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Wolf issues major rollback of COVID-19 restrictions

A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 16, 2021
Media literacy, easing restrictions, Capitol arrest, 'ghost guns,' vax transit, meeting rooms, and the cicadas are coming. It's Tuesday.

A new report warns about a growing number of digital news sites in Pennsylvania with partisan motives and slanted coverage that threaten to further erode public trust in journalism, Spotlight PA reports.

The Pennsylvania News Trust Report, commissioned by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism (a Spotlight PA funder), found dozens of outlets statewide are designed to look and feel like legitimate local news sources, but actually have rampant conflicts of interest and “highly slanted coverage” that strongly reflects the political leanings of their funders.

“The forces of disinformation are well-organized, well-funded, and have no desire to stick to facts,” Lenfest Institute CEO and Executive Director Jim Friedlich explained.

THE CONTEXT: One Republican-linked group of 45 local news sites in Pennsylvania reported a series of stories on the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on hotels without disclosing the CEO's connection to the hotel industry. 

Another batch of sites is owned by a Democratic organization that views its local media network as key to getting more progressive candidates elected nationwide.

The good news in the Pennsylvania News Trust Report is that overall, 70% of the state news outlets studied ranked high on trustworthiness. But experts warn the least trustworthy often have a disproportionately large reach, with social media engagement that easily outpaces more credible sources.

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Thank you to the 68 people who supported our independent, nonpartisan journalism yesterday.

“I like to play video games. This is taking the place of that. It’s way more fun and feels important.”

—Shippensburg University Professor Jen Clements who has personally helped more than 200 people secure COVID-19 vaccination appointments
VACCINE UPDATE: Gov. Tom Wolf says all Phase 1A Pennsylvanians — that includes nursing home residents, health-care personnel, and those with high-risk conditions — should have a COVID-19 vaccination appointment by the end of March. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing
» Redistricting in Pennsylvania: Join us at 5 p.m. today for a Capitol Live by Spotlight PA expert panel on redistricting, gerrymandering, and its impact on Pennsylvania communities. RSVP NOW »»

» Government transparency: Join the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition at 11 a.m. today to discuss transparency in the Keystone State. RSVP NOW »»
POST IT: Thanks, @youbetkev, for this sunset shot in Pipersville last week. Fingers crossed for more spring weather soon! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.

NEW NORMAL: Pennsylvania will roll back more business restrictions next month, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday, with bars and restaurants allowed to resume bar service, sell alcohol without a food purchase, and operate at 75% indoor capacity beginning April 4. TribLive reports capacity limits are also going up for gyms, casinos, malls, salons, and theaters. Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed by a Slippery Rock pub owner aims to make sure tougher restrictions never return.

CAPITOL ARREST: Julian Elie Khater, 32, of State College has been charged with using a chemical spray on Capitol police during the Jan. 6 insurrection, including an officer who died the next day. Authorities say Khater discharged an unknown toxic substance — possibly an aerosol bear deterrent — into the face of Officer Brian Sicknick and other officers at the scene. Autopsy results for Sicknick are still pending, with an eye on whether the chemical spray played any role.

'GHOST GUNS': Pennsylvania's largest gun show promoter will stop the sale of untraceable "ghost guns" as part of an agreement with the state attorney general's office, the Morning Call reports. The promoter, Lehigh County's Eagle Arms, is the first in the country to stop selling the unmarked weapons, which Attorney General Josh Shapiro says are "fueling the gun violence epidemic" in Pennsylvania and beyond.

PEOPLE MOVERS: Rural transit agencies have been a "crucial link" in connecting rural Pennsylvanians to COVID-19 vaccination sites, the Wall Street Journal reports. Gov. Tom Wolf boasted more broadly about the role of mass transit services in the supply chain just last week, but renewed questions about why transit employees aren't eligible for vaccinations themselves, LancasterOnline reports.

MAKING ROOM: The Pennsylvania House spent nearly $500,000 to transform two unused courtrooms into meeting rooms for legislative committees during a time of widespread austerity measures, and fiscal conservatives feel fine. “Leaving that space unused when we had it would have been wasteful on our part," House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster) told PennLive.


BEAT GOES ON: What does a food critic do when a pandemic grinds the restaurant industry to a halt? Inquirer food scribe Craig LeBan said while formal reviews went out the window when indoor dining bans came in, he kept writing about the industry "in ways that seemed often more important than ever." 

BROOD X: The cicadas' Class of 2021 will be graduating — and surfacing — soon, the Citizens' Voice reports. Seventeen years after first hatching and burrowing underground, the "Brood X" cicadas born in 2004 will emerge in 23 Pennsylvania counties this spring, and they'll be ready to make some noise. 

SKY LIGHT: That burst of light seen in the sky from western Pennsylvania to the East Coast early Sunday was probably a SpaceX rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Delaware Online reports. What explains that eerie looking glow? Likely the exhaust plume being illuminated by the rising sun.

NEW NEST: An eagle nest at a U.S. Steel plant near Pittsburgh is likely a first for Pennsylvania. The urbanized perch is unusual but part of a growing trend as eagle populations rebound and relocate. “That stretch of the Monongahela River would be the last place to find top predators known for fishing in pristine lakes and rivers” decades ago, a game commission ornithologist told TribLive.

WRITING MACHINES: Typewriters are flying off the shelves in Philadelphia. Seriously. The must-have item of last century is the must-have item of this pandemic for a growing number of people who want the clickety-clack sound, the mechanical feel, or just some time away from their digital devices, Billy Penn reports. 

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: Magnanimous

Congrats to our daily winners: Jessica K., Craig W., Becky C., David I., Irene R., Jill G., Christine M., Susan D., Bruce B., Laura B., Anna T., Neal W., Bill C., Yvette R., Steve D., Marsha B., Bob R., Heidi B., Dixie S., Elizabeth W., David W., Donna W., Mary Ellen T., Tom M., Beth T., Jill A., Kerri G., Kathy C., Lance L., James B., Joel S., Paul H., Chris M., Patricia R., George S., Karen W., Dianne K., Theodore W., Suzanne S., Lynn K., Rick D., Ron P., Jeff M., Kevin H., John A., Mary Kay M., Craig E., Carol D., Kim C., Bette G., Lex M., and Cindy P.
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