Happy Birthday to the Covid-19 Lockdown(s)

On March 15, 2020, everything in the state of Maryland began shutting down, including restaurants, bars, clubs, malls, gyms, movie theaters, schools, and any other establishment not deemed to be not an essential business. This basically meant only grocery stores and gas stations remained open. 

Also, with this drastic change came a mandatory mask mandate that the country hasn’t seen in 100 years. In Baltimore City alone, we were only able to partake in carryout food.  All major forms of entertainment closed for three months. 

For students at UB, we entered spring break a week early and were initially told that we would return in two weeks.  Well, the last time I stepped foot on campus was over a year ago, as I have been attending Zoom University ever since. 

With that anniversary coming up, I figured we’d take a look back at our first last year living through the Covid-19 pandemic. 

To understand the pandemic, we also have to look at how much happened from early 2020 to where we are now. 

We’ve experienced great losses of life like Kobe Bryant, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Chadwick Boseman, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Eddie Van Halen, and Alex Trebek. We have also weathered some serious natural disasters like the Australia bushfires, the Westcoast wild fires, the Beirut explosion, Murder Hornets, and a massive winter storm that decimated Texas. 

To note less severe world happenings, we’ve seen the stock market crash, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle leave the Royal Family, the impeachment of Donald Trump not once but twice, and a massive outcry for social justice during the Black Lives Matter protests.

Needless to say, 2020 was a complete dumpster fire of a year. However, the pandemic also offered some positive changes in the world. 

Look at how the pandemic has affected our major holidays traditions in the last year. Opening day for baseball was canceled, the NBA was forced to bubble, and the Olympics were postponed, as were most major music festivals and even some NFL games. Some sports have semi-recovered, the capacity limits for fans have dropped drastically compared to what we are used to. 

Another thing we haven’t seen in years was the closure of major amusement parks, the largest being Disneyworld. These parks have now been converted to mass vaccination sites, along with major event facilities such as Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium. 

We’ve also seen the strict enforcement of capacity limits in local bars and clubs. This makes the overall outgoing experience drastically different, but people have become accustomed to these relaxing open spaces given the lack of body to body contact they’re usually subjected to.

Another industry that has been greatly impacted by the coronavirus is television and film. Back in February 2020, most major film and TV productions went on hiatus. This resulted in major premiere delays and some television shows not being able to finish their seasons. Over time, most film and TV staff were able to return to set.  However, in one instance, constant delays hit the new Batman movie directed by Matt Reeves, which saw multiple Covid outbreaks on set. Throughout other major film studios such as Disney/Marvel, similar delays have lasted over a year. This has largely affected movie theaters all across the world.  Many small theaters have closed permanently while larger chains fight to stay alive. 

With the pandemic now easing up and public access to theaters returning, reserving a whole movie theater for yourself is easier than ever. Also, with the rising demand for online streaming, subscribers can now watch more major blockbuster films than ever from the comfort of their own homes on premier platforms like Disney Plus and HBOMax.

When it comes to work and education, we’ve all been confined to our homes to get our work done. This has created an opportune environment where you’re able to complete your work from anywhere in the world. People have been leaving the cities in droves, causing the housing market to boom for the first time in years. Major corporations have extended work from home programs for their employees until 2022 and beyond. In some ways this has made life easier for all, especially those no longer paying rent for office space. 

This pandemic has taken a lot from people but also has made life a bit different in some positive ways as well.

CJ Rhem is a senior writer for The Sting.

Restaurants on North Charles face hardship with virtual learning

In December, Mayor Brandon Scott announced a ban on both indoor and outdoor dining. In January, dining was able to resume with indoor seating capped at 25% capacity and outdoor capped at 50% capacity. A one-hour time limit was imposed. Last week, Scott finally lifted the time limit requirement.

Although restaurants across the city have been allowed to reopen with these restrictions, the amount of business just isn’t the same. On North Charles St., restaurants have been hit exceptionally hard since most of their clientele, University of Baltimore students and staff, haven’t been on campus in almost a year.

Restaurants on North Charles St. that are a bit closer to campus include Turp’s, Viccino’s (formally Jay’s Deli), XS, and Chicken and the Egg. 

Of these places, only two of them are closed until further notice. 

