Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:
Good luck, Ms. Beam
We don’t envy Alison Beam.
Governor Tom Wolf’s 34-year-old deputy chief of staff on Jan. 23 assumed the role of acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, taking the job previously held by Dr. Rachel L. Levine, who President Joe Biden has nominated to serve as assistant health secretary.
Beam, who holds a law degree from Drexel University and a degree in Health Policy and Administration from Penn State, steps into her new role at a pivotal moment as the commonwealth and its health department endure withering criticism for a sluggish COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
We can’t imagine a more pressure-filled position in all of Pennsylvania than Beam’s.
Wolf didn’t mince words when he said her “foremost and immediate focus will be on the strategic distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, making sure Pennsylvania receives as many doses as possible from the federal government, and that the Pennsylvania Department of Health coordinates with hospitals, health centers, county and local governments, and pharmacy partners to make this vaccine as widely available as possible to Pennsylvanians everywhere.”
Welcome to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Ms. Beam. The bathroom is down the hall on the right, the vending machines are by the elevator. And when might you have that “strong, widely available and successful” statewide vaccination strategy that Wolf mentioned?
Because the last few weeks have shown that the current strategy is none of those things.
To be clear, Pennsylvania isn’t getting nearly enough doses of the COVID-19 from the federal government.
But even though the supply has fallen well short of what’s needed, the commonwealth still boosted demand significantly on Jan. 20 by making eligible Pennsylvanians 65 and older and residents age 16 to 64 who have a host of medical conditions including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), cancer, Down syndrome, sickle cell disease and obesity. Pregnant women and smokers are also now eligible.
Before the change went into effect, about 1.1 million Pennsylvanians were cleared to receive the vaccination. But with those other groups joining health care personnel and long-term care facility residents at the front of the line, the number grew to 3.5 million overnight.
That was when already-simmering frustrations reached a boiling point for those who’ve been trying to get the shots without any luck.
Meanwhile, hope among many in the next eligibility group that their turn was coming soon began to dim. That group includes first responders, correctional officers, postal service workers, teachers, clergy and grocery store workers.
The problems in Pennsylvania, however, extends beyond the simple supply-demand equation.
Pennsylvania had received 1,564,125 doses of the vaccine as of Tuesday, but only 737,817 doses had found their way into Pennsylvanians’ arms. Pennsylvania ranks 42nd out of 50 states in terms of the percentage of eligible people given at least one shot.
Wolf said he hates “being in the middle of any pack.” He’s being generous. Pennsylvania is close to the back of the pack given those numbers.
We believe part of the problem, which has caused much confusion among residents, has been Pennsylvania’s decentralized approach to vaccinating its eligible population.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health runs the program. It obtains the doses from the federal government and allocates them to hospitals, counties and health care providers. Those organizations then come up with their own plans to distribute them and those practices can vary from site to site.
For instance, some medical centers are booking vaccine appointments through March. Others won’t book anything more than eight days out, citing supply-related uncertainty. Some healthcare providers are attempting to create different priority groups within the so-called Phase 1A priority group. Others are not.
Pennsylvania does not regulate signing up for the vaccine, leaving residents scrambling to call local providers to determine which ones are accepting registrations. Some residents have ended up on multiple waiting lists.
It seems odd to us that after 10 months in which the Wolf administration has endured constant criticism for wielding too much power and meddling too much in the lives of Pennsylvanians that it’d now suddenly leave counties, healthcare centers and residents so much to their own devices.
Beam has the unenviable task of figuring out how to do this better, amid public scrutiny and with the knowledge that doing it better will save lives.
And she’ll do it while navigating the ins and outs of a new, high-profile position at its most critical moment in decades.
We hope her strategy will include the best of what’s worked in other states and a commitment to transparency about its successes and failures.
Good luck, Ms. Beam.
Rep. Scott Perry is stoking fires that fuel hatred and violence in America
Harrisburg Patriot News/Pennlive.com
When he ran for re-election last year, Scott Perry vowed to represent all of the people of Pennsylvania in Washington. He told the Patriot-News/PennLive Editorial Board he understood the diversity of his district – from the Amish community to those who live on Allison Hill in Harrisburg. And he pledged to listen to the voters, bridge the divides and work for all of his constituents.
His actions over the past few weeks have proven otherwise.
