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One year of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 5, 2021
Year in review, high risk, relief maze, clemency bid, Capitol case, and a 'Sadapalooza' for what ails you. Congratulations, it's Friday.

Tomorrow marks one year to the day since Pennsylvania's Department of Health announced the first "presumed positive" cases of COVID-19 here.

Those cases, one in Delaware County and one in Wayne County, would be followed by nearly a million more, and the commonwealth would be plunged into a historic crisis with record unemployment, massive societal disruptions, and, as of this week, nearly 25,000 dead — half of those in Pennsylvania's nursing homes and long-term care facilities. 

Like a magnifying glass, the crisis amplified structural flaws within Pennsylvania's unemployment system, holes in its safety nets, problems in its prisons and schools, and long-running divisions in its politics.

Now, one year in, cases are finally trending downward, vaccinations are trending up, statewide restrictions are slowly beginning to ease, and Gov. Tom Wolf for the first time says there is a glimmer, however faint, of "light at the end of the tunnel." 

THE CONTEXT: Almost as soon as the pandemic hit, it became clear that a plan was needed to protect the especially vulnerable populations residing in hundreds of nursing homes across Pennsylvania. 

Officials settled on a robust and aggressive strategy. But it was never fully implemented, while another, less-robust effort was — though only long after major outbreaks had already taken hold. 

The overall outlook changed slightly with the first approved U.S. vaccines in December. In the months since, Pennsylvania struggled mightily with its own rollout amid slow growth of the federal stockpile, a sometimes fraught reliance on private-sector providers, shifting federal guidance, and demand that simply dwarfed the supply. 

The recent approval of a third vaccine has encouraged experts and officials, including Gov. Wolf, who this week announced an allocation of 94,000 doses just for Pennsylvania educators with an eye on reopening schools, some of which have remained physically closed to students since the pandemic began. 

At Spotlight PA, we will continue to track COVID-19 cases across the commonwealth and the official response to the ongoing pandemic. You can follow along by signing up for county-specific email alerts here.


“PSERS’ investment professionals and consultants are well aware of the risks involved with this type of emerging market investment."

—An investment firm spokesperson discussing how a Pennsylvania public school teachers pension fund helped fund a war over oil in Iraq
VACCINE UPDATE: President Joe Biden predicts the U.S. will have enough vaccine produced for every adult by the end of May. But it could take much longer for all of those doses to be administered. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
POST IT: A pop of springtime found in Camp Hill. Thanks, Susan C.! Send us your hidden gems (or snow pictures!), use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.

RELIEF FUNDS: Help is on the way for Pennsylvania’s struggling bars, hotels, and restaurants, as $145 million in state grants becomes available this month. Securing a share, however, might be tricky. There will be documentation and paperwork requirements and, inevitably, extreme demand. Spotlight PA reports on the timelines, rules, and agencies applicants will need to know.

HIGH RISK: Essential workers are 55% more likely to contract COVID-19, according to a Wharton School of Business study. The study looked at about 415,000 Independence Blue Cross policy holders in the Philadelphia area and found employees who could not work from home were significantly more likely to contract the illness. The study also found elevated risks for the people who live with them, WHYY reports.

SEEKING CLEMENCY: John Brookins insists he did not fatally stab 58-year-old Sheila Ginsberg inside her Bristol Township home just days before Christmas 1990, a crime he was arrested and sentenced to die in prison for. Now Brookins is a model prisoner being considered for a commutation, and he's convinced a DNA test will clear his name. It's a test the Bucks County district attorney refuses to run, The Inquirer reports.

MAJORITY RULE: U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey is not in favor of the sprawling, $1.9 trillion federal COVID-19 relief bill. Like most Republicans, Toomey believes it's not targeted enough. But Democrats may not need them to pass it. PolitiFact explains that's because a process called budget reconciliation allows bills like this one to be approved with a simple majority, which Democrats have, assuming they stay united.

CAPITOL CASE: A Mercer County woman was formally indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. yesterday on 8 criminal counts stemming from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Post-Gazette reports. The indictment says Rachel Powell helped break a window at the Capitol, yelled instructions about the layout of the building through a bullhorn, and carried an ice ax and large wooden pole. 

'SADAPALOOZA': A “celebration of sadness and seasonal depression” is coming to Pittsburgh, statistically one of the grayest and unhappiest places in the country. It's called "Sadapalooza," and WESA reports it will broadcast online Saturday with performances by Pittsburgh-based comics, poets, and artists, all intent on making a pandemic-wearied audience feel better about feeling bad. 

NOT SAD, MAD: Seasonal aggression is also a thing ... possibly. For those feeling more mad than sad these days, Berwick has a Rage Room where you can pay to prey on old printers and pianos with blunt objects. A 25-minute YouTube video has all the graffiti-covered, detritus-strewn context you'll need. Come for the heavy metal soundtrack, stay for the pummeling of a hot dog machine around the 18-minute mark.

FLIPADELPHIA: Racqueal Howard wants to build a business off the $10 home she won in a housing authority lottery. Howard will use a low-interest loan to renovate the rowhouse in West Philly’s Mantua neighborhood and then plans to sell it to a family. It's part of a program the housing authority hopes will "stimulate reinvestment in neighborhoods that need it," WHYY reports. Howard hopes it helps more entrepreneurs like her find a foothold.

SKY LIGHT: A mysterious, luminescent pink cloud that appeared off the coast of New Jersey, 90 miles south of the Pennsylvania border, wasn't so mysterious after all, NASA says. The truth is out there, the space agency confirms, it just doesn't involve aliens but rather a Department of Defense rocket, a condensation trail, and a vivid sunset, NJ.com reports.

STREAMING SERVICE: A 100-acre tract of mostly wooded land along a native trout stream in Clearfield County has gained permanent protection thanks to a nun named Jane McCartney, PennLive reports. McCartney, a Sister of Mercy, donated a conservation easement for her family’s homestead, which includes a stretch of the ecologically important waterway.
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.
R L C P R I E L A A T 

Yesterday's answer: Fluorescent

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Mary Ellen T., Theodore W., Jan R., Jill G., Susan D., Neal W., Becky C., Dixie S., David I., George S., Dennis M., Irene R., Heidi B., Bob R., Bette G., Dianne K., Rich F., Jessica K., Karen W., Patricia R., Carol D., Joel S., Suzanne S., David W., Christopher R., Rick D., Jill A., Ron P., Kim C., Mary Kay M., Donna W., Cynthia H., and Chris M.
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