The News: Masking Encouraged Indoors, Vaccine May Be Required for City Workers, Violence Prevention Plan

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This week’s Baltimore news includes: Return of the mask, fighting violence “holistically,”  Maryland Democratic party under the microscope, and more reporting from Baltimore Magazine, The Real News Network, Greater Greater Washington, Baltimore Fishbowl, and other local and independent news sources.



A COVID-19 vaccination at the M&T Bank Stadium. Both Gahunia and Ernst say new breakthrough COVID-19 cases among vaccinated people should not discourage people from getting the vaccinated. Credit: Sarah Y. Kim/WYPR

Local Health Experts Encourage Masking Indoors
by Sarah Y. Kim
Published July 28 in WYPR

Excerpt: While state officials have not implemented any new masking mandates in response to changing CDC guidelines, local health experts say Marylanders should err on the side of caution.

The CDC is recommending that people vaccinated for COVID-19 resume wearing masks in high-transmission areas, revising guidance issued in May that said fully vaccinated people can go unmasked in indoor and outdoor settings.

Dr. Mona Gahunia, an infectious disease physician at Kaiser Permanente, said when the CDC issued that guidance, there was a lot more to be optimistic about. More people were getting vaccinated, positivity rates were down and the Delta variant didn’t seem as big a threat.

Gahunia said the CDC is going in the right direction. She understands why some may think it’s flip-flopping, but that ultimately they’re doing their best.

“Public health professionals in this space, we’ve all been learning on the go,” she said. “And because new information and data is released every day, we’re trying to do our best to keep up.”



On CNN, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott discusses the spike in new Covid cases.

Scott “evaluating the issues” around a Covid vaccination mandate for city workers
by Fern Shen
Published July 28 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: After Comptroller Bill Henry called on him to require Baltimore City employees to get vaccinated (or provide weekly proof of a negative Covid-19 test), Mayor Brandon Scott has responded, saying he is looking into the issue.

“Mayor Scott is currently evaluating the various legal and operational issues around employee vaccination mandates,” Scott’s communications director Cal Harris told The Brew today in an email.

“Though more jurisdictions are moving in this direction, the mayor will continue to follow the sound guidance of health experts before rushing into a decision,” Harris said.

Henry’s call comes as mayors of cities across the country (including Los Angeles and New York) are rolling out new requirements for mandatory vaccines for public employees, as cases of the Delta variant drive Covid-19 infection rates up sharply.

See also:

Henry calls for vaccinations or weekly Covid tests for city workers
by Brew Editors
Published July 27 in Baltimore Brew



Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott. Schaun Champion / Baltimore magazine

How a Violent Summer Is Testing Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott
by J. Brian Charles
Published July 28 in The Trace and Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: Baltimore’s 190th homicide victim this year was a 64-year-old man named Vaseles Nettles. He was shot on July 19 in Forest Park, a Northwest neighborhood lined with single-family homes, blocks away from where many wealthier Black professionals call home. Like so many killings in a city where violence spiked in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray and has remained high, Nettles’ death attracted brief media attention before quickly fading from the news.

Just as police found the man’s body in Northwest Baltimore, the City Council considered its latest potential strategy in beating back the steady pace of shootings: cash rewards for any information that could lead to an arrest, through a bill introduced by Councilperson Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer. “Right now the clearance rate is under 50 percent,” Schleifer said, “so you have over a 50 percent chance in Baltimore of getting away with murder.”

That Schleifer would propose cash rewards, a strategy that has limited evidence of success behind it, speaks to Baltimore’s desperation to tamp down violence: People are willing to try something, anything, to stop the city’s record-setting pace of homicides — 194, as of July 26.

Caught in the middle of the fight is 37-year-old Brandon Scott, a former councilperson and longtime supporter of violence interruption programs who successfully campaigned to become mayor on a platform that emphasized “reimagining” public safety to rely less on police.



Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, joined by city, state and federal officials, on Friday unveiled a five-year plan to address violence in Baltimore City. Image via Facebook Live.

Baltimore unveils ‘holistic’ five-year plan to reduce and prevent violence
by Marcus Dieterle
Published July 23 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott on Friday unveiled a five-year plan to address causes of violence in the city, emphasizing that community voices helped build the plan and that its success will depend on support from all of Baltimore and its partners.

“This plan is not just my plan; it’s Baltimore’s plan,” Scott said. “It’s our plan to deal with the disease of gun violence.”

Scott said the city will strive to reduce violent crime by 15% each year over the plan’s five years, though he acknowledged the goal will be difficult to reach.

“We understand that no single policy or initiative serves as a cure-all for the long legacy of violence that Baltimore has endured,” he said. “However, I believe wholeheartedly that this transformative approach can move the needle and make every neighborhood in Baltimore a safer place to live.”



Terra Cafe owner Terence Dickson. Photo credit: Jaisal Noor.

