Venues bounce back with help from SBA funding 

The Steel Stacks in Bethlehem. PHOTO: JEFF AUGER –

The pandemic had a long tail for Pennsylvania’s music and sports venues, many of which found themselves closed into the latter half of 2021 before they could begin hosting events once again. 

As more of Pennsylvania’s adults received vaccinations and CDC guidance changed, the Wolf Administration slowly expanded occupancy limits for indoor venues- first from 10% to 15% in early March, to 25% later in the month and then to 50% in May. 

Venues then returned to 100% vacancy in June after the state’s General Assembly voted to end Gov. Tom Wolf’s coronavirus emergency declaration. 

For venues like Lancaster’s American Music Theater and Reading’s Santander Arena, reopening at partial occupancy would have resulted in further losses, meaning that it made the most sense to weather out the storm. 

“The overhead that goes into a show isn’t scalable for us. We pay the artist a fee and we have to turn the lights on the same,” said Brandon Martin, director of operations at the American Music Theater. “Those expenses don’t scale depending on how many people come to the show. We can’t open at 20% occupancy and ask the artist for 20% of their fee.” 

A majority of venues waited for full occupancy before reopening. Hershey’s Hersheypark Stadium held its first concert with country artist Luke Bryan on July 9th, 2021 while Hershey Theater and the GIANT Center held their first shows in August. 

At the Santander Arena, closing for nearly 16 months equated to millions of dollars in lost revenue. 

“The building was closed but the water was running and the power was still on,” said David Farrar, general manager of the Santander Area. 

The American Music Theater in Lancaster. PHOTO/PROVIDED –

To keep the nation’s venues opened and to ensure that many businesses would be able to reopen for the 2022 season, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced two rounds of Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) funding for venues that suffered revenue losses because of the pandemic. 

“The majority of the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants have gone to businesses with 50 employees or less – which means we’re reaching our smallest businesses, who suffered disproportionate impacts from the pandemic and were often left out of early rounds of relief,” Isabella Casillas Guzman, SBA Administrator said in a statement after the administration announced its final round of the grants late last year. 

The program totaled $16 billion in grant funding nationally. In Pennsylvania, that funding equated to $422.95 million. 

Area venues have pointed to the program as the reason they were able to confidently open in 2022 and plan for a robust season of entertainment.  

Dozens of venues in the midstate received funding through the program with venues receiving over $17 million in Lancaster, over $4 million in Harrisburg and $3.9 million in York. 

Foreigner plays a show at the American Music Theater in Lancaster. PHOTO: KELLEY BREWER –

In the Lehigh Valley, venues received over $11 million in Reading, $9 million in Bethlehem and $10.9 million in Bethlehem. 

“As 2020 came to a close, the cooperation from all sectors of government to pass one of the largest arts bills in our country’s history, the SVOG, just in time to ensure our survival into 2021 was instrumental and invaluable to not only our organization but to our community, from our staff to performers, artist and vendors throughout the Lehigh Valley,” said Kassie Hilgert, president and CEO of ArtsQuest, the Bethlehem-based nonprofit that oversees venues that include the Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks, Musikfest Café and Frank Banko Alehouse Cinemas. 

The nonprofit received $7.3 million through SVOG. 

The Berks County Convention Center Authority, which oversees the Santander Center and Santander Performing Arts Center secured $8.8 million through the SVOG along with an additional $3 million from Reading City Council. 

Santander arena saw a return to events in the fall of 2021, but the resurgence in the pandemic in the winter once again slowed down events. This year, the arena has a packed schedule of concerts and sporting events. 

“It feels like we are there,” said Farrar. “Half of 2021 we were shut down. Our 2022 schedule looks good. The first little bit has been good and the overall year looks solid.” 

The American Music Theater received $4.4 million in SVOG funding. The venue is the only one of its kind in the country to offer in-house produced shows as well as celebrity acts. 

“It was an extremely vital lifeline,” said Martin. “Speaking on behalf of the 3,000 plus independent venues that benefited from the program, it’s hard to imagine a way forward without that funding,” said Martin. “The books were battered after that long of no venue and plenty of operating expense.” 

