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Pa. still missing crucial COVID-19 data one year in


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 9, 2021
Data gaps, relief measure, vetting failure, vaccine shares, credible threats, Senate racers, and the other Mars. It's Tuesday.

Throughout this pandemic, Pennsylvania officials have failed to ensure the wholesale collection of race and ethnicity data around COVID-19 testing, confirmed cases, and vaccine administration, Spotlight PA reports. 

That matters because the same data is used to inform potential life-and-death decisions on everything from where to site a clinic to where to send more testing and personnel. Without complete data, policymakers lacked a complete picture of where need was the greatest, all while Black Pennsylvanians faced exponentially higher COVID-19 risks with fewer resources.

“This is not only a public relations issue,” a consulting group wrote of Pennsylvania's COVID-19 data gaps, “it is a very real health equity issue.”

THE CONTEXT: The Pennsylvania Department of Health does require health-care providers to submit race and ethnicity data for people tested for COVID-19 and those vaccinated against it. But officials haven't issued any penalties or fines to providers that failed to do so, including Pennsylvania’s largest health system, the $23-billion UPMC, which openly admitted to breaking the rule despite boosting studies confirming its importance

And while collections of this data have improved over the course of the last year, a recent report from the department showed race data was unknown for around 39% of positive COVID-19 tests since the start of the pandemic. Vaccine reporting hasn't fared much better. 

“It’s incredibly important for us, pandemic or not, to make any decision data-driven,” Laura Luther, health equity supervisor at the Erie County Health Department, told Spotlight PA. 


“Using this facility for any kind of detention of any immigrant is unacceptable.”

—Activist Jasmine Rivera reacting to news that a Berks County family detention center for migrants could reopen as a women-only facility
» Redistricting in Pennsylvania: Join us at 5 p.m. March 16 for a Capitol Live by Spotlight PA expert panel on redistricting, gerrymandering, and its impact on Pennsylvania communities. RSVP FOR FREE NOW »»
POST IT: Some snow geese made a pit stop in Middle Creek Sunday evening. Thanks, Daniel S.! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.

FINANCIAL AID: Pennsylvania governments are set to receive about $13 billion total from the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue package currently before Congress, per the Associated Press. Around $7.3 billion of that will go to Pennsylvania's deficit-strapped state government, while the other $5.7 billion will go to local governments, many under mounting financial pressure after a year of compounding economic impacts, Spotlight PA reported. The funding will also have fewer strings attached this time around, further rankling partisan critics who see the plan as bloated and imprecise.

'GREAT RISK': A COVID-19 vaccine partnership between the city of Philadelphia and a fledgling startup ended in scandal, but not before putting the city "at great risk" in the middle of a pandemic, an investigation by Philadelphia's Office of Inspector General has found. According to WHYY, the report confirms that Philadelphia's Department of Public Health ignored serious red flags before turning over thousands of vaccine doses and $194,000 to the embattled Philly Fighting COVID group.

FAIR SHARE: Leaders of four of Pennsylvania's most populous counties say they aren't receiving their fare share of vaccine doses from the state and aren't getting answers from the Wolf administration about why. Leaders from Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties called a Sunday meeting on the subject with Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam “frustrating,” The Inquirer reports. Wolf’s administration has acknowledged no such vaccine disparity. 

'CREDIBLE THREATS': Democratic state Rep. Brian Sims says he's received "several credible death threats" a year while in office and wears a bulletproof vest for protection. The first openly gay lawmaker in the state House, Sims joins state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta — the first Black LGBTQ lawmaker in state House history — as a frequent target of threats and hate speech that's only expected to get worse with both men now seeking higher office, USA Today's State Capital Bureau reports.

GROWING FIELD: The field of contenders for the seat held by outgoing U.S. Sen Pat Toomey got a little bigger Monday. Republican Jeff Bartos, who ran for lieutenant governor with Scott Wagner, formally announced his candidacy, the Capital-Star reports. 

ROCKET MAN: Altoona native Dan Burkhart could've gone to Mars, Pennsylvania by car or bus. Instead, the NASA scientist went to the planet Mars by rocket as an integral part of the latest rover mission. “My hope is that people ask ‘If this guy can do this, why can’t I?’" Burkhart told the Altoona Mirror. 

ART HOUSE: Gerhard Marcks and his sculpture "Maja" both survived the Nazis. Now, the work of art, which spent decades displayed outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art and then decades in storage, is getting its own small park in front of an apartment complex not far from the old PMA perch, The Inquirer reports. 

HARD LABOR: There are two kinds of days during the pandemic: days packages come, and days they don't. Without delivery drivers like Chad Turns, they would all be the latter. So residents on Turns' route in Dauphin took it upon themselves to thank the irrepressibly chipper driver — who worked 70-hour weeks during the pandemic — with a surprise party and a $1,000 gift, WJW reports.

FILM REAL: Is Penn State a university inside the town of State College or is State College a town inside the university? Does anyone say "Penn State" when referring to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania? The new "Tom & Jerry" movie is raising some interesting questions about Keystone State nomenclature but mostly about who is — or isn't — editing Hollywood screenplays.

SIGNS OF THE TIMES: The public-sphere symbols of coronavirus mitigation — distance and directional markers — are tokens of the era. A gaffer's tape arrow on the floor of a grocery store, for example, is an ordinary reminder that we live in extraordinary times. Not all pandemic-era signage is created equal, though, and Pittsburgh Orbit gathered some of the most inspired examples it could find for an appreciation of the art form.
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.
D S R E M O U N E T 

Yesterday's answer: Ladybugs (but also technically "baldguys," according to eagle-eyed reader Tom M.)

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Neal W., Anna H., Dixie S., Bette G., David I., Steve D., Susan D., Jessica K., George S., Bob R., Bill C., Carl K., Carol D., Dennis M., Al M., Jill G., Debra K., Tom M., Carolyn T., Aaron T., Lex M., Dianne K., Suzanne S., Heidi B., Karen W., Irene R., Mary Ellen T., Hugh B., Tish M., David W., John H., Patricia R., and Kim C.
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