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LEBIEDZINSKI: Court Missed Mark in Dismissing Parents’ Case

America’s Founding Fathers wisely embedded checks and balances into our constitutional republic’s governing structure. They encouraged the courts, for example, to check the abuses and overreach of the legislative and executive branches.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we witnessed government and teachers union overreach normalized, particularly in education – with the over-sexualization of curriculum, placement of pornographic books in middle school libraries, drag shows at elementary schools, mask mandates, free water ice and cash payments for vaccination, puberty blockers, boys competing in women’s sports, and DEI/CRT. The importance of checks and balances by the legal system and by parents has become acutely clear.

Parents instinctively know the importance of addressing discipline issues with their children, even after the fact, and even when the person who raised the issue may only be indirectly involved. Why? Because it does not matter who raised the issue, wrong is wrong. Nor does it matter if the wrongdoing is no longer occurring, wrong is wrong. Addressing the bad behavior is not moot, and if not dealt with it will occur again. Ignorance is implicit enablement.

Given this backdrop, it is particularly frustrating that the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has, for the second time this year, dismissed complaints brought by parents, failing to rule on the substance of each lawsuit.

Will this failure have an impact on children? Parents and educators have spent the last three years predicting the harmful effects of the delusional fear mongering that caused useless masking, school closures, and the particularly destructive “virtual learning.” Validation of those predictions has come in the form of decreasing academic achievement scores.

“This is the fifth consecutive year of declines in average scores, a worrisome trend that began long before the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has persisted,” said Janet Godwin, the CEO of the ACT.

Earlier this year, the court dismissed a case brought by parents demanding compliance with Pennsylvania’s requirement for 180 days of in-school instructional learning. At the time, school districts knew using virtual learning was illegal, but they did it anyway.

How do we know it was illegal? Mark Hoffman, executive director of Bucks County’s Intermediate Unit stated in a July 6 email to all 13 Bucks County superintendents, “No authority yet granted to PDE [PA Dept of Edu] to issue waiver for 180 day school year,” and “Hybrid options and staggered schedule options are NOT legal as of today,” and “Research provided by PDE that offers suggestions for hybrid options are NOT currently legal options as school code currently stands.”

The court did not rule on the substance of the complaint, but rather tossed it – twice – ruling that parents do not have standing to bring such a complaint. Perhaps they overlooked that parents, via school real estate taxes, fund nearly 100 percent of the costs that provide those 180 days of education.

Then on December 1, the Commonwealth Court tossed another parent-led lawsuit which asked the court to declare Pennsylvania’s secretary of education was wrong to advise school districts that they had the authority to mandate masks. Yes, you read that correctly, the secretary of EDUCATION, not the Secretary of HEALTH. Oddly enough, this time last year, the same Commonwealth Court declared then-Sec. of Health Alison Beam’s statewide masking order void ab initio (void from the beginning). Beam was fired after the ruling and – shocker – was hired by UPMC as a government liaison.

The court held the “guidance” issued to school superintendents by the secretary of education “was not an order, directive requirement, or mandate requiring” Pennsylvania school districts “to implement masking mandates within their schools.” Accordingly, the court found that any order it would issue would amount to an “advisory opinion.” Oddly enough, that advisory opinion is exactly what the Complaint demanded, and is exactly the job of the court – to interpret the law.

The court also ruled the complaint was moot because the school districts had already made masks optional. The court ignored the argument that districts’ Health and Safety Plans continue to this day to have language enabling mask mandates to be reinstated at any time in the future.

The complaint cited the expressio unius est exclusio alterius doctrine – a Latin phrase meaning the inclusion of specific powers to one government agency implies the exclusion of such powers to other agencies. Because the legislature delegated disease control to the Department of Health, the Department of Education has no power to govern disease control.

Abdicating its responsibility to determine constitutionality, the court did not rule on the substantive issues brought by the parents in either complaint. That is literally their job. Parents and students deserve better.

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Sen. Katie Muth Called Rachel Levine the ‘Mess in a Dress,’ According to Retired Air Force Major General

State Sen. Katie Muth once called then-Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine “the mess in a dress,” according to the transcript of unsworn testimony a former Air Force major general gave during a 2021 state administrative hearing.

Levine, a transgender woman appointed Pennsylvania’s health secretary by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2017, has since gone on to be the highest-ranking transgender person in federal service after accepting a position in President Biden’s administration.

Although the testimony of Major General Eric Weller came in 2021, he was recalling a conversation from the earliest weeks of the pandemic when Levine had become the face of Pennsylvania state government because of her daily COVID press conferences.

Weller retired from a highly decorated career in the Air Force and then served as the deputy adjutant general for veteran’s affairs for the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) from November 2016 to February 2021.

