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Coronavirus update: Rising cases and deaths, other developments in pandemic crisis

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WASHINGTON — The number of novel coronavirus cases in the United States hit almost 175,000 Tuesday afternoon and the death toll surpassed 3,400 as the country prepared for an anticipated peak in fatalities in the coming weeks.

More Americans have been affected by the virus than any other population worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering data dashboard — and the number of U.S. cases continues to grow exponentially despite more and more states ordering their citizens to stay home.

Trump extends social distancing, claims test kit, ventilator surpluses
President Donald Trump extended national social distancing recommendations through the end of April on Sunday, preparing for the apex of deaths in the country before the coronavirus case count slopes downward.

“Challenging times are ahead for the next 30 days, and this is a very vital 30 days…But the more we dedicate ourselves today, the more quickly we will emerge on the other side of the crisis,”
Trump told reporters at a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing Monday evening. “And that’s the time we’re waiting for.”

The president also said that the United States has reached “a historic milestone in our war against the coronavirus”: over a million people have been tested. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar added that nearly 100,000 samples are being tested daily.

Like test kits, ventilators have also been in high demand for hospitals to keep coronavirus patients in the most critical condition alive. Trump said that thousands have already been delivered to communities across the country. Hundreds more were being split among Michigan, New Jersey, Illinois, Louisiana, and Connecticut.

Some domestically produced ventilators will be shipped to foreign countries, according to Trump.

“As we outpace what we need, we’re going to be sending them to Italy. We’re going to be sending them to France,” the president said. “We’re going to be sending them to Spain, where they have tremendous problems, and other countries.”

Governors fear consequences of supply shortages
While the White House claims test kits and other needed supplies to combat the coronavirus are stocked in surplus across the country, state leaders are sharing differing views of what’s happening on the ground in their communities.

Govs. Larry Hogan, a Maryland Republican, and Gretchen Whitmer, a Michigan Democrat, suggested ways the federal government can assist states amid the pandemic in a bipartisan opinion piece published Monday in the Washington Post.

“There simply aren’t enough test kits, medical supplies and other lifesaving equipment to meet the scope of this pandemic,” the governors wrote. “While states are doing all we can to secure access to these items, the federal government must take extraordinary steps to deliver what we need.”

Hogan and Whitmer also suggested increased federal relief funding and preparation for a surge in federal unemployment insurance as the coronavirus continues to drain the U.S. economy.

Based on several projections, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio said he expects the peak of the virus to arrive between mid-April and mid-May but “we’re not quite sure when.” The lack of widespread testing contributes to the uncertainty, DeWine said in an interview with CNN.

“That is not unique to Ohio,” the governor said. “We have seen that throughout the country. That’s been a real challenge.”

States urge residents to stay at home as case count grows nationwide
Despite social distancing orders in place nationwide, the number of people affected by the coronavirus continues rising rapidly. States have been increasingly urging their citizens to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel.

At least 265 million people in at least 32 states, 80 counties, 18 cities, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have been given stay-at-home orders as of Tuesday, according to a New York Times analysis of states’ policies.

Hogan, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, and District Mayor Muriel Bowser all told their residents to stay at home starting Monday.

“We are in a public health crisis, and we need everyone to take this seriously and act responsibly,” Northam said in a statement.

Maryland counties, cities will receive $48 million for coronavirus response
Localities throughout Maryland will be supported by $48 million in federal funds for their coronavirus responses, the state’s congressional delegation announced Tuesday. The monetary aid comes from the CARES Act, which Trump signed into law Friday.

“Local governments are on the frontlines of this crisis,” the state’s senators and congressmen said in a statement. “This federal funding will shore up the capacity of Maryland’s cities and counties to respond to its widespread consequences.”

The funds can be used for needs including shelter for homeless individuals, increased affordable housing and keeping critical public services afloat, the lawmakers said.