Martin added that the industry has changed now that artists, vendors and promoters know that the entire industry can crash like it did in 2020. Everything from contract language to show estimates now have a new awareness of what could happen if venues once again shut down. 

Despite that added caution, many venues are looking at a packed schedule for 2022. Venues are actually more aggressive when it comes to securing acts for their stages, said Ross Atamian, president of Stamford, Connecticut-based talent buyer, Philip Citron Inc. 

Philip Citron is AMT’s exclusive talent buyer. Atamian said that theaters have returned to making offers on shows for 2022—a barometer of the industry bouncing back. 

“Internally, there is an increased competition with everyone making offers,” said Atamian. “In 2021 there was uncertainty about booking shows. SVOG has afforded venues the ability to get their operations back to pre-pandemic levels.” 

Geisinger employees sue over COVID-19 testing 

More than 70 Geisinger Health System employees filed a class-action suit against Danville-based Geisinger Medical Center and its affiliated hospitals and clinics, claiming its COVID-19 testing requirements for employees exempt from getting the vaccine force them to choose between their religion and their jobs.

Geisinger issued a vaccine mandate for all its employees in August. It require employees seeking a religious or medical exemption to do so by Sept. 10.

In a suit filed in U.S. Middle District Court Monday, the employees claim Geisinger did not warned them that by applying for a religious exemption, they would be required to be tested for the virus twice a week beginning Nov. 9, or face dismissal. They are asking the court for an injunction to halt the requirement so they can keep their jobs as the case moves forward.

Geisinger officials were not immediately available for comment. In a statement to PennLive, Geisinger said that its mandatory vaccine policy has already led to a 50% decline in the number of Geisinger employees testing positive and those out on quarantine.

“As a private employer, our mandatory vaccine policy and the process associated with it complies with the law, and similar policies have been upheld in state and federal courts,” the system wrote in its statement.

According to Geisinger’s mandate, employees exempt from the vaccine were required to be tested for COVID-19 on Nov. 9, 11 and 16. After that, tests are required twice a week. Failure to comply would result in dismissal.

The suit maintains that Geisinger is enforcing the mandate regardless of the religious views of its employees, calling the mandate a violation of their first amendment right to free exercise of religion.

The mandate effects all Geisinger employees, regardless of if they work in medical facilities or work from home. Geisinger’s rulemaking also has no support from any official mandate from the federal or state government, according to the suit.

The employees claim that Geisinger never told them that, despite the exemption, they would have to tested for COVID twice a week, wear a mask and be quarantined for longer periods of time than vaccinated coworkers. The suit says the PCR and Antigen tests required by Geisinger contain ethylene oxide, a carcinogen, which the plaintiffs must place inside their body through a nasal swab.

The suit accuses Geisinger of religious discrimination, civil rights conspiracy, violation of the equal protection clause, retaliation and violating the employees’ right to privacy and medical freedom.

The plaintiffs, represented by Williamsport-based attorney Gregory Stapp of Stapp Law, argue that Geisinger is retaliating against them because of their religious beliefs that keep them from getting the vaccine or being tested.

Several federal offices have issued rulemaking on vaccinations in the workplace including the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and The Centers for Medicare and Medicard Services (CMS).

On Nov. 4, OSHA announced a new emergency temporary standard. As part of the standard, covered employers must develop, implement and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, unless they adopt a policy requiring employees to choose between vaccination or undergoing regular testing and wearing a face covering at work.

The standard impacts two-thirds of the country’s private-sector workforce.

CMS issued its own interim final rule on Nov. 8, requiring most Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers to vaccinate staff within 60 days. However, staff who exclusively provide telehealth or telemedicine services outside of the hospital and do not have direct contact with patients or staff, are not part of the rule.


New mask mandate could be a headache for Pennsylvania businesses

New guidance through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allows anyone fully vaccinated to forgo face coverings in public settings, which could prove difficult for small businesses currently enforcing mask mandates.