Weller was giving his recollections to a “name-clearing hearing” held by the Pennsylvania Office of Administration while testifying in support of two people who had been fired from their management positions from the Southeastern Veterans’ Center (SEVC) — two firings Muth had called for when the long-term care facility came under intense political and media scrutiny in the first weeks of the pandemic.

Sen. Katie Muth

While Muth was claiming poor leadership at the facility in her senate district in Spring City, the ousted leaders and their backers like Weller say the SEVC leaders were scapegoated so as to deflect attention from the Department of Health’s lackluster start to its handling of the pandemic.

“By mid-April, State Senator Muth took it upon herself to start attacking the SEVC and the DMVA regarding the outbreak at SEVC,” Weller said, according to the transcript. “It is interesting to note that never once did Senator Muth offer any assistance to DMVA, let alone SEVC.”

Moments later in the testimony, he recalled a direct conversation between him and the senator, while describing her language as “filthy.”

“And actually, if — I’m just going to go ahead and say it: her closing comment to me that day was, ‘I am considered to be a renegade Democrat. I am here to make a name for myself. Let me be clear about that. I am here to make a name for myself. And in doing such, I don’t care if I have to take down the Governor and any member of his staff, including — including the ‘mess in the dress.”

“I didn’t know who the ‘mess in the dress’ was, later realizing that she was referring directly to Secretary Levine,” Weller continued. “That came from Senator Muth. And I have detailed notes about that conversation.”

(Broad + Liberty has lightly edited the quote with punctuation for clarity.)

When reached about the story, Weller declined to comment on the record further, saying the transcript would speak for itself. He did add, however, that he remembers telling the same anecdote under oath, and that he would not hesitate to retell the same story in the same manner if he were under oath.

Muth did not confirm or refute Weller’s claim about the Levine comment.

“I am extremely proud of the work our office has done to fight for the rights of veterans who bravely served our country and to hold those accountable who hurt them – particularly as they were vulnerable during the early months of the Covid-19 outbreak,” Muth said. “We championed THEIR needs in that uniquely challenging time; we didn’t defend the status quo or administration of failing facilities, and I will remain steadfast in support of our veterans in my role as a state senator and in my chairmanship of the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee,” (emphasis original).

Although the number of fatalities at the SEVC was high, it was impossible to compare it contemporaneously to any other nursing homes or other long-term care facilities because the Wolf administration had not yet released statewide data — something it did not relent to until mid-May of 2020 amid constant public and media pressure.

When facility-by-facility data was eventually released it showed that another long-term care facility (LTCF) in Muth’s district, the Parkhouse Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Royersford, fared worse. Parkhouse not only had more resident deaths (48 compared to 35), but also a higher fatality rate (35 percent to 33 percent). Parkhouse, however, was never the subject of Muth’s ire or of any Inquirer exposés.

Yet, an Inquirer report in May of 2020 charged that the SEVC’s top administrator, Commandant Rohan Blackwood, was abusive, citing a single but anonymous source as claiming he altered medical records.

Meanwhile, Muth has faced her own accusations of abusive misconduct.

As Broad + Liberty reported last month, Muth has seen nearly 200 percent turnover in her staff in roughly three-and-a-half years in the Senate, and a former staff member accused her in 2021 of bullying and fostering a hostile work environment.

The idea that Muth might have been willing to take on fights as high as the governor’s office seems to be supported by a quote she provided to an Inquirer article about the SEVC in July 2020.

Muth “had begun drafting a letter to the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee to [formally request] a hearing on the nursing home,” the Inquirer reported.

“The silence of the DMVA leadership and the governor’s office is damning,” she told the paper.

Both Weller and Blackwood testified that the governor’s office prohibited anyone from the facility from answering reporters’ questions.

Washington Post article, aslo in July,  took aim at the SEVC for giving drug combinations in the earliest days of the pandemic that included hydroxychloroquine. While the drug has been largely discredited in the last year and a half as a COVID-19 remedy, it’s easy to forget that the government was gently giving permission for its use at the earliest stages of the pandemic.

The FDA’s guidance early in the pandemic sayid hydroxychloroquine “may benefit certain patients hospitalized with COVID-19 for whom a clinical trial is not available[.]” The guidance also said the drug was intended for hospitalized patients. The agency later revoked the guidance in June.

In that Washington Post article, Muth blasted the SEVC.

“Funny how they didn’t have PPE stockpiled but they made it a priority of their treatment protocol to include a drug that wasn’t proven to work and shouldn’t be used in non-hospital settings,” she said.

However, government documents obtained by Broad + Liberty show the facility was not as lax about PPE as she represented, at least where PPE is concerned.

On March 18, 2020, two days after Gov. Wolf ordered a statewide shutdown, SEVC requested, “N95 Masks and Face Shields (250 Each). Tent and Warming equipment for screening of COVID 19 prior to entry into the long term care facility,” according to a document from Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, which tracked all requests for PPE help submitted to the state.