As of Tuesday, 1,660 cases have been confirmed statewide, according to the Maryland Department of Public Health data.

Baltimore City is being allocated the most money out of the 14 jurisdictions being funded, receiving $20.9 million.

The lawmakers said they expect additional funds to be awarded in the days and weeks to come.

Maryland Department of Health to offer tests at Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program (VEIP) sites
Symptomatic and high-risk Marylanders can receive drive-through coronavirus testing at VEIP locations starting Wednesday, according to the state’s health department.

Testing will be offered in Glen Burnie, Anne Arundel County; Waldorf, Charles County; and Bel Air, Harford County.

“We are focused on testing people who really need it and by using these sites, we can allow them to be tested away from busy emergency rooms, urgent care centers, and physicians’ offices,” the state’s Deputy Secretary of Public Health Fran Phillips said in a statement.

Residents must meet testing criteria determined by a healthcare provider, receive a testing order and register for an appointment online. Phillips and Hogan stressed that these testing sites are geared toward people with visible coronavirus symptoms.

“Like every other state in the nation, we simply do not have enough testing supplies,” Hogan said in a statement. “We need to use our resources wisely.”

By BRYAN GALLION
Capital News Service

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For some, necessary isolation from virus is detrimental to mental, physical health

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Social distancing and staying home have proven essential for flattening the coronavirus curve and minimizing harm from the virus, but research shows that these unprecedented guidelines to match our unprecedented times may negatively impact mental and physical health among Americans.

According to a study in The Lancet, symptoms of post-traumatic stress, anger, and heightened stress may come as side effects of the nation-wide quarantine, and they may be long-lasting. Stressors for symptoms of poor mental health include lack of resources (medical and otherwise), extended quarantining, fears surrounding the virus, monetary loss, stigmatization of the illness, and boredom. Lack of information and quarantining with no end in sight are also risk factors for declining mental health.

Health workers putting in long, grueling hours are heavily affected.

But COVID-19 is unique in the high degree to which it also affects Americans behind the front lines. A study conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network warns that, while the need for social distancing guidelines in this country is quite apparent, the effects of social isolation and being home bound could contribute to heightened suicide and overdose rates in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, racial minorities, particularly black and Hispanic people, are more likely to live in densely populated areas due to the effects of institutional racism and/or housing segregation.

Because of this, they may have a harder time socially distancing.

Almost a quarter of black and Hispanic workers are in the service industry or employed by businesses deemed essential during the quarantine, meaning they’re at higher risk of coming into contact with the virus.

These factors, combined with the healthcare disadvantages racial minorities face due to decreased access, could in part explain why black and Hispanic Americans are disproportionately affected and killed by COVID-19. The CDC said it is working to address these racial disparities, according to its page, COVID-19 in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups.

Tanya Shah, vice president of the Commonwealth Fund, said that isolation isn’t just a social issue, but something that affects mental and physical health as well. She started researching social isolation, particularly in adults, about three years ago, and the Fund has been working to raise awareness of this issue in terms of the policy, research, and screening ever since.

Isolation has a large impact on mortality and morbidity, according to Shah.

“We need to be paying attention to social isolation,” Shah said in an interview with Capital News Service. “Just like we ask if you’re a smoker or how many drinks you have a week, we need to be asking about your social structural context, because it has such a tremendous impact on health or vice versa. How your health changes have a huge impact on how you’re able to connect with others.”

Lack of social connection and a solid support system can contribute not just to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, but also to cardiovascular risks and decreased cognitive and physical function. These risk factors overlap a lot with those of COVID-19, Shah said.

“Social isolation really means… a structural construct of being alone,” she said. “Not everyone who is socially isolated would say they’re lonely… Loneliness is more than a perception of being isolated, but they’re very interrelated.”

This isn’t to say that isolating isn’t essential to flattening the COVID-19 curve. Shah said that the elderly, poor, and sick people are the most at risk of contracting the virus because they’re more likely to live in intergenerational dwellings or to have to continue working to provide for the family.

