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Warnings as Pa. rushes to replace COVID-19 tracer


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
July 2, 2021
Contact tracers, Cosby's future, legal fees, college pay, ICE detention, deed fraud, and Sen. Casey's #FreeBritney nod. It's Friday, the weekend is waiting.
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Pennsylvania is working quickly to hire a new contact tracing company to take over for the one it fired after a massive data breach jeopardized the personal information of thousands earlier this year.

On June 23, the state's Department of General Services approved the health department's request for a year-long, $34 million contract with Boston-based Public Consulting Group, LLC through an emergency procurement — a system that allows state agencies to sidestep typical bidding practices to obtain supplies or services quickly in an emergency. 

The state says to avoid a lapse in the critical public health service, there's no time to waste.

But as Spotlight PA reports, skeptics want assurances data will be properly secured this time, while also questioning why the state would use the same emergency procurement method that landed such a troubled vendor before

"I firmly believe that rather than repeating the mistakes of the past — that being entering into an emergency contract with an out-of-state vendor — it would be prudent to pump the brakes," said state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R., York).

THE CONTEXT: Pennsylvania had to scale up contact tracing quickly at the start of the pandemic, so the department hired Insight Global last July to recruit and train 1,000 contact tracing staff. 

But in April of this year, it was revealed that the names, birth dates, counties of residence, and personal health details of as many as 72,000 people questioned during the process had been exposed online. 

In June, despite promises that all the data had been secured, Spotlight PA reported that a Google document identifying 66 people — many of them minors — was still online

The state's contract with Insight Global ended June 18, and at least one person impacted by the breach filed suit.

Now, even as the state relaxes mitigation protocols like masking requirements, there are no plans to sunset the contact tracing program just yet. 
Huge issues are being debated in Harrisburg, from voting changes to redistricting, that could have ramifications on our state for years to come. Now more than ever, we need unflinching investigative journalism in Pennsylvania.

And Spotlight PA is answering the call in a bold new way.

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"While I am moved to tears by this result, which I have waited for [for] over seven years, I am mindful that this moment came because I went public with my story, which no survivor should have to do in order to obtain justice."

—Shannon Keeler on an arrest warrant issued by Pa. authorities for a California man she says raped her at Gettysburg College years ago

VACCINE UPDATE: Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed a GOP-led bill that sought to preemptively ban COVID-19 "vaccine passports" and restrict the health secretary's actions during emergencies. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
Thanks, Cas H., for this shot of downtown Pittsburgh along the Allegheny River. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: We're off on Monday for July Fourth, but PA Post will be back in your inbox first thing Tuesday. See you then.
COSBY CASE: What happens next to Bill Cosby is very much a question mark two days after a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision saw him sprung from state prison and his rape conviction overturned. While that ruling prevents Cosby from being retried, The Inquirer says he may soon be back in court, with several accusers planning civil suits. In the meantime, Cosby is eyeing a comeback and legal action of his own.

BIG BILLS: Pennsylvania counties saw an unprecedented wave of litigation before and after the 2020 election and paid dearly for it. Eight months of invoices reveal counties pooling resources to cover $250,000 legal fees and fend off challenges around voting rules and the results. Officials worried gray areas in the election law would leave them vulnerable. WITF reports that's exactly what happened.

PAY DAY: Gov. Tom Wolf has signed a law that officially allows Pennsylvania college athletes to make money off their name, image, and likeness. Penn State and Pitt have signaled their support, per PennLive. The change comes after the NCAA updated its own policy and the U.S. Supreme Court sent a clear signal amid a cultural reckoning on the "amateurism" fueling big money programs

MIGRANT HOLD: York County Prison will no longer house ICE detainees following a breakdown in payment negotiations with the federal agency, York Daily Record reports. The county said the number of detainees has decreased along with ICE funding, but the county's required costs stayed the same, at one point resulting in losses of $1.2 million a month. Activists cheered the development, which takes effect Aug. 12.
DEED FRAUD: State Rep. Amen Brown (D., Philadelphia) is named in a deed fraud case alleging he took possession of a Point Breeze home without the legal right. Brown claims he was the victim of a Craigslist scam and cheated out of $15,000. But Billy Penn says he held onto the property even as the rightful owner spent years trying to get it back
#FREEBRITNEY: Britney Spears' fight against a court-ordered conservatorship she says has controlled her career, finances, and body since 2008 has gotten the attention of Pennsylvania's senior-most U.S. senator. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) is calling for more federal oversight of the guardianship system and more data on the oversight already in place, Time reports.

PUPPY LOVE: The Burg magazine explains how an emaciated rescue dog from West Virginia became the "Official Dog of Pennsylvania," amassing 20,000 Twitter followers in the process. Levi Fetterman didn't know how to lay down or play when he was placed with Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor and second lady, John and Gisele Fetterman. Now, he's a bone-afied celebrity.

MEAL TICKET: Downtown Philly has more medical marijuana dispensaries than fast-food joints now as land values soar and old-school burger chains are priced out. Inquirer columnist Inga Saffron says while some of this can be chalked up to pandemic impacts on the dining industry, rampant real estate speculation in the city's core is an even bigger factor.

I SCREAM: Pennsylvania's ice cream trail is back for a fourth year, this time with a list of 31 creameries scattered across the state. One state official told PennLive the trail is designed to "guide people through the backroads that criss-cross the commonwealth bringing additional income to farmers and enhancing tourism appeal."

KNEE HIGH: It's July Fourth weekend, and while the neighbors enjoy some recreational dynamite, I'll be kicking back and enjoying some explosively good Pennsylvania sweet corn. Fox43 has good news about this year's harvest and bad news for corn-lovers in the northern tier. In all seriousness, have a safe and happy weekend. We'll see you back here on Tuesday.
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: Erstwhile (also accepted: Wehrlites)

Congrats to our daily winners: Neal W., Craig W., Michelle T., Susan D., Don H., Elaine C., Beth T., Doris T., Jessica K., Carol D., Myles M., George S., Dennis M., Bruce T., Elizabeth W., David W., Barbara A., Joel S., Clayton L., Ron P., James B., Bob R., and Lex M.


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