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Pa. schools shunned free testing as COVID climbed

Plus, district attorney charged with rape ‘won’t resign,’ lawyer says.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
October 7, 2021
Pandemic pupils, custody fight, legal move, empty chairs, DA crimes, nun business, and a Halloween candy power ranking. It's Thursday, all day.
Pennsylvania schools have been slow to embrace a state program offering free COVID-19 testing for students, even as child cases rise and outbreaks occur.

Spotlight PA reports just 396 schools signed up between mid-August and Sept. 30, according to the state Department of Health. That’s out of more than 5,000 public, private, and charter schools.

"Of course, we've tried, ad nauseam, to make sure schools are aware of it," Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said.

THE CONTEXT: The program — part of an $87 million contract — was announced before a school mask mandate that's in effect statewide and facing legal and legislative challenges

Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, told Spotlight PA that schools are dealing with handling outbreaks, managing contact tracing, and navigating the mask order all at once.

While testing may be a useful tool, he said, it's another logistical hurdle, adding, "I can understand very easily how this would have been put on the back burner."

Some school leaders have expressed concerns that if they start testing, they'll find more COVID-19 cases than expected and be forced to take additional mitigation steps, such as closing schools.

But that's not what the data shows, said Karen Hogan, program lead at Concentric by Ginkgo, the firm managing the state's testing program.

Hogan said many districts are reporting lower than expected rates of infection, indicating the mitigation strategies in place are working.

"The only way she escaped Afghanistan was because a veterans' group operating on the ground found her, protected her, and got her on a flight."

—U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) on the rescue of a Lehigh Valley middle school worker stranded in Afghanistan as the Taliban took over the country
COVID-19 UPDATE: A group of prominent doctors and scientists think Biden's booster shot plan is too broad; scientists are probing symptoms of diabetes that follow COVID-19 infections; the at-home testing supply is on the rise; and hundreds of Pennsylvania nursing homes may have missed the state's worker vaccination deadline. To find the vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» CRISIS OF CARE: Join us Friday, Oct. 8 at noon EST via Zoom for a free Q&A on rising rates of Alzheimer's disease in Pennsylvania, the barriers to care, and the solutions urged by advocates. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
Thanks, Tom M., for this glowing shot of the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail. More spots to add to your fall biking spots! Send us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
FAMILY FEUD: Trump-backed U.S. Senate candidate Sean Parnell is seeking a gag order against his estranged wife as an ongoing child custody dispute spills into the campaign. TribLIVE says the request follows reports on protection-from-abuse filings between the two and Parnell's bid to use images of his children to "promote his political brand."

PRISON DEATH: A civil rights lawsuit alleging officials and a contractor were "deliberately indifferent" to the mental health needs of a woman who committed suicide inside Blair County Prison will proceed. Altoona Mirror reports a federal judge rejected motions to dismiss the suit, which was brought by Samantha Beckwith's surviving relatives.

NO-SHOW: A hearing to gather input from Wolf administration officials on possible election law changes was cut short this week when those officials failed to show, per the AP. State Sen. David Argall (R., Schuylkill) said he didn't understand the decision and still wants a public discussion. The Department of State offered written responses instead.

ON LEAVE: KDKA-TV reports Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro's office will prosecute the case against Somerset County District Attorney Jeffrey Thomas, who's charged with raping a Windber woman inside her home last month. The Tribune-Democrat reports Thomas is taking a leave of absence but has no plans to resign.

TWO STRIKES: A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Catholic nuns against the builder of a Lancaster County gas pipeline that the nuns say violates their religious freedom. It's the second such rejection for the group. The first prompted an appeal that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear in 2019, LancasterOnline reports.
LIVES LOST: A Pittsburgh-area restaurant owner lost his father and son from COVID-19 in the span of two days. One was vaccinated; the other wasn't. CNN says Alan Collins Jr. is now preparing for their funerals.

HOT SEATS: What is "hostile architecture" and why is Philadelphia so famous for it? In light of criticism of SEPTA's new "leaners," here's a look back at Architectural Digest's dig into hostile design, with Philly in mind.

MARCH ON: George Clooney became Pennsylvania governor a decade ago for "The Ides of March," a film one Twitter user says "might have the single most impressive cast of any movie not a soul has thought about since."

TAT PACT: Slippery Rock University President William Behre will get a university-themed tattoo if the student vaccination rate reaches 75% by Dec. 3, TribLIVE reports. The rate is currently just above 50%.

CANDY LAND: Not sure how to feel about FiveThirtyEight's "ULTIMATE HALLOWEEN CANDY POWER RANKING," WHICH <turns caps lock off> ranks 3 Musketeers above M&Ms? But Hershey's-made Reese's cups do rule.

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: Interlocutor

Congrats to our daily winners: Michelle T., Neal W., Susan D., Doris T., Karen W., Don H., Keith F., Kimberly S., Elaine C., George S., Craig E., Susan F., Tim B., Bill S., David W., Joel S., James B., Kim C., Myles M., Lynne E., and Carol D.
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