44% of women over 75 living alone and 50% of low-income people who report suffering from loneliness are at a higher risk of suffering from social isolation, Shah said.

One in four non-institutionalized older adults reports feeling socially isolated. Together, these groups constitute tens of millions of Americans, according to Shah.

When social distancing and the subsequent loss of social support are added into the equation, these individuals are more at risk for serious health issues and 25% more at risk dying prematurely.

Shah said some research indicates that being socially isolated, whether from a group a person was once active in, like a church, or from loss of contact with healthcare providers, can be as or more harmful to health than smoking, obesity or physical inactivity.

Isolation-related illnesses also are not confined to the most at-risk groups.

“To be honest, we have not, in modern scientific history, experienced a pandemic of this proportion with these types of measures of physical distancing and social isolation and sheltering in place,” Shah said.

There are some hints from past pandemics, though.

A couple of studies done on SARS survivors a year after the 2003 outbreak found evidence of still-elevated levels of stress and psychological distress, especially among healthcare workers.

Quarantined Liberians during the Ebola epidemic from 2013 to 2016 said stigma related to the illness led to the exclusion and disenfranchisement of minority groups in the country. Many who were quarantined may have avoided seeking medical help for treatable, non-Ebola-related illnesses out of fear of further stigmatization, according to The Lancet.

Mental health has long been under-resourced in this country, according to Shah, who added that benefits should be expanded to pay for these types of services.

“Mental health services need to play a much bigger role in our response efforts as well as in our rehabilitation in the longer-term post this pandemic… The research shows it’s a long-term impact, not just the six weeks or the three months that we have to be socially isolated,” Shah said. “We definitely need to be doing more.”

Abiding by social distancing guidelines doesn’t mean people have to be lonely, experts say. There are some precautions people can take in order to care for themselves in the short term, but larger, more systemic changes must take place to deal with bigger picture issues presented by the pandemic.

Go for walks, FaceTime friends, or talk to neighbors (from a safe distance), experts recommend.

The Washington State Department of Health recommends that individuals struggling with anxiety, depression, or other symptoms of poor mental health should avoid watching distressing news coverage of the virus when possible.

Health experts also advise people to structure their days and keep to a routine, especially those who are prone to depression or anxiety. The more life in quarantine reflects normal life, the better, they say.

Go to the following links. For help dealing with coronavirus anxieties: virusanxiety.com. For advice on helping others who may be struggling: mentalhealthfirstaid.org. For other support services, including suicide prevention: sprc.org.

By ANNA HOVEY
Capital News Service

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UPDATED Amber Alert: 3-year-old child found

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Brianna Reyes-Cardoza

Brianna Reyes-Cardoza has been found. Original Press Release below:


The Virginia State Police and the Virginia Missing Children Clearinghouse has issued an AMBER Alert on behalf of the Harrisonburg Police Department for a child abduction that occurred on May 4, 2020, at 8:24 AM.

Jose Edin Reyes-Paz

The child is believed to be in extreme danger and was last seen at Burkwood Court, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Abducted is Brianna Reyes-Cardoza, hispanic, female, black hair, brown eyes, 3-years-old, 3-foot 0-inches tall, weighing 36 lbs, last seen wearing a red short sleeve shirt with Minnie Mouse on the front, pink pants and pink sandals.

The child is believed to have been abducted by Jose Edin Reyes-Paz, hispanic male, black hair, brown eyes, 5-foot 6-inches tall, weighing 160 lbs, wearing a white t-shirt, black pants and a gray or green ball cap.

There is no vehicle description at this time.

For further information, contact the Harrisonburg Police Department at 540-540-4436 or visit www.vaamberalert.com.

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Growing old in prison: How Maryland is working to ease the path to release for a low-risk, high-cost population

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Ask him, and Stanley Mitchell will proudly tell you he works 12-hour days.

