Pa. long-term care facilities receive nearly $12 million investment from DOH

To help long-term care facilities build resilience to sustain quality care as the population ages, the Department of Health (DOH) announced plans to distribute approximately $11.7 million in federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) funding. 

Acting Secretary of Health and Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson said in a statement the investments will contribute to the long-range success of facilities that care for Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents. 

“These funds will be invested in key areas including workforce development, staff retention, and infrastructure developments that support infection prevention control and emergency preparedness.” 

The “Long-Term Care Quality Investment Pilot Request for Applications (RFA)” is open to skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), personal care homes (PCHs), assisted living facilities (ALFs), and intermediate care facilities (ICFs). Facilities must be enrolled by Dec. 9 in the state’s LCT RISE program’s quality improvement work initiative to be eligible to receive funding. 

Philadelphia facilities are not eligible for this funding, as the Philadelphia Department of Public Health received its own funding. The application deadline is 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2022. Funds are anticipated to be awarded in the second quarter of 2023. 

LVHN emphasizes vaccine importance as it tests need for booster

As many businesses return to normal in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials are warning that while cases are down dramatically since the peak of the pandemic, cases have been increasing in recent days.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health said that as of Tuesday there were 569 additional positive cases of COVID-19. The state had been reporting numbers mostly around 200 cases or lower in recent weeks.

Lehigh Valley Health Network is reporting that it is seeing a surge in cases.

The number of COVID-19 patients in LVHN hospitals is slowly beginning to rise, it said blaming complacency among unvaccinated people. It noted in a press release that the hospitalized COVID patients in LVHN hospitals are primarily unvaccinated.

“Each person who is fully vaccinated is one less person who might get sick and end up in the hospital,” said Alex Benjamin, MD, LVHN chief infection control and prevention officer. “The emergence of the more contagious delta variant in the U.S., including here in Pennsylvania, is also a concern and another reason to get immunized.”

Meanwhile, the CDC reports that 61.9% of Pennsylvanian’s over the age of 18 are now fully vaccinated, ranking the state fifth among U.S. states for total number of doses administered.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reports several counties are in the top 10 when measured on the percentage of residents with at least one dose. They include Lehigh, Lackawanna, Northampton and Montgomery counties.

Lehigh County ranked third with 67.1% of all residents having at least one shot

However, one big concern now is also how long those vaccines will last.

LVHN said it is involved in a research project as part of Pfizer’s clinical trial to determine the need for a COVID-19 booster shot. It is working with people who received the vaccine in its first trial. The health network emphasized, however, that vaccines have been helping.

“Right now, 99% of COVID cases are occurring in those that are unvaccinated,” said Joseph Yozviak, DO, LVHN principal investigator for the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial.

“The most important thing you can do right now is make sure you are fully vaccinated with both doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and the single dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”

How employers can respond to CDC mask guidance in the workplace

On May 13, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) changed its COVID-19 masking guidelines, announcing fully vaccinated Americans could now unmask indoors. While the guidance remains subject to state, local and business requirements, employers are faced with this new challenge. Read on to consider h0w employers can respond to the CDC mask guidance for their workplace.

What does OSHA say about indoor masking?

The CDC has been looked to as the authority for how Americans should respond during the ongoing pandemic. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency that oversees workplace safety. What does OSHA say about the new CDC masking guidelines? As of May 17, 2021, according to their “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace” webpage, the agency says:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new guidance relating to recommended precautions for people who are fully vaccinated, which is applicable to activities outside of healthcare and a few other environments. OSHA is reviewing the recent CDC guidance and will update our materials on this website accordingly. Until those updates are complete, please refer to the CDC guidance for information on measures appropriate to protect fully vaccinated workers.

As OSHA reviews the new CDC mas guidance and considers them for the workplace, they are referring employers to do the same.

Should employers proactively follow the CDC’s May 13th masking guidance for fully vaccinated employees?

OSHA has not formally revised its existing guidelines and recommendations, which were last updated on January 29, 2021. Similarly, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that oversees discrimination in the workplace, has not updated its COVID-19 guidance since December 2020. In the absence of these updates, employers need to proceed with caution and consider the benefits and risks of revising their mask policies prior to hearing from OSHA and EEOC on this issue.

With the lifting of the indoor masking mandate being lifted for fully vaccinated individuals, employers now need to take into consideration several new issues that could develop as they draw a distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees. As a result, employers are trying to determine if the CDC’s May 13th guidance works for them, when the goals of a safe work environment are paramount.

