Portrait of Aimee Burns
Photo courtesy of Aimee Burns

More people have felt anxious and isolated during the pandemic. At the same time, mental health services have been harder to access.


Aimee Burns, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Blair County, talked with WPSU's Min Xian about COVID-19’s impacts on the mental health care system and shared her personal story of living with mental illness.


Here’s their interview:

Min Xian: Welcome to Take Note on WPSU. I’m Min Xian.

Stacey Horrocks, seen here at her home in Boyertown, applied for rent relief in March, but her application stalled in April when Berks County began trying to contact her landlord, Rose Gross.
JOSE F. MORENO / Philadelphia Inquirer

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters.

Students outside of State College Area High School on Jan. 8, 2018.
Min Xian / WPSU

Starting this fall, students and staff in the State College Area School District who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 will not have to wear masks inside, while those who have not been vaccinated will, under a plan approved by the school board Monday night.


The 7-2 vote followed a lengthy discussion by the board and a contentious public comment period, with some parents booing during the meeting. Other parents spoke in support of the board, with some asking the district to go further and require everyone to wear a mask.


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

As Penn State continues to encourage — not require — students and employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19 before the fall semester, one factor it has to contend with is politics.


Democratic Governor Tom Wolf recently vetoed Republican-backed legislation that, among other things, would have prohibited universities and colleges that get state funding from requiring vaccines.


State and county officials like Steve D'Ettorre (left) and Mark Higgins (right) gathered Wednesday to highlight relief funding that will help local businesses recover from the pandemic.
Matt DiSanto / WPSU

State officials traveled to State College Wednesday to highlight relief funding that aims to help businesses get back on their feet as the pandemic subsides.

Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP) will distribute $1.8 million to 86 Centre County businesses this summer. The average grant is worth about $21,000.


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

Increasing vaccination numbers give all of us hope we’ll reach the end of the pandemic soon.  


Pennsylvania Officially Lifts Indoor Face Mask Mandate

Jun 28, 2021
In this April 14, 2020, file photo the Rocky statue is outfitted with a mock surgical face mask at the Philadelphia Art Museum in Philadelphia.
Matt Rourke / AP Photo, File

With daily COVID-19 case counts declining, Pennsylvania has officially lifted its universal face mask mandate. That means Pennsylvanians are no longer required to wear face masks indoors or outdoors.

Philadelphia, which operates independent of the state, lifted its indoor mask mandate on June 11.

Businesses still maintain the option of requiring employees, guests, or customers to wear face masks, health officials stressed.

A file photo of people attending an outdoor art show in a park
Courtesy of Art in the Wilds

The art show “Art in the Wilds” in Kane, Pennsylvania is making a comeback, after being virtual in 2020 due to the pandemic. Organizers say they believe the event this year is welcome news for artists and the region.

Art in the Wilds will be held this weekend, June 26th from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and June 27th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Evergreen Park in Kane. Thirty-six artists including painters, woodworkers, jewelers, sculptors and photographers will join the juried art show, which is free to the public. 

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

The State College Borough has repealed its COVID-19 Emergency Ordinance, according to an announcement released Wednesday.

The borough said the decision results from the state legislature’s vote to rescind the governor’s Emergency Declaration. Pennsylvania voters gave lawmakers the authority through a constitutional amendment in the primary election in May.

Stephanie Rimel looks at a photo of her younger brother, Kyle Dixon, inside the house Kyle shared with his dad.
Brett Sholtis / Transforming Health

More than four months after Kyle Dixon died from COVID-19, his older sisters found constant reminders of him at the house he had shared with their dad: the tent, canoe and hiking boots that Kyle once used to explore Clearfield County. The grass that he used to mow, grown tall in his absence. The bottles of cough medicine he turned to as the virus began to destroy his lungs.

Stephenie Rimel remembered a precious life cut short.

Two masked students walking on the Penn State University Park campus
Min Xian / WPSU

Starting June 28, fully vaccinated people at will no longer need to wear masks on Penn State campuses.

Those who are fully protected against COVID-19 also won’t need to physically distance indoors and outdoors. Non-vaccinated individuals must continue masking after June 28.

