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Hospital workers protest COVID vaccine mandate in Easton

EASTON — A group of health care workers and their supporters gathered early Monday morning outside of the hospital in Easton to protest a COVID vaccine mandate for the employees of the University of Maryland Medical System.

More than 60 people including some doctors, nurses and others working in the medical field were joined at the protest on Monday, August 23, by other supporters in holding protest signs next to the “Home of the Brave” sign in front of UM Shore Medical Center at Easton, with the numbers of the crowd fluctuating as some people left to start their shift and others arrived after their shift ended.

The protesters gathered to oppose an October 1 deadline for UMMS employees to be fully vaccinated by one of the three COVID vaccines, voicing concerns about the vaccine and the mandate they say pits their judgment and freedom against their livelihoods. A number of major hospital systems in Maryland and across the country are requiring coronavirus vaccines for staff, visiting physicians and nurses and contractors.

Event organizer Dawn Foster said she created the protest, “To get people’s voice out, to show how many people it was affecting.”

Foster said she received messages from many workers not able to attend the rally because they were caring for patient when the rally was scheduled.

Criticisms of the required shots included the side effects and possible long term effects. “It’s too new,” said a protester who asked not be named. “The side effects are still coming out,” said another. “You can still get COVID and spread it (while vaccinated),” said a third.

Public health officials counter those concerns saying fully vaccinated persons are far less likely to contract COVID than the unvaccinated and have less severe reactions to the virus.

“If you haven’t yet been vaccinated against COVID-19, I urge you to get vaccinated. It could keep you out of the hospital. It could save your life,” said U.S. Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, in a statement on Aug. 20.

Many of the protesters were willing to speak, and most asked not to be identified by name. “All I am to them (UMMS) is a number,” said one protester.

Others emphasized that they see the mandates as an infringement on individual freedom. “The efficacy and safety of the vaccine aside, it’s un-American to get somebody do something against their will and better judgment,” said a protester, “It’s a violation against people’s basic rights.”

“Being forced to go against one’s better judgement used to be called coercion and extortion, now it’s called ‘following the science,’” the health care worker said.

“We as nurses are taught very early in that patients have medical autonomy — you respect their decisions,” said one provider.

Another provider echoed that sentiment: “We take care of sick people and we’re trained to think critically, the derogatory term ‘anti-vaxxers’ is extremely wrong.”

Backers of vaccine mandates — especially in health care settings — argue they are needed to protect public health and vulnerable patients.

Several health care workers at the protest were adamant they were not taking the vaccine, even if it meant their employment status would change.

“We’re not quitting, we’re going to be fired,” said one nurse emphatically, “We’re not quitters.”

Health care worker Cristi Brohawn said she disagreed with the discrepancy between the UMMS policy of mandatory vaccination and the state mandate to either receive the vaccine or regular testing.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has mandated COVID vaccines for nursing home and hospital workers with those not getting shots having to undergo regular testing and wear masks and other protective gear.

The hospital system released a statement in response to the protest outlining its vaccine policy.

“The University of Maryland Medical System, including UM Shore Regional Health, has consistently adjusted our COVID-19 response to meet the changing nature of the virus. Our commitment to safety for our patients, communities and team members has remained steadfast throughout the pandemic. In recent weeks, across the nation we have seen the impact of the highly transmissible Delta variant driving a rapid increase in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths, especially on those who remain unprotected,” said a statement released in response to the protest.

“Effective October 1, as a condition of employment, all UMMS team members, partners, volunteers and Medical Staff must be fully vaccinated or have an approved exemption. We know that vaccination is the single most effective way of protecting our patients and each other from COVID, and this is in line with our long-standing policies requiring influenza and other vaccinations. While we strongly recommend that pregnant women get vaccinated against COVID, which is in alignment with current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a number of clinical expert groups, UMMS is permitting team members who are currently pregnant to apply for a temporary pregnancy deferral,” the statement concluded.

The American with Disabilities Act allows for medical and religious exemptions from vaccines.

