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.

Eric Barron
Ralph Wilson, File / AP Photo

Penn State is still aiming to bring students back to its campuses in the fall, and is coming up with plans for how to do that safely. That was one of the topics during a virtual town hall university leaders held Tuesday.

  

Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims is leading a task force focused on the return to campus and community.

 

The Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Beaver County is the site of one of the state's worst outbreaks.
Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PennLive/Patriot-News. 

HARRISBURG — Amid a growing death toll and mounting pressure from lawmakers and advocates, Pennsylvania officials on Tuesday released a long sought-after list of long-term care facilities where the coronavirus has infected or killed residents.

A Penn State parking sign in a "Red" lot on campus explains parking restrictions.
Penn State Transportation Services

  

While most Penn State employees are currently working from home, they're going to continue to pay for their on-campus parking permits, the university announced.

The university will keep deducting parking fees from the paychecks of faculty and staff who are receiving their full salaries. Employees pay $37 a month for a typical parking permit at University Park.

Sixth grader Lauren Dawson doing schoolwork at home on a computer.
Mike Dawson

You’ve probably heard stories about what it means to be an adult working from home or out of work. But, what’s it like being a young person out of school? K through 12 students have been at home since March, and WPSU talked with some of those students from central Pennsylvania about what they think of not going to back for the rest of school year and what they’re looking forward to.

Here's some of what they had to say:

My name is Lauren Dawson. I’m in sixth grade, and I go to Mount Nittany Middle School. (Centre County)

Chambersburg, Pa. which has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, is in a county where state lawmakers are pushing for a faster reopening of the economy.
Jeffrey Stockbridge for Keystone Crossroads

Rodrigo Ortiz has been trying to sound the alarm about COVID-19. At the end of April, he stood outside of a coronavirus testing site in downtown Chambersburg wearing a white face mask and turned on Facebook Live.

“There’s a lot of people who think nothing will happen to them, and keep getting together, keep having parties,” he said in Spanish into the camera, before imploring residents of the borough to stay home to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

“Sixty percent of people here are testing positive, and the majority are Hispanics,” he continued, with emotion.

A teacher reads to kids at Step by Step School for Early Learning in State College, Pa.
Min Xian / Keystone Crossroads

In some ways, Rachel Johnson is grateful for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s mid-March business shutdown order: it took the agonizing decision over whether to close the child care center she runs with her husband out of their hands.

“It was sad and scary, but in a way, easy, because the choice was made for us,” said Johnson, 36, who runs Step by Step School for Early Learning in Centre County. “It was like, ‘Ok, we have to close.’ There was nothing to think about.”

Workers install solar panels on the roof of a house
Business Wire

Green energy businesses had been seeing growth, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed that.

“We’re all doing the best we can in the new normal here,” said Kevin Gombotz, vice president of Envinity, a green design and construction company.

Screen shot of the Zoom home page
Anne Danahy

After getting hit by Zoom bombings ranging from disruptive to disturbing, Penn State is tightening the security defaults on the platform.

 

“There’s whole groups of people going around, and they’re literally searching for Zoom links so they can come in later and bomb them. There’s whole chatrooms dedicated to bombing Zoom meetings, believe it or not," said Richard Sparrow, acting chief information security officer at Penn State.

 

JESSICA GRIFFIN / PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PennLive/Patriot-News. Sign up for our free weekly newsletter.

HARRISBURG — The Wolf administration on Tuesday unveiled a plan to begin universal testing of staff and residents in the state’s hundreds of long-term care facilities, which have become the epicenter of coronavirus-related deaths in Pennsylvania.

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

The State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon reported Tuesday that 136 inmates and 38 staff have tested positive for COVID-19, the largest number among all Pennsylvania state prisons. 

Statewide, 202 inmates and 142 state prison employees have tested positive, according to the DOC. The department began a statewide inmate quarantine in March and said it has implemented temperature checks for anyone entering state prisons and improved on the turnaround time of test results, which is now within 24 hours.

empty HUB-Robeson Center with one person walking
Min Xian / WPSU

 

Penn State has seen a drop in the number of international and in-state students applying.

 

“Admissions for summer and fall 2020 are, of course, a critical part of our budgeting and our success,” said university President Eric Barron on Friday.

 

He was speaking about the impact of COVID-19 on admissions during a university trustees meeting.

 

Stacey Sharp is a manager at Appalachian Outdoors in downtown State College. The store reopened May 8, 2020 with COVID-19 protection measures, but also continues to provide curbside pickup as an option.
Min Xian / WPSU

Governor Tom Wolf has announced the easing of restrictions on another 13 counties.

 

They include Blair and Cambria. Beaver County was the only western county not moved out of a “red” status. It’s home to what may be the state’s worst nursing home outbreak.

 

The announcement came the day that 24 counties in northcentral and northwestern Pennsylvania moved to “yellow” status.

 

Penn State graduating senior Gabrielle Barone.
Gabrielle Barone

The United States has lost more than 30 million jobs to shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic. Two million Americans receiving bachelor’s degrees this year are about to graduate into this difficult job market. 

The unemployment rate for April came out today at 14.7%, the worst since the Great Depression. Some graduating college students are already feeling the effects. 

Gabrielle Barone, a senior at Penn State, had a job lined up at an advertising agency. It was revoked because of the ongoing pandemic. 

Erika Saunders is the chair of psychiatry and behavioral health at the Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State Health.
Erika Saunders

The coronavirus pandemic has brought sharp awareness to physical wellbeing, shelter-in-place orders and social distancing practices aim to keep our bodies safe and healthy.

But what about our minds? What effects might longterm shelter orders and social distancing have on our mental health?