On March 20, it upped its original request for surgical masks from 250 to 2000.

spreadsheet showing all PPE distributed under the control of the Pennsylvania Department of Health indicates that the SEVC didn’t receive its first shipment of PPE from the state until April 14, 2020 — 27 days after its original request.

In the hearing, Weller told the state that the very first delivery of face masks from the state was useless because the masks were expired by fifteen years.

For a point of contrast, the state PPE delivery spreadsheet shows that the Fair Acres Geriatric Center run by Delaware County received more than 5,000 N-95 masks along with hundreds of gowns, gloves, and face shields on March 28 and April 1, 2020. The delivery came just days after it requested face masks from PEMA. SEVC would continue to wait.

PPE shortages at nursing homes were a national problem, and not isolated to one state or one facility.

Months later, when Commandant Blackwood and the SEVC nursing director had already been suspended, Muth hinted that any attempts to get to a factual accounting of what happened would need to reach far beyond the facility’s leadership. She implied some kind of coverup had happened at a much higher level of state government, perhaps unwittingly aiding the thesis of Weller and Blackwood that top state officials trampled the SEVC.

“I’m fearful that because this is a state-run facility, a true assessment of what’s happened already and what’s continuing to happen won’t take place,” she told the Inquirer.

The article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.

Bucks County Mom Beat Shapiro in Court. Now She’s Fighting to Elect Mastriano.

Jamie Cohen Walker is the Bucks County mom who beat Attorney General Josh Shapiro in the state Supreme Court.

The Chalfont resident, a former certified reading specialist, is now a stay-at-home mom to her 16, 14, and 11-year-old children. During the COVID-19 classroom lockdowns, she was active in the Reopen Bucks movement to get kids back in school.

She says she is a politically moderate former Democrat, but she may be a model of the “mama bear” voter Republicans need to win in this year’s midterms.

“I’m Jewish. I was a Democrat. I would not be a Democrat now. I don’t think I could do it after seeing what they’ve done to our kids,” said Walker, a guest speaker at a recent rally for GOP gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Doug Mastriano.

Political consultant Albert Eisenberg of RedStateBlue, said, “Suburban, college-educated women have been up for grabs since the GOP transitioned from the party of Romney to the party of Trump. But now the Republican Party is in its post-Trump era and many of these moms are returning to the fold.

“They are seeing de facto Democratic policies of absolute radicalism — people who genuinely believe parents should have no say in their child’s education, people who are still forcing toddlers to wear masks, which is completely inhumane,” said Eisenberg. “Adding to this sharp left turn of the Democrats is the skyrocketing cost of living and eroding value of a dollar due to the Democrats’ insane economic policies — and the suburbs are certainly coming back, in places, to the GOP this cycle.”

Since the 2021 school board elections brought a conservative majority to the Central Bucks School Board, Walker said she is not concerned that the board would agree to shut down the schools again in case another epidemic happens.

But if Shapiro is elected governor, that’s another story.

“If Josh Shapiro wins, could he shut down schools? Absolutely. The only thing that would shut down schools is a governor’s emergency. Our (school) board is really good now, so they would not shut down schools. And our health director would not shut down schools.

“But Josh Shapiro could shut down schools. Absolutely. He fought to keep them closed,” said Walker.

Walker is one of the right-to-know warriors battling the school district for information about how it made decisions about COVID-related closings and mask mandates and finding out through a trove of emails that the district had kowtowed to teachers’ union demands.

“I won my first right-to-know appeal in January 2021. The district said it would give me all the records except three emails and took me to court,” Walker said. “That was when (attorney) Chad Schmee reached out to me and said, ‘I can win these records for you.’”

After Walker won, Supt. Dr. John Kopicki “just up and disappeared,” said Walker.  “The superintendent of the largest district in Pennsylvania decided to leave in March 2021. As soon as he left, I received my emails.”

“We have a local health department,” said Walker. “Dr. David Damsker is our health director.  When you have a local health department, they determine the mitigation for something. Also, a mask is actually a modified quarantine.

She points to an “email that Dr. Damsker wrote to all (Bucks) superintendents telling them you don’t have to be hybrid,” said Walker. “Every child can be in school. You don’t have the authority to do this. They broke the law. They did not have the authority.

“And Dr. Damsker said if you’re wearing a mask (when exposed to someone with COVID), you don’t have to stay home and quarantine,” said Walker. “But our school district wasn’t doing that. Our school district was sending healthy kids home. That was against the law, too.

“No one ever wrote about it. No one ever questioned it. They kept 1,100 kids home that were considered contacts, and no one was getting sick. They weren’t consulting the health department. They were just doing it on their own,” she said. “I don’t think people understand what they did to children. They missed so much school,” she said.

“In June 2021, Dr. Damsker came to our school district and said the kids don’t have to wear masks anymore, and we’re going to treat COVID like the flu and move on from COVID. Well, a lot went down in August.”

