CHESTERTOWN — How do you honor a man who flew 52 combat missions over the European Theatre during World War II and came home safely to serve his community as a husband and a father, a faithful parishioner at the local Methodist church, one of the finest tractor mechanics on the Eastern Shore and a longtime Mason?
Small towns love their parades, and that’s kind of what took place here Saturday at noon when family and friends and admirers saluted Harold Joiner for his extraordinary journey of service and commitment.
There was cake, too, as Joiner had celebrated his 100th birthday earlier in the week.
“There was a lot to that, wasn’t there,” Joiner said to his son Greg at the conclusion of Saturday’s festivities.
Masons from across the state came to honor Joiner for his 75 years of meritorious service to Chester Lodge #115, by proxy two Governor’s Citations were presented and Mayor Chris Cerino proclaimed Nov. 14, 2020 as Harold Joiner Day in Chestertown.
The 500-block of North Kent Street was closed for more than an hour, blocked at one end by a Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company ladder truck flying a 12x18 American flag. The Kent County Sheriff’s Office color guard made its entrance from the other end.
Joiner was honored in his driveway, having been escorted from his home by U.S. Navy veteran Mark Kutz and Troy Alexander of Masonic Lodge #115.
He sat quietly throughout the testimonials.
Ginny Teitt traveled from Columbus, Ohio to celebrate what she described as Joiner’s “100 years well-lived.”
She spoke of his courage and integrity, love and compassion, gentleness and kindness.
Teitt, her husband and their growing family — ultimately there would be seven children — were living in Worton when they were welcomed by Joiner and his late wife Henrietta in 1983 as what she described as a “family of the heart.”
Two years later Joiner would serve as a guardian angel, praying for Sam Teitt, then a toddler, who was fighting for his life after a near-drowning.
Sam Teitt made a full recovery.
To honor Harold Joiner, the Teitts named their youngest son Andrew Joiner Teitt and Sam Teitt named his son Charles “Charlie” Harold Teitt.
They all call Harold Joiner “Pop,” their adopted grandfather who is included in all family get-togethers.
Sam Teitt, now 37, also had traveled from Ohio for Saturday’s celebration.
“Thank you for loving us so well,” he said to Joiner.
A Chestertown native and graduate of the local high school, Joiner married his childhood sweetheart, Henrietta Gill, in 1942. Later that year, he joined the U.S. Army.
He gained the rank of first lieutenant as a co-pilot flying B-25s for the Army Air Corps. He completed 52 combat missions over Northern Africa and Italy.
Upon his return from the European Theatre, Joiner was stationed as a flight instructor for a year and a half in Greenville, S.C.
He was honorably discharged in 1945 and came home safely to resume his life in Chestertown.
On Saturday, Joiner was presented an American flag that had flown aboard a USAF C-130H in his honor on his 100th birthday. Kutz made the presentation on behalf of the 166th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and the crew of CASTLE 09 (New Castle, Del.), who were conducting local combat training sortie over Maryland and Delaware on Nov. 10.
Del. Jay Jacobs, Kent County’s representative in the state House of Delegates, and Justin Teitt each read citations from Gov. Larry Hogan and Mayor Cerino read a proclamation proudly acknowledging “Harold as one of Chestertown’s own.”
Joiner received a number of gifts, citations and accolades from the Masons in acknowledgment of his 75 years of meritorious service. Among the presenters were Richard Naegele, grand master of the Grand Lodge of Maryland; Dean Burt, grand chaplain of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of Maryland and a past master of Chester Lodge; and Bob Payne, Aaron Bramble and Bill Neff of Chester Lodge #115.
The celebration concluded with Ginny Teitt leading a chorus of “Happy Birthday” and cutting of the cake.
Afterward, Greg Joiner said he was awe-struck by the program that had been put together by Mark Kutz, who also is a member of Chester Lodge, and Ginny Teitt.
“I’ve never seen anything like that for a private citizen, to kind of take over the street and have the Masons come to your house,” Greg Joiner said.
In a personal tribute to his father, he added, “He’s done some good stuff in his day.”
CHESTERTOWN — With Thanksgiving about a week away and the holiday season rapidly approaching, Kent County Health Officer William Webb and Gov. Larry Hogan are asking that residents stray from tradition a bit this year in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Do not travel over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house,” Webb said while updating the Kent County Commissioners Tuesday on the pandemic. “Remember the virus is aggressively spreading here and elsewhere. Many who are infected do not know it. Shop Black Friday online. The best gift you can give is the gift of health. Get a flu shot if you have not already done so.”
Hogan himself has reportedly canceled plans for a family Thanksgiving with his daughters and grandchildren.
