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‘Part of the human touch’: Harford hosts game of ‘virtual catch’ to lift spirits during pandemic

While social distancing is encouraged across Maryland, Harford County figured out a way to host a game of catch: do it electronically.

The county hosted its first game of “virtual catch,” it announced Tuesday, splicing together video clips of residents and county officials playing catch.

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Harford County spokesperson Cindy Mumby said the county is focused on its core functions during the coronavirus pandemic, but levity is also important in trying times. With the goal of bringing a little joy, the Harford County Department of Parks and Recreation put out a call on Facebook, Mumby said, to find people interested in a game of virtual catch.

"We are all going through something here that nobody anticipated or experienced before,” she said. “We are isolated in our homes, and this is a way to bring the county together in a lighthearted video.”

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Kicking off with a child in a driveway, the first pass is to Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, who lobs a ball to director of administration Billy Boniface. By the next chuck, the small green ball morphs into a basketball, whose recipient spins it adroitly on his fingertip before throwing it off-screen to the next person.

Though the name implies catching, not all do, strictly speaking, like a group of four that bats ping-pong balls between themselves and on to the next frame. A multitude of other sports are also represented — lacrosse, soccer and even golf balls make an appearance over the course of the 3.5 minutes.

The virtual catch phenomenon is not new, and trend data collected by Google shows a staccato rise and fall in the number of searches for the term. But over the past five years, searches peaked between March 29 and April 4 in the U.S., presumably as an effect of the novel coronavirus pandemic sweeping the country.

Harford County residents have been forced to take other activities to the Internet during the pandemic. Three Oaks Farm, for instance, has taken its agricultural educational offerings online, as has the county’s department of parks and recreation, which canceled all its programming March 13, according to a news release. The department has continued its work over the internet, launching “At Home with Parks & Recreation" — a selection of educational and entertaining videos showing proper batting form, animals eating and other socially-distant activities like pancake art and DIY pasta-making, Mumby said.

Beyond its regular duties, the county has been posting mental health resources online. Mumby said she hopes the game of catch lifts spirits and, maybe, inspires others to help residents through this emotionally-distressing time.

"This is part of the human touch – we need to be able to have a light moment every now and then,” Mumby said. “That is also an important part of what we do through the department of parks and recreation but also as members of the community.”

The state has recorded approximately 47,500 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health, corresponding to about 2,200 confirmed deaths. Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties have been hit the hardest, comprising about 50% of the state’s total cases.

Harford County, though one of Maryland’s eight most populous jurisdictions, has recorded only 795 cases as of Tuesday morning, with the largest clusters located in Forrest Hill and Bel Air. Two nursing homes in those areas were stricken with the virus, and the county reported 11 days ago that the majority of its then-28 deaths were linked to those facilities.

To date, Harford County has recorded 45 confirmed deaths and 3 probable deaths from the virus. Those numbers are low for its population, spurring the county to open as much as possible under Gov. Larry Hogan’s tiered plan to reopen the state. Under the plan, businesses are restricted to opening at 50% capacity, though many emplace their own restrictions in their stores.

Hogan’s decision to relax some of the restrictions on businesses was made in consideration of key metrics like the number of people hospitalized and occupancy of intensive care unit beds.

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