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Pa. prison guards sue over ‘vax-or-test’ rule

Plus, Wolf pulls election nominee, slams GOP motives.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
September 14, 2021
Prison push, no nod, crisis work, loan equity, birth trauma, bid launched, and why Philly's airport is being called a 'modern-day Ellis Island.' It's Tuesday. 

Corrections officers in Pennsylvania state prisons want a court to stop a new mandate requiring they get coronavirus vaccines or submit to weekly testing, saying the requirement is unfair and short-sighted.

Capital-Star reports the union representing thousands of prison guards says mandatory vaccine or testing rules should be stopped unless also applied to inmates.

Corrections staff have far lower vaccination rates than the state average, while rates for imprisoned people are far higher. 

Rates for Pennsylvania corrections staff have increased in the weeks since the Wolf administration announced the new "vaccine or testing" rule, but just 36% are fully vaccinated now, compared to 90% of imprisoned people.

THE CONTEXT: The close quarters of prisons make them ideal grounds for viral transmissions, but the struggle to get guards vaccinated is nothing new, as Spotlight PA previously reported.

It's a challenge that's set to continue under the new acting secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections, George Little, who will take over for outgoing Secretary John Wetzel

Wetzel's departure was announced Monday and takes effect Oct. 1 — capping a decade-long tenure that saw significant reductions in Pennsylvania's state prison population and, most recently, a series of pandemic-related problems.


"... there's no indication it would follow the best practices or the common understanding of an audit among nonpartisan experts." 

—The Philadelphia Inquirer explaining its decision not to use the word "audit" to describe a GOP-led review of Pennsylvania's recent elections
COVID-19 UPDATE: Republicans in the state House will argue Pennsylvania's school mask rule isn't valid because it wasn't subjected to the state's onerous regulatory review process. In other news, some experts have concluded it's too soon for mass booster shots. To find the vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
A walk in the ... soybeans? Thanks, Robert S., for this shot of the Appalachian Trail in Cumberland County. Send us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
NO NOD: Gov. Tom Wolf says he's withdrawing his nomination of Veronica Degraffenreid to head the Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees the commonwealth's elections, because confirmation hearings would give Republican lawmakers a venue to further attack the integrity of the 2020 election, City & State reports. 

SHOCK WAVES: The fatal police shooting of Ricardo Muñoz in Lancaster touched off protests, a lawsuit, and changes in how city police respond to emergency calls involving someone with a mental illness. LancasterOnline looked at the local shock waves one year later and the national push to reimagine similar acts of crisis response

LOPSIDED LOANS: A new report says of nearly $12 billion in home loans made by banks in Pittsburgh between 2007 and 2019, just 3.5 percent of those dollars went to Black residents, who make up more than one-fifth of the city's population. One expert told WESA the findings are essential to addressing Pittsburgh's shortage of affordable housing.

DELIVERY PAINS: Birth trauma for parents is common at Philadelphia hospitals, but fear of lawsuits means the baby becomes the sole focus, Billy Penn reports. Counseling is almost never provided to new parents — or covered by their insurance. And even when nothing goes wrong, many say they feel rushed out and unsupported.

PRIMARY PLAN: Bill McSwain has officially joined the GOP race for Pennsylvania governor, the AP reports. The top federal prosecutor in Philadelphia under former President Donald Trump, McSwain's tenure saw repeated clashes with city Democrats. More recently, he clashed with Trump-era Attorney General Bill Barr over voter fraud claims.
SAFE HAVEN: Doctors treating Afghan refugees in Philadelphia are calling the city's airport a "modern-day Ellis Island," The Inquirer reports. Thousands of Afghans have touched down there, though many will be settling elsewhere.

ON PARADE: St. Patrick's Day comes late this year, with Pittsburgh's parade stepping off Saturday after a pandemic delay. Officials reviewed COVID-19 case data and decided the "open-air event will proceed," per WESA.

BIRD CALLS: The northern goshawk has been added to Pennsylvania's endangered species list and fines for killing a peregrine falcon, a formerly threatened species, have been increased, WFMZ reports.

ART HOIST: An inhospitable Philadelphia alleyway is the unlikely setting for the city's newest public artwork: A sculpture showing eight larger than life figures holding up a bridge ramp into a parking garage, WHYY reports.

CEREAL KILLERS: Someone on Reddit found a spotted lanternfly in the cereal aisle at a Harrisburg Costco and, judging by the R-rated comments, Pennsylvania's ongoing war against the invasive species just got personal. 
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: Terrestrial

Congrats to our daily winners: David I., Susan F., Barbara F., Becky C., Craig W., Neal W., Judith D., Mike B., Susan N., Jessica K., Dennis M., Kimberly S., Craig E., Doris T., Diane P., Elaine C., Irene R., George S., Don H., Kim C., Susan D., David W., Heidi B., Elizabeth W., John P., Bill S., Dianne K., Alan V., Mark C., Joel S., and Patricia R.
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