During his COVID-19 update at the commissioners meeting, Webb reported 24 new cases in the county in the last two weeks — all transmitted through community spread. As of Nov. 15, there have been 236 cases within the Chestertown ZIP code since March.
Noting “COVID fatigue” among the public is real and is leading to people being fed up with more government restrictions, Webb reminded Kent County citizens that these measures are created to help keep people alive.
“Clearly, Maryland has entered a surge of COVID-19 whose severity appears quite extraordinary,” Webb said. “Our state and our community need to brace for the next round of this highly infectious disease.”
Gov. Larry Hogan held a news conference Tuesday addressing rising case numbers and announcing new restrictions on hospital and nursing home visits and ordering bars and restaurants to close at 10 p.m., starting Friday. Capacity at retailers, personal service businesses, churches and other spaces is to revert back to 50%. Sports fans are no longer allowed at stadiums or arenas.
“This new surge of COVID-19 is going to continue placing enormous strain on both our health care systems and our economy,” Hogan said.
He said that while Maryland has faired better than most of the country, there is wide community spread of the virus in every corner of the state.
The governor said Maryland has seen 13 straight days of more than 1,000 new cases. He said there were 2,321 new cases on Saturday and another 2,149 in the past 24 hours.
“We have seen widespread failures to follow orders and public health advisories statewide. Again, we are calling on the counties to implement strict enforcement of all existing and new orders and directives to ensure that closures are not required,” Hogan said.
Likening the virus to the tides creeping up the shore to the county, Webb warned of the oncoming surge in cases medical professionals have been expecting in the colder months. Though Kent County has been spared from the worst of the COVID-19 compared to more metropolitan areas, Webb said the county could face a similar crisis if “our vigilance wanes.”
“Kent County stands on the high ground and we can see the water rising,” Webb said. “We do not know how high it will go or how rough the waves will be.”
While Kent County’s positivity rate — the total number of positive tests out of all tests administered on a rolling seven day average — remains below the statewide number, the state’s case numbers are on the rise as are the county’s.
This week has seen the positivity rate in Kent County drop from 3.28% Sunday to 2.76% Tuesday, according to Maryland Department of Health figures. The state’s rate has climbed from 6.45% to 6.82% in the same timeframe.
In an interview Tuesday afternoon, prior to the commissioners meeting, Webb said COVID outbreaks in Kent County were confined primarily to nursing homes. He said the cases now are out in the wider community, which is more challenging to address.
Webb spoke in the interview about how Garrett County’s COVID numbers stayed very low for many, many months.
“And in the last month, they have had quite an uptick out there. They are just as rural, if not more geographically separated from the rest of the state than we are. It can happen here and I’m expecting our numbers to go up,” Webb said.
The Kent County Health Department offers COVID tests on Mondays and Thursdays, but it is currently booked up through Thanksgiving. In the interview, Webb said the health department can do about 75 tests per day. He said he has the testing supplies to expand that capacity, but not the registered nurses available to collect specimens.
“I’m hoping once we get past the Thanksgiving holiday that the demand will go down some because we are seeing a lot of folks who need to get tested for the travel for the holiday,” he said.
On a positive note, Webb told the commissioners it looks promising that a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready by early 2021. He said the Kent County Health Department will be prepared to dispense the vaccine as early as next month.
The vaccine will be available in phases with the first reserved for health care workers, first responders and residents of nursing homes or congregate care facilities. The second phase of the vaccine will be administered to essential workers and those over age 65. The third phase will be available to the general public.
The vaccine does bring with it logistic complications for rural areas like Kent County.
Webb said the vaccine is temperature sensitive and must be stored at -77 degrees Fahrenheit. After it is thawed, it must be administered within five days. In Kent County, it will likely need to be kept on dry ice as there is no facility equipped to store a vaccine at those temperatures.
To be effective, the vaccine must be administered twice with at least 21 days between inoculations. Recipients will need to register through an online appointment database.
Further, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will only ship the vaccine when a sufficient number of people are registered with appointments. The vaccine will only be shipped in lots of 950 doses.
Webb said the health department is anticipating significant “vaccine hesitation” in the community with people likely wanting to wait until the first round is administered to “see what happens.”
For example, Webb said the health department’s drive-thru flu clinic only saw about 120 people per day. He said the Eastern Shore might employ a regional strategy through which Kent County might partner with neighboring counties to ensure enough people are registered for the vaccine.
Saying he’s ready for the pandemic to be over, Commissioner Ron Fithian said he will get vaccinated.
“I can assure you, I’m going to do it,” Fithian said.
Webb said he also will be getting a vaccine as soon as possible in an effort to get more people to sign up to be vaccinated.
