CECIL COUNTY — The year is almost over, and whether we like it or not, 2020 will be remembered for one thing, the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus and its affect on the lives of everyone on the planet. The virus affected every aspect of the lives of those in Cecil County and resulted in a number of stories about those affects on local residents.

The year started normally enough, in January as several big stories dominated the pages of the Cecil Whig. What follows are brief synopses of the top stories for the first half of 2020.

Elkton hospital completes merger with ChristianaCare

Union Hospital announced Thursday, Jan. 2 that it has finalized its merger with ChristianaCare Health System, its competitor across the Delaware line, after half a year of negotiations.

Under the final agreement, Cecil County’s only hospital joins with ChristianaCare’s two hospitals — with the closest about 10 miles from downtown Elkton and the other in Wilmington — and now its first across the state line.

Union Hospital will now be known under a new name: ChristianaCare, Union Hospital. Its campus, situated in the heart of downtown Elkton, will be known as ChristianaCare, Cecil County.

“This is an exciting new day for our employees, our providers and our community,” said Dr. Rich Szumel, president of ChristianaCare, Cecil County. “We are joining one of the premier, forward-thinking health systems in the country, enabling us to grow, innovate and make an impact on the health of our community in transformative new ways.”

Despite the name change, ChristianaCare President and CEO Dr. Janice E. Nevin said that the two organizations overlap in the geographic area they serve. For 20 years, ChristianaCare operated an oncology unit in Elkton, until the Radiation Oncology Center in Elkton opened in 2016.

Southfields planning process to launch in 2020

Stonewall Capital principal Ray Jackson and his team will start the new year by kicking off the planning process for Southfields.

Jackson and his engineering firm, Morris & Ritchie Associates, have filed a request for the Planned Use Development (PUD) overlay zoning in order build out the 630 acres for mixed industrial, retail and residential use.

Under the relatively new zoning ordinance, Jackson had the option to file a concept plan for Southfields with the PUD, or file it at a later time. The developer chose to file the entire plan all at once, and will seek a special exemption to allow warehouse use in a planned 3-million square-foot logistics center.

All three requests will be discussed before the Elkton Planning Commission on Jan. 6.

The Southfields project has long been touted by municipal and development officials as a surefire economic boon — a game-changer for the town. Expectations include an infusion of 2,510 jobs in southern Elkton, according to a recently released economic impact study.

Planning Commission recommends Southfields PUD float zone

Following hours of scrutiny of yet another revision of the Southfields plans, the Elkton Planning Commission issued favorable recommendations for a floating planned use development zone and, with some trepidation, for a special exemption for warehouse use. The Monday night meeting was again packed with officials and interested parties, and lasted four hours. 

Stories regarding Southfields would span the entirety of 2020, but especially so in the early months of 2020 as the project saw a number of procedural hurdles as part of the governmental approval process. During this process several residents stepped forward to voice their concerns with the proposed project.

Residents: Southfields is 'not why we moved here'

In the shadow of the proposed Southfields planned-use development project is an unnamed neighborhood off Maloney Road, and there live residents that are pushing for more answers on what will come with it.

Specifically, residents like John and Cathy Guns want answers about what will move into the 3 million square-foot warehouse that’s planned for the area behind their house. John Guns and his siblings were among the first to build their houses on Enfield Road, when it was a quiet place, away from the bustle of Route 40.

Now, with “Say No to Southfields” signs staked in front yards, Cathy Guns said it’s obvious to anyone driving by that the neighborhood is heading in the wrong direction.

“People look at the sign, and think, ‘I don’t want to live there. They’re fighting something,’” she said. “Our property values have gone to hell since this started. I’ve talked to neighbors about it, and they say ‘It’s not why we moved here.’ Well, it’s not why we moved here [either].”