Alison Beam, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, announced on Thursday that Pennsylvania’s mask order will be following the CDC’s guidance. When Pennsylvania’s vaccination numbers rise over 70%, the state plans to completely lift its masking order.

Spokespersons for the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association (PRLA) and the Pennsylvania branch of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) see the move as positive for the state’s businesses, but noted that it may put some businesses in a precarious position.

“It’s the culmination of 14 months of these restaurant operators doing everything they can to keep their guests and employees safe,” said Ben Fileccia, director of operations and strategy at PRLA.

Despite the order, it is up to each individual business to decide if it will continue to enforce mask wearing among staff and customers even if they are fully vaccinated.

That could leave a grey area for business owners, as it’s unlikely that the managers of an establishment will go to every unmasked customer and ask if they are vaccinated, said Greg Moreland, Pennsylvania state director at NFIB.

“I think some businesses will continue the order until everyone is unmasked,” said Moreland. “Some businesses will move forward with the guidance and hope and pray for the best but hoping and praying for the best isn’t necessarily the best option.”

Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company said on Thursday that it will be following the DOH and CDC guidelines in allowing fully vaccinated guests to remove their face coverings at Hershey Park.

Visitors at the park will be trusted to follow the guidance based on their vaccination status.

“It is important that we all continue to remain vigilant and work together to prioritize the health and safety of those around us,” said Quinn Bryner, director of public relations and strategy at Hershey Entertainment. “We appreciate our guests partnering with us in following all guidelines.”

Some of PRLA’s members have said they may continue to have their staff members wear masks if it makes guests feel more comfortable, but that they will trust their guests to be honest with them, according to Fileccia.

One concern that businesses may have in allowing some customers to enter their stores maskless is the question of liability.

Late last year, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed Republican-backed legislation that would have safeguarded businesses from COVID-19 related lawsuits. The possibility of being liable for someone tracing the illness back to their establishment could cause business owners to continue the mask order.

“There are concerns on the liability front,” said Moreland. “For these small businesses to feel comfortable to take the sign off the door, they want reassurance that they won’t be hit with some frivolous lawsuit that could put them out of business.”

Racial inequalities persist in U.S. unemployment numbers

Racial inequities in the unemployment count persist, according to the United States Department of Labor’s April Jobs Report.  

The unemployment rate for African Americans increased slightly to 9.7 % in the month of March, while the Hispanic rate was unchanged at 7.9%.  

The unemployment rate among Asian workers declined to 5.7%, and the rate for whites fell to 5.3%. 

The overall unemployment rate increased marginally to 6.1% compared to 6% in March, the DOL reports.  

Signs of an economic recovery on the horizon include the 266,000 jobs that were added to the American economy last month, according to the DOL. Also, the number of people expressing hesitancy about returning to work due to the coronavirus was at its lowest point in the pandemic started. 

While the numbers are encouraging, the nation has a “steep climb ahead of us,” said Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. “It’s going to take time and effort to heal this economy.”   


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.

Pa. resumes use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine

Randy Zerman of Lebanon gets a COVID-19 vaccination from Paula Sheaffer, a registered nurse from Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, at one of the Penn State Health dedicated vaccinations sites in Hershey on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021.

Pennsylvania has resumed use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, following a thorough federal review which reaffirmed the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness against the virus, according to the Harrisburg-based Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended lifting the a temporary pause imposed after a rare blood-clotting issue was reported in 15 cases among the 8 million people who received the one-dose vaccine.

During a meeting on April 23, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended updating Johnson & Johnson’s emergency use authorization to include information about the risk for the rare blood-clotting issue, but reaffirmed the vaccine’s overall safety and effectiveness.

The ACIP reported that serious blood-clotting complications occurred in 15 women and no men since the vaccine’s approval in February.  The FDA updated its vaccine fact sheets to include a warning about the rare complications involving blood clots and low platelet counts that have been reported.

