COVID-19 Coverage

WPSU is following the effects of COVID-19 on our central Pennsylvania communities. Here are WPSU's most recent stories on the pandemic and links to useful information.

The gym at SCI Huntingdon has been converted to an infirmary that houses inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Pa. Dept. of Corrections

Until now, Forest County in northwestern Pennsylvania had seen relatively few cases of COVID-19, but that changed when cases at a state prison spiked.

The daily COVID-19 count from the state showed cases in Forest County increasing by 33% — jumping from 430 to 571 on Wednesday.

A mobile COVID-19 testing and vaccination truck
Photo courtesy of Primary Health Network

 

As the general public awaits COVID-19 vaccination across the country and in Pennsylvania, questions remain about how vaccines will reach rural communities and how accepting of the remedy rural residents will be. 

WPSU’s Health Minute is a collaboration with Penn State’s College of Nursing.

It’s likely that we’ll continue to wear masks regularly to protect ourselves from COVID-19.

Here are some tips on how to properly put on and take off a mask:

The sign for Centre Crest Nursing Home outside the Bellefonte building.
Emily Reddy

 

  

 

 

 

Chip Minemyer’s mother, Marjorie, was born in the Bald Eagle Valley. Minemyer said she was sweet and full of life and loved the area. He lost his mother to COVID-19 on Thanksgiving day.

“She was 92, a lifelong Centre County resident," Minemyer said.

 

Nationally, about a third of COVID-19 deaths are from nursing and personal care homes. In Pennsylvania, it’s more than half.

 

Health care workers protest outside of Hearthside Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in State College, Pa. on Jan. 11. They came out to demand new contracts from Embassy Healthcare.
SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania

This has been one of the hardest years in Danielle Fox’s life as a nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said a new contract is making it even harder.

“Amongst the pandemic, the last thing we thought we would have to fight for is a contract,” Fox said.

Fox organized a protest on Monday with other workers from Hearthside Rehab & Nursing Center in State College to fight the new contract put in place in November by the facility’s new owner, Embassy Healthcare. Workers said it increases their health insurance costs by 60%.

Coronavirus Variant Found in Pennsylvania

Jan 7, 2021
CDC

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus has been detected in Pennsylvania for the first time, state health officials announced Thursday.

Someone in Dauphin County tested positive for the variant “after known international exposure,” the Department of Health said in a news release. The patient had mild symptoms and has since completed isolation at home, health officials said.

 

  

WPSU’s Health Minute is a collaboration with Penn State’s College of Nursing.

The past few weeks have been challenging as we continue to take precautions to slow and prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Here are some tips to help you stay connected to your family, friends, and community:

Penn Medicine's frontline workers receive the first round of COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 16, 2020.
Penn Medicine

After weeks of record high coronavirus case numbers, the pandemic in Pennsylvania is finally starting to ebb — but the commonwealth isn’t out of the woods yet.

Currently, there are 5,529 people hospitalized in Pennsylvania with COVID-19, nearly double the peak last spring. The statewide percent positivity rate for COVID-19 tests is 15%. But both of those numbers are now trending down, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announced Monday.

You’re listening to WPSU’s Health Minute, a collaboration with Penn State’s College of Nursing. 

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, it’s important to take the time to wash your hands properly to prevent the spread of germs.

For proper handwashing:

1. Wet your hands with running water, then lather with soap.

2. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. To ensure accurate timing, hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice from beginning to end. 

3. Finish by rinsing your hands with running water and drying them using an air dryer or a clean towel.

Dr. Victor Lahnovych, Medical Director of the Keystone Rural Health Consortia, received a Moderna vaccine Wednesday.
Courtesy of Victor Lahnovych

The COVID-19 vaccine developed by Moderna was the second vaccine to be cleared by the FDA. Keystone Rural Health Consortia, a community health center with locations in Elk, Cameron, McKean and Centre Counties, received a total of 1,475 doses of the Moderna vaccine on Wednesday.

 WPSU’s Min Xian talked with Kristie Bennardi, CEO of the consortia, about dealing with COVID-19 and beginning to vaccinate staff.