Six things employers should consider are the following:

  1. State and local law – while the Pennsylvania Department of Health has confirmed that it will follow the CDC May 13th guidance, there are local laws, such as in the City of Philadelphia, that require masks to still be worn indoors, regardless of vaccination status. It is important to understand what other laws may impact your ability to change your current mask policy for employees.
  2. Verification of vaccinated employees – to protect your staff and ensure those not wearing masks are fully vaccinated, you may ask to see an employee’s proof of vaccination. Be sure not to ask any additional medical questions, so as not to violate employee privacy rights under EEO or ADA.
  3. Enforceability – do you have the manpower or resources to monitor masking? If not, is the honor system sufficient? What are the reporting procedures for employee concerns?
  4. Moving backwards – what if OSHA comes out with their response to the CDC May 13th guidelines and recommends employers keep masks in place for all employees? Employers may be challenged to lift mask mandates, only to reintroduce them.
  5. Equal treatment of employees – while not likely that all vaccinated employees will choose to unmask, the workplace may reflect the vaccination status of employees. Managers and supervisors face the challenge of treating employees equally, especially when it comes to in-person meetings or production floors mixed with masked and unmasked employees.
  6. Morale – how will employees feel about 1-5 above? With employee mental health directly impacting safety, do you want to potentially add risk to the work environment? Conversely, will employees push back if you don’t relax masking rules?

Risks of following the CDC’s May 13th masking guidance

Some employers have the luxury of a fully vaccinated workplace and following the CDC’s lifted mask mandate may be a no-brainer. Sure, there are circumstances like on-site vendors and contract employees to consider, but risks are limited. Plus, the decision to lift the mask mandate for employees should be distinct from the policy in place for third parties coming into the workplace.

In reality, most workplaces have a workforce that reflects the U.S. vaccination rates, with approximately 40% vaccinated employees. Many employers are using creative incentives and offering paid leave to encourage employee vaccination, as the COVID-19 vaccine still lacks FDA approval and remains under emergency use authorization.

Waiting for updated guidance from OSHA and EEOC on masking in the workplace provides the safest course of action for an employer looking to minimize their risk of a liability claim or possible litigation for violating employee rights or creating an unsafe work environment.

Ultimately, as employers consider CDC mask guidance, they should keep their focus on creating reasonable guidelines that provide a safe and fair workplace.

Attorney Loren L. Speziale is a lawyer at Gross McGinley law firm in Allentown. She counsels businesses and area industrial development authorities in local and state economic development matters.

Nearly half of Pennsylvanians vaccinated, COVID-related hospitalizations down

51.9% of Pennsylvania’s eligible population have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of May 7, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 43% are fully vaccinated.

The state currently ranks fifth in the nation for total doses administered.

The trend in the 14-day moving average of hospitalized patients per day is starting to come down, after peaking at 2,661 patients. The number is slightly below what it was at the height of the spring 2020 peak of 2,751 on May 3, 2020.

There were 2,986 additional positive cases of COVID-19 as of May 7, bringing the statewide total to 1,169,678, the department of health reports. There are 2,047 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19. Of that number, 448 patients are in the intensive care unit. Most of the patients hospitalized are 65 or older, as are most of the deaths.

More data is available here.

Gov. Tom Wolf lifts all COVID restrictions except mask wearing on Memorial Day

Pennsylvania will lift all COVID-19 restrictions except the order to wear a mask in public on Memorial Day, the Wolf administration announced.

The decision to no longer restrict capacity on restaurants, bars or indoor and outdoor gatherings on May 31 was made in partnership with the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force.

Pennsylvanians will continue to be required to wear masks until 70% of Pennsylvanians age 18 and older are fully vaccinated, according to the commonwealth. Fully vaccinated individuals are not required to wear masks in certain situations, however, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  More details on masking for those already vaccinated can be found here.

“As more Pennsylvania adults get vaccinated and guidance from the CDC evolves, we can continue to move forward with our reopening efforts,” said Alison Beam, acting secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health in a statement. “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.”

The mitigation updates will not prevent municipalities and school districts from ​continuing and implementing stricter mitigation efforts.

For Pennsylvania restaurants and hotels, the news is a relief, according to John Longstreet, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.

“The PRLA welcomes Governor Wolf’s announcement to loosen mitigation standards as vaccination rates continue to rise and positive cases decline,” Longstreet said. “As a major economic driver throughout the Commonwealth, the hospitality industry needs further support to regain a sense of normalcy to attract its workforce, retain a consistent customer base and meet ever-changing mitigation standards.”

