Amidst a surge in firearms sales, lawmakers in the Senate and House have introduced legislation expanding background checks for all gun purchases.
“Background checks are simple, easy, and they save lives. That’s why more than 90 percent of Americans support our legislation to make sure no guns are sold in this country without a background check,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, and the lead sponsor of the background check measure in the Senate said in a statement Tuesday.
His bill has 45 Democratic co-sponsors, including Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen.
“If there is no background check, there should be no sale of a firearm,” Cardin said in a statement. “The goal is simple: keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t be able to buy them.”
“Gun violence has plagued too many families in Maryland and across the country. Universal background checks will save lives,” Van Hollen said in a statement.
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California, introduced a similar bill in the House, where a background checks bill passed two years ago but then died in the then-Republican-controlled Senate. Thompson’s bill includes GOP co-sponsors and could be voted on as early as next week.
“Time and time again, we have seen that the American people want universal background checks, in fact, public polling shows that the majority of people, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, support this,” Thompson said in a statement.
The bills are aimed at closing the so-called “gun show loophole,” under which private gun sales – on the web, from homes, and at gun shows – have not required federal background checks.
About 20 percent of gun sales are conducted without background checks, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
“We need action to help stop the violence that claims over 100 lives every day and disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities,” Brady President Kris Brown said in a statement.
The National Rifle Association denounced the background check bills, saying on its website that the measures “would criminalize the private transfer of firearms.”
The lawmakers acted as President Joe Biden considers using executive orders to enact what he calls “common sense” gun control measures.
Biden last month also called on Congress to toughen gun control laws, including not only requiring background checks on all gun sales but also banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and eliminating legal immunity for gun manufacturers.
Biden said his administration “will not wait for the next mass shooting” to act.
“We will take action to end our epidemic of gun violence and make our schools and communities safer,” Biden said. “We owe it to all those we’ve lost and to all those left behind to grieve to make a change.”
The day chosen for his announcement was especially significant: (colon) as it was the third anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 14 students and three staff members were killed.
Biden has made clear that gun control measures are a top administration priority, consistent with a central theme of his presidential campaign.
Biden and other administration officials already have met with several gun safety advocacy groups.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said that Democrats would work with the Biden White House to enact background check legislation. The Bipartisan Background Checks Act and the Enhanced Background Checks Act were both passed by House Democrats in 2019.
Murphy has met with Susan Rice, director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, to discuss the stronger background checks. He has been a strong proponent of gun control since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in his state. Twenty children and six adult staff members died in that tragedy.
Various gun control groups have praised the changes that Biden said he wants to make to gun laws.
“Joe Biden ran on one of the strongest gun violence-related platforms of any candidate who’s run for president, especially in the general election,” said Adam Patrick, director of political communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “He has supported extreme protection orders, universal background checks and for a long time he’s championed the assault weapons ban.”
Biden isn’t new to fighting for gun control. In 1993, then-Sen. Biden worked to pass the Brady Bill, which implemented the modern background check system that advocates are now pushing to reform. He also helped to create the 1994 assault weapons ban, which expired a decade later despite congressional supporters’ efforts to renew it.
Despite the support from the Democratic members of Congress, Biden faces stiff opposition from most Republicans, especially in the Senate. Their party leaders have a history of blocking gun safety bills.
“You look at the history of gun violence prevention, for a long time it was a third-rail issue,” Patrick said. “It is something that has evaded real action in Congress and has seen a lot of progress in the states. But people need federal laws.”
Despite what has happened in the past, Patrick said the new proposals for greater gun safety have a better chance because the Democrats control both houses of Congress.
But public support for change has waned a bit. According to a Nov 16 Gallup Poll, public support for stricter gun laws is at the lowest level since 2016. Fifty-seven percent of respondents supported stricter gun laws, 9 percent wanted less strict laws, while 34 percent wanted no changes.
The FBI said it processed a record 39.7 million firearms background checks in 2020, the highest annual number since the agency started recording this data in 1998.
Even if enacted, new gun laws also are likely to be challenged in the courts. And some local law enforcement officials have said they wouldn’t enforce new gun restrictions.
Sheriff Richard Mack of Arizona, the founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs & Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), said that gun control is unlawful.
