By MADISON HUNT Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau
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 are 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 bit 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.
BY SARA CHERNIKOFF AND THERESA COTTON Capital News Service
Statewide disparities in COVID-19 vaccinations expose barriers that underserved populations face in avoiding life-threatening infection. Maryland’s early vaccination rollout shows a pattern of racial disparity mostly among Black and Latino residents.
Healthcare disparities hold a firm grip on communities of color in Maryland, a reality that has only worsened with the pandemic. According to state data, an average of 62% of vaccine doses have gone to white residents, with only 21% of doses going to Black Marylanders.
In Prince George’s County, Latino residents make up 20% of the population but only 5.7% have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the county’s vaccine dashboard.
As of April 6, Black people in Baltimore City have received 28.5% of the total vaccinations administered, despite accounting for 62% of Baltimore’s population.
“We need to see decisions and structures put in place, for those with the greatest need for the vaccine, because they are the ones that are getting sicker, and that we provide the support so that those populations are able to access the vaccines,” Baltimore City’s first Chief Equity Officer, Dana Moore said.
Health officials say they are working towards prioritizing vaccines for minority residents, but so far the data has not shown significant changes.
Gov. Hogan created a Vaccine Equity Task Force with the goal of increasing vaccine distribution in minority communities, using the state’s first Tactical Operations Plan.
The ongoing plan, announced on March 4th, involves partnerships with community and private organizers including several churches to launch vaccination sites for hard-to-reach populations and improve vaccine allocation. The task force is working with the National Guard to send out mobile vaccine clinics to underserved communities. The buses are currently set up in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore.
The task force is also working with the Maryland Department of Health to send out mobile education units in Prince George’s County where there are lower vaccination rates. The truck is decorated with informational banners about COVID-19 and broadcasts messages about how to get vaccinated in both Spanish and English.
Lack of access to technology, transportation or language barriers may further contribute to disparities with Black and Latino populations.
While 31% of Maryland’s population is Black, Black residents accounted for about a third of the state’s confirmed COVID-19 infections and 34.8% of COVID-19 deaths, when race was reported.
Latino residents account for 11% of Maryland’s population, but make up 17.7% of COVID-19 cases and 9% of deaths.
White residents make up about 59% of the overall population, representing 40% of COVID-19 infections and 51.5% of deaths, according to U.S. Census data.
In early March in Montgomery County, 66% of the county’s white residents were preregistered for the COVID vaccine despite making up 43% of the population. Meanwhile, only 8% of Black residents were preregistered while making up 18% of the population and only 9% of Latino residents were preregistered despite accounting for 20% of Montgomery County’s population, according to a letter from the Montgomery County Council sent to Gov. Hogan.
Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a Pulmonologist and Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University, said that health isn’t achieved by one strategy. The biggest thing to emphasize is equitable strategies for vaccine access and enrollment, Dr. Galiatsatos said.
Addressing health inequities through vaccine rollout
Six Flags America in Prince George’s County is one of 12 mass vaccination sites in Maryland. State data shows that a majority of people vaccinated at the site in Bowie are living outside Prince George’s county.
Vaccination rates for Prince George’s County and Baltimore City are among the lowest in the state, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health. Both localities currently are within the top four areas with the most positive cases.
Many Black Marylanders were among those that plan to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, showing little hesitancy towards the emergency treatment, according to a recent poll conducted by Goucher College.
In a press release about the poll results, Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said “Vaccine hesitancy has declined among Maryland residents over the past few months. Notably, our poll results also show that Black Marylanders are not significantly more hesitant to get the vaccine than their white counterparts. There are, however, differences across party lines: Republicans are more resistant to taking the vaccine than Democrats. The big picture is that most Marylanders will get the vaccine as soon as it’s available to them.”
Dr. Kim Dobson Sydnor, Dean of the School of Community Health and Policy at Morgan State University, said the conversation of vaccine hesitancy should be reframed to ask if the medical system is worthy of people’s trust in receiving a vaccine.
Sydnor points to a historical distrust towards medical systems by pockets of people in minority communities. Sydnor said a desire to better understand the vaccine is a logical response. “I think that gets interpreted as hesitancy but in reality it’s a logical response to a history and set of current conditions that would make someone pause.”
Efforts to reach more Black and brown communities during the COVID-19 vaccination process allows for healthcare professionals and community organizers to address key barriers.
“One is that every hospital invests in their community engagement officers…energize them, where they have to approach the communities in a grassroots manner, work with them to achieve community-identified health interests, and then the resources to do just that…build that trust over the next decade or so,” Galiatsatos said.