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 1-877-724-3258.

Vaccinated adults aged 65 + are 94% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID than their unvaccinated peers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that fully vaccinated adults 65 years and older were 94% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than people of the same age who were not vaccinated.

The findings, released April 28, confirmed clinical trial data showing vaccines prevent severe COVID-19 illness, according to the CDC.  The risk for severe illness with COVID-19 increases with age, the CDC reports, with older adults at highest risk.

“These findings are encouraging and welcome news for the two-thirds of people aged 65 and up who are already fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the CDC. “The results are promising for our communities and hospitals. As our vaccination efforts continue to expand, COVID-19 patients will not overwhelm health care systems – leaving hospital staff, beds, and services available for people who need them for other medical conditions.”

According to a database maintained by The New York Times and based on CDC data, as of Monday, 69% of those 65 or older in Northampton County had been fully vaccinated and 77% in Lehigh County.

The assessment looked at 417 participants in 24 hospitals in 14 states. Close to half of the patients were more than 75 years old.

In this CDC assessment, both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine products were equally represented.

The CDC recommends everyone 16 years of age and older in the U.S. population get the applicable COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.


CDC now ranks Pennsylvania second in nation as vaccine roll out speeds up

After being ranked 30th in the nation for vaccine distribution, the Pennsylvania Health Department said the roll out of vaccines is increasing and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now moved the state to no. 2 in the nation for the number of vaccines administered in the last seven days.

The ranking is based on number of doses per 100,000 residents.

Starting the week of March 22, a focused network of 200-300 providers can expect to see more first doses of vaccine arriving and will be assured of a steady supply for the next several weeks, said acting Health Secretary Alison Beam.

“Right now, Pennsylvania’s dedicated vaccine providers are making significant progress getting vaccine into the arms of residents in every corner of the state,” she said. “As Pennsylvania’s vaccination rates continue to accelerate, we will continue to adapt our strategy to ensure every Pennsylvanian who wants the vaccine, can access the vaccine.”

Beam thanked the state’s healthcare providers “We want to thank all of our providers “who have offered tremendous support” getting vaccine out. Having a focused network of providers – including hospitals, local health departments and pharmacies, the state is able to get more vaccines out, insuring that they will have adequate supply to fulfil scheduled appointments.

She said the state will also be adding to its transparency of vaccine distribution.

Open Data will offer four new pieces of data, in addition to information on COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations:

  •  Providers who are receiving first dose allocations of vaccine in a given week.
  •  Providers who are receiving second dose allocations in a given week.
  •  Federal Retail Pharmacy Partnership provider locations and those providers receiving vaccine allocations in a given week.
  •  Clinics scheduled at long-term care facilities through the Federal Pharmacy Partnership in a given week.

“Eventually as the supply of vaccine catches up to demand, we will expand the network and all of those trusted local providers will receive vaccine to help reaching even more Pennsylvanians.” Beam said.

Keeping celebrations such as Christkindlmarkt running takes a willingness to adapt

Like pretty much everything else associated with 2020, successfully planning and executing holiday events this year has hinged on the ability to deal with change, according to travel and tourism experts in the Lehigh Valley. 

“Adapting to the constantly-changing landscape of the pandemic, from updated state mandates to new CDC guidelines was a consistent challenge,” explains Ryan Hill, programming director for ArtsQuest. “Adapting has always been one of our organization’s greatest strengths, however. We’ve an incredibly talented group of people on staff who know what it’s like to roll with last minute changes, as you do when you produce outdoor festivals, and we’ve all come together to make sure we can still make magic happen whenever possible.” 

Throughout that process, it has also been important to manage the toll that such constant uncertainty can take on staff personally and professionally, Hill adds.

Alicia Quinn, vice president of marketing and strategic alliances for Discover Lehigh Valley says the willingness of Lehigh Valley event organizers and attractions to be flexible in order to comply with state regulations ensure a safe experience for their guests has sparked quite a bit of creativity this holiday season. 

“Innovation and perseverance are on full display in Lehigh Valley,” she says. “This year, Christkindlmarkt Bethlehem created a spacious, outdoor layout across the SteelStacks campus, the State Theatre Center for the Arts is welcoming patrons to enjoy the Nutcracker virtually, the Lehigh Valley Zoo Winter Light Spectacular extended its display by two nights, and PEEPSFEST® is hosting virtual and in-person events to celebrate the New Year, all of which help safely accommodate guests.