Southfields is a 630-acre mixed-use development that features houses, an apartment complex, retail sites and a sports park and three warehouses lead by Stonewall Capital principal Ray Jackson. At this time, Jackson’s partner engineering firm Morris & Ritchie hope to start construction on the warehouse in August, with goals of drawing in e-commerce tenants.

Since Southfields was announced last summer, the Guns and other neighbors have attended most of the community meetings and public hearings about the project, reiterating their concerns about what massive growth will do to their septic tanks and wells, the roads and quality of life.

But one thing that may be overlooked in the loud voices against the Southfields project is that these neighbors will have to live with the development, from start to finish.

As 2020 moved into March, the COVID-19 pandemic, which had merely been more of an ominous overshadowing event, finally began to affect Maryland and Cecil as schools, and later businesses began to be shut down via government action. As March progressed, preparation for the virus coming to Cecil County ramped up as the virus spread throughout Maryland.

Schools statewide to shutter amid COVID-19 concerns

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday afternoon, March 12 that all public schools in the state are to be closed Monday, March 16 through Friday, March 27.

Cecil County Public Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Lawson confirmed that county schools would be closed.

“All CCPS schools are closed from 3/16/20 — 3/27/20,” Lawson said on social media on Thursday at approximately 4:30 p.m. “School WILL be held tomorrow! There are many questions, which we will start to address tonight and tomorrow.”

CCPS also shared the following on social media:

“The Governor and State Superintendent have just announced that in response to COVID-19 all MD public schools will close beginning Monday, March 16 through March 27. We will share more information later this evening and tomorrow as we learn more. Schools will be open tomorrow.”

Cecil County companies working to calm COVID-19 fears

With colleges shutting down ahead of spring break and both professional and collegiate teams playing without fans in the stands (or not at all), local retail businesses are now taking steps to reassure customers that it is either safe to shop, or that shopping will be delivered.

Stores, banks and farmer’s markets are taking steps to make sure that personal contact is limited and even avoided to quell the spread of the virus, which has already infected more than 1,000 people in the United States. No positive cases have been reported in Cecil County as of press time, but confirmed cases have popped up in neighboring Harford and New Castle counties.

Now a global pandemic according to the World Health Organization, coronavirus hot spots include the entire country of Italy and an enclave in New York state. China, which is where COVID-19 began to spread in January, reported earlier this week that it is seeing a decline in new cases.

While that’s good news, here at home some people have been in panic mode — stripping store shelves of hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol and toilet paper as health officials warn that, should there be an outbreak, quarantines would be ordered meaning even those without the virus would have to shelter in place.

Employers, meanwhile, are addressing how to handle massive absences or even business closures and some are allowing sick employees paid leave rather than have them come into work and spread what may be the novel coronavirus.

With Maryland under a state of emergency, declared earlier this week by Gov. Larry Hogan, the state’s commerce chief, Sec. Kelly M. Schulz, acknowledges the pandemic is posing a challenge to businesses as well as government offices and agencies.

Hogan postpones most primaries until June 2

Maryland’s primary election, originally scheduled for April 28, has been postponed until June 2, Gov. Larry Hogan announced during a press conference on Tuesday, March 17.

The news comes as the most recent preventative measure laid out by the governor as the state continues to take necessary steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, also called coronavirus, the global pandemic that has had the world on high alert since last month.

On Monday, Hogan issued orders to alter the statewide limitation of public gatherings to 50 people or less. Last week, he declared public gatherings of at least 250 people as prohibited.

“I have two main priorities – keeping Marylanders safe, and protecting their constitutional right to vote,” Gov. Hogan said.

Rising Sun doctors offer COVID-19 testing to their patients

Vehicles drove into the parking lot of the medical arts building on Colonial Way and came to a stop as people dressed in yellow paper, gloves and masks approached and asked questions.

Doctors Neil Lattin and Joseph Weidner were running various tests on their patients in a drive through setting Monday afternoon to rule out COVID-19. It was the second of what Weidner expects will be many pop-up clinics in search of coronavirus or other infectious diseases.