TRANSCRIPT:

Min Xian: Kristie Bennardi, thank you for talking with me.

Kristie Bennardi: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

People walking on the sidewalk in downtown State College
Min Xian / WPSU

Prompted by COVID-19, State College is looking into creating a health department, which would give the borough more control when responding to future pandemics and other public health issues.

Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said having a health department would let the borough be more agile when responding to situations like the significant population fluctuations that happened this year during the pandemic. State College saw most Penn State students leave in March then return in the fall.

Junior Nate Paisley prepares to walk around a wintery State College.
Nate Paisley

 

Roughly 35,000 students came back to Penn State this fall for classes during the coronavirus pandemic. One out of every seven of those students contracted COVID-19 during the semester. Some Penn State students who tested positive shared their experiences with the virus and whether catching it made them more or less cautious. 

Emily Shearer, a registered nurse in critical care services at Mount Nittany Medical Center, receives the COVID-19 vaccine Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, from Dr. Upendra Thaker.
Mount Nittany Health

Mount Nittany Medical Center received its first shipment of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines this week — 975 doses — and began administering them to frontline hospital staff Friday. WPSU’s Anne Danahy talked with Chief Medical Officer Nirmal Joshi about getting the vaccines while case numbers continue to climb.

A person walks across an empty mall on Penn State main campus
Min Xian / WPSU

Citing “worsening virus conditions,” Penn State will delay the beginning of in-person classes for the spring 2021 semester until Feb. 15, the university announced Friday. 

Under the new plan, the semester will begin on Jan. 19 with remote instruction at all campus locations. In-person classes are slated to begin on Feb. 15, but Penn State says that “could change based on health and safety factors and guidance from the state.”

Mount Nittany Health pharmacy supervisor David Johnson receives the hospital's first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 16, 2020.
Mount Nittany Health

Officials with Penn Highlands Healthcare said they expect to get 975 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at each of three of their facilities slated for the first round of distribution in Pennsylvania: Penn Highlands DuBois, Elk and Huntingdon.

Andrew Kurtz, system director for retail pharmacy services at Penn Highlands, said about 240 staff in the emergency unit, ICU, cardiovascular ICU and lung center will be the first to receive the vaccine Friday. 

A man gives a woman with a COVID-19 vaccine injection in her arm.
Jay LaPrete / AP

Mount Nittany Medical Center in Centre County is one of the hospitals in central Pennsylvania slated to get its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines this week as the state rolls out plans to distribute the vaccines.

“We have formed a task force that has been preparing for the shipment and has developed a plan for distributing the vaccines to our healthcare staff," said Mount Nittany Health’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nirmal Joshi.

Penn State student Kaitlyn Harris did an asymptomatic saliva test at a mobile testing site in August.
Min Xian / WPSU

Penn State is one of many universities that had students return for fall classes during the coronavirus pandemic. Classes at Penn State and many other universities have now moved to remote learning at the Thanksgiving break. WPSU took a look how different universities handled testing and their COVID-19 numbers relative to Penn State. 

In this file photo from summer 2020, a sign in front of the Mount Nittany Medical Center asks visitors to see a staff member if they have COVID-19 symptoms.
Min Xian / WPSU

The number of reported COVID-19 cases in Centre County increased by 302 Friday, setting a single-day record, but the state said an oversight in reporting may be a factor in that large jump.

The county now has a total of  7,456 known cases. The previous largest single-day increase was 212 cases on Sept. 15. After that, the rise in cases in Centre County had slowed down.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf
Julio Cortez / AP Photo

(Harrisburg) — With daily cases near an all-time high and hospitals pushed to capacity, Pennsylvania is under new orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced the updated public health mandates during an online news conference Thursday afternoon.

“The measures I’m announcing today are intended to be temporary,” Wolf said. The new measures take effect Saturday and continue through Jan. 4. “For the next three weeks, please, I ask all my fellow Pennsylvanians to stand with me against COVID.”

New measures include:

Outside of Mount Nittany Medical Center showing sign.
Min Xian / WPSU

The number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 broke new records both statewide and in State College Wednesday. The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported Wednesday that more than 5,500 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.