“We are confident that this vaccine continues to meet our standards for safety, effectiveness, and quality,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner in a statement. “We recommend people with questions about which vaccine is right for them have those discussions with their health care provider.”

To date, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was administered to 300,000 people in Pennsylvania, according to HAP.  Roughly 9.1 million vaccines doses in total were administered in the commonwealth, this includes all vaccines brands, including Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer.


A Pain in the Mask; From “Mask Jaw” to trigger finger, the rise in pandemic-related workplace injuries

When it comes to focusing on workplace wellness amidst the pandemic, many things come to mind. Stress management, social distancing, mask-wearing and working from home when possible. All contribute to keeping workers healthy, both mentally and physically.

What many of us don’t realize however, is that some of these pandemic-dictated wellness measures can create unique problems of their own. Pain and injuries from improper or frequent mask wearing and working from home in less-than-ideal workspaces are on the rise, according to health organizations like the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network.

Therapists at the Allentown-based Good Shepherd are treating more cases of “mask jaw,” neck pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome, they say. In addition, as we all increasingly shop online, the warehouse and e-commerce workers tasked with filling our orders are facing their own problems. Back pain, trigger finger and shoulder injuries are all rising among these workers.

Trigger finger is one of the many things we are seeing.” said Charlie Eberling, regional rehabilitation manager with Good Shepherd.

Charlie Eberling, regional rehabilitation manager with Good Shepherd.

Trigger finger occurs when a finger gets stuck in a bent position. It is caused by inflammation of the tendon from overuse, he said.

“We see a prominence of overuse injuries in warehouse and ecommerce workers,” Eberling said. “We forget about the human aspect when we place an order; about the people under pressure to fill these orders with increased speed. They do a lot of overhead reaching, a lot of repetitive motions.”

Dr. Jeffrey Zlotnick, a family medicine doctor affiliated with Penn State Health’s St. Joseph campus in Reading, believes that overuse injuries in warehouse workers were common even before the pandemic.

“People working in warehouses like Amazon’s have a high rate of work-related injuries to begin with,” he said. “It’s easy to slip, lift and twist the wrong way. But with the increased use of ecommerce, these injuries are going way up.”

Health care workers and others required to wear a mask all day are seeking relief from aches and pains too, said Catherine Dara, manager of physical therapy at Good Shepherd.

Catherine Dara, manager of physical therapy at Good Shepherd. – photo submitted

“A lot of people are reporting jaw and facial pain,” she said. “People are calling it ‘mask jaw.”

The number of complaints prompted Good Shepherd to look into it. What they found was that it’s not necessarily the mask that is causing the jaw pain, but what people are doing while wearing it. Actions like jutting the chin out, constantly moving the mask, or readjusting the jaw aren’t natural for the human jaw, Dara said, and can cause misalignment and pain over time.  People tend to “mouth breathe” more when wearing a mask too, she said.

“We aren’t breathing the way we should be,” she said. “It’s causing more tension in the jaw than normal, including an increase in TMJ flare ups.” TMJ, or temporomandibular joint syndrome, she explained, is a disorder of the jaw muscles and nerves caused by the connection between the jawbone and skull. The disorder can lead to pain and discomfort if not treated.

Family medicine physician Zlotnick sees a lot of complaints of skin rashes due to wearing N95 masks among health care workers too, he said. These masks are designed to be tighter than an ordinary face mask for the public.

“The idea is that it creates a heavy filter,” Zlotnick said. “But that tight seal doesn’t allow the skin underneath to breathe, creating pressure ulcers. The skin breaks down over time.”

Zlotnick advises health care workers to wear an unscented emollient crème on their skin under the mask, and to take the mask off and let their skin breather whenever it is safe to do so.

N95 masks also restrict jaw movement, causing jaw pain in some individuals.

When patients with mask-related pain come to Good Shepherd for treatment, the therapist first makes them aware that there is more than one way to fix the problem.

“One of the first things we teach is proper resting position of the jaw,” Dara said. “Lips slightly touching, teeth apart, tongue floating towards the roof of the mouth. Then we explain how to breathe properly in the mask. In through the nose and out through the mouth gently. This alone can help a lot.”