Over the last seven years, the 71-year-old Charles County resident has held a sweeping assortment of jobs, sometimes juggling multiple at the same time. It’s a big change after spending close to 40 years ping-ponging around the Maryland prison system, serving time for driving the getaway car in a homicide — a charge he denies to this day.

Mitchell is one of 199 people serving life sentences for violent crimes to have been released on probation since 2012 when Maryland’s highest court ruled them entitled to a new trial in an effort to remedy the flawed instructions given to the juries that convicted them. At the time of their release, members of this group ranged from 51 to 85 years old and had spent an average of 39 years behind bars.

Since coming home, the “Ungers” — nicknamed after the case under which they were released, Unger v. Maryland — have gotten married, found jobs, reconnected with relatives, and become mentors in their communities. As of March of this year, only five have returned to prison after being convicted of a new crime or probation violation.

Criminal justice reform advocates in Maryland say this low recidivism rate exemplifies what research has shown for decades: as people grow older, they “age out” of engaging in criminal behavior. Keeping this high-needs population locked up, they argue, needlessly drains away taxpayer money and, as one advocate put it, turns prisons into “extraordinarily expensive nursing homes.”

Today, even as prison populations are falling nationwide, the number of incarcerated people considered to be geriatric is quickly expanding — riding on the wave of “tough on crime” sentencing practices that began proliferating in the 1980s. One report predicted that by 2030, people over 50 will make up one-third of the U.S. prison population.

For the last few years, an entourage of activists, state legislators, public defenders, and policy experts have been working to ease the doors open to a parole process that many say is now stifled by politics.

By and large, they have the same goal: to give an aging population a better shot at coming home.

“Just locking people up does not solve all ills,” said Del. Kathleen Dumais, who has been active in efforts to tamp down mass incarceration in Maryland.

TAKING STEPS TOWARD REFORM

In Maryland, the geriatric release program aims to give incarcerated individuals who are 60 years and older, serving a mandatory sentence for a crime of violence and ineligible for parole a potential path to freedom.

However, despite the best attempts of state lawmakers to expand the program back in 2016, it remains strikingly under-used.

In 2018, Becky Feldman, the state’s deputy public defender, started looking into just how many people were eligible for release under the program. Out of the entire incarcerated population in Maryland, she came up with just one person: a 62-year-old man she eventually helped get paroled.

She marked down what she observed in a memo to Daniel Long, a retired judge who chairs a board established to monitor the success of the Justice Reinvestment Act, a massive criminal justice reform bill passed in 2016. Long convened a workgroup to take another crack at expanding geriatric release and after four months of work, the group presented its final recommendations to the board.

Among other reforms, the recommendations called for the program’s eligibility criteria to be extended to those serving time for nonviolent offenses. According to the workgroup, if all the recommendations were implemented, the number of people eligible for geriatric release would jump to 265 individuals — a population only expected to increase over time.

But even though the recommendations were pitched as a “pilot program” with the potential for further expansion, Justice Policy Institute executive director Marc Schindler and other criminal justice reform advocates criticized them as not being far-reaching enough — despite the success of those released under the Unger decision, they excluded those who were sentenced to life.

Schindler remembered the reactions of a group of men serving life sentences in the Jessup Correctional Institute when they were told that they had been excluded from the workgroup’s recommendations. They were devastated, he said and were hardly pacified by the possibility that they might be included in a future iteration of the program’s expansion.

“‘I don’t have too much longer,’” Schindler recalled some men saying.

THE LEGISLATIVE FIGHT

Since getting out of prison seven years ago, Mitchell says he’s avoided trouble.

“Besides red light cameras, I haven’t had any negative interactions with law enforcement at all,” he said.

The same goes for the vast majority of the Ungers — all of whom, like Mitchell, were serving life sentences for violent offenses. And just like Mitchell, many were recommended for release by the Maryland Parole Commission over the course of their time behind bars. Still, they didn’t walk free until becoming eligible to receive new trials in 2012.

