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Andy Harris opposes Trump impeachment

EASTON — U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st, opposes efforts to impeach President Donald Trump before he leaves office on Jan. 20.

Democrats and some Republican critics of Trump want the president impeached or removed from office immediately. U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md-8th, is leading efforts to prepare articles of impeachment before Trump leaves office in less than two weeks.

Harris — an Eastern Shore conservative who supports Trump as well as previous challenges to Biden’s win — is against a new impeachment push.

“Another impeachment would be another waste of time. We have serious issues in front of the country to be dealt with,” Harris said in a statement. “The last time we took up an impeachment sham we wasted time last winter when we could’ve been watching out for the coronavirus coming from China.“

House Democrats impeached Trump in December 2019 but a conviction failed in the U.S. Senate. They are renewing those efforts after pro-Trump protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and locked down Congress while it was certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College win.

Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, is at the forefront of new Trump impeachment effort.

“The President continues to pose a clear and present danger to the people and our Republic. He incited an insurrectionist mob to join a ‘wild’ disruption of the peaceful transfer of power at the Capitol. Violence & death followed. He must be removed from office immediately,” Raskin said.

Maryland Democrats have also faulted Harris for supporting objections to Biden’s win.

Doctor answers questions about COVID-19 vaccines

GRASONVILLE — As Marylanders and others throughout the U.S. continue to be offered COVID-19 vaccinations, there are many questions regarding these vaccines.

The Star Democrat sat down with Dr. Eric Wargotz of Grasonville, senior staff pathologist, medical laboratory director and chief of pathology, emeritus, Doctors Community Medical Center, Luminis Health Care and clinical professor of pathology of the George Washington University School of Medicine, to get some answers about the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines.

“Both require two injections with the second injection three weeks after the first one. After the second injection, the clinical trials have demonstrated that the effectiveness of preventing COVID-19 infection or severe infection is about 95%,” Wargotz said. “Clinical trials of these are ongoing to evaluate for long-term effects and trials of additional COVID-19 vaccines are in progress.”

He noted a COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford-AstraZenaca, also requiring two doses, was recently approved in the United Kingdom and India.

There is a limited supply of the vaccines in the United States, and since demand will exceed supply, the CDC has released guidelines on which groups should be prioritized. Each state is responsible for figuring out which citizens get the vaccines first. Maryland has adopted the CDC recommendations.

“Receiving the vaccine is not mandatory. At present, first in line, Phase 1A, to be offered vaccination are the frontline health care workers and adults living and working in long-term care facilities including nursing homes. Next, Phase 1B, are adults over 75 and frontline essential workers, including firefighters, police officers and other first responders, corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, United States Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and those who work in the educational sector — teachers, support staff and day care workers, Wargotz said.

“The third group, Phase 1C, includes 65- to 74-year-olds, people over 16 to 64 with high-risk medical conditions, and other workers deemed essential not in the 1b group, though it is up to individual states to decide who falls into these second two categories. These may include people who work in transportation and logistics, food service, housing construction and finance, information technology, communications, energy, law, media, public safety, and public health.”

People can check with their employers, the state health department online or their local health department to find out if they qualify as a member of any of these groups.

“The ACIP is closely monitoring clinical trials in children and adolescents (12 years and older) and will consider recommendations for use when the COVID-19 vaccines are authorized for use in persons aged less than 16 years,” Wargotz said. He did not know of any clinical trials with children under age 12.

“The goal is for everyone to be offered a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as large enough quantities of vaccine are available. The CDC expects that by the end of 2021 there will be enough vaccine to vaccinate all U.S. adults,” Wargotz said.

“Traditional virus vaccines use a dead or modified version of the virus to stimulate the body to create an immune response, so it learns to recognize this virus and therefore becomes immune to it.,” Wargotz said.

“The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are RNA vaccines: RNA is the information inside the virus which allows the virus to produce all the virus’ machinery. These vaccines could be produced and brought to trial so quickly because they are created in the lab and not extracted from the actual COVID-19 virus. When the RNA gets into your cells of your body, your cells make their own virus fragments, which then stimulate your body to become immune,” he explained. “This RNA injected itself is not harmful and these COVID-19 vaccines cannot cause COVID-19 infection as the vaccines do not contain the complete virus.”

The vaccines appear to be safe based on the clinical trial information and several weeks of experience with the vaccines in the U.S. and other countries, he said.

“Serious reactions requiring use of epinephrine (via epipen) have occurred and are very rare, occurring predominantly in people who have experienced serious allergic reactions requiring immediate emergency treatment in the past due to any inciting substance exposed to through eating, breathing, contact or injection,” Wargotz said. “If you have any concerns about prior allergic reactions or allergies you may have had, please contact your health care provider before getting a COVID-19 vaccination.”