Turp’s, an American pub style restaurant, and XS, a breakfast and sushi fusion restaurant/bar, are the only two restaurants closed until further notice. XS did have a sign posted on their door about the possibility of returning in the fall.

Both Turps and XS were quite popular among students because they offered a wide variety of food options and a setting where students could go to relax and drink (if they were of age).

Chain restaurants further south on North Charles include Chipotle, Subway, and Smoothie King, though these places haven’t been affected by the pandemic as much since they already had a strong takeaway business. These establishments also had the flexibility of using apps like DoorDash or Grubhub. 

Grille Twelve 24, another popular spot for students, also has an extensive amount of carryout options that have helped them weather the storm. Aloha Sushi has been able to support itself with a similar range of carryout options and an in-house liquor store.

Due to the many obstacles and restrictions put in place, Covid-19 has caused over 17% of restaurants to close nationwide. 

With new vaccination programs and restrictions beginning to ease, restaurants on North Charles St. are optimistic that they will soon be able to reopen, even before students and staff return to campus.

CJ Rhem is a senior writer for The Sting.

A Tale of Two LSATS

Months after the start of a pandemic and lockdown, we have begun to take steps toward returning to normalcy.  

Enter the LSAT Flex here. This is a fun little test administered by the LSAC, or Law School Admission Council, who has been continuing efforts across the country for people to take the LSAT even as large testing centers are forced to remain closed.  

A friend of mine and I took our tests this year at the same time. Not only do we both attend the UB, but we have also taken on the task of studying three times a week for the three months prior to our test. We, finally, decided to settle on taking the test in November since it was the final test offered in 2020.  

Originally scheduled for Saturday, November 14th, we planned to take our exams online. Interestingly enough, unlike in-person exams, ours would be an hour shorter with only 3 portions instead of 5.  

It was running smoothly until it wasn’t.  

A week before the exam, we received an email from LSAC telling us to choose between the 7th, 9th, 10th, or the 11th, effectively making the test a week earlier than expected and costly as we had already taken off of work for the original date.  This was only the beginning.  

My friend chose November 10th and I chose November 11th .  

On November 10th, her computer and desktop fail the necessary processor run to take the test. An hour later, after waiting on hold, she is informed that she has missed her test time and will need to take the test in January before ultimately her to take the test later in the day. 

On November 11th, scarred by my friend’s story, I decided to take 3 computers with me to avoid the same issue. Thankfully, this isn’t where my problems lied.   

The test, however, was similar to practice tests taken previously with similar structure and timing. Let’s just say that months after highlighting and other strategies at my disposal, taking the exam via computer was a change of pace.  

In case you’re curious as to how I did, let’s say that I’ll be definitely taking it again.  

Charles Rhem is a staff writer for The Sting.

Friday Groove: Fells Point’s not-so-hidden gem

Soundgarden in Fells Point, Baltimore.

Looking for a not-so-hidden gem in Fells Point?  

Fells Point’s SoundGarden record shop has a unique vibe that just invites you in to browse the isles for hours. As coronavirus restrictions are loosening, the friendly and helpful staff is eager for customers to come in and browse the stacks.  

Since 1993, the store has grown to become a prominent part of the Fells Point’s commercial scene earning numerous awards, including recognition from Baltimore magazine and Billboard in 2013. It has also never having changed owners or being sold, a rarity for Fells Point. It’s wide selection, of both new and preowned products, include vinyl records, CDs, DVDs, video games, board games, and other collectibles.  

During this holiday season, Soundgarden is putting on its own 25 Days of Christmas showcasing merchandise available for purchase this month. Air freshners, boardgames, and candles are at the heart of this deal. 

Take my word for it,  you should go to the SoundGarden and browse the selection and support small business this holiday season.  

Photo copyright: Baltimore Business Journal

Karla Shepherd Retires; UB Decides Against Hiring New Diversity Center Director

University of Baltimore Student Center where Diversity and Culture Center is housed. Photo credit: Mary E./ Flickr

Karla Shepherd, previously director of the University of Baltimore Culture and Diversity Center for 18 years, bid farewell to the University of Baltimore this past December. 

Months later, the university has decided to not fill her position. 