Offering support toward outreach and encouraging community-specific health initiatives leads to more hard-to-reach populations receiving public resources and protection from the virus, according to Galiatsatos.
Challenges in vaccine rollout
Amber Allen is a special assistant in Prince George’s County’s Health, Human Services and Education department. Allen believes the greatest issue the county faces is an inequitable vaccine supply. “Prince Georgians really want this vaccine right now. Vaccine demand has been outpacing the supply,” Allen said.
More than 232,000 Prince Georgians are pre-registered and about 62% of those people have already been vaccinated as of April 6, according to Allen.
Prince George’s County is the second-most populated county in Maryland but has the lowest vaccination rate in the state, according to the Maryland Department of Health’s COVID-19 vaccine dashboard.
Prince George’s County is still falling behind in registering and vaccinating a majority of its Latino population and residents from low-income neighborhoods who were hit the hardest by the pandemic.
Allen said home-bound senior citizens are having trouble accessing vaccination sites. Other residents don’t have access to wifi or tablets to register online. The county is working on transportation issues and said residents without wifi should call 311 to preregister via phone, according to Allen.
Outside of county government outreach, Adventist Healthcare, the Latino Health Initiative and CASA, an advocacy group for Latino and immigrant people, are working to vaccinate at least 600 Latinos a week in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently opened a mass vaccination clinic at the Greenbelt Metro Station. The site is able to provide up to 3,000 shots per day. Prince George’s County Executive Alsobrooks said that 65% of vaccines at the site will be reserved for Prince Georgians.
Brigadier General Janeen Birckhead is the head of the Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force. She said the new site located at Greenbelt Metro station gives greater access for Prince George’s county residents to vaccines, especially those without transportation. Birckhead said the community vaccination site will drive vaccine data to be more equitable. “This is where the whole of government meets equity,” Birckhead said.
As of April 8, only 13.4% of Prince George’s County residents are fully vaccinated. In Baltimore City, 16.9% of residents are fully vaccinated, according to the Maryland Department of Health.
Dr. Sydnor, Dean of the School of Community Health and Policy at Morgan State University, said that health inequities already exist for underserved communities in Baltimore and that nobody made adjustments to address these issues when distributing the vaccine.
“If you start distributing things based on what you think is already an equitable and fair system, you would think you’re getting the outcome you’re looking for, but in reality, because the system and structure is already inequitable, that allocation also becomes inequitable,” Sydnor said.
Sydnor points to transportation as an example of inequity. “Baltimore City in particular does not have a mass transit system. If you don’t have a car and you have to get a vaccine — and some of these vaccines are being made available on a relatively short notice — that inequity that is already built in the system just gets amplified on top of what’s happening with the vaccine and the short supply in the first place.”
Outside of transportation and technical issues, a lack of consistent messaging about signing up for vaccinations has caused confusion and distrust for some residents.
Michael Scott is the Chief equity officer at Baltimore nonprofit Equity Matters. He said registering his mom for the vaccine in Baltimore was a complicated experience. Scott said the lack of a consistent and trusted source sending messages about the vaccine early on made it difficult to discern what the right course of action was when registering and making an appointment.
“Having a foundation of trust matters and trusting the wisdom of those relationships and those people will reduce the inequity and disparities,” Scott said.
By TOM HINDLE Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau
Del. Lily Qi recounted their stories to the House committee.
There was the patient who was asked to leave her doctor’s office when she told her physician she was a lesbian.
There was the parent who was told to move to a different city when talking to a school principal about LGBTQ comfort and inclusivity.
Some state lawmakers are looking to make sure those stories become less common — or, at the very least, they are addressed.
So, lawmakers are putting forth a bill, HB130, that would establish a commission that aims to prioritize and address LQBTQ affairs statewide.
The bill’s sponsor, Qi, D-Montgomery, believes the bill is a necessary measure toward understanding and inclusivity.
“The committee will serve as a home and bridge between the LGBTQ communities and those who love, serve, and care about them,” Qi said at a hearing on Jan. 14.
Qi is proposing a 15-person commission, with all members appointed by the governor, and then confirmed by the Senate.
The commission is to work on a series of steps toward a more tolerant and educated state.
It shall assess challenges facing LGBTQ communities, collect data regarding existing policies and discrimination, and then work with local governments to pass laws based on areas of need.
“This is part of the state’s responsibility that civil rights protections are there for the LGBTQ community,” Samantha Jones, president of LGBTQ Democrats of Montgomery County, told Capital News Service.
The commission is also expected to publish an annual report regarding its progress, as well as denoting ways to approach discriminatory practices in the state.
“We don’t know what the issues are yet. But it will help educate people in the community,” Joe Clapsaddle, a spokesperson on LGBTQ+ issues for the Episcopal Public Policy Network, said.
