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Pa. battles misinformation to drive vaccinations

Plus, new push would let Pa. students say no to masks.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
August 10, 2021
Vaccine run, prison gerrymander, mask opt-outs, wrongful death, WIC concerns, rent relief, and a Dwight Schrute-inspired cookbook. It's Tuesday.
Pennsylvania officials, health systems, and community groups are turning to text messages, house calls, and even county fairs to speed up the vaccination program and motivate holdouts, Spotlight PA reports.  

The push comes as the delta variant feeds a climbing case count. Nearly all of the state's recent deaths and hospitalizations have been among the unvaccinated, Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said in late July. 

Experts told Spotlight PA it's not surprising that vaccination rates have slowed over the summer: Those who were sure about their decision to get vaccinated eagerly lined up in the spring. 

Still, with the start of the school year weeks away and colder weather close behind, state and local officials are worried that slow vaccinations could lead to another fall surge.

THE CONTEXT: Last winter saw the state contending with demand that overwhelmed the vaccine supply and logistical hurdles, like transportation to vaccination sites.

This year, misinformation and distrust of government are making the task of convincing the unvaccinated to get a shot even harder. 

"I think the answer is public education," said Paul Heimel, a commissioner in Potter County, where vaccination rates are among the lowest in the state. 

At this juncture, some urge depoliticizing the vaccine by using apolitical figures like teachers, coaches, or faith leaders as pro-vaccine messengers.

"I think that there's still a political stigma around vaccines," said Kevin Boozel, president of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania and a commissioner in Butler County. "The reality is, the messaging can't come from political leadership." 
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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"It makes me wonder, ‘Well, how do you really feel about me?’ That’s why this hurt so badly."

—Kendall Stephens, a Black trans woman, on political mailers at the center of a fight about identity politics in a state House race in Philly's Gayborhood 
VACCINE UPDATE: If you lost your vaccination card and received your shot outside of Philadelphia, officials recommend contacting the Pennsylvania Statewide Immunization Information System for proof of status or emailing ra-dhpasiis@pa.gov to request a replacement. In Philadelphia, you should contact your vaccination site, per The Inquirer. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
An island of purple flowers at the southern end of City Island near Harrisburg. Thanks for tagging us, @yatskoSend us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
KEY COUNTS: As Pennsylvania begins the crucial, once-in-a-decade redrawing of its political maps, fair district advocates are focused on ending prison gerrymandering, which uses imprisoned people to inflate population totals in key — often rural — districts, even though those people aren't from there and can't vote, the Capital-Star reports.  

OPT-OUTS: State Sen. Judy Ward (R., Blair) is sponsoring a bill that would allow Pennsylvania parents and guardians to opt their children out of mask-wearing in school if required by the district, WTAJ reports. CDC and state guidance only recommends masks in schools as of now, but health officials say low child vaccination rates make them necessary.

WRONGFUL DEATH: A civil suit against a York hospital claims that after 72-year-old Terry Odoms waved for help and slumped over in a chair, staff walked by him a dozen times before he was tended to and declared dead. The lawsuit filed against WellSpan York Hospital includes surveillance video from the waiting room and blames understaffing

HANDOFF: For the first time since 1974, Allegheny County will no longer be the local provider of benefits through the Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, program. Instead, WESA reports, a Washington County nonprofit is set to take over under a $3 million state contract, which has prompted criticism and calls for the bidding to be run again.

LIFELINES: Upwards of 45,000 rent relief applications have been submitted in Philadelphia, more than twice the number the city can support with this round of funding, The Inquirer reports. The city is reviewing about 3,500 applications a week, enough to clear a backlog about two weeks before a federal eviction ban ends on Oct. 3.
FIELD TEST: Federal researchers have found COVID-19 antibodies in wild white-tail deer populations in Pennsylvania and three other states, indicating the animals were infected with the virus. The study could help "identify species that may serve as reservoirs or hosts for the virus," per WPXI.

SHARK ATTACK: A 12-year-old from Luzerne County is on the mend after a shark attack in shallow water off Ocean City last week, telling WBRE/WYOU of the coming school year: “I think a lot of people are going to have questions [...] and I’m going to have a cool story to tell to them."

BLUE PERIOD: And the Twitter award for saddest Philadelphia mural goes to ... "a faux-reflection of the church that was replaced by this gas station." The mural in Rittenhouse recalls the St. James Episcopal Church that stood there from 1870 to 1946 and which was later replaced by a Sunoco.

DWIGHT ON: Fans of Scranton-set "The Office" can cook like Dwight Schrute with a new beet-heavy cookbook full of Dwight-inspired recipes, Screen Rant reports. There's Russian Beet Soup, Veal Loaf, Beet Biscuit with Rabbit Gravy, Spicy Fried Rattlesnake with Pickled Beets, German Pot Pie, and more.

TREE TEAM: Scientists studying a tree-killing fungus hope a colossal American chestnut in York County holds the key to the species' survival. The York Daily Record reports the tree is one of a few in Pennsylvania able to "fully repel the blight that brought this species to the brink of extinction." 
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.

This week's theme:
Pennsylvania town names
(Hint: This one's in Schuylkill County)

Yesterday's answer: Bellefonte

Congrats to our daily winners: Michelle T., Tara M., Doris T., Bruce T., Craig W., Theresa T., Kevin M., Beth T., Barbara F., Jill M., Mike B., Becky C., Eddy Z., Donna D., Paul H., Susan N., Christine M., Diane P., Kimberly B., Judith D., Jessica K., James B., Elaine C., Karen W., Johnny C., Jill A., Craig E., Don H., John P., Deborah S., Dennis M., Kim C., Kevin H., Guy M., Daniel M., Ron P., John H., David W., Donna D., and Wendy A.
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