Most vaccine side effects happen within days of the first weeks or, more uncommonly, months after getting a vaccine, which is why the FDA required companies to have two months of safety data before applying for emergency use authorization, he added.

Information collected in clinical trials and more recently indicate that side effects of the vaccines include fever, headache, arm soreness, redness at the injection site and sometimes a feeling of being rundown; these are also side effects noted with other viral vaccines, he said.

Government regulators, health care organizations and manufacturers will continue to collect safety data to understand any long-term adverse effects, Wargotz added. He noted the clinical trials did not include women seeking to become pregnant or pregnant women, therefore, information on any adverse effects in these groups is not available.

Do the vaccines prevent COVID-19 infection?

Neither of the two approved vaccines have been 100 percent effective in preventing infection, so some vaccinated people may still get COVID-19, he said.

“It is important to point out that the vaccine trials tested whether the vaccines prevent people from being infected with the virus. The trials focused on whether people are protected from developing disease symptoms. Therefore, it’s not clear whether vaccinated people could still develop asymptomatic infections and still be able to spread the virus to others,” Wargotz said. “Some people who got the vaccine did get sick with COVID-19, but not as sick as those who didn’t receive the vaccine.”

Some vaccines are better at suppressing severity of disease rather than reducing or eliminating transmission.

The COVID-19 vaccines have some effect on transmission spread, but it is unclear if either of the approved vaccines is better at suppressing transmission versus suppressing severity of illness, Wargotz said.

“Since the 95% immunity achieved by people in the trials required two injections of the vaccine three weeks apart, it is still possible to get COVID-19 following the first injection.”

Do I still need to still wear a mask and socially distance after being vaccinated?

“The answer is simple — yes. Full protection offered by the vaccines will take at least a month to develop following the second injection,” Wargotz said.

Also, as discussed earlier, it’s not known yet to what extent the vaccines prevent infection versus suppress illness, therefore, a vaccinated person might get the virus and pass it to others, he continued.

“It is unfortunate but vaccinated people will still need to wear masks, socially distance, wash their hands and avoid large gatherings, especially indoors. This will be needed until our health experts determine that enough people have been vaccinated and achieved immunity or achieved immunity after having been infected by COVID-19. This number is estimated to be between 60-80% of a population being immune (so-called herd immunity) before declaring an epidemic/pandemic as ‘over,’” he said.

If I had COVID-19, should I get vaccinated?

“It depends, but possibly,” Wargotz said. “You may want to get an antibody test to check to see if you have already achieved immunity.”

The CDC states that if you have been positive for COVID-19 you may be advised by your health care practitioner to get a COVID-19 vaccine because of the variable immune response and that immunity may not last more than a month to six months. Recent studies had found natural immunity for COVID-19 is robust at eight months. The CDC is continuing to evaluate information to make specific recommendations on timing.

What about immunity against the new strains (mutated forms) of the virus?

“All viruses mutate. Viral genetics change in nature over time for a variety of reasons. The discovery of a faster spreading strain (or strains) of the COVID-19 in the United Kingdom, Nigeria and South Africa has raised concern,” Wargotz said. “The identification of the UK strain in several states here in the U.S. has heightened anxiety. The CDC suggests that the approved vaccines will be effective against these strains ... the COVID-19 virus attaches to our respiratory lining cells using ‘spike’ proteins. The mutated forms of COVID-19 have somewhat different composition of their ‘spike’ proteins but it is believed there is enough remaining in common between the original and mutated form(s) that the vaccines will still be effective.”

The new UK strain has been identified in four U.S. states. It has not been found in Maryland.

What should I expect before and after vaccination?

“If you are eligible now or have to wait until when the vaccine is widely available to everyone, please know that the decision is yours as to whether you want to get it. It is highly recommended, but not mandatory at this time,” Wargotz said.

“If you get a vaccine you should receive a vaccination card or printout that tells you what COVID-19 vaccine you received, the date you received it, and where you received it. You should also receive a paper or electronic version of a fact sheet that tells you more about the specific COVID-19 vaccine you received or are being offered. This fact sheet contains information to help you understand the risks and benefits of receiving that specific vaccine.”

According to protocol, all people who get a COVID-19 vaccine should be monitored on-site for at least 15 minutes for any reactions.

Your second dose of vaccine should be from the same manufacturer.

“Overall, the healthy public adult should get it,” Wargotz recommended.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced several actions intended to speed the administration of COVID-19 vaccines in the state this past week. He called the vaccination effort “the greatest peacetime undertaking in American history.”

In early December, the Food and Drug Administration approved two COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use in the United States — the first by Pfizer-BioNTech and the second by Moderna. Both have been recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at Centers for Disease Control.