On Aug. 31, 2021, former state Health Director Alison Beam required school students and staff to wear masks again.

“So Central Bucks already started, and everybody was normal, all the kids were back to school normal,” said Walker. “So they said on Sept. 7, all the kids had to start wearing masks again.”

Beam put the “illegal mask mandate in, and I joined a few other parents to sue Allison Beam. It was Josh Shapiro who defended it, his office. We won in Commonwealth Court,” she said, but then Shapiro appealed to the state Supreme Court. “And we won. We beat him in the Supreme Court.”

Then in December, Beam resigned.

“Our health director (Damsker) put out health guidance on Aug. 15, then Alison Beam and the teachers’ union pressured our county commissioners to change the health guidance, then nobody ever heard from our health director again.”

“It’s really bad what went on here,” she said. “Some of the Democratic people hated Dr. Damsker. There were Facebook groups about him, ‘Ditch Dr. Damsker.’ They did such horrible things to him.”

At the Mastriano rally, Walker said, “Here in Bucks County, we saw first-hand how Democrats were willing to use COVID-19 as a political tool to strip away our personal freedom and exert their will over us. We watched our health director was silenced by Democrat bosses when the Wolf administration did not agree with his health guidance. They interfered with our health director’s legal authority to set health guidance during a pandemic. We lived with the effect of that illegal interference for two painful years. A group of us parents stood in their way. We acted as the opposition to the Wolf administration’s mandates.

“We knew that keeping kids out of school would harm them, so we fought, and we fought extremely hard because the Democratic politicians and their allies, the teachers union, made us their enemy,” she said. The parents were called “domestic terrorists” and “jerks.”

“They weaponized the government against us,” Walker said.

Walker and another parent, Megan Brock, are in a legal battle with Bucks County over their right-to-know request about how the county issued its health directives, bypassing Damsker. The county sued the two moms to keep some of the commissioners’ emails private after Walker and Brock won an appeal to the state Office of Open Records.

“After decades of Republican control of Bucks County, these Democrat commissioners are the first Bucks County administration ever to sue a private citizen to hide their emails, their own words,” said Walker. “Those emails they’re trying to hide from us are about how Democrat politicians interfered with our children’s education.”

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WALKER: Emails Show Central Bucks COVID Closures Work of Teachers’ Union

During the summer of 2020, I was told by numerous people that the PSEA had absolutely no influence over the decision on whether to open schools in Bucks County for the start of the 2020/2021 school year. Two years later and several thousand emails obtained via the Right-to-Know requests, I have learned that was a lie. I have also realized that the people who kept schools closed were either scared of COVID or scared of the PSEA.

That is just the beginning of the story I will tell about why it was so hard to get children back into school in our area. Keep in mind Bucks County had more kids attend in-person education than surrounding counties, thanks to our health director and the parents and board directors who fought to make it happen.

Central Bucks School District is the largest suburban school district in Pennsylvania. Up until July 17, 2020, former Supt. Dr. John Kopicki had been telling parents that school would open for a full five days per week. On July 17 he tried to change the law regarding how children are educated in Pennsylvania. Without board approval, he made the unilateral decision to switch the entire district of 18,000 students to “hybrid” education.

In announcing his decision, Kopicki lied to parents about what the state guidelines actually were.  Then he had district employees incorrectly measure desks from edge to edge rather than from center to center, which is what county health director Dr. David Damsker advocated that would have allowed schools to open normally.

Because of Kopicki, kids could only attend school two days per week. Secondary students weren’t even allowed to eat lunch in school.

Now we know that he kept kids out of school because of pressure from PSEA Mideastern Regional President Bill Senavaitis. Instead of preparing his classrooms for the upcoming school year, Senavaitis went on an unprecedented assault against Damsker, who was giving parents hope that children could have a relatively normal school year.

Senavaitis spent his time writing op-eds bashing our health department and asking Bucks County citizens to tell a board-certified public health doctor to change his health guidance in order to align with what the PSEA wanted–not what was best for children.

From emails, we learned he attacked Bucks County Health Director Damsker with a flurry of personal attacks so repulsive that Bucks County Commissioner Bob Harvie chided him for it. Later, he went as far as calling parents “jerks” in his PSEA newsletter. On August 6, 2020, he got the PSEA state president to send a letter to Bucks County commissioners pressuring them to force Damsker to change his guidance so that kids could be kept out of school. But Damsker never changed his guidance.

Bill Senavaitis left his position as president of the PSEA Mideastern Region when the truth came out. But now that time has passed the PSEA feels it’s safe to promote him again so that he can be in the same position when the next crisis occurs. Is this the type of leadership the PSEA wants to represent its organization? Is this the type of organization politicians want endorsing them?

