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Variant fuels fourth wave, prisons at 'turning point'


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
April 8, 2021
Prison shots, variant spread, hateful propaganda, liability protection, 'mass displacement,' Parnell possibility, and riding the cravy train. Today is Thursday.

The long wait for COVID-19 vaccines in Pennsylvania's prisons is almost over. 

Thousands of inmates and staff are expected to get their doses in the coming weeks now that Pennsylvania has opened eligibility up to both groups, Spotlight PA reports. All corrections employees were made eligible on March 31. Imprisoned people were made eligible on Monday. 

The doses will provide unprecedented protection in some of the most outbreak-susceptible conditions imaginable, with up to four people housed in cells the size of a bathroom. Between March 2020 and January 2021, nearly one in five Pennsylvania prisoners contracted the illness.

Claire Shubik-Richards, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, called the wholesale arrival of vaccines in Pennsylvania prisons a "turning point in the pandemic."

THE CONTEXT: At least 11 out of 23 Pennsylvania state prison facilities have already vaccinated people living and working inside. That’s almost four times the number of prisons that were distributing the vaccine in February. 

But there are lingering questions about data transparency, how prisons will handle the side effects of mass inoculations, and how they'll counter the continued spread of vaccine misinformation inside prison walls.

An incentive program was rolled out by Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections earlier this year, offering money to inmates who get their shots — an attempt by officials to overcome vaccine hesitancy and entrenched distrust. That effort yielded promising results, with two prisons reporting participation rates in excess of 70%. 

But the nationwide numbers are less encouraging, with prison populations in two-thirds of states still lagging the general population for access despite the CDC urging the opposite approach, The Marshall Project reports.


"We have done so many bills out of the House. And they stick with the survivors. I want them to stick with us one more time."

—State Rep. Mark Rozzi (D., Berks) on a two-year window for child sex abuse lawsuits passed by the state House yesterday

VACCINE UPDATE: Pennsylvania says voluntary teacher vaccinations are now complete, with future allocations of Johnson & Johnson's single-shot offering earmarked for groups that might have a harder time keeping two appointments. This includes homebound people, unhoused people, meat industry workers, imprisoned people, and prison staff. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
» FIGHTING MISINFORMATION: Join Spotlight PA at 5 p.m. April 20 for a conversation and reader Q&A about how partisan groups are masquerading as local news in Pennsylvania and undermining public trust. RSVP FOR FREE

POST IT: Trout lilies blooming at Shenks Ferry Wildflower Preserve in Lancaster County. Thanks, Chris M.! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
CASE LOAD: Nearly half of new coronavirus infections nationwide are in Pennsylvania and four other states, putting pressure on the feds to consider a more targeted vaccine strategy, the AP reports. New evidence shows Pennsylvania cases would have plateaued by now if it weren't for the virus' U.K. variant and fewer people taking precautions.

HATE MAIL: The Anti-Defamation League says U.S. reports of white supremacist propaganda reached a new high in 2020, with Pennsylvania ranked eighth in the nation, WHYY reports. The ADL started keeping track in 2016 and says Pennsylvania's numbers have increased every year since. Here's a propaganda example from 2018.

LIMITED LIABILITY: State GOP lawmakers advanced a bill that would make it harder for people to sue the workplaces, businesses, and health-care facilities where they're exposed to COVID-19. Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a similar measure last year and doesn't support this version either. The Center Square says the bill advanced this week with no Democratic votes.

CRISIS CAUSE: Seven thousand Black Pittsburghers left the city between 2014 and 2018. The reason for that outmigration is the subject of debate, with activists calling it a “crisis of forced mass displacement” and the city's only two Black council members calling that premise "absolutely false." TribLive reports a public hearing is in the works.

TRUMP BUMP: Sean Parnell is "99% sure" he's running for one of Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate seats, The Inquirer reports, citing a county official who spoke with Parnell this week. Another Trump backer, Fox News fixture, and former congressional candidate, Montgomery County's Kathy Barnette, has already officially declared.
COLUMBUS CASE: Italian-American groups are suing Philadelphia and its mayor for "unrelenting and intentionally discriminatory acts." The lawsuit cites last year's removal of a Frank Rizzo statue, the boxing of a Christopher Columbus statue, and the delisting of Columbus Day, via Billy Penn.

BOOK OF JOB: A new book says it's no coincidence that health care replaced steel in Pittsburgh. "The Next Shift" points to the rise of modern health insurance and the cheap labor deindustrialization unleashed as key ingredients in the making of the city's new flagship economy, according to The New York Times.

CRAVY TRAIN: Speaking of Pittsburgh ... Heinz says it's doing everything it can to save us from the current ketchup shortage, PhillyVoice reports. The company's also doing everything it can to make a cranberry-gravy mix called "Cravy" happen. We'll hold for the ketchup.

AWARD, SHOW: Pittsburgh author Deesha Philyaw's acclaimed debut is even more acclaimed now, winning the very prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction this week. “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies" is also being adapted for HBO Max, the Post-Gazette reports.

SHEETZ RUN: Altoona-based Sheetz is one of 19 finalists for USA Today’s best regional fast food chains. Voting closes Monday. Angry emails about Wawa's omission? Those are accepted year-round.
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: Character

Congrats to our daily winners: Mary Ellen T., Yvette R., Jessica K., Neal W., David I., Elaine C., Irene R., Becky C., Theodore W., Carole D., Dianne K., Dixie S., Dennis M., Susan D., James B., Kim C., Craig W., Suzanne S., Patricia M., Anna T., Karen W., Carol D., David W., Tish M., Mary Kay M., George S., Rick D., Marty M., Ben S., Bill C., Chris M., Paul H., Kevin H., Bob R., Beth T., Marsha B., Christine M., George L.., Elizabeth W., Daniel M., Anne R., and Patricia R.
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