We talked about this with Erika Saunders, the chair of psychiatry and behavioral health at the Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State Health.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Andy Grant:

Some businesses are taking a cautious approach to reopening on Friday.
AP Photo / Mark Scolforo

Tommy Songer, an owner of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate in the State College area, said he and about 20 agents he employs are getting back to work Friday to meet what he called a “pent up demand.”

“Most of them have clients that either want to see a home because they're working with buyers or they have listings that have been waiting for buyers to be able to see the homes,” Songer said. 

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

The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise at SCI Huntingdon, which now accounts for more than half of the cases among inmates across Pennsylvania state prisons. 

Old Main, the administration building, on Penn State's University Park campus
Min Xian / WPSU

Penn State is telling employees who are telecommuting they should plan to continue to do so at least through the end of May, and the university will use a regionally-based plan to return to working on campuses.

In making the announcement, the university noted it is in keeping with Gov. Tom Wolf's reopening plan, which said telework must continue where feasible.

People outside the courthouse holding signs protesting Gov. Wolfs' stay-at-home orders
Anne Danahy / WPSU

 

Just before Gov. Tom Wolf announced the easing of restrictions on 24 counties in the northwest and northcentral parts of Pennsylvania, a crowd gathered at the county courthouse in Hollidaysburg for a “ReOpen PA Rally."

 

Attorney Marc Scaringi headlined the event, held by the Blair County Tea Party Friday.

 

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced Friday that 24 counties in northwest and north-central parts of the state will be the first to reopen in a limited capacity starting May 8.
Office of the Governor

Updated 3:40 p.m. Friday

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced Friday that 24 counties in northwest and northcentral parts of the state will be the first to reopen in a limited capacity starting May 8.

Those counties are Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango, and Warren.

SCI Huntingdon is now the main contributor to COVID-19 cases in Huntingdon County.
Pa. Dept. of Corrections

Thirty-three people -- 16 staff members and 17 inmates -- at the state prison in Huntingdon have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. SCI Huntingdon, which added 10 confirmed cases today, is now the main contributor to the county’s COVID-19 cases. 

Yolanda Chiodo

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the residents of Bradford sprang into action early.  A busy Bradford Facebook group is connecting volunteer helpers with those in need.

The Penn Highlands Healthcare systems has five hospitals in rural Pennsylvania. It says it's resuming elective surgeries while continuing safety practices.
Courtesy of Penn Highlands Healthcare

Penn Highlands Healthcare, a hospital chain which has five rural hospitals in DuBois, Brookville, Clearfield, Huntingdon and St. Marys, said it will resume elective surgeries Wednesday. The state announced on Monday that these procedures can go ahead as long as they don’t jeopardize the safety of hospital staff and patients. 

view of empty Penn State mall
Min Xian / WPSU

Penn State leaders say they will announce plans for the fall semester and whether students will return for in-person classes by June 15.

“We’re always trying to juggle the two competing desires for people to know what’s ahead of them, but also to be making the best decision with the most up-to-date epidemiological and health information at our fingertips,” said Provost Nick Jones.

He and Penn State President Eric Barron answered questions about the impact of COVID-19 on Penn State during Tuesday’s Faculty Senate meeting, which was held remotely.

On a normal day, 12 presses and six furnaces run nearly round-the-clock at Catalus Corp., a powdered metal manufacturer in St. Marys, Pennsylvania.

Now, all are idled.

St. Marys, population 13,000 in rural Elk County, is a hub for powdered metal manufacturing. The area is also known for lush forests and game lands, where herds of elk congregate.

Bernice Hausman is chair of the Department of Humanities in the Penn State College of Medicine. She’s recognized for her research on vaccines and breastfeeding, including why both can be controversial in the United States. She has written several books, most recently "Anti/Vax: Reframing the Vaccination Controversy," which was published last year. WPSU's Anne Danahy spoke with Hausman about what we can learn from past vaccine controversies about the COVID-19 epidemic.

Centre County United Way

Centre County United Way is hosting a virtual concert Friday from 6 to 10 p.m. to raise money for local residents in need.

 

The Live United Live online concert will kick off on Centre County United Way’s Facebook page. Anybody that tunes in can see performances from 25 Central Pennsylvania bands and artists like Pure Cane Sugar, Biscuit Jam, and Richard Biever and Family.

 

Old Main, the administration building, on Penn State's University Park campus
Min Xian / WPSU

Facing major financial losses, Penn State has furloughed some employees, but will be paying them 50% starting May 4 through June.

In a message to the community, President Eric Barron said the university has projected losses of $100 million this year and is expecting another $160 million in losses in the education and general budget funds in the upcoming fiscal year.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf giving an address from his home on March 23, 2020.
Commonwealth Media Services

Governor Tom Wolf offered more details today about his plan for reopening Pennsylvania. That’s slated to start happening May 8 in regions with low numbers of COVID-19 cases.

 

Wolf said it will be done on a county by county basis, the same way Pennsylvania was shut down.

 

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at a press conference in Harrisburg about the arrival of coronavirus in Pennsylvania on Friday, March 6, 2020. At rear is state Health Secretary Rachel Levine.
Commonwealth Media Services

Gov. Tom Wolf says the north-central and northwestern regions of Pennsylvania are being targeted as the first areas that could see coronavirus restrictions eased.

Wolf made the announcement during a news conference Wednesday evening. He said the state will follow red, yellow and green phases as it lifts restrictions on business operations, with significant easing of restrictions coming no sooner than May 8.

“Ultimately, the virus is going to set the timeline, not us,” Wolf said.

 

Many business owners who have applied for federal and state loans are still waiting for help to arrive.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

 

Fred Graham, owner of Graham’s Greenhouse and Landscaping in Bradford, Pennsylvania, put in an application for the federal Paycheck Protection Program as quickly as he was able to, on the second day applications were accepted.

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