Now, two years later, we know Damsker was correct about learning loss, distancing, and treating COVID like the flu. Senavaitis was wrong about everything concerning COVID. His op-ed titled “David Damsker’s remarks about 3-foot social distancing in schools are harmful,” is a personal and professional humiliation for him. We need to ask why he is back in the leadership role in the PSEA.

The PSEA under Senavaitis’ leadership advocated for thousands of children to be kept from school—catering to the unions’ agenda, not the children’s. That speaks volumes about the PSEA and should make every citizen and especially parents wonder what type of organization is influencing our district administrators, our school board, and our kids. All the emails and documents backing up my opinions can be found  here.

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Report: Bucks County Dem Operative Overrode Top Doc’s COVID Guidance

When Bucks County schools ignored its top doctor and imposed strict COVID-19 rules on students last year, parents wanted to know why. What they found, according to a new report, was a trail that leads back to a longtime Democratic operative currently embedded in county government.

Bucks County Republicans now want him gone.

National Review first reported the story of parents trying to find out why the county’s school districts fell in line with state Department of Health guidance and rejected the independent opinion of Dr. David Damsker, the county’s health department director. Damsker proposed more parent-friendly, less-restrictive guidelines for the county’s schools. But his recommendations were overridden, replaced with stricter state guidelines for masking, quarantines, and vaccinations.

Parents who opposed the more restrictive approach, including Megan Brock, Jamie Walker, and Josh Hogan, wanted to find out how the August 23, 2021 decision was made. So they filed right-to-know requests. Bucks County responded by filing two lawsuits against each woman in Common Pleas Court to avoid turning over the materials.

But the parents discovered using computer metadata that the August 23 guidance did not, as county official claimed, come from Damsker, “but was instead written on the computer of Eric Nagy, the county’s director of policy and communications,” Ryan Mills of National Review reports.

Nagy is a longtime party functionary who has served as a Democratic committeeman and has a long history of working on Democratic campaigns, including those of Bucks County Commissioners Diane Ellis-Marseglia and Chair Bob Havie. According to his LinkedIn page, Nagy’s specialties are political organization and campaign management.

He is now on the county payroll in the communications department, according to James T. O’Malley, a spokesman for Bucks County.

“In his role with the county, Mr. Nagy is responsible for, and routinely involved with, reviewing and disseminating information to the public,” O’Malley said. Placing campaign aides in government communication departments is common practice in politics.

According to National Review’s reporting, the Wolf administration pressured local counties and school districts to comply with its COVID rules, instead of those recommended by local authorities, such as Damsker.

Neither Nagy nor Damsker responded to requests for comment from DVJournal.

Bucks County GOP Chair Pat Poprik called the new revelations “troubling, but not surprising.” She says Republicans warned against hiring Nagy and, in the wake of these revelations, he needs to resign.

“In February 2020, we raised serious concerns about the hiring of a purely partisan political operative to serve as a ‘special projects coordinator,’ earning an $83,000 annual taxpayer-funded salary,” Poprik said.

“We believed then, as we do now, that the Democrat majority on the Board of Commissioners would use this newly-created position to advance their political agenda rather than serve the people of Bucks County. It was even more troubling when Mr. Nagy received a promotion and pay bump, putting him in charge of all County communications.”

Poprik said the available evidence “represents a significant overreach by a political operative, and a violation of the trust voters have in our county government.”

“Mr. Nagy should resign, and the Democrat commissioners should drop their lawsuits against Megan Brock and Jamie Walker and release the documents requested by their Right to Know Requests.  To do any less would be a disservice to Bucks County families,” Poprik added.

 

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When It Comes to COVID, What is America’s ‘Long’ Game?

The San Diego School District has announced a return of indoor mask mandates, and Los Angeles County may do the same. President Joe Biden’s COVID coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha is urging communities to consider returning to COVID-era restrictions.

But polls show most Americans have simply moved on. After two years at the top of the nation’s list of concerns, COVID-19 regularly polls at the bottom in the low single digits.

However, public health officials warn COVID-19’s impact  is far from over, particularly for the millions who suffer from what is known as “long COVID.” What is it?

It depends on who you ask.

A pounding heart when simply getting off the couch, difficulty concentrating, difficulty breathing, chest pain, and ongoing fatigue are just a handful of persistent symptoms of long COVID — scientifically known as Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“There is no agreement on how to define and diagnose long COVID,” writes Heidi Ledford at Nature. “The World Health Organization’s attempt at a consensus, published in 2021, has not proved popular with patient advocates or researchers, and studies continue to use a range of criteria to define the condition.”

Dr. Alba Azola, Assistant Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Johns Hopkins Medicine, says the inability of health professionals to settle on a definition is hurting efforts to treat it.

“It becomes very challenging at times to be able to support these claims,” Azola said. “I think advocacy regarding understanding the syndrome, the knowledge that we have so far, and the limitations when it comes to certain medical testing is important.”

