Trans-Bridge resuming Wall Street service

In another step in the region’s return to pre-COVID-19 normalcy, Trans-Bridge is resuming service to the Wall Street section of Lower Manhattan beginning today.

The route was suspended in March of last year because of the pandemic.

The Bethlehem-based bus company said the resumption of service comes exactly one year after it resumed limited service to New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal on June 8, 2020.

“We feel the time is right to resume the service to Wall Street,” said Tom JeBran, Trans-Bridge Lines president. “Most restrictions have been lifted in New York, and employees are beginning to return to in-person workplaces once again. After surveying our passengers to gauge their transportation needs, the feedback shows there will be enough commuters utilizing the runs to warrant the return to service.”

Trans-Bridge Lines will begin the Wall Street Service with two routes eastbound and two runs westbound, Monday through Friday.

JeBran said there will be an addition of more routes and possible changes to the Wall Street schedule as the company regains momentum.

He did note that while state and local mass restrictions have been lifted, federal law requires that masks must still be worn when traveling on buses through September. So passengers will be required to wear masks while on the bus.

Great Allentown Fair back for 2021

The Great Allentown Fair in 2019. PHOTO/FILE

The Great Allentown Fair will be back for 2021. After being canceled for 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Lehigh County Agricultural Society decided unanimously to have this year’s event starting Wednesday, Sept. 1 and running through Labor Day Monday, Sept. 6.

The Great Allentown Fair is one of the state’s oldest and largest events.

Last year’s cancellation was only the third time since the fair started in 1852 that the fair wasn’t held

The fair wasn’t held in 1917 and 1918 during World War I because the fairgrounds were used for military training.

Then in 1941, the Allentown Fair did not allow children under the ages of 16 to enter the grounds during the fair to protect them from the polio epidemic.

“The announcement of the easement of COVID-19 restrictions from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and updated health and safety guidelines, along with our continued conversations with the Allentown’s Department of Health, led to the decision to go ahead with the 2021 Allentown Fair,”  said Beverly Gruber, president of the Ag Society.

“The health and safety of our local and out-of-town fairgoers, exhibitors, vendors and entertainers has and will always be our number one priority.”

Not only is the fair returning after a year’s absence, some of the shows that were canceled for last year have been rescheduled for 2021.

The Toby Keith concert is Sept. 2 and the Carrie Underwood concert is Sept. 3.

Greater Lehigh Valley receives millions in COVID-19 relief from state

Grants worth more than $50 million have been distributed by the Pennsylvania COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP,) and millions have gone to hotels, restaurants and bars in the Greater Lehigh Valley.

The governor announced the $145 million grant program earlier this year, which was aimed at helping an industry hard hit by closures and reduced capacity over the course of the pandemic.

So far, hospitality industry businesses in Lehigh County have received $4.1 million in grant money. Northampton County businesses received $3.45 million and Berks County businesses received $3.3 million.

Funding was made available in all 67 Pennsylvania counties through designated community economic development organizations starting March 15.

“These state-funded grants provide the critical relief that family-owned and local businesses across the state need to recover from the pandemic and build our economy stronger,” said Gov. Tom Wolf in a release. “Millions of dollars in immediate relief has gone to business owners to help them get back on their feet, hire employees and support local economies. If the grants are still available in your county; I urge you to apply.”

Over 50% of Pennsylvanians received first dose of COVID-19 vaccine

Over 50% of the Pennsylvania population received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of Friday morning, May 7, Pennsylvania has administered first doses of the COVID vaccine to 51.6% of its entire population, the department of health reports.  43.4% of Pennsylvanians age 18 and older are fully vaccinated.

Pennsylvania currently ranks 5th among all 50 states for total doses administered.

As of May 7, there were 2,986 additional positive cases of COVID-19, 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 with COVID-19. Most of the patients hospitalized are ages 65 or older, and most of the deaths have occurred in patients 65 or older.

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

More data is available here.