“You would think that somebody that’s been in Washington, D.C., for 47 years would know that gun control is against the law of the United States of America and that he swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution,” Mack said, referring to Biden.
Mack’s group represents more than 1,000 officers across the country. According to Mack, the majority of them refuse to enforce any gun control laws that might be implemented, adding that he and his allies “will not violate the Bill of Rights.”
But other law enforcement groups, such as the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, as well as many mayors and other local officials, have called for tighter gun laws. Survivors of mass shootings and parents of mass shooting victims also have mobilized to join with gun safety groups to press for new laws.
Former President Barack Obama weighed in on Twitter last week: “Even as we focus on fighting COVID-19, it’s important to recognize that there’s another pandemic raging right now—one that’s decades in the making and unique to the United States. We need to treat gun violence with the same urgency and resolve.”
Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in the Parkland shooting, tweeted back, thanking Obama.
“The urgency to deal with gun violence has never been greater,” he wrote. “I look forward to working with @POTUS @JoeBiden to start this work and to save lives.”
By JALEN WADE
Capital News Service Washington Bureau
Announcing Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley’s 2021 Valley Treasure
Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley (Alliance) is delighted to share that the 2021 Valley Treasure is Dr. Charles Ziegenfus, well known as Professor Zig and often photographed with a wild bird on his arm.
The Shenandoah Valley is an extraordinary place with iconic farming landscapes, beautiful streams, world-class public forest lands, and rich cultural history. By awarding a Valley Treasure, the Alliance hoped to recognize an outstanding community member that has done more than their fair share to preserve the things we love about the Shenandoah Valley. This year, multiple folks reached out to let us know Professor Zig fit the bill.
In addition to his professional work teaching field ornithology at JMU, Professor Zig spent decades researching, banding and tracking migrations and populations of dark-eyed juncos, bluebirds and white-crowned sparrows, to name a few. In partnership with Clair Mellinger from EMU at Highland Retreat, he has monitored the migration of the Northern Saw-whet Owl for twenty years. Recently Professor Zig set up several boxes for American kestrels in eastern Rockingham County and engages landowners up and down the Valley to host bird boxes and help with monitoring on their property.
One nominator of Professor Zig shared that she’d “learned more about birds in the brief time I spent with him at a breakfast discussion he led than I had in my whole life,” and another exclaimed that Professor Zig’s “devotion to studying and understanding bird populations is commendable and his willingness to share it even more so.”
On April 28 at 7pm the Alliance is hosting an opportunity to meet Professor Zig via Zoom and hear from Dr. Amy Johnson, Program Director of Virginia Working Landscapes at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute about the important role birds play in our natural landscape. In a 2020 TEDxPearlStreet presentation, Dr. Johnson describes how our landscapes rely on birds. “They pollinate our plants, they eat our agricultural pests, they disperse our seeds, they plant our trees. And through all of these actions, they are constantly replenishing the soil with nutrients, the soil that supports our very livelihoods.” Dr. Amy Johnson’s work focuses on the impacts of conservation and land management on breeding and over-wintering grassland bird communities in Virginia.
“We are excited to offer this opportunity to hear from both Professor Zig and Dr. Johnson on April 28 about their work and how we can get involved in our back yards or farm fields,” says Alliance Program Director Kim Woodwell. “It was not an easy task to narrow down the excellent nominations we received to choose just one 2021 Valley Treasure, but Professor Zig is certainly deserving.”
Nominations for Valley Treasure were open to anyone in the Shenandoah Valley including landowners, community leaders, community members, natural resource professionals and more. All nominations submitted were reviewed and the 2021 recipient selected by a small committee made up of two Alliance board members, one Alliance staff member and two community members. Valley Treasure winners receive a $500 cash stipend (thanks to a generous donor) to be used in any manner they want so they can continue their good work.
Please go to shenandoahalliance.org to register for the April 28 program or for more information about the Valley Treasure award.
Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley envisions a Shenandoah Valley where our way of life is sustained by rural landscapes, clean streams and rivers, and thriving communities. The Alliance advocates, educates, and connects people to conserve the natural resources, cultural heritage, and rural character of our region.
