Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:
Last call at bars this Thanksgiving eve will be at 5 because of COVID-19 surge. ICUs are filling. Things didn’t have to be this bad.
“Amid COVID-19 case surges unseen in the pandemic’s first wave of infections, Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday said that he was ‘stepping up’ enforcement for businesses that do not comply with public health orders,” LNP ' LancasterOnline reported. “Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine also announced a prohibition on alcohol sales at restaurants and bars from 5 p.m. (today) until 8 a.m. Thanksgiving. ‘We cannot let our health care systems crack under the strain of COVID-19,’ Wolf said.”
In most years, Thanksgiving Eve — tonight — is when people return from their grown-up lives elsewhere and meet up with their childhood and high school pals in their favorite hometown bars.
The night is so entrenched in American popular culture that it’s been dubbed “Drinksgiving” or — worryingly — “Blackout Wednesday.”
So we’re sure some people were sorry to see yet another social tradition lost to the abyss that is 2020.
And we know bar and restaurant owners were disappointed to learn that sales of alcohol for on-site consumption must end at 5 p.m. today. In most years, Thanksgiving Eve is a major revenue-producer for bars.
We certainly agree with what Joe Devoy, founder and owner of Tellus360 in downtown Lancaster, told LNP ' LancasterOnline: Wolf and Levine should have given bar owners and managers more than two days’ notice about the Thanksgiving Eve alcohol sales restriction.
The current surge didn’t just emerge from nowhere; it’s been building. Anyone with a calendar in Harrisburg could have apprised Wolf and Levine of the dates of Thanksgiving Eve and Thanksgiving.
Of course, none of this had to unfold as it has.
In Lancaster County, we might be better off had county leaders ensured that anyone who needed a COVID-19 test could get one readily — and get the results quickly, too. And if they had regularly and repeatedly encouraged county residents to wear masks and practice social distancing, and had embraced those preventive measures even when politically inconvenient.
We might have established a better balance between protecting people’s health and protecting the economy had the federal government produced a national plan for managing the pandemic.
But none of that happened, so here we are, with the governor imposing a costly restriction on businesses at the eleventh hour; county elected officials unable to adequately deal with the consequences of having treated mask-wearing as a purely personal matter; and our nation’s leader concerned most about disseminating election myths.
And us, facing an alarming COVID-19 surge that demands we make more sacrifices.
The awful numbers
Pennsylvania reported an additional 6,669 positive cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, according to the state Department of Health. The additional cases bring the commonwealth’s overall total to 321,070 cases.
Of those 6,669 new cases, 268 were from Lancaster County, bringing the county’s total to 14,684.
Speaking at a Lancaster County news conference Tuesday, Dr. Michael Ripchinski, chief clinical officer at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, said, “We cannot sit back and hope for the best. Action is required from all of us.”
That means taking far greater caution and avoiding situations and places in which we could be exposed to COVID-19, or unknowingly, asymptomatically, spread the virus ourselves.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website points out, “The more an individual interacts with others, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. ... The risk of COVID-19 spread increases in a restaurant or bar setting as interactions within 6 feet of others increase.” And as face masks are set aside while eating and drinking.
As of Tuesday, LNP ' LancasterOnline’s Carter Walker reported, Lancaster General Hospital had 80 COVID-19 patients, with 20 of those in critical care and 15 on ventilators.
This is exacting a brutal toll on health care workers, who have been dealing with the pandemic for eight months.
Last week, the concern was that Pennsylvania might run out of intensive-care unit beds in mid-December. But Monday, Levine said that the latest projections show the commonwealth could run out of ICU beds within a week.
“This week’s data, in terms of hospitalization increase, an increase in the use of ventilators, case increase and percent positivity are worrisome,” Levine said in a statement.
Sixty-three of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties — including Lancaster County — now are considered to have “substantial” community transmission of the novel coronavirus.
“At the beginning of the month,” LNP ' LancasterOnline’s Nicole C. Brambila reported, “Pennsylvania’s positivity rate was 6.9%. Last week’s seven-day average was 11.1%.
“In Lancaster County, 11.3% of COVID tests were positive in the past week.”
Ripchinski said Tuesday that over the last two weeks, “we have had an average of 240 (people) testing positive per day” — the highest since the pandemic began.
Please stay home
So this, clearly, is not the time to be hanging in bars with your friends. Even Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, acknowledged that reality.
“We understand that the COVID case numbers are increasing, and once again, our industry understands that it is being asked to sacrifice in order to play a role in saving lives of Pennsylvanians,” Moran said in a statement. “We get the importance of keeping patrons safe. ... But what we don’t get is why there has been no significant financial help to assist our small business taverns and licensed restaurants survive.”
