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Make masks mandatory in Pa. schools: Wolf to GOP

Plus, what to expect from Pa.’s looming election audit.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
August 26, 2021
Mask ask, audit outlook, disaster lapse, added benefits, Philly fight, rent delays, and a local alligator hits it big. It's Thursday, thanks for checking in.
Gov. Tom Wolf is calling on the GOP-led legislature to return to the Capitol immediately to mandate masks in K-12 classrooms and child-care centers statewide, saying deferring to local leaders has compromised student safety.

In a letter to Republican leadership, Wolf wrote that just 59 school districts out of 474 that shared health plans with the state were requiring masks as of July, Spotlight PA reports. Classes have already started in some.

"For most of the past 18 months, the legislature has asked for my administration to defer to local governments and local organizations when making mitigation decisions," Wolf wrote. "It is clear that action is needed to ensure children are safe as they return to the classroom."

But a spokesperson for House Republicans reiterated the belief that masking decisions should be locally made, while Senate Republicans did not respond to requests for comment.

THE CONTEXT: Health experts and officials have urged mask mandates for schools, citing low levels of vaccination and limited vaccine eligibility among students, as well as the ongoing rise of the delta variant. 

Wolf's administration, meanwhile, has avoided a requirement like the one it imposed last year, choosing instead to echo the CDC's "recommendation."

While legal experts tell Spotlight PA local mask mandates are on sound legal footing, some school officials want to avoid even frivolous challenges that might emerge from an acrimonious and politicized public debate.

A statewide rule — like the one ordered by New York's governor on Wednesday — would simplify the calculus and, experts say, protect kids.

"It also raises the moral and human dignity implications of the continuing possession and use of human remains by universities and museums." 

—An independent report on Penn's mishandling of human remains from 1985's MOVE bombing that blames museum curators for 'gross insensitivity'
COVID-19 UPDATE: Penn State professors protesting the school's lack of a vaccine mandate could be disciplined for teaching via Zoom; Bucks County has updated its school COVID-19 plan after criticism from the state; and the Geisinger health system will require shots for employees. To find the vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» FUNDAMENTAL FLAWS: Join us Thursday, Sept. 9 at noon ET via Zoom for a free Q&A on addiction treatment oversight issues in Pennsylvania and how the state can keep people safe as they pursue recovery. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
A rainy sunset dusk over Susquehanna's West Branch Valley at Clearfield. Thanks for the gorgeous photo, Don H.  Send us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
AUDIT AHEAD: Republican state lawmakers are forging ahead with a contested and fractious audit of the state's 2020 election amid a public war of words and growing partisan pressure. In an effort to cut through the noise, Spotlight PA took a closer look at the origins of the effort, who's in charge now, what to expect, and who's going to pay for it.

NO MORE: Pennsylvania's long-running opioid disaster declaration has expired with newly empowered state lawmakers refusing Gov. Tom Wolf's request to extend it. The AP says the declaration improved addiction treatment access and prescription drug monitoring, but a GOP-led push saw Wolf's power to issue extensions curbed by voters.

FOOD FUNDS: Average monthly SNAP benefits will increase by $36.24 per person beginning Oct. 1 under the largest expansion in the program's history, NPR reports. In Pennsylvania, an additional $774 million will be spent on the program, more commonly known as food stamps, which roughly 1.8 million Pennsylvanians rely on.

BLAME GAME: Finger-pointing followed after Philadelphia officials, desperate to get a handle on surging gun violence, traveled to nearby Chester this week for insight into that city's success in halving homicides and fatal shootings this year. The Inquirer reports neither Philly DA Larry Krasner nor Mayor Jim Kenney were invited, but both had plenty to say.

SLOW RELIEF: About 89% of available rental assistance funds have not been distributed in the U.S., The New York Times reports, with just $1.7 billion out of $46.5 billion spent so far. It's a similar story in Pennsylvania, where only 20% of rent relief funding had been distributed at the end of June as tenants coped with long backlogs.
VAX CAST: Episode one of WHYY's new podcast on the calamitous Philly Fighting COVID deal is out now, aiming to answer the question: Why did the city hand the keys for the vaccine rollout to a group of self-proclaimed college kids with no experience, and who was harmed as a result?

TV FAMOUS: The show-stealing alligator from the "Loki" series on Disney+ was visually inspired by a federally licensed emotional support gator from York named Wally, Screen Rant reports. A regular at Silver Spring Diner in Mechanicsburg, Wally was already a well-established local celebrity.

'MIKEY STACKS': Speaking of local celebrities ... ousted lieutenant governor Mike Stack has left Pennsylvania behind for the coast, the west one, appearing on a luxury house hunting show with $7 million (!!) to spend and an origin story: "I'm a lawyer from Philadelphia and I'm sort of reinventing myself."

BREAK BREAD: Congrats to everyone who managed to keep a sourdough starter going during the pandemic, including Haley Ingersoll, who told City Paper of tending wild yeast: "I like knowing that these little microorganisms ... They're subsisting because I feed them, and vice versa."

MILK BAR: Technically speaking, the #MilkCrateChallenge could earn you a fine of $300 or imprisonment of up to 90 days in Pennsylvania, which, as the Morning Call reported, passed a law in 1987 that clamped down on creative uses for "dairy cases" way before people decided to start climbing them.
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: Derivative

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Jessica K., Susan F., Mike B., Beth T., Don H., Doris T., Irene R., Steve D., Kevin M., Susan N., Al M., Michelle T., Patricia M., John P., Wendy A., Neal W., Dennis M., Craig W., George S., Craig E., James B., Judith D., Kim C., Christine M., Diane P., Scott R., Mary Kay M., Bruce B., Jim W., Daniel M., Geoff M., Suzanne S., Bill S., David W., Elizabeth W., Karen W., Doris B., Lex M., Carol D., Joel S., Barbara F., John H., and Damon D.
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