Biden administration takes aim at improving Black maternal health care
Marking Black Maternal Health Week, the Biden administration is moving to put more federal resources behind improving Black maternal health care.
“Make no mistake. Black women in our country are facing a maternal health crisis,” Vice President Kamala Harris said at a virtual roundtable she hosted in Washington Tuesday. “Black women are two to three times more likely to die in connection with childbirth than other women.”
And Black women are also more likely to lose healthcare coverage during their pregnancy, she said.
The United States currently has the highest maternal mortality rates among developed countries – 17.2 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the American Journal of Managed Care.
These rates are even higher among Black women in the United States, regardless of their income and education levels: 37.1 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the Commonwealth Fund.
“We know the primary reasons why: systemic racial inequities and implicit bias,” Harris said. “And the consequences of both are very real.”
Inequities in housing, transportation, and nutrition all work together to negatively affect Black maternal health, the vice president said.
The Biden administration is asking Congress to approve spending $200 million to implement implicit bias training for healthcare providers and strengthen current programs focused on maternal care, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
The administration also is requesting a 24 percent hike for the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights and a 19 percent increase for the federal family planning program to advance health equity and access to health services.
The administration also is proposing to spend $6 billion to support low-income women and children under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
In addition, the Health Resources and Services Administration is going to make available $12 million for maternal health care in rural communities.
Lastly, the Department of Health and Human Services approved a waiver for Illinois to allow the state to extend postpartum coverage to all pregnant women under Medicaid beyond 60 days and up to 12 months. It is the first of what are expected to be many such waivers.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said in a statement that systemic health inequities have been made even worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
A founding member of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, Hoyer praised the White House’s efforts to address the issue.
“We must build on these efforts to root out bias in medical services, improve access to key reproductive and preventative health services for all women, and expand access to quality health care in hard-to-reach communities,” the Maryland lawmaker said.
Black mothers at the roundtable shared personal experiences with life-threatening pregnancies, bereavement, and apathetic care from physicians. A common sentiment that the mothers shared throughout their pregnancies was feelings of being dismissed and not being listened to or heard by their health care providers.
Heather Wilson was diagnosed with preeclampsia during her pregnancy, a condition that worsened towards the end of her term. She lost her first child, Kennedy.
“In the aftermath, we struggled to pick up the pieces without direction, support, and resources,” Wilson said. “I felt so alone.”
Wilson is the executive director and founder of Kennedy’s Angel Gowns, a non-profit based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, created in memory of her lost baby. The organization provides families with handcrafted burial gowns for their babies, “angel gowns,” which are sewn from pieces of donated wedding gowns.
Wilson said that each week, her organization helps up to 10 families bury their babies, a striking number that she called “unreal.”
Through her work at the organization and as a bereavement doula, Wilson helps raise awareness about pregnancy loss and provides families with the support and resources to assist them through the grieving process.
Erica McAfee suffered two pregnancy losses. She was diagnosed with preeclampsia during her first pregnancy and experienced cervical insufficiency during her second pregnancy. Her third pregnancy was successful, despite having to undergo eight blood transfusions and a partial hysterectomy at the age of 28.
“I knew that there were other Black women who experienced the traumatic birth or pregnancy complications like me and I wanted to hear their stories – I wanted to amplify their voices through podcasts,” McAfee said.
McAfee is the founder and CEO of Sisters in Loss, a digital media platform providing comfort to grieving Black mothers by replacing their “silence with storytelling.”
“For every maternal death, over 100 women experience a severe complication related to pregnancy and childbirth – something we call severe maternal morbidity,” said Dr. Elizabeth A. Howell, head of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the Perelman School of Medicine.
Severe maternal morbidity affects 50,000 women in the United States, according to Howell. And 60% of maternal deaths are preventable, she added.
Harris said she had heard many stories over the years of poor treatment of Black women by the health care system.
“Black women deserve to be heard,” the vice president said. “Their voices deserve to be respected. And like all people, they must be treated with dignity.”
By JOY SAHA
Capital News Service Washington Bureau
A look at a family’s journey of adopting amid a pandemic
Dillion Hopson Allen still remembers the first time Rosa stayed with him and his parents for short-term care. The house was packed with kids running around, laughing, screaming, and playing.