Dara also advises patients to let the mask hang the way it should, not too loose or too tight. And to wear a better fitting mask if needed. Some health care workers find that the specialized N95 masks can be a little too tight, she said.

Gentle jaw stretches are also recommended. “We ask the patient to wiggle their jaw back and forth,” she said, “like shaking out your hand.  We create other specific jaw exercises catered to each patient.”

Workers at home on their laptops aren’t spared from injuries related to overuse either. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is increasing as workers sit on beds and couches to work, rather than at ergonomically correct desks and chairs, rehabilitation manager Eberling said.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is caused by a pinched nerve in the wrist and can cause pain, numbness and tingling. “We advise them to get the best possible work from home conditions, from hands-free Bluetooth keyboards to ergonomically correct chairs. And to step away every so often to stretch, and simply get back to better postural habits.”

Penn State Health’s Zlotnick agrees. “The first thing to ask yourself when working at home is, ‘Do I have a good chair?’ Not paying attention to body mechanics can set you up for pain down the road.”

The good news is that early intervention with physical therapy can provide quick relief to most of these workplace aches and pains. Generally, patients find significant healing within the first two sessions, both Eberling and Dara said.

Charlie Eberling works with a patient at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network. – photo submitted

“Traditionally people wait too long,” Eberling said. “There is lots of “let’s wait and see if it gets better,” and that’s when therapy no longer becomes a viable option, and surgery is needed.”

“PT is good at preventing something from becoming more serious,” he added. “You will start getting numbness and tingling before the carpal tunnel progresses. You can stem off a lot coming to therapy when the injury is still moderate.  The goal is early intervention. That leads to cost savings, better quality of life and faster healing.”

$1.9 trillion COVID relief bill is light on help for small business, state officials say

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 signed by President Biden includes a number of federal programs that will funnel millions into Pennsylvania businesses but despite its expensive price, it doesn’t allot enough money to keep the state’s businesses impacted by COVID-19 open.

That’s the conclusion of business leaders who were expecting more from the bill.

The act authorizes $7.25 billion of additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) but does not extend the program past its March 31 end date. Any businesses that have yet to apply for either their first or second draw from the program will need to have their application approved by the end of the month and should stay in close contact with their banks, said Gene Barr, president and CEO at the PA Chamber of Business and Industry.

“Make sure you apply and watch the guidance to get the help you need,” said Barr. “I would just encourage people to stay on top of this and understand how you have to apply.”

The act provides billions to a number of grant programs, including $15 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program that benefits businesses in underserved areas; $15 billion for museums, theaters, concerts and other venues shuttered through COVID restrictions; and $29 billion in grants for restaurants through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

It allocates $10 billion for state governments to help leverage private capital and make low-interest loans to small businesses through the State Small Business Credit Initiative.

The rescue package also allots funds to state, county and city governments, of which Pennsylvania is expected to receive $7.3 billion; and local governments another $5.7 billion, according to a report by the Associated Press.

The $29 million for restaurants is a push in the right direction but it won’t be enough for Pennsylvania’s over 26,000 restaurants, said John Longstreet, president and CEO at the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.

The association is asking the state to allot a portion of its federal funding through the act to the state’s restaurant and hospitality industry. Such a move would go farther than the portion expected to arrive from the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund, he said.

“We have been working with the Pennsylvania legislature to dedicate $1 billion of this state grant money to the hospitality industry,” he said. “Though the Restaurant Revitalization Fund hits the hardest hit segment, it doesn’t help the hotels and other attractions that are part of the tourism industry.”

Neither the act itself nor the Biden Administration have offer details on how direct COVID relief will be split nationally. Clarifying those questions will be a primary focus of the state’s business chambers as they look to communicate to their members how to best access the programs mentioned, said David Black, president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC.

One of the most frequent criticisms of the act has been how much of the funds are going directly to COVID-19 relief, which is estimated at around $825 billion.