So far Maryland has 60 confirmed cases of novel corona virus; none of which are in Cecil County. None of those affected in the state have died, according to health officials in those counties.

Weidner, who owns Stone Run Family Medicine, started testing Friday. Lattin joined in Monday.

“We do a flu test first,” Weidner said. “That’s a rapid response test. If it’s negative we test for COVID-19.”

While the flu test results are available in minutes, test results for coronavirus take 3-4 days.

“We tell them to shelter in place until then,” Weidner said.

However before any testing is done, both doctors and their staff check the symptoms and check the lungs, ears and throats of all who come to the parking lot clinic.

Empty shelves: Supplies, definitions confound retailers in Cecil County

The run on essentials continues, say grocery store officials at the chains in Cecil County, but supplies trickle in; some better than others.

“Sanitizer is still in tightest demand,” said Eric B. White, director of marketing for Redner’s Markets, Inc. He said toilet paper and other paper goods are being allocated to each store. “As we get it we’re shipping it out.”

It’s the same at Martin’s in Rising Sun according to Ashley Flower, spokeswoman for the parent company, Giant.

“We are currently experiencing shortages and out of stocks on many household staples, including disinfecting and cleaning products,” Flower said Wednesday. “We are focused on getting back in stock as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, Cecil County’s farmers that operate farm stands on site and also participate in regional farmer’s markets, are waiting for state and federal agencies to decide how these businesses are defined.

“Are our farmer’s markets considered grocery stores or community events,” said Sarah Ryder at Flying Plow Farm in Rising Sun. “If the farmers markets don’t open next month what can we do to move our produce?”

Hogan closes malls, venues

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced new executive orders Thursday around noon, prohibiting events with 10 or more people and requiring that all indoor malls and entertainment venues to close. He set a deadline for closing at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 19.

“I know that the actions we’ve been taking seem extreme and may seem frightening, but as I’ve said before, they are also absolutely necessary to save the lives of thousands of Marylanders and hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Hogan said.

During the conference, Hogan announced the death of a man in Prince George’s County, the first COVID-19 death in Maryland.

“While this is the death here in Maryland, it won’t be the last,” Hogan said.

Hogan closes non-essential businesses, pleads for residents to stay home

All non-essential businesses in Maryland must close at 5 p.m. Monday, March 23 according to Gov. Larry Hogan, who included the directive in his morning announcement from the State House.

The governor said the definition of a non-essential business would be whatever is not on the federal list of essential businesses. The list breaks it down further into sectors including chemical, commercial facilities, communications, defense, emergency, energy, financial, food and agriculture, government facilities, public health and health care, information technology, transportation, water and wastewater and supporting firms.

Hogan said he was upset watching Marylanders in large gatherings this weekend, which is against current national and Centers for Disease Control guidelines urging groups of no more than 10 in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, a novel coronavirus.

It “made my toes curl,” Hogan said in his press conference in Annapolis on Monday.

“We have not peaked,” he warned of the growing numbers of people that have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

“Most of the increases we’ve seen is because we’ve ramped up testing.”

Hogan again urged people to take the shelter in place more seriously, although he stopped short of issuing an executive order restricting citizen movement.

“We are trying to save lives and save the economy,” he said. “We don’t think it’s draconian to ask people to stay in their homes.”

State of emergency: Three Cecil County residents test positive for COVID-19

Of the 288 positive cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Maryland, Cecil County accounts for three of those cases as of press time Monday afternoon, March 23.

In a press conference with Health Officer Lauren Levy, DES Director Chief Richard Brooks, Sheriff Scott Adams, Director of Administration Al Wein, Cecil County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Lawson and State’s Attorney James Dellmyer, County Executive Alan McCarthy confirmed that there are three cases of COVID-19 in the county.

