As details of the coronavirus began to emerge, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan held several press conferences to advise residents on how they could help thwart the spread of COVID-19. Since his March 5 State of Emergency declaration, he has delivered 28 orders including closing public schools, shuttering non-essential businesses, enacting a "Stay At Home" directive, and asking travelers returning to Maryland to quarantine for 14-days. His most recent orders require the use of face masks and social distancing in public for both consumers and business owners. When COVID-19 reached U.S. soil, Engage Mountain Maryland, (EMM) quickly shared news updates amidst a growing number of confirmed cases reported in early March – three of which were confirmed in Garrett County by mid-March. Sharing information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), various media outlets, and updates from the Garrett County Health Department helped inform residents on ways to avoid contracting or spreading the virus. Governor Hogan's Facebook Live broadcasts were the first opportunity for many mountaintop citizens to hear directly from their state's administration on the fluid and important action items intended to curb the pandemic's spread into Maryland. A need for up-to-the-minute information for concerned citizens resurrected a question that has floated for decades – Why doesn't Garrett County have access to Maryland television channels? On March 27, EMM resurrected a 2016 online petition at MoveOn.org posted by Charles Hoffeditz. His name is synonymous with this issue. The dormant petition referred to Garrett County as "orphaned" from the rest of the state's communications while asking for signatures to support moving the television broadcast market from Pittsburgh channels to Maryland channels. After a post sharing the petition on the EMM Facebook page, and in just under a week, the signatures jumped from roughly 400 to over 1000, indicating a strong interest from the general public that the time had come for the western-most county in Maryland to join broadcasting media seen elsewhere in state. Area citizens have limited information options, according to EMM, forcing them to comb through social media pages and Google searches to locate and watch the Governor's live addresses. Important directives and mandates for individuals and business owners are critical as the COVID-19 public health emergency continues to unfolds. "With just 75 percent of Garrett County residents having access to broadband service, and many of those customers unable to stream live video, there is an indisputable need for television coverage during a public health emergency," said Eric Robision, EMM Secretary and former paramedic. "Not all service is the same just because you're connected to an internet service provider," Robison notes as someone who often experiences frustration over buffering during the internet press conferences. EMM submitted a letter to Governor Hogan's office requesting an emergency executive order to migrate the Garrett County viewing audience to Maryland channels. The letter was submitted by EMM President, Mark Stutzman and partially reads; "Reassigning our television market has been a request for many years but red tape has prevented it from crossing the finish line. We are in a statewide crisis highlighting the importance of realtime news. The only source for Maryland news in Garrett County is via the internet and many residents are without a broadband connection, either by location, or economic circumstances. Most homes have televisions with cable, making access to Maryland programming feasible." The letter then garnered support from Congressman David Trone who reiterated a request that was directed to the Federal Communication Commission Chair, Ajit Pai. "Garrett is served by Pennsylvania’s television market, and is thus barred from receiving Maryland public channels," said Trone. "The steps being taken by Pennsylvania’s leaders are simply not as relevant to our constituents in Garrett County as those being taken by Maryland’s own elected leaders." Asking that Maryland television be accessible to Garrett County residents, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis, boils down to a written request from the Garrett County Commissioners. Chairman, Paul Edwards has asked for public input before he and his fellow commissioners contact the FCC with a request to do so. An ask for public input will be announced at their next virtual meeting. EMM is encouraging area residents to send their support to the commissioners office located at 203 South Fourth Street, Oakland, MD 21550 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org as quickly as possible or sign the petiton online by visiting EngageMMD.org. Residents are also encouraged to join the online Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, April 21 at 4:00PM.
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