Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:

Extend CARES deadline

Altoona Mirror

Dec. 8

Unless members of Congress find some way to compromise and give Americans an early Christmas through a new round of COVID-19 relief funding, the holiday season will be grim for tens of millions of people.

President Donald Trump can do little about that — but he can do something.

Among many flaws in the original CARES Act was a provision that states had to spend all the money allocated to them under the bill by Dec. 30. In March, that may have seemed reasonable.

But the powers-that-be in Washington, where money flows out like gravy on Thanksgiving Day, failed to take into account the more prudent approach many governors have taken.

In state capitals, many leaders adopted the wise policy of holding onto federal funding in case of a rainier day than even that of March, when the CARES Act was enacted.

As a result, tens of billions of dollars remain unspent.

State and local governments allocated CARES Act money now may face a spend-it-or-lose-it situation. Instead of conserving resources that may be needed badly early next year, they are being told to spend the cash before the end of the year.

Trump could take the initiative by demanding that Congress scrap the Dec. 30 deadline. Surely Republican and Democrat lawmakers can manage to agree on that.

No one can say when partisan bickering in Congress will ease enough to permit enactment of a new CARES Act. As a lame-duck president, Trump can have little influence in that regard.

But he can and should make it a priority to mobilize public opinion in favor of extending the Dec. 30 deadline.

That would be the president’s opportunity to do one last, enormous service to Americans — and he should seize it.



Still think COVID-19 is a hoax? Visit a hospital

Harrisburg Patriot News/

Dec. 4

By now, everyone should be convinced COVID-19 is not a hoax. But for those still wondering, still questioning, still doubting, talk to an overworked ER doctor.

Talk to an intensive care nurse, or better yet, go see for yourself, if they’ll let you in. Get a first-hand look at one of our hospitals facing a staffing crisis because health care workers are contracting COVID-19, in quarantine or are just plain exhausted.

We all want the best of care if, God forbid, we have a heart attack, suffer a stroke or end up in the emergency room after a car accident. We all want the best of care for our children who, God forbid, have an asthma attack, fall down and break a leg or have an appendix burst.

We don’t want to hear there’s no doctor available, no empty bed and the nurses are all tied up tending to ventilators.

We would still have our personal freedom, though. We would be able to freely drive from hospital to hospital, hoping one of them has an empty bed and a doctor not too busy keeping people with COVID-19 alive.

Some of us still complain about not being able to live a “normal” life. Some still complain about not being able to spend the night in a bar or laugh with friends over dinner. Some of us went home to eat turkey with elderly relatives for Thanksgiving, despite the warnings.

And some believe they should have the right to do all of this without a mask and spread COVID-19 wherever they darn well please.

Just ask State Sen. Doug Mastriano, who has led rallies protesting efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. He is now among the thousands of Pennsylvanians who have tested positive for the virus, after meeting with the President of the United States and attending that famous election hearing in Gettysburg – without a mask.

Because of such attitudes, hospitals in our area are on the brink of a staffing crisis, as PennLive’s David Wenner is reporting.

Because of such attitudes, more than 3,000 people in the United States are dying of COVID-19 complications each day. And because people like Mastriano refuse to bear the burden of wearing a simple mask or staying away from a crowd of people, morgues and hospitals across the country are overflowing.

Here are the facts:

- More than 11,000 people in Pennsylvania have died of COVID-19

- Pennsylvania is breaking its record of infections -- more than 11,000 people each day

- More than 5,000 people are now in hospitals with COVID-19 in Pennsylvania

- Nearly half of the hospitals in the Harrisburg-Lancaster-York region expect staffing shortages within a week

- At least one hospital chain, WellSpan, is reducing elective procedures and temporarily closing some operating rooms to manage the COVID crisis

If Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert is right, the worst is yet to come, especially if we don’t accept the truth and get over this selfish need to put our personal pleasure first.

COVID-19 is real. It will continue to kill thousands if we don’t buckle down, stay out of crowds and wear masks in public until a safe vaccine is available to everyone.

Anyone who advises otherwise is just plain wrong. Listening to those still rejecting science, medicine and truth is not only dangerous, it is deadly. Talk to an ER doctor.



Transportation funding must be addressed

Reading Eagle

Dec. 6

Pennsylvania’s problems with transportation funding are hardly new and should not be blamed entirely on the coronavirus pandemic.

Remember that last fall PennDOT was announcing delays to long-awaited projects in this region and all over the state, as planners had to figure out the best way to use limited available funds. The problems that led to that situation are still here and will continue long after the pandemic is over unless some changes are made.

It’s particularly frustrating because Pennsylvania has one of America’s highest gasoline taxes, yet it’s not producing enough money to properly repair and modernize our aging network of roads and bridges.

Fuel tax revenues have taken a hit due to the growing popularity of more efficient vehicles. Federal transportation funding has been flat for years. And billions of dollars that could be going toward infrastructure improvements have been spent to fund the state police due to a regrettable decision to use fuel tax revenue for that purpose.

