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Pa. schools brace for return as COVID-19 surges

Plus, a viral brawl and a noteworthy Pa. cameo.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
January 3, 2022
Reopening plans, siege suspects, viral video, history making, unanswered questions, stale wages, and a meteoric start to 2022. It's Monday.
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"It's a very enjoyable way to spend one's career on the Supreme Court for, in my case, the better part of a quarter of a century because it's interesting work."

—Newly retired Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Thomas Saylor reflecting on a 24-year high court career that ended on Friday
» LUNG DAMAGE: Studies suggest the omicron variant may produce milder illness in some because it attacks lung cells less efficiently. But Business Insider reports it is more effective in other ways, which could explain its extreme transmissibility.

» OFFICIAL RULING: Cambria County's coroner says three siblings — ages 62, 68, and 70 — who were found dead inside a Conemaugh Township home in October all died of COVID-19, WTAJ reports.

» ON HOLD: The Philadelphia-area's Main Line Health system is pausing elective surgeries for two weeks amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, FOX29 reports.

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).
» MAPPING POWER: Join us Thursday, Jan. 6 at noon EST for a free panel on the proposed state House and Senate maps, how they could shift political power, and their potential impact on Pennsylvanians. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
Snowflakes made out of clothes hangers by a crafty decorator in St. Marys, Elk County. The photo was taken by yours truly on a recent stroll through town. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
SIEGE STATE: Thursday marks one year since supporters of former President Donald Trump — fueled by unfounded claims of a stolen election — mounted a violent and anti-democratic siege of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Of the hundreds charged, dozens were from Pennsylvania. They include a former Lackawanna County school director, a Philly Proud Boys leader, a Kane restaurant owner, and a North Cornwall Township cop

ON DEFENSE: Former Pennsylvania Auditor General and current congressional candidate Eugene DePasquale confirms he was the man seen shielding a bystander in viral video of a fight during Pitt football's Dec. 30 Peach Bowl loss in Atlanta. "Yes it's me," DePasquale, himself a Pitt grad, tweeted, adding of the bystander: "When she went down I knew it could get bad for her fast. The melee falling on top of us was an unwelcome surprise."

NEW MAYOR: Pittsburgh's first-ever Black mayor, former state Rep. Ed Gainey, will take the helm today in a virtual swearing-in ceremony. The Democrat's tenure begins at a critical juncture for the city and with high expectations on the fronts of police reform, affordability, and more. Looking at predecessor Bill Peduto's record on many of those same issues, PublicSource found what it calls "a mix of bold plans and frustrating endings." 

OPEN CASE: A Pennsylvania State Police team focused on "responding to hate/bias-related crimes" is investigating the death of a Jamaican immigrant in Venango County last month, Erie Times-News reports. Peter Spencer's body was found with apparent gunshot wounds on Dec. 12, and while a 25-year-old man was briefly detained, no charges have been filed. Officials say the investigation is ongoing, but Spencer's family is concerned.

FLAT PAY: The new year ushered in minimum wage hikes in 21 U.S. states, but Pennsylvania isn't one of them. Instead, the legally required floor here remains $7.25/hour, where it's been since 2009. Piecemeal measures taken by Gov. Tom Wolf have joined his continued calls for broader legislative action. But Spotlight PA explains why the current makeup of Pennsylvania's General Assembly makes a "Fight for $15" victory so unlikely.
LAST CALL: With longtime Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger likely playing his last-ever game at Heinz Field tonight, a front-page ad appeared in Sunday's Post-Gazette thanking him for 18 seasons. But the sentiment was undermined by another, much smaller front-page ad, Twitter quickly noted.

IN MEMORIAM: Star of stage and screen Betty White died on Friday at the age of 99. LNP remembers White's theatrical debut in Lancaster County more than 60 years ago and a note she left behind: "To my Ephrata friends: You were my first time 'on stage,' and aren't we both thrilled to see how we can grow?" 

DON'T LOOK UP: Allegheny County rang in the new year with a literal bang when a suspected meteor exploded in the sky overhead, rattling houses and nerves across a large swath of suburban Pittsburgh, TribLIVE reports. If confirmed, it wouldn't be the region's first brush with the "wild dash" of an "astral fireball."

PARADE ROUTE: Postponed for a day by rainy weather, Philadelphia's Mummers Parade stepped off on Sunday. WHYY's Avi Wolfman-Arent explains how bad weather 58 years ago led to the banning of a racist Mummers practice.

HIGH TEMPS: The anecdotal sense that 2021 was unusually warm in Pennsylvania is backed up by empirical data: The National Weather Service reports three Pennsylvania locations set new records for average temperatures.
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.
Friday's answer: Annualized

Congrats to our weekly winner: Craig E.

Congrats to our daily winners: Susan F., Elaine C., Craig W., Susan D., Becky C., Mike B., Susan N.-Z., Doris T., Michelle T., Don H., Michael K., Starr B., Myles M., James B., Bill S., Irene R., Karen W., David W., Alan V., and George S.
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