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Mandates urged as Pfizer vax gets full approval

Plus, Pa. GOP leader says election audit hearings to start this week.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
August 24, 2021
Full Pfizer, audit go, tech suit, gun violence, crisis response, climate strategy, and a rock concert at Four Seasons Total Landscaping. Hi there, it's Tuesday.
Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is now fully approved by the FDA, removing a hurdle for some vaccine holdouts and clearing the way for more vaccine mandates, experts say.

Before now, the vaccine was under emergency use authorization. With full approval, legal observers expect more businesses, schools, and governments will feel empowered to require vaccines, and President Joe Biden urged them to do so in a speech Monday, per Politico. 

In Pennsylvania, the Wolf administration is requiring shots or regular COVID-19 testing for 25,000 employees in state prisons, state hospitals, veterans homes, and more. It's also requiring indoor masks for state workers and contractors. 

But the state is not requiring vaccines or masks for K-12 teachers, largely leaving local leaders to handle that decision and any public, partisan backlash it might bring.

THE CONTEXT: The FDA's decision to fully approve Pfizer's vaccine comes as the U.S. sees an average of 137,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, an increase of approximately 230% in the last month.

In Pennsylvania, all but two counties were labeled "substantial transmission" or "high transmission" areas by the CDC as of Monday.

Neighboring New Jersey is requiring teachers and state staff to be vaccinated by Oct. 18 or submit to regular COVID-19 testing, via WHYY. 

Philadelphia's school board is set to vote on a vaccine mandate for staff today.

Still, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf — stripped of some pandemic powers by primary voters in May — has greeted this latest COVID-19 wave with a more hands-off approach and fewer statewide edicts.

In a statement, Wolf said of the Pfizer vaccine earning full approval: "We hope this encourages people to get vaccinated who may have been hesitant while it was classified as emergency use to not only protect themselves but their loved ones and everyone else around them."

"This incident may have triggered a variety of unnecessary and unfortunate other incidents."

—Investigators on one of the numerous violations at a Pittsburgh juvenile detention center that saw its license revoked by state officials this week
COVID-19 UPDATE: Parents at one Allegheny County school sued to make masks mandatory there, and most people in the U.S. are legally prevented from knowing which COVID-19 variant infected them. 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 at noon via Zoom for a free reader Q&A on what we know about Pennsylvania's response to the surge in COVID-19 cases and what you need to know going into the fall. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
Thanks, Deb N., for this lily pad-filled pond in Harrisburg. Send us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
FULL AUDIT: Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) has been in touch with Donald Trump and says hearings will begin this week to launch a "full forensic investigation" of the state's 2020 presidential election, the AP reports. Corman, who removed state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) from the push, wrote that the goal isn't to conduct a recount but to find security flaws in the election system.

MACHINE SUIT: Fulton County is suing over the state's decertification of its voting machines, which were involved in a secretive election audit linked to a widely discredited ballot review undertaken in Arizona. The Arizona Republic says a full report on the findings of that Arizona review has been delayed by a COVID-19 outbreak.

BACKSLIDE: Shootings and homicides are up significantly in Pittsburgh this year, the Post-Gazette reports, with teens representing nearly one-third of the city's 41 most recent homicide victims. The paper says the pandemic has coincided with a "dangerous backslide for a city that made significant progress in reducing gun violence."

CRISIS HELP: Angie Alvarez is York County's first behavioral health co-responder and will be called to assist police at scenes where people are experiencing mental health crises, WITF reports. York County secured funding to hire several co-responders amid a national reevaluation of the best and safest ways to address urgent mental health needs.

'UPHILL BATTLE': Climate activists have their sights set on Pennsylvania's influential Public Utility Commission as they look to stack the board with sympathetic members. StateImpact reports activists have met with Gov. Tom Wolf and put a call out for candidates but know they face an uphill battle in overhauling the state utility regulator
IN LIMBO: When a Pittsburgh prison was retired in 2017 amid a state budget shortfall, officials said its prime location along the Ohio River made it all the more likely to be repurposed quickly. But that never happened, leading WESA to ask where things stand and what's taking so long.

DRIVE TIME: More than 50,000 Pennsylvania medical marijuana patients — nearly 10% of the total — live in counties without a single medical marijuana dispensary, CNHI reports. State officials had refused to release the number but were ordered to do so by the Office of Open Records.

SHOW STOPPER: Billy Penn reports an acoustic set by Laura Jane Grace at Philadelphia's Four Seasons Total Landscaping over the weekend included a crowd-surfing cardboard cutout of Rudy Giuliani and garden tool selfies, and almost fell apart at the last minute over a permitting issue.

RUNNING: Christian Alexandersen, of Enola, ran a mile in each of Pennsylvania's 112 state parks during the pandemic, sometimes as many as a dozen in a single weekend. PennLive reports that includes Allegheny Islands State Park, which is completely undeveloped and only accessible by boat.

BOOK BUY: A quarter million books and thousands of records, CDs, and DVDs are on sale at the 66th annual Friends of Lancaster Public Library Book Sale, WGAL reports. The sale lasts through Wednesday at the former Bon-Ton at Park City Center and proceeds benefit the public library.
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: Singularity

Congrats to our daily winners: Susan F., Craig W., Neal W., Susan D., Elaine C., Irene R., Don H., George S., John P., Craig E., Suzanne S., Mike B., Bill S., Jessica K., David W., Kimberly S., James B., Beth T., and Elizabeth W.
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