Vaccinations in Maryland began Dec. 14, 2020, but by the end of the year only about a quarter of the vaccine allocated to state had been administered to frontline health care workers and nursing home residents.

As of Jan. 9, only four jurisdictions had administered more than 50% of the vaccines they received: Caroline, 99.1%; Howard, 86.0% Montgomery, 67.2%.

Other counties on the Mid-Shore reported the following disbursement rates: Kent, 40.3%; Queen Anne’s, 46.3%; Dorchester, 45.6%; and Talbot, 30.3.

On Tuesday, Hogan said the state had allocated and distributed 270,150 doses of vaccine and just 76,916 vaccinations had been reported. He said the state expects to receive around 10,000 doses a day from the federal government.

“I want to assure the people of Maryland that we are going to leverage every resource to get more shots into more arms as quickly as we possibly can, in a safe and orderly way,” Hogan said.

By Saturday, Jan. 9, 123,971 Marylanders had received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine; 4,826 had received their second dose. The number of Marylanders testing positive for COVID-19 reached 303,364 with 6,075 confirmed deaths and 1,877 people hospitalized at week’s end.

COVID rules, getting members to wear masks challenge fitness centers

DENTON — Gyms and fitness centers are combating the coronavirus with different strategies, with some taking a more proactive approach while others are challenged to get members to abide by mask and social distancing rules.

Because gyms are deemed high-risk locations by the Maryland Department of Health, Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive orders on COVID limit fitness centers to 50% capacity and requires mask-wearing at all times unless there is a health risk to the wearer.

Enforcing those rules underscores the difficulties of managing a gym during a pandemic — members come to shake loose and work out, and slapping rules and restrictions on them in the one place patrons want to feel healthy and clean has become increasingly conflictive.

Hearthstone Health + Fitness in Easton, for example, touts itself as one of the cleanest and safest fitness centers on the Eastern Shore during the pandemic, with six-foot cleaning between equipment, employees dedicated to cleaning the facility and mask enforcement.

“We went overboard on allowing people to be very socially distanced and physically distant,” said owner Martha Tuthill. “We purchased sanitizer that’s literally between every two pieces of equipment. You can’t go six feet without bumping into a bottle of hand-sanitizer.”

Other fitness centers find they are frequently having to remind members of mask and social distancing rules.

An anonymous complaint was filed to MDH about the Caroline County Family YMCA in Denton in November, said Jennifer Gill, the vice president for the YMCA of Chesapeake.

“The (Caroline County) Health Department did a visit and found that we were meeting all protocols,” she said. “We are absolutely committed to making sure people are following protocol. Not only to keep our staff safe, but as a not-for-profit organization, we need to be open and meeting protocol and keeping people safe is the only way to do that.”

Like with other fitness centers across the Shore and country, mask-wearing has been a challenge to enforce at the YMCA’s 11 locations in the Chesapeake region, Gill said.

“It’s a constant battle to get people to wear the masks,” she said. “We meet weekly with the staff about it, who are constantly having to ask people to mask up and remask.”

After the complaint was filed over the Denton facility in November, Gill said she met with the manager there to ensure all protocols are being complied with. They now close from 2 to 4 p.m. everyday to deep clean the facility.

But the YMCA in Denton is a small gym on one level with just a few rooms, making it extremely difficult to enforce social distancing, too.

“In those smaller locations it’s very difficult when equipment is in close proximity,” Gill explained. “People assume when walking three feet that you don’t have to wear a mask. We spend a lot of time trying to re-educate what our expectations are.”

The Caroline County Health Department could not disclose the results of the investigation or confirm any additional complaints against local gyms.

In some ways, the dichotomy between gyms on the enforcement of the rules reveals the difficulty of managing a fitness center during a pandemic. While many have stuck to the rulebook, others have completely and openly resisted them, including some independent franchises of Crossfit, the largest chain of fitness centers in the country.

In a viral video in November, the owner of a Crossfit in Buffalo, New York, ripped up a $15,000 fine from a health inspector. Robby Dinero buckled down and said he would not comply with COVID-19 restrictions on his gym.

The Eastern Shore has not seen open, strong resistance from gym owners. But after re-opening in the summer, fitness centers have offered differing strategies on COVID-19 enforcement, and local health departments are responding reactively — only after a complaint is filed.

Don Wilson, the director of Environmental Health for Caroline County, said they jot down all complaints, including for location, time and date, and then make a phone call to re-educate staff.

If there are multiple complaints, an inspector will make a site visit, and if they are not in compliance, the business will be shut down for a few days.

In the beginning of the pandemic, MDH had an entire operation center set up to deal with the complaints. That has since disbanded, leaving enforcement with a smaller operation at the local level.

“There were large groups of people — a number of people that handled certain categories of businesses, charged with contacting them in providing education and materials and all the governors orders,” he said. “Once the OC disbanded, it was just up to us.”