While many school districts in Pennsylvania are moving to remote learning as COVID-19 cases rise, some central Pennsylvania districts are keeping classes in person, at least for now.

Julio Cortez / AP Photo

Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolf says he’s tested positive for COVID-19.

A nurse holds a phial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy's Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. On the same day, Penn Highlands Healthcare said it expects to receive its first batch of vaccines in two weeks.
AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool

Penn Highlands Healthcare announced Tuesday it expects to receive its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines in two weeks. Frontline staff will get vaccinated first to make sure they can continue caring for patients, according to the healthcare system of six hospitals in rural Central Pennsylvania.

In a press call Tuesday, Andrew Kurtz, the vaccination lead for Penn Highlands, said the healthcare system has been coordinating internally and with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to prepare to distribute vaccines to its staff.

Pennsylvania Hospital Beds Filling Up Amid Virus Surge

Dec 3, 2020
CDC

Hospital beds are filling up and medical staffs are being stretched to the limit as Pennsylvania’s health care system copes with a growing number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

Nearly half of all hospitals in the south-central region of the state, and a third of those in the southwest, anticipate staffing shortages within a week, according to the state Department of Health. Nurses in the Philadelphia area say they’re overloaded with COVID-19 patients, impacting the quality of care they can provide.

This map projects the broadband internet coverage in McKean County when its current improvement project completes by the end of 2020. Areas in red will have the highest speeds and areas in blue and green will receive at least 25 Mbps in download speeds.
Courtesy of McKean County

Lack of access to broadband internet is a long-existing issue in many parts of Pennsylvania. The pandemic has proven how critical it is, as schools have moved online and remote work has become a way of life.

Andrew "Andy" Isola, from Port Matilda in Centre County, smiling and sitting with his daughter, Kristi Morgan.
Jim Isola


Andrew "Andy" Isola, from Port Matilda in Centre County, died from complications with COVID-19 on Oct. 27. He was 77. WPSU's Anne Danahy spoke with his son, Jim Isola, about what his father was like and why he tells everyone to be safe.

TRANSCRIPT

Anne Danahy: Jim Isola, thank you so much for talking with us. And I'm so sorry for your loss.

Jim Isola: Oh, no, I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Anne Danahy: Can you tell us a little bit about your father, Andrew, Andy, Isola What was he like?

Rendering of new nursing home
Centre Care

All but one county in Pennsylvania now has a “substantial” level of community spread of COVID-19, according to the state. As community transmission continues to grow, long term care facilities are seeing a surge of cases as well.

In this Nov. 11, 2020, file photo, a medical worker operates a testing tent at a COVID-19 mobile testing site in the Brooklyn borough of New York.
John Minchillo, File / AP Photo

Pennsylvania is reporting 9,797 new COVID-19 cases and 107 deaths for Sunday and Monday. That brings the statewide case total to 361,464, and the death toll to 10,383 people.

More people are now hospitalized with COVID-19 in Pennsylvania than during the peak of the surge last spring, according to data shared by the state’s Department of Health Monday.

The Altoona Area School District is building a new, $88 million high school.
Emily Reddy / WPSU

During a special meeting Tuesday night, the Altoona Area School District Board of Directors voted 5 to 4 to approve a shift to fully remote instruction beginning next Tuesday.

The decision comes as the state government has tightened COVID-19 mitigation policies intended to curb growing cases across Pennsylvania.

The vote means all 12 schools in the Altoona Area School District will be online until Feb. 1 or until Blair County sees two consecutive weeks of a disease transmission level that’s less than the current “substantial” level.

Outdoor dining at Parc on Rittenhouse Square.
Emma Lee / WHYY

As Pennsylvania heads into Thanksgiving week, Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announced new enforcement measures aimed at businesses, schools and the biggest drinking night of the year.

Businesses will now be penalized if they do not force customers to wear masks indoors, following an existing health advisory.

“If they come inside, they need to follow the procedures,” said Wolf. “We have those signs that say ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service. Well, no mask, no service.”

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