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Wolf begins easing COVID-19 rules as cases decline


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 2, 2021
Restriction rollback, teachers' turn, class struggles, money man, tenant power, gag order, and the king of Pennsylvania potholes. Welcome to Tuesday. 
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Gov. Tom Wolf has loosened or lifted some statewide COVID-19 restrictions effective immediately, citing falling statewide case numbers and growing vaccination numbers he says equal "a light at the end of the tunnel." 

Occupancy limits for both indoor and outdoor events have been increased, while out-of-state travel restrictions in place since November have been lifted entirely. Mask mandates and social distancing rules remain in effect.

Under the revised gathering rules, maximum occupancy limits are increasing to 15% of an indoor venue’s capacity and 20% of an outdoor venue’s capacity. 

Within hours of the announcement, at least one Pennsylvania sports team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, said it would host the maximum number of fans allowed — in that case around 7,500 people — on opening day in April.

THE CONTEXT: Monday’s softening of statewide COVID-19 rules would have been unthinkable just a few months ago, when Pennsylvania was setting near-daily records for new COVID-19 cases amid a dramatic cold-weather resurgence.

But Wolf said Pennsylvania’s vaccination numbers are climbing now after a troubled rollout. He also noted a desire to lessen impacts after a year of dire economic and societal disruptions.

“We need to balance protecting public health with leading the state to a robust economic recovery," Wolf added. 

And while public health officials nationwide have warned against easing COVID-19 rules too quickly, Wolf says his administration will do so "only when we believe it is safe."


“When the world ends, there will be cockroaches and coyotes.”

—Unnamed sources on Pennsylvania coyote hunts called barbaric by opponents and necessary population control by supporters
VACCINE UPDATE: Nearly four million doses of Johnson & Johnson's new single-shot COVID-19 vaccine are now being shipped to states across the U.S., officials said Monday. That supply is expected to grow in the coming weeks and months, adding a third option to the federal supply chain at a time of unprecedented demand. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
POST IT: Thanks, James G., for this icy shot taken in Huntingdon County (let's hope we see some spring weather soon). Send us your hidden gems (or snow pictures!), use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.

NEXT UP? Pennsylvania teachers could become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as this week under a proposal being considered by Gov. Tom Wolf and members of the joint task force on vaccine distribution, LancasterOnline reports. With mounting pressure to reopen schools for in-person classes and unions urging vaccinations of teachers before that happens, joint task force members say the state is considering earmarking a shipment of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine to get shots to as many educators as possible. 

SCHOOL FIGHTS: One year after Pennsylvania's first coronavirus-related school closures, many of the commonwealth's biggest districts still have yet to reopen for in-person learning, prompting some parents to take drastic action, The New York Times reports. This includes running for office, suing, relocating to states where in-person learning is required, and retreating to private schools. “We believe in the value of public education,” a suburban Philadelphia father told the paper. “Or we did.”

PAPER TRAIL: Twenty-five-year-old Madison Cawthorn's journey to becoming a Trump-backed congressman and darling of the far-right included a near-fatal car crash, allegations of sexual misconduct, and money from a Pennsylvania billionaire, the Washington Post reports. According to the paper's lengthy exposé, Cawthorn's longshot bid benefited significantly from a political action committee that received millions from Jeff Yass, a Bala Cynwyd billionaire with a history of giving to election deniers and extremist candidates.

TENANT POWER: A public health emergency coupled with a housing emergency, the likes of which we haven't seen since 2008, has given rise to a potent and hard-nosed renter power movement in places like Pittsburgh, PublicSource reports. From political organizing to forming "eviction defense" teams and landlord "walls of shame," a class-conscious tenants' rights movement is booming with eviction filings mounting and a federal moratorium weeks from expiring.  

'GAG ORDER': A new Chester County ethics policy includes a confidentiality clause that forbids many government workers from discussing their jobs with anyone — friends, family, and certainly the press. The policy comes on the heels of an Inquirer report revealing major problems with the county’s COVID-19 antibody testing program. Critics are pushing back, saying the policy will have a chilling effect on First Amendment rights and whistleblower protections, The Inquirer reports. 

THE PLACEHOLDER: In less than four months, Wolf administration staffer Thomas Yablonski Jr. has been nominated to serve on 28 different state-appointed boards, overseeing everything from podiatry to cosmetology to workers compensation. That doesn’t even begin to cover his county-level appointments as sheriff, treasurer, magisterial judge, and coroner — sometimes simultaneously. Spotlight PA explains the curious role of the political placeholder and the rationale behind it.

ACE IN THE HOLE: It's pothole season in Pennsylvania and the perfect time to remind everyone that the final boss in Pennsylvania's world-class pothole collection is still the 15,000- to 20,000-year-old specimen off Route 6 in Lackawanna County. Atlas Obscura dug into the history of the glacier-made crater first discovered by an explosives-loving coal miner and now the centerpiece of its own eponymous state park. 

FEATURE FILM: A scaled-back version of Pitt film student Sam Orlowski's senior project still got 600,000 views on YouTube and hundreds of comments from viewers, many responding to the short drama's honest exploration of adolescence and sexual identity. Now, the Post-Gazette reports, “Thanks to Her” is becoming the feature-length film Orlowski always wanted.

PEANUT BUTTER TIME: The jury's still out on whether eating around the peanut butter in a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup is chaotic good, chaotic neutral, or chaotic evil. Eating around the peanut butter in Hershey's new version of the candy? PennLive says that would be impossible.

TAKE 5: The coolest thing on the internet right now is a Google Earth-style map that lets you find and listen to live radio stations anywhere on the globe. CBS Sunday Morning correspondent David Pogue aptly summed up the experience, calling it "cultural teleportation" with the click of a button
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.

Yesterday's answer: Electronics

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Neal W., Craig W., Susan D., Jill G., Jessica K., Yvette R., Mary Ellen T., David I., Christopher R., George S., Irene R., Bette G., Dennis M., Dixie S., David W., Suzanne S., Dianne K., Ron P., Bob R., Sharon L., Joel S., Carol D., and Gloria G. 
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