On the Front Lines

Acts of Courage and Kindness In the Age of Coronavirus


Edited by Max Weiss
By Ron Cassie, Ken Iglehart, Jane Marion, and Lydia Woolever
With Lauren Cohen and Grace Hebron

Spot Illustrations by Alex Fine | Cover Illustration by Israel G. Vargas

COVID-19

On The Front Lines

Acts of courage and kindness in the age of coronavirus.

An illustration of the Covid19 Crisis along with the BLM Racial injustice protests.

IN THE FOLLOWING feature, we look at the people on the front lines of this deadly pandemic. Some, like doctors, nurses, and police officers, have chosen a life of public service. Others, like an intrepid group of makers producing hand sanitizer, took it upon themselves to step into the fray. And still others became accidental “essential” workers, forced, often by necessity or fear of losing a job, to serve the general public. For all of them, this virus has been unprecedented and daunting, but not without glimmers of optimism and hope. We hope you read and honor their stories.

A State of Dis-Ease.
As the coronavirus continues Its deadly spread, marylanders on the front lines risk their own health to help others.

By Ron Cassie

O

N THE WEEK OF St. Patrick’s Day, the Johns Hopkins Hospital intensive care unit where veteran nurse Kathleen Bailey works was silent and empty. Over several shifts, each patient in the two-dozen-bed unit had been moved to another ICU section on the East Baltimore campus. Bailey’s floor had been cleared as a precaution against a potential influx of COVID-19 patients, the first of whom from Maryland were just being diagnosed at associated Hopkins hospitals in Bethesda and Washington, where the capital region’s outbreak was in its alarming, beginning stages. “Within 24 to 48 hours, we were full,” she says. “Patients were arriving by ambulance and helicopter already intubated.”

Months later, Bailey’s unit remains full, and is still eerily quiet. Normally, the ICU’s private rooms and waiting area bustle with concerned parents, adult children, and siblings. Now, with visitation prohibited, families see their sick loved ones via iPads, placed on the bedside tables. With many of the infected heavily sedated, family members are left to simply stare at their unconscious loved ones, hooked to cumbersome breathing masks, as they pray for the best. “One family asked if we can stream 24 hours a day,” Bailey says. “Just watching them breathe, even with the help of a machine, provides so much solace.”

The 38-year-old Pasadena mother of two worked through the H1N1 virus outbreak a decade ago, but COVID-19 has changed everything, including her own daily ritual. She discards her protective gear after each shift and leaves her scrubs at the hospital to be laundered, showering and changing into her own clothes before heading home. She worries about bringing the virus back to her husband and children—her family reckoning with isolation like everyone else. The hardest part, Bailey says, is the helplessness in the ICU. Given that there’s no treatment for COVID-19, all staff can do is try to mitigate the disease’s devastating attack on the respiratory system—at its terrifying worst, a feeling of suffocation— and buy time for the body’s immune system to win the fight. “As an ICU nurse, you’re accustomed to people dying,” she says. “With this, people stay on a ventilator for three, four, five weeks, struggling to stay alive. I’ve cried. I’ve been a nurse for 15 years. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

 A picture of Bailey after her 12-hour Mother's Day shift.
Hopkins RN Kathleen Bailey after a 12-hour shift in the ICU on Mother’s Day. Photography by Gabriella Demczuk.

By the end of May, less than three months after the first confirmed case in the state, the pandemic had claimed the lives of more than 2,500 Marylanders, disproportionately in the state’s Latino and African-American communities. It’s a figure already more than double the number of Marylanders who died in the Vietnam War, with another 1,200 fatalities projected by the start of August. When the United States passed the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 over Memorial Day weekend, the news came as some public health experts were warning that the novel coronavirus— much like influenza or measles—may never be fully eradicated, even after a vaccine is developed. Such diseases are referred to as endemic, and while their consequences are lessened, they remain resistant to eradication. There’s a newly approved vaccine for malaria, for example, which requires four shots, yet still has a poor-efficacy rate. For HIV, of course, no vaccine has ever been found. In Baltimore, a COVID-19 hotspot, it seems everyone already knows someone who has been infected or died from this new virus.

“In my lifetime, AIDS is the only other comparable pandemic and the valuable lesson there is that we need accurate testing, we need contact tracing, and we need education—in regards to social distancing, masks, and handwashing,” says Dr. Robert Gallo, the co-discoverer of the HIV virus, which causes AIDS. The director of the University of Maryland’s Institute of Human Virology and co-founder of the Global Virus Network, Gallo says COVID-19 is not likely to “just go away.”

In response to the tragic toll, Marylanders, for the most part, abided previously unimaginable restrictions put in place by Gov. Larry Hogan as restaurants, schools, and businesses were closed, and a stay-at-home order was issued on March 30. Baseball’s Opening Day, a tradition since the 1880s, was canceled along with other iconic spring and summer Baltimore events—the American Visionary Art Museum’s Kinetic Sculpture Race, the Maryland Film Festival, Flower Mart in Mount Vernon Place, Artscape, the annual African-American heritage festival AFRAM, and the July 4 Inner Harbor fireworks display. High school and college spring sports seasons were nixed along with proms and graduation ceremonies. The annual Balticon convention was held virtually. HONfest was scheduled to do the same. Preakness was postponed until October. The status of Pride Weekend remains up in the air.

