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‘One team, one fight’: Carroll County health officer Ed Singer reflects on working with others during COVID pandemic

As Carroll County health officer Ed Singer’s 33-year tenure with the department winds down, he spending more time talking about what he liked about the role — the people.

In announcing his move, he didn’t specify why he is stepping down on Oct. 27, but he did say he was unhappy about it.

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Singer, 56, who started with the department in February 1988, is moving on as the county’s watershed manager.

“It’s taking me back to what I like to do,” Singer said.

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He originally worked in environmental health at the department. When he attended Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College, he studied biology with an environmental focus.

But don’t get him wrong, Singer said, he also loved being a health officer.

“The thing that I really love about this job is the number of different people I get to work with,” he said.

From left, Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer, Emergency Management Manager Valerie Hawkins and health planner Maggie Kunz discuss plans to prepare for the coronavirus at the Board of Commissioners meeting on March 5, 2020.
From left, Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer, Emergency Management Manager Valerie Hawkins and health planner Maggie Kunz discuss plans to prepare for the coronavirus at the Board of Commissioners meeting on March 5, 2020. (Mary Grace Keller)

Making school board decisions

Even as everyone was struggling through the coronavirus pandemic, Singer said he enjoyed working at the vaccination clinics and working with the commissioners, the president of Carroll Hospital, LifeBridge Health, the United Way board, the sheriff, state’s attorney, the Carroll County Health Department staff and other community partners.

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“You can kind of guess where I’m unhappy,” Singer said, but shortly followed with, “Everybody’s going to think I’m leaving because I can’t get along with the board of ed … they need to understand that’s not it.”

He said part of being a health officer is about compromising. At the last school board meeting when board members and school officials discussed revising its protocols to allow students to stay in school as close contacts if they do not have COVID-19 symptoms, Singer recommended against it but ultimately conceded to the adjustments.

During an interview, he said some parents were mad at him for allowing the adjustments; however, the job requires compromise.

“What we’re here to do, even during COVID, we want to find a way to do the right thing and try to help the community as best as we can,” Singer said. “You can’t always have it entirely one way. There’s got to be some give and take. I think that’s an important piece to leave behind.”

Board member Tara Battaglia took the time during the Sept. 29 meeting to thank Singer for what he has done, though she knows it has not been easy.

“You catch a lot of crap from us and I’m really sorry for that,” Battaglia said, adding that she’s sorry to hear he is leaving.

The Sept. 29 meeting was not the first time Singer’s advice wasn’t taken by school officials on COVID-related decisions.

About a month before the first day of school, Singer suggested the board implement mandatory mask wearing for staff and students when the school year started to prevent large quarantine numbers. The board decided against it.

Back in January when kids were learning virtually, Singer said the school system should hold off on allowing students to return to in-person classes. But the board voted to resume hybrid learning.

And when Singer said he was against the board’s plan to allow high school students to begin hybrid learning last November when COVID-19 case rates were rising, the board went through with it anyway. High school students returned to virtual learning a week later.

“I realize we all have different goals and different responsibilities,” Singer said. “Sometimes there were things the board had control over that I didn’t have control over.”

He said a lot of people reached out to him about the Board of Education not taking his advice.

“I think people thought that would bother me more than it did,” he said. “During this pandemic, we couldn’t take things personally.”

Singer added there needed to be a balance between making sure the community is protected but not being so heavy-handed that it had a large effect on people’s businesses and personal lives.

Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer receives a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Winters Mill High School on Dec. 30, 2020. School nurse Nancy Jascur is administering the dose.
Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer receives a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Winters Mill High School on Dec. 30, 2020. School nurse Nancy Jascur is administering the dose. (Courtesy Photo/Carroll County Health Department)

Working with the community

In the past year, health officers in Caroline, Harford and Montgomery counties have left their posts, according to Andrew Owen, spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Health. He said he could not disclose the reasons for their departures.

Singer has been the health officer in Carroll since July 2015. It has seemed like it’s been 20 years though, he said while laughing.

“The number of hours I worked during the pandemic has been insane,” he said.

Singer, who served in the U.S. Army Reserve, said he’s worked longer during the pandemic than he did when he was overseas. There was one week, if not a couple weeks, when he worked more than 120 hours, he said. His COVID-19 work kicked off with Maryland’s first big outbreak at the Pleasant View Nursing Center in March 2020.

But he’s not the only one who has worked hard this past year.

He said it’s been amazing the way his staff has stepped up. A worker in environmental health stepped in to do COVID-19 testing, health educators took the lead on the personal protective equipment warehouse and they all stepped outside their normal jobs to deal with shortages.

“Our staff has worked their tails off,” Singer said.

He also took notice of the hard work from those outside the department, including nurses from the public schools, the county’s recreation and parks department and volunteers.

“I might be the face on this and leading the charge, but there are so many people … getting us through this,” he said.

Carroll County Commissioner President Ed Rothstein, District 5, said Singer is a rock star who displayed selfless service to the community.

“What I appreciate most about Mr. Singer is the value of his understanding the situation and his ability to communicate that to us and the community,” Rothstein said. “This has been a very challenging year and a half for Carroll countians, and Ed has minimized those challenges by the work he has done leading his team.”

Rothstein called Singer transparent, responsive and a teammate. The commissioner noted both he and Singer have served in the Army, which has the slogan “one team, one fight.”

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