“New events are also bringing holiday cheer to Lehigh Valley including the Winter Village in Historic Easton. Open Friday thru Sunday until December 31, the Winter Village welcomes guests to enjoy hot cocoa, ice skating, sweet treats, and local holiday shopping huts while gazing upon the Easton Peace Candle,” she adds.

Christkindlmarkt opened early this year and survived due to strict adherence to state-ordered health mandates and building public confidence, officials said. PHOTO/PROVIDED

According to Quinn, holiday events and attractions across Lehigh Valley are following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Pennsylvania Department of Health. That means, along with social distancing and mask requirements, events have implemented timed ticketing to help comply with state mandated capacity restrictions.

“The new ticketing protocols have allowed organizers to ensure guest safety while improving the overall experience with reduced lines and wait time,” she adds.

Hill says that in addition to putting policies in place that are in line with CDC guidelines and those established by Gov. Tom Wolfe’s administration, his team is also in constant contact with state and local authorities, including the City of Bethlehem Health Department, to figure out how to safely run all of its programs. 

“We’ve done everything from strict enforcement of mask mandates to ensuring that our HVAC system has the latest technology installed to ensure filtration above and beyond what is recommended,” he says. “We’re cognizant of putting programming schedules in place that ensure we don’t have people in the same location even though they’re here for different programs. We’ve also implemented temperature checks for anyone entering the ArtsQuest Center and have added electrostatic sprayers to our cleaning arsenal.”  

Hill lists putting together Christkindlemart in two months with a new layout, dates, budget vendors and rules among the biggest challenges he and his team have faced this holiday season, adding that the ability to reinvent traditional holiday activities for this year, meant none of the ArtsQuest events that community members and visitors typically look forward to had to be cancelled. 

“We haven’t had to shelve them; we’ve adapted them,” Hill explains. “St. Nick has been a part of Christkindlmarkt for as long as we’ve been running it – nearly 30 years – and we wanted to find a way to responsibly have kids still be able to get their St. Nick visit in. So we launched an in-person outdoor Storytime with St. Nick program that allows for kids to still see the big guy in person. 

“We also adapted our popular Breakfast with St. Nick program to Cooking with St. Nick, wherein we’re broadcasting St. Nick with one of our head chefs to show kids how to make some great kid-friendly dishes. Finally, there is also Zoom with St. Nick, which is a simple private booking that kids can make with us to get a 10-minute Zoom session to let him know what they want for Christmas,” he adds.

In fact, Hill says that pretty much everything ArtsQuest has done since COVID restrictions started loosening in the early summer has been a new take on an existing event, including curbside food pickup programs featuring Musikfest vendors, adapted concerts on the Town Square in a way that people could enjoy them safely from the Town Square or the Levitt lawn, and pop-up outdoor comedy club.

“We even adapted our ArtSmart education program to a digital platform that still serves the kids of the Bethlehem Area School District, and managed to still produce our three major yearly festivals (Musikfest, Oktoberfest, Christkindlmarkt) with multi-platform presentations that combined the in-person with the digital,” he says. “This is what ArtsQuest does, though; our mission is to provide access to the arts and we were going to do everything possible to keep that going through even a worldwide pandemic.”

Both Hill and Quinn are happy to report that the pandemic isn’t stopping people from enjoying the holidays and these much-anticipated annual Lehigh Valley holiday traditions.

Quinn says: “Although we’re celebrating the holidays differently this year, there’s plenty of holiday charm and spirit in Lehigh Valley. Visitors and locals alike are seeking ways to safely create cheerful memories and our region offers many events perfect for a family outing or date night. It’s been truly impressive to see how guests have supported local businesses as they have transformed events to prioritize COVID-safe practices.”

Hill says that after more than 35 years in business, ArtsQuest has earned a reputation for prioritizing the safety of its patrons, staff, vendors and performers, which is why Town Square concerts were selling out during Musikfest and there have been tens of thousands of people at Christkindlmarkt since launching it in October, six weeks earlier than normal. 

“We’ve not had anyone railing against us for enforcing mask mandates,” he says. “Overall, we’re constantly being told by patrons that they’re thrilled we did anything, and did that anything as safely as possible. We’re privileged to be able to serve the people of the Greater Lehigh Valley, as well as employ local artists and small businesses at our events; we pay such specific attention to safety measures to show that we do not take those people for granted.”