Battleground Baltimore: Pushing Back
by Jaisal Noor and Lisa Snowden-McCray
Published July 23 in The Real News Network

Excerpt: For a majority-Black city, Baltimore sure has a way of making Black people who are fighting to uplift their community feel unwelcome. Over the past few weeks, Battleground Baltimore has covered the fight to save the Cherry Hill Urban Community Garden—the only source of fresh food in a neighborhood experiencing food apartheid and historic disinvestment—from eviction by the City Housing Authority. We’ve spoken to the last residents of the West Baltimore Poppleton neighborhood who want to save their historic homes from demolition by an out-of-town developer—who has now threatened residents with a lawsuit if they continue to publicly oppose the project (we’ll have an update from Poppleton later in the newsletter). And we’ve covered the Westport community’s fight to keep the “bougie” Maglev out of their neighborhood.

For this week’s Battleground Baltimore, Jaisal Noor talked to Terence J. Dickson, founder of Terra Cafe, a restaurant and Black cultural hub in Charles Village, which opened an outdoor space called “Jerk Garden” during the pandemic. Now, Dickson is fighting to keep the outdoor space open for live music. That’s because they’ve been served notice for excessive noise coming from Jerk Garden.

Over 1,400 people have signed a petition after Terra Cafe was served notice for noise: “Recently, live jazz at Terra Cafe has been threatened with a noise ordinance. This jeopardizes our voice in the community, threatens the support of the arts and music students involved, and, more importantly, puts at stake the opportunity to provide a safe venue in Baltimore’s rich community to continue to showcase Baltimore’s talent.”

Seated at Jerk Garden, Dickson insists he will not stand down.



Charm City Circulator by BeyondDC licensed under Creative Commons.

A tale of two circulators: The lessons Baltimore’s Charm City Circulator can teach the Towson Loop
by Alex Holt
Published July 27 in Greater Greater Washington

Excerpt: As Central Maryland moves towards a more closely integrated regional transit system, one of its greatest sets of challenges has become not just how to move people from one part of the region to another but how best to move people within those parts. For both Baltimore City and Baltimore County, one answer appears to be “circulators,” buses focused on moving people around within very specific areas.

Circulators in both jurisdictions are in the process of change. Baltimore City is beginning the process of reimagining its 11-year old system, the Downtown-centric Charm City Circulator, around a more racial equity-focused lens. Meanwhile, Baltimore County is set to launch its own fixed-route bus service, the Towson Loop, this fall. While the systems are very different, each circulator contains plenty of lessons for the other.



The Maryland flag flies outside the State House. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Maryland a Microcosm of the Trends Shaping Today’s Democratic Party
by The Almanac of American Politics
Published July 26 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Maryland, one of the nation’s most Democratic states, serves as a microcosm of the trends shaping today’s Democratic Party: continuing lopsided support in ethnically and racially diverse urban areas, growing Democratic success with affluent, suburban voters and government employees, and a waning of the party’s influence in rural areas.

Just south of the Mason-Dixon line and north of the Union-Confederate lines during most of the Civil War (and the scene of its bloodiest one-day battle, Antietam), Maryland is a crossroads state, with both Northern and Southern influences and with both industrial and rural economies. This was the only one of the 13 colonies founded by Roman Catholics— the Calvert family— and its embrace of religious tolerance came less from high-minded ideals than from the Calverts’ desire to protect their property from religious attacks. Similarly, although hot-blooded Baltimoreans wanted to secede from the Union in 1861, cooler heads prevailed. (The state song, until its elimination in 2021, was “Maryland, My Maryland,” is based on a poem condemning Abraham Lincoln’s suppression of pro-Confederate rioters.)

The Puritan impulse was never lively in Maryland. Prohibition was enforced only laxly in Baltimore, to the delight of its great journalist-cum-lexicographer H.L. Mencken. Slot machines were legal for years in the rural counties of the Eastern Shore and, after years of controversy and over the pleas of racetrack owners, were legalized statewide in 2008; voters approved table games in 2012. In some corners of the state, segregation was evident well into the 1960s, and longstanding efforts to remedy segregation within the state’s university system recently reached a legal settlement in 2021, totaling $577 million over 10 years. Much of Maryland’s political history reads like a chronicle of rogues, notably Spiro Agnew, who was Maryland’s governor when Richard Nixon tapped him for his 1968 ticket and then resigned as vice president in October 1973 when he was charged with income tax evasion. Maryland’s genial tolerance may have given it a little too savory a history, but this state cherishes its uniqueness.



Ambassadors hired by the city to aid in increasing vaccination rates. —Courtesy of MICA

How Baltimore City is Using Human-Centered Design to Get Shots in Arms
by Cody Boteler
Published July 26 in Baltimore Magainze

Excerpt: Cathy Costa, who works in the Baltimore City Health Department as a director of strategic initiatives for maternal and child health, knows that one-on-one conversations about the COVID-19 vaccines can lead people to decide getting the shot is right for them.