Moran noted that as “this crisis continues, more small businesses are closing while their employees lose jobs. Help is needed now, not later. Many small businesses cannot sustain continued targeted mitigation without help from either the federal or state government.”
We agree with him. While small businesses including bars and restaurants received funding from the federal coronavirus relief package passed by Congress in the spring, they’ve been dealing with significant challenges in the months since. They need more help.
And health care workers need the help of all of us.
So, in addition to staying home this Thanksgiving Eve, please rethink any plans you might have to gather for Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family members from outside your household.
As Dr. Leon Kraybill, chief of LG Health’s geriatric division and post-acute care, pointed out in a Nov. 15 Perspective column, “Once COVID-19 gets into a home, recent studies show that more than half of household contacts will also become infected.”
“There will eventually be a time when we can gather joyously in community to share food and fun,” Kraybill wrote. “That time is not now.”
We want you to be around when it finally does arrive.
Kelly misses the mark on election
Erie’s Congressman Mike Kelly, R-16th Dist., expressing concerns about the “health of our republic,” this week announced his Protect Election Integrity Act. It aims to restore faith in our electoral system, which, Kelly said, has been undermined by the “administration of the election” in several states.
We have no quarrel with any good faith effort to improve our elections and share, deeply, Kelly’s concerns about the republic.
But to be clear, voters and election officials in states red and blue just recorded a triumph. Americans turned out in record numbers to cast ballots amid a deadly pandemic in what President Donald Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security called the most secure election in American history.
Joe Biden beat Trump, resoundingly. Republicans, including Kelly, made strong showings in races down ballot. The election was something all Americans should celebrate.
What corrodes Americans’ faith in their electoral system is not the election just past, but the torrent of lies about it coming from the defeated president. He refuses to concede and seeks to thwart voters’ will in court. In case after case, there is no evidence of widespread election fraud that would overturn the results.
We agree with one piece of Kelly’s proposed reforms — making changes to ensure prompt counting of mail-in ballots.
Of course, that is what Democrats and county election officials in Pennsylvania sought prior to the election. But state Republicans would consider it only if paired with other “poison pill” measures that seemed tailored to disenfranchise mail-in voters, who were mostly Democrats.
As that debate wore on, Kelly and others, meanwhile, sued the state with a complaint that dovetailed with Trump’s campaign to undermine mail-in voting.
With Pennsylvania election workers unable to process and count mountains of mail-in ballots until Election Day, the tally stretched on for days. Rather than explain the expected delay, the president and his allies seized on it to sow doubt.
Since the election, Kelly has urged patience as “investigations” proceed. Wrongdoing should be rooted out. But in its absence, “patience” serves to advance one of the president’s last and most pernicious strategies, delaying the state certification of election results in the hope that the selection of electors will fall to Republican-controlled legislatures in key states, who might then override voters’ sovereign will.
Voters embraced Biden, who campaigned on a return to national unity. That can only happen if his opponents agree to embrace the shared plane of truth upon which the democratic process depends.
By continuing to advance or tolerate false claims about election failures, Trump and his GOP enablers engage in dangerous brinksmanship in a country already driven to the breaking point — not by disagreements in principle and fact, which have always been with us — but by searing divisions manufactured by disinformation.
Let the reform start there.
Harrisburg residents and police need to act now to save the children
Harrisburg Patriot News/Pennlive.com
Harrisburg doesn’t have a police brutality problem. Our kids are killing each other.
That’s how one mother put it following a spate of shootings in the city that has involved teenagers in what some fear is tit-for-tat gunfire among youth.
Timothy Cox was only 17 years old when he was killed last week in the parking lot of a former church that is the new home of the Nativity School for boys. Only days later, police closed an area around Swatara and Hummel streets on reports of gunfire. On Sunday, another person was killed in the 300 block of S. 13th St. And on Wednesday, the Nativity School had to close early when shots rang out again outside the school.
Let’s remember It was only about a year ago that two young people were injured in a shooting near the school when it was located in the Camp Curtin YMCA building.
The shootings galvanized the community to come together to escort the boys into their classrooms and reassure them they would be safe to continue their education. Now, even after the school has moved into a nearby building that once was a church, the threat continues.
A pandemic is preventing the community from gathering outside the Nativity School now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find a way to reassure the Nativity School students they are safe. It begins by having city residents cooperate with police.
A year ago, Nativity School Headmaster Lavelle Muhammad was encouraged that so many people in the community felt compelled to come out to help protect his students. But it also was alarming.
“It says that there’s a problem,” Muhammad said, “it says that people want a solution, people understand that our community is in a bad condition.”
One year later, the Middle School boys at the Nativity School still have to worry about gunfire outside their classrooms. And the community is still in a bad situation.
PennLive’s Matt Miller went to a press conference at City Hall where Police Commissioner Thomas Carter pleaded with city residents to help him save their children. It wasn’t the first time.