“There’s $35 billion to support ACA premiums, without addressing any systemic failure in the ACA,” said Black. “There’s projects like a bridge connecting New York state and Canada, $500 million for arts, humanities, libraries and museums.  As an advocate for responsible government, this is very concerning to me.”

Barr noted that a “free” addition to the act that he would have liked to have seen would have been some sort of liability reform. COVID-19 related legal safeguards for schools, health care and other businesses has been a hot point of debate in Pennsylvania after Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed legislation late last year that would have provided limited protection against COVID-related suits.

Lehigh Valley hospitality businesses allotted over $12.4 million through 2021 Act 1

Hospitality industry businesses in the Lehigh Valley can begin applying next month for part of $12.4 million in grant funding allotted to the county through 2021 Act 1.

2021 Act 1, formerly Senate Bill 109, was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf on Feb 5 and distributes $145 million in grant funds through the COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program.

The funds are currently being issued to Certified Economic Development Organizations and Community Development Financial Institutions in each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties and are expected to be allocated by Feb. 28.

Lehigh Valley counties will receive the following funds to distribute to their businesses:

  • Berks County- $4,770,257
  • Lehigh County- $4,183,030
  • Northampton County- $3,457,769
  • Carbon County- $726,949

The application process varies depending on the county.


Grant awards will be based on company size or three months of average monthly operating costs based on 25% of the total business operating expenses reported on that business’s federal tax return at a maximum allotment of $50,000.

A business can apply for the funds if it:
• Has 300 total employees by full-time equivalent or less and a net worth of $15 million or less.
• Sustained a minimum annual revenue decline of 25% or quarterly revenue loss of 25% or greater in any quarter when comparing quarterly revenue between 2019 and 2020.
• Has a NAICS designation within the accommodation sector or food services and drinking places subsector.
• Is not permanently closed.
• Submits a W-9, 2019 tax return and other financial/payroll information at the time of application.

Winter’s cold never felt so warm as COVID-wary shoppers buy up fire pits, skis and parkas

Whether natural gas, propane or oak, humans are, like moths, naturally drawn to the cheerful glow of a fire’s light.

From keeping hands and toes toasty to toasting marshmallows or warming skiers at area resorts, coronavirus has made the great outdoors more attractive to socialize and visit with friends and family. And sales of outdoor fire pits and fire places, winter gear, warm clothes and accessories – anything that will make being outdoors during a Pennsylvania winter more comfortable — have soared since the pandemic began last year.

Many discovered a greater appreciate for the great outdoors.

“Outdoor heaters were very popular all fall, and you couldn’t find them because the restaurants bought them up,” said Tom Dreyer, owner and partner at Lehigh Valley Home and Garden Center in South Whitehall Township.

Sales of outdoor heaters skyrocketed last year when the first government mandates shuttered restaurants, cafes and bars, leaving them to reconsider how to serve patrons in parking lots and on sidewalks.

Dreyer said backyard fire pits had enjoyed “renewed interest” and sales are up on fire pit models, though the spike is mostly for natural gas and propane units.

Dreyer credits gas pits popularity because of their ease, convenience and ambiance.

According to the Cision PR Newswire’s website, fire pit unit sales are up for Mr-Bar-B-Q, a leading national industry brand. Mr Bar-B-Q reported robust overall sales of 20 percent and a whopping 200 percent increase in ecommerce sales in 2020, the website said

And Dreyer is expecting strong sales to continue in the spring, with Lehigh Valley restocking its inventory of units in time for higher than usual demand, which he anticipates will continue be brisk amid a virus that has yet to lose its grip throughout the U.S. As of January 26, The New York Times reported there are 25.3 million reported cases of coronavirus and 421,003 deaths.

Natural gas or propane units can provide from 40,000 to 70,000 Btus of heat value, making them ideal for small group outdoor gatherings.

While heat dissipates quickly outdoors, a 70,000 Btu furnace is indoor rated to heat a 1,200 to 1,600 square foot home, according to the PickHvac website.