97% of physicians in St. Luke’s network now vaccinated against COVID-19

As of May 6, 97% of St. Luke’s University Health Network physicians were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Bethlehem-based health network.

To drive up the employee vaccination rate, the network launched an extensive, sustained internal communications campaign to educate employees on the importance of vaccination to achieve herd immunity, according to the health network.

This campaign included regular town hall meetings led by St. Luke’s president and CEO Richard A. Anderson and other senior leaders, who provided detailed vaccine updates, as well as testimonials from employees who were sickened by but survived COVID -19.

“Our employees recognize that COVID-19 is a public health crisis,” said Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, vice president of medical and academic affairs and section chief emeritus of infectious diseases. “In order to protect our patients, families and communities, our employees stepped up to perform their civic duty, they got the shot.”

LVHN to administer 5,000 doses of COVID vaccine at Dorney Park mass vaccination event

Lehigh Valley Health Network will hold a mass vaccination drive-through on Wednesday, May 12 at Allentown’s Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom. The theme park will host the event from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the health network reports.

The Allentown-based LVHN expects to administer 5,000 first doses of the Moderna vaccine for free to everyone 18 and older at the event.

Appointments are required. Those wishing to attend can make an appointment by visiting mylvhn.com, the health network’s patient portal, or by calling 833-584-6283 (833-LVHN-CVD).

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.


LVHN begins walk-in COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Lower Nazareth Township

Lehigh Valley Health Network is now accepting walk-ins at its COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic–Northampton Crossing at 3768 Easton Nazareth Highway in Lower Nazareth Township.

The walk-in clinic is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Those 18 and older can walk in without an appointment to receive the first dose of the Moderna vaccine, according to the Allentown-based LVHN. They will be scheduled on-site for their second dose of the vaccination.

People who wish to make an appointment rather than walking in for the COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic–Northampton Crossings may still do so.

For more information, call the COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline at 833-584-6283 (833-LVHN-CVD), open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Patrons are returning to restaurants; now they just need workers to come back

Even as patrons begin returning to restaurants, thanks to loosening COVID-19 restrictions and readily available vaccinations, many have had to keep their own self-imposed restrictions in place because they don’t have enough staff to cook and serve their customers.

“There’s definitely been a lot of people asking when we’re bringing breakfast back,” said Cindy Ebert, manager of the Brass Rail restaurant in Allentown. “The answer is we can’t even staff lunch and dinner.”

Ebert said the restaurant has been operating on a restricted schedule. It’s now only open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. They eliminated their popular breakfast and late night bar hours and she doesn’t know when they’ll be able to bring either back because they don’t have the staff to cover the shifts even if the demand is there.

It’s a similar story at the two Trivet restaurants owned by Gus Panagopoulos.

The Allentown Trivet was open 24-hours a day before COVID-19, but he has had to keep the restaurant at its 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. pandemic hours because he doesn’t have the staff.

“It’s frustrating because a lot of our customers who have to start work at 6 a.m. no longer have the luxury of getting breakfast at 4:30 a.m. or 5 a.m.,” he said.

Those restaurants are hardly alone.

“I think it’s the same for every restaurant in the country,” said Jim Fris, CEO of the PJWhelihans Group, which runs the P.J. Whelihan’s restaurants in the region. “Everybody has the same problems finding staff.”

It’s frustrating for restaurants who are finding it hard to convince staff to come back to work even as those jobs are returning. The main problem, they say, is the extension of federal and state unemployment benefits, which, in many cases, removes the incentive to go back to work.

But it’s more complicated than that.

Many restaurant workers are young mothers. With some schools still not back to full in-person classes, they would have to pay for childcare during the hours they work, which may be too expensive to justify adding shifts.

“Obviously some people have just left the industry,” Fris said.

Many former PJ’s staffers have told him they went onto manufacturing jobs, or were studying to be licensed practical nurses.