Long COVID is a problem that is not going away, health experts say. According to the CDC, 60 percent of the U.S. population and 75 percent of children have been infected with COVID-19.

The American Academy of Physical Medicine Rehabilitation (AAPMR) recently released new guidelines for treating the impacts of long COVID. They also urged government and healthcare systems to prepare for the long-lasting consequences affecting people, according to Steven Flanagan, Rehabilitation Medicine Department Chair at New York University Langone Health.

“These are folks that can’t go back to work in the same capacity that they were doing before they became sick with COVID-19 and developed long COVID,” Flanagan said. “We are trying to take the ‘dis’ out of ‘disability.’ We can work with employers and school systems to get folks back, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

With the unclear definition comes less-than-solid numbers of long COVID’s reach. An estimated 8 to 26 million Americans have experienced or are currently experiencing at least one symptom of long COVID, according to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Long COVID Dashboard. Estimates that between 5 and 50 percent of COVID cases will lead to long COVID are so vague they tend to undermine trust in the analysis and make it harder to get public officials to commit to taking action, public health advocates say.

Two significant debates continue to rage over long COVID: Is the syndrome connected to the severity of the original “acute” case, and do vaccinations help prevent its onset?

Some studies have found no correlation between how badly COVID symptoms hit and the likelihood of suffering from long COVID later.

Others, like Dr. Jonathan Whiteson of New York University’s Langone Health Center, say there is some correlation, but it is hardly 100 percent.

“We are seeing many people who had mild symptoms and were never hospitalized in the acute phase develop cardiovascular disorders,” Whiteson said. “Up to 4 percent of individuals who had mild disease have had a stroke or myocardial infarction in the post-acute stage. This is very significant.”

Symptoms of long COVID aren’t just reserved for older individuals, but have also been found in school-age children and adolescents, Whiteson said.

“Because of the uniqueness of this virus, we are projecting that cardiovascular disease could affect a much younger population,” Whiteson said. “Just like diabetes is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, COVID-19 could be one too.”

As for the impact of vaccinations, Whiteson also sees a correlation.

“When we look into the long COVID period—three to six months out—we are seeing in those people who are unvaccinated more significant cardiovascular consequences and disability,” Whiteson said. “Again, it is an important call to action to get the message out there that vaccinations reduce the risk of severe disease, reduce the risk of hospitalization, and do have a long-term positive impact.”

But a recent study conducted by VA St. Louis Healthcare System, which examined 13 million cases, found the vaccine reduced the risk of long COVID only by 15 percent, substantially less than other estimates.

Currently, 41 post-COVID-19 clinics collaborate with the American Academy of Physical Medicine Rehabilitation as well as practitioners from multiple other healthcare disciplines.

In Ann Arbor, Mich., Dr. James Neuenschwander treats children and adults with complex, chronic health problems who have not responded to conventional therapies. While a handful of his patients suffer from long COVID, Neuenschwander also treats patients with vaccine injury. He said the symptoms for both are very similar. One symptom is myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart muscle reported as a symptom of long COVID and a possible complication of the vaccine by the CDC.

“We know that both COVID-19 and the vaccine can activate or reactivate an autoimmune disease,’ Neuenschwander said.

In addition to releasing a guide on cardiovascular complications, the American Academy of Physical Medicine Rehabilitation has released guides on fatigue, breathing discomfort, and cognitive symptoms.

According to the AAPMR, there is not a one size fits all approach to treating patients. Each treatment plan should be individually tailored.

“I think we’re in a state right now where there’s recognition that long COVID is real—it’s not just patients being anxious. It’s a real condition,” Flanagan said.

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Fetterman Visited Jersey Shore While Telling Pennsylvanians to Stay Home During Pandemic

It is summertime and many Delaware Valley families are heading to the New Jersey shore to spend a week or two enjoying the sun and sand.

However, when the COVID pandemic hit in 2020, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration had the state locked down. Some 88 percent of Pennsylvania residents canceled their vacations.

But not the Fettermans.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, The Washington Free Beacon reports, spent a week at the Jersey shore with his family despite his own advice to other Pennsylvania residents to stay in quarantine and wear their masks. Fetterman supported Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide shutdowns. 

Even as Thanksgiving approached in 2020, Fetterman and the Wolf administration were asking residents to wear a mask, social distance, and not travel.

And Fetterman, now running for the U.S. Senate, was protected by a State Police security detail that kept him and his family safe while they were in Ocean City, N.J. The state paid $3,500 for the officers’ overtime, food, and lodging.

“Apparently rules don’t apply to John Fetterman, even when Fetterman champions them himself. While Pennsylvanians had their freedoms trampled and their lives crippled by COVID lockdowns and school closures under John Fetterman’s watch, Fetterman showed he can’t be trusted to do what’s right. Pennsylvanians can see right through his hypocrisy,” said Brittany Yanick, communications director for Dr. Oz for Senate.