Instead of trying to calm political tensions for the good of our nation, he has done just the opposite. He has stood with extremists fueling the chaos at the nation’s Capitol that cost five people their lives.
The York County Republican has spread the false narrative of a stolen presidential election, undermining responsible and dedicated public officials in his own state.
And he voted in the House to invalidate the votes of thousands of the people he’s supposed to represent in Pennsylvania – all in a vain attempt to keep President Donald Trump in office.
That’s not even the worst of it. The latest and most disturbing reports have connected Rep. Perry to yet another scheme to prevent President Joseph Biden from taking office. He served as go-between to get Trump to name a new attorney general who would do his bidding, advance false claims of election fraud and invalidate Biden’s win.
PennLive’s Charles Thompson wrote that Perry was leader of the floor fight to get Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral college votes invalidated in the House earlier this month, hours after police and National Guard members reclaimed the U.S. Capitol from pro-TMany of our readers are demanding something be done to stop Rep. Perry from doing more damage to hurt Pennsylvania voters and the nation.
“Our National Guard can recall him for court-martial,” Robin B. Agerton of Mechanicsburg wrote. “The House Ethics Committee can convene to expel him. He can be forced to resign for inciting violence, engaging in insurrection, or just because he is a liar.”
Strong words, but they echo the language of most of the letters that have flooded into our inbox.
“He lied, he denied, and he cheated,” Mike Radosinovich of Harrisburg said. “Vote him out!”
Larry Arnold of Harrisburg issued a rallying cry: “True patriots of the 10th Congressional District: rise up peacefully and recall Scott Perry.”
We add our voices to those calling for Scott Perry to resign.
He has shown he is incapable of representing the diverse peoples of the 10th Congressional District. And he will only continue to stoke the fires that encouraged acts of hatred and violence on Jan. 6.rump mobs who stormed the building on Jan. 6.
These are serious charges, and Rep. Perry doesn’t deny any of them. He’s proud to be in the vanguard of those still standing with a president whom millions of voters have spurned.
From the onslaught of letters and opinion articles PennLive has received in the past few weeks, many Pennsylvanians are spurning Rep. Perry.
Don’t make Pa. abuse victims wait any longer
Our hearts go out to state Rep. Mark Rozzi and his fellow victims of sexual abuse as children for a disastrous development in their effort to seek justice.
For seven years the Muhlenberg Township Democrat has been fighting an uphill battle in Harrisburg to enact legislation that would allow people sexually abused as children to sue those responsible.
After several attempts that came ever so close to passage before falling short, Rozzi reached a compromise with Republican legislative leaders. They agreed to adopt a state constitutional amendment that would open a two-year window for litigation by abuse survivors who have aged out of the statute of limitations.
The downside of a constitutional amendment as opposed to normal legislation is that it takes longer to achieve. Amendments must gain passage by both houses of the General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by voters in a statewide referendum.
This amendment was making its way through the process and was supposed to be on ballots throughout Pennsylvania this spring.
But on Monday, news broke that the Pennsylvania Department of State discovered a mistake that has thrown the entire process off track. The department did not advertise, as required, the proposed amendment. Other proposed amendments did get advertised, but this one fell through the cracks. An agency spokeswoman, in a statement of regret, blamed it on simple human error.
Needless to say, this was inexcusable, and it’s only right that Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar leave her post in response to the colossal error. It’s ironic that Boockvar managed to endure months as a lightning rod for controversy due to disputes over the 2020 election but wound up losing her job over an unrelated problem. People do make mistakes, but it’s up to management to make sure systems are in place to ensure they get caught in time to prevent disasters such as this. Boockvar had to go.
Gov. Tom Wolf was right to issue his own apology, as this happened under his administration. He called on activists to keep up their fight. The governor should be right there on the front lines with them pushing for a swift remedy.
Because of the error, the amendment process has to begin anew, and the earliest it could appear on the ballot now would be spring 2023. Making victims wait that long would only compound the tragedy they’ve endured for so many years and even decades.
Wolf should fight hard for renewed consideration of Rozzi’s original legislation that opens the litigation window without amending the constitution. Rozzi and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro are advocating that course of action and insist that it would pass legal muster.
“We can still get this done,” Rozzi told the Reading Eagle. “There is still a solution here, but the question remains whether my colleagues are willing to correct the damage that has been done.”
We urge Republicans in the General Assembly to reconsider their past opposition to addressing this issue through standard legislation.