Meanwhile, the extraordinarily contagious nature of the novel coronavirus impacted everyday life in innumerable ways, both quotidian and profound. Nursing homes suddenly became frightening places for our parents and grandparents to reside. Funeral services, along with grieving, moved online. Mundane things, like trips to the grocery store, became fraught experiences. Parents spent more time with their children, but were also forced to transition into at-home school teachers. Summer travel plans were scrapped; weddings postponed. At minimum, a gnawing stir craziness took hold. Jake Smith, the owner of the Baltimore Boxing Club in Fells Point, began going for extra milelong walks with his dog to ward off anxiety. “The whole family has been walking the dog like crazy,” Smith says with a laugh. “The dog is like, ‘I need a break.’”

Other issues rising from the forced isolation had more serious consequences. There has been a dramatic increase in calls to the state’s domestic violence hotline as victims stayed in lockdown with their abusers, fearful of coronavirus infection to the point where they’ve been unable to seek medical treatment for their injuries. As people stayed at home and alcohol sales skyrocketed, concerns about mental health and substance abuse rose amid the isolation—a particularly dangerous environment for those with addiction issues. In Baltimore, most of the hundreds of weekly Narcotics and Alcoholic Anonymous meetings moved to online Zoom platforms, though those in recovery say it doesn’t replace the face-to-face connections necessary for healing. “Recovery is all about social contact,” says Mike Gimbel, a former heroin addict and Baltimore County’s former top drug treatment official.

In the wake of Great Depression-level unemployment, thousands of parents across the state also suddenly struggled to feed their children. Others feared, and still fear, going to work.

“What this crisis is doing is starkly exposing the holes in our safety net,” says Susan Esserman, director of the SAFE Center at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health in Baltimore, which works with trafficking survivors. Many essential employees in low-income jobs have had no choice but to keep going to work with little protection, she notes.

Patrick Moran, the president of AFSCME Maryland, the state’s public employee union, highlighted that many state workers serve in front-line jobs that were physically and emotionally stressful prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, corrections officers in prisons, which have seen outbreaks of the virus, are at a particularly high-risk for contracting the disease. “They’re already shorthanded,” Moran says. “And now they lack adequate protection and testing to do their jobs.” In Maryland’s nursing homes, where resident deaths represent the majority of fatalities in the state, at least 18 staff members have also died as of press time.

Video by Christopher Myers

 A picture of Bailey before her may 10th shift.
Bailey before her may 10th shift. Photography by Gabriella Demczuk.

As the state approached 60,000 confirmed infections in June, a number that would nearly fill M&T Bank Stadium, miraculous recovery stories emerged as well. Michael Green, one of the first COVID-19 cases in Baltimore, survived 49 days on a ventilator at Mercy Medical Center. The 63-year-old lawyer, believed to have contracted the virus in New York the first weekend of March, remained in rehab into June. “There were times when it did not look like he was going to make it,” says his wife, Gail Green, who has seen her husband just twice during the entire ordeal, including briefly during his transfer from Mercy by ambulance to a rehabilitation center where he is still slowly being weaned off the ventilator and receiving physical therapy. By then, he’d lost 50 pounds and the ability to sit or stand. “The staff at Mercy was incredible,” says Green. “No matter how tired or overworked everyone was, a doctor called me every day. I talked to a nurse every shift. The chaplain, when she found out Michael was Jewish, lit Sabbath candles every Friday night and learned a Jewish healing prayer, which she said over him. The staff read messages to Michael from our two adult children— our daughter is expecting our first grandchild—once the breathing tube was removed from his mouth and placed in his trachea, and he was alert.” The Mercy staff also gave Green a celebratory sendoff and parade, the video of which went viral. “As much as that meant to us,” says Green, “I think that was for them, too.”

Among the countless anonymous heroes is Anne Arundel County ICU nurse Megan Pitt, who answered a plea for nurses in New York during the height of the outbreak there. She has three kids, which made the decision easier in some ways, harder in others.

“My husband is retired on disability from the military and so he could take care of the kids and our dog,” says Pitt, who at one point in New York was swabbed for the virus after a co-worker accidently knocked off her mask. “I’d been coming home from work here, changing and bagging my clothes in the garage, and putting them straight into the wash. I’m more afraid of getting them sick than me. My husband supports me 100 percent. He understands sacrifice. He was stationed overseas when we were first married. He calls it my ‘deployment.’”

 Health 

A picture of Doctor Mustapha Oladapo Saheed.

Photography by Mike Morgan.

Matters Of Life And Death

The Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Emergency Department Director, Grapples With Protecting His Team, His Patients—and Himself.

In the early aughts, when Mustapha Oladapo Saheed was in medical school at Cornell University, emergency medicine didn’t resonate with him right away. “It was a mess, it was sensory overload,” he says. But later, during a related elective, he had a lightbulb moment. “I started to see the rhythm behind what looked like chaos,” he recalls. “All of a sudden, the cacophony started to sound like a symphony, and everything made sense. I chose to go into emergency medicine—and I never looked back.” In the time of the coronavirus crisis, and as medical director of The Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Department of Emergency Medicine, the Nigerian-born, Laurel-raised doctor is conducting one of the unruliest orchestras of his life.

Since early March, as patients have poured through the doors of 1800 Orleans Street in East Baltimore, those with mild symptoms have been sent home for self-monitoring, while others have ended up being admitted for echocardiograms, chest X-rays, or CT scans. Among them, the sickest get intubated before being placed on a ventilator—one of the most dangerous jobs in the hospital, as the work requires Saheed and his team to get close to the patient and a potential blizzard of viral droplets. “It’s been an extraordinary experience for the nation, for everybody, and certainly for those of us in the emergency department,” says Saheed, 42. As non-COVID patients avoid the emergency room, both at Hopkins and across the country, the total number of patients is actually down. But while Baltimore area hospitals have largely been spared from the scenes that have played out in hotspots like New York, the work is still incredibly painstaking. “Before you go into a room, you’re washing your hands, you’re Purelling, you’re donning your mask, you’re social-distancing,” says Saheed. “All of those things take a physical and cognitive toll. I could easily see 10 patients in the time that it now takes to see one—we’ve all been living at the hospital.”