“The Division of Student Success and Support Services requested to hire a new director,” said Bill Shnirel, executive director of Student Success and Support Services in an email to the UB Post. “After careful review, the UB administration has decided not to replace this position .” Schnirel however expressed that administration is looking for means to continue providing diversity training and programming and leadership for its various diversity committees. 

Schnirel, however, insists that he has not heard any talks of eliminating or downsizing the scope of the center. 

During Shepherd’s tenure, she led training on topics ranging from building safe spaces on campuses to LGBT awareness, the latter of which began in 2009 and has since been attended by over 200 people. Additionally, she played a crucial role in starting the Holidays Around the World Fair which has taken place every fall semester since 2001 providing students the chance to share holidays from their wide array of  nationalities, ethnicities, religions, and cultures. This has grown to become one of the most widely attended events on campus. 

In the past few years, she even expanded partnerships between the center and academic departments to bring speakers, such as social commentator and activist Daphne Muse, to campus and students to museums in Baltimore and nearby Washington, DC, such as the Smithsonian Museum of African American History in Washington, D.C. 

“I enjoyed watching students come on campus fresh and leave in their caps and gowns and flourish in their future”, said Shepherd. “But I do have plans for more free time.

A Philadelphia native, Shepherd has called Maryland home since the early 1980’s when she went to the University of Maryland for 12 years before coming to the University of Baltimore in 2001 where she remained until her retirement. 

Charles Rhem is a staff writer for UB Post. 

UB Hopes BPD Can Cure Financial Woes

Baltimore police officers at nearby Camden Yards. Wikimedia Commons.

UB students, this past September, learned that the university had agreed to a deal with the Baltimore Police Department to the tune of more than six million dollars over a five-year period. 

The deal was not without controversy. Supporters hailed the deal as a solution to the more than 6 million dollar (6.5 million to be exact) shortfall facing the university while critics bemoaned bringing an institution with a checkered history to a campus with a high concentration of marginalized students. The deal, nonetheless, would lease the gym, classrooms, select rooms in the Learning Commons, and the Maryland Avenue garage for roughly a million dollars per year with 2% annual increases. The Baltimore Police Department also will pay over two million dollars in gym renovations. 

Among many students, a question lingers:  What purpose did this 5-year leasing deal with the Baltimore City Police Department. 

The answer lies in the structural budget deficit that the university has faced for roughly 5 years primarily due to declining undergraduate enrollment over a period of five years. 

Many steps have been taken to close this budget gap over the past three years, including mandatory furlough days,hiring freezes, travel restrictions, and limits on spending by various academic departments and both the Merrick School of Business and University of Baltimore Law School. Later, this expanded to other services either being cut or eliminated. Shuttle bus service hours were reduced. Counseling services were eliminated on campus and outsourced to a third-party agency. 

Last semester, students pushed back against a major cut proposed by administration: shortening gym hours. The SGA took action by collecting student signatures in protest to keep the gym open. Those who were international students who were on work study and contractual employment primary employment came from campus recreation and wellness, would have to forfeit those positions. Campus morale has certainly taken a hit, especially after the partnership’s final details were announced with little input from faculty and students who are most impacted by the changes. 

Beth Aymot, chief financial officer for the University of Baltimore, stands by the method in which administration notified students of these changes. 

“Real estate and partnership agreements, by nature, typically require a small team from each party who evaluate and negotiate the terms to achieve the best possible outcome,” said Aymot. “UB was not in a position, and neither was the City, to share with our communities the details of this arrangement as it was being developed.”

Aymot referred students who were interested in finding out more information to visit the Baltimore Police Education and Training center website. More importantly, she stressed that this deal would have a direct impact on closing the budget shortfall.

However, the university is now focusing its resources on a smooth transition with a UB representative scheduling talks with students about changes in recreation and parking.

At this point, much of the changes that will impact students regarding this agreement has yet to be announced. Students, however, have another opportunity to make their concerns on this issue heard. 

On December 4th, UB President Kurt Schmoke and Baltimore Police Department commissioner Michael Harrison will host a town hall forum co-sponsored by the SGA allowing for students to ask questions and address their concerns about the partnership. 

Officers are expected to arrive on campus sometime early next year. 

Charles Rhem is a staff writer for the UB Post. 

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