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Report for America

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Voting rights advocates are worried that the formerly incarcerated are being denied the right to vote in this election.

They point to Latasha Fason, who received a letter from the Baltimore City Board of Elections dated Oct. 10 saying she could not vote because she’d been convicted of a crime.

But Fason, a member of Out For Justice, a Baltimore-based grassroots organization led by formerly and currently incarcerated individuals, says she had served her time when she registered to vote. 

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An immunologist from Loyola University Maryland says the draft plan for distributing a potential COVID-19 vaccine that Gov. Larry Hogan released Tuesday needs some work. 

“It's still a bit vague. It's still a bit broad, “ Dr. Chris Thompson, the immunologist, said in an interview. “But I think it's as good as it can be with the information that we have now.”

Under Hogan’s plan, the state would prioritize those vulnerable to developing complications related to COVID-19, as well as frontline first responders, health care workers and essential workers. 

SARAH Y. KIM/WYPR

More than 100 people marched from Baltimore’s federal courthouse to City Hall Saturday chanting “No inauguration until confirmation” and “Vote him out” as part of the 2020 Women’s March.

They carried signs reading Vote Pro Choice, Protect Black Women and Dump Trump. 

It was a scene that played out in D.C. and in hundreds of cities across the country.

The march was organized by local advocacy groups, including Baltimore Women United and NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland. 

CREDIT PATRICK SEMANSKY/AP PHOTO

October 15 is the last day to respond to the 2020 Census. But just over half of Baltimore households have responded. 

Susan Licate, a Census Bureau media specialist spokeswoman said that Baltimore’s self-response rate is only 56.7%. 

“We’re lagging a little bit behind. So we want folks to know that the time is now. They need to step up,” she said. 

SARAH Y. KIM/WYPR

On what is still officially Columbus Day in Baltimore, members of the city’s indiginous community rallied in the rain Monday afternoon calling for the renaming of the holiday.

The event was also a celebration of indigenous peoples’ culture, full of music, dancing and prayer. 

Led by Indigenous Strong, the rally came a week after the City Council passed a bill that would rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. But Mayor Jack Young has not signed the bill into law. 

Saturday is World Mental Health Day in what has been a particularly difficult year for many Americans. 

Dr. Asha Patton-Smith, a psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente, said that the pandemic has been especially stressful for young people. 

“Social isolation and family stress has affected children and adolescents really more than any other demographic in this country,” she said on WYPR’s podcast The Daily Dose

 

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As Halloween approaches, you may want to rethink how you celebrate this year. 

Dr. Chris Thompson, an immunologist at Loyola University Maryland, says trick or treating may not be the best of ideas.

He told WYPR’s The Daily Dose there are ways to do it with minimal exposure to COVID-19.  

If you’re a Marylander in need of health insurance for next year, the open enrollment period starts in November and rates have gone down since last year. 

Maryland Insurance Commissioner Kathleen A. Birrane said prices for insurance plans have dropped for three consecutive years, for an approximate cumulative 30 percent drop since 2018. 

“The 2021 plans reflect really the lowest rates in years,” she said in a webinar Wednesday afternoon. “Which is extraordinary and wonderful.” 

SCREENSHOT VIA BALTIMORE COUNTY COUNCIL PAGE

The Baltimore County Council is voting on a bill Monday evening that aims to protect tenants from eviction during the pandemic. The bill consists of regulations on sudden residential rent increases.

Second District Councilman Izzy Patoka, the bill’s sponsor, presented the bill at a county council work session last week.

“The issue I'm bringing forward today.relates to an economic and health crisis,” he said at the session. 

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Gov. Larry Hogan announced in a news conference Thursday that he is lifting COVID-19 restrictions on nursing homes and child care centers as Maryland’s COVID-19 positivity rate continues to drop.

In addition, he said Maryland reported zero coronavirus deaths that day "for the first time in 187 days since March 28."

Hogan said that Maryland nursing homes may now resume indoor visitations. This applies to all nursing homes that are not experiencing a current outbreak and haven’t had new positive cases in the last 14 days. 

