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Commentary COVID-19 in Maryland Health Care

Del. Shaneka Henson: Safer at Home?

Del. Shaneka Henson at an Emerge Maryland fundraiser in May 2019. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

On March 30, 2020 Governor Hogan issued a stay-at-home order to protect Marylanders from the emerging coronavirus. The executive order was rolled out with a new slogan and a new messaging campaign.

The ad’s go-to photo was a shot of the Chesapeake Bay. The image was a peak between tall blades of bay grass to a distant view of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge standing over a glistening tide, underneath a warm amber sky. The words read “Safe at Home.” However, for many Marylanders those words unfortunately weren’t true.

Toxic air filled with pollutants released by mold spores permeate the homes of Maryland renters who are stuck living in moldy conditions. The toxic brew of harmful indoor air that develops from mold growth can worsen or trigger chronic lung disease and asthma. Sufferers describe not being able to find relief from the effects of the toxic air in their homes — its symptoms include burning eyes, coughing, wheezing and skin rashes.

Staying ahead of mold is a constant battle for impacted renters, especially renters with limited income.

Last session, Heaven White, an Annapolis renter and advocate testified in support of a bill I filed that was up for consideration by the Anne Arundel County House delegation. During her testimony, White pointed to a picture hanging on the delegation room wall. The picture was a dripping textured canvass painting colored with thick blue and green paint blotches.

White said, “That’s what the mold looked like in my house, that’s how thick it was on the wall.” She told the delegates how she suffered from difficulty breathing in her mold-filled home. She recounted the challenges she faced trying to get her landlord to stop the mold infestation. With tears in her eyes, White ended her testimony by saying “I am a person, too.”

Months later when Marylanders were asked to stay at home for the safety of one-and-all, what did that mean for renters like Heaven White? The warm sunsetting images of the “Safe-at-Home” campaign were a far cry from the home White described to her delegates.

For renters like White, Sen. Obie Patterson (D-Prince Georges) and I have reintroduced our indoor air quality bill (HB129/SB070). The bill would impose statewide standards for the inspection, detection and remediation of mold in rental housing.

The bill starts with a two-year study on indoor air quality led by Maryland Department of the Environment, in consultation with Maryland Department of Health, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, and Maryland Department of General Services. The bill’s protections include rent escrow protection and gives consumers the ability to verify the authenticity of mold remediation contractors.

Our bill has garnered support from the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, Anne Arundel Medical Center, Serv Pro of Anne Arundel County, Maryland Legal Aid, and Public Justice Center. The Report of the Senate President’s Advisory Workgroup on Equity and Inclusion, on which Sen. Patterson was a member, recommends addressing poor indoor air quality and acknowledges the challenge as one of equity.

Our bill, HB129/SB070 Indoor Air Quality, is scheduled for a hearing before the House Environment and Transportation Committee on Wednesday. If you or someone you know has been impacted by mold and would like to share your story, contact my office at [email protected].

Protecting the life, health and safety of Marylanders, particularly those who can least afford privately financed remedies is one of the highest responsibilities of public officials. How can we ask people to stay at home if we are not willing to truly make it safe at home?


The writer, a Democrat, represents Anne Arundel County’s District 30A in the House of Delegates.


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Del. Shaneka Henson: Safer at Home?