EASTON — 2020 was rough for Nate Hollinger.
But it wasn’t just the pandemic, or extreme political polarization, that the 27-year-old grappled with this year. Hollinger also had to fend off a relapse into drug addiction, climb his way out of homelessness and search for a new job so he could support his sister and her children.
“It’s been really rough,” he said. “It’s ugly, but, you know, I made it through.”
The year began slightly hopeful, with Hollinger moving back home to St. Michaels from Baltimore to be with his family. He planned to stay sober from a bad drug addiction he had, and a new environment, he thought, would help him kick it.
His hopes for a new and improved life were dashed when the pandemic hit.
As a waterman, Hollinger experienced the toughest oyster season yet this fall. While he was already only able to work four days a week because of state regulations, no one was buying oysters during the pandemic, and the price dropped to just $30 a bushel — hardly enough money to support himself and his sister.
He became homeless and almost relapsed back into his drug habit until a week and a half ago when a small, private landscaper saw him on the streets.
“I had a guy pull up to me, asked me if I wanted to make money,” he said. “He had a work truck and a trailer and I’ve been working with him ever since. He really saved me.”
Hollinger’s 2020 was “really rough” — a dark, morbid year — but 2021 is just around the corner, and he’s hopeful.
“My New Year’s resolution is to keep going,” he said. “No matter what happens as far as with family and working. I’m just trying to get by day by day.”
For most, 2020 has been an awful year: there was a contentious election, widespread rioting and violence, destructive wildfires on the West Coast, and a pandemic that has only seemed to worsen. One would have to search far and wide to find someone who can seriously say it was a good year.
Still, 2020 has not left Americans — and definitely not Talbot County and Maryland residents — with dim hopes for the future. Most are looking ahead toward 2021 in the hopes that it will be a better year.
“I think it’s going to be better,” said Janet Reading, who lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Jim.
The two are vacationing in St. Michaels for the New Year, and the Readings will head to the Miles River Yacht Club for dinner on New Year’s Eve before retiring at their home in Riverview Terrace. The older couple has spent a lot of time confined and at home this year. So they want to live a little to ring in the New Year.
“It’s a little bit of a risk, but it’s worth it,” said Janet Reading.
Janet is looking ahead toward 2021, but she said it would be best not to forget 2020.
“We should continue to learn from the lessons that we had from this horrible year,” she said. “Remember the things that are important: connecting with your family and friends.”
New Year’s Eve plans don’t look so good for Steve and Patti Poling, an older couple who live in Pasadena, Anne Arundel County. Normally, they hit the bars and restaurants “before it gets too crazy,” Patti said, and then head home to watch the ball drop.
Now, they’ll be shut inside all night out of coronavirus caution.
Canceled plans, events and traditions have filled the couple’s 2020 up. The holidays did not look the same without many family members, and they haven’t been able to see their children or grandchildren much at all.
“We’re not afraid, but everybody’s concerned that we are in that demographic that says, ‘We got to protect you guys,’” said Steve Poling. “It’s in the back of everybody’s mind. When we go to my son’s house, he’s getting heaters so we can sit down on a deck instead of being inside.”
COVID-19 and its web of restrictions on businesses, outings and events have exhausted the couple. Even with vaccines rolling out to the population more and more everyday, Steve Poling pointed to comments from President-elect Joe Biden, who said darker days are ahead for the country as it heads into a dark winter with surging coronavirus cases.
“No,” he said when asked if 2021 will be better. “I think it’s going to be worse.”
Jacalyn Baxendale, of St. Michaels, is much more optimistic. Her New Year’s Eve plans are simple this year: stay in with her husband and kids, and watch the ball drop.
Her New Year’s resolution is just as simple: “I’m going to eat healthier and be kinder.”
That message has carried her through 2020. Positivity and paying it forward were the best ways for Baxendale to survive. She buckled down and focused on raising her family this year.
While COVID has impacted her like everyone else, Baxendale said she’s looking forward to “getting vaccinated” — and a new year means a new slate.
When 2021 arrives, Baxendale knows nothing will heal right away and many will still struggle.
So her message to the rest of the country as it heads into 2021: behind every headline and statistic about coronavirus deaths, or business closures or job losses, is a person and their story.
“Everybody should remember that you don’t know what’s going on with someone else,” she said. “We’re all dealing with a lot of things.”
Sara and her children, Carlos, 8, and Camila, 7, are currently homeless and being assisted by a local shelter. Sara has been unemployed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her unemployment and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits allow her to buy groceries, clothing and a few personal care items. She is working toward saving for a place to live, a car and furniture. There’s no money for extras like Christmas presents.