Gyms, health clubs and aquatic centers are considered high-risk locations by the state because they involve prolonged exposure to people outside of an immediate household.

From July to November, 2,606 people who tested positive for COVID-19 and responded to a contact tracer’s questions reported a fitness center as a place they visited just before they became ill, according to MDH data.

With 37,458 total responses, fitness centers make up about 14% of all traced locations, putting gyms in the mid-tier of high-risk locations. Working outside the home was the most reported by those who tested positive, followed by indoor shopping and indoor dining.

“Public health officials are closely monitoring the contact tracing data and trends, including data from health clubs,” said Charles Gischlar, the deputy director of communications at MDH.

Mask enforcement has been largely left up to individual gyms, with many allowing members to take off the mask when working out. Both Hearthstone and Caroline County Family YMCA reported allowing gym patrons to take off a mask when working out with equipment.

“Fitness centers are required to adhere to and enforce the state’s public health orders,” Gischlar said, “including mask wearing. MDH strongly encourages everyone to wear a mask while using exercise equipment, since it protects both the wearer and others in the facility. Most people are able to wear a mask while exercising without any risk to the wearer.”

Hearthstone has actually seen its members step up during the pandemic, according to Tuthill, because employees are encouraging safe behavior with enforcement and proactive cleaning.

”Our members have just been great about living in a community that is really very caring,” she said. “We watch people wipe (equipment) down before and after to be respectful.”

Tuthill said Hearthstone closed for 94 days — from Mid-March to June — and she used that time to prepare for re-opening, distancing equipment and purchasing cleaning items. She expanded gym space, and is now offering one-on-one training sessions for those with particular concerns about COVID transmission.

Tuthill spent “thousands” of dollars on her renovations, saying she is dedicated to keeping members safe. But she said other gyms have not followed the same path and are more concerned with cutting costs or defying orders.

”Some places are trying to declare they are private and are exempt from the rules,” she said, declining to name which locations. “I personally haven’t verified it, but I heard some people have done some creative things to work around the law.”

Donors give over $100K to Brighter Christmas Fund

Generous donors opened their hearts and wallets to give over $100,000 to The Star Democrat‘s Brighter Christmas Fund. Your donations helped over 1,600 children and nearly 700 families during the 2020 holiday season.

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.

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.

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 $103,045.75.

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

Patricia Crane

Charles and Iris Fricker


In memory of William B. and Ann W. Wyatt

In memory of Greg L. Romain and Robert H. Strong Sr.

In memory of Mnason and Dorothy Townsend

Reed and Pat Rollo

Melinda Simpkins

Wayne and Joyce Bell

Karl and Shirley Giggenbach

Beth Lawton

In memory of Lynn Cuthbert

In memory of Ron Wanner

In memory of Mary Massey

Rich and Beth Williams

John Helms

Sarah McCoy

In memory of John F. Ford

In memory of our son Anthony Sparacino

Emory Tate

April Heim

Jeanne Halpin

Eduino Da Rosa

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Easton couple accused of spending $87K on bills, shopping with stolen bank card

EASTON — An Easton couple is facing fraud and theft charges for allegedly using a stolen bank card to cover more than $87,000 of their utility, phone bills and other purchases since at least January 2019, police say.

The suspects, identified by police as Kimberly and Paul Smith, are accused of using Kimberly’s mother and step-father’s joint banking information to pay bills and buy cosmetic services, designer purses and a range of items from Target, Walmart and Amazon over nearly two years.

Easton Police said the victims reported the suspected fraud to the police department on Jan. 14, 2020. Detectives launched an investigation into the allegations and obtained store surveillance footage, purchase and payment records from several companies, and a search warrant for the suspects’ home.

Police said Kimberly, 51, and Paul, 52, can allegedly be seen on surveillance videos making purchases using the stolen funds, and records indicate several online orders addressed to the couple were reportedly paid for with the same funds.

Officers also reported finding and seizing several items from the couple’s home that matched their alleged fraudulent purchases.

The victims told police Kimberly and Paul did not have permission to use their money to make purchases or pay bills, except to sometimes go to the store and buy groceries for them, according to charging documents obtained by The Star Democrat.

Police said the victims claimed Kimberly and Paul had stolen money from them before about 10 years ago, but they did not report that alleged theft to police because they resolved it among themselves.

The victims’ bank card was deactivated. Kimberly and Paul were arrested in connection with the fraudulent purchases on Dec. 30. Paul faces 26 criminal fraud and theft charges related to the case and Kimberly faces 38 charges.

They were both released from the Talbot County Detention Center the same day as their arrest. The couple is expected to appear for trial in Talbot County District Court on Feb. 16, according to court records.