According to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2020 State Equality Index, Maryland is the 13th most tolerant state in the nation.
The bill aims to address that ranking, and foster equality and understanding within the state, too.
“There are political advocacy organizations, but there’s nothing like what we have for other groups that experience discrimination,” Sen. Mary Washington, D-Baltimore, said.
Qi pushed a similar piece of legislation through the House last session, but it died when the Legislature shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic
And this time, the bill looks a bit different.
Qi, in conjunction with Washington, has worked to tweak it in order to foster inclusion within the commission itself.
Among the modifications is a stipulation that at least two individuals on the commission identify as part of the transgender community.
They have also adjusted the language to coincide with other Maryland state commissions in an effort to expand its influence.
None of the members of the commission are slated to receive pay, and they are expected to appoint their own chairperson.
They will serve four-year terms, and cannot serve more than two consecutive terms without a year-long gap in between.
Still, there has been some pushback. In a hearing, legislators raised concerns about some of the technicalities of the language, especially with the scope of protections.
“This is going further. Not only saying you can’t discriminate, but you have to proactively include certain protective classes. Is that what we want to do with other protected classes with amendments?” Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, said at a voting session.
Despite those qualms, the bill passed a Senate committee on an 8-3 vote Thursday evening and will now go to the Senate floor — where Qi is optimistic it will pass.
By AUDREY DECKER Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau
After a polarizing 2020 presidential election and a worldwide pandemic, Maryland lawmakers are rethinking how to conduct voting.
The General Assembly is considering multiple pieces of legislation that would ensure Marylanders can vote by mail and vote early.
In states across the country, there have been efforts made by Republican lawmakers to limit access to voting.
Georgia’s new voting law imposes multiple restrictions for voters, such as shrinking the amount of time voters have to request absentee ballots, creating strict ID requirements for absentee ballots, and limiting drop boxes.
Maryland, however, seems to be going the opposite direction.
The Maryland General Assembly is Democrat-controlled. Historically, Gov. Larry Hogan has been critical of former president Donald Trump. The Republican governor said that the voter fraud claims of the 2020 presidential election are “wrong for the country,” on PBS in November.
House bill 745 would increase the number of early voting sites statewide, and has passed in both chambers.
Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, sponsor of the bill, said that because of the pandemic, there has been a lot of innovation in how voting takes place in different states, and Maryland is learning from that.
Another one of his bills, HB156, aims to secure accessible voting to several groups who have historically faced issues, such as students, overseas military personnel and senior communities. The bill passed in the House and is awaiting action in a Senate committee.
Sen. Sarah Elfreth, D-Anne Arundel, sponsors the Senate version of the bill, SB283. The bill passed in the House on Tuesday and awaits review in the Senate.
Additional voting legislation has been introduced by Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, D-Montgomery. HB1047 would ensure that Maryland keeps its ballot drop boxes and gives people who use mail-in voting the ability to correct any errors before their ballot is rejected.
Many of these ideas were successful practices from 2020 that lawmakers are trying to codify into law, Wilkins said.
On Wednesday, the Senate advanced HB1047, which addresses the number of ballot boxes in the state as well as how election boards deal with absentee ballots that are unsigned, or if more than one is received.
Maryland does not verify signatures, said Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, and this bill would not change that.
Republican lawmakers remain concerned about fraud. Without verifying signatures and multiple ballots coming in, there’s a potential to disenfranchise the correct and proper voter, said Sen. Stephen Hershey, R-Kent, Queen Anne’s, Cecil, Caroline. There needs to be ballot verification, Hershey said.
Wilkins is also sponsoring the Value My Vote Act, HB222, which guarantees the right to vote for incarcerated individuals and requires a drop box to be provided in every jail and correctional facility. The bill passed in the House and is awaiting action in a Senate committee.
“It’s important for legislators to really legislate based on the facts and to elevate the need for every single voter to have equal access and full access to the ballot,” Wilkins said.
Wilkins is also sponsoring HB1048, which would establish a permanent absentee ballot list, so voters could proactively be mailed their ballot before each election. The bill passed in the Senate on Tuesday and awaits review in the House.
However, some lawmakers are frustrated with how the majority party has been pushing this voting legislation.
Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, sponsored Senate bill 233, which would require the State Board of Elections to study other states that have safeguards for absentee ballots.
The bill he sponsored was designed to combat any possible flaws in the system, Simonaire said. However, it didn’t come up for a vote in committee.
“In Maryland, it doesn’t take massive fraud to change the outcome of an election,” Simonaire said.
