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Official resigns as Philly vaccine scandal grows


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Sarah Anne Hughes
February 1, 2021
Data flaws, blame game, no money, pandemic teaching, more arrests, Zoom bombing, some snow, and a special piano. Hello, Monday (and February).

The Department of Corrections is reporting flawed data to keep inmates, families, and public officials informed about COVID-19 in its prisons, raising questions about the agency’s ability to accurately track outbreaks.

A five-month analysis of prison data by Spotlight PA found large fluctuations in the number of tests administered and unexplained changes to the death count. The findings were confirmed by a California researcher who was also tracking the department’s data and had noticed problems.

In an announcement Friday, sent moments before Spotlight PA's story was published, Corrections Secretary John Wetzel conceded the problems were "unacceptable" and said he was taking action to fix them.

“In our haste to get information out to the public, we put a process in place that involved a single individual pulling data from multiple sources manually every day," Wetzel said.

THE CONTEXT: The data problems have compounded concern among families desperate to understand what’s happening to their loved ones inside prisons.

The department recently doubled down on its policy to not inform family members when loved ones get sick or die unless they are listed as the emergency contact on department paperwork, which is often as old as an inmate’s prison term.

"I check every chance I get and the information is so incorrect," said Sharon Murchison, who has multiple incarcerated family members. "I can recall going back and forth and looking at it and going, 'something is off.'"


"We try not to depend on ice fishing for our main business in the winter because it is just not what it used to be."

—Lynn Rudzinski, owner of East End Angler in Erie County, on how unpredictable weather and a lack of ice on Lake Erie has changed her business 
VACCINE UPDATE: The slow rollout of vaccine in Pennsylvania has turned into a blame game, while many seniors are stuck waiting. And here's the latest on the Philly scandal. For providers, check Spotlight PA's vaccine provider map and county-by-county provider listing.
POST IT: A snowstorm of yesteryear in Huntingdon County. Thanks, James G.! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.
OFFICIAL RESIGNS: Philadelphia's deputy health commissioner resigned after emails obtained by The Inquirer showed she had given an unfair advantage to Philly Fighting COVID, the start-up that until recently ran the city's largest vaccination site. Billy Penn and WHYY News, meanwhile, found the controversial group had made an unusual at-home visit to provide testing to family members of Councilmember Bobby Henon, a major supporter.

HARD LESSONS: Teachers in central Pennsylvania told PennLive their complaints about unsafe COVID-19 conditions have been ignored by local and state officials. School nurses and other officials, meanwhile, have been tasked with contact tracing, rather than employees hired by the state health department. 

MORE ARRESTS: Two women from Pennsylvania were arrested Friday on charges related to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the Morning Call reports. One of the women allegedly said she was looking for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to "shoot her in the friggin’ brain."

'BEYOND DISGUSTING': Members of Penn State’s Black Caucus were subjected to racist and homophobic slurs during a meeting on Zoom, the Centre Daily Times reports. Some of the unwanted users had swastikas set up as their backgrounds, while others yelled “Black lives don’t matter!” 

FUNDING FIGHT: Trump officials — led by Paul Mango, a former gubernatorial candidate in Pennsylvania — pushed to deny states extra funding for their vaccine rollouts, STAT reports. Mango confirmed he lobbied against additional money, saying states did not demonstrate they needed it. 
SNOW GO: Many Pennsylvanians are waking up this morning to snow. If you're one of them, and you're preparing to drive somewhere today, maybe don't? Also, we want to see your snow photos. Send them to us.

PHIL'S DAY: Tomorrow is Groundhog Day, and while there won't be an in-person celebration in Punxsutawney, the virtual event will be broadcast live at 6:30 a.m. Considering the snowy, cloudy conditions in the forecast, here's betting on another six weeks of winter

SECOND LIFE: An Ibach piano that escaped the Holocaust is undergoing restoration in Philadelphia. "It’s a rarity for an Ibach brand to be in America in the first place because so many didn’t make it out of Nazi Germany," according to Billy Penn.

A 'GAME CHANGER': An Exton-based company is distributing a face mask with a replaceable cartridge that kills viruses including COVID-19 through electrocution. "What I have noticed with the PPE industry is it has become a very wild, wild West, with a lot of counterfeit products out there," CEO Samantha Partovi said. 

BETTER LUCK THIS YEAR? The York State Fair has announced the music lineup for its festival this July, which made me realize that there are people who think there are going to big public events by the end of the summer! That seems optimistic considering the pace of the vaccine rollout and the emerging variants, but, hey: Here's holding out hope for Pitbull
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Friday's answer: Impeccable  

Congrats to our weekly winner: Kim C.

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Jill G., Jessica K., David I., Beth T., Mary Ellen T., Susan D., Bruce B., Joel S., David R., Ron P., Tish M., Carol D., Irene R., John C., Sandra G., Bill C., Patricia R., Dianne K., Carol W., Nik D., Clark C., Suzanne S., Jason H., David W., and Jim O.
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