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COVID climb could test Wolf’s pandemic powers

Plus, why Pa. churches are more polarized than ever.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
July 29, 2021
Response time, fair maps, church politics, ethics review, middle man, guard change, and 'The Worst of Philly: 2021.'  It's Thursday, thanks for checking in.
JOIN US: Next Thursday, we're hosting a virtual panel about rental assistance in Pennsylvania as a federal COVID-19 eviction ban comes to an end. Register here.
Gov. Tom Wolf is facing another wave of COVID-19 cases, only this time with significantly less control over how the state responds. 

As vaccine participation slows, new cases are climbing both nationwide and statewide, the CDC is recommending fully vaccinated people start wearing masks indoors where transmission rates are high, and states like California are following suit.
But Wolf has fewer options at his disposal after primary voters in May narrowly backed a Republican-led ballot question that amended the state constitution, putting new limits on a governor's emergency powers and related disaster declarations — the same meant to clear hurdles for a speedy and efficacious response.

The Post-Gazette says with the current case trajectory, a "crash course" in the effects of those changes could be looming

THE CONTEXT: The Wolf administration insists the May ballot questions did nothing to erode its ability to issue mask-wearing and stay-at-home orders or to shut down businesses and schools. Still, Wolf said earlier this week that he has no plans to reimpose any such measures and is focusing on vaccine outreach instead.

Sen. Sharif Street (D., Philadelphia) told the Post-Gazette that putting public health decision-making in the hands of the General Assembly is both "devastatingly bad" and misplaced, noting the legislature is built for deliberation, not rapid response.

Republican state lawmakers say they simply wanted more input in the process, but some fear the backlash against public health powers that fueled the reining in of gubernatorial control in states like Pennsylvania could also fuel legislative obstruction if health officials and experts say new restrictions are needed. 
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"Luckily, I've kind of been stair-stepping to it. It is an enormous undertaking, an enormous responsibility." 

—Shaun Dougherty of Westmont on being elected board president of a global nonprofit dedicated to survivors of clergy sexual abuse

VACCINE UPDATE: New Pfizer research points to a slight decline in COVID-19 vaccine protection after six months, though protection against severe illness remained high. The findings come as experts weigh the need for booster shots ahead of colder weather in the fall. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).

>> HOUSING PENNSYLVANIA: Join us Thursday, Aug. 5 — we've changed the date — at 5 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free panel on everything we know about rental assistance as the federal eviction ban lifts. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

Forget-me-not flowers at Kahle Lake in Emlenton, courtesy of @johnmcculloughphotographySend us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
DIVVIED UP: The high-stakes redrawing of Pennsylvania's political maps is once again getting underway in Harrisburg, as it does every 10 years. And once again, lawmakers are having issues. This time, WHYY reports, keeping municipalities whole and undivided by legislative boundaries is an early sticking point. Supporters saying doing so promotes fairer districts, but critics say it holds a distinct advantage for the GOP.

FAITH TEST: Pennsylvania churches are more polarized than ever as political tensions around racism, abortion, same-sex marriage, masks, and vaccines make their way inside. PublicSource and 100 Days in Appalachia report some religious leaders are struggling to keep communities spiritually and financially afloat amid internal conflicts that have made their sanctuaries anything but.

ETHICS LAW: A theft case that prompted the resignation of a state lawmaker has now prompted a review of Pennsylvania's ethics laws by her former colleagues. Inspired by last week's filing of a criminal case against state Rep. Margo Davidson (D., Delaware), City & State reports the House State Government Committee will look for holes in state laws meant to protect taxpayer money against fraud and abuse

RUN TIME: A former aide to U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter has formally announced his candidacy for Pat Toomey's seat, wading into a field of Republican primary candidates with a Trumpian center of orbit. Craig Snyder, a 60-year-old Republican from Philadelphia, told The Inquirer he's aiming for the middle, calling it an "unacceptable choice between a MAGA extremist and a woke progressive extremist."

NEW ERA: The man who took UPMC from a loose federation of hospitals with about 500 employees and turned it into a health-care behemoth with operations around the world is stepping down, TribLIVE reports. Jeffrey A. Romoff will be replaced as CEO by current Executive Vice President Leslie Davis. The changing of the guard comes at a key time for the health system's rapid and opportunistic expansion push.

Correction: Wednesday's edition incorrectly named a troubled, PNC Bank-owned apartment complex in McKeesport. It is the Hi View Gardens.
PA POST: A "cave" under a Harrisburg home is a TikTok phenomenon, with a videotaped descent drawing millions of likes and the homeowner's unproven Underground Railroad theory prompting plenty of speculation. The original poster says a historical consultation is coming, per The Daily Dot.

THE WORST: Philly Mag's annual "Best of Philly" list is cool, but a year like 2021 demands balance. With that in mind, the publication rolled out a "Worst of Philly 2021" list covering fraudulent hoagies, Ben Simmons, Wawa parking lots, and more. It's a long list, and we're only seven months in.

WALK HARD: A walk up more than 1,000 rocky steps that were placed into the side of a Huntingdon County mountain by quarry workers in the 1930s is not for the faint of heart — or those short on balance. StateCollege.com has a first-person walkthrough of what to expect of the trek

COMEBACK: The Pennsylvania Game Commission will remove the peregrine falcon — the world’s fastest animal — from the threatened species list after 40 years of protective measures. "An endangered species listing is not an end point: It’s a call to arms with a 'to-do list," a falcon coordinator told TribLIVE.

TV TOWN: Beloved children's television show "Arthur" is going off the air after 25 years, PBS has decided. Creator and Erie native Marc Brown said the show was influenced by his Pennsylvania upbringing, and included nods to Millcreek Mall, Ellwood City, and Brown's own schooldays, per WFMJ.
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