Rosa, however, was lying down on the floor. Wrapped in a plush blanket, the teenager looked peaceful, but alert – as if she were feeling the room a little before breaking out of her shell, Dillion said.
Now as Brown’s foster child two years later, Rosa has more spunk. She is a high-school-age, sweet and lively girl who loves dresses (the pink one is her favorite).
She is also about to be adopted by Dillion, who is 23, and his mother and stepfather, Zina and Michael Brown. Adding their last names to Rosa’s is important to them. Having the courts honoring the kinship matters, Dillion said. But because of the pandemic, the process is taking longer than usual.
Capital News Service is not disclosing Rosa’s real name to protect her identity and privacy. She was not interviewed because she is a minor.
Before the pandemic, the process of adopting a child took six to nine months. But now, it may take up to a year, according to Stephanie King, program manager for the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s therapeutic foster program in Baltimore.
Slower judicial proceedings are just one of the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the foster care system, King said.
It was in the middle of last summer when Maryland had surpassed 45,000 COVID-19 cases, that the Browns decided they wanted to adopt Rosa, who was by then their foster child. They were on their back deck, with Rosa’s social worker — all wearing masks and social distancing.
There was a lot of discussions involved, Dillion recalled. His parents are in their 50s. At some point, Rosa, who has autism and epilepsy, will have to move in with Dillion.
So he wouldn’t just be her brother; he would be a parent, too. But their hearts are set on it. Rosa already feels like part of their family.
“I really couldn’t see my life without her,” Zina Brown, 57, said. “I really couldn’t.”
While Dillion, Zina, and Michael started the adoption process in July, they didn’t sign the paperwork until Oct. 12, when they sent a letter signaling their interest in adopting Rosa to the Baltimore City Department of Social Services. They had their first court session on Zoom on Jan 15.
Amid the pandemic and the start of the adoption process, the Browns hosted five other children. Some stayed with them for one week. Others stayed longer, up to four months. Dillion would give them nicknames based on their personalities, he said.
Two high-energy, elementary school boys stayed with the Browns in the fall. It was a lot to walk them and Rosa through online schooling.
Zina often took the schooling duties because Michael was a lead worker for Johns Hopkins Health System while Dillion had his own online classes to attend at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Zina arranged the three laptops, running three different instructions, in the dining area. She made three partitions, forming mini desks, one for each of the children.
“It was like a marathon,” Dillion said. “She might as well have a teacher status herself because she was definitely running around like she was in the classroom.”
But with time, it got easier, Dillion said.
When December came, it was just the Browns, Dillion, and Rosa again. They were set to receive another child, who was supposed to stay with them for a week.
The day after Christmas, Michael started to feel muscle aches and realized he had a reduced sense of taste. So, Michael and Zina decided to get tested.
The same day Zina tested positive, another child arrived and roomed with Rosa. Michael moved to the guest room. A couple of days later, he also tested positive.
For the next two weeks, Dillion, a pre-med student at UMBC, took the lead in taking care of the household.
When Rosa finally realized that Zina and Michael were sick, she would ask Dillion multiple times a day — are they okay?
And then, on the last day of Zina and Michael’s quarantine, Dillion came to a somber realization that he couldn’t taste.
The next day, he tested positive.
In total, the Browns, Rosa, and the second child were in quarantine for a month. But neither of the children contracted COVID-19.
“It was just a strange ordeal,” Dillion said.
The last day of quarantine was a special date. It was Zina’s birthday and the first online court date for Rosa’s adoption.
At 10 a.m., Zina and Rosa sat at the dinner table, their laptop in front of them. Zina was wearing a shirt that said, “it’s my birthday.” Rosa was dressed up too, wearing a flowing dress, necklace, and earrings.
Zina had thought about becoming a foster parent since her early teen years. Her mother, who worked with special education students, would often bring children to their home.
“I always wanted to help,” Zina said. “I just wanted to be able to make a difference in a child’s life.”
Michael, on the other hand, initially wasn’t as confident. He tends to overthink things, he said, stressing about what could go wrong. At first, when Rosa would call him “dad,” Michael would correct her.
“No, call me Pop-Pop,” he would tell her.
Until one day, he told her – okay, you can call me dad.