Fetterman’s campaign declined to comment.

However, Fetterman campaign spokesman Joe Calvello told The Free Beacon that Alleghany County was not in lockdown at the time. And, he said, Fetterman has never claimed reimbursement for travel expenses and that he cut expenses for the lieutenant governor’s office during his tenure.

“John and his family do take modest summer vacations like many folks in Pennsylvania,” Calvello said.

Fetterman, who has been taking time off from the campaign trail to recover from a stroke, is expected to attend a private fundraising event in Montgomery County on July 21.

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STEIN: Two Years In, COVID Finally Caught Me.

I recently survived what may become a rite of passage for most Americans– COVID-19.

Yes, Virginia, I am vaccinated and boosted but nonetheless caught the dreaded illness. Cases in the Delaware Valley have been increasing, so chances of encountering the virus are also rising.

Luckily for me, I contracted one of the Omicron variants rather than the original strain, which killed so many.  At last count, more than 1 million U.S. residents have died of the disease since it crossed over from China and began its deadly spread in early 2020. Nearly everyone, it seems, knows someone who died from COVID.

For two days, I had a sinus headache and felt tired.  I chalked it up to the extremely high pollen count, triggering allergies.

The third morning I woke up knowing something was definitely wrong. My headache was worse, I was achy, running a fever, congested, and sneezing. My throat hurt. And the lethargy. What can I say?  I could barely move.

Was it a bad cold, influenza, or COVID?  We had some instant tests, and I used one.

After 15 endless minutes, I knew the results.

The dreaded double lines appeared that indicated a COVID positive test.

I called my doctor, who was very reassuring, and set up a telemedicine visit.

I sat down in from of my smartphone, she took one look at me and said, “Well, you definitely look sick.”

Great.

At this point in the pandemic, my doctor told me, her patients are doing well on an anti-viral medication, and, if I took it, I would have a 90 percent chance of not being hospitalized. I liked those odds.  It had one downside, a terrible taste in my mouth for hours after swallowing the pills.

I had planned to do some tasks for work that day and decided to go ahead and try to get those done. COVID had other ideas.

After accomplishing little for a couple of hours, I gave in, left my home office, went to the guest bedroom, and laid down. I “rested” for three days.

Tea, chicken soup, books, and my iPad kept me company.  I also said a few prayers and am thankful for my family and friends who also prayed for me. My dog checked on me often, probably wondering why Mommy wasn’t playing ball or taking her to the park.

On the fourth day, the medication began to kick in, and I started to feel better. By the fifth day, it was like a curtain lifted. Suddenly, I felt like myself again.

I kept to the doctor’s rules: self-isolating for five days, followed by wearing a mask around other people for another five days. So far, my husband has not succumbed.

When I think of how ill some people I knew were when COVID first hit–including a friend’s brother who was placed on a ventilator (he survived) — I feel lucky. Lucky that I caught a milder version of the killer virus.  And lucky there is now an easily prescribed treatment.

More and more, people tell me they’ve caught COVID twice.  It’s become another bug we have to live with, like colds and the flu, as the pandemic becomes endemic.  And life goes on.

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SEPTA Still Struggles From Pandemic Ridership Losses, Crime

The state Senate Transportation Committee recently met at the SEPTA headquarters in Philadelphia to study its challenges up close and personal.

“It doesn’t take much for you to see firsthand when you come to visit Southeast Pennsylvania, how important SEPTA is,” said Jenny Louwerse, Deputy Secretary for Multimodal Transportation at PennDOT. It’s also not difficult to see first-hand the problems that are putting so much stress on the system.

Violent crime, COVID-19 impacts, homelessness, illegal drug use, mental illness, and just an overall indecency for humankind are destabilizing the sustainability and future of the nation’s sixth largest mass transit system. We must not allow this to continue to plague our commonwealth,” said state Sen. Wayne Langerholc (R-Bedford/Cambria/Clearfield).

Serving both downtown Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, fixing SEPTA is a bipartisan concern.

“[Our region produces] 42 percent of the economic activity with 32 percent of our population in the commonwealth and only 5 percent of the land. This dense region cannot function without high capacity mass transit,” Louwerse said.

Safety and cleanliness top the riding public’s concerns. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, ridership has plunged. Now over two years into this pandemic, the number of riders using transit is only 53 percent of what it was prior to the outbreak. The regional rail lines have only reached 44 percent of their pre-pandemic levels.

Declining riders means lost revenue, and that is particularly problematic for a system that already relies heavily on taxpayer subsidies.

Currently, 49 percent of SEPTA’s operating budget comes from state taxpayers—almost double the average among transit systems nationally. In addition, 60 percent of SEPTA’s capital budget (i.e., funding for infrastructure improvement and new trains and buses) comes from the state.

