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What we know about Pa.'s monkeypox response

Plus, the state Supreme Court has upheld Pa.'s mail voting law. 

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

August 4, 2022 | spotlightpa.org
Mail voting, Penn State case, question block, monkeypox response, ballot answer, PSERS probe, sway state, hidden findings, and secret pick.
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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has upheld the state's mail voting law, rejecting a challenge from elected Republicans who said it was improperly implemented.

In a statement, Gov. Tom Wolf said the "ruling assures that mail-in voting remains in place and Pennsylvanians will be able to cast their ballot legally in person or by mail without any disruption or confusion."

Still, as Stephen Caruso and Angela Couloumbis report, there are lingering challenges to the law including one that hinges on a legal technicality known as a “non-severability” clause.

Also this week, Spotlight PA's State College bureau has more on the alleged extortion case involving Penn State student athletes. 

Wyatt Massey reports that the university refused to answer specific questions about how it handled the situation, including whether all individuals who were filmed naked or partially naked have been identified and notified.

And Min Xian finds Penn State did not prove it had legal standing to request the sealing of the case. Spotlight PA was a part of an effort to make public details of the case, which had been sealed by a Centre County Court of Common Pleas judge in June.

Case files were unsealed on July 15 with identifiable information about the victims redacted.

"This lawsuit is not only meritless, but it undermines the ability of the people of Pennsylvania to have a say in how they are governed."

—State House GOP spokesperson Jason Gottesman responding to a suit filed by Gov. Tom Wolf to block abortion, voter ID ballot questions


» WATCH: A free virtual panel on the new Pa. budget and what it prioritizes

» Wolf sues GOP-led legislature to block abortion, voter ID questions from reaching Pa. ballot box


How Pennsylvania is responding to monkeypox

As a new variant and loosened mitigation efforts fuel the continued spread of COVID-19, Pennsylvania must also manage a recent global outbreak of the monkeypox virus.

The virus is part of the same family as smallpox, but infections are milder and rarely fatal. The primary symptom is a pimple-like rash, and the disease can also cause fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue, according to the CDC. It spreads through skin-to-skin contact or touching a monkeypox rash, scabs, or infected bodily fluids.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has not published state or county-specific data, but the CDC shows that as of Aug. 3, 170 of the 6,326 monkeypox cases nationwide are located in Pennsylvania. Neighboring states like New Jersey and Maryland are reporting similar case counts; however, there are only 30 in Ohio, and more than 1,600 reported cases in New York. New York City officials have called the city the center of the outbreak.

We asked state and local health officials four questions to understand their initial response. Jamie Martines, Spotlight PA

Are there enough monkeypox tests? 

As of early August, the Department of Health said there were no issues with the availability of testing materials or lab capacity to evaluate samples.

If you think you were exposed, avoid close contact with anyone. Contact your primary care physician or visit a public or sexual health clinic to get tested and request a vaccine. 

Who should get vaccinated and where are vaccines available?

The CDC recommends vaccination for people who were exposed or likely exposed to monkeypox, including anyone who recently had multiple sexual partners in an area where there is an outbreak.

Vaccines are free and provided by the federal government. If you think you are eligible, call the state health department at 1-877-PA-HEALTH or contact your local health department

As of late July, the federal government reported allocating 17,839 vaccine doses to Pennsylvania. Philadelphia was separately allocated 8,390 doses.

The state health department is managing the vaccination response and local health departments told Spotlight PA they have received some of the state’s supply.

“Once we get enough doses to open a pre-exposure clinic, we may do so,” Bucks County Health Department Director David Damsker said in an email. “But we need a lot more doses, and we don't have control of that.”

Melissa Lyons, Delaware County’s health director, said they’ve had enough vaccines for anyone who is eligible. “We’ve not had to turn anyone away,” she said. 

Will monkeypox interfere with the ongoing COVID-19 response? 