That’s because Maryland is one of just three states in the country where the governor gets the final say on whether a person in prison on a life sentence should get out. And ever since Gov. Parris Glendening announced in 1995 that “life means life” — refusing to grant parole for people serving life terms except for medical reasons — it’s been a decision that’s rarely handed down.

Even though Gov. Larry Hogan’s actions have represented a departure from those of previous administrations — he has paroled or allowed the parole of 21 individuals serving life sentences, commuted the sentences of 21 and released another four on medical parole — some still say the governor’s inclusion in the parole process leaves it needlessly warped by politics.

This year, the Maryland General Assembly heard two bills that would remove the governor from the parole process, but in the midst of the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak, state lawmakers ended the session in a rushed whirlwind, passing over 650 bills in just three days. Neither of the two bills made it in the sprint to an early deadline.

Still, the two bills were boosted by an arsenal of supporters — from lawyers and formerly incarcerated individuals to religious groups.

However, Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger mounted fierce opposition to the bills. He emphasized the importance of punishment, pointing out that only the “most heinous of crimes” receive life sentences — premeditated murder and felony murder, first-degree rape, and first-degree sex offenses, for example.

“When you are making the important, public-safety decision of should the worst of the worst be back on our streets,” he said, “shouldn’t the chief executive of the state have a say, especially when the parole commission works for the executive branch?”

INTO THE FREE WORLD

The season was just turning from spring to summer when Mitchell was released from prison in 2013. All told, he spent 37 years, six months, 19 days, and 21 minutes behind bars — more than he had lived in the free world before his incarceration.

While Mitchell did his time, life ground on without him. Seven years into his incarceration, Mitchell’s wife died of a heart attack, leaving their two young sons to be raised by their aunt. He said he wasn’t allowed to attend her funeral — only to view her body, handcuffed and supervised by three guards, for half an hour.

But there were bright spots, too. In late May 2010, Mitchell met a woman by the name of Regina in the prison visitation room. They started talking over the phone, and some 10 months later, they were married. As of March, they have been together for nine years.

And Mitchell is still in touch with the people he became close with during his time behind bars, though he feels bad knowing that many of them will likely never be released.

“I realize that whenever a crime’s committed, there’s always going to be victims,” he said. “Some things you can never take back… [But] the majority of individuals, they just want to come out, want to have a family, enjoy their families, and give back.”

By Angela Roberts
Capital News Service

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What’s next for college athletic directors under pandemic?

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VOORHEES, N.J. — Collegiate athletic directors across the state of Maryland are facing the same uphill battle as those in the rest of the country — unprecedented chaos — after the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s decision to cancel any remaining winter and spring sports seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than one month after the initial, March 12 decision, the situation is as fluid as ever and there is no timetable to return.

Right now, what’s next is the biggest question any athletic director has had to face.

“We gotta always be prepared,” University of Maryland Athletic Director Damon Evans told Capital News Service. “I think we gotta have plan A, plan B, and plan C, to a certain extent. We gotta start looking to the fall.”

Evans first heard about the news while with the Maryland men’s basketball team in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament — on a conference call with the other Big Ten athletic directors.

His situation wasn’t unique, as other athletic directors were at conference tournaments or NCAA Championships across the country.

Coppin State University Athletic Director Derek Carter was at the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Basketball Tournament in Norfolk, Virginia, when the news came down.

“The women played their first game on Tuesday and the men were scheduled to play Thursday at 8 p.m.” Carter said. “Between Tuesday and Thursday, the amount of change that occurred was unbelievable.”

In a new normal, people are still getting adjusted to life without sports, and life in isolation. The loss stings for many.

Unlike coaches and student-athletes, the day-to-day jobs of athletic directors are less on the field and more in the office, but office or not, this is new territory.

