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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
April 19, 2022
Counting COVID, debate night, American made, on the trail, ballot boxes, fixer-uppers, and Pennsylvania's own Margaritaville. It's Tuesday.
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DOMINANT VARIANT
More than 84% of new COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania are now being caused by the BA.2 subvariant, and officials will be watching the numbers closely on the heels of this past weekend's holiday gatherings and a judge's decision to end a federal mask mandate on public transportation.

BA.2 has spread faster in the Northeast than in the rest of the country, according to New York Times data, and Pennsylvania's daily average of new COVID-19 cases has increased by more than 80% in recent weeks.

What's behind BA.2's rise? Waning immunity from vaccines, less mask wearing, and the subvariant's heightened transmissibility.

Looking to head off a growing caseload, Philadelphia reimposed its indoor mask mandate on Monday, making it the first major U.S. city to do so this spring. It's unclear if others will follow suit in the coming weeks. 

On Monday, a federal judge voided the national mask mandate covering airplanes and other public transportation. While some U.S. transit systems will keep enforcing their own mask rules, Pennsylvania's biggest transit systems will not. The Biden administration is eyeing an appeal

THE CONTEXT: Prior to Monday's mask ruling, The Inquirer spoke with experts who said BA.2 will cause a further increase in cases but possibly without a fresh round of capacity-straining impacts on hospitals. 

"They cite the number of people with immunity due to recent omicron infections and the fact that BA.2 doesn't appear to cause more severe illness," reporters Justine McDaniel and Jason Laughlin explained.

Others cautioned that it's too soon to tell. 

The rise in at-home testing means more cases were already going unreported. The end of masking on crowded trains, buses, and planes could also factor in. And flu activity is rising and further complicating the outlook.

In related news, Pennsylvania acting health secretary Keara Klinepeter is moving on from the position. A key figure in the state's COVID-19 response, Klinepeter will be succeeded in the role by Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson, Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Monday.
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NOTABLE / QUOTABLE

"In previous years, it was saber-rattling. This year, I really don’t know."

State Rep. Austin Davis (D., Allegheny) on the political threat facing the University of Pittsburgh's multimillion dollar state appropriation
 
📅 UPCOMING EVENTS
» BROKEN RULES: Join us Wednesday, April 20 at 6 p.m. EST via Zoom for a free discussion on Pa.'s medical release law for state prisoners, who the law impacts, and the strain it places on people in prison, their families, and taxpayers. Register here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
 
🗳 ELECTION INFO
» Your guide to the Democratic and GOP candidates for governor

» Watch: GOP candidates for governor will debate at 7 tonight

» A guide to the overlooked race for Pa. lieutenant governor

» Big donations to GOP guv hopefuls: Who gave and how much?

» Tell Spotlight PA what election coverage matters the most to you
 
📷 POST IT
The mighty Susquehanna in Pittston, courtesy of @jonyonkondySend us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
DAILY RUNDOWN
DEBATE NIGHT: Five of the nine Republican candidates running for Pennsylvania governor will gather tonight at Gettysburg College for a 90-minute debate hosted by Spotlight PA and our news partners: The Philadelphia Inquirer, Trib Total Media, PennLive/The Patriot-News, and WITF. The event won't be open to the public, but you can watch it for free starting at 7 p.m. on YouTube and Facebook

STEEL SOURCE: The Biden administration will prioritize U.S.-made steel and iron for use on projects connected to the $1 trillion infrastructure package. While Pennsylvania's steel industry is a shadow of its former self, an advocacy group estimated in 2018 that more than 34,000 people were still directly employed by the industry here, with $3.14 billion in wages produced by those jobs annually.

SENATE STOPS: Democrat John Fetterman is campaigning hard in rural Pennsylvania or, as the Washington Post puts it, "A Democrat in gym shorts tries to rally blue votes in Trump country." The U.S. Senate hopeful believes the face time could help deliver the pivotal seat for Democrats come November. Meanwhile, in the parallel GOP primary, the two leading contenders for the open Senate seat have spent a combined $18 million of their own fortunes on the race.
 
DROPPED BOX: As Pennsylvania's GOP-led General Assembly considers a bill that would ban mail ballot drop boxes statewide, Lancaster County officials have removed the only drop box serving 344,000 registered voters there, per FOX43. The drop box was removed from the Lancaster County Government Center last week by Republican commissioners with no vote beforehand. 

HOME IMPROVEMENT: Vox makes the case for home repairs as a pro-affordable housing tool. According to the outlet, more than 280,000 occupied homes across Pennsylvania alone are estimated to have moderate to severe physical issues, ranging from exposed wiring to failed plumbing and leaky windows. Fixing those issues could keep more homes on the market at a time of short supply. 
IN OTHER NEWS
MAC MILLER: The California man held criminally responsible for Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller's fatal overdose at the age of 26 has been sentenced to 11 years in prison, KTLA reports. Ryan Michael Reavis pleaded guilty to supplying the fentanyl-laced pills that contributed to Miller's death.

STEP COUNTS: In an ode to Pittsburgh's City Steps, Governing writes about what happened to them when the walking workforce they were built for largely disappeared. Estimated to number in the high hundreds and increasingly shabby in parts, the staircases still have a loyal fanbase.

DAY TO REMEMBER: A Snyder County bachelor party went sideways on Friday when a staged abduction of the groom-to-be was mistaken for a real one. Philly Voice says it happened outside a Walmart in Selinsgrove and led to disorderly conduct charges against one of the participants.

SPELL-CHECK: A transcription service analyzed the comments in the subreddits of Pennsylvania's biggest colleges to find "the number of spelling mistakes per 100 words." According to the Post-Gazette, Carnegie Mellon had the worst spellers in the state, while Penn State bested its rival Pitt.

MARGARITAVILLE, PA: Jimmy Buffett-inspired resort is slated to open in the Poconos in 2024, per The Morning Call. It will include a hotel, a luxury camp, tiny homes, attractions, and possibly an Amtrak station. 
THE SCRAMBLER
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.
 
I E E U P T R T O

*This week's theme: Let's dance!
 
Yesterday's answer: Promenade

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Myles M., Jim A., Bonnie R., Eddy Z., David S., Ted W., Starr B., Nancy S., Sheryl V., Karen W., Roseanne M., Patricia M., Kim C., Don H., Susan N.-Z., Susan R., Kimberly S., Irene R., Deb N., Mary Kay M., Susan D., John F., Janet C., Wendy A., John A., Heidi B., Matt P., Michelle T., Kevin M., George S., Elaine C., Tish M., Bette G., Elizabeth W., Dianne K., Pat B., Barbara F., Ann E., Vicki U., Bill S., Jude M., Sharon H., Mark F., Richard A., Joel S., Sandy B., Stanley J., David W., Chris H., and Becky C.
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