Health department officials stressed that monkeypox and COVID-19 are different viruses with unique symptoms and transmission methods, and should not be compared. 

While COVID-19 spreads through airborne respiratory droplets, monkeypox spreads through skin-to-skin contact.

They also pointed out that human monkeypox cases have been in the U.S. since 2003.

“Resources and manpower are always a concern when it comes to public health,” Lyons said.  She doesn’t expect responses to the two viruses to affect each other because monkeypox is not spreading as rapidly as COVID-19. 

Have state officials mobilized any special resources? 

State health department officials said they are working closely with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and counties around Philadelphia, where a large share of the state’s cases are located, to respond to the outbreak in that region.

The state health department has also partnered with clinics specializing in sexual health to identify people who might be at increased risk for monkeypox. Health department staff trained in contact tracing for monkeypox are reaching out to people who were exposed to make sure they are connected with treatment.

BALLOT ANSWER: Kansas voters rejected a state constitutional amendment declaring no right to abortion there. A similar amendment is being pursued by GOP legislators in Pennsylvania, and while it won't reach voters any sooner than 2023, Tuesday's results in ruby red Kansas are welcome news for abortion access advocates here — especially ahead of November's midterms, The Inquirer reports.

PSERS PROBE: The U.S. Department of Justice has reportedly closed its investigation into Pennsylvania's $76 billion teachers' pension fund without charges, per the Capital-Star. Spotlight PA previously reported that the feds were looking into inaccurately reported investment returns and the fund's real estate purchases in Harrisburg. A Securities and Exchange Commission probe of the fund is ongoing.

SWAY STATE: Pennsylvania is one of several states that could overturn the 2024 presidential contest if the U.S. Supreme Court sides with North Carolina Republicans in a case that could give partisan state lawmakers virtually unrestricted power over elections and electors, The Atlantic reports. Spotlight PA has more on the fringe legal theory at the center of the case and what the ruling could mean here.

HIDDEN FINDINGS: A review spurred by the police shooting that killed 8-year-old Fanta Bility outside of a football game in Sharon Hill last year is prompting new criticism of local officials. A report on the review of Sharon Hill Police Department policies and procedures was released Friday and so heavily redacted that any findings and recommendations have been obscured from public view, the AP reports.

SECRET PICK: If elected governor, Doug Mastriano has said he would appoint a secretary of state who would force every Pennsylvania voter to reregister — something that's illegal under federal law. Mastriano said he's already chosen his appointee, but he won't say who it is. And while opponents only have informed guesses, they're sure the person will be a prominent figure in the election denial movement, per HuffPost.

» BAY JOURNAL: Drilling waste on Pa. roads bad for health, land

» PENNLIVE: Fetterman’s handling of health crisis subject of probe

» POLITICSPA: Third-party candidates add to governor, Senate races

» TRIBLIVE: Doug Mastriano’s Gab page removed

» WBRE: Commissioners’ prison record ‘purged without authorization’

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

STATUS SYMBOL (Case No. 158)What connects two people but touches only one?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: There are no stairs. (Find last week's clue here)
Congrats to Barbara W., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Ed N., Ed Ma., Ed Mi., Lindsey S., Judy M., William H., Lucy B., Rebecca D., Clayt O., Judy A., Connie K., George S., Fred O., Clayton L., Kenneth J., Joe S., Nancy T., Peter S., Barbara H., Lois P., Alissa H., Tom L., Keelin B., Janice H., Karen K., Jeffrey F., Michael H., Marisa B., Fred H., Hagan H., Irene T., Annette I., Marcia R., James D., Roseanne D., Bruce B., Michelle T., Ken S., Jon N., Robert K., Kevin L., Donna D., Susan N.-Z., Lynda G., Deborah L., Beth T., Gerry W., Tish M., Eddy Z., Mary B., Seth Z., Carol T., William D., Lance L., Dennis F., Jay G., Warren D., Linda C., Johnny C., Anthony E., Bill G., and Mary W.
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