Of course the pandemic has made the situation even worse. People are driving less, meaning fuel tax revenues are down sharply. PennDOT is looking at an $8.1 billion funding gap. It got so bad that the agency recently threatened to halt projects and lay off thousands of workers due to a $600 million shortfall. State lawmakers and the Wolf administration eventually worked out a deal to solve that problem in the short term, but the issue is not going away.

What’s been needed for a long time is a comprehensive approach to ensure Pennsylvania has enough money to sustain the transportation infrastructure so essential to our economy and quality of life.

Some old ideas still are worth pursuing, such as finding another way to fund state police or at least charging municipalities that rely on troopers rather than supporting a local force. An increase in the federal gas tax is warranted as well.

One new idea that has received plenty of attention is a proposal to charge fees for motorists driving across some bridges. It’s unclear exactly what bridges would have tolls or how such a plan would be implemented, though electronic tolling systems make such ideas much more workable than they had been in years past. The notion of a toll to cross Reading’s Penn Street Bridge was once fodder for a newspaper April Fool’s Day prank. Now it’s a possibility.

There’s no doubt that most members of the public do not support the prospect of higher tolls, fees or taxes. It’s understandable. The problem is that just about everyone agrees that providing transportation infrastructure is an essential government function, but it’s hard to garner support for any idea that would produce the funding required.

The same is true regarding countless other issues facing our financially strapped state as it tries to keep vital services funded amid a deep loss in revenue due to the pandemic.

For years, even during much better times, we have been calling on state leaders to embark on a serious, bipartisan effort to figure out a fair, reliable way to fund the services on which Pennsylvanians rely. Leaning on budgetary gimmicks and revenue from activities such as gambling can only go so far. The need for a new approach is even greater now. It’s nice to think that the problem can be solved simply by cutting government waste, but that eternal talking point only goes so far. Transportation needs are only growing. Revenue sources are drying up. The state needs more money

For starters, lawmakers should address the immediate problem of PennDOT’s current shortfall, as what we have now is just a temporary fix. A proposal sponsored by local state Rep. Katie Muth deserves a close look. It would authorize PennDOT to borrow the money needed to continue ongoing projects. Then the debate must turn to long-term needs.

Are we eager for the prospect of being hit with tolls all over the state? No. But the very proposal should spur serious conversations about finding better ways of addressing transportation funding, once and for all. There’s no more time to wait.



As Gov. Wolf’s positive test shows, no one is immune from COVID-19. So please mask up as we face this surge.


Dec. 10

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday that he tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday and is in isolation at home. In a statement, he said he is following the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Health. “I have no symptoms and am feeling well,” Wolf said, adding, of his wife, “Frances has been tested and, as we await the result, is quarantining at home with me. I am continuing to serve the commonwealth and performing all of my duties remotely, as many are doing during the pandemic.”

We were discouraged — but frankly not surprised — to read sarcastic comments like this one posted beneath Wolf’s tweets about his positive COVID-19 test: “Guess that mask really helped huh Tom?”

Masks do indeed help.

But don’t take our word for it. Take the word of the CDC, which issued a scientific brief last month stating that a mask reduces the emission of the respiratory droplets that spread the novel coronavirus, and also reduces the inhalation of such droplets by the mask-wearer.

So we can update that public health slogan we heard so often during the pandemic’s early months to read: “My mask protects you and me. Your mask protects me and you.”

But first things first: We wish the governor and his wife well, and truly hope they get past this COVID-19 diagnosis without long-term health implications.

We were heartened to see good wishes extended to the governor and his wife even from those who have sparred with him politically.

As far too many people know, this is a difficult time to be sick or infected, as hospitals fill with COVID-19 patients and the novel coronavirus spreads apace here and across the country.

As LNP ' LancasterOnline’s Nicole C. Brambila reported, state data showed that roughly 15% of COVID-19 patients in Lancaster County hospitals were on ventilators Tuesday.

“The seven-day average ventilator use in the county is up dramatically over the past 10 weeks from just one ventilated patient the week of Sept. 21 to 25,” she noted.

And Lancaster County passed another troubling milestone Wednesday, reaching — with 428 confirmed new cases of COVID-19 — a total case count of 20,233, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The state reported 8,703 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing its total case count to 445,317. And it reported 220 new deaths from COVID-19.

Lancaster County Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni said that 570 Lancaster County residents had died from COVID-19 as of Wednesday, with an increase of 14 deaths in the previous 24 hours.

Also Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the U.S. had recorded more than 3,000 COVID-19 deaths in a single day, “a pandemic record.”

All of this should lead us to follow the Pennsylvania mandate to wear masks whenever we’re with people from outside our households — and to wear the masks properly so they cover both our noses and mouths.

Wolf’s COVID-19 test doesn’t disprove the effectiveness of mask-wearing. As he noted in his statement, his positive test “is a reminder that no one is immune” from COVID-19.

Unless we confine ourselves to plastic bubbles, we can’t be completely protected from the novel coronavirus.