CREDIT AP/PATRICK SEMANSKY

Baltimore City is applying for $2 million of rental assistance from the state tomorrow in the form of Community Development Block Grant Funds. 

City officials estimate that the $2 million would help about 333 households. But Valerie Piper, a city consultant for eviction prevention, acknowledged that nearly 10,000 households are in need. 

She said the state has about $16 million of block grant funds. 

SARAH Y. KIM/WYPR

BGE has reported its customers have lost more than $25,000 to utility scammers this past month and that the company has received nearly 1,500 scam complaints. 

BGE Senior Vice President Tamla Olivier says this marks a significant increase in scam reports.  

“These scammers have gotten so sophisticated when you look at your caller ID, it will literally say Baltimore Gas and Electric,” Olivier said. 

PUBLIC DOMAIN

Patients who’ve survived COVID-19 may be at greater risk of developing long term heart problems. 

A recently published paper in the medical journal JAMA Cardiology featured a study where 78 of 100 subjects who had recovered from COVID-19 developed cardiac abnormalities. Many of them had no heart conditions before contracting the virus.

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State health surveyors inspect and fine facilities who do not meet COVID-19 regulations, including testing. But in Maryland, the surveyors themselves are not required to be tested. 

Dr. Joseph DeMattos Jr, president of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland, said state surveyors visit multiple nursing homes without getting tested. DeMattos said this increases the risk of spreading COVID-19. 

“We have a responsibility as leaders in health care to test our state health inspectors for coronavirus regularly,” DeMattos said. 

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After a new outbreak of COVID-19, the University of Maryland, College Park is quarantining 200 students in one of its dorms for 14 days. The union representing thousands of employees at the university says it’s concerned about the safety of workers and students. 

Stuart Katzenberg, a representative of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Maryland Council 3, which oversees the union local. Katzenberg said that members of the union working at Denton Hall, where the students are quarantined, are now at risk of contracting the virus.

SCREENSHOT VIA COUNTY EXECUTIVE STEUART PITTMAN FACEBOOK PAGE LIVE STREAM

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman announced an initiative Thursday to provide legal assistance to renters called “Operation Eviction Prevention.”

At a press conference in front of the Annapolis District Court building, Pittman said the county is partnering with nonprofits and attorneys to provide legal services.

MELISSA GERR/WYPR

You might have noticed some hazy skies today here in the Baltimore region. That haze is coming all the way from the massive wildfires that have been raging through the West Coast. 

National Weather Service meteorologist Brian LaSorfa said the smoke was carried by the jet stream and could be hanging over the Baltimore region for the next couple of days.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may have ordered a moratorium on evictions through the end of this year to contain the spread of COVID-19. But housing advocates say that doesn’t mean Baltimore renters won't face a mass eviction crisis.

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Just a day after Maryland courts began new eviction hearings for failure to pay rent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a moratorium on evictions through the end of this year. The order came on Sept. 1 and aims to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

SCREENSHOT VIA GOVERNOR LARRY HOGAN FACEBOOK PAGE

Gov. Larry Hogan announced yesterday that all of Maryland’s public schools should plan for in-person learning this fall. The announcement comes just days before the start of the school year. 

“It is absolutely critical that we begin the process of getting our children safely and gradually back into the classrooms,” Hogan said at a late afternoon press conference. 

SCREENSHOT VIA BALTIMORE RENTERS UNITED FACEBOOK PAGE

Housing advocates want to know why Baltimore Mayor Jack Young fired the city’s housing commissioner Michael Braverman last week as renters will soon face a mass eviction crisis. 

“We are here to demand that Mayor Jack Young speaks to the city,” John P. Comer, founder of Architects for Justice, said at a press conference Wednesday morning in front of City Hall. “The concerned citizens who are renting every day and may not know where their next home will be.”

Courts will resume hearing new eviction cases for failure to pay rent on Aug. 31. Comer said homelessness is likely to skyrocket. 