Your donation to The Star Democrat‘s Brighter Christmas Fund could help Sara and her family during the holiday season.
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.
The total to date is: $81,375.75
Those sharing the spirit of giving with others this holiday include:
In memory of Jack, Walter and Don
In honor of Tate and Harry
In honor of the Dimple Gang
Thanks to the BYOL Group
Eleanor and Stephen Murphy
Brian and Sharyn Spector
Robin and Richard Scofield
Andrea and Donald Foster
Navy League of the Eastern Shore
Roy and Joann Myers
In memory of Vera and Skippy Blann
In loving memory of my husband Dennis J. Rada Sr.
Jim and Lee Rash
Jim and Peggy Latham
In memory of Joanna Basil
Diane and Brendon Lusby
From the Doll Grandchildren
In loving memory of “My Uncle Pete” Tyler
In loving memory of John “Poodle” McQuay
In honor of Mary A. McQuay
In honor of Lee and Judy Callahan
In memory of Dorothy, Louis and Kay Perkins
Rasmus and Ann Apenes
In memory of Franklin Milby
In memory of Cecil and Sylvia Gannon
In memory of Eleanor C. Wilson
Robert and Eleanor Strietman
Knights of Columbus, Regina Coeli Council No. 2274
The Christmas Shop Elves
Warren and Carole Ann Clem
The Rubel Family Foundation
Lewis Auto Body Shop, LLC
James and Alicia Bachman
EASTON — From the coronavirus pandemic and the 2020 elections to protests over racial justice and the Talbot Boys statue, the year 2020 was unprecedented on the Shore.
Here’s our list of just some of the top stories and issues that most impacted life on the Shore in 2020.
The coronavirus burst upon the scene in early 2020 and has become a life-altering and generational event. The pandemic as well as government and our collective reactions to the virus have touched every part of life on the Shore, across the country and globe.
Mask mandates and social distancing were not even in our lexicon in 2019. Government warnings against travel and holiday gathering were unthinkable.
They are now part of everyday life.
More than 338,800 deaths have been attributed to the virus in the U.S, according to Johns Hopkins University. As of Dec. 30, the Maryland Department of Health reported 5,681 deaths attributed to COVID — most of them are seniors and those with underlying health conditions. Nursing home patients were especially vulnerable to the virus in Maryland and across the country.
Locally, Talbot County has seen ten COVID-related deaths. The first Talbot COVID deaths happened in April. The most recent one was reported Dec. 30.
The last few weeks of 2020 also saw the rollout of new COVID vaccines and mass vaccination efforts across Maryland with health care and nursing home workers, nursing home patients and first responders being the first to get offers shots on the Shore and statewide.
Vaccination efforts have to overcome “anti-vax” sentiments and concerns about the fast development of vaccines.
Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st, said young women might want to hold off on getting COVID vaccines until there is more clarity on whether they might raise miscarriage rates. Harris is a medical doctor and practicing anesthesiologist in Easton.
The impacts of COVID-19 have gone well beyond public health. The U.S. economy hemorrhaged more than 22 million jobs at the start of the pandemic. Some of those jobs have been recouped but the COVID’s impact on consumer and business spending coupled with government-imposed restrictions have many local businesses and jobs still on edge.
The Maryland economy is down 121,600 jobs from Nov. 2019 to Nov. 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The U.S. economy is still down 9.9 million jobs.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has sought to keep much of the economy open and has offered state assistance to farmers, watermen, seafood producers and restaurants on the Shore.
Still, Hogan has also pushed for more local enforcements of COVID mandates. That includes deploying the state police to do COVID compliance checks on bars and restaurants and setting up police tip for residents to report neighbors and businesses resisting COVID masks and social distancing orders.
Locally, the pandemic’s economic impacts were also deep and widespread.
The 50th annual Waterfowl Festival in November was canceled because of the virus. Waterfowl Chesapeake, which organizes the renowned event, hopes to bring the festival back in 2021. Others events in St. Michaels, Easton and across the Shore were canceled, postponed or done virtually because of the pandemic.
There were efforts undertaken to try to help struggling businesses. The town of Easton, for example, launched a curbside dining program in July that allowed three Washington Street restaurants to use sidewalks and parking lanes on weekends for dining. The move helped those restaurants over the warmer months.
Waterfowl Chesapeake organized Easton CommUNITY days in November to promote local nonprofits and shops.
The Avalon Foundation — which saw shows and performances at the Avalon Theatre nixed because of COVID — opened a new open-air concert tents in the parking lot of the Talbot Town Shopping Center in November to host socially distanced events. “It will help musicians get back to work,” Avalon Foundation President and CEO Al Bond said in an October interview with The Star Democrat.
The Easton Economic Development Corp. is currently exploring more ideas of how to bolster downtown businesses headed into 2021.
Still, the economic side of COVID and debates over how to balance public health and jobs were not without controversy.
Small businesses and restaurants have felt the brunt of government COVID orders while big-box stores remained open and e-commerce grew exponentially helping Amazon.com grow even stronger.
The Talbot County Health Department temporarily shuttered stands at the Amish Country Farmers Market twice during 2020 over mask violations. One of those closures shutdown two stands the weekend before Thanksgiving. “It’s the busiest week of the year,” said Eli Stoltzfus, who operates Country Cheese and Salads.
A county health inspector temporarily closed the Carpenter Street Saloon in St. Michaels in December because tables were too close.
Johnny Mautz is the restaurant’s owner and a Republican state lawmaker representing Talbot County in the Maryland assembly.
The Talbot County Council also passed but later backtracked on an ordinance in August that banned alcohol sales as well as an ordinance banning the use face shields as an alternative to masks. It was not the only controversy the county council faced in 2020.
Not to be lost in all the COVID issues has been the worsening mental health and addiction crises growing out of the social isolations, job losses and other stresses of the pandemic. The Bay Bridge saw hours-long delays in August and October due to someone threatening to jump.
The 2020 election led by the contentious presidential race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden were also front and center on the Shore.
Trump carried the Eastern Shore, but Biden won Kent and Talbot counties. Biden’s narrow victory in Talbot was the first for a Democrat since 1964.
Harris, a Trump backer, won reelection to a sixth-term over the Democratic challenger Mia Mason in Maryland’s First Congressional District — which encompasses the Shore and areas north of Baltimore.
Harris also backed Trump’s efforts to challenge Biden’s 2020 victories and Electoral College battlegrounds while Gov. Larry Hogan cemented his place as one of the top anti-Trump Republicans nationally.
The Shore also saw numerous Biden and Trump campaign signs vandalized, defaced and stolen throughout the election cycle as political divisions prevalent on social media spilled over into the roadside greenways and front yards. Talbot County voters also approved a property tax hike backers say will help increase funding for public safety and essential services.
The future of the Talbot Boys statue in front of the Talbot County Courthouse percolated in 2020. The Confederate statue has been at the courthouse site in Easton since 1916.
Renewed efforts to remove the statue began earlier this year after the May death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death sparked racial justice protests and unrest across the country as well as a push to get rid of Confederate statues.
The Talbot Boys issue also drew regional and national attention to the county.
The Talbot County Council, however, voted 3-2 in August not to remove the statue. The issue could go to county voters in 2022. The council action has sparked protests from those who want the Talbot Boys removed. Those protests even promoted the county council to conduct some of its meetings virtually.
Activists who want the statue removed have promised to keep up their efforts in 2021.
Earlier this month, the council voted Chuck Callahan as president replacing Corey Pack.
The Black Lives Matter movement that burgeoned nationally after Floyd’s death also gained steam over the summer on the Shore with rallies and protests, as well as murals painted in Cambridge and Chestertown.
The year also saw a change in course for economic development efforts in Easton.
The town council approved and then decided to reverse court on the planned Washington Street Promenade project in July. The concept was going to close Washington Street between Federal and Dover streets to host events.
The council voted to nix the Promenade plans after Paul Prager, who owns a number of downtown Easton properties, and others voiced worries about the street closures.
The promenade plans were advocated by the Discover Easton group. In October, Easton Mayor Robert Willey decided to shift the town’s economic development and business promotion funding completely to the Easton Economic Development Corp. The town’s funding was previously split between the two groups. Willey also wants to see more transparency in the town’s economic efforts.
Discover Easton’s top marketing executive, Jeff Lankford, has joined EEDC and on Dec. 30 Discover Easton’s executive director Ross Benincasa announced his resignation.
EEDC will be taking over downtown events and launched a Downtown Easton Gift Card program to help promote local shops and restaurants.
Long-term debates over the future of the Chesapeake Bay, watermen and real estate developments also jumped forward throughout the year. Watermen and environmentalists are both concerned about the future of the bay as well as oyster and crab populations — though they at times have very different solutions both short-and long-term.
The town of Trappe approved renewed efforts to develop the big Lakeside at Trappe housing development though the project faces opposition from very vocal residents and conservationists. In Dorchester County, a proposed salmon farm on the site of a former country club has also stirred debates over growth and economic development.
Well-known motorsports competitor and entrepreneur Travis Pastrana scrapped plans to build a Nitro Circus race track and action park in Sudlersville in November after the project faced resistance from a local conservationist group.
The Mid-Shore also saw a major drug bust in December. Talbot County Sheriff Joe Gamble announced earlier this month 22 people face drug charges as part of the Easton-based ring that allegedly sold heroin, cocaine and other drugs across the Eastern Shore.
The family of Anton Black, a Black teenager who died during a police encounter in Greensboro in 2018, also filed wrongful death lawsuit earlier this month against two officers, two police chiefs, their affiliated towns, and the state medical examiner involved in his case.
The city of Cambridge also saw a disturbing rise in violent crime throughout the year including murders and violent assaults. City officials have unfrozen some police positions in hopes of addressing the public safety problem.
The year 2020 also began with the loss of one of the Shore’s community heroes. Lord “Scotty” Scott died in January. Scott was the driving force of the Operation Christmas Spirit events held at the Easton Volunteer Fire Department for years. The events provided holiday meals and gifts for kids to families in need in Easton. Operation Christmas Spirit was canceled this year because of COVID but plans to return in 2021.
The Rotary Club of Easton honored Scott with its annual J. Howard Anthony Memorial Community Service Award. The Easton Rotary along with the YMCA of the Chesapeake also launched A Drop For Scotty community food drive in November to help continue Scott’s legacy of helping neighbors in need.
EASTON — A tenth Talbot County resident has died from COVID-19, the local health department reported Wednesday. It is the county’s first recorded death from the pandemic since September.
The resident’s death comes just days after the Christmas holiday, when Acting County Health Officer Dr. Maria Maguire said she expected more people to gather and coronavirus infections to increase.
Whether this person’s illness and subsequent death was traced to a holiday gathering, a nursing home or group living facility outbreak, or any other event, has not been disclosed.
Maguire did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday afternoon about this individual’s death, their age, or whether they had any underlying health conditions that might have contributed to the severity of their illness.
Prior to Wednesday’s reported resident death, the county had not recorded any deaths related to the pandemic since more than 15 weeks ago on Sept. 14.
“I really do worry that after the holidays we’ll see a further increase in our rates,” Maguire said ahead of the Christmas holiday week.
Since Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 26, local data show 435 residents are confirmed to have contracted the virus. That number, spanning five weeks, accounts for 35% of the total 1,231 COVID-19 cases tallied in the county during the pandemic’s nearly 10-month entirety.
Across the same time period, 16 residents were hospitalized with COVID-19, accounting for about 21% of local hospitalizations to date.
Fourteen Talbot residents tested positive for COVID-19 within the 24 hours prior to Wednesday, and 115 people are actively infected, according to county data.
EASTON — Talbot County Public Schools will reopen classrooms to special population student groups on Jan. 4, but will start the new year with most students learning virtually because of COVID-19.
TCPS Superintendent Dr. Kelly Griffith announced the district’s decision Wednesday as the county reported a positivity rate of 7.3%, and an averaged daily new case rate per 100,000 people above 40 for the tenth consecutive day.
“The testing positivity rate has steadily increased throughout the past two weeks, while the new cases per 100,000 have remained high,” Griffith said in a notice to families. “Based on the guidelines still in effect from Maryland’s State Department of Education, Department of Health and Governor’s Office, and after consulting with our Talbot County Health Officer, we will remain with our virtual learning model for the week of January 4.”
The school system is opening its classrooms to small groups of students comprising those with special needs, English Language Learners, homeless students and students who do not have internet access. Roughly 200 of Talbot’s 4,650 students meet those criteria.
The qualifying students will be learning in-person beginning on Jan. 4, when the district is set to welcome students back from a two-week winter break.
Talbot County reported 115 residents are actively infected with the coronavirus as of Wednesday. Fourteen people tested positive for the virus in the 24 hours prior to Wednesday.
Griffith said TCPS staff are in the Phase 1B category of the Maryland Department of Health’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, and they should start getting vaccinated in mid-January.
“This is terrific news in moving forward in getting more students back into our buildings!” the superintendent said.
Griffith will make an announcement on Jan. 6 regarding the learning model the district will employ for students during the proceeding week beginning Jan. 11.