But we can significantly decrease our risk — and help limit community spread of the virus — by doing what medical experts are pleading with us to do. Which is to not only mask up, but to socially distance and wash our hands regularly and thoroughly.

This was the repeated refrain in a letter published in Wednesday’s LNP ' LancasterOnline from executives with WellSpan Health, including Tina Citro, president of WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital.

“Each day for the past nine months,” the letter read, “WellSpan Health’s doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and other team members have been caring for family, friends and neighbors affected by COVID-19 in south-central Pennsylvania. At WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital and WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital, nearly one out of every three hospital beds is occupied by our friends and neighbors suffering from COVID-19.”

Describing the strain on hospitals as “intense,” the letter continued: “Our team members — your friends and neighbors — are amazing people caring for people they know and love. That’s the commitment made by our care teams. ... Their mantra has been the same from the beginning of the pandemic: Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Stand 6 feet away from others.”

Although these measures offer no guarantee, scientific evidence establishes that they dramatically reduce the likelihood of contracting the novel coronavirus.

The WellSpan officials are not politicians issuing partisan political statements. They work in health care. And they were referring in their letter to health care workers who are friends and neighbors of Lancaster County residents. Who want us to be safe. Who want the strain on their hospitals to lessen because they are exhausted and there are so many people — not just COVID-19 patients — who need their care.

We’ll probably never know how Gov. Wolf — who is photographed consistently in public wearing a mask — contracted COVID-19. It is possible that an asymptomatic staff member or acquaintance unknowingly transmitted it to him.

According to a Harvard Medical School website, “A person infected with coronavirus — even one with no symptoms — may emit aerosols when they talk or breathe. Aerosols are infectious viral particles that can float or drift around in the air for up to three hours. Another person can breathe in these aerosols and become infected with the coronavirus. This is why everyone should cover their nose and mouth when they go out in public.” (The italics are ours.)

We’re up against a dangerous and highly transmissible novel coronavirus. Masks serve as an excellent barrier to the transmission of that virus. They’re not 100% effective (their effectiveness varies by type and material). But until most Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19, masks are an essential weapon in the fight against the disease.

The CDC scientific brief cited an investigation of “a high-exposure event,” in which two “symptomatically ill hair stylists interacted for an average of 15 minutes with each of 139 clients during an 8-day period.” The finding: None of the 67 clients who subsequently consented to an interview and testing developed infection. “The stylists and all clients universally wore masks in the salon as required by local ordinance and company policy at the time,” the CDC noted.

So, please, mask up. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands. And stay home as much as possible. Because, as is increasingly clear, we’re in for a tough winter.



The awful math of church abuse settlements

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Dec. 5

It can be hard to calculate damages when you can’t see the breakage.

Crash a car, and the body shop can tell you precisely what it will cost to turn bent and twisted metal back into a shiny vehicle with a sleek paint job. Burn down a house, and the insurance company knows to the penny how much it takes to replace it.

But how do you know the cost of a human spirit? If anyone should know, it should be the Catholic Church, an organization built on the saving and tending of the soul.

On Thursday, the Kenneth Feinberg Group announced the end of two years of work as independent mediator for the Diocese of Pittsburgh in the aftermath of the clergy sexual abuse grand jury report unveiled in 2018.

The mediator reported a bottom line of $19 million paid out to 224 claimants. It is the latest set of figures in a terrible math problem.

The grand jury report detailed 99 credibly accused priests in the Pittsburgh Diocese. There was a high of 369 claims, 70 of which were found ineligible, not because they were disputed but because of the terms of the fund set up. Of those that remained, 21 did not respond to the offers, and 52 rejected them. The average payment was $86,000.

That is higher than the $76,315 average that the Greensburg Diocese paid on 57 claims. It is less than half the average the Archdiocese of Philadelphia paid when it announced in May that 208 claims had been settled for $44 million.

Does that mean there was less tragic abuse in Greensburg or the abuse in Philadelphia was more egregious? No.

It means all the dioceses asked their mediators to do something undoubtedly necessary from a business standpoint and yet still shockingly cold. They haggled over the cost of a child’s betrayed body, broken heart and shattered soul.

“Early in the process, the settlement offers were good, reasonable settlements, six-figure offers,” Pittsburgh attorney Alan Perer said about the process for his clients. “But in 2020, the offers were woefully less — $10,000, $15,000, $7,500 — and many people rejected those offers. They felt it was more trauma, an insult.”

It is easy to concentrate on the biggest numbers — the dollar amounts — when analyzing it all. The Pittsburgh Diocese did put $19 million out as penance.

But the most important numbers might be smaller. There were 224 claims settled, and there are more that are still pursuing court cases. There were 99 named priests. That suggests a large number of repeat offenders and a staggering culpability — ethically if not legally — for the church.

So maybe the question isn’t what the broken soul of the victim of sexual abuse is worth. Maybe the bigger issue is the price of the soul of a church that wouldn’t just look the other way but bargain over the damage when it came to light.