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Harford County food pantry closes for day after potential COVID-19 exposure; services to resume Thursday

Linda Whaley arrived early Wednesday to the Harford Community Action Agency’s food pantry in Edgewood to miss the lines but was turned away by a bright orange sign posted in the door reading “HCAA has experienced a pandemic emergency.”

Instead of picking up a month’s supply of food, the 60-year-old Edgewood resident had to go home and think of what to do next.

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“I was like ‘What? You got people standing out here in line,’” Whaley said. “You got people who need food.”

HCAA’s Executive Director Pamela Craig said one of HCAA’s staff members thought they had been exposed to the coronavirus, so the organization’s leadership decided to close the center for the day to regroup and reevaluate the situation. Craig said staff later learned clarified the person had not been exposed.

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The staff member does not interact with clients or staff but does have an office in the building, she said.

“Out of an abundance of caution, and to mitigate risk and gossip and fear, we decided to close the office and use today to re-evaluate our processes and to reassure our staff and clients that their safety is of utmost importance,” she said.

To date, the agency has not had one positive test among its workers, she said, because of their diligent adherence to state and county safety guidelines.

The organization regularly reexamines its processes after press conferences from Gov. Larry Hogan, like the one he had Tuesday, she said.

Spokesperson for Harford County Government Cindy Mumby said that shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday the county was informed that someone on HCAA’s staff may have been potentially exposed to COVID-19. County staff learned that the food pantry was closed on Wednesday morning when they referred someone to the service.

The note on the board stated that the pantry would be closed until Dec. 21, but that did not stand long. The organization announced on social media around 1 p.m. Wednesday that its hours would change as a preemptive measure in response to the surge in COVID cases occurring throughout the state.

The pantry will remain “100% operational,” it announced Wednesday, but change its hours. It will be open from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday and from Monday to Thursday next week. The schedule after Dec. 17 have not yet been announced.

Craig said the pantry will begin operating during both daytime and evening hours the week of Dec. 21. That schedule is forthcoming.

The sign, Craig said, was a miscommunication; it was meant to say “HCAA is closed to evaluate the pandemic emergency and will reopen on 12/10/2020,” far from the ominous message pasted on the door.

Whaley said she has been going to the pantry for years and counts on the food she gets there. She has a host of medical issues that make movement difficult and put her at higher risk for a serious COVID-19 infection. She assumed the warning to mean the coronavirus had hit the distribution site.

Originally worried she would have to ask help from her son, Whaley said she planned to return to the food pantry Thursday. HCAA’s staff are masked and gloved, she said, and those waiting in line do so at a respectable distance away. They, too, wear masks.

“They do it outside,” Whaley said of the food distribution. “I would take pause if I had to go inside.”

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Mary Paramore also went with Whaley, her next door neighbor, to the food pantry to help her carry her groceries. Nobody was at the distribution site to explain why it was closed she said, and over 10 people had lined up by 9 a.m.

“This was kind of a cluster this morning,” she said.

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