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Health Dept. shifts to appointment-only COVID-19 testing as vaccines roll in

ELKTON — The Cecil County Health Department will transition from open COVID-19 testing to appointment-only testing beginning next week. Director Lauren Levy emphasized that testing is still accessible, adding that the department is expanding its hours for appointments, which can be booked online or by phone.

“It is still free, you do not need a doctor’s order, you do not need to be demonstrating symptoms or anything like that,” she said. “It’s just that we do have to move to this appointment-only model to be able to manage demand.”

Levy explained that in addition to increasing demand, the switch is due in part to worsening weather — the department previously ran regular drive-thru testing and would have to adjust plans to accommodate storms and other weather factors.

“We’re very dependent on the weather,” she said. “If we have a weather event and we have to cancel, it just becomes very challenging to manage.”

That said, Levy hopes that switching to an appointment-only model will ease some strain on the department staff, who she said have been working overtime to provide key health services to Cecil County residents since the onset of the pandemic in March.

To affirm that hard work, many department staff are among the first in line for newly-received COVID-19 vaccines. The Maryland Department of Health has distributed the first round of doses to counties by population, giving Levy and her team an initial batch of 90 vials, each containing about 10 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

Still, they will soon need more — Levy expects to get through those 900 doses in about a week.

The department followed state and federal guidelines to determine the order of priority for vaccine recipients, beginning with healthcare workers, residents of long-term care facilities and first responders.

“Right now, the availability is pretty limited,” she said. “We’re getting a lot of phone calls from people who are very eager to know when they can get it, and unfortunately we don’t have a definitive date yet.”

As more supply rolls in from the state in the coming weeks, they will move to the next phase of priority. This comprises people over the age of 75 — of which Levy estimates there are around 6,500 in the county — as well as essential employees, including thousands of public employees in transit, education and postal service as well as workers in grocery stores, agriculture, childcare and other sectors.

Healthcare workers, including community providers, are included in the first priority group because they will become the essential vaccinators. Levy hopes that as the supply of vaccines becomes more widespread, they will be available to the general public through primary care physicians and even neighborhood pharmacies.

Maryland has been one of the slowest states in the country to distribute the vaccine, having only allocated about 10 percent of on-hand doses, according to Bloomberg News. Levy defended the state though, pointing out that the initial focus was equipping hospitals with enough doses to inoculate caregiving staff.

“The state is getting it out as soon as they can,” Levy said. “It took a couple of weeks for the allocations to come to the [county] health departments, but I don’t think, given the scarcity of supply at this point, that that was unexpected.”

According to Levy, initial surveys to gauge demand reflect ‘pretty high’ levels of hesitancy around taking the vaccine, with many people hoping to wait until the vaccine has been widely dispersed to be sure there are no unexpected side effects.

Levy said she understands.

“It’s been a stressful year, and people are feeling the weight of that stress,” she said. “People just want to see how everyone reacts. And so far, we haven’t seen any adverse reactions — the only side effect that we’ve heard about is a sore arm.”

That said, she emphasized that the vaccines from both Moderna and Pfizer, two pharmaceutical companies whose vaccines received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, have already been thoroughly tested on tens of thousands of people.

“These two vaccines have very strong safety profiles,” she said. “I’m hopeful that as people go through it, they’ll see that it is safe, and that they can expect to receive some protection, and that it’s going to help us with getting life back to normal sooner rather than later.”

Levy also repeatedly stressed that despite the first vaccines having been administered, the mitigation strategies which have become commonplace this year — face masks, social distancing, limiting large gatherings — would have to remain commonplace a while longer.

National trends reflect spikes in new case numbers after holidays throughout the year. Even though news of the first vaccines may have seemed like a Christmas gift from Santa himself, Levy said she plans to keep her celebrations small this year.

“My family had very small, quiet holidays at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it’s different from previous years, but it’s hopefully just this year,” she said. “With a vaccine being distributed, I’m hopeful that we’re going to get back to being able to celebrate together the way we all want to, but I think we have to wait a little while longer.”

Having taken on her role just nine months before the pandemic hit, Levy joked that she thought her job was stressful enough up to that point, and is looking forward to slowly getting back to the department’s pre-pandemic priorities.

She credited her staff with helping her get through the challenging year and working hard to keep Cecil County safe — those open testing events were all run by department staff, often working overtime to provide those community services.

“The commitment and dedication here is really amazing, and I’m so proud to work here,” Levy said. “I can’t say enough good things. It’s really been nothing short of extraordinary, the way that everybody here has pulled together.”

Looking ahead to a new year, she thanked her community members for staying safe and limiting the spread of the virus in Cecil County as much as possible.

“I want to thank everybody for what they have been doing to protect themselves and their families,” she said. “Just focus on doing what you can to reduce your risk.”

Best friends Brady Racine and John Metee V find fun at Rising Sun’s flooded Veterans Memorial Park following Tropical Storm Isaias.

The Cecil County Courthouse got its fair share of snow Wednesday, Dec. 16.

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Percolating history

RISING SUN — You may be familiar with the “Little Engine That Could,” but did you know about the Little Coffee Pot that did?

Back in 1939 Bill McNamee got an idea to have a coffee pot on wheels to help promote Rising Sun and the town’s chapter of the Lions Club.

“He designed it on a used envelope,” said Howard “Bud” McFadden, past president of the Rising Sun Lions Club and a long time business owner until 2018. “He got a lot of people to volunteer and donate.”

McFadden said the original coffee pot cost $82 to build in 1939. Set on the rear end body frame of a 1931 Chevrolet, it was built with sheet metal on a wooden base. He estimated it’s about 12 feet tall and weighs about 1,000 pounds.