As the department’s director, Saheed’s work is an endless juggling act, from managing scarce resources to communicating and collaborating with emergency departments nationwide to developing and ensuring safety measures for his staff and patients. The pandemic has also forced him to grapple with philosophical issues, such as how to comfort patients who are dying without their loved ones by their side. Even over the phone, you can feel it weighing on him. “The human touch is needed to really complete healing,” he says. “How do you facilitate that when we have to separate our humanity from each other?” For emergency workers, running toward danger is a primary part of the job, but now in the midst of this global pandemic, the healthcare workers on the front lines are filled with fear, too. “I didn’t allow myself to think about fear until one day a very sick patient crashed in an area that wasn’t the designated COVID area,” says Saheed. “My team was tied up, so I PAPRed [powered air-purifying respirator] up, intubated the patient, and did all the things I needed to do. When I got home that evening, I checked my life insurance to make sure my family would be cared for.” The past few months have also sparked critical conversations with his staff. “We’ve talked about how it’s okay to be anxious and scared, even terrified, at times,” says Saheed, who discards his hospital clothing in a laundry basket in his garage to keep from bringing the virus home to his wife and three kids. “Many of us have never thought about medicine in this way,” he says. “We thought we’d work ourselves to the bone and give everything we had for our patients, but we didn’t think that maybe we’d need to give our lives for it.” —JM

An illustration of a Covid19 testing kit.

Diagnosis

The
Test

For public health nurse Nicole Brown, who oversees three drive-through COVID-19 testing sites for the Baltimore County Department of Health and Human Services, the most important thing she can do for her patients is create a soothing sense of order. “Although we can’t have a long conversation, the words that we give them are calm, to the point, and have clear instructions,” she says. “I think that’s what people want.” Patients roll down their windows to receive the test, which is a swab that goes all the way up the nose cavity to the back of the throat. “It’s very uncomfortable,” Brown admits. “I tell them it’s going to be the longest 10 to 15 seconds of their lives!” Despite her protective gear, Brown says she and her fellow nurses connect with every patient. “The nurses have kindness in their body language and eyes, even in their tone of voices,” she says. “It’s really remarkable to see.”—MW

Research

Searching for a Cure

He co-discovered the HIV virus. Now he's tackling the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Robert Gallo knows viruses. Best known as the co-discoverer of the human immunodeficiency virus, which is responsible for AIDS, and as a pioneer in the development of the HIV blood-screening test, the Distinguished Professor in Medicine at the University of Maryland in Baltimore wants to emphasize that every virus is different. “Really different,” he says, like in the way every species in the animal kingdom is different from one another. “They all have different strategies, in terms of how they reproduce.” That said, Gallo, director of UMB’s Institute of Human Virology— as well as the co-founder of the Global Virus Network— is among those investigating whether the oral polio vaccine could prevent or reduce the spread of COVID-19 to immunized individuals. The vaccine has been documented to induce protection against other viral infections.

Ultimately, control of the coronavirus is possible only after a large part of the world’s population becomes immune, either through infection, which would be deadly for many, or by prophylactic vaccination. The oral polio trial is just one track in the worldwide hunt for a vaccine, one that would most likely supply limited immunity, but be better than no immunity at all. A second or third wave of the virus is “reasonably possible," Gallo says. COVID-19 is an RNA virus, a family of viruses which also includes the Zika and Ebola viruses, and no vaccine for an RNA virus has ever been licensed.

The state of Maryland, home to the NIH and the FDA, is playing an outsized role in global efforts for a vaccine. At Johns Hopkins University, multiple research projects related to COVID-19 are underway. Meanwhile, other researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have begun injecting volunteers with a potential vaccine that targets mRNA, or messenger RNA, hoping to impart genetic information to cells that will stimulate the production of antibodies that can stave off the virus. Similar ramped-up efforts targeting messenger RNA are ongoing around the world, some with promising early results, but Gallo won’t predict when a vaccine will be ready. “You don’t have a vaccine that works,” he cautions, “until you have a vaccine that works.” —RC

A picture of Nurse Denny Marshall

Photography by Mike Morgan.

Life Support

Nevertheless, A Career Icu Nurse Persists.

Denny Marshall remembers when the first coronavirus patient arrived at the Mercy Medical Center. “March 18,” says the intensive care nurse. “We all know when that happened.”

A month prior, her floor had been partially converted into the hospital’s first COVID unit. Her six-nurse team was doubled to 12. Half of their 24 beds were designated for COVID patients. Doors were installed to contain the area. Now when she arrives at the hospital before 7 a.m., she gets a temperature check and fields questions about her own health before changing into new scrubs, shoe protectors, a hair net, and a full-face respirator mask.

“That’s our new normal,” says Marshall, who’s in her 36th year at the downtown hospital. “There has been a continuum of emotions. We’re learning as we’re going. It’s the unknown. It can be frightening. A lot of nurses are scared, afraid they’ll get their kids sick. Others are like, ‘Okay, let’s go . . .’”