While many say nothing beats a wood fire, the work of building and maintaining one, plus the safety risks, make them less popular, Dreyer said.

“Plus with wood your friends end up going home smelling like smoke,” Dreyer said.

Staying outside

As winter closed in, people were looking for ways to stay outside deeper into fall and winter, said Mark Ackerman, of Wood Heath in Richland Township, Bucks County.

Ackerman is Wood Heat store manager. Wood Heat operates additional retail locations in Easton and Flemington N.J.

Ackerman said many home owners planning patio additions this year may be considering a wood or gas fireplace addition.

For some homeowners, adding fire pit units may be driven by coronavirus safety protocols and a desire to begin enjoying gatherings again.

“We definitely have people asking for them, and we should have delved more into that [inventory] last fall. Most of what we had sold out early,” Ackerman said.

He also expects spring to be a busy time for outdoor fire pit unit and fireplace sales.

From cuddling up to bundling up, sales of winter clothing and outdoor sports and recreation gear have been strong at Buckman’s Ski & Snowboard Shops, said Luke Wynen, a former professional snowboarder and Buckman’s director of retail sales, training and social media manager.

Buckman’s operates seven retail locations in addition to their home office in Pottstown, including South Whitehall Township, Reading and Doylestown.

“We were happily surprised, people are still coming into the stores, and they are buying on buckmans.com,” Wynen said.

From outerwear to sleds, snowball throwers, hand warmers, cross country skis and snow shoes Wynen said “people are making sure their gear is tuned up.”

Gearing up

While clothing sales were strong, it is associated gear and equipment sales that have been solid performers.

“I think what we are seeing is anyone with any history in skiing and snowboarding is preparing for it to be a big or only part of their outdoor recreation,” he said.

Wynen expects the ski season to be strong in the Poconos because of uncertainty over travel to such popular winter sports locations in Vermont or Colorado.

“People are unsure if they are going to take a trip. I think it’s going to be a really good year here in the Poconos,” he said.

For rugged outdoor adventurers Uncle Flint’s Outdoor Survival Gear sells Hunting and Personal Survival Kits, which have been among the online retailer’s top sellers, said Dorrit Leigh Trate, who co-owns Uncle Flint’s with her brothers Kyle and Blake Emerich.

The kits “align with winter activities and the fear of going out on an adventure during the cold months and finding yourself in a sticky situation,” Trate said.

“Smaller items like our emergency blankets are also popular” to keep on hand in cars, backpacks and ATVs, Trate said.

She expects spring and summer to be prime times for outdoor adventuring – and increased sales for Uncle Flint’s Survival Fishing Kit II.

“While we see typical trends from a seasonality perspective, what has been interesting is the volume of sales has increased significantly as a result of COVID and quarantine” early in the pandemic, Trate said.

LVHN expands COVID-19 vaccine distribution in effort to contain pandemic

William Maas, 81, was the first person to receive his COVID-19 vaccination administered by Lehigh Valley Health Network at Saucon Valley Manor Wednesday. The retired mailman and dedicated blood donor, says he was glad to get the vaccine. “It’s very important to get the vaccine,” he says. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Lehigh Valley Health Network administered COVID-19 vaccines to 20 residents and staff of Hellertown’s Saucon Valley Manor on Jan. 6. The long-term care facility was selected for vaccine distribution based on LVHN’s mission to follow the state’s request to vaccinate those at highest risk as quickly as possible, according to the Allentown-based health network.

LVHN also continues to administer COVID-19 vaccines to its own frontline workers and other employees who request the vaccine.

“As we continue that process in keeping with the CDC and state guidelines,” he said, “we are also beginning to care for others in our community outside of our hospitals, those in long-term care facilities who are considered among the highest risk.”

LVHN is administering the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which are approximately 95 percent effective. Brian Nestor, president and CEO of LVHN, asked the public to be patient and stand by for public vaccination as more supplies of the vaccine become available for distribution.

Lehigh Valley area residents can sign up with the health network to receive notification of when more vaccines are available, and can then make an appointment with LVHN to be vaccinated.