“She’s part of my heart now,” He said. “She’s like the daughter I never had… she was placed here for a reason.”
Right now, the adoption process is set to be finalized in May, 10 months after the Browns started.
As for Rosa, she has gotten a new teacher, whom she really likes. When she is not tuned into her online classes, she is dancing or making necklaces. Rosa puts them together in bright, happy colors and gives them to her family.
Once the public health crisis is over, the family is going to throw a big party celebrating the adoption, the Browns said. And while right now that’s still a bit in the air, one thing is for certain.
Rosa will have both Zina and Michael Brown’s and Dillion’s last name — Rosa Hopson Brown.
While Dillion sees why people may view Rosa’s adoption as a big decision, he says it really isn’t. Any sense of burden or fear of what the future holds are outweighed by one simple fact.
Rosa is his sister, he said.
By CLARA LONGO DE FREITAS
Capital News Service Washington Bureau
Fauquier Health Rehabilitation and Nursing Center resident celebrates 90th birthday with parade
On Sunday, April 11, 2021, a celebratory birthday parade was held at Fauquier Health Rehabilitation and Nursing Center for resident, Della Ashby. Della celebrated her 90th birthday on April 8, 2021.
Every year, Della’s daughter, Kelly Ashby, throws a big party for her mother with family and friends. Last year was one of the first years in a long time Della and her family were not able to celebrate together. During April of 2020, the Nursing Center was facing strict lock down and visitation restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After enduring months of zero to limited visitation, Kelly decided enough was enough. Around Christmas, Kelly had started planning to orchestrate a parade of cars with Santa Clause for her mother and the residents to see. Unfortunately, due to the brutally cold winter weather and increasing number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the community, the celebration was once again postponed.
Finally, hope was in sight. On March 15, 2021, FHRNC was excited to announce that due to the decreasing number of COVID-19 cases in the area, they were able to resume limited visitation. This came right before Della Ashby’s next birthday – a milestone of 90 years. Kelly once again started planning in preparation of a birthday parade. As the saying goes, ‘third time’s the charm.’ Formal invitations were sent out inviting selected guests to join in a car parade celebration.
On April 11, 2021 cars began lining up in the parking lot of the county building at the bottom of hospital hill. The cars then began their journey up the hill to visit FHRNC. Even a special appearance was made by Warrenton Volunteer Fire Company. All guests were required to stay in their cars and proceeded to parade around the building. Mrs. Della Ashby and other residents were escorted outside where they could sit and watch the parade. The cars drove by Della cheering, honking, and waving.
About Fauquier Health
Fauquier Health is a community health system dedicated to high-quality, patient-centered care in a unique environment that considers the multiple facets of healing and respects the individuality of each and every patient. Located at 500 Hospital Drive in Warrenton, Virginia, Fauquier Health serves the residents of Fauquier and several surrounding counties. It comprises Fauquier Hospital, a fully-accredited, 97-bed hospital; Fauquier Health Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a 113-bed long-term care and rehabilitation facility; the Villa at Suffield Meadows, an assisted living facility; the Wound Health Center and a medically supervised Wellness Center offering health and wellness programs. Fauquier Health also operates nine physician’s offices, including primary care and specialties. More information on Fauquier Health is available online at FauquierHealth.org or by calling 540.316.5000.
Cicadas will soon invade the state of Maryland
Brood X, a new generation of cicadas, will begin to show up in Maryland in the next few weeks, after a 17-year-long hiatus.
These periodical cicadas — cicadas that emerge every 17 years — are only found along the eastern half of the United States, according to experts.
The red-eyed, “straw-nosed” bug will begin to show up as early as late April, will fully emerge by the beginning of May, and last until June, experts said.
Michael Raupp, professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Maryland, said this will be one of the largest groups of cicadas the states have seen.
“It’s called the Great Northern Brood,” Raupp told Capital News Service. “There will be literally billions, if not trillions, of these periodical cicadas emerging more or less simultaneously.”
This brood of cicadas is found in 15 states, ranging from Georgia to Northern Virginia, as well as along the state of Mississippi, Raupp said.
This group is made up of three different species — Magicicada septendecim, Magicicada cassini and Magicicada septendecula — according to The Washington Post.