The 60-year-old mother-of-three counts herself among the latter, which you can hear in her take-charge voice. At home, she’s resolved to social distancing from her firstborn grandchild, who arrived, like the pandemic, in early March. At work, she understands the leadership role her seniority requires for younger colleagues.

“We work together and help one another,” says Marshall. “ICU nurses are ready for the sickest patients. We’re problem solvers, we have the grit to handle difficult situations, and this has forced us to up our game.”

She spends her shifts moving swiftly between patients’ rooms to avoid potential exposure, but never wanders far. “You stay close, because you need to be able to hear the monitors, the IVs,” she says. “Things can change quickly.”

Marshall remembers the exchange with her fellow nurses when that first patient took a turn for the worse. “There was a lot of unspoken conversation,” she says. “All we see is each other’s eyes, but you could feel the energy. We were all thinking, ‘We have to make this happen, he has to get better.’”

And he has, now in rehabilitation and recovery. But they’ve had losses, too. “Death, always, whatever the reason. . . you just have to take a moment,” she says.

When she gets home in the evenings, Marshall leaves her shoes in the garage, throws her clothes in the laundry, and heads straight to the shower. She unwinds by watching CNN with her husband, Bob. By the time her next shift rolls around, she’ll be ready again.

“A lot has changed, but a lot has stayed the same, in that the care is still there,” says Marshall. “People say we’re heroes. We’re not heroes. This is what we do. We go to work. We care for the sick. And people get sick from the coronavirus, so we’re there to take care of them, too.”—LW

An illustration of a couple visiting their elderly family member with a clear wall separating them.

Illustration By Deanna Staffo.

Helping the Most Vulnerable

Eldercare Facilities Have Been Hit Hard During The Pandemic.

The first positive COVID-19 tests from a rehabilitation and nursing care center in the U.S. came back after the deaths of two residents at the Life Care Center of Kirkland outside of Seattle in late February. Exactly one month later, on March 28, Maryland officials announced an outbreak of the deadly coronavirus at a nursing home in Carroll County where 66 residents had tested positive, including 11 who had already been hospitalized. “It spread viciously where older people were exposed,” says Joseph DeMattos Jr., president of Health Facilities Association of Maryland, which represents skilled nursing and rehabilitation centers in the state. “We knew by March 11 the people most likely to contract the virus were 60 and over, and the people most likely to die were in their early 80s. We learned later that pre-existing conditions were a bigger factor than age, but of course most people in skilled nursing care fall into both groups.”

By mid-May, Maryland reported infections in 212 elder care facilities and nearly 1,000 confirmed resident deaths— plus an additional 18 staff fatalities. “The people working in skilled nursing homes in Maryland— the nurses, nursing assistants, support staff— have been heroes in the fight against this virus,” DeMattos says. “Sadly, they’ve also seen a lot of people die with COVID-19.”

In additon to the illness, there’s heartbreaking isolation. The staffs at nursing care centers in the state have gotten creative in keeping residents connected to family members in lieu of actual contact— facilitating window visits from patient rooms, as well as setting up iPad video connections and the placement of Alexa voice assistants on bedside tables. Stocking PPE for staff remains a challenge as does working day-in and day-out under such traumatic circumstances.

DeMattos says they're sending support teams and mental healthcare counselors to meet with staffs as needed. “We’re aware of the toll from the things they are witnessing and dealing with on a daily basis,” he says. “Many need, and will need, help processing everything.”—RC

Still Lives

Images of our city during Quarantine
A picture of the Hilton Hotel Tribute to Healthcare workers in Downtown Baltimore.

May 4 | Hilton Hotel Tribute To Healthcare Workers, Downtown. Photography By Josh Sinn.

A picture of the empty school grounds at City Springs Elementary/ Middle School in East Baltimore.

March 24 | Empty School Grounds, City Springs Elementary/ Middle , East Baltimore. Photography By Isaiah Winters.

A picture of Graffiti Alley with a Martin Luther King Jr. quote painted on the wall.

April 4 | Graffiti Alley, Station North. Photography By Christopher Myers.

A picture a handwritten note on the Baltimore free farm door in Hampden about wearing masks while inside.

May 5 | Handwritten Note On The Baltimore Free Farm Door, Hampden. Photography by M. Holden Warren.

A picture of two people socially distancing on a park bench in Federal Hill by sitting far apart from eachother.

April 11 | Social Distancing On A Park Bench, Federal Hill. Photography by Justin Tsucalas.

A picture Bawlmerese at Wyman Park in Hampden.

April 22 | Bawlmerese, Wyman Park, Hampden. Photography by Josh Sinn.

A picture Food Drive Preparation at the Stillmeadow Community Fellowship in Southwest Baltimore.

April 22 | Food Drive Preparation, Stillmeadow Community Fellowship, Southwest Baltimore. Photography by Christopher Myers.

A picture of the National Guard as they Set Up a Field Hospital in the Baltimore Convention Center.

March 28 | National Guard Sets Up Field Hospital, Baltimore Convention Center. Photography by Gabriella Demczuk.

A picture of a Masked Monument at Johns Hopkins University.

March 28 | Masked Monument, Johns Hopkins University. Photography by Christopher Myers.

A picture of an An Empty Thames Street in Fells Point.

March 20 | An Empty Thames Street, Fells Point. Photography by Erin Douglas.

 Food 

A picture of Local publicist Dave Seel.

Photography by Justin Tsucalas.

For Those who fed us

A Local Publicist Leads The Way In Restaurant Relief.

On March 16, when Governor Larry Hogan closed area restaurants and bars— with the exception of carryout and delivery— longtime local publicist Dave Seel immediately sprang into action, founding The Baltimore Restaurant Relief Group and setting up a Facebook page that offered up-to-theminute news and unemployment resources for folks in the industry. By March 17, the group had 600 members, from servers to kitchen staff to restaurant owners. “I knew that the only way to deal with this was to maintain a sense of community, so that no one felt alone,” says Seel.

Clearly, Seel has filled a void and become an ad-hoc social worker/cheerleader for restaurants, which have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic for many reasons, including workers who live paycheck to paycheck and restaurant owners who operate on razorthin profit margins. Within weeks of its founding, the Facebook group had ballooned to more than 3,500 members (and continues to grow by the day).

Recognizing more need, as the epidemic has dragged on and restaurants—and their employees— fight to stay afloat, Seel formed the Baltimore Restaurant Relief Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides micro-grant assistance to out-of-work hospitality folks and struggling restaurant owners, as well as food and supply giveaways and other services to the local dining industry. To help with his work, Seel has formed a board that includes Old Goucher community association president Kelly Cross and Jason Bass, cofounder of The Night Brunch. To date, the Relief Fund has overseen everything from weekly food drop-offs to collaborations with Natty Boh, which is donating all proceeds from the sales of its “Baltimore Strong” Tshirts to the fund.

Along the way, Seel, the son of a life coach, has tried to bolster the spirits of the people he calls “my family.” “I ask myself why I’m doing this,” he says. “It comes down to the people here. My heart breaks for them. I have worked with many chefs and restaurateurs over the last nine years—they are creative, passionate, and essential—not only providing food but to the cultural landscape of our community.”— JM

Farming

Living Off the Land

Maryland’s Small Farms Embrace Change To Feed Their Communities.

Working at the whims of Mother Nature, Maryland farmers are no stranger to the many curveballs that can come with a given growing season. Each spring, they plan, as best they can, for weather, weeds, pests, and the busy months ahead, but this year, even the most seasoned growers could not be prepared for what would come next: empty grocery stores, shuttered restaurants, and, one of the rare silver linings of coronavirus: customers flocking to farms for locally grown food.

“This is an opportunity for us to share the points we’ve been making for a long time,” says Emma Jagoz of Moon Valley Farm in Woodsboro. “That local and seasonal food is best for our bodies and our environment, and when both of those things are stronger, our communities are stronger, too.”

Across Baltimore City and County, small farms swiftly pivoted their businesses to feed the region— increasing access to local food, implementing no-touch delivery systems, donning PPE in the field and at the farmers’ markets, and finding discounted ways to help families in need. Two Boots Farm in Hampstead created pay-itforward CSAs and Kitchen Girl Farm near Cockeysville offered sliding-scale egg prices, while Whitelock Community Farm in Reservoir Hill donated produce to group homes and senior centers. While disrupted supply chains incited fears of food shortages across the country throughout the pandemic, nearby fields have continued to flourish, offering room for hope.

Across Baltimore City and County, small farms swiftly pivoted their businesses to feed the region— increasing access to local food, implementing no-touch delivery systems, donning PPE in the field and at the farmers’ markets, and finding discounted ways to help families in need. Two Boots Farm in Hampstead created pay-itforward CSAs and Kitchen Girl Farm near Cockeysville offered sliding-scale egg prices, while Whitelock Community Farm in Reservoir Hill donated produce to group homes and senior centers. While disrupted supply chains incited fears of food shortages across the country throughout the pandemic, nearby fields have continued to flourish, offering room for hope.

But the question remains: Will people continue to eat local after the crisis has passed? “Local food is more important now than ever, and for so many reasons,” says Jagoz. The greater nutrition of freshly picked, seasonal produce, for one. Plus the lessened environmental impact of delivering goods across shorter distances. Not to mention the contribution to local economies, with small farms employing local workers, purchasing supplies from local stores, and feeding their local communities. “People are searching for the new normal,” she says, “and in terms of food, it’s local.”— LW

A picture Elizabeth Marchetta preparing meals for children after the schools shut down.

Photography by Frank Hamilton.

Cafeterias Leave No Child Behind

Local Students Stay Fed Thanks To The Food And Nutrition Staffs Of Baltimore City Public Schools.

On Thursday, March 12, Elizabeth Marchetta was sitting in her boss’s office when news first broke about the closure of Maryland schools. As a measure to slow the spread of coronavirus across the state, it would go into effect the following Monday and reportedly last for just two weeks.

“We had been planning for this possibility, but I don’t think anyone was really prepared,” says Marchetta, director of food and nutrition services for Baltimore City Public Schools, whose team provides more than 90,000 free meals to city students on a normal school day. “We’ve never experienced anything like this.”

Eighteen school cafeterias across Baltimore City, from Franklin Square Elementary-Middle to Dunbar High, quickly transformed into de facto emergency soup kitchens, distributing grab-and-go food for both students and their families– despite lack of federal reimbursement for adults– for weeks, then months, and now into summer.

“We are in a community crisis right now, and we have to respond to community needs,” says Marchetta, who has a background in public health and helped lead the charge to serve school breakfast and lunch meals at no charge back in 2015. “There is no other option in my opinion. We’re not going to wait for the federal government to tell us to do what we know is right. The question is how do we sustain this long term?”

As of late May, BCPS served nearly 426,000 meals at school sites across Baltimore, and Marchetta projects the demand will only increase as COVID’s economic fallout continues to take hold. In the meantime, for as long is necessary, her cafeteria staff will be out there five days a week, offering milk, fruit, and sandwiches to those in need.

“Until schools reopen, people can count on the fact that there will always be a place for them to get a meal,” she says. “Much of our staff was born in Baltimore, graduated from our public schools, has children or grandchildren in our system. They are beacons of hope. They are the folks who were going to be out there anyway, making sure our communities get fed. They are what keeps me going.”—LW

 Service 

A picture of Department of Public Works division chief for marine operations Muriel Rich
A picture of Baltimore City Fire Chief Niles Ford
A picture of Postal worker Jay Wick
A picture of Amazon worker Shae McCoy

Photography by J.M. Giordano

The Fearless Four

Essential Service Workers Answer Call Of Duty.

There are a few new wrinkles to Jay Wick’s job. Aside from donning the required mask and gloves, the 52-year-old postal carrier also wipes down his truck every day, and crosses the street when someone approaches him while he's walking his route. “I’m very concerned about bringing the virus home,” he says. Of course, USPS workers are just one of the many so-called “essential” employees adjusting to their new reality.

Like postal carriers, firefighters were among the first to take the pandemic seriously. “I realized the pandemic was a serious threat in late January when we received information from the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services System that outlined an outbreak of pneumonia associated with a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China,” says Baltimore City fire chief Niles Ford. “So early on, we implemented systems and prioritized PPE for all members in the department,” which includes paramedics, dispatchers, and 911 operators.

Workers at the city’s Department of Public Works have also been particularly careful, says Muriel Rich, division chief for marine operations at DPW. “The managers meet via webcam three times a week to discuss safety strategies.” They include placing tape on the floors to mark where employees should stand when waiting in line to clock in, preparing PPE packets and hand sanitizer the night before every work day, and wearing puncture-resistant gloves over their surgical gloves.

If you got deliveries during quarantine, they may have been handled by Amazon worker Shae McCoy. “There’s hundreds of us working here,” she says. “So many people touch the machinery that we have to use.”

Like many other essential workers, Wick senses a new appreciation from the public. “The North Baltimore area I serve always greets me with a thank-you for all I do— I think we give them hope for a normal world again.”—GH

An illustration of volunteers covering the homeless with a tent to provide shelter.

Illustration By Laurent Hrybyk.

Give Them Shelter

Caring for the homeless in baltimore is more challenging than ever.

Long before COVID-19, Kevin Lindamood had his hands full. The president and CEO of the nonprofit Health Care for the Homeless was already trying to cope with more than 3,000 homeless men, women, and children in the city and Baltimore County. But now the job that he and his staff are doing has become significantly more difficult.

“It’s really a triple whammy,” explains Lindamood.

“People without homes are already facing three to four times the risk of contracting the virus; more families and individuals will experience homelessness following job loss and eviction; and public and private agencies will have reduced capacity to meet the growing need.”

Headquartered on the Fallsway, HCH is funded by a mix of public-sector grants, Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements, and by foundations, corporations, and individuals. Its staff of 200 provides medical, dental, and psychiatric care, as well as addiction services.

“It’s striking that the burden of a virus first carried by the relatively affluent—people who could travel and take cruises—will now be borne disproportionately by the sickest and most vulnerable who cannot isolate at home,” he says.

And, yes, the risk the homeless face means increased risk for his staff. “We’ve long been accustomed to taking universal precautions, including hand sanitation and personal protective equipment, to prevent the spread of communicable disease, but COVID-19 is unlike anything we’ve previously experienced,” he says. “Staff and clients wear masks or cloth face coverings and are screened for symptoms upon entry to the building. And we’ve reduced the number of people in the building by increasing telehealth visits and having most staff work remotely.”

Like other health care providers, HCH is short on equipment such as face masks and gowns. (You can support them via their website.

But Lindamood wants more help from the state, too.

“It’s very important that we slow the spread in shelters,” he says. “We call on Governor Hogan to require universal testing in all congregate facilities—not just nursing homes.”—KI

A picture of Pastor Michael Martin delivering groceries.

Photography By Christopher Myers.

Without services, a new mission

A Baltimore pastor is still finding ways to help his congregation.

Pastor Michael Martin is no stranger to disaster. When the historic floods deluged Ellicott City two years ago, the water didn’t stop at the county line, instead pouring down the Frederick Road corridor into the Southwest Baltimore neighborhoods served by his small church, Stillmeadow Community Fellowship.

“We had eight feet of water in some places, and a lot of people were affected,” says Martin. “We found ourselves at the center of the response for quite a while, cleaning up homes andremoving debris. And here we are, two years later, back to that kind of crisis management.”

As the pandemic unfolded over the past few months, Stillmeadow has organized food distribution to residents of the Beechfield, Irvington, and Tremont neighborhoods in an effort to respond to the basic needs of an already disadvantaged population now suffering from layoffs.

“This has always been a food desert, with a lot of older people and vulnerability,” he says. But now, as Stillmeadow has partnered with the nearby Broken Wall Community Church, the numbers of those in need have swelled from 30 to 40 “regulars” to some 300 people lining up in their cars in the church parking lot. That’s 6,000 meals a month.

“Though we can’t hold services, we can do this,” he says. The church has gotten help from the Maryland Food Bank and the nonprofit BUILD. “But their supplies are getting stressed, so we’re learning to scrounge around for food, as well as teaching people about recipes that will help stretch the food,” Martin says. “We [also] couldn’t do this without the local volunteers who help package the food, oversee the distribution, as well as delivering to seniors who can’t get out.”

Of course, he can’t do funerals anymore, either. “We’re doing Zoom-type things, but it’s not the same. The lack of funerals really interrupts the grieving process. And you can see the wear and tear on those who are losing loved ones, not being able to sit with them in their last moments. There’s a lot of deep-seated stress.”

Another concern: getting enough support for his cause. “We worry. The giving falls off in these times.”—KI

 Makers 

A picture volunteers working.
A picture volunteers working.
A picture volunteers working.
A picture volunteers working.

Photography By Devon Rowland.

A New Factory Is Born In Baltimore

In Greenmount West, Maryland Makers Unite To Manufacture PPE.

In many ways, Open Works was made for this moment. When the Greenmount West makerspace opened in 2016, it aimed to revive Baltimore’s former manufacturing glory, albeit with some modern technology. After all, this was the town that built America’s first railroad and once housed the world’s largest steel mill, a city that brought the world cars and planes and liberty ships throughout its industrial heyday in the 20th century. “Local manufacturing was a good thing for our economy, for our education system, for local jobs and innovation,” says founder Will Holman. “Now we’ve added a new piece to the conversation.”

In mid-March, Holman put out an open call on social media for local makers to help meet the surging demand for PPE. The post went viral, receiving some 350 responses, and overnight, Open Works’ classrooms and workshops were transformed into a crowdsourced factory. Using a network of 3-D printers and laser cutters across the state, parts were soon fabricated and assembled into face shields for healthcare workers.

“At first, we couldn’t keep up,” says Holman, as orders were quickly distributed to area hospitals, eldercare facilities, and charitable organizations with the help of local entrepreneur collective Innovation Works. “With practice, we can now assemble, clean, and package a finished shield in just about one minute.” By mid-May, they had built more than 19,900 face shields, averaging 500 a day, on track for their current goal of making 25,000. But while Holman has noticed a plateau in requests from the healthcare sector, new needs are coming into focus for other essential workers, in fields such as transportation and food safety.

In the meantime, he’s thinking about how Open Works might slowly reopen, and the importance of continuing to encourage the expansion of makerspaces across the state. “There was already a very precise argument for why every county should have a makerspace, for educational and economic development purposes, and now add to that community resilience and disaster response,” says Holman, who notes that digital tools have a unique ability to create new products quickly and increase human production capacity. “We can be this reserve manufacturing force. Now that we have the infrastructure and network, I imagine we could be making face shields within 24 or 48 hours if the pandemic flares up again.”—LW

A picture volunteers making and packaging cleaning solutions like hand sanitizer.

Photography by Christopher Myers.

Lending A Helping Hand

Three local businesses shift to crafting hand sanitizer.

It’s not every day that a soap maker, a meadery, and a tattoo artist go into business together. But in the unprecedented times, these unlikely Baltimore craftsmen have become an essential trio to help protect the local community.

In early March, Remington’s Mount Royal Soap Company started using a stockpot typically reserved for making artisanal suds to test recipes for a newly scarce resource—hand sanitizer—infusing the finished product with an age-old blend of essential oils, once said to ward off the plague in the Middle Ages. Making batch after batch, says co-founder Sam Kiffer, “It [soon became] apparent we needed a larger capacity.”

Enter Charm City Meadworks on Biddle Street, whose 7,500-square-foot warehouse offered ample room for production, and a means to keep their staffs employed. With a large order from the mayor’s office, they were off and running, quickly becoming a full-time operation to meet the demand, eventually making some 50,000 bottles each day for the likes of hospital staffs, police officers, mail carriers, and sanitation workers.

“Keeping up has meant long hours, a lot of stress, and a lot of patience from everyone involved,” says Meadworks founder James Boicourt. “It feels great to be providing something the community needs while working in an environment of such collaboration.”

But with disrupted worldwide supply chains, manufacturers, big and small, have struggled to source key ingredients and for that, Remington’s Waverly Color Company, a tattoo ink producer, has been the last piece of the puzzle with their stockpile of plastic bottles. “The nature of community is to immediately figure out what you can do for your people, and that’s what we’re doing,” says owner Bill Stevenson.

For Mount Royal, the mission now surpasses the pandemic, with a goal of using the company’s ethical, environmental ethos to provide jobs and essential products to the region for the long-run, while also carrying the torch.

“When the next crisis happens, maybe we’ll be a little better prepared here in Baltimore,” says co-founder Matt Williams. “This is an ode to the city’s manufacturing history. We’re humbled to be a part of it in some small way.”—LW

A picture Larry Hogan descending the staircase at the the state house.

Larry Hogan Descending The Staircase At The State House. Photography By Shawn Hubbard.

Crisis Manager

In His Second Term, Governor Larry Hogan Faces A Catastrophe Like No Other.
By Ron Cassie

Three months after his inauguration, Governor Larry Hogan sent Maryland National Guard troops to Baltimore to stem the tide of violence and property damage resulting from protests of Freddie Gray’s death due to injuries he suffered while in city police custody. Two months later, he was diagnosed with stage three non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Neither of those two crises, the first public, the second personal, prepared him for the COVID-19 pandemic. Of his private ordeal, he said: “I got life-threatening cancer and I was worried about my own life and worried about my own family. This one [COVID-19], I’m worried about everyone’s life in the whole state. Six million people.”