Courts have upheld vaccine mandates imposed by other hospitals and universities as they look to curtail the coronavirus. The U.S. Supreme Court recently turned down a challenge to a vaccine mandate for students and staff implemented by universities in Indiana.

Hogan and public health officials continue to press Marylanders to get COVID vaccines pointing to concerns about the Delta variant and the rise in cases and hospitalizations.

Others at the protest said they were specifically concerned about the abbreviated testing and approval for the shots, and said in their work they encountered patients with side effects.

Hogan also welcomed Monday’s full Food & Drug Administration approvals of the Pfizer vaccine as showing the safety of the shots.

“For people who are still hesitant about getting the vaccine, this is an assurance that it has met the most rigorous standards for safety and effectiveness,” said Hogan who wants to see U.S approvals for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The COVID vaccines were developed quickly in responses to the pandemic and were given emergency use authorizations by the U.S. government.

“The FDA’s approval of this vaccine is a milestone as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. While this and other vaccines have met the FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization, as the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D. “While millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines, we recognize that for some, the FDA approval of a vaccine may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated. Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S.”

Multiple protesters at the Easton rally said health care workers should be able to decline the shot and keep their job. “It’s our choice — mask us, test us, let us work,” one nurse said before she left to start her shift.

“I finally got my dream job, and I’m getting ready to lose it because I don’t want a vaccine in my body that has adverse side effects,” said another.

“If we walk away, everyone that is left will be short staffed,” said another protester. “Everyone is already short staffed,” came a response.

One worker said she saw the struggle as more than just her right to choose: “I know if I don’t stand up now, my kids will be next.”

As the protest began at about 6 a.m., two security personnel addressed the protesters who had arrived and politely asked them to stay off of the sidewalk in order to be safe next to a busy roadway and to comply with town protest permit guidelines. “Nobody’s taking pictures, nobody’s taking any names,” he told them. “HR understands,” he said.

Mike Detmer is a staff writer for the Dorchester Star and Star Democrat based in Maryland. You can reach him at mdetmer@chespub.com.

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Police officer cleared, remains unnamed in killing of Ashli Babbitt on Jan. 6

WASHINGTON — The officer who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt inside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot will not be disciplined and will not be named.

The U.S. Capitol Police announced the findings of an internal investigation into the fatal shooting of Babbitt, a 35-year-old Trump supporter.

The U.S. Justice Department previously announced the unnamed officer would not face criminal charges.

Babbitt’s family is pressing for the officer’s name to be released and has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in relation to her killing which occurred during the storming of the Capitol by Trump backers on Jan. 6. They have also sued police agencies in Washington for information about the shooting and the officer involved.

The internal police review “determined the officer’s conduct was lawful and within Department policy, which says an officer may use deadly force only when the officer reasonably believes that action is in the defense of human life, including the officer’s own life, or in the defense of any person in immediate danger of serious physical injury. The officer in this case, who is not being identified for the officer’s safety, will not be facing internal discipline.”

Babbitt was the only person killed by police during the chaotic events.

The FBI has made hundreds of arrests related to the breaching of the Capitol by Trump supporters.

The Capitol Police said the shooting of Babbitt “potentially saved members and staff from serious injury and possible death from a large crowd of rioters who forced their way into the U.S. Capitol and to the House chamber where members and staff were steps away. USCP officers had barricaded the Speaker’s lobby with furniture before a rioter shattered the glass door. If the doors were breached, the rioters would have immediate access to the House chambers.”

A review of the Jan. 6 events by the FBI concluded the events were not organized and many of those arrested in relation to the political riot do not face weapons charges.

The Capitol Police said the officer’s name is not being released to protect their identity.

Former President Donald Trump has also pressed for the officer’s name to be released while the Biden administration has made domestic threats a top terrorism priority.

The U.S. House of Representatives impeached Trump over the Jan. 6 events which occurred after a rally he held at the White House disputing President Joe Biden’s 2020 win. The Senate failed to convict Trump in an impeachment trial.