Dorney Park to open July 8 with restrictions

Dorney Park has announced it is reopening July 8 for season passholders and July 11 for daily ticket holders. PHOTO/SUMBITTED –


As the Lehigh Valley enters the green phase of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan, Dorney Park will open July 8, but only for season pass holders.

The amusement park said in a release that it will be opening to daily ticketholders on July 11, but reservations will be required for anyone visiting the park to help manage capacity.

“Safety will always be Dorney Park’s number one priority, and that includes the health of our guests and associates,” said Michael Fehnel, vice president and general manager of the park. “Our new protocols align with CDC recommendations and have been shaped by information from company and industry health and safety experts, along with our state and local government officials. With our new protocols in place, we are eager to bring some long-overdue fun.”

Those visiting the park must complete a pre-visit health screening declaration 24 hours prior to admission and a touchless temperature screening will be given to all guests and workers upon entering.

There will be social distancing markers throughout the park and there will be enhanced cleaning guidelines and hand sanitizing stations throughout the park.

CDC commends Pa.’s reduction of COVID-19 positive cases

Pennsylvania is one of three states of the country that have had a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases for more than 42 days, Gov. Tom Wolf announced during a press conference on Wednesday.

Montana, Hawaii and Pennsylvania have had the most consistent drop in positive cases of the virus since the pandemic began, according to a new report Wolf referenced by the Centers for Disease Control.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Pennsylvania has had 79,818 cases of COVID-19— approximately 335 more cases than the day before, according to data reported by the state Department of Health. The number of daily positive cases has continued to decrease since numbers reached as high as 1,599 in late April.

Wolf added that 24 states have seen an increase in cases as Pennsylvania’s continued to drop, which he attributed to the state’s reopening plan.

“We know our decline in cases is because of our choices because half of the states are experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases as reopening begins,” Gov. Wolf said. “Many of these states are experiencing significant case increases tied to reopening too soon or too much. Pennsylvania is not. We have remained focused on balancing economic interests with public health.”

The state’s focus on continuing to enforce the wearing of masks even in green phase counties was another reason why the state has led in its reduction of cases, according to Wolf.

“Pennsylvanians have done an excellent job at demonstrating how to balance business and public health,” Gov. Wolf said. “If we keep this up, we can continue to be a model to other states and a leader at saving lives and livelihoods during this pandemic.”

State Ag. Department lays out updated guidelines to protect farm laborers

Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry is being asked to abide by new state regulations to accommodate seasonal farm workers, including those with guest H-2A status, during the coronavirus pandemic.

The commonwealth is home to more than 360 permitted farm labor camps, totaling nearly 4,300 workers, according to the state Department of Agriculture. They are primarily migrant workers, sourced by individual private companies, or they have H-2A status and are federally sourced.

Guidelines announced this week for the agriculture sector are in addition to April 15 orders from state Health Secretary Rachel Levine, ordering protections for critical workers who are employed at businesses authorized to maintain in-person operations during the coronavirus disaster emergency. Levine ordered businesses to conduct routine cleaning and sanitizing as well as protocols for when a worker is diagnosed with COVID-19.

“We will have our food safety inspectors in the fields monitoring the guidance document and certainly making sure these employers in the agriculture community adhere to what the governor and Dr. Levine have laid out,” Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said at a virtual press call Tuesday.

Updated guidelines specifically for the state’s agricultural sector released on Monday require any owner or operator of a seasonal farm labor camp permit in the commonwealth to use enhancements to living quarters that minimize the risk and potential exposure to the coronavirus.

Housing facilities must have six feet of distance between beds, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and beds are required to position workers head to toe to limit exposure to respiratory droplets.

Adequate ventilation is required in habitable rooms, the guidance stipulates. That means 45% of the window area is required to be openable or a device must be installed to supply ventilation.

For workers who manifest COVID-19 symptoms — fever, cough or shortness of breath — farm employers are directed to have a plan in place for isolated housing accommodations, with separate sleeping, cooking and bathing facilities.

Transportation requirements are also in place for workers to maintain social distancing and safety as they travel to their worksite, purchase essential supplies and have access to toilet facilities. Farm employers are ordered to limit the number of workers transported at one time and maintain six feet of physical separation and install ventilation systems in vehicles.

“These guidelines are in addition to [health department guidelines], admittedly not enforced, but a clear expectation that just as we have made the case that agriculture is critical and life-sustaining, the only way that that is allowed to happen is to ensure that we protect these workers,” Redding said. “We would have the expectation that [employers] would do everything they can to implement this guidance.”