“I think for me, so much of my life is centered around sport,” Frostburg State University Athletic Director Troy Dell said. “Sports have always been a huge part of my life. It feels like a big portion of my life is hollow right now. It’s a huge void that I hope returns soon.”

For some, it was unexpected. Others, like Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk, had been following it from the beginning. Gladchuk, in particular, had the benefit of speaking with members of the Navy’s medical staff, who had been following it since the initial outbreak.

He canceled two European spring trips the week of the NCAA’s decision: a men’s soccer team trip to Scotland, and a women’s soccer team trip to Italy. Once Italy emerged as a COVID-19 hotspot, the decision was swift and easy.

“It was well-received,” Gladchuk said. “(The coaches and players) didn’t push back at all. I think that everyone realized in the early going that this was a very serious issue.”

Beyond the reality of the sport being gone temporarily, athletic directors had to relay the cancellations to their teams, coaches, and more importantly, the student-athletes.

Since the decision, the NCAA came out with a ruling that allowed an extra year of eligibility for student-athletes at all levels participating in spring sports. However, initially, that wasn’t a possibility.

“First and foremost, my heart goes out to (the student-athletes),” Bowie State University Athletic Director Clyde Doughty Jr. said. “You only get four years to be a student-athlete and for those seniors, I feel really bad for them.”

Now, with it being a possibility, athletic directors across the country have to scramble to figure out how to incorporate those extra years of eligibility, especially for seniors who choose to return.

That’s not a realistic possibility for every senior, as some have the ability to play professionally or have a post-graduate job already set up. Regardless, the consensus, at least among those within the state, is that the NCAA made the right decision at the right time looking back on it.

“The spring eligibility, giving these kids the opportunity, potentially, to have their season back, I think is the appropriate response and a good decision and one that has the best interest of our students in mind,” the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Athletic Director Brian Barrio said. “I’m all for it.”

As important as sports are in society, an event like this helps put the athletic world in perspective with what’s going on in the real world.

“When you step out of your own job and your own industry, you understand that this is a nationwide, worldwide problem, and we all need to do our part to get past this,” St. Mary’s College Athletic Director Scott Devine said.

Sports might not be going on right now, but athletics programs are still keeping up on social media, like at McDaniel College, whose soccer team has participated in the “Toilet Paper Challenge”, where players juggle rolls of toilet paper with their feet.

Meetings are still being held virtually and athletics programs are still going on without sports, but one of the biggest things to come out of this pandemic is the support that has been shown across the country, especially for collegiate athletics.

Thousands of student-athletes have had their seasons cut short, but are continuing to keep up resolve in a time of uncertainty.

“The students themselves have been outstanding, and it shouldn’t surprise me,” Towson University Athletic Director Tim Leonard said. “They have handled it well.”

This all leads back to what’s next — and that’s a great unknown. Right now, all eyes are set on the fall to get right back into the swing of things.

“We don’t know what the future will hold. We don’t know whether we will be back in session in the fall,” Salisbury University Athletic Director Gerry DiBartolo said. “The only thing that we can do is plan as if we’re gonna be back in the fall and know that there might have to be adjustments made based on what happens.”

By Alex Murphy
Capital News Service

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COVID-19 has affected Maryland schools — at all levels

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Maryland schools at all levels are facing new challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Salisbury University)

ELLICOTT CITY, Maryland — Learning has changed in Maryland since the coronavirus outbreak. Teachers and students have been forced to turn to online platforms across all education levels due to the closing of classrooms.

Last week, the Maryland State Department of Education extended its closure of public school systems through at least May 15.

“This is the right decision for the safety and health of our students, educators, and state,” Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost said, pointing to challenges such as technology access and food insecurity that hamper distance education for some students. “This type of learning is no substitute for in-person learning, and we will need to be thoughtful and serious about how we help students recover from this crisis.”

Higher-education institutions within the University System of Maryland and around the state had already moved to online-only at least for the rest of the spring semester.