The Jan. 6 events also resulted in an unprecedented military build up and a state of emergency in D.C. and Maryland in the lead to Biden’s inauguration and after.

Rock Hall may get dog park

ROCK HALL — Much like the people who own them, man’s best friend may be feeling cooped up because of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions.

In Kent County, the only local dog park is the one in Chestertown. For some owners, that means driving upward of 20 minutes with their pooch so they can exercise and socialize.

Andrew Thurman, a resident of Rock Hall, was one such pet owner who would drive to Chestertown’s dog park. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, he started using the fenced in baseball fields on North Main Street in Rock Hall instead.

Then, on Tuesday, Aug. 10, Thurman and his dog were playing Frisbee when they were approached by Vice Mayor of Rock Hall Carolyn Jones and told dogs were not allowed on the ball fields.

In response, Thurman wrote a letter to the Rock Hall Town Mayor and Council asking that they “assign an official space for pet recreation” or “comply with town code ... § 94-2B and place signage designating the ball fields as off-limits.”

Council members addressed Thurman’s concerns during their regular business meeting on Thursday, Aug. 12.

“I am requesting that the town be more accommodating to dog owners, such as myself,” Thurman said during the meeting. “Especially now with the beach being declared off limits to dogs, I think it would be in the best interest of the town to be more welcoming to these owners, to these visitors and to these residents.”

Thurman said the existing ball parks were “perfect” for pet owners because they are already fenced in, so designating certain hours when the dogs would be allowed there would be “a big, major step.”

“If the town sort of insists on moving forward with dissuading residents from using the ball parks for this purpose — and I do think that that’s a baffling decision, you know you have people using these parks and enjoying them, I think that should be encouraged, not stamped out — then I’d ask that the council comply with chapter 94 section 2B and place signage saying they’re off limits to dogs,” he said.

“I think that ideally we’d be encouraging people to spend time in these parks with their dogs as opposed to scaring us off,” Thurman said of his initial interaction with Jones.

“I think long-term having a dog park, that’s going to be great and that’s going to be hugely popular, but having a spot in town to be able to play fetch with her and run her, I could use that now,” he said.

Jones offered other solutions for dog owners, including a space at the end of one of the ball fields with trees.

“We have a lot of open space, it’s just that we just need a designated area to have this,” Jones said.

Mayor Dawn Jacobs said one of the issues of having dogs on the ball field was that not all owners clean up after their dogs.

“I have always wanted to see a dog park, I think it’s a benefit to the citizens of the town and I’d love to see if there’s any way to get that expedited,” Council member Eleanor Collyer said. “Or even a temporary fenced-off area.”

Jones said a dog park comes up in almost every Parks and Recreation Board meeting, “but we just don’t know where to put it.”

Areas pitched for a future dog park included behind the municipal building, somewhere at the Civic Center, in between the two ball fields or somewhere near the waterfront.

“I have a dog, I would be happy to donate. If the town wants to donate or allow use of the land and then we want to purchase fencing or something like that, I would be happy to work with you,” Councilman James Cook said. “If we can raise funds and demonstrate that there’s that much demand for it.”

“I think people want it, and they’ve wanted it for a couple years,” Jones said. “When people come and they buy a home, the land — there’s not a lot of land to the homes in Rock Hall.”

“Tourism’s very important too because every boat owner has a dog on their boat now, and so when they get off they need somewhere to walk the dog around,” Town Manager Bob Resele said.

Jacobs suggested organizing a “dog club” to raise funds and monitor the maintenance of the field.

Cook said he would be “all in favor” of having the dog community raise the funds for the dog park.

Jacobs said after the town looks into pricing and locations they would share that information with the community, “and if it’s still a go then we can deal with the administration pieces.”

“We should, to your other point, get signage on the ball field that dogs are not allowed for now, and try to fast track a different solution,” she said.

Rupert Grint attends the Apple TV Plus world premiere of “Servant” at BAM Howard Gilman Opera House on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

World Premiere of Apple TV’s “Servant”