She knows because she’s seen it happen multiple times as part of the city’s work with institutions of higher learning. The program—which was established in February and partners with schools including MICA, Johns Hopkins University, and Morgan State University—was designed to target populations with limited access to the shot and those with hesitancy about getting the vaccine.

Costa recalls, for example, recently working a clinic targeting pregnant and lactating women. Part of the strategy to attract women to the clinic was to combine vaccines with a free diaper drive. Costa says she saw a woman with a young baby speak with one of the vaccination “ambassadors” hired by the city. After only a few minutes, she got over her hesitation and signed up for the vaccine.

Costa also saw an older woman with her son—who was maybe in his twenties, she says—stop by. “The woman said something like, ‘Well, I’ve been thinking about it, I’m going to get it,’” Costa says. “And he decided to follow his mother in.”



Kisha A. Brown is founder and CEO of Justis Connection, a legal referral service for Black lawyers. Courtesy photo.

Md. Attorney Sets Up Referral Service Linking Black Lawyers With Black Clients
by Josh Kurtz
Published July 25 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: From the moment she entered law school, Kisha A. Brown was asked by family and friends to make legal referrals. The requests persisted through her 15-year career as a civil rights attorney.

“Most people don’t really know lawyers or have them in their network — especially for Black people,” Brown said in an interview.

As she moved from job to job — with stops that included working for top Maryland political officials, like former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) and former state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D), along with advocacy and lobbying work in Annapolis — Brown began to think more about how Black people could connect with Black lawyers, and vice-versa.

It has become a full-time pursuit.

The result is a new organization she’s calling Justis Connection. After three years of laying the groundwork while working other jobs and “bootstrapping,” in Brown’s words, she launched Justis Connection earlier this year. Already, she has built a database of about 950 Black lawyers across multiple disciplines in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. — and she hopes to have national listings well under way by the end of the year.

“I’m really hoping this shifts how people get access to justice,” Brown said.



Dina Tillman, owner of Hello Bonita Hair Salon in Pigtown. Credit: Kaiser Permanente

Local Barbershops And Salons Step Up To Cut COVID Short
by Sarah Y. Kim
Published July 23 in WYPR

Excerpt: The Maryland Department of Health is tapping into a new resource to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates: hair salons and barber shops.

Kaiser Permanente’s “Good Health & Great Hair” program launched in 2016 to reduce health disparities in West Baltimore by bringing clinical and social services to local hair salons and barber shops.

Now, these businesses are offering COVID vaccine education in Baltimore City, as well as in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. In some cases, they’ll also be hosting vaccine clinics.

The hope is that people will develop vaccine confidence through conversations with a hairdresser or barber they trust.

Dina Rodriguez Tillman is the owner of Hello Bonita, a hair salon located in Baltimore’s Pigtown neighborhood. Tillman was introduced to Good Health & Great Hair before the pandemic.

“A lot of people in my community, the Latino community, they’re undocumented, and they don’t come out and they’re afraid to go to their doctors,” Tillman said. “But we’ve been so greatly impacted by this pandemic.”

To become vaccine educators, hair salon and barber shop owners like Tillman undergo a multi-part training curriculum with physicians at Kaiser Permanente.

Before COVID, residents could stop by Hello Bonita for services like blood pressure screenings and flu shots. Tillman said such services will continue.

“It’s so much deeper than just the COVID vaccine shot. It’s about making sure that people are taking care of themselves,” she said. “Mentally, physically.”

See also:

Thinking With Your Head: State Fights COVID Vaccine Hesitancy Through Salons and Barbershops
by Hannah Gaskill
Published July 23 in Maryland Matters



Atiya Wells, the founder and executive director of BLISS Meadows. Photo: Sean Mancho

:: BONUS ::

An Urban Oasis Grows in Baltimore—With Justice and Nature In Mind
by Lisa Snowden-McCray
Published July 21 in Audubon

Excerpt: Atiya Wells’ career as a pediatric nurse first took a turn when she realized she simply felt happier being outside. She started hiking in her 20s, got married and continued exploring the hobby with her husband, and eventually, involved her kids, too. She soon started planning nature walks with other families and studying to become a naturalist.

As she explored nature near her home in Baltimore City, she noticed greenery everywhere—although its quality dramatically varied. Public parks, some created by the same landscape architects who designed New York City’s Central Park, offered wide stretches where residents could stroll, bike, golf, and play basketball. Weeds and grasses forced their way through cracks in sidewalks and potholes in city streets. Bushes and tall trees grew through rotted-out floors and fallen-in ceilings in abandoned homes that once held generations of families. One day in 2017 she was surprised to stumble upon an abandoned-looking area while searching for a place to study near her home. “The weeds were about as tall as me,” she says. She quickly saw its potential, however, and her land reclamation project called BLISS Meadows—which stands for Baltimore Living in Sustainable Simplicity—was born. “We really want to work in tandem with the nature that was already here,” she says.



Header image: Groundskeeper and farm manager Jordan Bethea (center) working with volunteers. Photo: Sean Mancho // Published in Audubon

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