“Vaccines save lives,” Webb said. “This vaccine is the pathway to ending the COVID crisis.”
Webb also encouraged the community to download the MD COVID Alert app. The app essentially uses Bluetooth beacons to track contact with other phones — helping the public identify if they have been exposed to someone who is COVID-positive.
“This technology was truly groundbreaking,” Webb said. “I encourage anyone with a mobile phone to active this service.”
Webb reported the app had more than 400,000 downloads the first day the app was made available.
State and local statistics and additional COVID information can be found at coronavirus.maryland.gov.
ROCK HALL — Five of the nine school systems on the Eastern Shore have gone back to remote learning, but Kent County is not one of them.
The shift back to virtual learning is based on coronavirus metrics: a county’s positivity rate and the case rate per 100,000 people. The numbers have sent students in Cecil, Queen Anne’s, Talbot, Somerset and Worcester counties back home for school.
“According to the Daily Surveillance Summary for Queen Anne’s County, our metrics have continued to increase in the past week. We have collaborated with our local health officials and based on the metrics, all schools will move to virtual learning effective, November 18th,” the Queen Anne’s County Board of Education posted on Facebook Monday, Nov. 16. “Our apologies for any inconvenience, but the health and safety of all students and staff is of paramount importance.”
According to state guidance for school systems, if a county’s positivity rate goes above 5% and the case rate is more than 15 per 100,000 schools are to go to limited or no in-person programming.
Kent County remains below the thresholds. As of Monday, Nov. 16, Kent County’s positivity rate was trending down at 2.8%. The statewide rate was climbing up at 6.85%.
“I just spoke with our health department and at this point we’re very low, but that could all change on a dime,” said Kent County Superintendent of Schools Karen Couch Tuesday morning, Nov. 17.
Kent County Health Officer William Webb, in a separate interview, agreed with Couch.
“Our concern is to keep the students safe and to keep the teachers safe,” Webb said. “We’ve been fairly good here, but that can change at a moment’s notice.”
KCPS has been moving toward implementation a hybrid instruction model throughout the fall, with students dividing their instruction between days in the classroom and remote learning.
While hybrid instruction is currently occurring for most students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, Couch sent out a letter to the school community, informing families that KCPS may have to return to remote learning if public health metrics rise.
“If local public health metrics continue to rise, KCPS may be forced to suspend hybrid instruction and return to remote learning for students and staff. We are working closely with the Kent County Health Department and monitoring the situation daily,” the letter states.
Queen Anne’s and Talbot administrators gave families a couple of days notice that they would be returning to remote education, a move Couch said she would favor if KCPS were required to suspend hybrid instruction.
“I would be in favor of giving families notice before we would move to remote, but I think it all depends upon the circumstances,” she said.
Webb said he also is working with private schools in Kent County.
The Gunston School in Centreville has a number of students from Kent County attending. It suspended in-person classes this week due to the positivity rate in Queen Anne’s County.
“Our need to temporarily suspend campus activities is related to the wider public health crisis, not as a result of any health issues within our school community,” said Head of School John Lewis in a statement Nov. 17.
Lewis expects to return to in-person instruction, but the “timeline depends on many factors outside of our control: infection rates, health system capacity, and the ability of citizens to heed public health guidelines.”
“The entire Gunston community has worked incredibly hard this year to keep our campus open and maintain the highest degree of community safety,” Lewis said.
On Friday, Nov.13, KCPS launched a dashboard on its website showing confirmed positive COVID-19 cases within the school system. Privacy laws limit what information can be publicly provided. The dashboard lists the building, the number of cases and the dates reported.
It currently shows two confirmed cases at Kent County Middle School in Chestertown dated Sept. 21. There have been three cases reported at the central office in Rock Hall: one on Nov. 6 and two on Nov. 9.
Couch said the central office closed Nov. 13 for cleaning. She said it is currently open, with some staff having gone to get tested and currently quarantining.
She said those currently working in the central office were not considered in close contact with those who tested positive for COVID-19.
Questions remain over what will happen with student athletics that are set to start next month.
“Everybody around us is going to remote so I don’t know how that is going to impact our ability to go into sports Dec. 7,” Couch said.
On Sunday, Nov. 15, Kent County High School Athletic Director Kevin Taylor said sports was still set to start, but that could change.
The school system and the health department are reminding everyone to continue following public health guidelines and mandates such as wearing masks, frequent hand-washing, social distancing and getting flu shots.
“The well-being of staff and students is of utmost importance and outside influences directly impact our school community. If everyone does their part, we will succeed at keeping our community safe,” the KCPS letter to the school community states.