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Pa. will hire 100 contact tracers to replace 1,000

Plus, fresh fines after pipeline spills in four counties.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
August 20, 2021
Contact traced, pay freeze, added controversy, environmental hazards, missed shots, state of Pennsylvania, and somebody lost their wallaby. It's Friday.
The state will hire at least 100 new contact tracers to help contain the spread of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, but the number is a dramatic reduction from earlier levels and well below what experts say the state currently needs, Spotlight PA reports.

A new $9 million contact tracing program will be administered by Boston-based Public Consulting Group, which the state picked after firing its last contact tracer over a massive data breach.

Documents show state health officials could request up to 200 additional contact tracers and support staff under the new contract, but one public health professor told Spotlight PA even that seems low.

THE CONTEXT: Concerns about the size of the state's contact tracing force are due to the rapid spread of the delta variant, combined with a slowing vaccination rate and fewer mitigation efforts in place.

"Contact tracing is one of the basic, fundamental public health strategies that we could use to curtail transmission through a community," said Chrysan Cronin, a professor of public health at Muhlenberg College.

Based on population size and daily case counts, Pennsylvania needs at least 1,954 contact tracers, according to a tool produced by the George Washington University Institute for Workforce Equity. 

The Wolf administration expanded its capacity last summer when it hired Insight Global to bring on more than 1,000 new contact tracing staff. Case levels are higher now than they were then.

"We're not in a very good spot right now. I put my name out there to get it done, and I've been stopped for the time being." 

—State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) on his stalled push for a Trump-backed audit of recent elections in three Pennsylvania counties
COVID-19 UPDATE: Days after Pennsylvania officials mandated that at least 80% of a nursing home's workers be vaccinated against COVID-19, President Joe Biden is directing nursing homes to mandate vaccines for all employees or lose Medicare and Medicaid funding. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» CLIMBING COVID: Join us Wednesday, Aug. 25 at noon via Zoom for a free Q&A on what we know about rising COVID-19 cases and the state's vaccine distribution efforts. Register for the event here and submit your questions to
Thanks, Patricia R., for this shot of the Susquehanna River in Falls, Pa. How beautiful are those Pennsylvania trees? Send us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
EVICTION FREEZE: A Dupont man says he's among the 58% of smaller U.S. landlords who now have tenants behind on rent, and that a federal eviction ban has left him with little recourse and working on an exit plan, the Associated Press reports. Landlords can apply for rent relief on behalf of a tenant in Pennsylvania, but they'll need the tenant's signature. Here's Spotlight PA's tenant-focused guide to the process.

VIDEO ROLL: The contractor accused of abusing imprisoned people in York County while training prison guards there also stands accused of mistreating law enforcement during a similar exercise in another state. York Daily Record has video of Joseph Garcia pepper-spraying South Carolina deputies as York County considers extending his contract

PIPE FINES: Sunoco has been hit with an $85,666 penalty for spills along its Mariner East pipeline in Pennsylvania, StateImpact reports. The spills released a total of 412 gallons of industrial waste into wetlands and streams in Blair, Cumberland, Juniata, and Lebanon Counties. Sunoco paid half a million in fines for different Lebanon County spills last year.

MISSING INFO: Allegheny County's top prosecutor pointed to a report by ShotSpotter — an acoustic gunshot detection and location system — in declaring a 2018 fatal police shooting justified. But the AP reports a lawsuit filed by Mark Daniels' surviving family has revealed that the report did not say he fired first, as the prosecutor claimed.

PA POLL: Pennsylvanians are more concerned about COVID-19 than they were in June, more concerned about "election integrity" than ever before, and heavily in favor of redistricting reform, a new Franklin & Marshall poll has found. Additionally, more respondents believe the country is headed in the wrong direction than did two months ago.
SCRAP IT: The Inquirer's surprisingly lengthy list of the best scrapple options the Philadelphia area has to offer includes a dizzying array — vegan scrapple, a scrapple pizza, venison scrapple, scrapple fries, and, this probably goes without saying, a scrapple cheesesteak

HIT PARADE: Pittsburgh has canceled its Labor Day Parade — one of the oldest and largest in the country — for a second year straight, calling it "the responsible thing to do." TribLIVE reports a related weekend of service is still on, starting with a blood drive on Sept. 3 at PPG Paints Arena.

EASY AID: Volunteering, donating, and emailing the White House are all simple steps NPR says people can take to help Afghan refugees now. Thousands have fled the country since a Taliban takeover, many coming to states like Pennsylvania, which Gov. Tom Wolf says is "ready to help."

EASY RIDERS: Believing media coverage of illegal dirt biking in Philadelphia failed to fully capture the voices and motives of riders, students in WHYY's youth employment program spoke to "bike life" supporters to balance the coverage and produced a video on the other side of the debate.

CAPTIVE KANGAROO: Lebanon County's loose wallaby was snagged by a state game warden this week in Bethel Township after days on the run. WGAL reports you can keep a wallaby in Pennsylvania with a permit, but the game commission said no one in the area has one.
Unscramble and send your answer to We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Ignoramus 

Congrats to our daily winners: Bruce T., Craig W., Susan N., Becky C., Neal W., Beth T., Doris T., Susan D., Susan F., Michelle T., Don H., Elaine C., Irene R., Suzanne S., Cris F., George S., Lex M., Barbara A., David W., Dennis M., Alan V., Craig E., Bill S., Jessica K., James B., Kim C., Elizabeth W., and Karen W.
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