The cases include a woman in her 20s in the Rising Sun area, a woman in 40s in Elkton and a man in his 50s also in Elkton. The latter two were confirmed the morning of March 23, bringing the total to three lab confirmed tests.

None of the three confirmed cases are travel-related, suggesting community transmission.

“When a case of COVID-19 is identified, the Cecil County Health Department has an experienced team of communicable disease clinicians to investigate the case of any contact the patient may have had,” Levy said.

If the health department determines that there is a threat to the general public, a notice will be disseminated to the public.

School closure extended after Hogan shuts businesses

As an initial two-week closure of Maryland public schools neared its March 27 end, State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced a further four-week shutdown to last through April 24 in response to the spreading novel coronavirus.

The decision was announced during a news conference held by Gov. Larry Hogan Wednesday, March 25, at the Maryland State House in Annapolis.

The school decision was made by the State Board of Education after “lengthy discussions” with Maryland health experts, Salmon said.

“We do not make this decision lightly. However, with the challenges facing our state and our country, we have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of our school communities and the community at large,” the superintendent said.

Salmon said it is “too soon” to definitively say when schools will reopen given the fast-changing circumstances surrounding COVID-19’s spread. She said the state “will continue to reassess the situation as we move forward.”

The move to extend the school shutdown came two days after Hogan ordered the closure of nonessential businesses.

In April and May the COVID-19 virus continued its spread throughout the State of Maryland and nationwide with Gov. Larry Hogan shutting ordering residents to stay at home, but some local heroes stepped up to help the community deal with the spread of the virus. Also during this time, masks became a way of life for many Cecil County residents.

Sheilagh Weinert serving those in need during COVID-19 pandemic

A familiar local hero in Hollingsworth Manor has redoubled her efforts to help her neighbors and community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sheilagh Weinert, a Hollingsworth Manor resident who opened her non-profit donation and resource center Sheilagh’s Pantry in November, is no stranger to helping those in need. Her depot has been the go-to place in the Hollingsworth Manor community where locals can stop by for food, clothing, kitchen items, toys and books if they’re in need.

Weinert has expanded her operations — and her heart — since the global pandemic that has found Maryland and many other regions in a state of emergency.

“Since March 23rd, I have partnered with CCPS,” she told the Cecil Whig on Thursday. “I have been handing out bagged breakfast and lunches for all children 18 and under from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. I serve from 34 to 55 children Monday through Friday, and sometimes on Saturday.”

Weinert does most of her outreach through word of mouth and social media, and people instinctively flock to her outpost when in more dire need during these uncertain times.

“From 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. I help anyone in need of food or hygiene items,” she said. “I have helped families from most parts of Cecil County. Sheilagh’s Pantry gets donations from friends, neighbors, YES, the Help Center, The Paris Foundation and many more. I think it’s something positive.”

Weinert says she helps “any family” in need.

In Cecil County, masks showcase personality and beliefs

Cora Hickling’s mother bought a Mickey Mouse print dress at an Animal Kingdom gift shop last year, after she got drenched on a water ride at that theme park — a very funny memory from that Florida family vacation.

It was an emergency purchase, one that allowed Hickling’s mom, Stormee Hickling, to be dry and comfortable for the rest of that day.

Flash forward to now: These days, a piece of that very Mickey Mouse print dress covers Hickling’s mouth and nose when she is inside stores and other public places, including Bella Pizza in North East, where the 18-year-old Charlestown resident works.

After some careful cutting with scissors, fabric from the Mickey Mouse print dress has been repurposed as a protective mask for Hickling amid the coronavirus pandemic, which recently prompted Gov. Larry Hogan to issue an emergency health order requiring all Marylanders to wear face coverings in specified public places.

The homemade mask allows Hickling to adhere to the gubernatorial directive.

But it also allows Hickling to fondly recall her family’s trip to Disney World, Animal Kingdom and other Florida attractions — and, more specifically, the day her soaking wet mom bought the Mickey Mouse print dress after that water ride got the best of her.

