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Most Pa. schools turn down free COVID-19 testing

Plus, redlining's Pa. legacy visible 50 years after ban.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
February 17, 2022

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COVID in class, redlining's legacy, ballot requests, seized assets, no experience, red flagged, and Lancaster meets Compton. It's Thursday.
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Despite spikes in coronavirus infections and low child vaccination rates, schools across Pennsylvania have been slow to enroll in a free testing program offered by the state health department, even during the omicron wave. 

Spotlight PA reports that only 750 of the state's more than 5,000 charter, private, and public schools enrolled as of Feb 16. Of that total, roughly half are actively testing, with others still in the onboarding process.

The figure represents a doubling of last fall's participation rate, but Acting Secretary of Health Keara Klinepeter says it's still not enough. 

Pressed on the lack of sign-ups, Klinepeter turned the question back on local officials: "I would ask you to go ask the schools why they're not participating, why they're not doing their part to protect kids and teachers."

THE CONTEXT: School testing programs across the country have struggled over the fall and winter to gain momentum as officials juggled competing crises: outbreaks fueled by new variants and exhausted school staff. 

In Charleroi, Superintendent Edward Zelich said staff were stretched thin and that the district has opted for other mitigation measures — like masks, vaccine clinics, and contact tracing — instead. "Their plates are so full," he added.

Forty minutes north, the Mt. Lebanon School District in Pittsburgh's suburbs was one of the earliest adopters of the state's program. A spokesperson said it has been beneficial in detecting asymptomatic individuals there.

But health officials have not yet decided if the multimillion-dollar program will be extended to the next school year. The CDC still recommends testing in schools to lower community spread and keep schools open.

For all of February, we at Spotlight PA are giving you the chance to share a message of love, gratitude, or appreciation with the entire state. 

Here's how it works: Make a donation of $25 or more to Spotlight PA using this special link, put your shoutout in the "I am contributing because..." box, and we’ll include it in a special section of our PA Post newsletter. 
Show some love to a Pennsylvania business, a person, an animal, an animal that reminds you of a person, or your favorite reporters (👋). Make someone feel good, brighten a day, and support Spotlight PA at the same time.

"It's that time of year when those struggling to raise money start whisper campaigns about staffing. We understand they're desperate."

—Spokesperson Dave La Torre blaming opponents for highlighting staff departures at Republican Jake Corman's gubernatorial campaign
» PHILLY MANDATE OVER: Philadelphia has dropped its vaccine mandate for indoor dining establishments but will keep its mask rule in place, per 6ABC. The city is also offering $100 to people who get fully vaccinated.

» PERMANENT OPTION: A pandemic lifeline for Pittsburgh businesses is sticking around. The City Council has permanently approved outdoor dining in public right-of-ways for businesses who apply for and receive a city permit.

» NO TEST TAKERS: A free, state-backed COVID-19 testing site in Somerset County can serve up to 450 people per day. But the Daily American says demand was recently nonexistent. It's unclear why. 

» CDC GUIDELINES: The CDC currently recommends that people mask in indoor public places regardless of their vaccination status if they live in an area with high viral transmission. But policy changes could be coming.

To find a COVID-19 vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» BALLOT BATTLE: Join us at 5 p.m. ET today via Zoom for a free Q&A on Pennsylvania's mail voting law, the ruling striking it down, and what's next. Register here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org
A snowy view from the "protector of the Delaware River," or Bowman's Hill Tower, in New Hope. Thanks, @youbetkev! Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
LASTING IMPACTS: FiveThirtyEight looked at the legacy of redlining in 138 U.S. cities — Philadelphia and Pittsburgh included — and found most are still segregated, "just like they were designed to be." More than 50 years after the practice was banned, Pittsburgh neighborhoods where it discouraged investment still haven't recovered. In Philly, meanwhile, gentrification has "fundamentally shifted" the city's demographics.

TECH TROUBLE: Some voters applying for mail ballots through the state's online system say a technical glitch prevented them from verifying their signature as required. WITF explains what to do if you encounter the same problem. In related news: The future of Pennsylvania's expanded mail voting law is uncertain as a legal challenge winds its way through the courts. Here's the latest.

SOURCE SWAP: Lancaster County's district attorney has ended the controversial practice of using seized assets to pay drug task force members, per LNP, saying the shift lets members "operate without the negative perception that they are 'seizing' their salary." Critics have long questioned the constitutionality and impacts of civil forfeiture funds, which some consider a "perverse" law enforcement incentive. 

ENTRY LEVEL: Julie Haertsch, a former Republican candidate for various offices, is now in charge of York County elections despite having no experience overseeing elections herself, the York Daily Record reports. The county's last elections director also lacked prior experience. Democrats now calling for Haertsch's resignation say the "toxic nature" of the office is weeding out more qualified candidates.

MONEY TRAIL: A group that works to put Democrats in governor's offices nationwide has filed a federal campaign finance complaint against a prominent Republican running for governor of Pennsylvania. The complaint says Lou Barletta's PAC made potentially illegal payments for an office property owned by Barletta’s wife in 2020. Barletta's campaign told Capital-Star the spending was by the book.
SELLER'S REMORSE: Legislative delays are costing Pennsylvania money as it tries to sell a former state prison in Pittsburgh and the warden's house attached to it, the Post-Gazette reports. Critics blame partisan politics.

BRIDGE BAND-AID: Did Scranton's deteriorated Hollow Avenue bridge "self-heal"? The weight limit went from 9 tons to 22 tons without any repairs to the poorly rated span. Times-Tribune explains the jury-rigged reason.

MERCER MAYOR: Richard Konzen is Mercer's new mayor. He didn't get the most votes in November, but the Sharon Herald explains how clerical confusion with the top vote-getter prompted an unusual outcome.

REVOLUTIONARY: Nearly 200 rare documents bearing the names of Black and Native American soldiers who served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War are now part of a Philly museum's collection.

SHOW STARTERS: That "love letter" to Compton at Sunday's Super Bowl was made possible by a Lititz-based company with 31,000+ square feet of fabric, 16,000+ LED lights, and mere minutes to pull it off, LNP reports.

CHILD CARE CRISIS: At Spotlight PA, we’re continuing to investigate the state’s child care crisis as providers struggle to hire enough workers and keep their doors open. Right now, we’re working on a story about the state’s Child Care Works program, which the Wolf administration says makes it possible for low-income families to find reliable child care. And we want to hear from you! If you’ve struggled to find reliable and affordable child care, or have experience with Child Care Works, let Spotlight PA reporter Ed Mahon know at emahon@spotlightpa.org.

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: Performing arts

Yesterday's answer: Dramaturgy

Congrats to our daily winners: Bonnie R., Craig W., Beth T., Karen W., Doris T., Susan D., Barbara O., Vicki U., Kimberly S., Kim C., Elaine C., Don H., Kimberly B., Sherri A., Eddy Z., Suzanne S., Charles D., George S., Lex M., Elizabeth W., Bill S., Susan N.-Z., Dianne K., James B., Perry H., David W., Joel B., Daniel M., and Richard S.
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