First briefed about the novel virus by the nation’s Coronavirus Task Force in early February at the National Governors Association’s winter meeting, it wasn’t until 66 infectious cases at a Washington state nursing home and three cases in Maryland were reported on February 29 that the contagious nature of the deadly virus became clear. Within a week, Hogan had issued a state of emergency. On March 16—following a similar timeline as other early wave states—Hogan closed schools, restricted the size of gatherings, and limited bars and restaurants to carry-out service. On March 19, California became the first state to issue a full stay-at-home order. Hogan followed suit 11 days later.

Partly because of his role as chairman of the governors association, and partly because of his hands-on response to the pandemic—in sharp contrast to fellow Republican, President Donald Trump—Hogan’s approval rating in handling the crisis has been among the highest of any governor in the country. That said, with the death toll in the state surpassing 2,200 by Memorial Day weekend—and the end not yet in sight—declaring Maryland’s response as a “success” doesn’t feel fitting. We sat down with Hogan at the Governor’s House after the first weekend of the state’s partial reopening.

First, has your family and staff been okay?

Knock on wood—we’ve been very lucky.

Like everyone, we imagine you’ve been a little anxious and stir crazy during the stay-at-home order.

Like any father and grandfather, I’m worried about my kids and my family. I miss them. I’m doing Zoom with the grandkids. Talking more on the phone. I’m watching 10-year-old sports games. I was watching the Michael Jordan thing—The Last Dance. I’ve watched a little Korean baseball. Playing in front of an empty stadium, it’s not that exciting.

Regarding reopening: Are you concerned about the crowds in Ocean City, or in Baltimore, where there were more than 100 calls to police to report large gatherings and other incidents the first weekend?

Baltimore City is its own situation. The city is having some issues they are trying to deal with. Ocean City, I was a little concerned, with so many people being there, but I think the Mayor of Ocean City is trying hard to at least [stay on] message on social distancing and making sure everyone is paying attention. Ultimately, it really comes down to some personal responsibility. People have to be concerned about themselves and their neighbors.

Did the Trump Administration abdicate responsibility in failing to help deliver PPE and COVID-19 tests?

There is no question. Each governor, we had to build a procurement process from scratch, to find these things that were in short supply around the world. I remember calling the FEMA administrator back in March, telling him we are going to need more swabs. He said to me, “Governor, can I be honest with you? We don’t have a single swab in the entire federal stockpile. And the only place they have them is in Italy.” I mean, this is something that can’t happen again.

The nursing home situation has been tragic.

One of the first things I did was shut down access to nursing homes. You can’t visit grandma and grandpa. People didn’t like it. We said staff at nursing homes can’t travel. We didn’t have testing at that point. We were trying to make sure sick people weren’t coming. [Today], the staff has to have their temperature checked, coming and going. It’s been every governor’s biggest nightmare.

What is the status of the test kits from South Korea. None have been deployed yet, correct?

When we announced that, I said this is only part of our long-term testing strategy, and you need each step of process, and we don’t have the swabs, the transport medium, the tubes, the reagents or the lab capacity. So we had the middle part, but not all the other parts. So we are building a lab, at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, that’s weeks away from opening that build up our capacity to test 20,000 people a day. We just yesterday [May 18] received from FEMA, our first decent sized shipment of swabs and reagents. All of it has to be pieced together and be the right kind . . . But there are new developments in testing on almost a weekly basis. We don’t have all eggs in one basket. Some tests are for different purposes. Some are more rapid. Some take longer, but are more accurate—in some cases much more accurate. The federal government came up with these Abbott tests, the president was in front of the cameras with his little box—well, they don’t work. Different companies are trying to create things as they go, but for us to really open our economy and get people safe, until we find a vaccine, we are going to have to continue to find new innovations on testing.

With the disproportionate suffering in African-American and Hispanic communities, what are the lessons in terms of public outreach?

We’re doing more testing. Our very first testing site was set up at Fed-Ex Field. One was at Pimlico. The highest percentage of our testing was in Prince George’s County. Then Montgomery County, Baltimore City, and Baltimore County. More attention, more dollars. Those are kind of the hotspots, which is the Baltimore-Washington corridor. Then, we look at the outbreaks in the nursing homes, our correctional facilities . . . in the poultry industry out on the Eastern Shore in Salisbury. We try to go attack those clusters.

 A picture of Larry Hogan working at his desk.
Right, Sitting Behind His Office Desk. Photography By Shawn Hubbard.

How do you deal with the massive budget shortfall—and what are economists telling you?

I was on a phone call with all the nation’s governors last week where the head of Moody’s Analytics state government division was giving advice and there was stunned silence on the phone when he said that we should expect a 30 percent drop in revenue for next year. Next [fiscal] year, meaning this July 1. This is going to be a serious issue.

There’s a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, but what happens when that ends, and suddenly someone owes six months’ rent or mortgage?

Eventually, people are still going to have issues paying for all those things [as well as utilities]. And those companies and those banks are going to say, “Hey, we have these mortgages.” So, we have to figure out a way [to help]. If people can’t pay their rent, and then that landlord can’t pay his mortgage to the bank, and then the bank can’t, you know, it’s multiple collapses in the economy. The state can help temporarily, say, “Let’s help these people survive,” but only the federal government can save the economy from that rolling collapse all the way down the chain.

Ultimately, will it take a vaccine to fully return to workplaces, ballparks, movie theaters, and restaurants?

We could say, “Everybody can open everything.” [But] I don’t think people are going to fill up a ballpark or a movie theater or a lot of bars and restaurants—some will as long as it’s done safely and it’s spread out. You are not going to have big conventions. You know, 4,000-person events. Or, a stadium with 60,000 people until you feel safe.

This interview, conducted May 19 in Annapolis, was edited for length and clarity.

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