“This has some sentimental value for me,” Hickling told the Cecil Whig, while working behind the Bella Pizza pick-up counter.

The black cloth mask with yellowish Mickey Mouse head shapes covered her mouth (and nose) during her impromptu Cecil Whig interview and yet, her smile was quite evident because of the sparkle in her eyes and the giggle in her voice.

Hickling explained that, although the Mickey Mouse print dress suited her mom’s immediate need on that day in the Animal Kingdom, she had no problem cutting up the garment to protect against COVID-19.

“She was never going to wear it again,” she said, before commenting with a laugh, “A Mickey Mouse dress is acceptable in Disney World, but not here in Maryland.”

Based on recent strolls through supermarkets, liquor stores and other essential businesses in Cecil County, most people opt for bland, medical-looking face masks.

But then there are some people like Hickling, who have made or bought masks that have sentimental value, or show a flair for fashion, or represent a cause, or exude ethnic and national pride and so forth.

Not every story related directly to COVID-19 during this period as evidenced by the tragic story of Paul and Lidia Marino.

For couple slain in cemetery, visiting son’s grave was a daily ritual

U.S. Army veteran Paul Marino and his wife, Lidia, visited the grave of their son, Anthony, at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Bear, Del., almost every day for the past three years.

“It was like a regimen. Mom and Dad visited my brother’s grave every single day, without fail, unless there was inclement weather. They usually went there in the morning,” the couple’s son, Ray Marino, 60, of Elkton, said Wednesday.

The daily graveside visits served as a touchstone for the elderly Elkton couple – each day was another opportunity to express how deeply they loved Anthony and how heartbreakingly they missed him.

The couple would stand at the grave for 10 minutes or so. Sometimes they left fresh flowers; other times, they simply talked to their deceased son. “Hey, Anthony, Mom and Dad are here,” they would say.

Last week, however, that touching ritual turned tragic, when the Marinos were fatally shot just yards from Anthony’s grave in what appears to be a random act of violence.

Paul, 86, and Lidia, 85, were on the veterans cemetery grounds on the morning of May 8 to visit Anthony’s gravesite, as they had done perhaps 1,000 times before since their youngest son was laid to rest there in 2017.

At approximately 10:15 a.m. that day, a gunman randomly shot and killed the couple – sharply contrasting the tranquility of that cemetery.

As the shutdowns over the COVID-19 pandemic continued, several in Cecil County and around the state stood up to protest the actions of Gov. Hogan and sought to push leaders to reopen businesses, schools and the economy.

Locals show up for local businesses; ReOpen Maryland protests come to Cecil County

Driving east on Route 40 passersby Wednesday afternoon may have noticed the latest protest calling on Gov. Larry Hogan to reopen the state.

The protest on Pulaski Highway was another installment of the nationwide outcry as citizens grow restless under restrictions to combat the virus.

Not unlike others in the nation, most in Cecil County have felt the impact of coronavirus — by infection, loss of income, altered routine, etc. — but some feel that state government has gone too far in controlling the COVID-19 response.

ReOpen Cecil County, an offshoot of ReOpen Maryland, “is a group aimed at opening our county businesses, churches and schools in a responsible sensible manner. We support protecting our senior and vulnerable community,” as its Facebook page states.

“I’m just to a point where I am fed up,” said Lisa Conely, a ReOpen Cecil County organizer, who said she knows of people who have been trying to get on unemployment for over two months. “[One person] didn’t know where else to turn to and called me.

“Tell me how sad that is,” Conley said.

She, and others on the picket line, wants to keep residents safe, but doesn’t feel the state is being responsible with taxpayer money in alleviating the weight of the virus.

“We all have children and loved ones,” Conley said, “We don’t want them to get sick. We have to open sensibly; we have to open so we can salvage our economy.”

