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Harford County Facebook group continues to provide COVID information and support to residents

The search for COVID tests throughout the state is oddly similar to the struggle to find vaccine appointments early last year. For Karen Waller, the Facebook group Harford Citizens Crush COVID-19 has helped her with both issues.

Waller used information from the group to help book a vaccine appointment for her husband. And this past holiday season, the group helped her locate rapid tests to distribute as gifts to family members at an outdoor Christmas party.

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“This [group] has proved to be a very helpful rabbit hole,” Waller, of Bel Air, said.

The tests she gave out turned out to be “fortuitous,” she said, since her son and daughter-in-law both tested positive. “Who’s to say that didn’t directly save someone’s life?”

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The Facebook group launched last February, when volunteers were available to not only provide information, but book vaccine appointments for other members of the group. These volunteers booked appointments for Baldwin resident Cheryl Burkett and her husband.

“It was a virus of kindness,” Burkett said of how the group spread goodwill. “Every day for the rest of my life, I will be grateful to them.”

Once vaccines became more readily available in the summer, the group grew quieter. However, in the last several weeks amid the latest COVID surge, traffic has grown again as people seek COVID tests and reliable information. Mary Boblits, one of the group’s administrators, calls the page “a one-stop shop to get some information out there.”

“For the vast majority of people in that group, they’re there because they want real science information,” Boblits said. “They aren’t interested in conspiracy theories. They’re not interested in hearing about anti-masking, anti-vaccine. They are pro-science. They’re pro-vaccination. They’re pro-mitigation efforts to control the pandemic, which I think is a vast difference from most places on the internet and social media.”

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Boblits is one of six administrators who run the page. The Bel Air resident spends about four to five hours a day searching for information to share and approving posts on the page to avoid duplicate or unhelpful posts.

She said the work has been “rewarding,” noting that, “people are so thankful for having a space that is simply focused on COVID.” Boblits also tries to keep politics out of the group’s discussions.

However, Boblits and other members have grown frustrated with the county government’s inaction in the face of the county’s public struggles.

“I’ve seen a lack of leadership in terms of at the federal level, at the state level, at the county level when it comes to managing us out of the pandemic,” Boblits said. “That requires sacrifices and that requires a lot of tough leadership decisions, and it doesn’t seem like anybody wants to make those.”

Burkett is in favor of reinstating mask mandates.

“It’s the simplest form of respect for each other,” she said. “What I don’t think that citizens understand is: My mask protects you; your mask protects me.”

Although a mask mandate starts Tuesday, it will only apply to visitors and some employees in county government buildings. The Town of Bel-Air also announced it will reinstate its mask mandate on Tuesday.

The county still does not have a permanent health officer after the County Council removed Dr. David Bishai from the position in October. “The health department … can’t get the information out in a timely fashion sometimes,” Boblits said.

As a result, the group is a “central go-to,” as Burkett said, for her and many other county residents.

“It’s just been a godsend to Harford County to have a group like this,” Waller said, “providing good information in a straightforward way.”

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