Fear has also driven many restaurant workers out of the industry, Fris said. They decided it was safer to work in a different industry where they didn’t have to interact with the public. With a smaller pool of workers to hire from, completion for staff has become intense.

“We’re fighting each other for the same staff. It’s been very difficult,” he said.

It’s been even harder to find back-of-restaurant workers, such line cooks who don’t benefit from tips. That has wages going up dramatically, and restaurants using special incentives, like sign-on bonuses to attract staff.

Ebert saw a McDonald’s in Florida offering $50 for people to just show up for an interview.

The lack of available workers is also impacting existing staff and management.

“We’re trying our best, but we’re short staffed. Normally I’d have six servers and now I have four,” said Panagopulos. “I’ve had to hold people at the door. They get upset but I tell them they’ll just be waiting at the table anyway.”

Ebert and the owners of the Brass Rail have had to roll up their sleeves and do some of the work themselves, with third-generation owner Mark Sorentino even working the grill slinging cheesesteaks. It’s been on everyone – customers who are waiting longer to be served and staff who are working harder than ever – and it’s not a good place to be in, she said.

“If we lose one more person I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said. “Every restaurant we know is in that position

LVHN will hold a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination event April 29 at Northampton Community College

Lehigh Valley Health Network will hold its next COVID-19 mass vaccination drive-through event in Northampton County at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem Township on Thursday, April 29.

On this date, the Allentown-based LVHN expects to administer 3,500 first doses of the Moderna vaccine for free. Those 18 and older who schedule an appointment for the drive-through clinic are eligible to receive the vaccine. The drive-through clinic will be held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Those without an appointment will not be eligible for the vaccine.

Appointments for the drive-through clinic can be scheduled by visiting the LVHN website or calling the COVID-vaccine hotline at 1-833-LVHN-CVD.

Bear Creek Resort launches hybrid meeting program for COVID-19-safe events

Lehigh Valley Business held a pre-pandemic event at Bear Creek Resort in 2019. Now the resort can host hybrid events for both in-person and remote attendees. FILE PHOTO/DIANE RICHTER


With more and more people getting vaccinated, companies are starting to think about how they can begin in-person meetings again and how they can do it safely.

No one wants to see that more than the hospitality industry, which lost a major source of revenue from cancelled meetings and events over the past year.

But how do you accommodate large crowds of people in a safe manner? More importantly, how do you accommodate those who still don’t feel safe attending events or can’t get there for other reasons?

Bear Creek Resort in Longswamp Township has responded to that challenge by launching a new hybrid meeting package that makes sure guests in attendance, or logging in remotely, can get a quality, interactive experience.

Jeff Brainard, vice president of sales and marketing for Southern Management Companies, which runs Bear Creek, said the offering is an extension of its COVID-19 safety protocols that were put in place more than a year ago.

Basics like improved air filtration and spacing were the first thing they tackled, as well as added cleaning and training in safety protocols for staff.

They’ve even made changes to how food is served. These include replacing all self-service buffets and stations with alternative service methods, including carefully served chef-attended stations, which are spaced safely.

But technology also plays a role in making sure that all event, meeting or gala attendees feel included. That means using quality audio and visual equipment and Zoom meeting technology.

The resorts also have experts on staff to make sure all the technology is working properly and to help companies get set up the right way.

“It’s important for people to come back, but it’s also important to include people who can’t,” Brainard said.

He said for business meeting or training sessions, Bear Creek can accommodate up to 100 people that are linked in and can communicate as if they were actually in the room with the in-person attendees.

For galas and presentations, the resort can have a presentation that goes out to a hybrid audience of up to 500 people.

“We want businesses to be able to fully engage people no matter where they physically are,” Brainard said.

He said while the event business is nowhere near the volume it was pre-pandemic, Bear Creek is starting to host meetings more often, with even more inquiries from companies looking to schedule events in the third and fourth quarter of the year.

“Meetings are so important to business,” Brainard said. “We know companies see the value of meeting in person. It’s nice to see that type of activity come back.