 

“People are losing their homes and evictions are becoming backed up,” he said. 

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The science journal Neuron published a paper in July on the underrepresentation of African Americans in brain research, specifically in genomic studies that inform the emerging field of personalized medicine. 

One of the paper’s authors is Dr. Daniel Weinberger, director of the Lieber Institute for Brain Development, a nonprofit located on the Johns Hopkins medical campus. 

CARMICHAELLIBRARY/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Colleges are welcoming students back this month, but many of them won’t be enjoying the same learning experiences they used to. 

Remote learning can mean a loss of community and independence for students, while going to reopened campuses means dealing with a lot of uncertainty. Some, like the University of North Carolina, reopened and shut down within weeks after clusters of COVID-19 outbreaks. 

Erin VanLuven, a clinical social worker with Kaiser Permanente in Maryland, said these experiences can be detrimental to students’ mental health. 

SCREENSHOT VIA CHARM TV FACEBOOK PAGE

Baltimore Mayor Jack Young is calling on city residents to respond to the 2020 Census. The Census Bureau announced last week that counting efforts will end on Sept. 30, four weeks earlier than originally planned.

“This is something each of us can do to help the future of our city. It only takes 10 minutes, but it's that important,” Young said at a press conference Wednesday morning. 

Young said responding to the census is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. For each person not counted, the city loses $18,000 of federal funding for various services over the course of 10 years, he said.

SARAH Y. KIM

At least two people died and at least seven were critically injured after a gas explosion in Northwest Baltimore that destroyed three homes Monday morning. 

The explosion, which occurred near Labyrinth and Reisterstown roads shortly before 10 a.m., damaged surrounding homes. More than 200 rescue personnel from Baltimore City and surrounding counties were on the scene through the evening, searching for victims trapped in the rubble. The cause of the explosion is still unknown.

 

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Dr. Jay Perman, Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said Thursday he decided to open the state’s 12 public colleges and universities with combined in-person and virtual learning this fall based on student feedback. 

“If we took a blanket approach and said nobody can come to campus I don’t think we would be serving the public good,” Perman said at a press call.

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Tropical Storm Isaias struck the Mid Atlantic this morning, bringing inland freshwater flooding and strong gusts of winds to Baltimore City. 

While heavy rainfall subsided early this afternoon, James Wallace, Acting Director of the City’s Emergency Management Office, says residents should be vigilant for storm-related hazards. 

“While the ground remains saturated, high winds are always a concern because they'll start to bring down trees and bring down power lines,” he said. 

Patrick Semansky/AP PHOTO

More than halfway through the year of the 2020 Census, barely half of Baltimore residents have responded to the decennial survey, well below the rates for Maryland and the nation.

Fernando Armstrong, a regional Census Bureau director, says only 52.5% of Baltimoreans have responded, compared to Maryland’s rate of 66.6% and the national response rate of nearly 63%.

Armstrong says it’s not unusual for census response rates in larger cities to trail behind national rates. 

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Environmental advocates went to Baltimore’s BRESCO trash incinerator Wednesday  protesting its continued operation. BRESCO, located off Russell Street near predominantly Black communities, is the city’s largest source of industrial air pollution, according to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

Last year, the City Council unanimously passed the Baltimore Clean Air Act in an attempt to impose severe emission restrictions on BRESCO. But court documents filed this month indicate that Mayor Jack Young is negotiating a settlement with Wheelabrator, BRESCO’s operator. 

Advocates are worried that Young intends to extend the city’s contract with the company. The current contract is to expire in 2021. 

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Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan today, asking him to extend and expand on eviction protections.  

The letter requests that Hogan implement a moratorium on evictions until Jan. 31 and provide more rental assistance. 

“This is money that is, I believe, absolutely essential not just to the folks who are about to lose their homes, but to their landlords and everybody else,” Frosh said in an interview with WYPR.

The letter also asks Hogan to renew executive orders that protect Marylanders from debt collection and termination of utilities . 

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