an animal. She also said Butler will have one year to pay Talbot Humane Society nearly $2,000 for the dog’s medical care.

Butler left the courtroom Tuesday and returned to the Talbot County Detention Center, where he already was being held without bond for allegedly assaulting and fleeing police officers who tried to arrest him July 31 on an outstanding warrant in connection with his dog cruelty.

Prior to his sentencing, Butler had been jailed for more than two months since his arrest in late July. He is awaiting further proceedings in the police assault case against him in Talbot County Circuit Court.

Butler faces two counts of first-degree assault, two counts of second-degree assault, two counts of reckless endangerment and malicious destruction of property valued at less than $1,000. An initial appearance has not been scheduled, according to court records.