Pennsylvania Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam at the podium of a press briefing

By the end of June, Pennsylvanians will no longer be required to wear a face covering, state health officials said Wednesday.

The state order that had Pennsylvanians masking up for more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be lifted at the latest by June 28, said Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam.

If 70% of adults are fully vaccinated before that date, the state will end the mask mandate early, Beam said.

The vaccine hesitancy study found 1 in 4 Pennsylvanian's don't plan to get vaccinated.
Center for Survey Research at Penn State Harrisburg


All Pennsylvanians 12 and up are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines. But a new Penn State study found one in four Pennsylvanians still don’t plan on getting vaccinated.

The study, led by Penn State Harrisburg researchers, surveyed more than 1,000 Pennsylvanians to learn about vaccine hesitancy – an umbrella term describing those who “probably” or “definitely” will not get vaccinated. They found significant differences between regions and demographics.

students wearing masks walk through downtown State College
Min Xian / WPSU

The State College Borough Council voted 5-2 Friday to modify its COVID-19 ordinance to follow federal guidance and let fully vaccinated people go without masks indoors and outdoors.

Masking in public is still needed for those who aren’t vaccinated. Individual businesses can still require mask-wearing. 

Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control says everyone, regardless of vaccination status, still needs to wear masks in select locations, including in hospitals and on public transportation. 

Lauren Echausse

Just a year after graduating from Penn State’s musical theater program, Talia Suskauer had landed her dream role.

Suskauer was in the Broadway tour of “Wicked” when the pandemic shutdown hit. She was playing a leading role as green witch Elphaba. Suskauer had been touring with the show for six months when she heard the news. 


Students outside of State College Area High School on Jan. 8, 2018.
Min Xian / WPSU


The State Senate approved a bill Wednesday that would allow parents to choose to have their children repeat a grade level because of learning loss due to COVID-19 for the upcoming school year. 

The decision on whether a student should repeat a year is currently made by schools and teachers. 

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at a COVID-19 vaccination site setup at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., Monday, March 15, 2021.
Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Pennsylvania says it is lifting all COVID-19 restrictions — except an order to wear a mask while in public — on Memorial Day.

Capacity restrictions on bars, restaurants and indoor and outdoor gatherings will go away on May 31, more than a year into the pandemic.

Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said in a news release Tuesday that Pennsylvania is making “significant progress” in the fight against COVID-19 and more people are getting vaccinated.

The regional vaccination clinic at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center is reopening with the Moderna vaccine.
Emily Reddy / WPSU

As summer approaches, state officials are encouraging college students to get vaccinated. Students are able to transfer vaccines to their hometowns if they receive their first dose on campus.

Acting physician general for the Pennsylvania Department of Health Dr. Denise Johnson says students can get the second dose anywhere. They just need to make sure to get the same vaccine.

“Remember that for the mRNA vaccines, which would be the Pfizer and the Moderna, they're not interchangeable so if you had Pfizer for the first dose you need Pfizer for the second," Johnson said.

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

After a year of largely remote classes and jobs, Penn State plans to move faculty and staff back to in-person work this fall as COVID-19 vaccines become widely available, according to an announcement from the university giving an overview of return-to-work plans.

In making the announcement, the university said the availability of vaccines factors into “an optimistic outlook for summer and a full, on-campus experience for students at all campuses in fall 2021.”

The entrance of the Kane Area Elementary-Middle School
Photo provided


Kane Area School District, spreading over 250 square miles in McKean and Elk Counties, has been holding in-person classes during the 2020-2021 school year, with the exception of ten and a half days when the district went online due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases and an additional eight days where high school students were remote. 

The pandemic has made remote learning a reality. But despite logistical challenges and health risks, schools have endeavored to keep classrooms open. 

Front view of Bradford Regional Medical Center in the city of Bradford in McKean County, Pennsylvania
Emily Reddy / WPSU


Kathy Masisak, 68, doesn’t want to live in a community without robust medical care. But her local hospital in rural McKean County has been downsizing for years, and she said it’s affecting her family.

“They took a maternity ward away last year, and my granddaughter had to go to Olean — which is 35, 40 minutes away — in an emergency situation to deliver that baby,” Masisak said. “I was panicking the whole time going over there to see her.” 

Head shots of State College mayoral candidates Ezra Nanes and Jim Leous
Photos provided

Two Democrats — and no Republicans — are on the ballot in this year’s primary race for State College mayor. Ezra Nanes is director of business development at AccuWeather. He previously ran for state Senate and tried for a seat on the State College Borough Council, and he's a member of the Centre County Democratic Committee. Jim Leous leads the emerging technologies group for Penn State's Information Technology Services. He’s also a member of the State College Area school board and adviser to the Penn State College Democrats.

A Bradford Regional Medical Center sign that directs visitors to different departments
Emily Reddy / WPSU

McKean County is hosting a mass vaccination clinic Friday, after the county saw a brief period of providers getting no first dose vaccines from the state.

Bradford Regional Medical Center is hosting the clinic at the Old Central Christian High School building and will use an emergency allotment of 1,170 doses for those who register ahead of time.

Shortly after Governor Tom Wolf announced the new outline for vaccine distribution in Pennsylvania, Penn State President Eric Barron addressed pre-submitted questions from faculty and staff about how the university will deal with COVID-19 moving forward. In a livestream, Barron urged employees to get vaccinated as soon as they’re eligible. Those who work with students can sign up starting on Monday.

Kelly Wolgast is the director of Penn State’s COVID-19 operations control center. She says, for now, Penn Staters will have to look outside the university for a vaccine.

While some members of the Penn State community are wary of the university's return to in-person classes, some believe vaccines may make transition safer.
Jade Campos / WPSU


As more and more of the country gets vaccinated against coronavirus, many Penn Staters are feeling hopeful about the upcoming in-person school year. Others point to the current upswing in COVID cases and say it’s too soon.

Gov. Tom Wolf looks at a vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site setup for teachers and school staff at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., Monday, March 15, 2021.
Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration says every adult in Pennsylvania will qualify for COVID-19 vaccines starting April 19.

Starting immediately, vaccine appointments are being expanded to include police, corrections officers and other law enforcement; volunteer and professional firefighters; grocery employees; and food and farm workers.

Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said Wednesday the new timeline is possible because the state’s rate of vaccinations has quickened.

Linda Mantz / courtesy of the artist

We asked WPSU listeners to share their experience of the past pandemic year. For today’s story, WPSU’s Kristine Allen spoke with a Milesburg resident who teaches yoga for addiction recovery. She talks about the effect of the pandemic on the recovery community.

“I’m in what I would call long-term recovery now,” Linda Mantz said. “But I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict.”

Mantz of is retired from Penn State, where she taught Human Development and worked as a counselor.

“I am grateful to be celebrating over 30 years of recovery this year,” she said.

Signage for a COVID-19 collection site in State College, Pa.
Min Xian / WPSU


In a livestream Friday, leaders at Penn State and from the surrounding community voiced concerns about the recent uptick in coronavirus cases and a new, more infectious variant found in State College.

State College Mayor Ron Filippelli said police have been responding to more gatherings recently and he sees a relaxation of precautions across the board.

Jim Welsh / courtesy of Jim Welsh

We asked WPSU listeners to share their experience of this past year for our series, Pandemic, Year One. For today’s story, WPSU’s Kristine Allen spoke with a bicycle mechanic from State College who was lost his job due to COVID-19, then started his own business.

“I’ve always had a way with bicycles and a love for mechanical things. You know, take them apart, figure out how they work, that kind of thing.”

Jim Welsh of State College said he’s been working as a bicycle mechanic since he was about 14 years old.  He enjoys riding, too, around local trials.

Mary Petrak (selfie) / courtesy of Mary Petrak

We asked WPSU listeners to share their experience of this past year for our series, Pandemic, Year One.  For today’s story, WPSU’s Kristine Allen spoke with a retired teacher from Hollidaysburg.  She lost her husband just before the pandemic began.

“He was just a guy with a big smile that lit up the room,” Mary Petrak said. “He was really good at listening to people’s stories.  Also a good storyteller.”

Petrak’s husband, Dave, died five months before the pandemic started.  They had been married for 43 years.