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Police issue warrant for suspect in Christmas Eve murder of 33-year-old Trappe woman

Maryland State Police are on scene for a shooting on Howell Point Road in Trappe.

TRAPPE — Maryland State Police have issued a felony warrant for a Virginia man suspected of murdering a woman on Christmas Eve in Trappe.

A felony warrant for first-degree murder was issued for Mauricio Ibarra Juarez, 31, of Winchester, Virginia. Juarez is a suspect in the fatal shooting on Christmas Eve of Marta Merina, 33, of Trappe.

Shortly after 6:15 a.m. Friday, Dec. 24, Maryland State Police troopers and deputies from the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office responded to the 29400 block of Howell Point Road in Trappe for a reported shooting.


A shooting occurred just before 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 24 on Howell Point Road in Trappe.

After arriving, officers found Merina outside of her home with an apparent gunshot wound. She was located inside of a vehicle with multiple bullet holes. Emergency services pronounced her dead at the scene.

Merina’s death has been ruled a homicide, police said.

Investigators believe Juarez knew Merina prior to the shooting. Juarez may be traveling in a white GMC Sierra truck. Police advise that individuals do not approach him, as he should be considered armed and dangerous.

The Maryland State Police Homicide Unit, with the assistance of the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division, continue to investigate the incident.

Anyone who witnessed this shooting or who may have information about Juarez’s whereabouts is urged to contact the contact Maryland State Police at the Easton Barrack at 410-822-3101. Calls may remain confidential.

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Facing the surge: Q&A with Choptank Health nurse practitioner on COVID tests, trends, quarantines

EASTON — While COVID cases are rising and demand for tests is increasing, hospitals and urgent cares are scrambling to handle the influx of symptomatic patients and requests for tests.

The Star Democrat spoke to Megan Wojtko, MSN, FNP-BC, who serves as the Senior Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer at Choptank Community Health System, to learn more about what health care workers are facing in the holiday COVID case surge.

Q: Tell me about COVID testing right now during this surge. What does the day-to-day look like?

A: Currently, there isn’t enough testing to meet the needs of the community. There are too many people with symptoms or exposures that are trying to get tested and are struggling to find access. It is hard to find home rapid tests now, which has made it worse. Choptank have had to move operations and think out of the box to better meet the testing needs of our patients and even with that, we aren’t keeping up.

Q: People are being discouraged from going to the ER for testing because of high volume. What should people with active symptoms do for testing, and what should people just looking to get a test for travel/work purposes do?

A: If you have symptoms, it is important to get tested. It is difficult to tell the difference between COVID and other illnesses right now, especially the milder cases we are seeing in the vaccinated population.

Health Departments are running clinics, so checking on their website or Facebook page is a good place to start. You can also check with pharmacies. I know home rapid tests are hard to come by right now, but that is a good option too. Some primary care offices, like Choptank Community Health, are testing. But just like Urgent Care, these type of appointments are limited. The ER shouldn’t be where you go for testing, unless you are having more severe symptoms like trouble breathing and chest pain.

The asymptomatic testing for travel or work is hard if you don’t have any known exposures. The same options as above but it is all strained and priority is going to those that are symptomatic and exposed. There are some online options that you can purchase a virtual consult with a home test.

Q: Any trends you’ve seen in the COVID patients coming through?

A: We are seeing a lot of positive COVID results across all ages. After you get one positive in a household, it is spreading easily. And while some are vaccinated or even boosted, those cases tend to be mild and easily managed at home. For those that are not vaccinated, they are sicker. We are still seeing a lot of pneumonia and hospitalizations.

Q: Any trends you anticipate ramping up soon?

A: Cases will keep climbing in the next few weeks. It is spreading too fast. With the high number of cases, it is inevitable that we will have more hospitalizations. It is hitting us hard, but cases and hospitalizations will eventually plateau and then trend down. The strain on the hospitals, urgent cares, health departments, and primary care offices during this surge between patients and our staff being sick, is truly a hardship that we are all struggling with.

Q: What’s something people don’t know about the state of hospitals and urgent cares right now that you think they should know?