During their hibernation period, these cicadas have been feeding off the liquid found on plants and leaves known as sap, experts said.
“Their immature stages, which we call nymphs, feed on a liquid diet,” Raupp said. “When the adults emerge they will also feed on this same fluid.”
After the bugs emerge from the ground, typically at night, they will fly to vertical structures and shed their skin, Raupp said. By the next morning, their exoskeleton will have hardened, and they will be able to fly, leading them to the treetops, he continued.
This is where the noise begins, the distinct mating calls of cicadas are some of the reasons most people find these bugs annoying, according to experts.
According to Raupp, the cicada’s sound levels can get as high as 80 to 100 decibels, which is the volume of a lawnmower or a jet aircraft going by.
During their time in Maryland, they will become a delicacy to many animals and even some people, cicada experts said.
“Birds will eat them, raccoons will eat them, turtles will eat them,” Raupp continued, “I will surely be snacking on a few as well.”
These bugs are highly nutritious and high in protein, according to experts.
Even though there is a lot of anticipation for the new wave of these unique bugs, there are also some negative connotations that come with them.
Dawn Biehler, associate professor in the department of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who studies the social impacts and cultural connotations of insects, said she’s gotten different responses from the anticipated invasion.
According to Biehler, Marylanders are either excited about the opportunity to reconnect with these bugs or they aren’t looking forward to one more thing adding to the tumultuous year.
“People get really grossed out about the way they emerge from the ground, they seem like zombies in a way,” she said.
Biehler recommends that Marylanders prepare themselves by learning a little more about the bugs in advance or prepare for another couple of months of isolation.
Raupp also recommended that Marylanders cover their small trees and shrubs from the cicadas with netting gear.
“They are going to damage the branches,” Raupp said. “The trick here is the netting should have a mesh size of one centimeter or less, that’s about three-eighths of an inch.”
Raupp stressed that these bugs are a natural phenomenon, so there should be more of an embrace for these bugs than hatred.
“It only happens a few times in your lifetime, so get out and enjoy these things,” Raupp said.
Jenna Jadin, Raupp’s former student, created “Cicada-Licious: Cooking and Enjoying Periodical Cicadas” a cookbook manual, in 2004, incorporating cicadas into modern recipes.
Banana Cicada Bread
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
2 bananas, mashed
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/4 cup dry-roasted cicadas
After combining all the ingredients together, bake them in a greased loaf pan at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour.
Some fans wary of return to live baseball, Povich poll finds
George Hudnet is an Orioles fan but with the team’s home opener on April 8 he hasn’t made plans to see a game at Camden Yards.
The 79-year-old Bel Air, Maryland, resident probably won’t attend a game in person and instead will watch it on TV.
“I don’t think I’d personally go until after the pandemic is over,” Hudnet told Capital News Service.
The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism in the Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland in collaboration with the Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement at UMD and the Washington Post conducted a national poll of 1,500 U.S. adults.
The online poll from March 12-18 gauged fans’ attitudes toward returning to indoor and outdoor sports events.
Sixty-six percent of poll respondents said they’d feel comfortable attending an outdoor sporting event like baseball, while only 32 percent felt comfortable attending an indoor sporting event like basketball.
“We are very understanding of those fans who are not quite ready to return, but for those fans that are, we’re creating the safest environment possible,” Greg Bader, senior vice president of Administration and Experience for the Baltimore Orioles, told Capital News Service.
Sixty-four percent of those surveyed felt comfortable returning to games with a mask mandate, while 56 percent felt comfortable going to games where attendees are screened for fevers and test negative for COVID-19.
Sixty-nine percent said they would be comfortable returning to games at 20 percent capacity.
“The lower percentage of capacity made people more comfortable than at those venues that were trying for 50 percent or more (capacity) so those were definitely factors that we took into account,” Bader said of the poll.
Sixty-four percent of the poll would be comfortable returning if they received the COVID-19 vaccine and that number rose to 69 percent if all attendees received the vaccine.
“Because vaccinations are still not necessarily available to everyone who wants one, that factored into our decision not to require that,” Bader added.
Some fans like 59-year-old Michael Ruggieri of Glen Allen, Virginia, do feel comfortable returning to games.