“We sold coffee and hot dogs. We went to Rising Sun High School and West Nottingham Academy football games and outside Rising Sun Theater,” he recalled.

Today’s Rising Sun residents may be unaware that there was a movie theater on East Main Street where Rising Sun Martial Arts is now located.

“People came out (of the theater) and bought coffee and hot dogs,” McFadden said.

The coffee pot was also a regular unit in the SunFest parade every June. One person would ride in the pot and wave from its service window.

“If you put two people in there it was crowded,” McFadden said.

But then it disappeared. It was seen at Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church in Colora by the Little League fields. McFadden said a hot rod club also borrowed the life sized pot on wheels.

“Then one day I was delivering something to Mr. Giles in Liberty Grove,” McFadden said. That’s a small burg in between Colora and Port Deposit that, long ago had its own post office. “In the woods was the coffee pot.”

The was around 1991, McFadden figures.

The lid was off and it was in pretty bad shape. Calling on Hale Harrington, who at the time owned Harrington Garage on West Main Street, a rollback was brought in to rescue the coffee pot.

“We took it by Bill McNamee’s. He got tears in his eyes,” McFadden recalled. While happy to see his creation, McNamee was surprised by its condition.

And so began the restoration with repairs and fresh paint. The late Richard Montgomery, a member of the Lions for many a year, loaned his barn at Cherry Grove Tree Farm for the restoration effort. The coffee pot was restored and had made numerous appearances since, albeit no longer in the business of coffee and hot dogs.

“Now we hand out brochures and sell raffle tickets from it,” McFadden said.

Because of the history, however, the Rising Sun Lions and the Rising Sun Historic Preservation Commission recently put together a copy of McNamee’s drawings along with other information and photos of the coffee pot in action in a frame and presented it to Angie Vanderhoef, owner of Rise N Grind Cafe on East Main Street. A plate at the bottom of the frame proclaims “Old Roasters Welcome New Grinders.”

And it is now being stored safely by Norman Hunter in his storage barn, he added.

Look for the coffee pot when life gets back to normal and SunFest and the Little League parade return.

A jubilant Danielle Hornberger thanks her supporters after word came in of her win in the race for Cecil County Executive in November.

Wild Duck Shooting: On the Wing — Currier and Ives 1870

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Police: Woman assaulted troopers after her DUI arrest near North East

NORTH EAST — A woman remained jailed Wednesday after she allegedly assaulted two Maryland State Police troopers in the wake of her drunken-driving arrest near North East on Christmas Day, according to Cecil County District Court records.

Investigators identified the suspect as Danielle Nicole Grant, 28, of Perryville.

Court records allege that the investigation leading to Grant’s arrest was spurred by Grant attempting to drive a car equipped with an ignition locking system, which prevents the vehicle from running when the person behind the steering wheel has been drinking alcoholic beverages.

Scheduled for a March 12 trial, Grant is facing four misdemeanor charges, including two counts of second-degree assault, which, if convicted, is punishable by up to 10 years in prison per offense, court records show. Grant remained in the Cecil County Detention Center without bond on Wednesday, two days after her bail review hearing, according to court records.

MSP Tfc. Siemek responded to the Northeast Plaza shopping center parking lot at approximately 8 p.m. on Dec. 25, after receiving a complaint regarding a suspicious vehicle that was seen “moving a few feet at a time, honking its horn, and turning off and on several times,” police reported.

While speaking with Grant, the trooper noticed a strong odor of alcohol coming from the suspect and that her eyes were “bloodshot, watery and glassy,” police said. Siemek also noticed that Grant’s speech was “significantly slurred” as she “struggled to form cognitive sentences and statements,” police added.

“Grant admitted to consuming alcohol earlier in the evening and (that she) was having trouble re-starting her vehicle due to an equipped Ignition Interlock System. Grant was asked if she would be willing to perform standardized field sobriety tests, to which she refused. Grant became argumentative, violent, (and) resistive,” court records allege.

The trooper arrested Grant at that point on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and then drove her to the nearby North East Barrack for processing, court records show.

A short time later, while in a holding cell at that barrack, Grant allegedly removed her jeans and underwear and pulled out a plastic baggie that she had hidden inside of her vagina, police said. The baggie contained several white, chalky pills, which Grant then ingested, police added.

Troopers immediately removed Grant from the holding cell and conducted an additional search, to prevent her from ingesting other substances and running the risk of harming herself, police reported.

Grant allegedly tried to punch Siemek in the face but missed, before pushing him away, according to charging documents, which further indicate that Grant was “flailing her arms, screaming and spitting.”

When MSP Sgt. Spayd arrived to assist Siemek, Grant allegedly kicked the sergeant in the left leg and then made an errant kick at Siemek, court records allege.

“After Grant was controlled and detained, she admitted to ingesting an undisclosed amount of Xanax that she had concealed . . . to prevent further prosecution (for additional charges) and to ‘get high’,” according to charging documents.

In addition to possession of a controlled and dangerous substance and the two counts of second-degree assault, Grant is charged with altering physical evidence to avoid criminal prosecution, which relates to her allegedly swallowing the pills before investigators could discover them, court records show.

In this 2019 Cecil Whig file photo, Roger Owens (left) and Cecil County Councilman Al Miller hold up two of the coats that had been donated to the Coats for Kids Campaign. Possibly because of coronavirus-related repercussions, the number of donations this season are significantly lower than those in years past. Owens and other campaign organizers are urging citizens to donate used and new coats for children and adults.

Coats for Kids Campaign

Joseph Young and other residents at Conowingo Veterans Center felt the festive spirit thanks to over 500 holiday cards from community members.

Joseph Young.jpg