Simonaire’s party is concerned with the integrity of the 2020 election, so it’s incumbent upon legislators to make sure the public has a high level of confidence in the election process, Simonaire said.
A significant number of members of the minority party have voted against every election bill, raising a “red herring” argument about voter fraud, even though voter fraud is vanishingly rare in the U.S., Luedtke said.
“My concern, fundamentally, is that you can’t have one party that supports the right to vote and one that doesn’t,” Luedtke said.
His party is not trying to suppress the vote, Simonaire said, rather they want to put in place safeguards to ensure that there is integrity in the election process.
“We want a balanced approach where we have access and safeguards and it’s a well-run election process,” Simonaire said. “We will support that, but we don’t support the one-sidedness of it without safeguards.”
Senate bill 683 passed in the Senate on Friday, and is awaiting a decision from the governor. Similar to Wilkins’ HB1048, this bill would allow voters to be on a permanent absentee ballot list.
By RAYONNA BURTON-JERNIGAN and CLARA LONGO DE FREITAS
Capital News Service Washington Bureau
State legislators in 47 states have introduced 361 bills so far this year to restrict voting, according to a Brennan Center for Justice Report released Thursday.
“In the states, legislatures are rushing to enact restrictive voting laws, the most significant since the Jim Crow era,” Brennan Center president Michael Waldman tweeted. “With the For the People Act, Congress has the power to stop that cold.”
The report said the state laws were being proposed and passed in response to “baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities.”
Roughly 30 percent of the restrictive laws have been proposed in the last month, the center said.
Most of the bills are aimed at cutting down on absentee voting, while almost a quarter are seeking tougher voter identification requirements, the Brennan report said.
Arizona, Georgia and Texas accounted for nearly 100 of the voting restriction bills, according to the center.
The report was released the same day the House Administration Committee held a hearing on voting rights and access. The panel’s chairman, G.K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, mentioned the Brennan report in his remarks.
“All too often, access to the ballot has been neither free nor fair,” he said.
The 2020 election, which had a record turnout of over 150 million people, has prompted Democrats in Congress to try to pass the “For The People Act,”which would expand voters’rights, improve access to the ballot box and bars to reduce voter discrimination. The measure also would overhaul campaign finance laws and end partisan gerrymandering of districts.
House Democrats passed the bill in March.
Republicans in Congress have called the bill a power grab by the Democrats.
Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wisconsin, said the bill never had proper hearings before it was passed.
“Republicans want to ensure that every eligible person who wants to vote is able to cast a vote,” he insisted.
Voter discrimination has existed since the 15th Amendment guaranteeing voting rightswas ratified in 1870, Butterfield said.
“It is time we encourage people to vote, rather than continuing to erect barriers that seek to suppress the votes, and voices of communities,” Butterfield said.
North Carolina remains a “battlefield” in an “unending war” for access to the ballot, Allison Riggs, co-executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, told lawmakers.
Voter suppression can take many forms, she said: lack of access to transportation, conflicts between work and shorter polling hours, or voting places without access to people with disabilities.
In her written testimony, Riggs said that Black and brown voters waited longer to vote and were the targets of misinformation. Black voters faced more barriers to participate due to unreliable mail service and discrimination, she added.
While there were successes in voting turnout in many states amid the pandemic, Black and Latino voters had their absentee ballots rejected at disproportionately high rates, Riggs noted.
Critics often focus on a specific set of jurisdictions when talking about voter suppression, such as Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida, said Sonja Diaz, the director of the UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.
“But this frame too often leaves out an important fact,” Diaz said. “The attack on Americans’ fundamental right to free and fair access to the ballot happens everywhere.”
In the presidential election of 2020, 16.6 million Latino voters cast ballots, the single largest four-yearincrease for that group of voters. But many new voter suppression laws are being proposed or passed in the very states where Latinos played a significant role, Diaz said.
And voter barriers may have a lasting impression on first-time voters, she added.
Last year, the states with the largest increase in voter turnout compared to the 2016 presidential election were states that expanded access to the ballot, said Marcia Johnson-Blanco, co-director of the voting rights project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Hawaii, California and Utah all saw increases in turnout after mail-in ballots were sent to every registered voter in their states.
In contrast, states with more restrictive laws and barriers had the lowest turnout, Johnson-Blanco said.
Barriers for voters included restrictive voter ID laws, cutbacks on early voting, elimination of polling places and restrictions on community-based voter registration groups, Johnson-Blanco said, adding that such laws continue to disproportionately impact voters of color.
“Without congressional action, the 2020 election and its aftermath may become an inflection point in our nation’s history,” she said. “With the future being one with states providing two different voting systems: one that provides access, and one that provides stringent restrictions.”