Most of that funding does not come directly from taxes—though both the sales tax and lottery revenue subsidize transit systems. Rather, more than $925 million in driver charges, including turnpike tolls and vehicle fees, are diverted to transit agencies, primarily SEPTA, according to the Commonwealth Foundation, a free market think tank.

 Compounding the ridership issue is the fear of crime that many residents have. With Philadelphia now leading the nation in crime, the issue has likely had a “trickle-down” effect on SEPTA, one resident pointed out.

Several recent incidents that drew national attention have not helped, including rapes and attacks by groups of teenagers on Asian students riding home from school on the subway.

To make matters worse, the number of officers policing SEPTA has been reduced dramatically in recent years.

“SEPTAs police department is budgeted for 260 sworn officers, but as I see here right now our police department outreach was fewer than 160 patrol officers,” explained Omari Bervine, president and CEO of the Fraternal Order of Transit Police Lodge 109. 

 SEPTA has struggled to employ enough transit officers in recent years, in large part because of lack of benefits and protections offered. Transit workers have been among the demographics most heavily impacted by the pandemic.

As long as SEPTA is permitted to treat its transit police officers in this manner, it will continue to lose talented officers to the departments that treat them fairly and with the dignity they deserve,” continued Bervine. Many residents fear that opens the door for crime. Even with the strained relations between police and citizens recently, many riders feel the availability of transit police is critical to their safety.

SEPTA is trying to address those concerns.

“We have a commitment to safety that is unwavering and we have increased spending in this year’s budget by 50 percent…. That is a total of $53 million dollars that will be spent on safety and security this year,” Louwerse said.

“If we can not convince the public that their system is safe then the entire system is doomed to fail,” Bervine said.

FORCELLINI: COVID-19 Has Made Us More Aware of Public Health Risks Around Us

Legionnaires’ disease is on the rise across the country but especially in Pennsylvania, with the commonwealth showing some of the highest rates of infection and illness year after year, according to state and federal data.

The most recent case was reported in nearby Luzerne County, just a few months after the Pennsylvania Department of Health issued its own advisory, warning about the potential risk of Legionnaires’ disease.

Pennsylvania had exceptionally high case counts in 2017, 2018, and 2019, according to the department, although the number of cases has been low since COVID-19 arrived, largely because mask wearing protects individuals from both Legionnaires’ disease and COVID-19.

With fewer people wearing masks, cases are expected to spike once again.

Moreover, now that schools, malls, office buildings, and other communal settings that were closed during the pandemic reopen and increase occupancy, the risk for outbreaks is on the rise, as these closed buildings often reopen without checking the quality of the water inside.

Legionnaires’ disease is not spread from one person to another, but rather by breathing mist contaminated with the bacteria.

When buildings have low or no occupancy, water safety is jeopardized. Stagnant and dormant water sources allow Legionella pneumophila bacteria to grow and spread via water aerosols from faucets and showerheads; hot water tanks; cooling towers; and plumbing systems.

Other systems, like hot tubs, decorative fountains, and water features that are not well controlled or have been dormant, also pose a risk.

Like COVID, Legionnaires’ disease can impact anyone, but especially those with compromised respiratory systems, meaning the 1.3 million Pennsylvanians who have contracted and then recovered from COVID now are at heightened risk.

Many experts believe Legionnaires’ disease cases are going undetected because both Legionnaires’ disease and COVID-19 are a severe pneumonia. A recent study by the National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine estimates that the true number of Legionnaires’ disease cases may be 10 times higher than what is currently reported.

Legionnaires’ disease isn’t new to Pennsylvania. Philadelphia was home to the first major outbreak in the United States in 1976, when some 200 people were sickened and nearly three dozen others died after they attended an American Legion convention at a downtown hotel.

But even today, despite the very real public health risk, Pennsylvania has no comprehensive plan or requirements for managing or testing for this deadly disease.

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Gene Yaw of Lycoming County, is considering legislation (S.B. 1125) that would help to raise awareness about the disease while putting in place sound prevention and mitigation strategies.

The bipartisan measure, introduced by state Sens. Joe Pittman (R-Indiana) and Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny) after a hearing in May uncovered the heightened risk, would direct both public drinking water providers and certain building owners to assess their respective water systems for risk and adopt simple mitigation measures such as flushing clean water through the system, keeping hot and cold water at appropriate temperatures, and monitoring the system regularly.

The bill would codify the seven-step industry standard, ASHRAE-188, which is backed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S Veterans Administration (VA), and many other industry and professional organizations. ASHRAE-188 is currently only voluntary and not widely adopted.

If we have learned anything over the last few years, it is that it is better to act on the front end to prevent a public health crisis and the high costs associated with it rather than to wait for it to happen and then respond, especially for something as highly preventable as Legionnaires’ disease.

Better risk management and testing can prevent outbreaks, save lives and reduce medical costs by limiting exposure.

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