“What we had to do was really set expectations,” Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Derek Turner told Capital News Service. “First we need to focus on student health and wellness, and then we need to focus on what a new world of instruction looks like.”

K-12 education faces some of the toughest challenges. There is a wide array of ages and behaviors among students, and varying access to online platforms, according to Turner.

Montgomery County schools have loaned out more than 43,000 Chromebook laptops to students in order to give them access to the online learning environments, according to Turner.

“The biggest problem we’re facing is internet connectivity,” Turner said. “We’re constantly looking for opportunities to make sure we are closing gaps in the digital divide.”

Montgomery County Public Schools has been working with Comcast to allow students to access the internet and has been purchasing hotspot devices for those who lack local connections. Lockheed Martin donated $25,000 to the school system toward the purchase of more mobile hotspots, according to Turner.

Keeping to a schedule can also be a challenge — for teachers and students.

Anne Arundel County Public Schools, for example, published a suggested daily calendar for students. Each calendar — for elementary, middle and high school levels — gave guidance as to how students could tackle their days at home in the online environment.

“The notion is that we wanted to build a structure for students that was flexible and provided structure and support for them,” Anne Arundel schools spokesman Bob Mosier said.

Colleges and universities across the state took recommendations from the University System of Maryland, which on March 10 announced they were shutting down campuses and moving classes online. This policy has stayed in place for the remainder of the semester.

Many have attempted to ease pressure on students by implementing campus-wide changes to grading policies. The University of Maryland, College Park implemented a pass/fail system, Towson University implemented its Pass Grading Option and Salisbury University opted for a pass/no pass system.

“Working in concert with some other University System of Maryland schools, it was determined that, for this semester only, that it would be a good option for some of our students” who have been disrupted by having to take classes online and/or the virus affecting their personal lives, Salisbury University spokesman Jason Rhodes said.

“We know this is a stressful time for a lot of students, as well as faculty and staff, and we’re always looking to do the right thing for our university community,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes also mentioned that Salisbury, and likely other University System of Maryland campuses, had a pandemic plan in place that was drafted when the avian flu and swine flu presented threats in 2008 and 2009, respectively, so the transition was not unforeseen.

“This is the first time that we’ve had to put that (plan) into action,” Rhodes said. “And certainly once this is all over, there’ll be a debrief about what can be done differently, what can be done better, next time. But this is something that we prepared for, and we’re certainly happy that we did.”

By Wesley Brown
Capital News Service

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UPDATED AMBER ALERT: Missing children have been found

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Per the Roanoke County Police Department, the three children have been safely located, and John and Ruby Allison taken into police custody. The AMBER Alert is officially cancelled. 


The Virginia State Police and the Virginia Missing Children Clearinghouse has issued an AMBER Alert on behalf of the Roanoke County Police Department, for a child abduction that occurred on April 21, 2020, at 3:30 pm.

The children are believed to be in extreme danger and were last seen in Roanoke County, Virginia.

  • Cameron Allison, White, Male, Brown hair, Brown eyes, 6 years old
  • Emma Allison, White, Female, Brown hair, Brown eyes, 6 years old
  • Colin Allison, White, Male, Blonde hair, Brown eyes, 21 months old

The children are believed to have been abducted by John Varion Allison, white male, blonde hair, brown eyes, 5 foot 9 inches tall, weighing 185 lbs. He is believed to be operating a 1999 Maroon Chevrolet Suburban SUV bearing a Virginia Registration of VVU-3796, or a 2006 Maroon Cadillac 4 door car bearing a Virginia Registration VMV-8238. Mr. Allison may be in the company of his wife Ruby Marie Allison, white female, brown hair, brown eyes, 5 foot 3 inches tall, weighing 160 lbs.

For further information, contact the Roanoke County Police Department at 540-777-8798, 540-777-8799, or the Virginia State Police at #77.

PHOTOS of the children and parents are available at www.vaamberalert.com.

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