Ruggieri is a Mets fan who typically attends one or two games each baseball season.
He explained that when he has received his second dose of the vaccine this week, he will be comfortable going to the ballpark.
He also said that he’d prefer everyone attending games is vaccinated but recognizes that probably isn’t feasible with some people opting not to receive the vaccine.
“If they required everyone to wear a mask, I’d feel comfortable,” Ruggieri told Capital News Service.
“I would like it if there was some kind of reduction in crowds,” he added.
However, other fans, like 35-year-old Jan Glover of Hopewell, Virginia, would only attend games if the teams and stadiums strictly enforced masking and social distancing protocols.
When Glover attends games it’s for the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, as she’s several hours away from both Camden Yards and Nationals Park.
“It would depend on how much they’re enforcing the masking, and you have to have space between your party and other ticketed patrons,” Glover told Capital News Service.
At Camden Yards and Nationals Park fans and stadium staff will be required to wear a mask including when in their seats except when eating or drinking.
Gaiters, bandanas, and masks with exhalation valves won’t be allowed.
At Camden Yards, signs and other notifications will be posted reminding fans before and during games to wear their masks.
Fans who don’t comply with the mask mandate will receive two verbal reminders of the policy from ushers and will be ejected from the stadium after a third violation.
“If it does look there’s an intentional attempt to not wear a mask, we will bring in security and have the individual ejected,” Bader said.
“We are taking this policy very seriously, if we feel that people are intentionally trying to skirt this policy we will have them removed from the ballpark,” he added.
At sports venues in recent months, there have been isolated cases in which fans have refused to comply with mask mandates.
At a National Hockey League game in Pittsburgh last month, 17 fans were ejected for not wearing masks, according to KDKA CBS Pittsburgh.
Masking is one of the numerous protocols that will be in effect on Opening Day for the Orioles.
The team is selling ticket packages in pods of two, four, and six seats.
Each pod will be socially distanced with fans unable to join other groups.
The Nationals will be selling tickets in pods of 1-6 people also socially distanced and with fans unable to join other pods.
At Camden Yards fans who seat-hop and migrate to other seating areas will be reminded twice before being subject to ejection.
In an effort to prevent fans from congregating outside their assigned seating pods Camden Yards won’t open until an hour before the first pitch.
Fans will not be permitted to enter until after batting practice.
The delayed opening is in effect “so that fans are not tempted to be running all over the seating bowl chasing home run balls and instead stick with their assigned pod area once they arrive at the ballpark,” Bader said.
Unlike last season, both stadiums will be cashless and will require digital ticketing where fans can access their tickets through the MLB Ballpark App.
Concession areas at Camden Yards will have more barriers set up than usual and will also have decals marked on the floor directing people where to stand.
Additionally, fans won’t be permitted to bring outside food and beverages into Camden Yards.
“We also have made a significant effort for both our planned members and the public to try and educate them in advance about our policies to make sure that when they arrive at the ballpark, they know what they’re getting into,” Bader said.
Also, there will be clear plastic barriers between fans and concession workers, in an effort to diminish contact and create a touchless experience.
As an added safety measure, Camden Yards has 36 dual-sided handwashing stations around the stadium and over 175 hand sanitizing stations.
Despite all 30 teams allowing fans this season, each stadium has varying capacity limits dependent on the safety protocols of their local jurisdiction.
The Baltimore Orioles will have up to 25 percent capacity at Camden Yards, while the Washington Nationals will allow approximately 12 percent capacity at Nationals Park.
“We are hopeful based on what we saw in Florida (at spring training),” Bader said.
“We were very heartened by the fact that fans did adapt very quickly to this significant change of what coming to a ballpark was all about,” he added.
The Texas Rangers’ stadium in Arlington will be at full capacity this season, while the Boston Red Sox and Nationals have the lowest capacities respectively at 12 percent.
The Rangers home opener was a sell-out with 38,828 fans in attendance as fans throughout the game gradually took off their masks.
These protocols will have been put to the test with the Nationals home opener on Tuesday and will continue with the Orioles home opener on Thursday.
“Stadium capacity is probably the biggest (safety) factor and if people wear their masks,” Glover said.
BY JACOB STEINBERG
Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau