Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud!
Legal Defense Fund Working to Mitigate
the Impacts of COVID-19 on Black Communities
Due in large part to a lack of responsiveness by federal and state governments, our nation continues to be ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of December 4, 2020, America has been witness to more than 25 million cases and nearly 440,000 deaths. Schools have been closed, businesses have struggled to stay afloat, millions have lost their jobs and homes — all of which has disproportionately impacted the Black community.
CDC reports: The effects of COVID-19 on the health of racial and ethnic minority groups is still emerging; however, current data suggest a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups.
Wolf Administration To Lift Mitigation Orders On Memorial Day, Masking Order Once 70% Of Pennsylvania Adults Fully Vaccinated
The Wolf administration, in coordination with the COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force, announced today that mitigation orders except masking will be lifted on Memorial Day, Monday, May 31 at 12:01 AM.
The current order requiring Pennsylvanians to wear masks will be lifted when 70% of Pennsylvanians age 18 and older are fully vaccinated. Face coverings are required to be worn indoors and outdoors if you are away from your home. In accordance with the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, fully vaccinated Pennsylvanians are not required to wear a mask during certain activities.
“We continue to make significant progress in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19 and as more Pennsylvania adults get vaccinated and guidance from the CDC evolves, we can continue to move forward with our reopening efforts,” Department of Health Acting Secretary Alison Beam said. “I encourage Pennsylvanians to take the critical steps needed to put this pandemic behind us by getting vaccinated, follow through with both doses if you receive the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, and continue to take steps like masking, frequent hand washing and sanitizing and social distancing.”
Requirements such as testing and reporting new cases will remain in place for hospitals and long-term care facilities. Maintaining requirements for hospitals and long-term care facilities will allow Pennsylvania to continue to closely monitor COVID-19 spread while lifting other restrictions.
The Department of Health recommends that Pennsylvanians refer to CDC guidance and recommendations regarding ongoing COVID-19 safety measures and procedures.
These updates will not prevent municipalities and school districts from continuing and implementing stricter mitigation efforts.
“With millions of Pennsylvanians getting vaccinated, it’s time to plan the transition back to normal,” said Sen. Art Haywood. Hospitalizations and deaths are down. This action today is a key step forward.”
“While the restrictions that were put in place at the outset of the pandemic have been a major source of frustration for many Pennsylvanians and businesses, it is the collaborative work of this bipartisan Task Force that is allowing us to finally roll back the restrictions and get back to normal life,” said Sen. Ryan Aument.
“I’m thrilled after more than a year that we are able to lift these restrictions so that we can move to more normal life,” said Rep. Tim O’Neal. “This will help grow our economy and assist our small businesses that have sacrificed so much due to COVID-19. Thank you to Pennsylvanians who have chosen to be vaccinated. Your efforts have helped us arrive at today.”
“I am proud of the progress we have made with vaccinations throughout Pennsylvania,” said Rep. Bridget Kosierowski. “Lifting mitigation orders on Memorial Day and announcing that masking orders will be lifted once 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s adults are fully vaccinated are all benefits from following the scientific medical research and data. Many sacrifices had been made over the past year while we waited for help. The help is now here in the form of a vaccine and we must do everything we can to encourage everyone to receive their vaccination so we can overcome this pandemic. Let’s follow the science, because it’s the path to us all returning to normalcy.”
The governor’s Proclamation of Disaster Emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic remains in place.
All Pennsylvanians ages 16 and older are eligible to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine. The provider map is available on the Department of Health’s website. Pennsylvanians with questions about the vaccination process can call the Department of Health hotline at 1-877-724-3258Opens In A New Window.
More information is available on the COVID-19 Data Dashboard.
Governor Tom Wolf and the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force announced that effective tomorrow, Tuesday, April 13, all Pennsylvania adults will be eligible to schedule an appointment for the COVID -19 vaccine.
“We need to maintain acceleration of the vaccine rollout, especially as case counts and hospitalization rates have increased,” Gov. Wolf said. “Therefore, just as President Biden has brought forward universal adult access to vaccines from May 1 to April 19, we are moving Pennsylvania’s timeline of universal adult access to April 13.”
The Department of Health noted that there is ongoing appointment availability in many parts of the state even as Phase 1A and B continue and 1C begins today. With the change in eligibility, those in Phase 2 will become eligible, opening up vaccines to all. Our ongoing initiative with the Area Agencies on Aging to provide assistance to vulnerable seniors for accessing vaccine will continue, as will our other equity initiatives.
“Everyone needs and should be afforded the opportunity to access the vaccine as soon as possible,” Acting Sec. of Health Alison Beam said. “And, this change provides earlier access for many, including college students increasing the likelihood of completion of two-dose regimens prior to leaving campus for the summer. It also means simpler, streamlined operations for vaccine providers that no longer need to check eligibility of people making appointments.”
To date, Pennsylvania providers have administered more than 6 million vaccines and the state is ranked among the top 20 states for first-dose vaccinations. More than 2.4 million Pennsylvanians are fully vaccinated.
Pennsylvanians can find providers on the COVID-19 Vaccine Provider Map here.
“Please get vaccinated,” said Sen. Art Haywood.
“It is precisely the bipartisan cooperation of this Joint Task Force coupled with the tremendous work of our provider network that has allowed our Commonwealth to make rapid progress in our vaccine rollout, now expanding eligibility so that every Pennsylvanian who wants to be vaccinated has the opportunity to do so immediately,” said Sen. Ryan Aument. “Because we have maintained our commitment to residents within phases 1A and 1B, we can now further accelerate the rollout and protect our communities, particularly by ensuring that college students can be vaccinated before returning home to their families for the summer.”
“The administration, our task force, and all of our local providers have collaborated together to achieve the goal put forth by President Biden,” said Rep. Bridget Kosierowski. “With the number of COVID-19 positive cases continuing to rise some areas of our state, it is imperative that everyone who wants to schedule an appointment for a vaccine can have that opportunity to do so.“
“I’m pleased we are able to speed up eligibility so that all Pennsylvanians who want a vaccine can schedule one,” Rep. Tim O’Neal said. “Western Pennsylvania has hosted a number of vaccine clinics in recent days where supply has outstripped demand. We were able to get approval to expand eligibility at one of these clinics, but it only makes sense to open vaccinations to all. The work of the task force has shown when all parties work in a collaborative fashion, we can accomplish a lot in a short timeframe.”
“This further-accelerated plan will move us much closer to the goal of vaccinating Pennsylvanians as quickly and equitably as possible,” Gov. Wolf said.
During the weekly COVID-19 briefing held yesterday afternoon, Dr. Debra Bogen, Director of the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) announced changes to ACHD vaccination sites priorities.
Beginning Friday, March 19, the Health Department will continue to vaccinate individuals 65 and older and will add those ages 50 to 64 who meet the Pennsylvania Phase 1A medical conditions. Conditions that qualify individuals aged 50 to 64 for vaccination include those who have cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, Down syndrome, heart conditions but not high blood pressure, immunocompromised, obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, smoking and type 2 diabetes.
“We remain committed in our vaccination approach to serve the most at risk in our county first,” said Bogen. “By the end of the week, at least 50% of those county residents who are 65 years of age and older will have received at least one vaccine. Although we still have work to do serving this population, these data tell us we need to expand our eligibility requirements for vaccination.”
The announcement follows news earlier this week of three additional COVID-19 vaccine points of dispensing (POD) opening before the end of the month.
Appointments at all sites are available only through ACHD. Individuals should NOT contact the sites. All vaccines will be by appointment only. As has been the case, appointments will be announced through Allegheny Alerts and then posted on the county’s COVID Vaccine page. Residents without Internet access, or having difficulty navigating the online registration system, may contact 2-1-1 for assistance in scheduling when appointments are available. Anyone arriving without an appointment, or not meeting priority criteria will be turned away. Walk-up registrations are not available.
Central Baptist Church will be the new site in the Central Hill District and will open March 22. The Health Department and Duquesne University’s Center for Integrative Health will operate this site with the goal of targeting specific communities and populations who have not yet been reached. This includes serving those who have additional needs such as accessibility and translation.
The Peterson Events Center will serve as a temporary site in Oakland. The Health Department is collaborating with the University of Pittsburgh, for clinics operating two days this week (yesterday and today) and four days next week. Pitt’s Schools of Pharmacy, Nursing, Medicine, Dental Medicine, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and Graduate School of Public Health are serving as vaccinators.
The Ross Township Community Center site will open the week of March 22. The operating team will include the Health Department and members of the Medical Reserve Corps with additional staff coming on as the site continues to ramp up.
The Castle Shannon POD continues to operate and is now being staffed by volunteers with the American Red Cross and employees of the Medical Rescue Team South Authority (MRTSA) through agreements with the county. Emergency Services staff also continue to support the operation of the POD.
ACHD also continues to bring vaccine directly to senior living facilities around the county and have more events planned to reach seniors specifically. focusing first on public facilities and then private facilities with low-income or subsidized housing for its senior residents. Vaccines are being administered by Health Department and Emergency Services staff with support from Human Services staff.
With limited exceptions, second dose appointments will be provided at the same location that individuals received their first dose, within the 28- to 42-day window recommended by the CDC.
Bogen also noted that the ACHD team is working to bring additional sites online and will use all of these locations to achieve its goals of equitable vaccine distribution.
“I am grateful to all those who have joined us in these and so many other collaborations. In each case, the Health Department is teaming up with dedicated, trusted organizations and institutions,” said Bogen. “Along with all the other vaccine providers in the county, the hospitals, pharmacies, FQHCs and other - we are working to meet the vaccine needs of our county’s residents.”
Resource navigators at 2-1-1 remain available 24/7 to assist the community with questions related to the COVID-19 vaccines and any other COVID-related inquiries. Call-takers can also refer callers to the Pittsburgh Poison Center for clinical-related questions about the vaccine.
The department will continue to share information on its Vaccine Information Page (https://alleghenycounty.us/COVIDvaccine) and push out announcements through Allegheny Alerts (https://alleghenycounty.us/alerts).
I am a 78-year-old, retired, Black male who is deeply appreciative of the fact that, on February 16, 2021, I received my second Coronavirus vaccination. Nevertheless, I write to describe the taxing two-month process it took to do so in the world’s most “advanced” nation. In pursuit of being vaccinated, the difficulties encountered concretized the significance of the  “the digital divide,” and  “systemic public health issues” as a function of one’s low-income status and race.
Being fully aware of the long abuse of Blacks by some health professionals, I was initially in a “paranoid state of mind” regarding whether to take a Coronavirus vaccine. The “Tuskegee Syphilis Study” and “the misappropriation of Henrietta Lacks‘ cells” were not faded memories for me. I was also reticent because of how fast the vaccines were federally approved and unclear regarding side effects.
The erosion of my vaccination fears began when I learned that the brilliant Black scientist Kizzmekia Corbett played a critical role in the development of the vaccines. My reservations also declined after I learned that two highly respected friends, Dr. Chenits and Dr. Margaret Pettigrew, participated in clinical trials and, subsequently, recommended the vaccines. On a personal level, I was motivated to get vaccinated because Spring was rapidly approaching and, being addicted to fishing, I did not want to miss the early runs of Crappie, White Perch, and Yellow Perch here in Maryland.
“Spring Fever” annually afflicts those who fish and, having been sheltered in much of the 2020 fishing season, “Spring Fever” hit me hard right after January 1, 2021. As such, I knew I needed to be vaccinated if I were to go in and out of bait shops as well as fish with a few buddies without social distancing at my fishing camp in central Pennsylvania. With my fears mostly gone and the desire to fish, I began searching for a vaccination appointment and immediately got reminded that I was “technologically challenged” and, later in the process, which side I was on when it came to the “digital divide.”
The protracted search for my first Coronavirus vaccination required ownership of an iPhone, iPad, and laptop computer –items which a poverty level household of four would find very difficult to purchase given their annual income of approximately $26,500. Even with these items in my possession, I needed the help of several people to  download relevant Apps to my iPad and iPhone;  obtain a 4 digit code to set up the “My Portfolio App” which was needed to do things such as book and confirm vaccination appointments as well as preregister the day before each vaccination;  sync my iPhone and iPad to receive texts from the Hospital Center that provided my vaccinations; and  use my laptop to search extensively for vaccination providers in accordance with my 1B priority classification for receiving a vaccination. Some more technologically literate than I might have gotten by without the laptop, but the relevant vaccination searches proved easiest for me when I used the laptop.
Another tremendous source of frustration was the problematic enrollment “systems!” The beginnings of this nightmare started when my primary care physician’s office promised to email me a numerical code essential for downloading the “My Portfolio App.” The code was to arrive within 48 hours, but to date it has not arrived. I received a 4-digit code from a second source, after being placed on hold for more than 45 minutes.
Going online to the designated Maryland County Health Department to sign up for a 1B priority vaccination proved to be fruitless. Using the designated County website, neither my wife nor I received the stipulated follow up email response. A week later, we used a different website for that same County office; received an email response that we were in category 1B; but we have never been scheduled for a vaccination even though they stated they were also vaccinating those in category 1C.
On the several occasions, while seeking a vaccination appointment, I was put on hold for almost an hour. On those occasions, I was reminded of how fortunate I was to have unlimited minutes telephone service. My awareness was also heightened regarding those who are not fortunate enough to have access to the essential technology and I wondered how they might ever get vaccinated. Added concern for others emanated from the fact that I and my wife did not get vaccinated because of our ownership of or limited ability to use technology, but because of an intervention.
After getting nowhere in terms of obtaining a vaccination appointment, I called my son and must have literally “bent his ear.” He interrupted me with, “Daddy, I will call you back in a few minutes” and, when he called back, the following “discussion” occurred: “Daddy, get my mother and both of you turn on your computers. Go to www… and click on the button that says… Ok, now click on the button that says… and then fill in your personal information. Let me know when you finish.” We did as instructed and asked, “What’s next?” He said, “Ok, click on submit and let me know what it says.” I replied, “It says ‘your information has been received. You will be notified of an appointment.” Then, as my son said would happen, in two days we both received notification of appointment dates.
In short, we got appointments because just a few days earlier our son received an appointment after he had studied the websites in our surrounding communities and learned things such as  which sites had long waiting lists;  which were best given our ages;  the days and times appointments were electronically offered;  how quickly the appointments were taken; and  the fact that if we both simultaneously requested 7:15 a.m., then we would get appointments within a few minutes of each other which is exactly what happened for both vaccinations.
Given my experiences in obtaining vaccinations and, subsequently, having spent hours trying to help others who wish to be vaccinated, it is clear just how bad things are in the absence of  a national strategy;  effective state strategies;  “people friendly” processes to sign up for vaccinations;  appropriate coordination between manufactures, distributors and providers; and  what seems to be a national pattern of lower socio-economic, Black, and Latinx Americans disproportionately receiving fewer vaccinations. IT IS NO ACCIDENT THAT BLACK AND LATINX AMERICANS ARE DYING AT A RATE THREE TIMES THAT OF WHITE AMERICANS, BUT WHITE AMERICANS IN PENNSLVANIA, FOR EXAMPLE, ARE BEING VACCINATED AT FOUR TIMES THE RATE OF BLACKS (See Nicole Karlis, January 29, 2021).
Jack L. Daniel
Co-Founder, Freed Panther Society
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
February 19, 2021
Partnership Providing Resource for Healthcare Providers, School Administrators, Parents
PITTSBURGH – The Allegheny County Health Department announced today that additional services will be provided through the United Way’s 2-1-1 help line relating to school and COVID. Beginning immediately, the help line will now be able to assist in answering questions and providing consistent guidance and the most up-to-date information to healthcare providers, school administrators and parents.
This new resource is being provided through a partnership between the Health Department, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Poison Center, and UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s Nurse Triage Line. Additional support for the enhanced triage line will come from physicians with UPMC Children’s Hospital, AHN Pediatrics, Sewickley Valley Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Kids Plus Pediatrics, Pediatrics South and Children’s Community Pediatrics.
This service adds nurses to 2-1-1’s resources to bolster the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s ability to connect people to services and information they need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know that parents, pediatricians and school administrators may have questions as children head back to school,” said Health Department Director Debra Bogen, MD, FAAP, FABM. “We want this to be a resource for anyone seeking the most up-to-date information and guidance about COVID-19.”
Calls to 2-1-1 for the nurses will be routed through a triage system. The 2-1-1 call center will take down a person’s information and provide it to an on-call nurse to return the call. People may also text questions to 2-1-1 by using 898-211 or submit questions using the instant message feature or online form available at http://pa211sw.org.
“For more than a decade, 2-1-1 has been a critical resource for our community. The pandemic helped to shine a light on its long time role of connecting people who need help with resources,” said Bobbi Watt Geer, President and CEO, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. “We’ve seen double the call volume since March. Thanks to this partnership, we will be able to add access to nurses, making 2-1-1 even more valuable during this unprecedented health crisis.”
Nurses will be available to field questions between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The average call back time during these hours will be about 20 minutes. Calls to 2-1-1 outside of those hours will be forwarded to the nurses, but people should not expect a return call until the next business day.
Nurses will be able to provide guidance to pediatricians who may be fielding calls from families, to answer questions about safety protocols and procedures from school administrators, and to respond to questions and concerns from parents.
“At UPMC Children’s, our top priority is to provide the highest quality of care and support to patients and families,” said Brian S. Martin, DMD, MS, Vice President of Medical Affairs at UPMC Children’s. “We will continue to provide our pediatric expertise to school nurses and administrators and ensure support for families in following up with their primary care providers/medical home.”
The UPMC Children’s Nurse Triage Line has been taking calls for nearly 25 years. The Health Department has contracted with the call line to handle COVID-19 questions and concerns related to schools from anyone, regardless of their physician or insurance provider.
The new resource is not for specific questions about a child’s health or a case of COVID-19. Parents with questions about their child’s health should contact their pediatric health care provider. School administrators with questions or information pertaining to a specific case of COVID-19 should continue to contact the Health Department.
This service is being offered in addition to the COVID-19 hotline for which the Health Department, United Way, and the Pittsburgh Poison Center partner to answer questions and concerns related to COVID-19.
Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller today reminded Pennsylvanians that help is available and encouraged for anyone affected financially by the COVID-19 public-health crisis by taking advantage of rent and mortgage assistance programs available to help people who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of losing their housing.
“The COVID-19 emergency and economic insecurity have caused many people to lose income or employment altogether and those individuals may now be struggling to make their monthly rent or mortgage payments,” DHS Sec. Miller said. “Anyone who is worried about losing their housing should know that assistance is available and should not hesitate to reach out for help. Access to safe and secure housing is essential, especially now. We want to be sure that any Pennsylvanian who is struggling to pay rent or utilities has the help that they need and knows that they are not alone during this time.”
A U.S. Census Bureau survey foundOpens In A New Window that since mid-April, the percentage of Pennsylvania adults who consider themselves housing insecure has risen by 2.4 percent. The most recent survey – which defines housing insecurity as missing last month’s rent or mortgage payment or having slight or no confidence that a household can pay next month’s rent or mortgage on time – found that nearly 24 percent of Pennsylvanians, or 1.6 million people, are living with housing insecurity.
DHS has released $10 million in CARES Act funding to counties’ Homeless Assistance Programs (HAP) to aid in serving the increased needs of Pennsylvania citizens at risk of homelessness. HAP helps to ensure that homelessness can be avoided by offering rental assistance, emergency shelter, supportive housing services, and case management services to individuals and families. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, HAP provided these services to more than 28,000 individuals and families experiencing or at risk for homelessness.
Questions on eligibility and requests for help can be made by contacting a county HAP here. HAP services vary in each county, and counties can set their eligibility limits as they choose within 100 to 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines. HAP benefit limits are set at $1,500 maximum for a family with one or more children, and $1,000 for a single person.
More information on HAP can be found here. Other homelessness assistance programs can be found at the National Alliance to End HomelessnessOpens In A New Window, the National Coalition for the HomelessOpens In A New Window, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentOpens In A New Window.
The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) is also offering housing-related financial assistance. Applications are available at www.PHFA.org for both rental and mortgage assistance (look for the red CARES banner). All 67 counties have local organizations helping PHFA by processing the rent relief applications. PHFA will process the mortgage relief applications.
Renters who qualify may receive assistance equal to 100 percent of their monthly rent up to $750 a month for a maximum of six months of assistance for the time period between March 1 and November 30, 2020. For renters to be eligible for financial assistance, they will need to document at least a 30 percent reduction in annual income since March 1 related to COVID-19, or they must have become unemployed after March 1.
The assistance available for homeowners can be up to $1,000 a month for a maximum period of six months. The time period eligible for assistance is for mortgage payments owed from March 2020 through December 2020. Homeowners who became unemployed after March 1 or who suffered at least a 30 percent reduction in annual income due to reduced work hours and wages related to COVID-19 may be eligible for financial assistance to help with missed mortgage payments.
For more information on public assistance programs available through DHS, visit www.dhs.pa.gov.
In mid-April, Governor Tom Wolf and Lt. Governor John Fetterman announced the creation of a COVID-19 Response Task Force for Health Disparity to help communicate issues about how the pandemic is affecting the state’s minority and marginalized populations.
“About a month after the first cases of COVID-19 were identified in Pennsylvania, I asked Lt. Gov. Fetterman to chair a new task force that would identify any differences in health outcomes for different populations,” Gov. Wolf said. “And to make recommendations to ensure every Pennsylvanian, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background, has equal opportunity to survive and thrive during this pandemic and beyond.”
After months of weekly meetings and outreach from task force members to marginalized community members, the task force completed its report and presented it to the governor earlier this week. Today, the governor and lieutenant governor highlighted the recommendations in the report at an event at the York County YMCA, joined by Sec. of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.
The report includes six recommendations focused on these policy topics related to health disparity, ranked in order of urgency: housing, criminal justice, food insecurity, health disparity, education and economic opportunities. According to the report, each area either directly or indirectly affects the health of Pennsylvanians and must be addressed to appropriately remove the disparities that have existed for generations and have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“I just want to thank this diverse Task Force and group of stakeholders who gave such important insight towards the creation of this report”, said Lt. Governor John Fetterman. “With 57 specific policy recommendations, I believe that this report will be beneficial in policy development to help end the health disparities in our marginalized communities, which have been so vastly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Dr. Levine offered insight into the work of the Department of Health’s Health Equity Response Team and how that work contributes to her agency’s overall success battling the pandemic and health inequities that exist beyond COVID.
“Health disparities and health equity have been a focus of the Wolf Administration and the Department of Health long before COVID-19 swept through our country,” Dr. Levine said. “Our actions as a community can lessen the impact COVID-19 has on our fellow Pennsylvanians most at risk. You can answer the call to stop the spread when you wear a mask. You can answer the call to stop the spread when you avoid large public gatherings. You can answer the call to stop the spread when you use hand sanitizer and wash your hands frequently.”
The report is one step in many toward fair, equitable and accessible treatment of all Pennsylvanians. Gov. Wolf’s five commissions played a key role on the task force and were in daily communication with those disproportionately impacted by COVID, especially Black and Latino communities.
The work of the task force will help inform an internal steering committee on dismantling racism that Gov. Wolf established recently.
“The steering committee is made up of key cabinet members working together with our policy leaders to build a short- and long-term policy agenda to dismantle the systemic racism and resulting inequities that exist around us, inequities that have been exacerbated by this pandemic,” Gov. Wolf said. “My goal is to be intentional in all aspects of commonwealth work to maintain a commitment to a diverse, culturally responsive workforce.
“I’m grateful to the members of the task force for their work. It is our intention to use the information gathered in this report as the basis for lasting change.”
Source: PA Gov.
Governor Tom Wolf and Lt. Governor John Fetterman
“Math Problem: High School student with Corona rides the bus, capacity 60; enters gym class with 40; goes to seven classes with 24 in each class; eats lunch with 200, while passing between classes multiple times. How many students will be sent home for 14 days because of exposure?” (Attributed to a Retired School Teacher)
For the past three dangerous years, we have witnessed POTUS 45 and his crew do their best to turn the American democracy into an Idiocracy --a dumbed down alternative universe based on lies and ignorance that place American citizens at risk! Their latest reckless disregard for the truth as well as people’s lives consists of their idiotic statements and actions regarding our children, teachers, and staff returning to school in a few weeks. Some of their recent asinine statements are as follows:
· “We know that children get the virus at a far lower rate than any other part of the population, …And again, there is nothing in the data that would suggest that kids being back in school is dangerous to them.” (Betsy DeVos, reported by the Washington Times, July 12, 2020)
· “We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get them open, and it’s very important, … young people do extraordinarily well with the disease caused by the virus.” (POTUS 45).
“The risk is extremely low that anything will happen to them” (school age children) if they don’t have underlying conditions.” (Morgan Griffith, Republican from Virginia). He also said the risk would also be low for school staff under the age of 60.” (Politico, July 9, 2020)
Obviously, as with nations around the world, America must come to grips with one of its most difficult decisions in centuries, i.e., when and under what conditions to have children go back to school. As reported by Laurel Chor (NPR July 10, 2020), “Hong Kong offers a cautionary tale of how difficult these decisions can be. Schoolchildren were sent home at the end of January; …When Hong Kong appeared to be winning its war against COVID-19, schools started to reopen. That was the end of May. …But the city is now fighting a third wave of infections, and the education bureau announced that the school year would end on Friday…”
In Israel, there was a major surge in new COVID-19 cases when the schools opened prematurely. From a low of 50 new cases per day, the country went to 1,500 per day. As reported by the Wall Street Journal(July 15, 2020), “The surge followed outbreaks in schools that by Monday had infected at least 1,335 students and 691 staff since the schools reopened in early May, according to the education ministry.” Belatedly, one Israel principal stated, “It’s pretty clear that in coronavirus conditions, you cannot continue t teach in full classrooms without a massive outbreak.”
With ignorance determined to be bliss, POTUS 45 repeatedly refuses to learn from the experiences of others. Instead, in a scenario reminiscent of the 1978 Jonestown mass murder-suicide led by cult leader Jim Jones in Guyana where 900 died, POTUS 45 arrogantly uses the full weight of the presidency to force schools to reopen sooner than they should. Should he succeed, it could result in America’s largest mass murder, surpassing Jonestown. He does so with no regard for the widespread concerns repeatedly expressed in, for example, a popular Facebook post, e.g.,
· If a teacher tests positive for COVID-19 are they required to quarantine for 2-3 weeks? Is their sick leave covered, paid?
· If that teacher has 5 classes a day with 30 students each, do all 150 of those students need to then stay home and quarantine for 14 days?
· Do all 150 of those students now have to get tested? Who pays for those tests? Are they happening at school? How are the parents being notified? Does anyone in each of those kids’ families need to get tested? Who pays for that?
· Where is the district going to find a substitute teacher who will work in a classroom full of exposed, possibly infected students for substitute pay?
· What if a student in our kid’s class tests positive? What if your kid tests positive? Does every other student and teacher they have been around quarantine?
· What is the stress going to do to our teachers? How does it affect their health and well-being? How does it affect their ability to teach?
The foregoing questions are the mere tip of the iceberg when it comes to the matters that must be addressed before putting children, teachers, school staff, and, in turn, parents and other family members at risk of the deadly virus. Anya Kamenetz (June 9, 2020) succinctly stated, “What's at stake: An unknown number of lives, the futures of tens of millions of children, the livelihoods of their caregivers, the working conditions of millions of educators, and people's trust in a fundamental American institution.” Yet, the leaders of the Idiocracy are as devoid of valid and reliable plans as they were when it came time to handle the Covoid-19 pandemic. Fortunately, more than two-thirds of people polled no longer trust what POTUS 45 says about the virus and they, along with school personnel, will protect the lives of our children.
No matter who demands what about schools reopening, classrooms will be relatively empty if the current virus surge continues. Parents and teachers will resist putting their children in deadly situations. Those needing to work and requiring child care will remain at home –especially given that  underpaid yet essential childcare workers will refuse to put themselves as well as children in danger; and  it is estimated that 50% of childcare facilities will soon go out of business.
Meanwhile, as we face the distinct probability that schools will not open in full force, there remains another issue begging to be addressed. Privileged parents will be able to assist their children with on-line learning and, if necessary, home-school their children whereas those less fortunate won’t be able to do so and, in turn, the achievement gap will widen. Therefore, now is also the time to do things such as make educational technology available to those families on the downside of the digital divide. Higher education scholars should turn their attention to what must be done to prevent all children from losing a year or more in terms of their educational development.
Without delay, steps should be taken to provide essential educational workers, at all levels, with the salaries they deserve for serving simultaneously as educators as well as social service providers. Similarly, now is the time to address the schools’ infrastructure needs, everything from proper ventilation and classroom spacing to essential educational supplies. All parents should study carefully the science-based implementation plans for their respective school districts. Finally, in November, 2020, right-minded citizens must take steps to end the current Idiocracy.
Jack L. Daniel
Co-Founder, Freed Panther Society
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
July 19, 2020
1Hood Media is a collective of socially conscious Hip Hop artists and activists, who believe that art is the best way to challenge inequity, raise awareness and unify humanity. We are young creatives who work in and with our community, telling our own stories, while partnering with those of like mind and vision.
It is CEA’s aim and commitment to work with individuals and families to build, foster and empower the African-American community through capitalization of indigenous support, community stakeholders, organized networks, and community education.
The City of Pittsburgh, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Management Agency are working in consultation with the Allegheny County Health Department, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Responding to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania.
All Pennsylvanians have an important role to play in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives. Here are resources to help individuals, families, and businesses do their part.
The need for social isolation during the COVID-19 crisis makes it much harder for vulnerable communities to reach food assistance. 412 Food Rescue is working with our network of nonprofit partners to gradually ramp up our Home Delivery Program.
To help aid individuals in our most vulnerable communities, Leroy Ball, President & CEO, Koppers, Pittsburgh corporations, organizations launch a fund drive to purchase and distribute essential goods...
Given my more than 50 years of experience in higher education, it seemed highly unreasonable for college administrators to expect their students  to resume residential life;  enroll in a mix of in-person and virtual classes; and  refrain from activities that would create spikes in Coronavirus infections. An abundance of evidence suggested that succeeding in doing so was as improbable as winning the daily state lottery, that much sooner than later schools would be forced to end in-person classes and/or close residence halls.
College students represent the “best and brightest” among us as evidenced by standardized test scores, high school grades, and other measures of academic achievement. However, parents as well as college administrators know how “young and dumb” college students can be as evidenced by Brigham Young students recently using the “young and dumb” phrase to describe their defiance of their campus’ Coronavirus guidelines.
Across the nation, the “best and brightest” have demonstrated just how “young and dumb” they can be with the results being alarming rises in Coronaviruses cases. In just a few days after opening, for example, Towson State University closed its residence halls. At the University of Pittsburgh, Dean Kenyon Bonner declared several students persona non grata as well as suspended 8 Greek life organizations for inappropriate behaviors. College students “gone wild” --drinking heavily and ignoring Coronavirus safety guidelines-- contributed to infection spikes on campuses such as the universities of Alabama, Baylor, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Notre Dame, SUNY Albany, and CAL POLY. As of September 1, 2020, the University of Alabama had 1,201 cases, followed by North Carolina at Chapel Hill with 1,025.
There are multiple college student characteristics that presaged the fact that many college students would not adhere to Coronavirus safety guidelines, that they would in fact engage in risky behaviors because they had done so prior to the Coronavirus pandemic. For example, college administrators know that “The beginning of the school year can be one of the most dangerous times for female college students. It marks the start of the "red zone" – from the first day on campus until Thanksgiving break – when the risk of sexual assault is said to be highest. More than 50% of college sexual assaults take place between August and November, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, which advocates nationally against sexual violence…” (See Alia E. Dastagir, August 26, 2019, USA Today).
College administrators also know that large, late-night gatherings of college students engaged in heavy drinking and raucous behavior are nothing new. More than a decade ago when I became a Dean of Student Affairs, I scheduled a late Thursday afternoon meeting with student leaders. A student leader came to me and said, “No one is going to be there. Everyone starts drinking Thursday afternoon and parties continue through Saturday night.”
Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, college officials knew that their “bright young adults” arrived on campus with a vast array of problems for which they needed considerable psychological counselling. A July 11, 2020 American Psychological Association report indicated, “Demand for mental health services at college counseling centers in the United States has been on the rise for years. In 2019, nearly 90% of counseling center directors reported an increase in students seeking services... data from more than 200,000 college students at 163 institutions show there’s been a steady uptick in threats to self—including suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and non-suicidal self-injury—as well as depression, anxiety, social anxiety, and traumatic experiences…”
Along with the Coronavirus and systemic White racism pandemics, there has been a long-term “silent pandemic” related to young people and sexually transmitted diseases. As Jeannie Kenkare wrote on September 26, 2017, “According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 50 percent of the 20 million new STDs diagnosed each year are among young people between the ages of 15–24 years. A large percentage of these cases occur among college students, who often underestimate the risks of having unprotected sex…” On the contrary, “hookups,” i.e., casual “meaningless” sex is often normative.
To their credit, college administrators promulgated an array of very specific student and faculty guidelines per the reopening of their campuses. It was indeed a very high if not unreasonable expectation, however, that students would abide by the guidelines. Why, for example, would campus administrators expect students to return to campus after, for months, being under the close supervision of parents/guardians; having been controlled by local and state guidelines per things such as social distancing and wearing masks; and with bars and restaurants having been closed, that significant numbers of their students would not exercise restraint when they returned to campus? It was no more reasonable than expecting college students not to riot and destroy property after a major sports victory without having implemented very strict controls.
In short, given who the vast majority of students happen to be on historically White campuses where most highly privileged college students are enrolled, it was truly a longshot gamble to reopen residence halls and schedule a significant number of in-person classes. Those higher education administrators who believe otherwise should step forward and explain themselves. Meanwhile, as they shutter residence halls and switch to virtual classes, in addition to room and board restitutions, they should reimburse all payments related to the qualities of education they assert are derived from residential college experiences, e.g., face-to-face interactions with diverse students; living-learning experiences; problem solving in small groups; face-to-face dialogue with instructors; many of the activities associated with student activity fees; meals in dining halls; etc.
Jack L. Daniel
Co-founder, Freed Panther Society
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
September 2, 2020