The reopen Maryland protests were followed by a different sort of protest in June, that followed on the heels of the death of George Floyd during an incident involving the Minneapolis Police Department. Black Lives Matter protests spread across the country and included protests in Cecil County as protesters sought to make leaders aware of racial and social justice issues.

Black Lives Matter in Cecil County

In masks, protesters lined Pulaski Highway Saturday to stand behind Black Lives Matter; fed up with black men being killed by police.

May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died while detained by Minneapolis police after being accused of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Officer Derek Chauvin, now charged with third-degree murder, was videotaped kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he lay on the street face down for more than 8 minutes. Reports say he was unresponsive for three of those minutes. Chauvin is seen with officers Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao — all four have since been fired.

Floyd’s is a case in a list growing with names of black men and children who have died during police encounters. In cities around the country, protesters are calling on lawmakers and allies to make a change.

Cecil County joined the wave on Saturday afternoon.

“It’s a beautiful thing and beautiful feeing to know you’re not alone,” Eunice Grant said. “Black people feel alone. But, there’s people stepping up saying ‘enough is enough.’

“This is not a good cop/bad cop situation,” Grant added, “and it’s not a matter of a few gone rogue. The good cops have to stand up.”

Many commented on the diverse group that showed up for Black Lives Matter — some said that it changed their mind about certain stereotypes and showed unity.

”I see many races out here, which shows that this is not a black issue,” Dajia Blount said. “There’s a lot of hurt and angry people.”

June also saw the results of the rescheduled primary elections, which sounded a major change in the county as Republican challenger Danielle Hornberger bested incumbent county executive Alan McCarthy.

Votes still out, Hornberger with commanding lead

Of the votes collected thus far, Danielle Hornberger appears to eclipse incumbent Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy in the primary race for the Republican nomination.

“We worked hard,” Hornberger said the afternoon after the June 2 primary. “I think we ran a very strong and effective campaign.”

It was a hard-won election, as the at-times heated election season pitted Hornberger and McCarthy against each other in the public arena. Now, Hornberger looks to the November finale — the general election.

“I am looking forward to continuing to work hard for the people of Cecil County,” she said, later adding that she was a little speechless on Wednesday and looking forward to a day to “ride it out” before getting back on the campaign trail.

Democrat Jeff Kase, who had not responded for comment and has been a silent candidate throughout the election, ran unopposed in his party.

Danielle Hornberger is leading for county executive Republican nominee with 60.5 percent of votes, with McCarthy at 24 percent, Bill Coutz and Ewing McDowell both with a little more than 7 percent of the vote.

As of before 9 a.m. this morning, 14,726 ballots have been cast as vote counting continue into next week. This number includes the 1,020 registered voters who showed up to the voting center on Tuesday.

More than 51,000 ballots were mailed to registered voters.

As June came to a close, a long-time police chief in North East received his final call after 42 years on the force.

North East Police Chief Darrell Hamilton retiring after 42 years

Darrell Hamilton was a mere 25 years old when he was named Chief of the North East Police Department in March 1978, after spending about four months as a patrol officer with that agency.

On Wednesday, Hamilton 67, will retire after serving 42 years and four months in that leadership position — making him the longest-serving police chief in Maryland history.

Hampered by some recent health issues, Hamilton is leaving his post reluctantly.

“I love this job. I love this department. And I love this town,” Hamilton said, before alluding to medical problems that resulted in him having a couple of recent hospital stays, one lasting six days, and remarking, “I’ve been having more bad days than good days.”

A Cecil County native who was raised in an Elkton-area home, Hamilton found himself on the path to a career in law enforcement not long after graduating from Elkton High School in 1971, when he joined the U.S. Air Force, serving five years as a law enforcement specialist with that military branch before earning his honorable discharge.

It was just something he wanted to try, something that seemed like it would be rewarding.

“I fell in love with law enforcement, just doing the job,” Hamilton told the Cecil Whig. “I knew it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

See more of the year in review in Friday's Cecil Whig.

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