“Since Oct. 16, Harrisburg police officers have responded to 67 shots fired calls,” he said. “In 24 of those cases, victims were stuck by bullets. Four of them died.”
Carter rightly noted police can’t stop the shootings without cooperation from the community. Police can’t stop the violence without officials and residents addressing the myriad of issues that lead to children killing children. And police can’t stop the violence without the full community coming together to support struggling parents who now have to cope with a pandemic, loss of jobs and the threat of homelessness.
But until all of these problems can be solved, there is an important role for police to play now, and it’s important for the community to cooperate with their efforts to protect youth, especially in the midst of so much gun violence.
If police have not increased patrols around the area Fifth and Maclay streets and other known hotspots, we urge them to do so, now. If community policing officers have not met with teachers and parents of students at the Nativity School to come up with a safety plan, we urge them to do so, now.
And, if city residents are not offering their full cooperation with Commissioner Carter and his officers; if they are not providing information police need to stop the violence, and if they are not respecting police efforts to serve and protect, we urge them to do so, now.
Police and residents must work together in mutual respect. Anything less will only lead to more gunfire, and to more children killing children in front of schools in Harrisburg.
Pa. counties need health department authority
The coronavirus pandemic is one big stew pot. The sometimes confusing information that emerges points to a lot of cooks stirring the soup.
On the state level, there is the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which coordinates information from 67 counties — plus hospitals and nursing homes and personal care homes and labs and coroners and more — and distributes it through multiple websites, as well as news conferences with the governor and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine and communication directly with various agencies.
And then there are the counties. And the school districts. And the municipalities.
That’s a lot of cooks, all of whom aren’t always getting their information in the same way.
For example, Dr. Debra Bogen is director of the Allegheny County Health Department. When reporters have questions about covid-19 data in Allegheny, they can ask her at a news conference or seek out answers through her office.
But Pennsylvania’s Act 315 only provides funding to six counties and four municipalities for health departments. The coronavirus pandemic shows why those departments are important.
Westmoreland County doesn’t have one of those local departments. That can sometimes leave people wondering where the information for the county is coordinated. There are no weekly news conferences that update the public or the media, even though Westmoreland’s numbers have been rising at a commensurate rate to Allegheny’s.
The commissioners did form a task force, and that has been key in response.
Department of Public Safety is working on it, handling logistics, distributing equipment and coordinating with hospitals and, according to Director Roland “Bud” Mertz, operating in a beneficial partnership with other entities that came out of that task force. That is admirable, and the work is important.
But that department already has a job to do, and just giving them an additional, overwhelming task isn’t the same as having a department devoted to that job.
“It just shows you how the commissioners have no true authority on this. We’re not allowed to have a health department,” Commissioner Chairman Sean Kertes said. “What it comes down to is we have to rely on the state 110%. The coordination has to come from our state officials, and the funding has to be there. … It does get very frustrating.”
Maybe a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic is no reason to create a new department in the 57 counties that don’t have a county or municipal office in the backyard. That makes sense. But there has to be some kind of direction or assistance the state can give counties in trying times like these.
Because the only thing worse than too many people stirring the pot is having so many pots on the stove something gets missed.
Stop the madness and certify the county vote
The Citizens’ Voice
The Luzerne County Board of Elections has an opportunity to send a message to voters across the county Monday about the soundness of the Nov. 3 election and it should grasp that opportunity without reservation by officially certifying the results.
One Republican on the board and two on the county council, parroting the party line, have questioned whether the results — including, incongruously, President Trump’s landslide victory in the county — should be certified.
Like the president himself, they offer little in the way of credible evidence to back up their position.
Republican election board member Joyce Dombroski-Gebhardt says she wants an audit of at least 10 percent of the 154,000 votes cast, although it is unclear exactly what that audit would be designed to uncover and the county is already state-mandated to audit 2 percent of the vote.
Republican council member Stephen J. Urban is unhappy that the county Bureau of Elections did not report the names of all the cartoon characters and celebrities who received write-in votes.
Republican council member Harry Haas points to a small number of polling places that opened late, mostly because of technical issues, although that has happened in past elections and no one ever proposed refusing to certify the entire county vote over it.
What Dombroski-Gebhardt, Urban and Haas are doing is falling in step with the second-place finisher in the White House, who is doing everything he can to cast doubt on the vote that will send him packing in January. They are participating in a scam that threatens to seriously damage public confidence in the election process and democracy itself.
People invested with a public trust such as serving on an election board, a county council or in Congress betray that trust when they allow unfounded conspiracy theories to take root to serve political ends.
It’s shameful when it happens in Washington. And it’s shameful when it happens in Wilkes-Barre.
Certify the vote.