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Pa. leaves mask rules up to schools

Plus, new questions about an old race data problem.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
August 5, 2021
School masks, vaccine rates, subpoena power, legal technicality, fair maps, supervised release, and the house with 450,000 bees. Welcome to Thursday.
JOIN US: At 5 p.m. today, we're hosting a virtual panel about rental assistance in Pennsylvania and what the new federal COVID-19 eviction ban means for tenants. Register here.
Pennsylvania schools are weeks from reopening and the current lack of a statewide mask order means a patchwork of policies across 500 districts will be waiting. 

As school boards consider new rules with no shortage of input from impassioned parents, the state is deferring to federal guidance, which, as of now, says masks are recommended — not required — inside school buildings. The CDC is also recommending that children return to in-person learning this fall.

The growing spread of the delta variant and the continued inability of children younger than 12 to get vaccinated is complicating the calculus and raising the stakes. 

While the Wolf administration has maintained its reluctance to issue new mandates, saying it would emphasize vaccine outreach instead, there are signs the approach may be evolving, at least as it relates to schools.

Asked by PennLive's editorial board on Wednesday about the possibility of mandated face masks in commonwealth schools, Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said, “At this stage, all bets are on the table.”

THE CONTEXT: In June, the Pennsylvania Department of Education announced the state would use federal funding to launch free COVID-19 testing in schools this fall. 

But, as Vox reported in early July, experts say there are good reasons to still require masks, particularly at schools where the majority of the student body isn't or can't be vaccinated, and in areas where the coronavirus is spreading at higher rates.

Roughly 30 Pennsylvania counties were seeing substantial or high COVID-19 transmission rates as of Wednesday, per the CDC. The CDC defines a "substantial" transmission rate as 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 people, or a positivity rate between 8% and 10%. It defines a "high" transmission rate as 100 or more cases per 100,000 people, or a positivity rate of 10% or higher.

PennLive reports the majority of Harrisburg-area school districts currently don't plan to require face masks when students return, adding, "Beam on Wednesday said she hasn’t reviewed the school plans due last week, but expects that’s also the case statewide."
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"Until we dismantle the system, you have to work within the system."

—State Rep. Summer Lee (D., Allegheny) on an effort to take over the Allegheny County Democratic Committee and “break the machine”

VACCINE UPDATE: The World Health Organization on Wednesday called for a halt on booster shots of coronavirus vaccines through at least September, citing disparities around access in the global supply. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration expects to issue full approval for the Pfizer's vaccine by next month. 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 at 5 p.m. ET today via Zoom for a free panel on everything we know about rental assistance in Pennsylvania. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
"This tiny worker is enjoying some catnip blossoms in Havertown." Thanks for giving us a closer look, Suzanne S.!  Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
COUNT DOWN: Asians are among the most vaccinated racial groups in the U.S., but Pennsylvania's data for Asian American and Pacific Islander residents outside of Philadelphia show one of the lowest rates in the nation. The Inquirer says officials suspect an error, reigniting questions about the data guiding the state's pandemic plan.

NEXT STEPS: State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) tells Newsmax he's looking to issue subpoenas to York, Tioga, and Philadelphia Counties in the next two weeks as part of his Trump-backed audit of their recent elections. Mastriano says the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee will vote on the subpoenas soon, per the AP.

CLEARED: A bizarre case involving a former Philadelphia detective, who prosecutors say threatened a 16-year-old while nude in the bedroom of the child's mother before pulling a gun, came to an equally unusual ending this week. The Inquirer reports a controversial judge cleared ex-Det. Robert Redanauer of all charges on a perplexing legal technicality.

MAP IT: Redistricting reformers are keeping up efforts to make political map-making as fair and transparent as possible in Pennsylvania, despite a series of setbacks. The latest Legislative Reapportionment Commission hearing saw advocates urging steps to avoid prison gerrymandering and to consider racial equity, per City & State.
TIME SERVED: Former Penn State President Graham Spanier was released from jail Wednesday morning after serving a nearly two-month sentence for child endangerment in a case connected to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, the Centre Daily Times reports. Spanier, 73, must now reportedly serve two months of house arrest.
BEE HOME: A newly purchased farmhouse in Skippack came with a bonus: 450,000 bees that had been living in the walls for almost 35 years and which cost $12,000 to remove, CNN reports. "On the seller's disclosure it said 'bees in wall,'" the buyer recalled. Spoiler alert. 

UNIFORMS: Tim Pane of Lackawanna County has made it to the Olympics, three decades after he stopped wrestling. Pane's company made the athletic wear worn by gold medal wrestlers from Cuba in this year's Summer Games. The Times-Tribune reports getting the gear around an embargo wasn't easy.

PHILLY BOP: Philadelphia's freestyle ballroom scene is still swinging. Rita Redfern-Powell and her husband Tony Powell met in 1992, married in 1995, and have been dancing freestyle ballroom together for the last 22 years. They showed The Inquirer how it's done and why it's fun.

GOOD GUY: Tributes are pouring in for a beloved Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh nurse named Andy Katlubeck who died last month at the age of 59. “When you saw him, there was that slight sigh of relief even though it was so heavy," the parent of a childhood cancer patient told the Post-Gazette.

LONG READ: A Pennsylvania library book that was 50 years overdue has been returned with a $20 bill tucked inside and a note. Per the Citizens' Voice, the note included with the 1967 copy of “Coins You Can Collect” suggested using the money to pay off fines for children
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: Illustration

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Michelle T., Don H., Susan D., Becky C., Susan F., Dennis M., Neal W., Kim C., Barbara A., James B., George S., Myles M., Elaine C., Beth T., Craig E., Joel S., Susan N., Tish M., Beth L., Brandie K., John A., Eddy Z., Karen W., Jerry L., David W., Irene R., Patricia R., Yvette R., and Chris R.
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