A: The number of COVID hospitalizations are higher now than since the pandemic started. We know that vaccinations work to decrease severe COVID infection. Yet a higher number of overall cases with most being unvaccinated people, are going to continue to grow and strain our hospitals.

It is a bad time to need hospital care, whether it is related to COVID or not. There are limited beds and limited staffing. Staff are tired – anything that anyone can do to stay safe and prevent the spread like masking or getting their booster, will help.

Q: Is there any reason someone should NOT get tested?

Not really. Although when and how to use rapid tests can be confusing. Rapid tests are good at determining if you are actively able to infect others at the time of your test. They are a great tool but work the best for symptomatic people within the first 5 days of onset. If you get a negative rapid result, it doesn’t mean that will not get COVID. It is more reassuring if you get a negative rapid result, then take a second rapid test at least 24 hours later and get another negative result.

PCR tests take a couple of days to get the results back, however they miss less and can even detect COVID before symptoms start or with asymptomatic cases.

Q: What about the CDC’s shift in guidelines for quarantining?

We know that you are most infectious the 2 days before symptom onset and the 2-3 days after symptom onset. We also know that most of the spread occurs in that 5-day window. But nothing is perfect and there is still risk.

If everyone follows the new CDC guidance like it is intended, it could be effective. Remember that after your positive result, you can leave isolation at day 5 IF your symptoms have resolved or are improving, but you must be vigilant with wearing masks for an additional 5 days to limit the risk of spreading it to others. If you are still feeling poorly, have shortness of breath, or fever, that is a sign that you could still be infectious and need to stay in isolation for the full 10 days.

The other important piece is with exposures. If you are boosted, you don’t need to quarantine but you need to wear masks for 10 days after exposure. If you are unvaccinated or even vaccinated and eligible for your booster but haven’t gotten it yet, then you should quarantine for 5 days followed by 5 days of wearing a mask. Either way, getting tested around day 5 from exposure is recommended.

Because all of this can be confusing, it is somewhat easier to stick with the 10-day isolation and quarantine if you are able and unsure of what to do. And know that CDC provides recommendations, but state and local health departments determine the isolation/quarantine protocols.

Natalie Jones is a reporter at The Star Democrat in Easton covering crime, health, education and Talbot County Council. You can reach her with questions, comments or tips at

TCPS students to return to school in person after break

EASTON — Despite a sharp uptick in COVID cases, Talbot County Public Schools will resume in-person learning when students go back to school on Monday, Jan. 3.

Just before 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 31, TCPS superintendent Dr. Kelly Griffith sent an email to families in the school district wishing them a happy new year and confirming the decision to resume in-person learning.

“We will continue enforcing the safety protocols that were already in place, monitoring COVID case data with our local health department, and communicating any changes in a timely manner,” Griffith wrote in her email.

The decision to allow students to return to school is in line with the Maryland State Department of Education’s expectations, Griffith said.

A statement from MSDE on Dec. 20 confirmed that the state will continue to prioritize “safe full-time, in-person instruction with minimal disruptions,” adding that there are proven evidence-based public health strategies to keep students and staff safe in schools.

Guidance from MSDE and the Maryland Department of Health advises schools to employ a layered protection strategy, which includes vaccines, social distancing and COVID test-to-stay protocols, all of which have proven effective in keeping schools open nationally.

Griffith emphasized the importance of remaining vigilant in keeping the school communities safe, which includes monitoring students for potential symptoms or exposures.

For students who were exposed to COVID over the winter break, Griffith advised parents to notify the school before allowing the student to return in order to receive instructions regarding quarantine and testing. She also asked for parents to not send their children to school if they’re unwell.

Prior to the winter break, COVID cases nearly doubled across the county’s eight schools. TCPS reported 34 positive cases for the week ending Dec. 10 and 62 positive cases for the week ending Dec. 17.

Griffith announces retirement

EASTON — Talbot County Public Schools Superintendent Kelly L. Griffith has announced that she will retire as of July 1, 2022.

Griffith named 2022 Superintendent of the Year

EASTON — Talbot County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kelly Griffith was named 2022 Maryland Superintendent of the Year by the Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland during a conference on Nov. 4.