Remember the sweeping 2018 state grand jury report that blew the lid off decades of sexual abuse and cover-ups in six Pennsylvania dioceses and the similar findings of investigations in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Consider that it often takes victims of childhood abuse many years to come forward, but the opportunity for them to sue ended at the age of 30 under state law.
Rozzi, himself a victim of childhood abuse by a parish priest, speaks for so many who want an opportunity to make their case in court.
Time and again survivors sexual abuse have held out hope that the window for justice was about to open only to have it summarily slammed shut in their face, and this last setback might have been the most devastating of all.
We urge state lawmakers to act swiftly and not make these deserving people wait any longer for a chance to be heard.
Patrons must follow the rules, even if businesses won’t
A local restaurant owner has been defying regulations for the containment of COVID-19, forcing the hand of Allegheny County health inspectors.
Mask-wearing is not required at the restaurant. Paring down the number of patrons within the eatery has not been done.
So, the owner has been cited and has been ordered to close, which she has refused to do.
Her defiance has landed her in the state court system. Her defiance has spurred her to sue the county Health Department in federal court. She has filed for bankruptcy.
Restaurant owners and their employees, undeniably and obviously, have been damaged by the pandemic. They are not alone. Many businesses are suffering financial hardship from rules that have been put in place in an attempt to stem the spread of a virus that has killed and sickened millions the world over.
The instinct to survive is at the core of human nature. For some business owners, that survival instinct translates to flouting the health mandates that they believe threaten their livelihoods. For them, it is an existential crisis — a question of whether their businesses survive. Those businesses put food on the tables of the owners and employees, alike.
The local restaurant owner who has been ordered to close is unlikely to be the only business owner who has gone rogue when it comes to compliance with state protocols for COVID-19 mitigation. It is all but certain that, throughout the region, perhaps in locales without health code enforcement officers, similar defiance is in evidence at restaurants and other enterprises.
The community understands. The community sympathizes.
Nonetheless, the greater good must prevail.
A business owner who depends on patrons for survival may be excused for a lack of wisdom and self-control during a fight for her livelihood, her life. But customers and clients are called to be more levelheaded.
The greater misdeed is being committed by those who patronize a business that is not following rules that are based on the best science available at this moment. And that best science calls for masks and social distancing.
People are dying and falling ill. Businesses are closing and hovering on the edge of solvency. These are the facts, sobering and sad.
The answer is not to be found in an every-man-for-himself approach in the battle against the coronavirus enemy. That’s the strategy at play among business owners who refuse to comply with health regulations; they are putting their own interest above that of the wider community. Clearsightedness shows us an unquestionable truth: In the COVID-19 fight, we each share the battlefield. We fall together. We rise together. So we must stick together. And that means following the rules no matter how painful.
City should embrace Biden, rename street
The Scranton Times-Tribune
With President Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th president of the United States, Scranton became one of just 40 places in the United States to count a chief executive as a native son.
(Westmoreland County, Virginia, with George Washington and James Monroe; Quincy, Massachusetts, with John and John Quincy Adams; Charles City County, Virginia, with William Henry Harrison and John Tyler; and New York City, with Theodore Roosevelt and Donald Trump, account for two each.)
Well, yes, everyone has to be born somewhere. And it’s not as though Scranton proactively campaigned to have a president born here.
But Biden has not just readily acknowledged the he is a native Scrantonian. He has emphasized, repeatedly and unabashedly, that his upbringing in Scranton is fundamental to his personal values, to his political philosophy, and to his approach to governance.
Yet, some people are reticent about fully embracing Scranton’s status as one of just a few presidential birthplaces.
City Council expects to introduce a resolution soon forming a committee to explore renaming Wyoming Avenue for Biden, which is a good idea.
The president’s childhood home is on North Washington Avenue, but that street is named for President George Washington and it would be unseemly to change that even for a native son.
After Biden’s election, the city renamed an intersection at Fisk Street and North Washington Avenue as “Joe Biden Way,” but the street itself continues to honor the first president.
“The eyes of not only the country but the world have been on Scranton because of Joe Biden, and he’s never forgotten where he’s come from,” council President Bill Gaughan said. “And I think people really take a lot of pride in the fact that we have a president that is from our city and we should celebrate that.”
Scranton should indeed celebrate the distinction, embracing itself for a change to the same degree that Biden has embraced it.